And he loved her.
That truth she could never doubt, no matter if, at times, he crossed lines in their relationship that made her threaten to pull out a blade. Even if the Cascade messed with everything else, this one thing no one and nothing could ever mess up.
Lifting his hand, he cupped her cheek, brushed the pad of his thumb over her cheekbone. “Your eyes are even more luminous today.”
Elena scowled. “I don’t want luminous eyes,” she said. “I want normal gray eyes that let me blend in, not silver eyes that make it obvious I’m an immortal.”
Raphael’s lips curved. “A pity about the wings then.”
“Ha ha.” Putting her hands on her hips, she turned her head to press a kiss to his palm before facing him once more. “Which one of the archangels called for the meet?” It would tell her which ones were likely to go—and which ones would be salivating at the opportunity to attack other territories while the archangels to whom those territories belonged were occupied elsewhere.
The single word fell like a gunshot between them.
Shaking her head, Elena reached up to tuck back a strand of hair that had whipped across her face. She’d left the near-white stuff unbound today since she wasn’t on a hunt and had been planning to hang out close to the Tower and the Legion skyscraper.
“I know I’ve only been an immortal a zillionth of a second according to angelic time,” she said dryly, “but I’m pretty sure there’s no one more powerful than an archangel. Unless it’s one of those Ancestor creatures Naasir told me about.” She’d taken those Sleeping beings to be myth, but maybe not.
“There is no one more powerful than the Cadre,” Raphael confirmed. “However, in one situation and one situation only, another group can call the Cadre to a meeting. Attendance is mandatory—anyone who does not attend can have their territory divided with the might of all angelkind standing behind those who are given the resulting pieces.”
Elena whistled. “Sounds like an invitation to war.” Especially since angelkind wasn’t exactly united right now.
“Yes—which is why no one refuses an invitation. It’s not worth the aggravation when all possible threats will be at the meeting with you.” Raphael nodded to behind her. “Aodhan is dodging crossbow bolts.”
Swiveling on her heel, Elena spotted the angel who seemed created of pieces of light, a thousand rays of sunshine sparking off the filaments of his wings, the glittering strands of his hair; he was darting this way and that while an entire squadron shot at him. The members of the squadron were wearing wraparound sunglasses in an effort to track the piercing blaze of him in the sky.
Aodhan, meanwhile, dropped and dodged with uncanny skill.
“And the prize for most bored goes to . . .”
Raphael moved forward to stand beside her, his wing sliding over her own. “He’s just staying in shape for the battle to come.”
Unfortunately, that was true. The battle would come and that damn shoe would drop. “This group that has the power to force the Cadre to meet, what’s it called?”
“The members call themselves the Luminata. They are a spiritual sect—not religious in the human sense.” He paused, as if thinking of the right words to describe them. “The closest mortal analog is likely the Buddhist search for enlightenment. The Luminata seek to understand themselves individually and angelkind as a whole; their self-imposed task is to discover who and what we are in the greater scheme of the universe, and to accept whatever answer may come. They call it a search for luminescence.”
Spreading his wings, he folded them back in a susurration of sound she’d never associate with anyone but her archangel. “Many mortals believe in gods, but when death is but a faint glimmer on a distant horizon that may never be breached, such beliefs fade into confusion. The Luminata attempt to find luminescence in the now, rather than hoping for it on the other side of that distant horizon.”
“I met a holy man once during a hunt in India,” Elena found herself saying. “He lived as a hermit, had nothing to his name but the clothes on his back, but his eyes . . . such peace, Raphael. I think he’s the most peaceful being I’ve ever met. Even Keir doesn’t have such a well of peace inside him.” And the revered angelic healer had lived thousands of years.
“From what I know, this is what the Luminata search for.” Raphael continued to watch Aodhan’s movements in the sky ahead of them. “A purity of soul that leaves them with no earthly questions or concerns.”
“Have they had any success in their quest?”
“The only Luminata I’ve ever met are those who have been asked to leave the sect, and the once-novices—those who walked away from the life after a short attempt. So I have no basis to judge the luminescence of those who follow the path.”
Elena raised an eyebrow, but kept silent, interested in this sect that could call a Cadre of archangels to order.
“At some point in our past,” Raphael told her, “a point so far back that no one remembers—”
“Did you ask the Legion? Their memories of the past are fading but they’re not totally gone.”
“I did.” Raphael’s eyes went to a nearby high-rise, one that had a shape unlike any other in the city, and that was covered in the fresh green of living things, a building that was designed to be a living thing. For the Legion were of the earth and it was in earth, in growth, that they thrived. “But those memories, if they existed, are gone. The Legion know the Luminata only from more recent times.”