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       Emblaze, p.28

           Jessica Shirvington

  „These are three of our strongest. Are you sure you want these ones?" Olivier asked.

  „Absolutely," Phoenix said with a growl.

  Why is he destroying their most vicious? Is that a requirement of the sacrifice?

  I didn"t think so. In fact, the more I thought about it, Phoenix seemed to take every opportunity he could to destroy an exile. He needed them, but he also despised them. Even now.

  Does that mean there"s still hope?

  He hauled that exile towards me, forcing him to his knees.

  „Return him and throw him to the water before he is gone."

  I took my dagger in my hand, wondering why it hadn"t occurred to me to use it when I"d been fighting with Phoenix. I hadn"t even considered it.

  „I can"t just execute him!" I pleaded.

  But Phoenix just pushed the exile closer to me, moving neared himself at the same time, and speaking quietly so the other boatload could not hear.

  „He kills women only. None older than twenty. He rapes them until there is no life in them and then he burns their bodies, roasting his dinner on the flames."

  Phoenix held my eyes, making sure I understood that he was telling me the truth.

  When I drove my dagger into the exile"s heart, I didn"t feel as bad as I thought I would. In fact, I felt almost entitled. I pulled it out and threw him to the water as instructed, not willing to risk Steph"s life with another delay.

  Whatever lurked within the shadows pounced quickly, wrapping itself around the exile like silken evil, pulling its catch deep before disappearing entirely. Without another word, Phoenix started up the engine and took us in a straight line to the second sacrificial site. I looked at the map again. We were travelling to the points of the outer triangle.

  Three at the hand of the highest command.

  The second exile targeted children, taking them from their parents for ransom and then delivering them back afterwards. In pieces.

  I killed him fast.

  The third one, from the look in Phoenix"s eyes, was the worst. He didn"t tell me what this one did, he just appeared envious that I was the one who got to return him. That was enough for me.

  Each time we stopped, the waters darkened around is until I threw overboard the dying exile and something sinister moved in their depths, swallowing its victim whole.

  I felt little remorse for returning these monsters. No fate could be too awful for them. But still. With each thrust of my dagger I hated Phoenix for making me do this, forcing my hand to bring their ends and using their demise to help unleash something even worse.

  When the last exile had been taken and Olivier"s boat was headed towards land, I turned on Phoenix and hit him across the face with the hilt of my dagger. He stumbled back, I hadn"t expected to injure him, not that way, anyway. I had hit him so he"d know.

  „It will never be you. You will never break me!"

  He stood straight. „Oh, believe me, Violet, I know that." He shook his head, more to himself than me. „I fell you … All the time, even when you are not near. I know where your emotion is vested and who has the power to break you. I know it is not me. But thank you for the reminder." He wiped a drop of blood from his lip.

  „I"ll do it again if you like," I said, wondering if this would be it, if this would be the moment his intentions changed. I"d done as he had bidden, made the sacrifices. My worth to him was quickly diminishing.

  „You could try."

  I made a quick decision - I wouldn"t get another opportunity. If I could stop him now, they still had a chance. Six sacrifices were needed. Three had been made, I couldn"t change that, but there were still three more.

  Three at the hand of the heart of man.

  With the full force that my power could bring, I urged it forwards with all my will to stop him - amethyst mist surrounded me instantly. But Phoenix was ready, and swift.

  I didn"t even see what it was, fist or weapon - it could have been the entire boat he brought down on my head. I dropped to my knees and struggled to hold on to consciousness.

  „Who is the heart of man?" I whimpered as my vision blurred.

  „A man in love," he said.

  And as my eyes closed, two things happened: I moaned Lincoln"s name, and I saw a tear fall from Phoenix"s eye.

  He was right.

  Love will kill us all.


  „ Our acts our Angels are, for good or ill; our fatal shadows that walk by us still."

  John Fletcher

  My angel maker walked to his window. My art studio felt different and I realised I wasn"t sure if this was my studio - my home - at all any more. The same dismal rain that always fell in my dreams, pattered against the glass.

  My head hurt from where Phoenix had just belted me.

  „You need to help us," I said, disorientated and out of place. „You need to stop him!" I reinforced, bracing a hand on my workbench.

  „We cannot intervene," he said simply.

  I felt a wave of anger towards him. Did he even care what happened to us?

  „But he"s yours! You made him!"

  „Did we?" he responded, now looking at me. „I believe that right falls to more than one."

  „What do I do?" I begged. „I don"t know how to stop him. He"s stronger than me."

  The angel was fast, faster than I could follow, but he was now in front of me and in his eyes, a golden fire blazed. „You are me! He is not stronger than you!"

  My entire body shook with pain and fear. He was just not frightening, he was so much more - like life, death and everything beyond. I could not fight him in any way.

  Then, just as fast, he was back at the window, expressionless as he studied the beads of water running down the glass.

  „Your mother …" he paused, caught in a sudden memory. „You are quite like her.

  Difficult. Daring to demand that which cannot be. At least she was wise enough to have something to bargain with."

  „What are you talking about?"

  „Semangelof should not have entrusted such a task to just one. He was reckless, but …

  she prevailed nonetheless. Her worth became great and her sacrifice lent her further strength. If it were not for these things …" he looked at me oddly. „Her child would not have survived receiving an essence such as mine."

  „You needed her," I said, coaxing him on despite my increasing dizziness.

  „Yes. She was unique on her own and her child showed signs of being even more so."

  „I was her bargain!" The truth was unforgiving as it sank in. I hadn"t believed I could think less of my mother until this morning. „What did she trade me for? Heaven?"

  „She had two conditions. One to hand over her life, one to hand over your fate. An agreement was made."

  „What were they?"

  „I cannot reveal them, only what I requested of her - that she wear one wristband at her end. One, she left for you, the other stayed with her in death."Do

  „That can"t be true," I said, not wanting any part of this conversation to be real. I would have known is she had worn a wristband when she died - Dad would have said something when he saw the other one she"d left for me.

  „And yet, it is. Once she passed, the band stayed with her spirit, not her body."

  „why tell me this now?" I asked, frustrated.

  „Because I believe that now might be the time to prepare."

  I shook my head and almost laughed - he wasn"t going to tell me.

  „Whatever, I don"t care what my mother did. She"s gone and as far as I"m concerned, good riddance."

  My angel looked at me, his eyes still blazing with golden fire.

  „You feel you have nothing." It wasn"t a question.

  I put a hand to my head, which was burning under his scrutiny. My other hand went out wide.

  „Take a good look, angel-I"ll-never-know-the-name-of! Do you see lots of happy thoughts surrounding me?"

  „Perhaps you have everything and simply cannot see

  I took a step towards him, a fire of my own now blazing in my glare. „Yeah. And what would you know? You have no idea what it means to be human. If you did, you"d do something." I was challenging him.

  Something passed over his face, prompting me to follow his gaze. I gasped. Blood was seeping through my top. I couldn"t feel it, yet it was real.

  „He"s killing me."

  „Killing, yes. But not you."

  He started towards me, this time more slowly. Before I could stop myself I"d taken a step backwards. I knew better than to show that kind of weakness in front of him.

  He took another step - this time I didn"t move. The corners of his mouth twitched. At first I thought I"d amused him but it was something else - intrigue, perhaps, or even … pride.

  „We gave humans a mantra, a long time ago. I give it to you now because, child of solider, child of man, child of angel - it is not necessary to with the battle if, in the end, you can win the war."

  „Then help us!" I pleaded, my hands shaking as I looked at the blood. I didn"t understand.

  His hand moved to my stomach and he coated it in dripping blood, pulled my dagger from its sheaf and smeared my blood down the blade before returning it to my side.

  „I already have," he said, reaching out again, his arm now the paw of a lion. He struck me across the face before I could react, the blow so fierce that as I flew towards the back wall of my studio, I braced myself to go right through it.

  Instead … I opened my eyes.


  „No one will be released from prison until he has paid the last obolus."

  Luke 12:59

  The pain was severe but I held back the scream lodged in the back of my throat. It would only make things worse.

  I was in his arms again, cradled like a child and wearing something different. A knee-length silver dress. I could see why - it made a dramatic backdrop for the blood. Even in my battered state, I felt a surge a rage that he"d taken the liberty.

  Dizzy, I tried to focus on my surroundings. We were outside. They sky was still blue, but I reasoned it must be afternoon by now. We were somewhere high. I could sense exiles.

  Many, too many. But Grigori, too, also in great numbers. I could hear the ocean sounds, could smell, almost taste, the salty sea water and something else - sulphur.

  We were on Nea Kameni. The volcano.

  „Stop bleeding her!" A voice hollered, from far away. „You"re going to kill her!"

  My head ached and my body felt limp. When I strained to see who the voice belonged to

  - it sounded so familiar - my arm fell heavily to my side, dangling.

  Not good. How long has he already bled me?

  We were on the rim of the main crater. I could sense exiles directly behind us, but only a few. I concentrated for as long as I could to find the rest. They seemed to be hovering at the base of the volcano. Already fighting.

  We are at war.

  „Then I suggest you do not delay!" Phoenix called back. He held his arms out with me rag-dolling in their grip. „She doesn"t have long left."

  I looked up at his face. His eyes were so dark, so sad.

  „I"m sorry, Phoenix," I winced.

  He jolted, surprised I was awake. Then he shook his head. „Someone"s been busy."

  Phoenix wasn"t talking about me. He knew my angel had interfered.

  „Too little, too late!" his hissed back at me.

  I let my head fall back again and that"s when I saw them - the dark smoke lifting from the crater cleared enough for me to get a glimpse. Lincoln stood before an exile, chained and bound just like the three I"d sacrificed, dagger in hand. To my left and right two other exiles were positioned in the same restraints completing the triangle.

  A man in love.

  Not just a soul connection, but love. Was that possible? Or had Phoenix just made a vital mistake?

  Lincoln drove his blade into the first of them, throwing his victim quickly to the volcano.

  The smoke rose up and pulled down its catch, just as the ocean had engulfed my earlier offerings.

  Three to the water, to entice the current.

  Three to the fire to blast open their fate.

  „No!" I tried to scream, but I was too weak.

  Does he realised I"ve completed the first half?

  I looked beyond Lincoln. Griffin stood on the edge of the crater, Spence by his side, their faces grim.

  But, if anything, they seemed to be helping him, guarding him.

  „Do you have any idea what you are doing?" I asked softly, through the pain, knowing he"d hear me.

  „Yes," Phoenix responded.

  Lincoln returned the second exile and fed him to the volcano, which breathed a cloud of darkness from deep within, high up into the sky.

  Awaken Tartarus and blanket day.

  I followed the dark cloud as it plumed like smoke from a nuclear explosion and then spread outwards, blocking out the sun completely.

  To hide their eyes and Heaven"s ray.

  „I"m creating a new world. One where I belong," Phoenix continued as if reminding himself, reinforcing his beliefs.

  I reached out to him, my hand covered in blood. He flinched when I touched his cheek, my fingers slipping away weakly. „You already do," I breathed.

  Lincoln moved to the third exile, pausing to turn towards us, but I couldn"t see his face clearly.

  „I know you won"t kill her. Do you think I"m so stupid, Phoenix? You love her!"

  Phoenix looked stunned.

  „He"s right of course." Phoenix"s shoulders dropped as he spoke to me. „But you already knew that.„ And then, louder, he called back. "Are you so sure you"ll take the chance?"

  Lincoln returned the last exile, kicking him into the chance volcano. The ground vibrated, the smoke increased and then small flakes like grey snow shot out of the opening and floated back towards the ground. It was now as dark as night.

  Ash will fall.

  „Phoenix!" Lincoln roared.

  I saw him start to move, but the crater was large and he was on the other exile. Griffin and Spence started running towards us from the other direction.

  I struggled to hold on to consciousness. "I"m willing to die to stop you Phoenix. Once I"m gone, Lincoln will return you."

  He smiled. "I know. But somehow I don"t think that"s going to happen."

  With that, he put me down on my feet and withdrew my dagger from its sheath. I stumbled, unsteady, and blinked at the sight of my blade when I saw it was red.

  From where my angel maker smeared my blood.

  I could feel the moment he started to heal me again. The wound was closing and the pain receding but I was already so weak it felt as if I had no blood left to give. He kept hold of my hands and swung me wide, leaving me hanging over the crater and its billowing hot smoke.

  „Phoenix! No!" A desperate cry sounded.


  I dangled over the mouth of the volcano while beneath me, Tartarus stirred with anticipation.

  „”Six to the ground, in return for one”," Phoenix said, reciting the prophecy. He knelt and placed my hands on the rocky edges of the crater, making sure I had a good enough grip

  „Don"t do this!" I panted, the toes of my trainers grappling for a foothold.

  His sights paused on me for a moment. „Hold on!" He ran my dagger down my arm, slicing it open and covering it in his own blood. Then, he threw it into the volcano, screaming, „Your payment has been made by my hand! Deliver her!"

  He crouched down to me, adjusting to my hold on the rocks, though I was still slipping. It was so hot with the smoke that my hands were wet with sweat and I wouldn"t manage for much longer, but I had a good enough grip for now - my rock-climbing experience paying off.

  „My word stands. Tell your nature wielders: I"ll do what I can - wind will be at their side.

  Hold on, Violet, he"s almost here."

  „You think the human is gone?" I screamed at him with a
sudden burst of strength.

  „You"re so wrong. Exiles only want to destroy and take power but I know you sent them to us so we would return them. You control them even as you used them! Everything you"ve done - you"ve done to belong."

  Phoenix"s eyes were wide as he stood up, looking over the battlefield he had created.

  „That"s human, Phoenix! It"s not the human in you that"s gone at all!"

  I could almost hear his heartbeat stammer and then pause. His mouth opened and he looked at me with utter surprise.

  Then he took off, moving like the wind, disappearing into the darkness, but his whispered words, and their sadness, lingered, „It"s too late."


  I could hear them coming. Lincoln was faster than Spence and Griffin, he"d reach me first. I could sense the exiles moving around and I let myself slip into my other sense.

  My spirit lifted from my body and I looked down over the mouth of Hell. Exiles were everywhere. We were at the top, around the crater, while everyone else fanned out around the base, already fighting. I could sense signatures - some awful, some unknown, many frightening.

  Then I felt the warmth of my people, Grigori, some fighting on the volcano and many as its perimeter and further afield. At least a dozen boats surrounded the island and I saw the glimmer of something linking each one, surrounding the volcano. A shield. They were protecting the rest of the world from this site. But would they be able to hide the smoke and the darkness or what was still to come?

  There must have been more than a hundred Grigori.

  Where have they all come from?

  I came back to myself. The use of what Phoenix had called „Sight" had only taken a second or two but my hands were starting to slip.

  Phoenix had to be stopped. He had proved to me time and time again that I could not fight him. He had too much power over me.

  „Violet!" Lincoln yelled, sliding to the ground above me. He leaned in over te lip of the volcano, arm outstretched. „Take my hand!" The volcano roared.

  It will be easier for them all. Especially him, in the long-run. This is the only way to stop Phoenix.

  I felt the blast below. The volcano was preparing to erupt.

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