Dante stepped forward. He was over six and a half feet tall and swarthy, and his Latin looks lived up to his name. He extended his hand. A ring identical to the one Scott had tossed into the ocean fit his index finger snugly. It glowed blue and wild, and the light seemed to skitter behind my eyes even after I’d shut them. “The Black Hand told me this would happen if he died,” Dante explained. “Scott’s right. It’s a sign.”
Scott said, “That’s why I was released. The army is in pandemonium. Nobody knows what to do.
Cheshvan is almost here and the Black Hand had plans for war, but his men are restless. They’ve lost their leader. They’re starting to panic.”
I waded through this information. A thought struck me. “They released you because you knew how to find me—Hank’s next in line?” I guessed, eyeing Dante and Tono warily. Scott might trust them, but I had yet to make up my own mind.
“Like I said, these guys are clean. They’ve already confessed loyalty to you. We have to get as many Nephilim behind you as possible before this falls apart. The last thing we need right now is a coup.”
I felt light-headed. Actually, a coup sounded pretty appealing. Someone else wanted this job?
Fine by me.
Dante spoke again. “Prior to his death, the Black Hand notified me that you agreed to take on the role of commander upon his death.”
I swallowed, not having expected this moment to arrive so quickly. I knew what had to be done, but I’d hoped for more time. To say I’d been dreading this moment was an understatement.
I looked all three of them in the eye in turn. “Yes, I swore a vow to lead Hank’s army. Here’s what’s going to happen. There isn’t going to be a war. Go back to the men and tell them to disband. All Nephilim who’ve sworn an oath of fealty are bound by a law that no army, no matter how great, can overthrow. To go into battle at this point would be suicide. Fall en angels are already planning retribution, and our only hope is to make it clear we aren’t going to fight them. Not this way. It’s over
—and you can tell your men that’s an order.”
Dante smiled, but his expression held an edge. “I’d rather not discuss this with a fall en angel hanging around.” He leveled his eyes at Patch. “Give us a minute?” I said, “I think it’s pretty obvious that asking Patch to leave is pointless. I’m going to tell him everything.” At Dante’s sore expression, I added, “When I swore the oath to Hank, I never said anything about breaking up with Patch. That’s right. Your new Nephil leader is dating a fall en angel.” Let the talk begin.
Dante’s curt nod was anything but accepting. “Then let’s get one thing straight. This isn’t over.
Stalled, maybe, but not over. The Black Hand stirred up a revolution, and calling it off isn’t going to be enough to settle the dust.”
“I’m not worried about settling the dust. I’m worried about the Nephilim race as a whole. I’m thinking about what’s best for everyone.”
Scott, Dante, and Tono shared a silent look. At last Dante seemed to speak for all three. “Then we have a bigger problem. Because Nephilim think rebel ion is best for them.”
“How many Nephilim?” Patch asked.
“Thousands. Enough to fill a city.” Dante’s eyes cut toward mine. “If you don’t lead them to freedom, you’ll break your vow. In short, your head’s on the line, Nora.” I stared at Patch.
Stand your ground, he spoke calmly to my thoughts. Tell them the war is off and there’s no room for negotiation.
“I swore an oath to lead Hank’s army,” I told Dante. “I never promised freedom.”
“If you don’t declare war on fall en angels, you’re going to instantly make enemies with thousands of Nephilim,” he responded.
And if I do, I thought weakly, I might as well declare war on the archangels. They’d allowed Hank to die because Patch promised them I’d quel the uprising.
I returned my attention to Patch, and I knew we were sharing the same grisly thought. Either way, war was coming.
All I had to do now was decide my opponent.