His nape prickled.
Halting in the air, his wings balanced in a silent hover, he looked around. His eyes had long acclimated to the dark, but the world was a stygian blackness tonight, the lights of the stronghold and settlement too small and few to make any difference to the sky. The suffocating weight of the night put him in mind of Lijuan’s death fog, a thing of whispering evil that had murdered by its mere presence.
Its memory would haunt all who had witnessed it.
Despite his inability to see the intruder, he knew someone was heading his way. Since he hadn’t been warned by the sentries posted farther out, either it was a cunning foe—or an expert at stealth like Jason. Aodhan respected the spymaster and fellow member of the Seven, but it turned out that the seconds of archangels did not appreciate stealth skills in the spymasters of other archangels.
“Oh, I love Jason and what he can do,” Dmitri had said with a slow grin when Aodhan brought up the topic over a call. “But it drives me insane to know other spymasters are ghosting in and out of our territory.”
At least Jason was no threat to Suyin. The same couldn’t be said of all the spymasters—a year after the war and a number of others in the Cadre had rehabilitated their territories to the point that they had the time to turn a critical eye to China’s untried new archangel.
Aodhan wasn’t concerned about a martial assault—no one wanted China, not when Lijuan’s malevolent shadow loomed large yet. The general consensus was that the territory wouldn’t be fully “safe” for at least a millennium, perhaps more. However, the rest of the Cadre could make things difficult for Suyin if they judged her unworthy of her ascension.
It wasn’t only the archangels, either.
Jason had passed on the tidbit that a few of the older angels had begun to mutter that her ascension had been a thing of war, an emergency measure that would’ve never kicked in were it a normal time.
That it wasn’t a normal time even now seemed to escape them.
The world was still down one archangel, and while Elijah had healed enough to have made an appearance at the last Cadre meeting, Aodhan—attending out of sight at Suyin’s invitation—had seen that he was far from his usual self. It was no wonder he’d turned down a physical meeting in favor of one held via technology.
Elijah wasn’t the only one marked by battle scars. Neha had turned reclusive and—per Jason—her senior court had begun to whisper that she craved Sleep; it wasn’t a future at which either her people or Aodhan looked on in pleasure. Whatever her faults, Neha had always been one of the most stable of the Cadre.
Added to that, Michaela hadn’t returned and neither had Favashi or Astaad or any of the others who’d fallen. As for Qin, he had half a foot in Sleep, half in the waking world.
Where was the intruder?
Power wreathed his hand as he considered whether to light up the sky, but that would be a waste of energy and would frighten an already scared populace. It’d take a very long time for the people of this land to sleep easy. Most were probably still awake at this late hour, haunted by nightmares of grief and pain.
Then he saw it.
Such as that emitted by the wings of archangels who were powering up to strike.
He should’ve alerted Suyin at once, but something made him hesitate, frown. He knew those wings. The shape of them, how the bearer held them in flight, it was all familiar on the deepest level.
But it wasn’t Raphael, wasn’t Aodhan’s sire.
He sucked in a breath.
Because he knew one other person whose wings glowed at times. An angel who it was whispered would one day ascend.
His heart a huge ache, he altered speed to fly hard and fast toward that faint glow. With every beat, it grew brighter . . . before flickering out like a candle that had been snuffed out between uncaring fingers. But Aodhan was close enough to see.
He came to a hover across from the angel from whose blue wings the night had stolen all color, turning them obsidian. “Illium.” The single word came out rough, gritty. “What are you doing here?”
A note about this excerpt: Archangel’s Light gives us a glimpse into Aodhan and Illium’s past, as well as their present. This particular excerpt is set during their childhood and features everyone’s favorite tiger creature.
Illium laughed and bounced on his feet. “Aodhan, my papa is coming home!”
Aodhan smiled because his friend was happy, but he didn’t fly out with Illium when Aegaeon got close enough that it was safe. Moments later, someone scrambled up to crouch on the roof next to him.
Naasir’s silver eyes were fixed on the spot where Illium flew toward his father. Illium’s flight path was wobbly, but he was going faster than Aodhan could fly, faster even than some of the older young angels. “It’s Illium’s papa,” he said, even though Naasir probably knew that.
Naasir wasn’t like the other grown-ups in the Refuge. He wasn’t an angel and he wasn’t a vampire. He was just Naasir. He knew grown-up things, and Aodhan had seen him be very serious-faced and “normal” around some people, but he was himself with Aodhan and Illium.
One time, Eh-ma had said Naasir was barely over a hundred. Aodhan had been so surprised, because Naasir didn’t act like the young angels. But he didn’t act like an old angel, either. When he’d asked Naasir, Naasir had told him it was because he was a “one being.” “There’s no one like me in the whole world.”
Today, he said, “I don’t like Aegaeon.”
Aodhan’s eyes rounded. He turned to look at Naasir, able to see his profile because Naasir had pulled the shaggy silver of his hair into a short tail, except for a few strands that lay against the dark brown of his skin. Naasir had skin that looked warm, like it had sunshine in it, and people wanted to touch him sometimes, like they did Aodhan—except they were too scared of Naasir to try.
Aodhan wanted to be scary like him. But today he was only thinking about what Naasir had said. “That’s not . . . paw—paw—”
“Polite,” Naasir completed, then shrugged. “Polite is for pretending. You don’t like him, either.”
Aodhan bit his lower lip, worried Illium would see his secret, too.
It was as if Naasir could read his mind. “Don’t worry, small sparkles.” He patted Aodhan on the shoulder. “Small blue wings sees only his father.”
Exhaling, Aodhan looked to where Aegaeon was now hugging Illium, holding him close. “He makes Illium too hungry.” He knew the words weren’t the right ones for what he meant, but Naasir nodded.
“Yes. He creates a desperation in the child.” Right then, Naasir sounded like a proper grown-up. “I wanted to bite him when he came to visit Raphael, but Raphael said that might cause a political incident.”
Aodhan only understood part of that, and it made him grin. “I would bite him if I had sharp teeth.”
Colors rippled over Naasir’s skin for a moment, like the fur of a tiger. His teeth glinted, his eyes reminding Aodhan of a snow-cat’s. “Too bad we have to be polite.”
“Too bad,” Aodhan parroted.
They sat there, watching the reunion in the sky until Aegaeon flew off with Illium, toward Eh-ma’s house.
Aodhan stayed where he was, not wanting to go there while Aegaeon was around. He’d rather stay with Naasir. “Are you a proper grown-up in Raphael’s court?”
“Sometimes.” Naasir yawned. “It’s annoying, but I only do it when I want. Dmitri told me to be myself, but I know Raphael is a new archangel. I know others watch him.”
Aodhan didn’t understand much of that at all. “Are you here to do work for Raphael?”
Naasir nodded. “But I have time to see small sparkles and small blue wings.” A wild grin. “Come. I brought you presents. One from me and one from Raphael.”
“What about Illium?”
“We’ll give him his presents later.” Naasir scrambled off the roof with a grace that Aodhan had seen in no one else.
Stomach still in knots, but knowing Illium was happy for now, he flew down to join Naasir. He was still wobbly in flight, so often it was much easier to walk. And he liked to walk with Naasir. He always saw interesting things and pointed them out so Aodhan could see, too.
Once it had been a giant spider as white as the snow.
Lifting his hand, he slid it into Naasir’s warm one. “His papa’s not mean,” he said, feeling a little bad for not liking Aegaeon.
Naasir didn’t say anything for a long time.
Silver eyes locking with Aodhan’s own as Naasir crouched down in front of him. “Sometimes, small sparkles, meanness is hidden inside.” He tapped the place over Aodhan’s heart. “You see it with your heart. Listen. Remember.”
Copyright © 2021 by Nalini Singh
For the Complete Chronological Reading Order, click here.
1. Angels’ Blood
2. Archangel’s Kiss
3. Archangel’s Consort
4. Archangel’s Blade
5. Archangel’s Storm
6. Archangel’s Legion
7. Archangel’s Shadows
8. Archangel’s Enigma
9. Archangel’s Heart
10. Archangel’s Viper
11. Archangel’s Prophecy
12. Archangel’s War
13. Archangel’s Sun
14. Archangel’s Light
Guild Hunter Novellas
1. Angels’ Pawn (available as an e-book on its own, and as part of Angels’ Flight)
2. “Angels’ Judgment” in Angels’ Flight (originally part of the Must Love Hellhounds anthology)
3. “Angel’s Wolf” in Angels’ Flight (originally part of the Angels of Darkness anthology)
4. “Angels’ Dance” in Angels’ Flight
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- AppleBooks • Amazon • Amazon AU • Amazon Canada • Amazon NZ • Amazon UK • Kobo • Nook • Penguin
- Amazon • AppleBooks • Audible • Kobo
Book 14: the Guild Hunter series
Nalini Singh returns to the world of the Guild Hunters for the most highly anticipated novel of the beloved series—a love story so epic it’s been half a millennia in the making…
Illium and Aodhan. Aodhan and Illium. For centuries they’ve been inseparable: the best of friends, closer than brothers, companions of the heart. But that was before—before darkness befell Aodhan and shattered him, body, mind, and soul. Now, at long last, Aodhan is healing, but his new-found strength and independence may come at a devastating cost—his relationship with Illium.
As they serve side by side in China, a territory yet marked by the evil of its former archangel, the secret it holds nightmarish beyond imagining, things come to an explosive decision point. Illium and Aodhan must either walk away from the relationship that has defined them—or step forward into a future that promises a bond infinitely precious in the life of an immortal…but that demands a terrifying vulnerability from two badly bruised hearts.
The Guild Hunter series