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       Emblaze, p.5

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  Only ten more!

  Each time, the adrenaline rose as I let go and dropped another storey. By the time I reached the fifth floor, I had it in the bag. When I landed on the pavement I almost took out some poor guy going for a night jog. He swerved and looked at me like I was some kind of lunatic, but kept going.

  I brushed myself down without making much improvement - the outside of the building really needed a clean, and cobwebs are hard to shift. At least I was in grey.

  Once I was reasonably presentable, I felt for my dagger and headed towards the park.

  Despite my slip-ups in art class, I had become increasingly good at keeping my guards up.

  unless I wanted them to, exiles couldn"t sense me as easily as they had once been able to.

  It didn"t take long for me to connect with my angelic senses. An exile was near and not bothering with stealth. By the energy he was releasing that was now pulsing through my body, I suspected he was hunting.

  I kept my guard up while I moved closer, wanting to size up my opponent before letting him sense me. I weaved between the trees rather than taking the path, using the shadows for cover. The anticipation of conflict ignited the combatant in me and I found myself almost hungry for the confrontation.

  It didn"t take long to find him and when I did I was surprised. I"d assumed it would have been one of Phoenix"s crew but now I wasn"t so sure. Phoenix kept his followers on a tight leash. If he"d sent this exile after me, he wouldn"t be dragging a petrified woman to the back of the park instead.

  I stopped behind a tree, testing my arm again, straightening it out to be sure it wouldn"t be a problem when I needed it. It screamed in pain, worsened by its recent workout, but it was functioning. I closed my eyes and used a tiny bit of power to see what everyone else was seeing. Sometimes it was the other way round. Sometimes the exile was so strong that I"d be seeing what he was putting into the human imaginations and I"d have to use my power to break it down, show me the truth, but in the case of the weaker ones, which was this one - it worked the other way. A light misting of my power filtered out into the night sky, the purple glitter was absorbed in the darkness quickly and allowed me to see the glamour being used.

  As far as any normal human was concerned, the exile was just some well-dressed guy walking through the park with a woman, as if they were out on a midnight stroll. I closed my eyes again and reopened them to the reality. He had her by the hair, dragging her as she clawed at the ground and screamed for help.

  She"ll be dead in minutes.

  I felt for my dagger again, apprehensively. The only way to get the exile away from her was to give him something better to play with. It hadn"t exactly been my plan heading out tonight. But it was now.

  I took a step out from the cover of the trees and felt him instantly. I froze, biting down on my lip as I realised my mistake. I"d let myself get distracted by the exile and hadn"t felt him approach. Now, his nearness washed through me, making me rigid yet like jelly at the same time.

  I guess the original plan is going to work out after all.

  „You shouldn"t be here," Lincoln said, his voice low and gravely. I couldn"t stop it from vibrating through my whole body, teasing me beyond relief.

  I didn"t turn. I needed to keep my eyes on the exile who still hadn"t us. And it was easier not to look at him.

  „Look who"s talking," I replied quietly. "Do you even sleep any more?"

  The exile pushed the woman into a tree and she crumpled to the ground.

  „Just staying fit," he said.

  „So I hear."

  He sighed and then said something bad under his breath, followed by Spence"s name.

  „Don"t blame Spence," I said.

  „I don"t," he said. I wasn"t really sure what he meant by that. Maybe he blamed me.

  Taking in the scene ahead of us he added. "She"s covered in shadow. He"s been preying on her for a long time," and now he was angry.

  Lincoln was a shadow-finder. He could see the marks left on humans after exiles had penetrated their minds. The residue. It made him one of the best people for tracking exiles.

  Find the shadowed humans and you could bet on finding exiles soon after. But there was a price - he carried the burden that came with knowing their victims" pain, The exile moved above the woman, he was going to hit her. Suddenly, the image of Claudia popped into my mind, remembering how defenceless my old classmate had been when an exile had attacked and murdered her.

  It"s now or never.

  I dropped my shields, quickly and completely.

  „Violet!" Lincoln growled, unhappy with my decision.

  I didn"t care, I wasn"t about to let that woman get hurt, and neither was he. I"d just beat him to it.

  The exile"s attention sprang up like a dog that smelled a bone. He turned, his interest in his victim now fully extinguished. He started for me and his victim crawled away, fast.

  Smart woman.

  The exile, tall like so many of them, stepped into the glow of light from the street. He was strikingly handsome, also like many of them. Dressed in a well-fitted suit, perfectly fixed hair, he looked like a modern-day metro sexual. It was easy to see how he"d lured that poor woman into his old.

  He stalled on his approach, feeling my power.

  „What? You need an invitation?" I asked, sounding angry as I felt. It was a shame having this kind of power didn"t mean they ran away and hid from me. No, instead it meant he leaped into the air with freakish speed and height and headed straight for me with what could only be described as malice-fuelled determination.

  I stepped out of his way just in time and had my fist in his face before he"d even landed both feet on the ground. Of course, that barely slowed him. He spun, going for the obvious target - my neck. I let him take it - I was better off if he was one hand down - and quickly delivered a knee to his groin. In that split second, when his head dropped and his grip on my throat loosened, I followed through with a flat palm up and into his nose. It was neat and efficient and I had him.

  „Choose," I demanded, holding my dagger that had slid into my hand smoothly.

  He stumbled back and laughed. „I know who you are."

  „Good, then you"ll know to choose quickly," I said, getting ready.

  They never chose humanity. None of them believed they would truly be beaten, narcissists that they were. And even if they did, they couldn"t live without the power that came with their exile status.

  He spat at the ground. Blood. I saw that as a compliment. It took a lot to get blood from an exile. I"d probably smashed his nose right back into his throat.

  „You"re Phoenix"s whore," he said, laughing again.

  I shrank back in shock. Part of me wanted to run and hide, the other wanted to make sure his nose was headed for his stomach. Lincoln put a hand on my shoulder.

  „Violet?"

  „It"s only a matter of time. We have numbers beyond what you could dream of. Grigori are all but extinct!"

  I just nodded and watched through glassy eyes as Lincoln, who"d been respectfully letting me take point, moved forwards swiftly - showing no signs of his injury - put one hard kick into the exile"s head and followed through planting his dagger into his chest. Like that, he was gone, disappeared.

  „Not before you," Lincoln said, putting his blade away.

  But words linger.

  „Was he one of Phoenix"s?" I asked, still looking at the spot where the exile had stood. If Phoenix had sent him to attack me, he shouldn"t have been sidetracked with that woman.

  Lincoln nodded. „Phoenix doesn"t have as much control as he would have you think. A lot will never follow, despite what they promised him and no matter what the cause." He walked towards me and suddenly I was on the defensive.

  „You can"t protect me twenty-four seven!" I said, using my anger to cover everything else.

  He didn"t respond for some time. Finally, he took another step closer to me. Closer than was safe.

  „Violet," he began calmly. „Are you okay?"<
br />
  „Am I okay?" I repeated, shaking my head at him. I took the last step to close the distance and he flinched as if he wanted to back away.

  Just perfect.

  I put a hand below his chest. I let my power run from me to him. It almost galloped out of me, so pleased to find him. His body"s resistance dropped a notch, moving into my hand, and his chest heaved. His hand went out instinctively to my arm, returning the favour. I felt the warm honey of his power trickle through me and worked to stop myself from crying out in relief.

  Stupid powers, betraying me.

  „You shouldn"t be hunting on your own," I said, my voice thick with want, my hand still resting below his chest. I could feel him breathing, his firm muscles moving up and down, each breath increasingly deep and at the end of each intake, the slightest tremor. I couldn"t stop my eyes travelling over that perfect chest, its contours showing through his black cotton jumper just enough.

  „Like you just were," he said, sounding like he was feeling exactly the same way as me.

  His hand was still on my arms, sending a lick of fire through my body.

  I dropped my hand, scared of what I"d do if I left it there a moment longer.

  „I knew you were out here somewhere," I said, defending myself. „I"m not about to let you go out every night all Lone Ranger, just to protect me."

  Lincoln let his hand drop, too, and took a small step back before grumbling Spence"s name again. I felt his power pick up, the honey and cream that was unique to him and in that the intoxicating smell of early-morning sun on a hot day. I didn"t know what had his power working so hard, but before I could ask he had his own question for me.

  „What did Phoenix want?" he asked, softly.

  I should have know he"d seen. Following me, playing protector in the shadows.

  „He took the Brighton building, we have the Maddox."

  He nodded, looking past me. „Anything else?"

  I shrugged, uncomfortable.

  He stiffened. „He still gets to you, doesn"t he?"

  I"ve never fully explained to Lincoln just how much Phoenix"s power affected me, but I suspected he had a good idea.

  „I can handle it. We don"t have any other choice, right?"

  It had been the condition of negotiations. We had the Exile Scripture, Phoenix had the Grigori Scripture and the only way he had agreed to the trade was if he dealt with me. Only me. It was a spiteful thing to do but we all knew that until he had the Exile Scripture, he wouldn"t kill me.

  He"ll wait until after.

  Which was why tomorrow night would be so dangerous.

  Lincoln was watching me.

  „Looking to see if I"m falling apart?" I asked bitter as well as testing.

  „No, I just know there"s something you"re not telling me. And I"m wondering what he did to make you hit him."

  I hated that he knew me that well, could read me like no one else. I guess it made sense now why he above all others had that ability - I wished that was the only side effect of being soul mates. I considered telling him what I"d discovered - that Phoenix had ensure Rudyard was killed so we would witness what happened to Nyla - but it would only hurt him.

  „It"s nothing," I said.

  „If you say so," he said, still keeping a close eye on me. „I know you"d tell me if you thought I needed to know. And … what that exile said, about Phoenix and you …" he sighed with frustration and I wondered if it was at me at me, but then he surprised us both by stretching his arm out and letting his fingers glide over my forehead, tracing the rim of my beanie. „It"s not true."

  I nodded, my heart pounding at his touch, but his hand fell away as his power flared again, sending out more silken honey.

  „Would you like me to walk you home?" he asked, not pushing.

  I felt like I was about to burst into tears. It was hard enough to hear someone call you a whore, but to call you the whore of someone who was killing the people you cared about -

  and in front of the one person you most dreaded could think of you like that …

  „I"d prefer to go alone, it"s just up the road," I said, fighting to hold onto control until I could get away from him.

  He nodded. „I should go and check that woman got away okay, anyway."

  I started to leave when I remembered something. „Linc, you felt me today, didn"t you?"

  He stopped, mid-turn. „When you hurt yourself? Yes."

  „No, I don"t mean that. I mean you felt me respond to you, like we weren"t just aware of each other, more like we were communicating."

  He thought about it for a moment. „Yes …" he said, uncomfortably.

  As far as I had know, he hadn"t been able to do that before. Any of it.

  „Since when?" I checked.

  Another delay before he answered. More honey stirring. Why was he pulling on so much power?

  „Today."

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  „ Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, “Something is out of tune”."

  Carl Jung

  Exchange night.

  It had been in the making for six weeks, since that first text from Phoenix after he"d discovered Jude had betrayed him and handed us the Exile Scripture.

  It took nearly four weeks to simply agree on the „method" of exchange. A simple face-to-face had been quickly ruled out in week one - too easy for Phoenix to use his power over me and reinstate wounds he had once healed. He could bleed me out as soon as he got hold of the Scripture or, if I got in first, he knew I could harness my abilities, disabling him completely. And this was only one of the problems we faced in a potential minefield. Almost every scenario had a similar bad ending based on the mutual distrust each side had for the other.

  The drive-by drop would never work with Phoenix"s speed advantages, and his suggestion of using normal humans was quickly binned. The fly-by drop - Spence"s idea, need I go further? Even the idea of the public place and intricate treasure hunt - as suggested by Steph - had flaws.

  Of course, we didn"t really care. We had our own plans in place, but we couldn"t appear as though we didn"t think this exchange was important. We"d even gone as far as to stage a few heated conversations at Hades and outside Lincoln"s warehouse, arguing over my safety, given the role I would have to play. We knew Phoenix had exiles watching. I could sense them lurking.

  In the end, we had agreed upon the exchange particulars, a combination of some of our earlier suggestions and Phoenix"s all mixed into one. Two tall buildings, far enough apart that our powers wouldn"t cover the distance, and a solitary high-tension cable connecting the two. The idea was fairly simple; with one person travelling from each side, neither force would be as quick to cut the line. In addition to Phoenix and I, we were each permitted to have two people on the roof and one on the ground, in case. We had Beth stationed below, though if it came to it, a fall from that height would be fatal so her services would be more about containing the scene than recovery.

  I"m not usually scared of heights. But standing on the rooftop, looking over … Well, it was a lot higher up than my apartment building.

  I shivered and wrapped my arms around my waist. I"d given my coat to Spence as a precaution hours ago and regretted not thinking ahead as another blast of high-altitude air sent cold right through to my bones. I tugged my beanie over my ears and crouched back down, out of sight.

  It won"t be long now.

  Lincoln was readying the heavy crossbow that had come in on special request from the Academy"s weapons department . He was all business tonight and he was a crack shot. I watched as he and Griffin carefully fed the cable into the bow"s anchor that, once released, would lock onto its target. Coils of wire cable lay carefully arranged at his feet so when he fired, they wouldn"t tangle or snag.

  Lincoln checked and double-checked everything. Griffin, beside him, triple-checked.

  When they seemed satisfied, Griffin said something to Lincoln t
hat I couldn"t hear and made him laugh. A light, excited laugh by the expression on his face. One he never gave me. Not any more.

  My airways tightened as I crouched I the shadows, the Exile Scripture tucked securely inside my backpack, which had remained strapped to me since the moment it had been transferred to me two hours ago. Every day since we had acquired it the Scripture had changed hands between Grigori - different partners responsible for keeping it safe for each twenty-four-hour period. Locking it away just hadn"t been safe enough.

  Spence moved up behind the others and Lincoln slapped him on the shoulder, before covering up the guy-like gesture by giving him an awkward embrace. I could tell Spence was totally grossed out, but he played along. This was important.

  Lincoln moved to the edge and aimed the crossbow that all of them had been drooling over since it arrived last week. He released the shot. It was good, clean. I followed the flash of silver to the Brighton building and smiled as it landed perfectly on point.

  Right at Phoenix"s unflinching feet.

  The Brighton building was mirror height to the Maddox, but there was a great distance separating the two - Steph had worked out that it was over a kilometre"s straight line.

  Lincoln had outdone himself to make such a perfect night-shot first go. Then again, he was just that good.

  I tried to keep my eyes on Phoenix, just visible thanks to the small amount of roof lightning, as he hooked himself up to the harness and rolled the Scripture into a canister which he then raised above his head. I tried to look for something that would alert us to any sign of sabotage, since we knew he"d be planning something, but my eyes wandered of their own, drifting back to the Maddox, back to Lincoln as he stood on the edge of the building. He was magnificent. Even from this distance, I could feel the pull towards him.

  He of course, didn"t look in my direction once. He knew not to. None of them so much as glanced my way. Spence was strapping himself to the cable, taut at both ends, and I could see that Phoenix was ready to go.

  It was almost time. Five minutes till eleven and on the hour both Phoenix and I were due to start the move towards the centre.

 
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