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       Emblaze, p.25

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  Onyx slumped down with a refilled glass. He was staring to slur his words. „Who do you think is responsible for evil?"

  „You," I snipped.

  „A generous compliment," he bowed his head. „But no, if there is one who could create all things in this world, that one must be capable of creating both the greatest good and the greatest evil. It must be one of the same, just as angels are both and humans are some form of disturbing sub-breed."

  „Onyx …" Dapper warned.

  I glared at Onyx. „You know the one good thing that might come out of Phoenix opening the gates to Hell?"

  „Pray tell," he said, waving his fingers in mock anticipation."

  „I"ll know where to drop you off!"

  Onyx smiled and we were suddenly all on the verge of laughter.

  But before we could fully relax, I stiffened - I could feel Lincoln was nearby and, unable to stop myself, I tapped into his heartbeat, which was increasing with every step as he moved closer. I concentrated furiously on slowing down my breathing and shutting myself off, but it was too late to stop the gouging feeling in my stomach and chest.

  There was a knock on the door. Lincoln and Spence walked in.

  „Thought we"d find you in here," Spence said, collapsing on my bed. Lincoln stayed by the door. „Honestly, after the day I"ve had the whole day-from-hell reference has new meaning. I"ve spent the last three hours glamoured as a science geek, pretending to be a volcanologist. Do you have any idea how hard that is when I don"t know the first thing about volcanoes? When I don"t even speak Greek?"

  Dapper and Onyx chuckled taking another drink.

  „Why have you been doing that?" Steph asked.

  „Josephine"s orders. She wants the Greek officials to consider stopping tourists from coming to Santorini, but this place is a major drawcard. Griffin"s trying as well but without more evidence they won"t raise an alarm. I think the were getting pretty suspicious when I couldn"t answer any questions actually relating to the volcanic activity. Did you know those things release sulphur or something.

  Dapper laughed some more and I saw Steph smiling now, too.

  „You spoke to Griffin?" I asked hopefully. "Is he on his way?"

  Since getting back to the hotel, I"d already noted the large number of Grigori there. They had obviously been arriving throughout the day.

  „I spoke to him," Lincoln said flatly. "He"ll be here by morning."

  I couldn"t understand why but he seemed put out by my question.

  „Oh," I responded, unable to hide my disappointment. With Griffin not getting to Santorini until tomorrow, it confirmed my decision.

  „So what now?" Steph asked, slumping in her chair.

  „There"s not much else we can do tonight," Lincoln said, pushing away from the wall. "The exiles are here but Mia and Hiro just called in from the airport - there"s no sign of Phoenix"s plan so we think they"re hiding out in one of the smaller towns. We"ve got more arrivals getting settles and we"ve divided up the night watch with running patrols, but wherever Phoenix and his exiles are, they"re hiding for now. Apart from what Josephine …" he turned to me, „and Violet sensed, no one else has felt them moving around."

  The penny dropped. He was angry. I hadn"t gone to him, too.

  I stood up, suddenly uncomfortable sitting while he held the higher ground. „Josephine knew as soon as I did and I knew she"d tell everyone." I felt a pang of guilt for lying but I wasn"t going to risk everyone"s safety just to share my burden. At least it was partly true.

  After getting back from Hell Island and my encounter with Josephine I"d bee-lined straight for my room.

  „You said you"d explain when we got back to the hotel," Lincoln went on, his tone not only hurt but also accusatory. „Is there anything else we don"t know?"

  If the question wasn"t loaded enough already, his glare made up the difference.

  It raised my defence. „I guess I just figured you"d be having another one of your secret meetings and she"d tell you there," I answered back, regretting it instantly and dropping my eyes. He was meant to be holding the fort for Griffin until he got here and the bottom line -

  I"d let him down.

  And I"m about to again.

  „I"m sorry," I said, meaning it for so many reasons.

  „Well," Spence said, jumping up with renewed faux-energy. „Since it seems like there"s nothing else we can do tonight, I"ll be assuming position of cruise director." He swept out a hand and took a bow. „How does a little last supper sound?"

  „Apt," said Onyx.

  Dapper smiled, resigned, and Steph was already up, sifting through her luggage for something to wear. I glanced at Lincoln, his intense green eyes looking for something.

  „Sounds great," I lied, turning my attention to Steph, trying to break the tension.

  „That"s the spirit, Eden," Spence said.

  „Got something I can wear?" I asked Steph as everyone moved towards our door.

  Steph threw me a short-than-I-like red dress. „You know, next time people complain I pack too much, I expect you to remind them it is because I have to pack for you too!"

  „I"ll spread the word. Meet downstairs in fifteen," Spence called, already out the door.

  -

  Five minutes later, I was ready to go with shoes in hand and impatiently waiting for Steph. All I had bothered to do was put on the dress, some mascara and lip gloss. Fidgety and downstairs. I grabbed my phone and went out into the hall. As soon as it registered reception, it began beeping. I tried to ring my voicemail, but only got some recorded message in Greek so I looked at my texts.

  Twelve from Dad. All saying „Call me", the first six ending with „now!", the last six with

  „please!"

  There was also a message from Jase. I wondered why he was texting me instead of Steph.

  Gig"s up! Can only hold off Mum 4 so long. Whatever beach u 2 r baking on u get home pronto!

  And call yr Dad!

  Looking 4ward to yr dance. Jase.

  I had no idea where to start dealing with that, so I just closed the message and called Dad"s mobile. It barely rang once.

  „Hello?" his voice answered quickly.

  „Dad?"

  „Oh, thank God, Violet! Are you okay? I"ve been looking everywhere for you! Where are you? What"s going on? I"ve checked all the hospitals, the airports …"

  But of course, he wouldn"t have been able to find me. I was travelling under a passport that hid all my details as fast as I used them. Dad sounded so panicking - his voice was shaking. He was petrified.

  „I"m in Greece, Dad," I said, instantly feeling relief at telling the truth.

  „What? How? Greece? The country? Who"s with you? Is Lincoln there? I went to his place. I know he"s no here."

  „Yes, to all of it. I"m sorry, Dad. I"m sorry for everything."

  „No, Violet, that"s not good enough! I"ve tried to get hold of her mother but can"t get past her son!"

  I owe Jase.

  „I … I can"t talk for long. Things her are … well, I"m okay."

  There was silence on the other end of the phone.

  „Dad?"

  I heard his ragged breathing. He was crying.

  „I"m here," he said, trying to hide it. He took a deep breath. „Violet, I read your mother"s letter. I don"t understand."

  „I know, Dad. Sometimes I still don"t either but I promise you, when I get back, I I"ll tell you everything and if … I promise I"ll make sure you know the truth. About both of us."

  „Violet, just answer me this: if your mother were still alive, would she agree with whatever it is you are doing?"

  Now I was the one trying to hold back the tears. I sat down at the top of the stairs, not wanting to risk the call cutting out in the lift. „Yes, Dad, this is exactly where she intended me to be."

  His breath caught.

  „Dad, do you love Caroline?" I asked, not sure if I was ready for the answer.

  He paused for a moment. „It"s not that easy
, but she"s a good woman and … I"m trying."

  „You deserve to be happy."

  „Come home to me, Vi. As soon as you can. I know I …I can do better, be a better father, if you give me a chance."

  „It was never about that, Dad. You"re a great father." I held off the tears, looking at the ceiling, and sniffed. „I love you." And then I hung up before I could hear whether he said it back or not.

  „You heard?" I said, already knowing Lincoln was close.

  He sat down beside me.

  „Don"t ask me what you"re about to," he said, an edge to his voice.

  I half laughed through the sobs. „I don"t need to. I know you"ll tell him everything if I don"t make it. And anyway, that"s not what I the thing I need to hear you say yes to."

  Lincoln stood up and moved to the banister, putting distance between us. He looked away as well, focusing on his shoes. I let my eyes slide over him. He was in dark jeans and a black T-shirt that clung perfectly at the seams to his bronze muscled arms. I took a mental picture but it wasn"t right, it wasn"t enough.

  „Linc?" I asked softly.

  He looked up, my tone catching him off-guard. His eyes, green as ever, glistening in the bright light of the hall.

  There. Perfect.

  Then they narrowed, but I had my picture now.

  „Violet, what are you planning? I know you"re keeping something from me."

  I stood up, pulling myself together. „I want your word that if the time comes and Phoenix needs to be taken down, you"ll do it."

  „Violet," he said through gritted teeth, „please, don"t do this. There is a way to sever your connection to Phoenix. We can break it and then I"ll take pleasure in finishing him off."

  I bit my lip. „Do you hope you can break ours, too? It"s just another connection, after all. If one can be broke, why not the other?"

  He shook his head. „You think you have me all figured out."

  I opened my mouth to respond but he put a hand up.

  „Stop trying to change the subject anyway. You know you didn"t give me a chance to explain tonight either until you promise me. In fact," I stood and started stomping down the stairs in my bare feet, still holding my shoes. „You won"t get another conversation out of me until you do. There"s no more time, Lincoln, and you and I both know you"re the only one strong enough to beat him in a fight."

  „Well, that keeps it simple then, because I won"t do it!" he yelled after me.

  I halted, my back still to him, and closed my eyes.

  „You wanted to know why I hit Phoenix the other night?"

  He didn"t say anything.

  I sighed. I knew this would hurt him, but I had to do it

  „He killed Rudyard on purposes. He did it so we"d know we could never be together. It"s my fault, Linc. Rudyard. Nyla. And he"s just getting started." Now I turned to face him, my eyes wet. "Josephine"s right. We"ve let a connection - something that"s out of our hands -

  control us." My chest tightened, each word like another brick weighing down on my struggling lungs, but I kept going. I had to. "If you knew me at all, like I should know you, you would accept that deep down letting that connection control us isn"t something either one of us would really want."

  I saw it.

  I dropped my gaze and turned to start down the stairs. He didn"t say anything, didn"t argue, didn"t follow me. But I saw his shock at hearing about Rudyard, his hurt at understanding it was true, we were to blame and … I saw his surprise at my final words.

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  „ Everywhere the human soul stands between a hemisphere of light and another of darkness; on the confines of the two everlasting empires, necessity and free will."

  Thomas Carlyle

  Lincoln didn"t come to the restaurant for dinner. Josephine told us that he"d decided to patrol Fira with Mia and Hiro. It was the only time that evening that she actually acknowledged my presence and she watched for my reaction, enjoying baiting me. I didn"t give her the satisfaction - everyone was taking turns patrolling. Lincoln had clearly - decided to add a shift in order to avoid me. I was relieved, even if I couldn"t fully ignore the way my entire body ached for him.

  It had been happening ever since we"d grown closer in Jordan. Maybe even before that.

  The pain of being near him was intensifying all the time. But sometimes, like now, separation was even worse. I felt so much yearning that I"d swear I had internal injuries.

  I worked hard at keeping up my barriers and I knew that wherever he was, he would be doing the same. But I doubted that anything could ever sever our „connection". If nothing else, at least our earlier conversation would keep him avoiding me for the rest of the night.

  And that could only be good.

  I played with my food and nodded along with the conversation, even laughing when Spence dropped half his grilled octopus down his shirt. I acted normally, if a little distant, but no one noticed. Even Steph was too busy chatting with Salvatore in the corner of the table, slipping into Italian to share sweet nothings.

  When dessert arrived, I picked at m gelato and almond shortbread as I looked around the table and convinced myself I was making the right decision. I had brought no one else into it. Had left no one to face the blame for my actions. I resolved to face Phoenix and if I could stop him before he opened the gates to Hell, I would. Most importantly, he wouldn"t hurt my friends.

  I checked my watch again and when I looked up Onyx was staring as if he could see right through me.

  „You still have some power, don"t you?" I asked him. I"d suspected it for some time, but now I was sure he was seeing things that a mere human could not.

  „Surrounding myself with those who carry power does seem to revive a certain strength in me, but no, I"m not becoming powerful once more. Not nearly."

  „That"s why you wanted to come, isn"t it? To stay close?" When he didn"t answer I went on. „Did you heal yourself after the exile attack?" I still hadn"t figured out how he"d recovered so quickly.

  His hand went to his now healed face and neck as if he too marvelled.

  „I"m afraid that"s a mystery to me as well." He hitched a shoulder and I realised he wasn"t telling me the whole truth. „What you"re sensing is time. So much time and so many things I have seen. Not many looks or thoughts have escaped my view."

  I nodded - it made sense but I didn"t want to admit that to him so kept my expression neutral.

  „Too late." He gave a toothy grin.

  I glanced around nervously. My instinct was to move away from him, but for some reason I couldn"t respond.

  „You"re in pain - and not just in your mind."

  „Just muscle aches," I said, concentrating on my gelato again.

  „The soul." He raise his eyebrows when I looked up. I stopped breathing.

  „What about it?" I stabbed at my dessert repetitively.

  „It can be like a beast within us - calling to us, feeding us, leading us. But the beast is savage and if it has found and taste its mark, it will not quiet until it has what it desires. Your soul is fighting you, Violet. There is only so long you can hold it at bay before …"

  I shook my head, cutting him off. „I know what you"re saying and you"re wrong. We never

  … my soul hasn"t joined with his." We had fought it, had stayed away from each other.

  „When denied for long enough, souls can take a mind of their own. Sex is the obvious form of joining, but if a connection is strong enough, it can find its way through other things.

  A look, a kiss, a touch, words - declarations. The soul can reach through anything if it is stirred by them. You may not be fully joined to him, but the process has begun and your soul is clawing at you from the inside out."

  I bowed my head as tears slid silently and plentifully down my cheeks. He made so much sense.

  „If I die?" I barely got the words out.

  Onyx considered the question. „No, he would survive. To join completely you would need to consummate bonding fully and willingly,
but until then expect to experience more and more pain as your soul"s demands increase."

  At least that was something. I checked my watch again.

  „Going somewhere?"

  My head snapped up and my next words surprised me as I realised my final decision had been made. „I need to make sure no one follows me."

  Onyx shrugged, but I could see the shock in his eyes that I was trusting him. „Diversions are my speciality."

  I nodded in thanks. He leaned into me, grabbing my hand, his grip not just tight but oddly compassionate.

  „I shall be disappointed if you do not prevail.;

  „Careful, Onyx. That sounds like you might actually care."

  „Would you prefer I said that I hope you fail? That Hell is unleashed upon us all as your friends mourn for you and blame themselves? Or perhaps that if it were me in Phoenix"s position, I"d use every advantage I have and then kill you and all your friends anyway?"

  It took a moment to recover from his honesty but I surprised myself once again by actually smiling. „Maybe just “good luck”."

  His eyes scanned the table quickly, as did mine. No one had been watching our hushed discussion.

  „How about this?" he dropped his tone so that it was barely audible. „ You are from the Sole."

  „Nothing new there, Onyx ," I started to lean back in my seat but he tightened his grip.

  „The Sole is the highest command."

  Yes … They are.

  Why hadn"t I seen that before? Wishful thinking …

  At least now I know why Phoenix needs me and … when he"ll be finished with me.

  Onyx stood up, grabbed a bottle of wine from the table, knocking another one in the process, and started swinging it around wildly, feigning drunkenness. I wondered how often he"d used that decoy.

  When he moved towards Steph and flicked the bottle so that its contents flew into her lap. I slipped from the room. Onyx had played his part perfectly. Steph was the most likely to notice my absence; this would keep her busy for a while.

  Once outside, I ran. Through the narrow cobbled streets of Santorini, I ran from the truth, ran from my soul and - even worse - ran from my heart. I could never hide the truth from myself. I wasn"t connected to Lincoln. It wasn"t that we were chemically soulmates and fighting some off-hand pairing. Now Onyx had explained it to me, I could feel it so much more.

 
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