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Archangel's Heart(Guild Hunter,book 9)(4) by Nalini Singh

“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.”
 
“Recent” being a relative term, Elena thought. “So a long time ago in a land far away, the Luminata . . .” she prompted.
 
Raphael’s laughter was a caress of sunkissed waves over her senses, the power of him no threat but a promise. “I wonder what the sect will make of you, Elena.” Love surrounded her, so deep that she felt it in her bones. “As you say, long ago the Luminata were entrusted with a certain task. This task was given to them because it was—and is—believed that they are the only group that can be trusted to be impartial with it.”
 
He raised one hand to stroke it over the arch of her wing, the touch an intimate one between lovers, as, not far in the distance, Aodhan took a crossbow bolt in the thigh. Pulling it out, he threw it back and kept dodging. Yeah, Elena thought, he might be training to stay in shape, but he was also bored. So was Illium, if the screams floating up from the city streets were any indication.
 
He’d clearly kept up the dive bombing.
 
“I think,” Raphael said, “I must tell your Bluebell to stop scaring our citizens.”
 
Illium appeared in view a few seconds later, a grin on his almost too handsome face that Elena could see from here. Dipping his wings toward the Tower in acknowledgment of Raphael’s order, he joined Aodhan’s “dodge the bolts” game.
 
One bolt went crazily wild at nearly the same instant, heading straight for Elena.
 
Snatching it from the air with a single hand, Raphael passed it to her. “Whoever this is needs further training.”
 
Elena recognized the markings on the shaft, grinned. “Izzy.” The young angel was still a baby in angelic terms. “You have to admit, he’s brilliant for his age.”
 
“Galen wouldn’t have recommended him for a Tower apprenticeship elsewise,” Raphael said before continuing to speak about the Luminata. “By dint of their spiritual quest, the Luminata have no earthly ties and no loyalties beyond that to their quest for luminescence. They take no lovers, participate in no wars, and when they become Luminata, they sever all blood ties.”
 
“A perfect neutral body.”
 
“Yes. Such neutrality is a necessity because the task with which they’re entrusted is to call a meeting of the Cadre should a certain span of time pass with no sighting of an archangel.”
 
Elena nodded slowly. “A safety measure of sorts.” It made sense given the staggering impact the archangels had on the world. “Though,” she said with a frown, “two years isn’t that long in immortal terms.”
 
“The period of time that must pass before a meeting is called has never been specified,” Raphael said, his eyes on Aodhan even as he spoke to her. “As a result, at some point—and weighing up all available knowledge on the situation—the Luminata must make a judgment call.” Taking the crossbow bolt from her, he threw it with archangelic strength. Aodhan barely avoided it before the bolt fell victim to gravity, to be intercepted by the squadron tasked with making sure none fell to skewer the mortals below.
 
The squadron had been intelligent enough to set up nets to catch the spent projectiles.
 
“The purpose of the meeting,” Raphael said as Aodhan and Illium began to dodge bolts in tandem, “is to determine if the missing archangel is dead or has gone into Sleep. If so, the archangel’s territory must be divided, archangelic borders redrawn.”
 
Elena now understood why Raphael had never met a practicing Luminata. After Uram’s death, the Cadre had apparently met within months to divide up his territory. Even when Alexander went to Sleep and his son attempted to take over the territory by hiding his father’s withdrawal from the world, she’d learned the Cadre had rectified the situation within a relatively short period of time.
 
Yet it had been two years since Zhou Lijuan, Archangel of China and Goddess of Death, disappeared from sight.