Today, he dropped below Raphael, circled, then came to where Elena had been riding lazily along their wake. His hair, that astonishing black tipped with blue, was longer than usual and fell forward when he shifted to line up with her. “Ellie,” he called out after pushing back the strands to reveal eyes the color of newly minted gold coins, “want to race?”
She thought about it. When they raced, he gave her a considerable head start as a handicap and it was fun to try to push past her best. “Not today,” she said at last. “I don’t want to accidentally strain a muscle or tendon.” She needed to be at peak strength when they reached Lumia.
Flipping over onto his back, Illium dropped before twisting around to return to her. Raphael, meanwhile, had swept up and over them, his shadow a kiss against Elena’s senses. Is Illium coming to dinner with us? she asked.
I thought you’d wish to see your Bluebell before we leave. Sparkle will join us, too.
Lips twitching, Elena said, You know Aodhan hates that nickname.
Ah, but it is so appropriate. Raphael dropped down beside her just as Illium spoke from her other side.
“Um, Ellie. You’re shimmering.”
She pointed a finger at the blue-winged angel with the wickedly dancing eyes. “Be quiet.” Turning to a Raphael who wasn’t doing much to hide his amusement, she tapped a mirror-shiny blade on her nose before angling it in his direction. “I’m going to get you for that. Right when you think you’re safe, boom, you’ll be covered in whipped cream . . . or tomato sauce if I’m feeling extra evil.”
“I am forewarned.” He dipped his wing, nodded at Illium. “First to the Enclave. Go.”
Whooping, Illium turned into a sleek bullet as he dived to build up speed for the race. Raphael stayed high but he was as fast, even though it didn’t appear his wings were beating with any more momentum. Elena enjoyed watching him move—he was magnificent in flight. So she had her eyes on him when his wings turned aflame, and suddenly, even sleek, fast Bluebell didn’t stand a chance of defeating him.
Her stomach clenched.
The other shoe had dropped.
The Cascade was no longer on Pause.
Raphael and Illium landed on the lawn of the Enclave home just in front of Elena. The two had come back to ensure she wasn’t alone in the sky. On their faces, she saw the same realization she’d just reached.
Illium had parted his lips to speak when the earth began to shake under their feet.
Illium and Raphael both lifted off instinctively. Elena couldn’t react that fast, her ability to pull off a vertical takeoff not a thing of speed. But in this case, that didn’t matter. Raphael had taken one of her arms, Illium the other, raising her off the ground with them as it bucked and rolled. Below the cliffs of the Enclave, the river churned, waves smashing against those cliffs with brutal force.
When she turned to look at Manhattan over her shoulder, she saw the buildings swaying in the smudged post-sunset light. Her gut twisted. There were so many people in those buildings, so many of her friends.
But even as her heart was wrenching itself into a tangled knot, the Hudson calmed, the shaking over as abruptly as it had begun. Releasing the breath locked tight in her lungs, she said, “We have to go back, survey the damage.”
Illium released his grip on her and then Raphael had her in his arms and was winging up high. He had no need to tell her what to do. She folded in her wings to reduce drag until they were high enough up that he could release her. Spreading out her wings as she fell, she swept out and toward Manhattan at a lower elevation than her archangel, Illium already a blue dot far in the distance.
Don’t land, Elena, Raphael told her. Dmitri has people out checking for land damage. We must do an aerial survey.
Got it. She went left as he went right, fellow angels doing sweeps in other areas of the city. No collapsed buildings on this side, a couple of shattered windows.
I have the same.
They flew for an hour, found their city had weathered the quake with only minor damage. A few fender-benders, more smashed windows, but no buildings had collapsed, no trains derailed. The worst damage appeared to be to a large ship in port that had smashed into the side of its mooring. Raphael had also received similar reports of minor-damage-only from other parts of the territory.
But, of course, it wasn’t about harm to property.
Elena had managed to send a one-word text to Sara while in the air—OK?—received a message that her best friend and her family, as well as all hunters in the area, were safe. Beth called right as Elena was about to call her. She was hyperventilating.
“Shh, Bethie,” Elena said, so much love and pain inside her. “I’m fine.” She knew it was what Beth needed to hear—her baby sister had such a sunny personality, but of late, she tended to panic when she couldn’t get hold of Elena, the nightmare of their past rising up to suffocate her without warning.
As if with the birth of her daughter had come a fear Beth couldn’t shake.
Calming once she knew Elena was all right, Beth told her that she hadn’t heard from Jeffrey yet, but that everyone else in their family was fine.
Elena hung up to see Raphael dropping to fly at her wing.
“No reports of fatalities,” he told her, easing her concern about Jeffrey.
Elena and her father might have a broken relationship, but he would always be her father. “Does the quake change our plans for tomorrow?”
“It would take a major disaster to cause the Luminata to call off a meeting. We cannot know until we hear what has happened in other parts of the world.”