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       Emblaze, p.22

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  He looked me up and down again and shook his head. „No wonder the Keeper hasn"t requested our payment yet."

  I couldn"t contain the small lift at the corners of my mouth. „I"m sure he"ll love you."

  For the Keeper to have someone like Phoenix, who could feed him emotion, would probably be his ultimate pleasure.

  Phoenix shrugged. „Which is why he"ll never see me."

  „Why not?" It seemed like a no-brainer.

  He smiled a smile I had not seen since before … everything changed.

  „I"m like emotion on a drip for his kind. And, after the feed he"s just had, he"s very strong.

  He"d try to never let me go."

  „Good to know," I said.

  His smile broadened and he jumped off the wall to stand uncomfortable close. „ Try," he emphasised.

  I wasn"t sure if we were about to fight, or if more of his exiles were soon to arrive - in the same way that Phoenix"s awareness of me was off, I was sure I wasn"t operating at a hundred per cent either. Regardless, I found myself increasingly relaxed. I wondered briefly it he was making me feel that way.

  „I know you healed me. Back in Jordan, when you saw Magda coming for you. You healed me in case she returned you."

  He wiped a hand over his face as if tired, hiding his eyes. „I needed to be at full strength.

  Wouldn"t have made any different to you if she"d gotten to me, anyway."

  He was right about that. If she had killed him, I"d be dead.

  „Why do you hate me so much?"

  Phoenix shot a dangerous look in my direction. „I had a life before you. It wasn"t perfect but I had it in hand. You made me want things, want to belong. Now I won"t stop until I do."

  „Do you really think bringing her back will give you a place in this world?"

  He smiled again. Not warm any more. I"d gone too far, the tone of our conversation had changed.

  „She will take the world for her own - and I will be the son who made it all possible."

  „Yes, you will. Can you live with that? Because I know that the person who was once my friend would never have been okay with bringing that kind of evil into the world."

  He leaped back up onto the wall. „I was never your friend. And anyway, that person is gone. All that"s left is the exile. I have arrangements to tend to but I"ll return. Meet me up here tonight at midnight."

  „And why would I do that?"

  „Because I"m not inclined to take your life yet but some of your friends are more expendable. I don"t just have exiles here, lover, there are still a number at home, watching over your father."

  My hand flew to my mouth.

  „He"s safe, don"t worry. I know you won"t let him down." With that he leaped off the roof, his last words only just reaching me. „Only you, Violet."

  He called me by my name.

  I couldn"t keep sight of him he was so fast - only the wind remained. I realised that he hadn"t pushed those feelings of lust or seduction into me, which made me even more nervous.

  Phoenix was right. The exile was the one in charge now. The human in him seemed almost fully extinguished.

  And the games were over.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

  „ And to every man has been assigned a good and an evil angel; one assisting him and the other annoying him, from his cradle to his coffin."

  Voltaire

  By the time I made it back to my room, Steph had already gone, leaving a note on my bed:

  Call me ASAP otherwise am raising alarm. And if you are okay -

  expect lengthy explanations ahead!

  Steph xx

  I sent her a text:

  All okay. Back in room

  Catch up after shower.

  Vi xx

  Three seconds later she replied:

  God squad meeting downstairs 2hrs.

  In Dapper"s room if looking for me.

  S xx

  I tried not to think as I showered but it was impossible, Phoenix had given me an ultimatum and no matter which way I looked at it - I couldn"t see a way out.

  After getting dressed in a pair of shorts and yellow singlet, I collapsed on my bed, staying there until I heard a knock at my door. I wondered if it was Lincoln, but quickly discarded that theory. I"d be able to feel him.

  I opened the door to Spence, who, in his uniform of faded loose jeans and T-shirt - green today - looked altogether too happy to see me.

  „You alone?"

  „Yes …" I said, suspiciously.

  „Up for a little bit of information gathering?"

  „No. I"m up for a little bit of sleep gathering, actually." I motioned for him to move back so I could close the door.

  „You"ve lost your spirit, Eden!

  When I didn"t respond to the challenge, he added. „Josephine"s having a meeting with the Assembly at the moment and your partner was invited. They"ve been in there all morning, since Lincoln hauled in some guy."

  „What guy?"

  „No idea, but Lincoln seemed pretty determined to keep him under wraps. I only got a glimpse but if I had to guess I"d peg him as Grigori, though … he didn"t seem too happy about being here." Spence raised his eyebrows and looked down the hall eagerly. „Aren"t you interested to know why you weren"t told about it?"

  He was good, I"d give him that. Spence knew exactly how to spike my interest. I contemplated for a moment before pulling my hair into a ponytail, grabbing my room key and heading out with him.

  „So what"s the deal?" I asked.

  „They"re planning something, but we"re just the foot soldiers. That"s the thing with the Academy, they aren"t like Griffin, they operate on a need-to-know basis and even then …"

  „We don"t need to know?"

  „Well, I definitely don"t. I"m on their shit list for all eternity, but you? I"d say they"re keeping you out of the loop on purpose."

  I heard the implication but threw it out there.

  „And so is Lincoln?"

  Spence shrugged. „He"s sharing my room. I"ve only seen him once but he"s … busy and not in a talking mood. Then this guy turned up. Something"s going on."

  „Okay, where are they?"

  „I followed one of Josephine"s crew until he went into the bar. I"d say that"s where they are now."

  I nodded. „There are two entries to that room," I said, remembering the scene in there after we"d returned from seeing Irin. „Which one did he go through?"

  „The one near the elevators."

  „Okay, we"ll go to the other one then - hopefully they won"t be watching it as closely."

  „Nice to working with you again, Eden. You missed a cracker last night, by the way. Got Zoe so drunk we almost talked her into doing a nuddy knock-and-run on Josephine"s door."

  I smiled when I saw the twinkle in his eyes. "Sorry I"ve been such a cow lately."

  „It"s okay. You"re a chick, I get it," he said, laughing.

  I swiped him playfully on the shoulder.

  „Still can"t keep your hands off me I see!"

  „Yes. I don"t know how I make it through the days," I fake swooned.

  We bantered that way, letting off some steam, all the way downstairs. I realised how much I"d been missing hanging out with Spence. Apart from Steph, he was one of the only people who offered no added complications to my life. Just a friend.

  Who might get me into a little trouble every now and then …

  A thought that had me smiling even more.

  -

  We were right. The other door to the bar was still ajar and all the Grigori insider were sitting around a table at the far end. But Spence and I could hear just fine.

  I could make out five Grigori. Josephine, two of her ninjas who had been on the plane - I hadn"t bothered to get their names yet - someone I had never seen before and Lincoln.

  They were talking to each other across the table, but I could hear additional voices and noticed a speakerphone in the middle of the table. They were on a conference call.

  „W
e need to decide on acceptable casualties," Josephine said matter-of-factly.

  My eyes narrowed as I looked back at Spence. He just raised his eyebrows as if to say.

  "Well, that"s Josephine."

  „It"s too early to be talking about acceptable casualties!" Lincoln said, though I could hear his conviction I could also sense the weariness. He was exhausted. "We should be focused on defusing this situation. There are a number of plans we can make for all stages of this process that we should be concentrating on."

  „And what plan would you suggest, Lincoln Wood?" Josephine asked, condescendingly. I had half a mind to barge in there and show her a close view of my fist.

  Lincoln turned to the man I didn"t know. I got my first good look at him as he leaned to the side, idly resting his chin in his hand, all but yawning. Dressed in faded black jeans and T-shirt he also had a long leather jacket that was hanging off the back of his chair. I almost scoffed - we were hardly in leather-jacket climate. But then I caught a glimpse of what it concealed. The man had more weapons than I"d ever seen one person carry - strapped inside were more than a doze silver blades.

  Are they all Grigori blades?

  The stranger looked at Lincoln through dark eyes. He had such sharply defined cheekbones he looked like he could do with a feed and his jaw was in a dire need of a shave. His hair was buzz-cut short and I could see the scars that read like a road map over his scalp. I swallowed hard. Even though I had my own on my wrist, generally Grigori didn"t scar. Whatever had inflicted those wounds - had done so before this man became Grigori, before he was seventeen.

  „Oh, this"ll be grand," he said, watching Lincoln as he kicked out his feet under the table.

  „Let"s hear it then."

  „You have people who are near. Call them. Get them here."

  „Not bloody likely mate."

  „Gray, you and I both know you"re lucky we showed up when we did. You had no permission to be on this island and no way of getting off without the Keeper discovering you. It"s a miracle you survived as long as you did. That"s why you came grovelling to us.

  How did you end up stranded here for over a month?"

  „Someone"s idea of a sick joke." Gray flashed a cold smile. „I"m not one of your troopers. I made that choice a long time ago. I don"t answer to you or your bleedin" Assembly."

  „Fine," Lincoln said sharply. „Then leave now. But we won"t be taking you off the island when we leave and since the Keeper and I are now so friendly, I"ll be sure to let him know where to find you."

  „Christ, you don"t waste time with negotiations, do you?"

  „We"re out of time," Lincoln snapped. „How many can you have here by tomorrow?"

  Gray sighed, „Some. A fair few more if you gave me a couple of days."

  Lincoln turned back to Josephine, a steely determination on his face. „With Rogue and Academy forces, our numbers should rival anything he has."

  „And, again, your plan is?" Josephine responded, feigning lack of interest.

  I was quite sure I wasn"t the only one fully aware that Lincoln had just take over as commander-in-chief. I felt a swell of pride for him, but the anger wasn"t far behind. He was having this meeting behind my back. Surely, I would be a part of one of those potential plans when it came to stopping Phoenix?

  Lincoln strode across the room confidently, but I could see how much he was straining.

  He started to open his mouth to go on but halted mid-stride, a look of fury passing over his features for just a second before he returned to his previous stance.

  „Excuse me," he said to the group, pulling his phone out of his pocket. „I have a call I need to take." He walked out the back doorway.

  I looked quizzically at Spence, who shrugged. I hadn"t heard his phone ring.

  We stayed where we were, listening as Josephine went on.

  „He"s gone. There are too many unknowns here to be sure of anything, Drenson. Griffin has kept his team close, they will be loyal to the end. He"ll be back tomorrow, if not tonight, and we have no new information about the girl other than that the meeting with the Keeper was successful - the pair are indeed kindred in soul. This doesn"t help us in any way."

  While Josephine spoke she passed an assessing eye over Gray, who was displaying no curiosity in her conversation. Her final look - and message - was nevertheless received clearly: he wouldn"t repeat a word of it.

  „Well, Lincoln appears to have a plan. Let"s get through this mess they"ve created first, then we"ll deal with the girl," said the male voice on loudspeaker.

  „Hmm," Josephine contemplated. „Her power is unknown, and those who have some concept of it are tight-lipped. It"s only a matter of time - we can"t afford to leave it for too long."

  „No," he agreed.

  A hand clasped my upper arm and spun me around. Lincoln - a very, very angry Lincoln

  - snapped his other hand over my mouth before I could speak. Spence jumped up.

  „Shh!" Lincoln mouthed.

  We both nodded and let him drag us into the stairwell. Once the door had closed he turned on us.

  „ What are you doing?"

  „I … I … they were talking about me."

  His eyes flashed menacingly in the direction of the bar.

  „Violet, you can"t be here," he whispered sternly and then, as if deciding something on the spot, he started pulling me towards the stairs.

  „Hey, Linc, come one man, we just wanna know what"s going on," Spence tried, but it was a lost cause: Lincoln was fuming.

  „Spence," he growled, keeping his grip on my arm, "I guess I should be grateful you didn"t just make yourself invisible and come right on it. Go for a walk."

  We so should"ve done that.

  Spence stood tall.

  Good for him.

  „Eden?" he asked and I appreciated him letting me decide. Most guys just go ahead and do the macho thing.

  I looked a Lincoln, who was not about to calm down in a hurry.

  „It"s okay. I"ll catch up with you in a bit."

  Spence hesitate a moment, then sighed. "Only "cause I know you, man," he said to Lincoln. "But …" he gestured towards the hand gripping my arm, "go easy". And with that he spun on his heel and headed for the foyer doors.

  Lincoln"s hold on me loosened instantly, but he didn"t let go. Instead, he led me up the stairs and towards my room.

  „Key?" he demanded, stopping outside my door, hand out, not looking at me. I took out my key and handed it to him.

  He unlocked my door and dragged me inside.

  „Stay in here. We"re going to the volcano in an hour. Until then, don"t leave your room.

  Can you manage that?"

  „You can"t just order me around, Lincoln!" I said, ripping my arm out of his hold.

  „Actually, I can. Griffin left me in charge. Right now, you have to accept that there are people here who know more that you do, have more experience than you do and might have good reason for not involving you in certain things."

  „What? So you want me to pretend I just didn"t hear you talking about launching some kind of army? Stop treating me like a child?"

  „Violet, I just caught you spying on a private meeting. If you don"t want to be treated like a child …" he clenched his jaw for a moment, and looked away from me. „Stop acting like one."

  I was speechless. He had never spoken to me like that before. Lincoln was understanding, he included me in things, encouraged my opinion. He"d never told me to stay away before, even when it meant I could be in danger. And he"d never called me a child. It was almost as if he deliberately said the one thing he knew would upset me the most.

  He went back to my room and didn"t turn round to face me when he stopped to say, „Just stay in your room … please."

  I wanted to tell him to go jam his head up his ass. I wanted to fight back and stand up for myself, but I was so stunned I couldn"t manage anything more than the meek, „Yes," which fell from my lips.

  -

  After paci
ng the room for a few minutes, I collapsed onto my bed and put a pillow over my head. I had an hour until we were supposed to meet downstairs.

  Of course, the minute I stopped seething about Lincoln and closed my eyes to finally get some rest, I felt the room change, like it had lifted off the ground. I was so tired, my body lethargic, wanting to stay still. This time it was easier for me to break the hold of the spell, but it was also physically draining. I just didn"t have the energy, which wasn"t good, considering I"d already had a visit from Uri. It had to be Nox on his way, distorting my reality to make room for his.

  I pushed the pillow off my face and tucked it under my head. Okay, so not the most defensive move, but an improvement.

  This time, the sands cascaded down from the walls until Nox appeared, standing beside Steph"s bed.

  He looked the same, and yet different. There was the smoothness he always had - the easy look of someone inviting but with an ulterior motive, always working an angel. Then there were his clothes. Unlike Uri he enjoyed the material aspects of humanity and today he was indulging in a to-the-ground slim-fit black tunic that was tapered at the waist and had a raised collar.

  Please. I rolled my eyes.

  „It is very Matrix, don"t you think?" he asked, not coming any closer, displaying the same repulsion towards me as Uri had done.

  I wondered fleetingly what he"d do if I sneezed on him. Probably run screaming.

  „If you"re going to offer me a pill that lets me live in ignorance - I"ll take it."

  This earned a smile, though not a very warm one.

  „I"m tired, Nox. I"m sure you have something completely messed up to tell me, but honestly, I don"t care.

  „You do look below average. Even for you."

  I pushed up onto an elbow. He was eyeing off Steph"s bed. „You know what? You suck."

  Not my strongest ever comeback.

  I could see the same movements in the background behind him as I saw each time he or Uri visited. They were so delicate - translucent forms like jellyfish, but when my eyes focused on one spot they seemed to dissolve and re-form in another place, still moving ad if trying to go somewhere.

  Searching.

  Nox watched me and followed my gaze. „You see them?" he asked, trying to hide his interest.

 
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