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       Emblaze, p.27

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  I grab a fragment of broken mirror and run the point down my arm, drawing both distraction and strength from the pain. Don’t forget the sight of her falling into Lincoln’s arms the moment I released her from the bond - as soon as her true nature was once again in her control.

  I take a deep steadying breath and watch the wound heal.

  Good as new.

  And now, more than ever, I must rise for the ashes - that’s what a Phoenix does.

  I have a purpose now. Soon I’ll have Lilith. Finally, I will be the son she always wanted me to be. She will give me a place to belong in this world. I’ve fought our relationship in the past, rejecting her ways, thinking I could be better.

  I have been wrong.

  I look down at the Scripture before me. Releasing them had relied upon the existence of light and dark, but it had also required Violet. Carrying out these instruction will be no different. I glance at her again.

  One girl, so much power.

  She still doesn’t realise what she is, what she could be to either side - though I have always suspected which one is grooming her. She is key to so much. It all resolves around her. Something her Grigori have yet to work out or accept. They carry the knowledge of angels but also our pride. They are so preoccupied protecting their world they are too caught up to see that, in her, they already have the tool to do it.

  I look at Violet. It’s her fault. She did this to me.

  I don’t need these people. Once I have Lilith back, we’ll have no need for them.

  We’ll go away - start again. No longer forsaken, I will belong.

  I feel the energy in the room spark. The compulsion is fading. In a few minutes she will open her eyes. Will she show fear at the sight of me? No. She grows stronger every day - soon she won’t think twice before ending me. Maybe I will talk to her. Let me speak to me.

  I glance at the map lying on the coffee table. We will leave soon. Everything is arranged.

  There are three stages, water first. She’ll hate me after making her do this, but there is no other way. It is for the best and it is easier for me when I see the flashes of hate in her eyes. It keeps me focused - and after this the other flashes, the one that shows me she knows me in a way no one else does, will dissolve altogether.

  Fire comes next, forming the second point of the triangle. The way it has all come together makes me wonder if this is all some game, some twisted mark of fate that the three of us are so entwined.

  Doubtless.

  Fire will be easy. Lincoln will know what he has to do to save her. He’ll do anything for her, except the one thing they both want - I’ve seen to that. I let her think I had Rudyard killed on purpose. I wish I had been strong enough to give that order, but in reality the exiles had broken rank and acted themselves. I had lost my control over them for a moment while I made sure Violet survived. I’d called them out as soon as I could, but I was too late to save the one called Rudyard. And his mate.

  I’d beaten Gressil to within a breath of his life for that. It is a miracle the exiles don’t get away from me more often. Soon I’ll be finished with them and can leave them for the Grigori to finish off.

  After fire comes my part, the third point of the ultimate triangle - not within the diagram but drawn into the words - this is the only part about which I’m not one hundred per cent sure. The prophecy requires my pain, payment - blood, naturally - and desire. I have no problems with any of those, but the line about

  ‘insufferable pain’ troubles me. Who? Of the three of us, who must suffer the greatest pain?

  I notice Violet roll from her side to her back. Her hand moves out before she can stop it.

  Good girl.

  Searching for her weapon. Of course … it is far away from her for now. She pretends to sleep even as someone knocks at the door.

  It is Olivier, with two enforcer exiles behind him. I like that he is afraid to come to me alone. He asks after Gressil and I try to hide the smirk on my face as I explain I have not sensed him since he chose to remain to fight against Lincoln.

  Even before the door closes I can feel her emotion. She has worked out the arrangement I made with Lincoln: her safety in exchange for ridding me of Gressil. She is so confident Lincoln has succeeded, so certain of her faith in him. I want it to make me hate her, but it does the opposite.

  Damn it - she’s so frustrated.

  I would give anything to make her mine, but I will never be enough for her.

  I sit beside her while she lies still, keeping her breathing steady, even though I sense her heart rate jump at my nearness. And then I realise - the line I have fretted over so much in the prophecy is really the only one I needn’t worry about. I run my hand over her forehead, allowing my fingers to move down the side of her face.

  ‘Love will kill us all.’

  And it is entirely insufferable.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

  „ Violet, the amethyst, signified love and truth; or passion and suffering."

  Anna Jameson

  The first time I woke, it was to a loud banging. I was lying on a bed. I moved my hands and feet, which were bare, and felt silk sheets beneath me. I could sense an overwhelming number of exiles nearby, but only one actually in the room with me - Phoenix - I felt for my dagger. It was gone.

  How many exiles were here? Too many to count.

  I heard noises of movement and a door opened.

  „Where is Gressil?" a voice growled.

  „I cannot say for sure. I left him to fight, at his request. I have not felt his presence since."

  I could hear the satisfaction in Phoenix"s voice. Gressil had obviously become a problem.

  Phoenix had left him behind to fight Lincoln. That was their exchange. Phoenix"s oath he wouldn"t kill me, and Lincoln"s word he would destroy Gressil in return. Gressil was gone.

  Good.

  After the door closed, I heard him come closer. He knew I was awake, but he let me pretend to be asleep. Maybe so he could pretend, too. Leaning over me, he pushed the hair back from my forehead. His fingers lingered on a strand of hair and then trailed lightly down my face.

  „Love will kill us all," he said sadly. „First it makes us lie furiously so we can be what we must in order to appear deserving. Then, it tears us apart with raw truth. Whether we are man, exile or angel - it doesn"t matter. For us all, the nature of truth is unforgiving."

  I could hear the regret, could feel it flowing from him to me like a confession and my chest tightened for him.

  „Sleep, my love," he compelled me to do so again.

  And, like the last time, I let his power overrule my own, finding solace in the silence.

  -

  I woke to find Phoenix carrying me, cradling me confidently in his arms as he moved on foot. I could feel other exiles hovering, hungry to reach me. My face was stiff and sore. I heard them arguing behind us but I was groggy to make out exactly what they were saying.

  He spun around and the sound the came from him was terrifying. I half expected him to crush me in his arms but he kept the same controlled hold on me.

  „If any of you come near her again while she is in this state, I give you my word that your fate will match Aiden"s!"

  I sensed the exiles moving back, uncharacteristically cowering from Phoenix"s unquestionable power.

  I assumed Aiden, whoever he was, had been responsible for the throbbing pain on my face - I wouldn"t be surprised if my cheekbone was broken.

  Aiden was dead.

  I"d seen Phoenix take down an exile before, ripping his heart right out of his chest. No wonder I could taste the aniseed flavour that signalled their fear. None of these exiles questioned his power.

  It should have frightened me, too. But it didn"t. If nothing else, Phoenix had honour in battle. He wouldn"t let them beat me without a fair fight, just as he"d never allowed exiles into my home when I was asleep. He wouldn"t even use his powers over me unless I could stand and fight - there was no challenge in that.

 
I opened my eyes the little I could, wincing at the sharp pain.

  Dawn was coming, lighting the sky only just. I had a feeling more than one night had passed.

  He was watching me.

  I shifted - the slighted angling of my body towards him, into his hold. I knew I was safe with him even though he held me in this coma-like state. It didn"t mean he wouldn"t hurt me later or let one of them kill me. It didn"t mean he"d stop me if the time came for drastic measures. But for now, I was safe.

  I saw something in his eyes as the corners of his mouth lifted, a look that was not exile but … human.

  „Bliss," he whispered, followed softly by, „sleep."

  His power - jasmine and musk - blanketed me and I closed my eyes once again.

  -

  The next time I woke up I was lying on a narrow vinyl bed opposite a galley - I could tell by the sound and movement that we were on a speed boat. It took a while, but this time I woke fully. I could sense Phoenix somewhere above. There were no other exiles with us, but I could feel their distant presence nonetheless, an awesome number, unlike anything I"d ever sense before.

  The boat started to slow. He knew I was awake. My hand pushed out and knocked something cold and hard - my dagger in its sheath. He"d left it for me.

  I wasn"t going back to sleep this time.

  -

  I took inventory. My legs were wobbly, but working. My face was bruised, but already I was healing so I knew some time had passed since I"d been experiencing internally, thanks to my soul, seemed to have lessened, though I didn"t know how long that would last. I could still feel it lurking inside me, like a clever snake waiting to strike.

  Phoenix had left a change of clothes and while I didn"t want to give him the satisfaction of putting them on I didn"t want to have to fight in the red dress I was still wearing. I quickly changed into the pants and singlet and was relieved to find a pair of trainers too. I shivered

  - it was creepy he knew all my sizes. I secured my dagger around my waist and quickly scanned the small cabin to see if there was anything else that could help me, but everything was bolted down. I searched in vain for a radio, but it was futile - Phoenix had been thorough in his preparations.

  Looking through the small porthole it seemed like mid-morning but again I felt certain another full day and night had passed since last waking. I had no idea how long I"d been under Phoenix"s spell.

  After waiting as long as I dared, I made my way up to the deck. Phoenix was sitting on a plastic bench that wrapped around a square white table, fixed to the floor. A large sheet around a square out in front of him. A map. Drawn on top of it - a carefully plotted large inverted triangle with another smaller one within.

  I took in my surroundings, squinting into the strong sunlight. We were off shore, but I could still see Santorini in the distance and its white cliff tops reflecting the sun. The ocean was an amazing rich blue - the type you usually only see in the movies - except for the water encircling the boat, which was as dark as tar and uninviting. It lapped against the hull menacingly, hiding something awful, deep below.

  „Where are your exiles?" I asked, my voice croaky and my throat sandpaper dry.

  „Busy drawing straws." He glanced up at me, a small look of amusement in his eyes, then, just as quickly, went back to his papers. „Not many of them like the water. Drowning is uncomfortable. Being immortal and trapped at the bottom of the ocean even more so."

  „How long have I been asleep? Why am I here?"

  He picked up a jug that was at his side and poured what looked like water into an empty glass, sliding it in my direction.

  „This is your fourth day with me."

  „How have I not starved?" I asked, subconsciously patting myself down. I was definitely slimmer but thought that was more a general result of the past few months.

  He hitched a shoulder. „While you"re under, your body conserves its strength and resources. Now drink," he commanded.

  I took a step towards the water glass before shaking myself out of it. „No. I let you bring me but don"t you think you can influence me without my permission."

  He shrugged. „If you"re thirsty, you know where it is." He studied the map again and tapped his pen on the table. „I need to know what they"re planning, Violet. I"m sure Griffin will try to launch some kind of attack as soon as we arrive at the volcano. What are they going to do to stop me?" He pushed as much compulsion as he could into the question.

  I laughed briefly. „Well, I really was the wrong person to take! I wasn"t even invited to the war room. I have no idea, only that it"s not Griffin calling the shots at the moment. But if I know Lincoln, I"d have to agree with you."

  With any luck he"ll be waiting for you with a great big welcoming party!

  Phoenix studied me for a time. „You really don"t know."

  It wasn"t a question - he"d been trying to read me and seen I wasn"t hiding anything.

  „Let me guess. That was Lincoln"s doing?" he said, frustration leaking from his tone and showing in his snarl.

  I blinked. „What do you mean?"

  He threw his pen down now and sat back. „Leaving you out of the loop was smart. I"ll give him that."

  „Why am I here, Phoenix?" I repeated, not needing a reminder that Lincoln had been keeping secrets from me, yet again.

  „I need your services."

  „Well, you know what, you can go stuff yourself?" I said, suddenly having serious second thoughts.

  He just smiled. „I could. But I don"t think so."

  Had I made a huge mistake coming with him? Maybe I had - to think I could stop him from the inside. Plus, being on this small boat was making me feel claustrophobic. I started looking for a way out.

  „I"m leaving," I said, searching my pockets for my phone, before remembering he"d taken it. I stormed to the edge of the boat, leaning over the railing.

  „More dramatic threats?"

  I glared at him and started to climb the steel wires. „I"m a good swimmer."

  „That may be, but there are things in this water that move much faster than you today, especially if you"re bleeding."

  The threat was loud and clear.

  I spun but he was already there. Before giving it any more thought I kneed him in the groin and moved myself into a better defensive position. I knew he was right about the water, but with him and I alone like this, it might be my only chance. We were both awake now, both strong. He wouldn"t hesitate to hurt me if it served his purposes.

  Phoenix folded over in pain, even though he tried to laugh it off.

  I held my position.

  „Okay then," he said, straightening. Then, like lightning, he hit me across the face.

  Fighting on a small boat is challenging. Every time you move you bump into something hard. But I kept my focus. I was strong and tactical and I used everything I had - Lincoln"s training to stand still and wait for the attack was particularly handy in the confined space.

  Phoenix was cocky to start with, lazy in his defence. He thought he"d have me easily.

  But I dodged his strikes cleanly and returned hits, making contact. When I finally managed a kick to his gut, forcing him hard into the railing and giving him a good view of the dark waters, his expression changed. He"d come dangerously close to taking a bath and the exile in him raged, fuelled with a sense of pride and superiority. Now, the fight really began.

  He delivered a full-force hit to my stomach, which threw me back as he grabbed my arm and swung me around so that his next kick went into the small of my back and made me fall on my face. I got up fast. My back was spasming in horrific pain, but I didn"t stop. I moved forwards, knowing he would try to finish me with his fists, but I ducked in time, hitting him as I came back up, then stepping away from him enough to ensure my next kick caught him in the side of his ribs. When he moved to protect the area, my knee went up, without thinking, to strike his face. But Phoenix was too fast. He caught my leg, pulled it out and spun me so hard my entire body pretzelled until
I lay twisted on the ground, one of my feet in his hold.

  He crouched on top of me, straining my leg backwards at the knee before dropping it.

  Then, he sat on top of me.

  „Well," he marvelled, as if perplexed. „That … took longer than I expected.

  I squirmed under his weight, but I was pegged face down.

  „And that …"

  He slammed his fist down on the boat decking. I flinched.

  „Wouldn"t be the wisest thing to do right now!"

  I could feel the tremor running through him as he held me down. I waited for him to do something, go on the attack. I was his captive and he clearly wanted to prove it. I stayed still, barely breathing, and closed my eyes.

  Waiting can be worse than anything else in the world.

  To my surprise, a few minutes later he seemed to rein himself in and his breathing settled. When he spoke, his voice was even.

  „Now, here"s how it"s going to go. In about fifteen minutes, three exiles will be brought before you and you will return them as and when I instruct you. Do you understand?"

  „Never!" I spat out, grimacing under his weight.

  „And if you don"t, not only will I be forced to hurt you, badly, but I will finish what I started with Steph." He leaned over me, until his body covered mine and his mouth was at my ear.

  „I give you my word on that."

  I clenched my jaw. Phoenix might now, for whatever reason, want to kill me yet, but he would kill Steph and anyone else I cared about if he had to.

  „Do we have an agreement?"

  „Yes."

  -

  Another speed boat appeared shortly after, pulling up alongside us. Olivier was on it, plus half a dozen exiles, three bound tightly in lashings of metal chains. Phoenix tied their boat to the back of ours, but didn"t invite them to climb aboard. I wondered if they were really afraid of the water or if that was just an excuse for why he"d been keeping them away. I suspected he was either protecting me in some bizarre way or staking his claim on me.

  After being curtly instructed, Olivier pushed the first exile into our boat and over to Phoenix, who yanked him closer. The way Phoenix handled him was … strange - with a kind of contempt, as if he was pleased to be destroying him.

 
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