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       Emblaze, p.29

           Jessica Shirvington
 
A breath of fire shot up and I couldn"t hold back the scream as the flames raged up the back of my legs and body, searing my flesh. I was so weak and so tired. I screamed again but before I could let my hands slip from their rigid hold on the edge, Lincoln stretched out his own badly burned arm and grabbed hold of one of mine.

  I looked up, my eyes pouring with tears of pain and understanding. I had to look away. I let my other hand slip from the rock and hang loose.

  „Don"t, Violet!" Lincoln"s voice was strong and unwavering. It caught me by surprise.

  „Don"t. You. Dare. Look at me!"

  It wasn"t compulsion, but I still couldn"t stop myself. I had to see him one last time. I opened my mouth to tell him goodbye, but he didn"t let me speak.

  „If you let go, I"m jumping in there with you!"

  My hand slipped in his hold and I did little to stop it but he clung on.

  „It"s better this way, Linc! You can fight him without me and then you"ll be free!"

  He looked at me like I was mad until his jaw set with determination.

  „You smell of winter dew at the first crack of dawn and when you use your power it feels like being submerged in the most intoxicating vanilla cream that I lose myself in it every time and … and you were beautiful," he blurted out, catching us both by surprise. But he went on, ignoring the fact that my hand was still slipping. „So stunning in that dress the other night I could hardly look at you it hurt so much. You are the thing I dread in myself, Violet, because … I love you so much that I can"t trust myself. I"d die for you, give up all my power for you, I"d give my soul in an instant, even if it meant I had to spend eternity in torment - just for one moment with you as mine. Wanting you consumes me. I dread you because I know the risk but I"m so selfish I want you anyway. I"d take you even though it could kill you."

  I cried out again, the pain now so much worse, inside and out.

  My hand continued to slip as I looked into his eyes, intense with want, and I knew he was telling the truth. He would jump in after me. I forced my loose arm up and grabbed it, leaning further into the opening.

  He lifted me out and as he did the severity of my burns became apparent. I couldn"t hold back the screams and he placed me belly-down on the ground.

  „Fuck."

  It was bad. Lincoln never used that word.

  „Oh, fuck."

  Or Griffin.

  „Fuck."

  Spence said it quite a bit, but it was that third one that tipped me over the edge. I started trembling uncontrollably.

  Honey and cream. Not as trickly and warm this time. No, this time it enveloped me, then washed through me like a flood. I felt the worst of the pain ease. Lincoln was working his power over me as fast and hard as he could.

  „We don"t have time!" Spence said, urgently. I could hear him panting. He and Griffin had been fighting off exiles while Lincoln tried to heal me. „This thing is about to explode for real and we do not want to be up here!"

  Feeling returned to my legs, intensifying the pain from the burns on the backs of my thighs and calves.

  „She needs to be able to fight!" Lincoln yelled.

  But I knew he"d keep going no matter what. I pushed myself to my knees, trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears.

  „It"s okay. I can fight, but I don"t have a dagger."

  He cupped a hand around my face, his eyes seemed to say so much - hold so much love.

  „Stay next to me. Like old times."

  He meant when I couldn"t use my dagger. I"d fight them, he"d return them. I nodded.

  Lincoln helped me up, being careful where he touched. Then he pulled off his T-shirt and started easing it over my head. When I looked at him quizzically he simply shrugged.

  „Most of your dress has melted to your back."

  Splendid.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

  „ The fearsome noises that issued from some of their volcanoes were certainly thought to be the screams of tormented souls in the fires of hell below."

  Haraldur Sigurdsson

  Spence moved ahead to intercept the exile approaching us. It was like Night of the Living Dead, everyone covered in ash and blood. Not a pretty sight.

  „Griffin," I said, my voice catching I was so glad to see him. „Phoenix said to tell the nature-users that wind will be on their side, though I don"t know what that means exactly."

  „We can"t believe anything he says," Griffin dismissed.

  „Yes, we can," Lincoln said. „It was part of the bargain. He will hold to it."

  I nodded, Lincoln supporting me, carrying most of my weight as I leaned into him. „He doesn"t want everyone dead, he just wants her back."

  Griffin was talking into a two-way radio. I heard Josephine respond and he replayed the message.

  „There"s something else," I said, trying to hold on my own weight. „I sacrificed the three to the water. If three to the volcano makes it erupt, three to the water can"t be good."

  Griffin smiled. „We"re ready for that. Come on, we need to move."

  It was an order and we followed. Behind us, the volcano started to rumble. It was about to erupt.

  We picked up the pace and when neared the battle scene at its foot I turned back to see a bolt of liquid fire launch from the volcano"s opening into the afternoon sky that was dark as night.

  „”Flames will roar and spear the sky”," I said.

  Lincoln looked over his shoulder, but urged me on.

  We leaped into the mix of exiles and Grigori and I don"t know where it came from -

  adrenaline, Lincoln, my angel maker - but I summoned a reserve of strength. Side by side Lincoln and I battled, taking down exiles who stood in our path, flanked by Griffin and Spence.

  We manoeuvred our way to the centre of the battlefield, finding Samuel, Kaitlin, Nathan and Becca all fighting hard. When we saw each other we quickly converged, forming a circle and putting our backs to one another to gain the advantage over our opponents.

  Lincoln absorbed the brunt of the attack, and I managed to bring down those who made it through before he stepped in to return them. A couple of times I tried to use my power to stall them, but only succeeded in holding the odd one until Lincoln took over.

  Every moment tore the flesh on my back and I fought the building need to pass out. All the while, I could see lava rolling down the volcano towards us. We didn"t have long.

  I looked everywhere to find him, knowing that even though my choice was to live, it did not come before my decision to destroy him. But Phoenix was long gone. This entire battlefield had been arranged to mask his escape.

  „We need to move, people!" Griffin called out the instruction again.

  It was then that I noticed that all the other Grigori had boarded boats except for us.

  „Let"s go, let"s go!"

  As a team we held our circle, fighting off raving exiles. They saw the lava coming too, and, like us, I was sure they could sense something else brewing, but still they fought savagely, needing the kill, needing to be the most vicious and believing they would prevail.

  „Go!" Lincoln yelled at me, as we neared the boat. But I didn"t move from his side. He shot glances at me, between hits with the exile he had well in hand.

  „Griffin!" Lincoln called out. „We"re on board."

  He grabbed the exile he was fighting, drove his dagger into his chest, then spun round, lifting me up in the same motion, ignoring my cry of pain, and running onto the boat. When he put me down, he smiled. „Must you always be so difficult?"

  I was breathing hard and working to stay upright but I couldn"t help smiling back. We both turned and watched as the last of our group, Griffin and Spence, leaped aboard and we pulled away from the shore, leaving exiles clambering towards their own vessels.

  Josephine pushed ahead to the bow, hands raised. Seconds later, one of the boats exploded, casting exiles into the water, arms flailing, drowning.

  „They hate the water," I said as Josephine walked back past us. A woman on a mission
.

  She glanced at me briefly, a small smile betraying her steely exterior. „I know."

  Our boats were now positioned in a row between the volcano and Santorini. The other boats, presumably filled with the remaining exiles, sped towards Santorini.

  I hated that they were getting away, but then I saw the line of people on the shore. Not people, Grigori. Waiting for them.

  „Who are they all?" I asked in disbelief.

  „The Rogue," Lincoln answered.

  „Here she comes!" Josephine called out and, in a domino effect, one person from each boat repeated what she said to the next, ensuring everyone heard.

  Lincoln wrapped an arm around me. I cried out as it pressed the cotton of his T-shirt into the raw flesh on my back, cutting into it like blades of fire.

  „I"m sorry, but we have to move back," he said.

  I nodded, crying with every step. Now that I"d stopped fighting, the pain was only getting worse.

  „What are they going to do?" I asked once we stopped moving and I could breathe again.

  „Just watch. It will either be the most amazing thing you"ve ever seen, or the last."

  „You did this."

  He looked at me, something new in his expression. „You knew?"

  I rolled my eyes and tried to pull off mock surprise. „Which part? That you purposely didn"t let me know what the plan was because you knew I"d go with Phoenix? Or that you knew “the highest command” meant me, and “the heart of man” meant you?

  Lincoln"s expression changed to one of surprise, but then he nodded. „Actually, it wasn"t all me. After you left with Phoenix, I told Steph you had to be the highest command and she worked out that I might be a candidate for the other. Griffin confirmed it."

  „And the rest?"

  „I couldn"t be sure of Phoenix"s intention. But I knew he"d come to you." He paused. „And I also knew it wasn"t Kaitlin who told you about the ginseng drink."

  I grimaced, but he just smiled.

  „It wasn"t until that night on the rooftop that I figured out he wasn"t after civilian kills - we know any other exile would consider that a priority - but when he asked me to kill Gressil I knew it couldn"t be just to protect you."

  „And you were so sure I"d go with him?" I asked.

  He moved to pull me closer but hesitated when he saw my body contort in pain. „I know you. And Phoenix knows you, too. Your reaction to him taking Steph was enough for him to realise he could use that threat over you again. You"d do anything to protect the people you care about."

  „So, why didn"t you just tell me?"

  „Because he would"ve found out everything, even if just sensing it through you - we couldn"t take the risk."

  I remembered Phoenix"s fury when he couldn"t probe more information out of me.

  „If he knew what we were planning and it didn"t agree with his own plans he could"ve taken it out on you or Steph or anyone else and you would"ve never forgiven yourself. This way, you didn"t know anything that could be used against them, anything that you"d blame yourself for later. But …" He dropped his head, running his hands through his hair. „I had no idea he"d take you for so long. I … I looked everywhere, Vi. Nearly lost my mind searching.

  I"m so sorry … I can"t even begin to imagine-"

  I put a hand on his bare chest, cutting him off. „I was asleep almost the entire time, until the sacrifices. He didn"t touch me - except for when I attacked him."

  Relief flooded Lincoln"s face and his hands wrapped around mine and squeezed. Beside us there was more commotion, people running up and down the deck. He motioned towards the volcano that was now erupting violently. We wouldn"t be safe here for long, though I didn"t think escape was an option now either.

  He squeeze my hand again. „Here we go."

  While we watched the volcano I considered the fact that Lincoln had been controlling this whole situation from the moment we arrived in Santorini. Griffin had been right to leave him in charge.

  The volcano lit up the sky, blood-coloured fireworks detonating from its top, fire raining down as it continued to leap from the rim, lava surging down the slopes. The entire island was now almost covered in rivers of fire, while beyond, a power just as great had surely been building since I"d made those first three sacrifices. Now we could see its prize: a swell in the sea so enormous it looked not like water but as if the very edges of the world were closing in on us.

  I gripped Lincoln tight, despite the pain. „” A swell of death” … a tsunami!"

  „Now!" Josephine screamed.

  Zoe threw her hands wide, her head back. On the boat beside her, several other Grigori I didn"t recognise did something similar. In the water around the edges of the island, whirlpools started to swirl. Other Grigori started tossing something into the vortexes.

  The tsunami drew nearer, building in size.

  If this thing hits we"re all dead.

  „Griffin!" Josephine yelled.

  Suddenly the whirlpools exploded, fountains of water forced up from the sea"s depths in succession from left to right, creating momentum and a new tsunami.

  When I looked at Griffin again, I saw he was holding some kind of remote control. They"d been using explosives.

  The new surge sucked in the water surrounding Santorini and moved out towards the open sea and the oncoming tsunami, which looked like it could eat our man-made wave for a snack.

  Something flashed with lightning speed behind our wave, moving back and forth so fast it was just a blur. The wind picked up, lifting the ridge or water even higher.

  „Phoenix," I whispered.

  But it wasn"t enough.

  „Hiro!" Josephine yelled.

  I watched as, just as the others had done, he and two other Grigori started coordinating their powers to move large boulders from the backs of their boats, sending them flying towards our wave, now headed on a collision course for both the melting island and the oncoming tsunami.

  The volcano, as if sensing the threat, roared with another explosion, lava now flowing into the boiling water, turning the ocean floor red.

  The tsunami crashed over the volcano effortlessly, like it was no obstacle. I gripped hold of Lincoln.

  This was it.

  When our wave - so tiny in comparison - was metres away from impact, Josephine called out again. „Now!"

  The boulders flew one by one into the wave as the tsunami crashed over it. And, like a perfectly conducted climax, Josephine exploded the rocks into billions of atoms, forcing the entire tsunami up and into the sky.

  Our feeble wave - David to a mighty Goliath.

  At that moment, the wind came again, this time from Santorini. It blew hard and fast, Zoe and the other nature-users adding to its strength until it picked up the rain colours that would have surely drenched the entire island, blowing the tsunami its remaining red glow to smouldering black on its way.

  The sun broke through the darkness as we stood in the downpour. Griffin looked up, watery soot coursing down his neck. „I think all eyes are wide open now."

  „No wonder they"re crying," I said quickly, because I could already feel it. Something else, something that didn"t belong, was with us.

  But also, I couldn"t deny it: Phoenix had helped us save Santorini.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

  „ Destiny has two ways of crushing us - by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them."

  Henri F. Amiel

  In the aftermath, our boats returned to assess the damage. Groups of Grigori used their various powers to help put out the hot spots and contain the gases coming from the site while others started preparing notes that would be handed anonymously to the Greek authorities later.

  I felt relieved that the fight between exiles and Grigori had been successfully hidden from the outside world. It had been a massive group effort and now that everyone was starting to converge, I could see more than a hundred Grigori on the volcanic island and in the boats, and the same again back on Santorini.

  Some
, however, had not survived. Though they had fought for a cause, I couldn"t help but feel the weight of responsibility as I watched Grigori carry the lifeless bodies of their partners aboard the waiting boats.

  Lincoln explained to us the Griffin had bought large numbers of extra Grigori from mainland Greece, along with the Academy arrivals, to build our Army. The Rogue had taken up position guarding Santorini from incoming exiles and placed their nature-users strategically, some sent as far as the surrounding islands to guard against any flow-on effects from the tsunami.

  Lincoln had left no stone unturned.

  I hobbled off the boat, despite his objections. He wanted me to stay aboard so he could heal me, but I insisted so he followed, only to be bombarded by Grigori, congratulating him on a stellar attack. Lincoln shrugged off the compliments, redirecting credit to the Conductors and Josephine instead.

  I left him to do his thing as I saw another boat sailing in - Steph, Dapper and Onyx all aboard. They must have been behind the firing line. I was relieved to see them safe and returned a wave to Steph.

  „Vi! Are you okay?" she yelled out.

  I nodded, not really feeling up to hollering and pointed in Salvatore"s direction when I saw her eyes scouring the island. She smiled in relief. I noticed she was wearing Irin"s necklace that I"d left under her pillow. Nothing had been shielded from her today. I hoped it was a good thing.

  As I waited for their boat to anchor, a sound made the hairs on my arms stand on end.

  The roar was unmistakable: my lion. And suddenly I understood even more. This was one and the same and somehow I knew - when he was in animal form, he was there to help me.

  I followed the sound until I found him. Larger than any normal lion - almost as tall as me.

  His man was fiery bronze, like his eyes in my dreams. He stalked me and I knew I should be afraid. He moved closer, hesitating as he took those final few steps, a wild beast trying to control his ferocious nature.

  When I could almost reach out and touch him, he stopped and lowered his head, he stopped and lowered his head. I looked back over my shoulder. Lincoln was still encircled by Grigori, Steph and the others still stuck on their boat. I returned to my lion, noticing that the ground where he stood was red hot and yet he remained still, patient.

 
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