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The faint disapproval that thinned Hugh's lips was the strongest emotion Anthony had ever seen him display. "He's sending you on a mission."

Anthony's brow creased into a frown and unease skittered down his spine. "To Earth?"

Hugh didn't reply, turning stiffly in the direction of the Hall. Anthony was forced to follow him on foot—Hugh preferred walking to flying, as if the journey to every destination was a pilgrimage—and the trek gave him too much time to remember all the reasons he'd want to return to Earth, and too little time to forget them again.

Michael's residence, like much of Caelum, bore the unmistakable influence of the ancient Greeks. Columns topped with intricately carved scrollwork stood like sentinels around the building; on the doors, an enormous marble frieze depicted Michael's battle against the dragon.

Anthony had studied the sculpted scene during his exploration of the city and had been astounded that the artist's skill had so perfectly replicated the visage of the man in stone. Michael—naked, wingless, and armed with a single sword—stood alone against the dragon. Behind him, an army of angels lay beaten; riding the dragon, a horde of demons eagerly awaited victory. It captured the moment |ust before Michael had thrust the sword into the dragon's heart—his muscles bunched with effort, his expression desperate but determined.

Michael had been human then, but it had been his triumph that led to the formation of the Guardian corps. The first Guardian, he was the Doyen and the acknowledged leader. Although every Guardian had an equal voice in Caelum, if Michael did intend to break tradition and send Anthony to Earth before his training had been completed, there would likely be little opposition.

Unless that opposition came from Anthony.

Guardians prized free will above all other things. Though choices were sometimes limited, Michael would never force Anthony to do anything he resisted.

Anthony could—and would, he determined—decline the mission when it was offered. The decision quieted the unease that had plagued him and allowed him to enter Michael's sanctum with confidence.

The interior was as palatial as Anthony had expected, but except in scale it differed little from his own residence. Archways and columns divided the single large, open room. A seating area in the front held an elegant array of sofas, chairs, and ottomans. Their styles varied widely, a testament to Michael's age and the extent of his travel, and came togther in an arrangement too soft to accurately reflect the owner.

Anthony did not relish the prospect of talking to Michael while lounging on sofas and cushions, and was relieved when Hugh led him into the armory at the back of the room. Weapons lined the walls: ancient axes and bludgeons; swords and spears; newer firearms. The floor had been left empty—in his apartment, Anthony used the similar space to practice his fencing skills with Hugh. His mentor, despite his monkish appearance, was a formidable opponent; Anthony imagined Michael was invincible.

The Doyen waited for them beside a display of Japanese katanas and aboriginal slings. He wore a white linen tunic and loose, flowing trousers, and he'd chosen to vanish his black wings. The effect should have been less daunting than Anthony's last encounter with him, when Michael had been winged and naked, the glowing angel of death, but somehow his muted appearance seemed more impressive simply for its deception.

Anthony wondered if the effect was deliberate. Did Michael think to intimidate him into returning?

"Six months ago, the nosferatu you encountered in Spain killed three members of the Ames-Beaumont family," Michael said without preamble. "Several weeks ago, he attacked the remaining family but did not succeed in his attempt to kill them. You will go with Hugh and assist him in destroying the creature, before he finds another opportunity to strike at them."

If Michael had hit Anthony with his full strength, the blow would have been less painful than his words. Anthony staggered under their impact and spoke through numb lips, "Who?"

Hugh said quietly, "The earl, Henry, and Catherine."

Anthony sucked in a sharp breath, his relief that Colin and Emily had survived immediately accompanied by guilt—and, as the full import of Michael's announcement sank in, rage. His voice shook with it. "Six months? It killed them six months ago, and you are only now sending someone to destroy it?"

Michael didn't respond to Anthony's anger, his expression as hard and unyielding as ever. Realizing that the Doyen did not feel he had to explain himself, Anthony stepped forward, his fists clenching. If he had to, he would beat the answers out of Michael, and damn the consequences.

"We weren't certain he had targeted the family until the latest attack," Hugh said. His mentor's rational tones slipped under Anthony's anger and made him pause mid-step and listen. "The three died when he set fire to their London townhouse; although we had heard reports of a nosferatu in London at the time, the two events did not seem connected until three weeks ago. I've since been to the townhouse and verified he'd been there—his scent lingered in every room, from before and after the fire."

The fire. Sudden tears blurred Anthony's vision. If the nosferatu had killed them himself, their terror and pain would not have been less. The rage that had been focused on Michael shifted to its proper object and burned cold under his skin.

He recalled the pleasure in the creature's eyes when it had drank his blood, its insistence on delving into his memories. Its scent lingered in every room of the house. "What is it searching for?"

Approval flashed across Michael's face at the question, but Anthony did not care what the Doyen thought. If it had been something in his mind that had brought tragedy upon the family, he would be the one to stop it—and for that, he had to know what the nosferatu sought. He had to think ahead of it.

What had been particular to the memories it had pulled from him?

"My sword," Michael said suddenly. "Blood had been spilled from it on both occasions."

Anthony started in surprise. "The sword from the Second Battle?" At Michael's nod, Anthony gave a short, humorless laugh. Norbridge's prized relic was far more valuable than the earl had known.

Beside Anthony, Hugh's body went rigid and he leveled an accusing stare at the Doyen. Michael returned the stare, unapologetic.

Though he noted the exchange, Anthony didn't stop to wonder what had caused the sudden tension between the men. He had his answer, and he didn't want to waste any time going over details. There would be time enough later, after the nosferatu was dead.

He pivoted and stalked toward the exit. "I will collect my weapon and meet Hugh at the Central Gate in ten minutes," he said. Without waiting for an answer, he swept through the doors and took to the sky.

Hugh was silent until he was certain Anthony could not hear him, but Michael anticipated his objection.

"He wanted to know; I found the answer. You disapprove?"

"You entered his mind without his permission—that makes you no better than a demon. Or the nosferatu who started this." Hugh shook his head. "We don't do that."

"You don't." Michael's expression hardened. "The world has changed, Hugh, and the forces Above and Below are changing with it. Finding the sword is an omen."

"An omen—and yet you send a novice?" Hugh folded his hands together beneath the sleeves of his robe. His tranquil posture would not deceive Michael, yet he refused to betray his anger by word or expression. "You can have no reason to include Anthony. His familiarity with the family might be an asset to the search, but it will bring insurmountable complications. He learned quickly, but his lack of training, his ignorance of demons and nosferatu—he has not yet discovered his Gift. He cannot disguise himself from those he knows and who think him dead!"