Shifter’s Shadow – Ella Summers

Everyone had gathered in the center of the canteen, where the tables had been cleared away to make room for a platform. High above this spot, the points of the gigantic star in the glass ceiling slid apart. Warm, golden light spilled inside. A black and blond shape shot down, landing on the platform in a crouch. Slowly, his dark wings spread open, black with bright brilliant blue accents. My heart sank when I realized it wasn’t Nero at all. The angel rose from the ground. Shock trailed surprise when I saw his face. It was Harker, the soldier who had been my friend, the soldier who had betrayed me. Harker was an angel now. “Legion soldiers of New York,” he said. “By order of the First Angel, I am taking command of this facility.” His words hung in the room for a few seconds, like a music note in an opera hall. Every person in the canteen was staring at him, but no one spoke. The room was as quiet as a graveyard.

Harker’s gaze panned across his captive audience, his blue eyes sparkling with magic. Angel magic. They burned like an electric storm—sizzling, popping, building up for an explosion. His dark wings, the ink-dipped tips as glossy as obsidian, spread wider. They seemed to drink in all the light in the room. Standing there on that platform, his wings extended to the heavens, he looked larger than life. He met my eyes, the silence stretching into eternity. And when he finally spoke again, he seemed to be speaking to me directly. “The demons are on the move,” he said, his voice filling the empty silence. “They have been striking out from the shadows for years, but recently, they’ve grown bolder.

It is only a matter of time before they attack us outright. The First Angel has charged me with preparing you for the great battle to come. We will need more soldiers, stronger soldiers. We will need angels.” His eyes bored into me like a diamond drill. Electric sparks sizzled across his blue irises, his magic so intense that my eyes watered. Still, I didn’t look away. This was a game. “Things here will be different than they were under Colonel Fireswift’s warm embrace,” Harker said. A few people laughed.

“The massacres will end,” Harker continued, his eyes panning across the crowd. “A promotion ceremony is not a culling. Only those soldiers who are ready to drink the gods’ next gift will participate. Your lives are too precious to us to waste.” The soldiers around me noticeably relaxed. Colonel Fireswift was a sadistic man who would sacrifice a hundred soldiers to gain the Legion a single angel. No one missed him. Harker turned, and the sunlight streaming through the windows twinkled off the silver symbol pinned onto his black leather uniform. The small metal emblem depicted a pair of wings. It was the mark of a Legion soldier of the eighth level, of his distinguished rank as an angel.

And below the pin, stitched in a clear, no-nonsense font were the words ‘Lt. Colonel Sunstorm’. So that was his new name. When a Legion soldier became an angel, he or she was bestowed with a new surname —an angelic surname—to celebrate their elevated status. Angels passed on that name to any children they sired. Legion brats, a nickname for the offspring of an angel, inherited more advantages than just a high magical potential. Their name opened doors for them, showing them with privileges the rest of us could only dream of. Harker’s voice filled the room once more. “I won’t lie to you. I won’t ever lie to you.

” He met my eyes again. “The easy days are behind us. A new era dawns. Now, more than ever, you need to grow your magic, to make yourself strong for the days to come.” Be strong for the days to come. That was the Legion of Angels in a nutshell. We had to always train, always grow our magic, for that day the demons returned to wage war on the Earth. “We will recruit new soldiers, more than ever before,” said Harker. His words wove a spell around the crowd, drawing them in. Mesmerizing them.

“You will all need to train and level up your magic. And when the demons come, we will be ready for them.” His feathers rustled lightly, as though caught in a breeze. But that was no natural breeze cutting through the room. It was magic—a soft, silky magic that slid against my senses, embracing me, inviting me to let go and allow the angel to save me from the horrors of this world. I need only follow his lead. Everything would be just fine. The smirk on his face snapped me out of the trance. He had brought the whole room under the spell of his siren’s song. His magic had grown enormously since becoming an angel, and he wasn’t shy about showing it.

He was trying to exert some influence over me, trying to make me have warm feelings for him. He’d always wanted to be an angel, so it came as no surprise to me that he was diving right into the angel games. Harker lifted his hands. A wave of magic—that same soft, silky magic—rippled across the room. Everyone around me knelt at once, swept up by the power of his compulsion. Everyone except for me. I’d always had a natural resistance to the sirens’ songs. Or angels’ songs, for that matter. Shortly after joining the Legion, Nero had tried the same trick on me that Harker was using now. It hadn’t worked then either.

I stood tall and met Harker’s eyes, allowing a smile to curl my lips. He stepped off the platform, moving through the crowd of kneeling soldiers like a giant through a field of tiny tulips. The smile never left his face, even as he stopped in front of me. “You’re supposed to kneel, Pandora,” he said casually, his voice dipped low. I lifted my brows at the sound of my nickname. It was the nickname Nero had given me. Harker spoke the name just like Nero—with that same hard edge. Hard but not cruel. But Harker hadn’t been an angel nearly as long as Nero had. There were cracks in his armor.

I could see the strain in his face as he tried to compel me to kneel—and the frustration in his eyes when I did not go down easily. “You’re still not kneeling,” he told me. I smiled. “This is how things are done at the Legion.” Despite himself, he actually looked amused. Even as he stood there in his big, black uniform with his big, black wings. Even as he chastised me for my lack of protocol and respect. He set his hands on my shoulders. His touch was firm, but he was forcing me down. “You’re drawing attention to yourself.

” I looked around. He spoke the truth. Some of the other soldiers were staring at me in shock. “It isn’t common to resist an angel’s compulsion.” Harker’s tone was borderline casual. “They’re going to start asking what you really are.” “And what am I?” I asked, my defiance somewhat diminished by my burning desire to know. He shook his head. “I don’t know, but I’m sure it will come out eventually. Unique magic has a habit of not staying buried.

” I opened my mouth to say something, but what could I say? I didn’t know what I was, nor did I know where I’d come from. “Who me?” I said with perfect innocence, a smile on my face. “I’m just a regular girl from the Frontier of civilization.” “We both know that’s not true, Leda.” I kept smiling. Even if I had known something, I wouldn’t have told him. Sure, we’d recently worked together to save Storm Castle, but I was living under no delusions that Harker was trustworthy. He was too ambitious to gain magic, to level up in the Legion. And he was too loyal to the mystery god he served. That loyalty had obviously paid off.

It must be the reason he’d been made into an angel. The bigger question was why the First Angel had agreed to make Harker an angel. She didn’t trust him. She wouldn’t have kept him locked up for months if she did. Maybe she hadn’t had a choice. If a god commanded her to make someone an angel, could she say no? Nyx was a fighter, but sometimes you had to cut the crap and go with the flow. I looked at the growing number of eyes on me. Perhaps, now was one of those times. I was about to kneel, anything to blend in, to not draw attention to myself, when I felt another ripple of magic slide across me like a warm, balmy breeze. I turned to find Nero walking across the room.

His black leather uniform shifted deliciously against his muscular body as he moved forward in hard, powerful strides. Each step was like a pulsing punch of energy. His wings —a tapestry of black, blue, and green feathers—were extended high and wide in a show of strength. He looked huge, even bigger than Harker. Like a predator on the prowl. Nero stopped beside me, nearly shoulder-to-shoulder. He took my hand. “The mate of an angel does not kneel before another angel,” he said, his voice as hard as granite, his eyes as unforgiving as green diamonds. “You and I are one. For you to kneel would be for me to kneel.

” In other words, it would make Nero look weak. He was a soldier of the ninth level. He did not kneel before other angels, least of all lower-level angels. “I didn’t know,” I told Nero. The truth was I didn’t know a lot of things, especially when it came to the ways of angels. That’s what I got for jumping in head first, for deciding to be Nero’s mate. But, even now, I didn’t regret it a bit. I loved Nero. I could put up with the games of angels if it meant we were together. One of Nero’s wings brushed against my back.

It was a sign of support, his way of telling me that even when he sounded hard and unforgiving, he wasn’t mad at me. He had my back. “But I’m sure you were about to tell her that,” he said to Harker. The other angel smiled. “Of course.” Nero’s expression was masked, but that calm icy facade didn’t fool me. Hints of emotion seeped through our bond—surprise and worry and some other emotions brewing deep beneath the surface. Harker’s appearance, his promotion, had thrown Nero for a loop. He hadn’t known Harker was coming to be the new head of the Legion’s New York office. But then what was Nero’s news? Why had Nyx sent him here? The two angels continued to stare at each other in silence, the tension growing between them like a thick fog bubbling up from a witch’s cauldron.

They looked ready to fight. That was just what we did not need right now. I squeezed Nero’s hand. That seemed to snap him out of it. “Come with me,” he said to me. Then he turned his back on Harker and headed toward the exit, golden and silver magic sizzling across his wings like a fireworks show. To say Nero was agitated would have been an enormous understatement. I didn’t have to be a telepath to know what was going through his head right now. As far as Nero was concerned, the only thing worse than Harker’s promotion and appointment to the New York office was that he hadn’t known about it. I walked beside Nero, the hard soles of our boots echoing through the silence.

I glanced past the faces in the crowd. Some people smiled at me, some frowned. The Legion of Angels as a whole fell into two distinct camps: people who really liked me, and people who couldn’t stand me. The representation in this room was no different. “Leda,” Nero said as soon as we were in the hallway, the doors closed behind us. “I have something important to tell you.” “I take it this has to do with the reason you are here?” “Yes.” “I really thought you were back here permanently, that you were in charge of the New York office again. I thought that was your news.” “No.

” The word was equal parts regret and resignation. “Nyx’s concerns about us haven’t changed.” The First Angel was under the impression that I was a bad influence on Nero. She wasn’t wrong. I got him mixed up in all kinds of shenanigans. “Then why are you here?” I asked him. “The wait is over. Nyx has given me my next assignment.” He paused. He sure did know how to keep me on my toes.

“Well? What is it? Bloodthirsty vampires? Dark angels trying to take over the world?” Nero snorted. “Vampires are always bloodthirsty. And dark angels are always trying to take over the world.” His face grew serious. “It’s time for my promotion test, the Gods’ Trials. That is the task Nyx has given me. And you, if you still wish to be my second.” “Of course I do. Without me, you’ll just get into trouble.” “I find that an unusual statement coming from you.

” I grinned. He didn’t call me Pandora for nothing. “When does it happen?” I asked. “Now. We leave immediately. We have an appointment to keep with the God of War.”

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