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       Emblaze, p.26

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  My soul raking at me from the inside, pining for what it not only craved and desired …

  but for what I loved.

  It was painful to consider that it may not be true for Lincoln, and that maybe that was for the best. But for me, the pain of being without him would never pass, would only increase.

  We could stand beside each other for eternity but if he wasn"t mine in every way, it would make no difference.

  I made it to the hotel and caught a glimpse of myself in the foyer mirror, and realised I hadn"t stopped crying.

  „In a rush?" a voice spoke. I spun to see the leather-clad Grigori from the secret meeting leaning against a wall.

  „You"re Gray, aren"t you?" I asked, trying to pull myself together quickly.

  He raised an eyebrow. „At times. And you"re the one who has this lot"s panties in a twist."

  „You"re one of the Rogues, aren"t you?"

  „I"m just like you, sweetheart - I just read the fine print. Where"re you off to, anyhow?"

  I wiped away the tears. „Have you been following me?" I half asked, half accused.

  He took a step towards me. „You look like someone headed for trouble."

  „No. I just have somewhere to be." I needed to shut him down. „I"m sure you do too."

  „That you"re way of telling me to sod off?"

  I glanced at my watch then back at Gray. I was out of time. „Would you rathe me tell you in another way?"

  He threw his head back and laughed. „You think you could take me? Sweetheart, oh, that"s priceless. But, like you say, I have somewhere else to be, so we"ll have to pick this up another day." He took another step towards me so we were almost touching. „And, just so you know, I"ll be looking forward to it."

  With that he have me a wide grin and sauntered out of the hotel.

  I bolted for the stairs.

  By the time I reached the rooftop I was doubled over in pain. I stumbled to the edge of the building. Dad would be okay. Phoenix would keep his word and not go after him. And even if I didn"t make it back … maybe he"d be better off without me, the constant reminder of Mum. He was finally showing his first signs of moving on - maybe he and Caroline would work out.

  Steph had already endured too much because of our friendship. I couldn"t ask any more of her. It was time for me to be the smart one. I"d left her a gift under her pillow before leaving the room tonight. She"d know my wishes and, if not, at least it would help keep her safe.

  Then there was Griffin. Poor Griffin, he would blame himself, think he should have been there to stop me going. But he was our leader and he would do his duty to the end. If something happened to me, Griffin would help stop Phoenix.

  Onyx already understood, which was stranger than anything else. Dapper would pretend he had never cared until he actually didn"t. Spence would be angry with me, so angry that he"d be okay.

  And Lincoln. A cry escaped my lips. He"d look for me. But I had to accept that he was more of a victim in this than any of us. I would have loved him anyway, even without the soul thing - but he … he dreaded me. If Phoenix ended things, ended me, Lincoln would be allocated a new - better - partner. He could be what he really wanted to be - a great warrior.

  And he would return Phoenix.

  Phoenix.

  I grasped the barrier at the edge of the roof and looked down. I could deny it all I wanted but it didn"t stop me being scared. Then I reminded myself of what it would be like if I didn"t go with him.

  He"ll be maddened, take it out on the people I love.

  I could feel them now. Both of them moving towards me. I"d let my barriers fall with the pain, my soul had broken out and my power had extended. Lincoln was racing, I could feel his heartbeat. Somehow he knew I was at a crossroads, but he was too far away to help. I wondered where he was, why he had travelled so far. Phoenix was closer, moving at speed, lightning fast.

  I took hold of my dagger to give my shaking hands something to do, but it didn"t help much.

  My mind was racing. Phoenix would be here any second, with Lincoln only moments behind.

  Lincoln will be caught off-guard. Phoenix will have the advantage.

  „Whatever are you doing, lover?" Phoenix"s voice was low. He was close but not close enough. I still had the upper hand as I held my dagger, point raised.

  „Don"t move, Phoenix."

  He didn"t. which alerted me to just how much he needed me for his plan to work.

  Gressil and Olivier, his exile generals, leaped onto the rooftop behind him. I hadn"t been expecting back-up and I wasn"t the only one surprise by their appearance. Phoenix covered his reaction quickly and put a hand out to stop them where they were. Both did as ordered, but Gressil struggled - his hunger clear. He wanted to fight.

  I forced my eyes back to Phoenix. „You"ll kill everyone on this island if you make that volcano erupt. Last time they tried to open the gates, it destroyed everything."

  Phoenix held his hands up, palms out. „I don"t want to fight you yet, but I will. I need you, yes - but I"ve healed you once before, I can do it again."

  „There are children here, Phoenix, babies, thousands of people and their homes.

  Whether you admit it or not, I know that the human in you know that, and I can"t let you do this."

  His eyes narrowed and darted in Gressil and Olivier"s direction.

  Is that look meant for me?

  It almost seemed like a warning.

  „How about a compromise?" he offered, his eyes now boring into me.

  I could feel Lincoln"s determination, his power growing, searching me. He knew where I was, he would be here in moments.

  „Fast," I said.

  Phoenix didn"t hesitate. Perhaps he also sensed Lincoln nearing. „I will help minimise the destruction. I can"t promise to save everyone but I can prevent the masses going down with the volcano. I"ll save thousands, if you come with me."

  Something in the way he said it made me think he was pleased with me.

  I couldn"t think straight.

  He"s offering me a deal: if I go with him and help him open the gates; he"ll save lives in return. But, if it works and he brings Lilith back; would thousands more not die anyway?"

  Phoenix took a step towards me.

  „Don"t," I warned. He was smart enough to stop.

  The stairwell door blasted open and Lincoln launched himself through it, freezing at the sight of Phoenix in front of him. Three of the most lethal exiles in existence were standing just metres apart. „Well, aren"t we the perfect triangle?" Phoenix mused.

  His words struck a nerve - I"d just be looking at triangles, drawing them.

  Lincoln assessed the scene fast. With Phoenix, Gressil and Olivier present, we had little chance to overcome them, given Phoenix"s power over me.

  „Violet, don"t … don"t …" he said, quietly.

  I could see Gressil from the corner of my eye. His expression was wild, he was barely restraining himself and now also sending a deadly stare in Phoenix"s direction. Phoenix would not be able to contain him for long.

  „I have offered Violet a compromise: to help preserve the human lives on this island she will come with me."

  „If I don"t go with you, you can"t make it work anyway!" I argued, still struggling to comprehend all the angels of this choice.

  Phoenix"s eye narrowed enough for me to know he was losing his patience. „I can awaken the volcano without you and if you don"t come with me, I"ll release the Grigori Scripture to Gressil and Olivier to do with as they please."

  Gressil smiled.

  A shiver ran down my spine. I knew he would take great pleasure in hunting down and eliminating any human destined to become Grigori. I remembered how frightened I had been when I first met Phoenix and discovered he was an exiled. I couldn"t imagine being faced with someone as violent as Gressil.

  „Violet," Lincoln said, calmly. "Look at me."

  But I couldn"t. it was taking all my strength just to hold off the intensity of pain. Being this close t
o him had never hurt so much.

  „I"ll go with you," Lincoln said to Phoenix.

  Phoenix laughed. "Afraid not. It"s her or nothing, but I"ll give you every chance to get her back in one piece …" he paused. "Though I cannot control her actions. Or yours. I"ve made my offer, I have more than enough witnesses to that effect," he said, turning to Olivier. Then he looked back at Lincoln, something else showing in his expression, before turning to Gressil. " I will not be the cause of any long-lasting harm to her." He turned back to Lincoln and I was sure something passed between them. Lincoln nodded.

  I dared another glanced in Lincoln"s direction. Sweat was dripping from his brow his face was contorted in what looked like agony. Did he feel it, too? No, he"d run all the way from wherever he"d been, he was just exhausted. Even more reason for me to go - if he had to fight Phoenix now, it would not be good.

  „No. No, Violet, listen to me!" Lincoln could tell where my thoughts were going. „Come over here. You need to come to me." He stood still.

  It was all up to me. Lincoln needed me to move closer to him before he could try and defend me and Phoenix wouldn"t move closer to em until he knew I would cooperate.

  „Please, Violet. This isn"t your responsibility. Please look at me." Lincoln sounded so tired, but that one glance had already hurt too much. I couldn"t look at him again without crumbling.

  He sighed, a sound so sad it felt like a knife in my heart. „It"s okay. I … I understand. Just listen then. You, Violet Eden, do not do this. You don"t take the easy option and that"s what this is. You never stop fighting. We never stop fighting. We"ll find another way to stop this.

  Vi, I can"t-" but he was cut off when once again the door to the stairwell flew open.

  Gray.

  „Decision1" Phoenix demanded.

  Gray paused, assessing the scene. His eyes settled on me and I could tell he would not interfere here.

  He led Lincoln to me.

  I suddenly realised he was working with him - I just didn"t understand what their plan was.

  He took a step back, hand reaching out casually to the stairwell door and bracing himself against it.

  Sly.

  He was barricading it.

  Lincoln was right. I don"t run. Violet Eden doesn"t quit. And she doesn"t dream silly dreams that end like a storybook. I adjusted my grip on my dagger. Time was up. I needed to decide and really, I"d already achieved more than I"d expected. Phoenix was an empath.

  He could sense my emotions more than anyone, even Lincoln. He"d have known for a while that my choice was made and how I felt about having to make it. And yet, he"d taken my bait, offered a deal, almost as if he"d wanted the same thing all along …

  That"s exactly it! He just wants Lilith. He"ll do whatever he has to in order to bring her back. But he can"t tell the others he isn"t excited by the idea of mass murder. Going with him is my only option.

  „Gressil, you may stay if you desire. Olivier, I need your presence," Phoenix ordered, smiling as he felt me make my decision.

  I turned to Lincoln. „I"m sorry," I whispered, as I sheathed my dagger and held my arms wide.

  They both moved, but Phoenix had me in his clutches before Lincoln had barely taken a step.

  I closed my eyes and didn"t fight. When his face nestled in my hair and his voice murmured softly into my ear, „Sleep," I knew I could resist it but instead I forced back the impulse and allowed myself to fall into slumber.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

  „It was like something lurking in the darkness within him … There it remained in the darkness, the great pain, tearing him at times, and then being silent."

  DH Lawrence

  PHOENIX

  I double-check the locks again before falling into the heavyset armchair on the far side of the room. Locks can’t stop them physically, but not one of them would risk breaking my door.

  Having her so close is … distracting.

  Almost everything is working our as I’d planned yet still I feel the gnawing in my chest. It never lets up, but when she is around … it’s worse than having a cursed conscience.

  I try not to watch her, but it’s impossible. My eyes have barely strayed from her since I swept her into my arms.

  I wonder if she knows her markings swirl while she dreams?

  I grind my jaw. I hate myself for this, but it’s not easy - not when I could just reach out and touch her. She’s luminous, even in the dark - like a light shines from within her. A light that is burning me alive.

  ‘Christ,’ I mumble to myself.

  Thinking back to the first time I laid eyes on her at Hades on her seventeenth birthday. I still wonder: why her? Why me? I’ve been around for a long time - there were many women before her. I’m a creature of lust and have always taken what I wanted - the guilty, the innocent, the coveted, those with promise and those without. All of them lured so easily by the otherworldliness the could never understand. They found me impossible to resist. Even when I treated them poorly, then abandoned them, they still came to me.

  I can’t explain why everything changed the second I saw her, only that it did.

  And I can never go back.

  She floated through her surroundings that night, unaware of the attention she drew to herself. Lincoln was with her, watching carefully as she drank too much. I could tell just by the look on his face that he loved her. I could feel it too - and was surprised how much it irritated me - that he leaked so much pure adoration and devotion to her. Perhaps that’s why my interest in her stirred. Perhaps.

  Now … she’s ruined me.

  I should have killed her that night. Saved myself the heartache from knowing what it was like to hold her in my arms and feel that forbidden hope. Did I truly believe she could have found love with me? That perhaps redemption was not unreachable?

  Fool!

  I planned just to have fun - entertain myself for a spell and then do away with her. I should’ve known I was in trouble when I found myself unwittingly smiling, unable to take my eyes away. The clinched had been when Lincoln ran from her advances.

  He could be such a pansy.

  But taking her in my arms, knowing a Grigori made of a Power lurked nearby was madness, even for an exile. Powers are territorial. If ever there were a Grigori to avoid, it would be them - almost impossible to beat for most exiles.

  The moment I touched her, my suspicions of her power were blown out of the water. Raw power.

  I should have dropped her and run, but by then it was too late. Decision made. I was going to have her.

  I laugh bitterly as I watch her sleep.

  I think of all that has happened since finding her. Barely a blink in my existence, but everything has changed. Partly my fault, but partly hers too and I refuse to punish myself when I can focus all my energy on retribution. We loved the ones we hate.

  And I hate her with all my heart.

  I never believed anything could be worse than being cast out of the angel realm

  … but being cast out from her life has been agony. Now, my hatred makes me do things I never thought I’d be willing to do, whatever my potential.

  I hear another fight break out down the hall and try to ignore the sounds of flesh ripping at flesh. I don’t care. If I didn’t need exiles, I’d kill them all myself just for the therapy. But I’ve lost my patience with too many lately, serving them up to the Grigori on platters. My forces are already thinning and some of the exiles are becoming suspicious.

  Competent exiles are few and far between and unfortunately the most proficient are also the most ruthless. Gressil has been one of the best, but having him so close

  … I have barely been able to make it through the days without killing him. Olivier isn’t much easier.

  A loud crash - like glass smashing. More fighting. At least right now they won’t expect me to step in. they think I’m in here beating her … or worse. Ironic then that I’m too damn terrified even to wake her up.

  I jump to my feet when she roll
s over, then remind myself she is under my illusion. She can’t wake without me knowing.

  An exile’s deathly scream comes from the hall. I smile. It sounds like Justin. It is only a matter of time before his heart is torn apart. Judgement will not go well for him. Then again, it won’t fare well for any of us. Especially me. Especially now. But suffering consequences is something I am used to - a result of never belonging in any one place, never holding any true value despite my power.

  Well, that is about to change.

  Despite my efforts I have been neither angel nor human enough. But I will rule as an exile.

  I give in, stand up and move closer to her.

  ‘I never knew,’ I whisper, unable to stop myself.

  She can’t hear me. It is bad enough I can hear myself. Admissions of guilt are not my thing and now I’ve opened myself up to that one particular memory - the hardest one to push from my mind.

  My skin burns even now, remembering how every touch she graced me with that night in the wilderness felt like a gift I was not worthy of.

  I brush a few strands of hair back from her face and my fingers ache to touch her again. I move away for fear of doing just that.

  Why did I ever let that connection form between us? I hadn’t planned it but still revelled when the power surged through me, masochist that I am.

  Thrilled by the knowledge I had power over her, I promised I would never use it because I loved her. But even so, already, quietly, my dark mind had begun plotting ways to ensure she’d always be mine.

  I should have told her straight away. Maybe she would have forgiven me. Maybe she would’ve understood why I didn’t heal Lincoln. I knew that if she didn’t embrace, didn’t become the power she was destined to be, then one way or another -

  exiles or angels - they’d destroy her.

  I couldn’t stand by watch that happen.

  Looking at myself in the mirror, I pick up the hotel vase with its fake flowers and throw it at my reflection.

  Think about the future! Remember the look in her eyes when she told you to leave and not come back!

 
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