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       Emblaze, p.2

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  Yeah, Sentimental.

  The exile didn"t respond, he just continued to look at me like he was envisaging ripping my head off. I tightened my grip on my dagger.

  Archer cleared his throat. Unfortunately, I knew why.

  I held back a sigh of frustration. „Do any of you have a message for me?" I asked, sticking to our latest protocol.

  The exile didn"t pause to consider his words, while the other two simply growled.

  „I exceed you in every way! I"m more powerful than you can imagine and when I kill you, others will bow at my feet!" he exclaimed, unable to contain the anger from his human form, an emotion that his previous non-corporeal self could not process. He was already well down Delusional Way.

  Not exactly the message I was looking for, but good enough.

  In time with Miss Kinkaid"s shriek, I ran my dagger through his chest, being sure to make it a fast killing wound. It didn"t need to go through the heart, lots of other places would ensure an exile"s end. The only essentials were that a Grigori blade inflicted the injury and we made it count. Otherwise, exiled angels were damn near impossible to get rid of.

  Archer didn"t hesitate, taking out one of the exiles and then spinning on the spot to face the other, his blade slashing straight across the neckline.

  I looked away. Archer was old school, and very good.

  Two of my classmates, Jeff Willis and Meredith Faro, chose that moment to break out of shock and into hysterics. Jeff"s pitch was the highest. At least no one was trying to bolt this time.

  It wouldn"t last long, Beth had already moved in on the other students. Every Grigori had a particular strength and we were all a bit different. Beth"s strength was memory. Like all our gifts, though, it wasn"t endless. She had about a ten-minute window of opportunity and only about a half-hour „wipe" capacity and she needed to have touched her target in each case.

  She started with Miss Kinkaid, who was now silent, despite her mouth being wide open and paused in a potential tense scream. Beth brushed her hand comfortingly.

  „It"s okay. Everything is okay now."

  She moved by her, then on to the next, touching everyone in some way, even those who cowered from her, before moving in to give them each a good stare.

  „Help is on the way," she said soothingly. „Would you all look at me for a moment?" she continued, pushing a little sweetness into her voice, which had everyone slightly entranced.

  Beth was old school, too.

  Archer jumped back out the window and disappeared, while I walked around, making sure all evidence of the exiles" presence had gone. Their bodies were the easiest part; as soon as they were „returned", whatever magic had given them a physical form quickly disappeared along with their remains but every now and then other remains were left behind. Weapons usually, but more recently we had started to check for other things that might hide a message, even though I knew Phoenix wouldn"t bother with such plotting. He liked to deliver messages in person.

  „You have all been in art class, like any other day. Vandals have been causing havoc in the area and just like they did on Friday last week," Beth shit me a loaded glance, „a gang of guys rode by on their bikes, hurling rocks through the windows. It was just lucky that Miss Kinkaid was so quick to act that you all managed to huddle into the corner in time. A few of you were caught by flying glass but you"re all okay and know you are safe now.

  Unfortunately, none of you managed to get a look at any of the perpetrators. Does everyone agree?"

  My teacher and peers all began to nod.

  Beth waited until she was satisfied. „Okay. Now sit silently until we are gone. Do not pay attention to us and you not remember us once we have left, all except Violet, who is your classmate and was huddled in the corner with the rest of you."

  They all nodded again.

  Archer made me jump when he came bounding back through the window with a number of brick-sized rocks ham mocked in his Road Runner T-shirt. He scattered them around the room to explain the shattered glass, dropping a couple on top of the desk I had broken with my forehead.

  „It"s just lucky your school doesn"t have video cameras, otherwise this would be a lot more difficult," he noted.

  Rapid footsteps sounded down the hall. Beth and Archer both tensed.

  „It"s okay, just Spence," I said. I could sense Grigori, not as easily as I could exiles, but I ran with Spence every day - I knew his gait well enough to be sure this was one of our kind.

  Spence almost slid into the room, then looked at my classmates, saw they were held in a momentary daze and took about one second to put all the pieces together. He snorted. "I"ve missed it, haven"t I? Jeez, Eden, you could"ve at least called me!"

  Yeah. I felt bad. He"d been close and Spence loved a fight.

  „Sorry. I barely had time to call in Beth and Archer."

  We all knew they were the first to call in these instances. Beth"s ability to make problems

  … go away, was essential.

  „Shields?" Spence asked, just as I started to feel the purr of another arrival.

  „Yeah," I admitted, hating that I still wasn"t strong enough.

  There was another thump as two more feet were propelled through the window. I raised my eyes to the roof.

  Did everyone have to be here?

  Lincoln took in the scene in much the same way as Spence. His eyes landed on me immediately after. "You"re hurt," he all but growled.

  I sighed. "No, I"m fine. Stupid, but fine," I said, trying not to focus on him, not that it made any difference. His very presence sent every part of me, human and angel, into overdrive.

  He looked like he wanted to come closer but after a considering look at my head he must have deduced the wound wasn"t that bad and instead turned to Beth. "How long do we have?"

  „About thirty seconds until this lot come good," she said, taking Tristan"s phone from his hand, no doubt deleting his recent footage.

  „And about a minute until the school rains down on this building," Spence said.

  I grabbed a few tissues from Miss Kinkaid"s desk and started mopping the blood from my face. It really wasn"t bad.

  „Violet, are you okay from here?" Lincoln asked.

  I sheathed my dagger and tied my hair back into its original ponytail. „Yep, you guys go."

  Spence went out the back door the way he"d come. Archer and Beth leaped out the window. Lincoln moved to follow but paused briefly.

  „Is that yours?" he asked, gesturing to my charcoal drawing, now on the ground.

  „Yeah."

  His brow furrowed. „It"s beautiful … and awful, too. What is it?"

  „It"s me."

  CHAPTER TWO

  „The defects and faults of the mind are like wounds in the body. After all imaginable care has been taken to heal them up, still there will be a scar left behind."

  Francois de la Rochefoucauld

  I didn"t know if I"d ever truly be able to function again after Jordan. Or if I wanted to.

  Losing Rudyard … and Nyla - the way their souls had been so savagely torn apart. The scream, the last noise that fell from Nyla"s lips sounded in my ears constantly. Haunting me.

  And even though I pretended I was fine - it took everything I had to force myself not to scream along with her.

  The hardest part was the thoughts that snuck into my mind when I wasn"t holding them out. The selfish ones that made me wish Lincoln and I hadn"t waited, that we had allowed out souls to come together completely before Rudyard"s death, before knowing that to do so would be damning each other to a tormented fate like Nyla"s.

  I shivered, wrapping my arms around my waist and quickly pushing those feelings that made me hate myself from my mind.

  Steph was already waiting for me at my locker. She was talking to Marcus, her ex-boyfriend. Somehow, they were still friends. Only Steph could manage that situation so well.

  Maybe I should get some pointers.

  When I arrived, he was already saying goodbye, planting a
kiss on her cheek and giving me a charity peck too, before dashing off to catch up with his friends.

  I smiled when I looked down at the folder resting in her arms. She had an English paper on top - a big A+ was circled in red. With all her extracurricular workload lately you"d expect things might slide in other areas but Steph stayed on top of everything with her particular brand of Steph-finesse.

  She moved in close to me, lowering her voice.

  „I heard about your art class. Are you okay?" she asked, looking over her shoulder nervously as if she expected secret agents to drop from the ceiling at any moment.

  I held back a sigh. „Yeah. It was my fault."

  „Was there, you know … Did Phoenix send a message?"

  „No," I said, a little more forcefully than I intended. It seemed like the only thing people asked me these days.

  She nodded, looking worried but also sensing my need to move on to a different topic.

  „Sal sent me a text today," she said, expertly transitioning. „They"ve asked for permission to return but it"s not going well." She frowned. „Spence"s decision to stay here without consulting the Academy didn"t exactly smooth the way. He thinks it"ll take another couple of weeks before they decide what to do."

  It had been six weeks since Salvatore and Zoe had returned to New York. In some ways it seemed only yesterday that we were all standing in Dapper"s apartment unravelling the exile Scripture after I had „returned" the Exile Jude or rather Judas.

  I smiled, trying to muster some compassion for Steph. I was happy for her and Sal, the Italian Grigori she"d fallen for, I just had trouble convincing myself of that sometimes.

  „Are they getting much pressure for details about what happened in Jordan?" i asked, feeling guilty. Griffin had put a gag order on everyone who had been present in those caves when Phoenix made his big revelation, about me being the first Grigori to be created by the highest-ranking angel, The Sole. It is a fine line Griffin is treading, withholding the information until he is absolutely certain of it. Which is also why he"s made it very clear to me he doesn"t want to know anything I might know on the subject - like, for example, the time my angel maker visited my dreams and confirmed, well, everything.

  „I think the Assembly has given up on getting anything from them. Sal said there are plenty of rumours going around, anyway."

  I shrugged. We"d expected that. As well as fellow Grigori that cave had been full of completely unhinged exiled angels. We were sure they would be spouting the news along with their intense desires to be the one to kill me.

  „They"ll work it out," I reassured, pushing the other thoughts aside in an expert mental manoeuvre of compartmentalisation. „Sal will find a way."

  She gave a frustrated sigh. „Yeah, he said he Zoe was working on something. It"s just …

  you know."

  „yeah." I swallowed, trying to hold it together.

  Oh, I know.

  A bag thudded heavily at my feet and I turned around in time to see Spence slide down the lockers and slump onto the ground.

  „This school thing was a bad idea," he groaned. „Eden, you gotta do something, pull rank or something."

  „No can do, buddy," I said, not really feeling sorry for him at all. Spence had been strongly urged by Griffin to finish his education if he intended to stay in this city. „And anyway, I hear you had a great time in PE," I added, raising my eyebrows at the last. His second week at school and already Spence had been pushing the boundaries of humanly possible sports.

  He looked at me sheepishly. „You saw that, huh?"

  „No, but everyone has been talking about it since lunch. Apparently, you"re God"s gif to the basketball court."

  „Couldn"t you at least try to blend in?" Steph asked, narky at him, I suspected, for other reasons.

  Spence took pause, but then slumped lower, letting his hands flop to the ground. „I needed a release."

  Steph rolled her eyes at him and then said to me, flatly, „He flunked the pop quiz in chemistry."

  „And history," Spence added. „And then I didn"t even get to fight." He shot me a glare.

  He looked so glum, I couldn"t help but start to feel for him, but right at that moment Lydia Skilton waltzed by with three of her plastic wannabes in tow. As she walked her pink ballerina tutu - no joke - seemed to ride up of its own accord as she licked her lips in movie slow-motion and curled a few cutesy fingers in Spence"s direction.

  „Bye, Spence. See you tomorrow."

  Spence sat up a little and quickly changed from slumped idiot to laid-back hottie as he threw a hand in the air to accompany his lazy smile.

  „Bye, Lydia." He watcher her ass till the doors at the end of the hall closed behind her.

  „I"m sorry, but before I go to the bathroom and throw up, I just have to know - did you actually just wink at Lydia Skilton?" Steph asked, as if she had just witnessed a truly horrific moment. I was quite sure my expression mirrored hers.

  Spence slumped back to the ground to his previous life"s-beaten-me position and shrugged. „Girl"s hot." Then, speaking before a biting remark from Steph was delivered, he looked at me with an eager glint in his eye. „We out of here?"

  I swallowed, relieved, too, as I grabbed my training bag. „Yeah."

  I shimmied out of my art smock, wiping m still-black hands on it in the process, and pulled on a pair of black leggings under my uniform before taking off my school dress. I always kept a black singlet on underneath to make quick changes easy.

  „Training?" Steph asked.

  I shrugged. It was no surprise. And anyway, training was the best part of the day.

  „Lincoln?" she added quickly, looking past me, down the hall. She must have wanted to ask it for a while. She hadn"t raised the subject in weeks.

  „No," I said, trying to shut it down.

  It didn"t mean I never saw Lincoln, but through some kind of unspoken accord - aka avoidance - we had thought it would be better this way. Until things got easier. I wasn"t sure if it was working for him.

  „Oh," she said, giving me a pitying look, which I hated.

  I pulled a long black jumped on and strapped my belt and sheathed dagger around me waist. Steph watched intently, knowing what I was doing but unable to see the dagger with her only-human eyes. It still amazed - and irritated - her, the tricks the supernatural could play on her mind. Finally, I stuffed my bag into my locker in exchange for a baseball cap, which I slipped on with a sense of relief.

  „It"s all good," I said, throwing in a dash of fake cheer. „You want me to walk you to the library?" We"d taken copies of the Exile Scripture in the days after first discovering it and Steph had been working almost every day at the library, trying to decipher it. So far, not much. But she seemed to have more theories than Griffin, or the Academy for that matter.

  „Actually, I"m going to Hades. The book selection in library is running short and Dapper has some others he said I can look at, but you know what he"s like." She rolled her eyes.

  „He won"t let me take them away with me."

  „Are you sure you"re okay going there?" I still worried about Steph being a part of this world and Hades was fast becoming the hub of Grigori activity in this city. She knew things so many normal people would never know and she was defenceless against the power that surrounded her.

  Plus, Onyx - a once very formidable enemy who, although now completely human, was by no means rehabilitated was still living there = it seemed that had become some kind of permanent arrangement.

  „Yep. I think Samuel and Kaitlin are going to be there, too, too," she said. Two other Grigori being there didn"t ease my concerns. If anything, having Grigori escorting Steph only reinforced how essential she had become.

  „Okay, well, we can catch the bus there together. We"re training in the park today," I said, picking up my pace, eager to get moving.

  „Finally!" Spence complained.

  „Lovely," Steph said, when she spotted the rain spitting against the windows. „Bette
r you than me, I guess," she added, readying her Burberry-check umbrella. She gave me a devilish grin. „Then again, at least you get to hit Spence for the next hour or so."

  She really was holding it against him that Salvatore couldn"t get back here but … she had a point. She smiled and gave me a totally-Steph nudge.

  A moment late, „I heard that," Spence said, a few paces ahead.

  I smiled back at Steph and within moments we"d linked arms and were laughing. She always had a way of making things better. She wasn"t just my best friend, she was my family.

  CHAPTER THREE

  „ We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell."

  Oscar Wilde

  The rain had eased off by the time we reached the park, but there was still a persistent drizzle misting the cool air. As far as I was concerned, all-weather training was essential -

  Lincoln had taught me that early on. We didn"t get to pick what weather we fought in, so the same should be applicable to training.

  Apart from Griffin, the park - as usual, was people-free.

  „Hi," I said to him, tossing my bag next to his under the large tree we used as a base.

  „You been here long?"

  „Hey, Griff," Spence said with a big smile and a not-so-happy glance in my direction.

  Yeah, I hadn"t mentioned we"d have company today. My bad.

  Griffin looked up from his stretch. „Not long. Warm up and let"s get to it."

  Which was exactly what I wanted to hear. Spence"s eagerness, however, was fading. He didn"t share my all-weather views.

  „I think you need to consider confining your art time to home. We can"t risk involving innocents. Beth may not always be handy," Griffin said, as I pulled off my jumper and started to warm up.

  „Probably," I said, not offering to elaborate.

  „Phoenix obviously has exiles near the school, waiting to try and sense you. It"s a wonder they don"t just storm the place but for whatever reason he seems to have restricted them to attacking you only when they are sure of your location. We can"t ignore that advantage."

 
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