Home > Archangel's Shadows (Guild Hunter #7)

Archangel's Shadows (Guild Hunter #7)
Author: Nalini Singh

Shadow Team


   Ashwini navigated the darkened stairwell with quick steps, careful not to make a sound. Given the layout of the stairs—a kind of square spiral complete with a well in the center that went from the top of the seventy-three-story building to the basement—the echoes would bounce off the walls into a thundering racket.

   It was unlikely anyone would hear the noise with the archangelic battle going on in the skies of New York while vampires fought the scourge of the reborn below, but getting cocky was a good way to end up dead. It was why Janvier had cut power to this part of the building, and why Naasir had set up a relay of small explosions to distract the enemy.

   A bead of sweat rolling down her spine, she plastered herself to the wall when a door opened on a higher floor.

   “There’s no light,” the irritated male voice boomed, magnified by the terrible acoustics for what was meant to be an office building, albeit one designed by an architect known for his “edgy” work. “Raphael’s most recent strike must’ve damaged the building.”

   “No.” A female this time. “He has people on this side of the line. Lock the doors to the main part of the floor on both sides. I’ll alert our people to do the same throughout the building.”

   Ashwini’s lips curved. She didn’t need to get onto the floor itself to do what she’d come to do. Not in this particular building.

   Continuing up as soon as the enemy guards left, she found herself considering Naasir’s name for their small team: shadow fighters. It was a far more apt description than “spy” or even “soldier.” Together, Ashwini, Janvier, and Naasir’s job was to discomfort, discombobulate, and otherwise aggravate the enemy forces in the heart of the hostile encampment. For a three-person team, she thought they’d done one hell of a job.

   This would be the icing on the cake.

   Reaching the floor directly below the roof, she took off her small backpack and removed the charges. Ten seconds, that was all she needed to place and arm a device. The resulting explosion might not collapse the roof, but it should do enough damage to throw the invading force off its game. “Set,” she murmured into the mouthpiece of the sleek communications device she wore hooked over her right ear.

   “Get out, cher.” A voice as languid as a hazy summer’s day—if you didn’t notice the steel beneath. “Your presence has been detected.”

   “I’m moving.” Backpack on, she’d barely covered two flights when boots thundered some distance below, intermingled with shouts and war cries.

   Time for plan B.

   She slid off the backpack and retrieved the rappelling rope curled inside. Once it was anchored to the stairwell rail, she could use it to slide past and below any pursuers before they knew she was gone. The leather half-gloves she’d added to her outfit weren’t a fashion statement, but preparation for just this contingency. Else, her palms would be shredded by the end.

   Locking the heavy-duty carabiner directly to the railing after testing the metal would hold—at least long enough for her to get below her pursuers—she threw the rope down into the well at the center of the building. It uncoiled in swift silence, the metallic rasp of the carabiner moving against the railing hidden by the noise of the hostile fighters heading her way. Leaving the empty backpack, she went to swing over . . . and realized she could feel a draft of warm air on her nape.

   She turned, going in low, but she was too slow. The male who’d entered silently through the door at her back slammed into her. The carabiner clanged against the rail in a hard beat of sound this time, the lump of it digging into her lower back as her attacker shoved his arm to her throat.

   Fangs flashed in her face. “It’s so nice when lunch has the manners to present itself on the doorstep.”

   Having used his self-congratulatory pause to drop a knife into each palm from the arm sheaths hidden under her jacket, she thrust up through his gut. Her trapped position made a deep cut impossible, but she got his attention, his blood on her blade. He howled in anger, punched her in the stomach—and took a step back.

   It was all she needed.

   Breathing past the agony from his blow, she sliced out again. Connected hard and true enough to puncture a lung. It would’ve taken down a mortal, but her opponent wasn’t mortal.

   A sound of frothing rage, his eyes appearing to glow in the dark. “Bitch.” When he swung back, it wasn’t with his fist.

   Ashwini was skilled at close-contact combat, but she was in a tight space in the dark against a vampire who was clearly no neophyte in the art himself. And he had what felt like a broadsword. She brought up her knives to ward off the blow, but it was too heavy, too true a strike, the jarring impact brutal. Her blades clattered to the floor as he split her left palm and the underside of her right forearm open with the tip of the blade, and then that blade was cold fire across her chest.

   Iron scent, wet and dark, filled her nostrils, her breath coming in shallow pants.

   The vampire laughed.

   Conscious she couldn’t get out of this now, not with the heavy clamor of enemy boots only a floor below and the sword-wielding vampire in front of her, she managed to make her right hand work well enough to grab the gun from her thigh holster. Becoming a prisoner of war was not an option; never again would she let anyone lock her up. Of course, that was unlikely to be an issue given that Lijuan liked to eat people, the husk that remained after the Archangel of China fed turning to dust in the hand.

   “Sorry, cher,” she whispered to the man on the other end of the comm device, the man who’d taught her to play long after the end of her farcical childhood, and fired. The blunt, hard sound of her gun spitting fire filled the stairwell, the bullets passing through her vampire assailant to ricochet off the walls. Grunting from the impact, the vamp staggered back. Only to recover to scream obscenities at her; in the flashes from the gun, she saw him lift his broadsword for a fatal strike.

   That sword clattered to the floor before it ever reached her, blood spraying her face in a hot gush. She stopped firing . . . and heard the dull, wet thud of his head bouncing down the steps, knew it had been sliced off by a fluid steel blade that wasn’t a sword or a knife but something in between, as sharp as a scythe and even deadlier.

   “No apologies between us, sugar,” Janvier said and, scooping her up in his arms, ran up the stairs.

   No point in protesting. Wounded as badly as she was, she’d only slow them down if she insisted on moving under her own steam. Instead, she reached her bloody left hand around his side for the gun she knew he wore in a holster at his waist. It took a second to get a grip, his breath warm on her neck, and his muscles bunching and flexing against her as he pounded up the steps.

   Trying not to think about the fact that her chest was all but sliced in half, she sat up and pointed both guns, his and hers, over his shoulders. “Your ears are going to take a beating.”

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