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       Emblaze, p.30

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  I took a cautious step closer, grateful Phoenix had at least left me in trainers, and slowly reached a hand towards his man. Just as I was about to make contact, his head snapped up, the look in his eyes a clear warning. I dropped my hand.

  Got it. No patting.

  He shook out his mane, his tail swishing from side to side, and stood tall as he roared, his breath blasting over me. The relief that caressed my injured body was instant.

  He shook his head again and began padding back around the foot of the volcano not bothering to avoid the hot spots. He stopped and looked up towards the peak before disappearing out of sight.

  -

  I didn"t need to lift Lincoln"s T-shirt to know all my wounds were healed. My angel maker had just interfered. Again.

  I looked up to the peak of the volcano, wondering why my angel maker had taken the time to make a such a pointed stop.

  What is up there?

  Something caught my eye behind the still-billowing smoke - something glinting in the sun. silver. No, surely, not … No one would go up there. I squinted again until the smoke cleared enough for me to be sure: I was staring at a figure, blackened by soot and ash, and as I watched it fell to the ground at the edge of the crater.

  I was moving before I realised, heading up towards a place I never wanted to go again.

  My feet kept slipping into patches of lava, but I kept going. Someone was up there.

  „Violet!" I heard Lincoln yell, but I didn"t stop. I had to get to the top, I had to see. A strange energy propelled me forward - not just my own, but also my angel maker"s. he wanted me to go there, demanded it.

  I picked up my pace, stumbling every few steps.

  „Violet! Wait! It"s not safe!" Lincoln shouted.

  He was so fast he soon caught up to me, but stayed behind a few steps, cautious.

  Maybe he thought I was going to finish what I started earlier.

  „I"m okay," I said, not stopping. „I saw something up there."

  „Violet, no one has gone up there, it"s too unstable. We have to go back down. You"re hurt - we need to heal you."

  I stopped and lifted the back of his T-shirt, exposing my flesh. He gasped.

  „How?" he asked, taking in the fact that all of my injuries had gone.

  „My angel maker."

  „That"s … that"s not possible."

  I held my hands out. „And yet … do you trust me?"

  „Yes," he said, without hesitation.

  „The understand that I need to be up there."

  He wanted to argue, to get me to safety, but instead he sighed and nodded.

  When we reached the top, I walked quickly around the crater to the place I thought the person had been. At first I couldn"t see anything and started to doubt myself, but then, just visible against the smouldering ground, I saw the silver glinting in the sunlight that had caught my eye from below. I ran over, dropping to my knees.

  It was a woman, clothed only in a thick layer of ash and with dark hair so long it covered her. On her right wrist, something silver. I picked up her limp arm. She barely moaned but it was enough to know she was alive.

  Just.

  I rubbed my fingers over her bracelet.

  Lincoln dropped to his knees beside me, pushing the hair back from the woman"s face.

  „She"s not an exile. She feels like … can you sense her?" he asked, starting to wipe some of the ash from her face.

  „She"s Grigori," I said, feeling distant, fighting the woozy sensation that was building inside me.

  One wristband.

  „Where could she had come from?" Lincoln asked, baffled.

  „She came from the volcano," I said, knowing I was right.

  Lincoln paused, partly at my answer and partly because he"d wiped away enough ash from her face to see her. „She looks … Violet, she looks like you."

  Griffin chose that moment to stumble over to us. „Heard you"d decided to venture up here again." He was puffed - obviously he"d run the whole way, worried we were in trouble.

  „What? Were you feeling nostalgic?" He joked uneasily. Then he saw the woman. „Oh, who"s this?" He crouched down beside us. Then he saw the wristband, took another look at the figure before him, then turned to me, questioningly.

  I sat back on my heels in total disbelief.

  „She"s my mother."

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

  „ Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom."

  Deuteronomy 30:15

  Lincoln carried the woman down the volcano, Griffin and I following, dazed.

  My mother.

  „Did anything else happen, when you were with Phoenix?" Griffin asked.

  I thought back. „No, no … I don"t know. He kept me asleep through most of it. I remember being on the boat, we fought, the he made me sacrifice the exiles and knocked me out. I woke up on the volcano."

  But then I realised I didn"t just wake up. „Wait! There"s one thing. I had a dream and my angel maker was there. I … I asked him to help us and …" I shook my head. „He took my dagger and wiped my blood on it." I looked up at Griffin, who was also figuring it out. „The he told me he had helped us."

  „The same dagger Phoenix threw into the volcano?"

  I nodded.

  „Phoenix wasn"t the only one who made an offering. Your blood was on that blade, too."

  I looked at the woman in Lincoln"s arms.

  Have I done this? Brought her here?

  „But I … the prophecy said it could only deliver one."

  „Only one to the person with terrible desire, but maybe this was something else?"

  I shivered - a sudden chill running through me - and noticed that I wasn"t the only one feeling it. Everyone seemed to have sensed something and we all looked towards the headlands of Santorini.

  From such a distance the only things visible were two figures. One had long hair, almost to the ground, that was blowing wildly in the breeze. Orange. No - gold. Hair of gold, just like Phoenix had hair of opal.

  The woman, my mother, stirred in Lincoln"s arms. I froze, watching as her eyes opened.

  They were not like mine. I had Dad"s eyes. Hers were electric blue and striking. She looked in the same direction we all had, but now my eyes were fixed on her.

  „Lilith," she whispered, before passing out again.

  „God help us," Griffin said, from my other side.

  I started walking down the slope towards Steph.

  „Don"t you want to go with your mother?" Griffin called behind me.

  I stopped and looked back at them. „Why would I want to do that?"

  I carried on until I reached Steph, who pulled me onto her boat, where I buried my head in her shoulder and cried all the way back to Santorini.

  I waited for the numbness to set in, but as everyone returned to the hotel, all I felt was anger.

  Steph helped me to our room with Salvatore, refusing to let me out of her sight. She had already packed our things but we needed to shower and change. The Academy had ordered us all off the island. Apparently Irin had started to cause problems, threatening to attack us if we were not gone by midnight, which gave us only two hours. Sure, we could use our forces to overwhelm him, but there would be inevitable repercussions that no one wanted to consider right now.

  I started to wash away the dried blood and ash. Thanks to my angel maker, underneath I appeared unharmed, a thought that made me laugh and cry at the same time. Some things could not be changed, though, I was desperately weak. The blood loss would affect me for days and I looked gaunt.

  I got out of the shower and studied myself in the mirror, wondering if it would ever end -

  the fighting, the pain, the sacrifice.

  How could my angel maker punish me by sending her back? The person she cared so little about that she had abandoned me the moment I was born.

  And what of all the rest? What about the Academy? I had no idea what they planned to do with me. Josephine had proved what she
"d said at the beginning was true - I no longer had any doubt she wanted to defeat exiles. She hadn"t been corrupted like Magda, but that didn"t mean she wasn"t dangerous, that she wouldn"t take me down in a heartbeat.

  And as for my soul … since waking up in Phoenix"s arms, it had quietened. I had been near Lincoln since, but I hadn"t felt the same physical pain at being close to him. Maybe my weakened physical state had also lessened my soul"s ability to fight me. Whatever it was, I was grateful for the reprieve.

  There was a polite knock on the door.

  „Sweetie, Lincoln"s here," Steph said. I knew she"d tell him to go away if I asked.

  „Okay" I said, throwing on a pair of jeans and a white V-neck T-shirt. Steph went straight into the bathroom and closed the door behind her, turning on the shower to give us privacy.

  I sat on the edge of my bed, trying to not look like I needed to.

  Lincoln sat down opposite.

  „Salvatore went to get his things," he said.

  I nodded.

  „Umm … everyone is loading up the cars downstairs. Griffin has spoke with Josephine and for now the Academy has agreed to you staying under Griffin"s guidance."

  I nodded again. I heard the „for now" but at least that meant I could go home.

  „She threatened to split us up," I said, trying to hold down my anger at the world.

  Lincoln was silent for a moment, then answered, „I"ll never let that happen."

  I breathed a sigh of relief. I had been scared that he might agree with the idea.

  He stood up, came over to me and put a hand on my shoulder. „She"s okay. They"ve cleaned her up and she"s in and out of consciousness but they expect her to be fully awake soon."

  I nodded.

  „Do you want to see her?"

  I shook my head, keeping my eyes focused on the carpet.

  „Okay," he said, before giving my shoulder a squeeze. „I"ve got to get to the airport.

  Josephine insisted I have the pleasure of seeing off the Rogue since I brought them here.

  But I"ll see you there."

  I didn"t look up, didn"t say anything, just nodded. It was all I could muster.

  -

  I took a seat up the front, as far away from Josephine as I could get. Apparently our large number meant planes were hard to come by and so she had offered to let us use the Academy jet, which meant she was escorting us home.

  Great. I would rather have swam.

  When we got out of the taxis, Spence was waiting for us. I felt like such an invalid, which only fed my anger. I was glad Spence took over, though. I felt like he understood.

  Onyx and Dapper were sitting together, already with drinks in hand. Dapper smiled when he saw me, Onyx raised his glass.

  Steph and Salvatore settled into the seats behind me and Spence sat across the aisle, leaving me room to spread out.

  Josephine had her crew around her, though I noticed they were slumped now, not worrying so much about staying at full attention - even Hiro and Mia didn"t seem to care, though I suspected they would act at a moment"s notice if one of us tried to jump Josephine.

  I gave Morgan and Max, my favourites of her crew, a nod and felt the comfort of my people as they piled in behind me, each one stopping briefly to place a hand on my shoulder. I didn"t turn around, afraid they would see the tears welling.

  This my family.

  Even if I did miss Dad desperately, the thought made things a little easier. Until, that is, I heard the bathroom door open and turned to see Max helping her walk to a seat behind Josephine.

  My mother didn"t even spare me a glance, not that I"d waited before ducking into my seat.

  Why the hell is she on our plane?

  I felt the panic rising in my throat. My knees bounced up and down. I couldn"t do this, be trapped here with her. My eyes darted around and fixed on the still-open door. I was so close.

  Five steps and I"ll be out.

  If I could make five steps on my own without passing out. I bit down on my lip and considered my options. Spence would probably come with me and we would find another plane. But I really didn"t want to cause a scene, draw attention to myself only to be dragged back onboard. Josephine would just love that. But I couldn"t, simply couldn"t, be her. With her.

  Just as I was about to make a move, Lincoln"s silhouette darkened the entrance and the second I saw him I started to shake all over. He took one look down the plane, then back to me. Griffin appeared at his side and looked at me, a cowardly mess, before putting a hand on Lincoln"s shoulder.

  „I"ll sat at the back. You take a seat here," he said in a soft tone that conveyed more than his words. Protectiveness.

  Lincoln didn"t hesitate and sat down beside me, almost pulling me onto his lap. I heard Griffin stop and speak, quietly but loudly enough for those around us to hear: „No one comes down this end of the jet."

  First Nathan, „Not a problem, boss," then Becca, „Our pleasure." The strongest fighters in earshot supporting his order, making sure I knew I was safe.

  Lincoln held me tight and brushed my hair back, combing it through his fingers and behind my ear until eventually the shaking stopped and I eased back into my seat.

  -

  I stirred at the sound of conversation drifting from the back of the plane.

  „I see you"re awake again," Josephine said.

  „Yes. I"m feeling better al the time. Sleep seems to help rejuvenate me," came a somehow familiar voice, even though I"d never heard it before.

  „Do you have any memory of what happened?" Josephine asked.

  The speaker hesitated, but then responded clearly. „No. Other than that it seems some time has passed."

  „Indeed. It is more than seventeen years since you were last thought to be with us, Evelyn. You"ve been greatly missed by many."

  I looked over to see Lincoln watching me carefully. I turned towards the window but kept concentrating on the conversation Josephine was making no attempt to keep private.

  „Do you know why you"re here?" she continued.

  Evelyn paused again before she answered, making me distrust her.

  Not that I don"t already.

  „I can tell you this much. If I"m here, you can be sure Lilith is back."

  „Hmm," Josephine said. „That"s quite correct."

  „Well!" Evelyn snapped. „How the hell did you let that happen?"

  I could hear the contempt dripping from Josephine"s voice as she answered. „Her first son, Phoenix, discovered a lost Exile Scripture from the time of Moses. He found a way to open the gates of Hell and resurrect her."

  „Wait!" Evelyn said. I could tell she was now standing. I was sure all eyes were on her.

  Except for min, and Lincoln"s whose gaze I could feel was still fixated on me. "Phoenix? No, that"s not possible. We watched him for decades. He wasn"t ever inclined towards Lilith"s ways, he was more human than exile. Powerful and malicious at times, yes. Greedy and possessive, too, but generally sane. Something must have made him change, brought out his darkness. What happened?"

  I couldn"t take it any more. Lincoln put a hand on mine, but I pushed it away and stood up. All eyes quickly moved in my direction and there was a collective holding of breath.

  Evelyn"s electric-blue eyes took me in, sensing challenge.

  „ I happened. Phoenix is the way he is because of me," I said, putting my hands on my hips, refusing to show how weak I was felling.

  My mother"s glare intensified and she took a step towards me, throwing a hand up in the air as she did. „Well, congratulations! You just brought Hell to Earth."

  I stared right back. „Oh, believe me, I know."

  She flinched and resumed walking. When she reached the halfway mark, Nathan and Becca stood up on opposite sides of the aisle, their threat clear. Evelyn stopped.

  „Let me pass."

  Griffin stood, too, and looked at me, waiting. I gave a small nod.

  „Let her by," Griffin said.

  Nathan and Becca too
k their seats again, but stayed perched and ready.

  Evelyn absorbed all of this, taking a few more steps. I stiffened at her nearness and Lincoln was up in a shot and standing behind me.

  „That"s close enough," he said.

  Evelyn looked him up and down, assessing this new threat. She stopped as requested.

  „Your markings?" she questioned, motioning to me to reveal them.

  I held out my arms, inner wrists exposed. She saw the scar that had never fully healed after Jordan.

  She gasped. „What"s your name?" her voice quivered.

  I didn"t answer.

  „Violet?" she whispered.

  But I wasn"t going to let that fool me. I stood tall. I"d had practice at this, at blocking everything out. I knew the rules, despite my earlier desire to escape.

  I don"t run, I don"t quit, I don"t believe in fairy-tale endings.

  And it helped knowing that I had a kick-ass warrior at my back.

  „It"s the name my mother gave me - before she handed me over to an angel, sealed my fate and abandoned me and my Dad, leaving us with no answers."

  Evelyn just kept staring, so intently that I struggled to hold eye contact. She glanced at Lincoln again, then back to me. „Phoenix fell in love with you," she said finally.

  I froze at her words, but recovered quickly, turning my back on her. „I don"t owe you any answers."

  I dropped back down into my seat, knowing I had no energy left and not wanting to pass out in front of her. I heard her walking away. Lincoln stayed where he was for a while and then sat down beside me again.

  He didn"t say anything. He didn"t touch me. He knew I couldn"t have handled it right then.

  I turned towards the window and pretended to sleep, while trying to ignore the hundreds of thoughts bombarding my mind, fighting for attention.

  It wasn"t long before I felt him move away, and the first twinge of my soul stirring within, warning me.

  „Let me by."

  „I"m sorry, Evelyn. I"m sure there is a lot that needs to be discussed, but right now she"s exhausted. You have no idea what she"s been through." Lincoln"s voice caught but he covered it, clearing his throat. „She needs to rest … and so do you, I imagine."

 
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