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       Emblaze, p.20

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  He closed the distance between us and stopped in front of me.

  „Incredibly beautiful," he said, looking me up and down. He glanced at Lincoln, who had become so still in the corner even I barely felt his presence.

  „I am being spoiled tonight." Desire flashed behind his soft eyes.

  I cleared my throat nervously. I knew, as the one who had been called upon to do this job, that I had to do the talking if this was going to work.

  „We"re here to give you the jewels in return for your permission to stay on Santorini." My mouth was so dry, I had to swallow between the words.

  „We"ll get to that in a moment. Would you not like to stay for dinner first? At least a drink?" He smiled dangerously, which helped me start to see beyond my impressions.

  I didn"t know what we were supposed to say - but Josephine hadn"t told me we would need to stay for a meal. „We would prefer to make the exchange and be on our way."

  He tilted his head. „Your name?"

  I could feel my palms getting clammy. „Violet."

  „And your shadow?"

  „Lincoln," I said, sounding as nervous as I felt. It would not help any of us if I lost control of the conversation so early. I stood a little taller. „And you are?"

  „Many simply call me the Keeper now. Before that I was known as Irin. You may call me whichever you prefer."

  „Okay, Irin."

  A faceless figure entered the room carrying a tray with two flutes of champagne. He stopped in front of Irin, who gestured for me to take a glass. But I couldn"t stop looking at this strange form, who caused echoes of torment to ring in my ears. Not nearly as bad as the orchestra that had sounded when we entered, but still distracting. And disturbing.

  Irin cleared his throat.

  I looked back at the tray. „Oh. No. thank you, but I"m okay."

  „Please, one drink will not hurt and I would be offended if you did not accept my hospitality." He took the glass and held it out to me.

  I wanted to look at Lincoln, ask him if he thought it was poisoned. But I didn"t, scared of appearing weak. There was no way he could know, anyway.

  I took the glass. Irin smiled and took the other, clinking it against mine and then drinking slowly, waiting for me to follow. I did.

  Just champagne - as far as I could tell.

  And delicious.

  I"ve never tasted expensive wine like that before.

  „Now, Violet, please turn around and show me my payment."

  I blushed and took another, larger, sip of champagne noticing as I did that my glass had somehow been refilled.

  Imagination.

  I took another sip. The same thing.

  Probably not even real. Tastes good though.

  I started to turn around on the spot awkwardly.

  „No," Irin said. „This won"t work." He moved closer to me and took the glass from my hand. „Your hair, though beautiful down, would be better away from your neck for the moment. Would you mind holding it up as you display the … offering?"

  I noticed he didn"t say jewellery and I felt a tingle of fear at the base of my neck.

  I bit my lip, increasingly uncomfortable. I held my hair up with both hands and started to turn, taking my time so he wouldn"t make me do it again. I tried to steal a glance in Lincoln"s direction, but I couldn"t see him at all, despite felling him and his power in the room.

  When I had made a full turn, Irin seemed satisfied.

  „Stunning," he said and passed me back my champagne. I took another sip.

  I started to feel something strange and wondered if it was the champagne. But it wasn"t like being drunk or even a reaction to a poison - it was almost … emotional. I pushed it aside.

  „Do you like Santorini?" Irin asked, moving to the window.

  „It"s beautiful. Is that why you live here?"

  He laughed lightly. "Originally, perhaps. But now I cannot fathom being anywhere else. I once built Utopia on this island, overflowing with wealth and sustenance - everything exactly as we …" He trailed off and his eyes honed in on me. "I will never leave. Though I do sometimes desire something new."

  „What rank were you from?" I asked, unsure if I"d gone too far.

  Irin took it in his stride, showing that no offence had been taken by my question.

  "Originally? A Principality, then I was sent to this world. The first of my kind. Now, I am the last." He seemed sad for a moment but snapped out of it quickly. "And I have discovered a way to survive."

  „By killing," I said softly.

  „From time to time, but my tastes rarely venture there for more than survival"s sake. I am not as lurid as my exile brethren, nor have I suffered the same mental derailment. A physical form was something that I was intended for and as a result I assimilated with more ease … however …" his expression shifted to somewhere between conniving and forlorn, „I must admit, it has also left me with … needs."

  „What needs? What are you?" I asked, taking another sip of my drink, noticing that each time he did, I automatically felt the desire to do so, too."

  „My dear, “Irin” is just another name for Grigori."

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  „ Wherefore have you forsaken the lofty and holy heaven which endure for ever and have lain with woman; have defiled yourself with the daughters of men; have taken to yourselves wives … and have begotten an impious offspring?"

  Book of Enoch 15:2

  I backed up a step, stumbling.

  „Do not fear," he said, moving with me and clearly satisfied with my reaction. I put a hand out to the dining table I"d backed into, experiencing the same offbeat sensation I had felt earlier, losing my strength for a second, as if it was being drained.

  „Violet?" Lincoln said from the corner.

  He was offering to step in, but we both knew that wouldn"t end well. At best, we"d return Irin, but there were still nearly a dozen faceless unknown waiting for us upstairs. Plus I was quite sure there were other beings lurking around us now.

  „You … you all died - in the flood," I said to Irin, knowing Lincoln would wait. I"d heard the stories enough times by now. When the floods came, they had destroyed all the exiles and the then-angel Grigori had turned on their duties, seeking vengeance and power and …

  women instead.

  He smiled wryly. „A few always survive. Some of us were fortunate to have been underground already when the waters came. This room you are standing in, and some more that lie below, was originally created as a basement for our palace."

  I looked at him, sure he was insane. We were so far beneath ground level it couldn"t be the basement for our palace."

  I looked at him, sure he was insane. We were so far beneath ground level it couldn"t be the basement of anything, and I was pretty sure that at the time fo the floods civilisations were not building palaces.

  „My wife and I stayed here until the waters receded, though I admit it was a dark world for a while."

  Another shock. He had a wife?

  „Yes," he smiled, as if reading my mind. „My wife was the reason I lived here at first and abandoned my elect duties. She was a queen of her people. It was they who pulled a small group of us to safety and kept us beneath the ground."

  „When we surfaced, we shared out knowledge and showed the people how to build a world more incredible than anything they"d ever seen. Alas, it was a simpler time - easier to dazzle with the basics of water delivery and drainage - but we also showed them how to build towns and castles. And," he pointed in the direction of the volcano, „we were in the perfect location. Hidden as well as any place could be from the eyes of prying angels."

  These last words spoken with raw hatred.

  „You know the volcano holds the gates to Hell?"

  „Of course. But …" he shook his head, „in the end that was their demise."

  „Whose?"

  Irin"s voice dropped so I had to strain to hear him.

  „The exiles who survived with me grew tired of liv
ing on the island. I tried. I sent them to Crete and told them to build their own kingdom there, but I knew it would be a short-lived solution. Eventually they grew so restless and desperate for their old army they tried to open the gates. But they only cause destruction."

  „The eruption," I said, remembering Griffin explaining that it had abolished an entire civilisation on neighbouring Crete.

  „Hmm …" he said, from somewhere far away. „The wrath of Hell moves quickly. The fury of angels merciless. The exiles were destroyed along with everything we had created.

  Thousands of humans killed."

  „How did you survive?"

  „Once again, we went to ground."

  „You and your wife?" I was actually starting to get excited, caught up in their love story.

  „You both survived?"

  „No. she … sent for us. But there was so little time. When I got down here and realised she had gone back up in search of me - it was too late. The wave had already hit."

  „That"s why you"ll never leave," I said, genuinely sad for him."

  „This island was once hers. I could have sustained her mortal life force and had an eternity with her. Instead, I suffer her absence every day, the effects everlasting, but …"

  Pulling himself out of his memories his expression shifted back to his previously amused state. „I have discovered new indulgences to occupy my time." He gestured to the cabinets that held shelf upon shelf of jewels and artefacts - ancient weapons, coins - and paintings on the walls above. I did a double-take when I spotted a Van Gogh and beside that, what I suspected was a Rembrandt.

  My eyes settled on a silver necklace, I was struck by its simplicity in comparison to the other more gaudy and elaborate pieces. I couldn"t take me eyes away from it, as if something was drawing me towards it.

  Uri. That is what he meant. Why?

  „Do you like it?" Irin asked.

  I nodded. „But I don"t understand how it is in this collection."

  He went to the cabinet and removed it. I shouldn"t have been surprise that it wasn"t under sensor security and behind locked doors, yet I was. He held it towards me and I took it my hands, feeling the buzz of its presence immediately. The necklace held power.

  „What does it do?" I asked, handling it back, just in case.

  „It was my wife"s. It hols a piece of the angel realm and helps to prevent illusion caused by anything or anyone angelic to the wearer. Of course, it is of no use to you or I as we do not need such things, but to a human it is very valuable indeed."

  He slipped it back carefully into the cabinet. „She never adores this piece like others I gave her - she had lavish tastes - but our sons have always insisted we keep," he added.

  And that"s when I stopped feeling sad for him. Sons

  „Those … the people who let us in?" I asked, that small twinge becoming a prickling sensation shooting up my spine.

  He nodded. „Our surviving progeny."

  Ancient Nephlim.

  Fear coursed through me and I felt the familiar twinge, like something being pulled from me. Irin smiled.

  He clasped his hands together. „Now, to our arrangement."

  I swallowed, my mouth still dry as I struggled to absorb everything he was saying. He was Grigori. Not part human, part angel like us - one of the first all-angel Grigori. One of the ones who sided with Exiles. Was the city he talked of Atlantis? Did that make him more dangerous or less? And I had no idea what he meant by his „way" of survival.

  „You have presented the jewels quite beautifully," Irin went on. „Now, I will take possession of them."

  I nodded, eager to proceed, and started to pull at the ruby ring that was already slipping off my finger.

  „No, Violet," he said softly, taking a step towards. „ I will take possession."

  Oh.

  I pressed my lips together to stop them quivering. Give me a fight any day, but this? All I could think about was the emerald spider with its many clasps around my upper thigh. I hadn"t even let Morgan fasten it.

  I took another step back, but hit the glass wall. Irin smiled, closing the distance and putting his hands on my shoulders, pushing down steadily until I fell to the window seat. I was a fish in an aquarium and trapped with a shark.

  „If you are quite comfortable …"

  I couldn"t talk, but the second his hand took mine my body seized, knowing that his touch intended more.

  „Violet?" Lincoln called again from the shadows, his tone controlled but somehow forced.

  „I"m okay."

  Then, I just shut down. Years of practice kicking in.

  I retreated to that place where I"d long ago taught myself to go to block everything out.

  Like removing myself from my body, to find somewhere safe and light, somewhere I wanted to be, always.

  I smelled food cooking. And basil, lots of basil. Lincoln"s warehouse.

  Irin"s hands wrapped around my wrist, one sliding up my forearm and then back again before he started to undo the clasp to the first bracelet, slipping it off slowly so I could feel the chain trail against my skin.

  I looked out the window, dead still, then thought about basil, and focused on the light that cascaded through Lincoln"s great arch windows every morning.

  Hands slid across my collarbone to my opposite arm and the silver snake. He stared to uncoil it, his fingers sliding up and down from my elbow, finally removing it.

  Two down.

  I went back to thinking to the belonging I"d always felt in my core when I was with Lincoln. I ignored all the problems, the reason why we would never be together, and clung on to all the things that made us right and made me feel so safe.

  Then Irin"s mouth closed around the ring on my index finger and I flinched. I had to look.

  He was awaiting my reaction.

  „Enough!" Lincoln"s voice charged.

  Irin smiled and stood up, letting my hand go.

  Lincoln stepped out from the shadows. „You will not touch her again."

  I wanted to speak up, tell him I could handle it, but I didn"t, relieved just to have him in my sights.

  „A deal was made. The stones are only part of the arrangement. Unless, of course, you have something better to offer?"

  The way Irin spoke .. The cat that got the cream.

  Lincoln"s hands flexed by his sides and I wondered if that „something better" Irin had in mind involved a dagger. Just when I though Lincoln might make a move, he spoke again.

  „You"re an incubus, aren"t you? Some exiles discovered they could sustain themselves and increase their power by feeding on human emotion. But not many could and even fewer dared to because it was so … addictive. Just one more reason you don"t belong here.

  After you lost your wife, you became one, didn"t you?"

  What does that mean?

  Irin shrugged. „The need she left in me was great, yes. I never cared to control humanity like the others. I simply wanted to enjoy its offerings." He moved to take my hand again. He was still smiling. „Speaking of which …"

  „Do that again and I swear to you she will be the last thing you ever touch." Lincoln had his dagger in-hand and had already moved closer.

  Irin didn"t appear concerned at all, which worried me. We had no idea what he could do and I didn"t think it would be an easy fight.

  „You feed on emotion …" I said, trying to defuse the moment while putting all the pieces together. „No wonder you like me."

  „Oh, my dear, don"t get me wrong - you are simply delicious and would be even more so if you were not so efficiently damaged but you"re a mere appetiser compared to your partner."

  Lincoln didn"t look at me. I was relieved, I didn"t know I if I could bear to see those eyes right now. No one had ever called me damaged out loud before. Well, no one other than me.

  Irin pace slowly, watching as I no doubt displayed my shame as well as confusion at the second part of what he said.

  He was feeding off Lincoln.

  He sighed
, wistfully. „Like opening the cork on an aged wine … On an Island where most emotion is that of honeymooners in love which, while ripe for my purposes - Ah," he shook his head in awe. „You two are like lobsters in a world of mudfish."

  I braced myself for him to continue removing the jewellery, but Lincoln took another step towards us, lowering his weapon.

  „I"ll do it," he said, as if subjecting himself to corporal punishment. „I"ll talk off the jewels."

  Irin paused, considering the offer. „why would I give up the feeding you provide me by being forced to watch?"

  „You know it will cause just as much … if not more this way."

  „Bringing you so close to your forbidden?"

  Lincoln swallowed and nodded once.

  Irin grinned and swept a hand from Lincoln to me. „Very well. In return for a kiss."

  „No!" I wasn"t kissing anyone.

  „Not me," he said.

  „No," I said again, which seemed to please Irin even more.

  He retreated to the large dining table in the centre of the room.

  Lincoln moved to me and his green eyes burned into mine. „I will not force her to do anything, ever."

  And thought he spoke to Irin, his words were for me. A promise that I was safe with him and the apology for what we both knew we had to do. He knelt in front of me - a look of pain and fear covering his face.

  „It"s him or me." Then he leaned in close to my ear and whispered, „Put up your guards."

  I felt an outpour of Lincoln"s power around me could taste and smell the honey flavours unique to him overlaying the ever-present feeling of warmth and sunshine.

  He started with the ankle bracelet, taking it off slowly, giving Irin the show he demanded, but without the creeping fingers. I tried to keep my barriers up, trying to put the pieces together like a wall of Lego, but I was not in Lincoln"s league when it came to harnessing my strengths this way. Even visualising a heavy steel fortress I could feel his fingers moving against my skin and it put a match to something inside me I was powerless to contain.

  Lincoln moved to my hands and closed his eyes, as if praying for a moment, before his mouth closed around my finger and removed the ring. He did it so gently, with an endearing respect. But then he went to the second ring, and the third and by the fourth my cheeks were flushed and the small spark within me had started to blaze. Lincoln"s tough had grown more sure and his contact more constant.

 
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