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       Emblaze, p.19

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  „What are you doing here, Uri? Is this another “You need to surrender” conversation?

  Because I"m kinda in a hurry." Not that that mattered - right now he was stalling time. I looked past him to see Lincoln standing by the black sedan. He had one hand on the roof of the car, eyes closed and his head bowed as if he were praying. He looked like he"d been trapped in some state of torture. Another cheering thought.

  „I believe you"re going to see one of our fallen?"

  He didn"t „believe" anything. He knew. Angels always knew. I nodded.

  „He"s called the Keeper. That"s all I know. I have to give him payment so we can stay here. Apparently returning him would cause more harm than good."

  „Perhaps," Uri said. „Though you would be wise to keep your eyes open."

  „What does that mean?" He wasn"t just telling me to be careful.

  „The Keeper is a collector. He has many things that were never intended for this world.

  But some, in the right hands, would be more … appropriate."

  „Okay …" My hand planted itself on my hip. „But you"re going to have to be more specific.

  I have no idea what you"re talking about," I said, feeling once again the frustration of talking to these otherworldly beings who seemed to know so much and have so much control yet at the same time just didn"t get it. „If you want to help, Uri, help!"

  His interest in me grew, making me want to calm myself, hide my anger from him.

  „It is not for us to take action and not necessary for us to have the desire to … help, as you put it. Already with you we walk a fine line."

  I was about to snap back, but caught my breath when I saw something moving behind him. It was like when I"d seen Nox in Jordan. Something like sunspots or heatwaves, floated in the background. Something … living.

  „What … what are those things?" I asked, fighting back a shiver.

  „Reflections," he said after a pause.

  „I don"t understand."

  „No."

  Irritated didn"t cover it. I hated the way this worked - no information when I wanted it, only when they deemed it appropriate. Who the hell gave them so much control?

  „So is this like last time? You have some message for me and one from Nox or something?"

  „Nox does not trust me to deliver his messages," he said, bitterness in his tone.

  I couldn"t figure them out. They had some kind of understanding and yet a mutual disdain for one another.

  „Are you two really brothers?" I asked, unable to stop myself.

  „Do we look like brothers?"

  „You look like twins, exactly the same," I said.

  „Then, we are the same."

  I didn"t know why I"d bothered. „Just say what you came to say," I said, crossing my arms.

  „I have."

  „That"s it? Surely you can give me something more to work with. You do realise what"s happening here, don"t you? Phoenix is going to bring back Lilith." And I don"t know why, but at that moment, I was quite sure he"d be successful.

  „Trails will come and they will go. Those that are left standing must evolve. It is the way of the universe."

  „More tests?" You"re supposed to be good, an angel of light!" I snapped.

  „Girl, all existence is a test. Some just get challenged in more obvious ways. And I do not give myself that title. I am Angel Elect. Humans have decided elect must be light, malign must be dark. You also gave us wings and halos." Uri looked over his shoulder towards Lincoln and I felt the urge to redirect his attention - to protect Lincoln. I took a step towards Uri.

  „Don"t. Leave him alone."

  „And what is it you think I can do to him that has not already been done?"

  With that he turned back to me. We were now close, too close.

  „Is it all decided?" I asked, my voice quivering at the thought. I needed to know.

  „You have choices, as always. Consent remains yours to be given freely. But you have certain inclinations firmly embedded so your path will not be altered easily. Though there are those who believe otherwise and are determined."

  „How do I stop Phoenix?"

  „You cannot. Only he can stop himself. He must choose, as must you. For him, the right choice has not yet crossed his path."

  „Will it?" I asked, feeling a faint spark of hope.

  His head tilted to the side, a finger twitched. Normally I wouldn"t notice the minuscule movements on an ordinary person but Uri was not ordinary and he did not move at all unless encouraged. Something about my reaction fascinated him. I quickly set my mind and face to blank, which only captivated him further, earning me a small up-curl at the corner of his mouth.

  „Look for what is old, not necessarily alluring to the eye, but certainly beguiling to the angel within. Goodbye, Violet."

  I swallowed. Question time was over.

  „Goodbye, Uri," I said, my eyes drifting again to his surrounds and feeling the urge to reach out and touch - no, more. Those floated things behind him, and even the shadows that seemed to hover below them, were so lifelike and disturbingly light. I wondered if they were angels, perhaps in their true form. Whatever they were I felt a sense of protectiveness towards them a desire to be near them. I was drawn to them.

  Uri turned his curious gaze from me, the sands started to whirl around him. Even though it was amazing, it wasn"t dramatic, it just had to be. I felt the change as normal gravity returned and my stomach lurched with all that was not human about what had happened.

  Why was I the only one could see these things? But then I opened my tightly clenched fist and stared down to find grains of sand that had remained behind.

  Well, that"s new.

  -

  I started making my way slowly down the rest of the stairs, trying to readjust my movements and slow my breathing. The entire visitation by Uri had left me on edge. He was certainly and unwanted surprise but although he left me more unnerved than Nox had ever done, at least he didn"t make me feel like he was trying to ensnare me.

  When I joined Lincoln at the car, he held the door open for me and looked at the ground.

  I could feel his power, the silken honey flavours thickening all around him. Nothing had changed for him - he hadn"t witnessed the conversation with Uri, he"d been halted in time and space like everyone else.

  „Are you okay?" I asked, as I slid into the back seat. Because despite what I knew, he looked different and seemed as if he was out of breath, too.

  „Are you?" he replied, his voice shaky. „I swear I could"ve … Did you just use your power or … I think I had some kind of déjà vu."

  He felt it, too.

  When I"d tried to reach out to him through our link, he had registered something. I bit down on my lip and considered telling him everything. But right now I didn"t know if he"d believe me. Crossing the realms like this was not normal for Grigori and I hadn"t told anyone about my encounter with Nox in Jordan. At the time it hadn"t seemed like something I needed to keep secret, but so much else had happened since then that I"d started to wonder if it had been just another trick of the mind. Now … well, it felt like I"d become a radar for all things wrong and weird. People already looked at me strangely. I didn"t want Lincoln to become one of those people.

  Before I knew what I was doing the words came out. „Everything"s fine."

  He nodded, still holding the door open, still not looking at me. I was certain he knew I was lying.

  „Max will ride with you in the back. I"m going to sit up front."

  „Oh. Sure."

  I sank back into my seat, telling myself it was better this way. Reminding myself that if he were sitting beside me now, looking the way he did, any progress I"d made in the steady -

  breathing department would have flown out the window. Breathing while wearing the bodiced dress was already challenging enough. But still, the knot in my stomach - the one that wasn"t about being Grigori or making good decisions and was all teenager - twisted.


  „You"re Morgan"s partner, right?" I asked the perfectly groomed black-clad guy sitting next to me.

  „Yes, I"m Maximilian," he said. „Or just Max," he added with a small smile.

  Wow, another ninja who"s almost normal.

  „Did you arrange the car?" I asked, anything to break the tension that was riding along with us.

  The sedan was a significant improvement on the earlier taxis - not quite a limo but large and black and equipped with a suited driver.

  Max cleared his throat. „No. the car was sent courtesy of the Keeper."

  „Oh," I said, realising it would probably be better not to ask any more questions with the Keeper"s chauffeur listening in. I looked at him again and my curiosity grew, mostly because … he was human.

  Thankfully, the drive was not long. Santorini was a relatively small island so even though we had probably driven half its length, the car soon pulled to a halt outside what I was sure

  - from the bright roaming light I"d been watching on our approach - was a lighthouse.

  We all got out, Max giving me his arm to help me keep my balance on the gravel in my extreme high heels. He walked me to the door, Lincoln following a few paces behind.

  „Where are we?" I asked, nervously pushing back the power I could feel emanating from the place.

  „Akrotiri Lighthouse, the bottom point of Santorini. I"ll be outside with the car," Max said, stopping at the foot of the stairs leading to the front doors. „This is as far as I"m permitted."

  He moved back to the car, beside which the chauffeur still stood. It was disconcerting that the driver, too, obviously didn"t want to move any closer to the lighthouse.

  Lincoln had approached so silently that his words startled me.

  „Are you ready? We can leave right now if you"d prefer?" Something in his voice sounded hopeful.

  But I had to go in there and give this exile the jewellery. Josephine said that would be all.

  How bad could it be?

  Yeah! „Cause dealing with exiles is always straightforward! And Josephine can definitely be trusted.

  A wave of nausea washed over me.

  I knew, deep down, something was very wrong.

  Despite my intense desire not to believe anything that came out of her mouth, Josephine had been right about one thing - Phoenix would be on his way by now and this might be our only hope of staying on the island.

  Just show him the jewellery and let him have it.

  I could do that.

  Before Lincoln, with that concerned look on his face, had a chance to say anything else I reached out and knocked on the door.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  „ But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mine and mud."

  Isaiah 57:20

  Words failed me when the door opened and I found myself staring at a faceless man. If that"s what he was. My stomach churned. I was torn between squinting to see if I could see anything in the shadows of his hooded cloak and turning on my heel to make a run for it.

  The last time I"d stood before a faceless figure I had done something that would stay with me forever. Suddenly, everything I had been telling myself a moment earlier seemed ridiculous.

  We need to go, we need to go!

  I started backing away and looked over my shoulder. Max was standing by the car watching us, straining to see who had just opened the door.

  „We need to go," I hissed urgently, under my breath.

  But Lincoln didn"t take his eyes off the doorway. His power swirling around me, so intense it was like swimming inside a beehive. He was standing rigid and pale, looking beyond the cloaked figure.

  „It"s too late for that."

  I followed his gaze and clapped a hand over my mouth.

  Another eight figures, all cloaked, all faceless, stood behind the one at the door. The weirdest part - I could sense only one exile nearby.

  These … things were hollow, but they were smiling - I could feel it. The nauseous sensation returned tenfold. I was quickly regretting my decision to go through with this.

  The figure at the door spoke - not out loud - but inside my mind.

  „Welcome. You will follow me. The Keeper is waiting."

  Holy Hell.

  I almost dropped to the ground it was so invasive. Like dozens of cockroaches clawing their way out from inside my head. Fear intensified and I retreated another step, but Lincoln"s hand was there, flat on my back, pushing me forwards. He had heard the words too.

  I looked at him, panic making my pulse fly into overdrive but he just nodded me on. I knew he was right. You couldn"t run from exiles and whatever these things were I didn"t think running from them would be smart either.

  I shook my hands, hoping it might throw off some of my terror and walked into the lighthouse ahead of Lincoln. Once inside, the chill from the cold stone floor spread through me, claiming me. The figure at the door gestured for me and Lincoln to follow. The others, standing shoulder to shoulder, made no move to join us but as we moved past them I heard voices.

  Screams.

  Deathly howls of men, women … children. Hundreds. Thousands. And just like when the figure at the door had „spoken" to us, every sound was amplified within my mind so that it was more than just hearing - it was experiencing.

  I didn"t realise I had stopped, lost in the horror, until Lincoln took my hand, the warm honey of his power soothing me, reassuring me that I was okay. Only his voice could break through the shrieking.

  „Keep walking. Remember who we are. Use your will."

  My eyes focused on Lincoln and gradually I took back control of my mind. The screaming faded until it stopped altogether.

  I swallowed, my throat dry and scorched. „It felt so real. Like I was screaming."

  He kept an anxious eye on me and squeeze my hand before releasing it. „You were."

  Oh.

  The faceless figure was still moving ahead. We hurried to keep up with him and his long fluid gait as he took us down a narrow winding staircase until it opened up into a more cumbersome version, as if one had been added to the other. It looked as if the lower staircase was the older of the two.

  Weird.

  After what felt like, and probably was, over a thousand steps we reached the bottom an a hallway.

  Too low, no air.

  I"m not normally claustrophobic but this was extreme. I half expected to stumble across a door with a sing over it saying „Hell (Staff only)".

  I tried to focus on my surroundings to stop the feeling that the walls were moving in on me and clear the blotches floating before my eyes. The hall was completely wooden -

  floors, walls and ceiling lined with heavy boards, almost red, polished so much that they reflected the beams from the modern downlights that were everywhere, making the place look like some kind of starlit dungeon.

  At the end of the long walkway the faceless figure pushed open a heavy set of double doors and I noticed a long corridor to the right. Whatever space existed down there was obviously big and since I didn"t appear to be able to sense the faceless … things, I instantly worried there were many more of them lurking.

  „Violet?" Lincoln spoke quietly, picking up on my unease.

  I turned my attention back to him and, despite the fear in his eyes, they were still his eyes and they made me feel better, stronger. Together, we walked through the doors, which closed behind us with a thud. I would have spun around … if I hadn"t been so mesmerised by what was in front of us.

  Living harmony.

  A grand room with a stone floor and more wood-lined walls, but this time with a combination of light and dark shades working together to give it … life. The panelling was incredible - some parts so dark it was as if the wood had been burned before being moulded to the walls, other parts so light the wood was almost green with youth. Combined with the shades of polished stone floor and the flickering candlelight from the wrought-iron lanterns it was if the room had its own spirit. We walked to
wards the far wall and I was certain we were somewhere that was entirely, gracefully balanced and also entirely, unnervingly, otherworldly.

  How long has this place been here?

  After carefully taking in our surroundings, Lincoln moved to the corner and melted into the shadows, the best vantage point. Watching his accuracy, I suspected he had spent some time Ghosting at the Academy himself.

  I stopped at the far wall, which was almost all glass and showcased a sweeping ocean view. The reflection of the full moon glistened in the water, rocked by its continuous motion.

  We were deep beneath the lighthouse, the glass exterior obviously hidden from human eyes and embedded in the cliff face.

  „Beautiful," a liquid voice rang out from the corner of the room.

  My breath caught and I looked for the owner of the voice. Someone had appeared behind us while I"d been gawking at the view. I hadn"t even been paying attention to the senses, which had been growing stronger. As with my art, I had allowed myself to be absorbed by the design of the room, a potentially perilous oversight.

  I had not even heard the door open, a thought that brought on a shiver. I shot a look a Lincoln but he didn"t move or even seem to look back at me.

  To my relief the stranger - obviously an exile - had a face. The hollowness of the horrors that had greeted us was still with me, tugging at buried feelings that I did not want to resurface. Strangely, this being was not as striking as most exiles. He was handsome, but in a softer way, despite his imposing height. Hazelnut hair fell in gentle waves around his face, kind lines were etched into his tanned olive skin and his mocha eyes were warm but dangerous at the same time. He was broad and muscled yet the delicateness of his features somehow kept everything balanced. He looked like a friendly giant. But he was an exile.

  I concentrated on my senses, letting them paint the truth. He tasted of powdery red apples, like fruit that has been frozen and later thawed. He smelled more likes herbs than flowers - thyme and rosemary. The sounds of birds" wings flapping, crashing into trees, was not too different from usual, along with the conflicting sensations of warmth and chills that flowed through both my blood and body. But when I looked for the morning and evening that came whenever I was near an exile - there was nothing.

 
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