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       Emblaze, p.6

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  I worried for the millionth time that this plan wouldn"t work. Spence was good, he was really good. Standing on top of the Maddox, he looked exactly like me. Wearing not only my body, but my mannerisms and expressions, as practised, as well as my real clothes - back-up in case the glamour slipped at any time. Spence could conjure anything to complete his look, but having the support of real props only helped. He would have been able to fool anyone, even my father, but Phoenix was … Phoenix. He knew me, knew my emotions in ways no one else did. I was willing to bet they were very different from Spence"s.

  Lincoln and Griffin fussed over Spence - glamoured as me - careful to ensure they reacted to and treated him in the same way they would me. Everything they did would be scrutinised from afar as Phoenix and his crew tried to see what our reserve plan could be.

  I held my position, hidden by the night, guarding the Scripture that we had no intention of handing over. That was my job. The Scripture had been given to me as a last resort - my condition to agreeing to this whole set-up. There was no way I was going to sit back and let Spence dangle a hundred storeys up in the air, sharing the one high-wire with Phoenix, knowing that when Phoenix discovered it wasn"t me at all, anything would be possible and the only guarantee - it wouldn"t be good.

  Griffin had agreed to let me be there. I was on top of the Atlantic, taller by five floors than the other buildings, giving me a slight advantage and better cover. I was equal distance from both Maddox and Brighton, forming the point to the triangle. Obviously, I had to be far enough that Phoenix wouldn"t sense me unless I wanted him to and I"d ensured I was at sufficient remove from Lincoln so he wouldn"t be distracted by me. Not that I was certain I distracted him like he did me, but just in case.

  I checked my watch. One minute.

  This is a bad idea. A very, very bad idea.

  I"d half expected Steph to have called me. I"d told her if she did I"d let her stay on the line as it all went down. I wasn"t doing anything else.

  Guess she"s caught up with the research thing again.

  Phoenix was right on the edge, the Scripture was easily visible, as per rules, hanging from a strap around his neck. Spence-as-me was on the edge, too. Lincoln and Griffin had moved back into place, guarding the line and in position should something go wrong - as in, someone-cutting-the-line wrong.

  11 p.m.

  Phoenix dropped into open air, dangling from the high-wire in his harness, looking like he did this every day. It was a basic zip-line set-up, without the zip. Both he and Spence were harnessed, but needed to pull arm over arm to make the distance. Spence dropped with a little less finesse. They both started to monkey forwards.

  Reaching halfway to the middle, they were moving at a similar speed.

  My heart was pounding - I couldn"t shake the feeling that something was wrong, very wrong.

  Phoenix moved athletically, but was it his usual fluidity? I looked closer, trying to figure out what had me so worried. But, shielding myself like I was, I couldn"t push out my senses.

  It was useless. It made me nervous that Phoenix"s face was hidden by a hoddie. I wished I could speak with Lincoln or Griffin, double-check if anyone had actually seen it was him.

  I turned my attention back to Spence. He was making good headway and I knew by now he"d be working hard on controlling his emotions, trying to neutralise them as much as possible in the way we"d practised. The fake Scripture dangled from a leather strap, slung diagonally across his body, and he reached down a few times to adjust it.

  I glanced at my phone again, my breath leaving light wisps of smoke in the frosty air. It had only taken them fifteen minutes to reach the centre, which was impressive. I strained to see everything through the darkness. They each pulled their Scriptures from around their necks

  Everything was going according plan.

  So why is something at me that it"s time to panic?

  Spence held out his Scripture. That was one of the other reasons why it had taken so long to agree on the exchange. We"d been stalling. It takes a long time to make a false ancient replica. In the end, we"d only had enough time to make the outside look convincing.

  When Phoenix opened the Scripture he"d know, but that was the other reason why we"d agree to this particular exchange - he wasn"t likely to hand around in mid-air to check it. We hoped.

  They made the swap, slowly, as agreed. I looked over to the Brighton. The exiles Phoenix had brought were two of his best. Diplomatically, one light and one dark. We"d been profiling his group for the last month, collecting information on them all so I knew the two on the roof. Gressil, once a Power of Dark, had a particular strength in turning men against women, luring them into impurity in exchange for luxurious indulgences. The other was Olivier, once an Archangel of Light. They"d both been there, in Jordan, but it was Gressil who we suspected had taken down Rudyard.

  The two were an unlikely team. We had good intel that told us they despised each other, which was interesting given their powers were so similar. Olivier"s strength was iin provoking mercilessness. The two of them working together made a very dangerous force.

  And they were now almost always at Phoenix"s left and right.

  My hand was itching to press the call button on my phone. I had Lincoln"s number up on-screen.

  I was just about to make the call when Phoenix reached up and pushed it back.

  Definitely him.

  I sighed. I"d almost blown it - thinking they were pulling a similar stunt.

  Spence and Phoenix both started moving back towards their buildings. Spence was making good time while Phoenix seemed to be taking things more slowly, almost lingering.

  Once Spence made it back to the Maddox, I let out a shaky sound of relief and checked my phone again. 11.45 p.m.

  Why hasn"t Steph called?

  I knew she was waiting for us at Hades with Dapper, Onyx, Samuel and Kaitlin. The rest of the Grigori were out patrolling, mostly in this area.

  Steph had wanted to come and wait with me on the roof, but I"d talked her into staying at Hades instead, promising I"d give her minute-by-minute updates.

  Phoenix finally reached the Brighton, easily slipped back onto the rood and unhooked the harness. He walked to the edge of the building and pulled the canister containing the Scripture from around his neck.

  He"s going to check it.

  The puffs of cold air stopped as I held my breath in panic, dreading his reaction. But then his demeanour changed. I couldn"t see his facial expressions but somehow I could tell he was smiling. He held the unopened scroll in front of him moved to the edge of the building and - I was sure - looked right at me before … he set the Scripture on fire.

  My eyes shot between the sight of the burning Scripture and Lincoln, Griffin and Spence

  - himself again - standing together, stunned as they too watched what Phoenix was doing.

  „Jesus, he knows it"s fake," I said to myself, now standing up, getting ready.

  My phone rang. „Move!" was all Lincoln bothered with before he hung up.

  I didn"t need telling twice. I made for the stairwell and then straight to the waiting lift with the crate holding the door open. We"d planned for escape. Hell, we"d counted on it.

  If Phoenix had know all along we were going to give him a fake Scripture, there was no way the one he"d given us was real. But why bother? Why set this whole thing up? Why follow through with it, do the whole cable act? All he"d managed to do was waste a couple of hours of everyone"s time and … Oh.

  Oh! No … NO!

  The lift ride was torturously slow as I bounced up and down, only stopping when the back of my head banged against the mirror, cracking the glass. By the time I reached the bottom and flung myself out of the fire exit I was running faster than I"d ever run before.

  A lot can happen in a couple of hours.

  We were all there.

  I ran through the city streets, pushing past people, not slowing to be polite. A horrible twisting feeling raked its way through my insides. Fo
ur blocks on I saw Lincoln sprinting towards me, Griffin and Spence following close behind. I felt like I was going to throw up.

  Lincoln slowed when he saw me, looking relieved. It just made me move faster. All the time we had spent on this stupid exchange and on keeping me safe - we were so stupid!

  I kept going, running so fast it hurt but trying desperately to move faster. Lincoln must"ve realised because he was back at full speed within a second. I took the next turn, heading straight towards Hades. Dapper had repainted the entry door again. It was now fluorescent yellow. Standing out like a beacon.

  Lincoln was behind me. I heard him yell my name, but I didn"t wait. I kept my eyes on the entrance and the bouncer who watched me approach. I yelled at him, „Door!" without slowing down. He swung it open just in time and I ran through.

  Hades was heaving. It was after midnight on a Wednesday night and the place was sardined. I took a direct line, pushing past people so hard that some fell over. The music was loud and though I could hear it, I was in some kind of trance, consumed by unfathomable thoughts so horrific they scraped through my mind like sharp knives against brittle edges.

  I threw myself into the unmarked door at the side of the bar and bolted up the stairs, taking two then three at a time.

  Steph should"ve called. She would"ve called.

  I reached Dapper"s door, which was ajar. I heard Lincoln pound through the door below.

  He was still yelling something at me, but I wasn"t listening.

  I went in.

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  „Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn; and horror grips me."

  Jeremiah 8:21

  When I was seven years old, Dad and I were driving home from a weekend away. I remembered being so excited when we"d first set off, thinking Dad and I would have two whole days to hang out and go to the beach. The drive there had been three of the happiest hours in my childhood. I spent the entire time daydreaming about all the things we would do

  - the exploring, chatting, laughing. I really believed that weekend would change everything, certain that spending some real one-of-one time with Dad would make him realise …

  But it wasn"t like that.

  It was me who realised.

  We only went away so Dad could meet with some new clients. As soon as we got there I was dumped with the hotel nanny and a bucket and spade. I didn"t see him again until we were getting back in the car to go home.

  I was devastated. Dad was oblivious. We were silent for the first two hours of our drive back. I spent the whole time trying to build up the confidence to tell him what I really thought of his so-called „weekend away". I was just about to open my mouth when it happened.

  We"d been driving on the freeway. You move so fast on those things - when something goes wrong, it"s bad.

  I remember staring at him really hard, trying to make him look back at me with the power of my seven-year-old glare when there was a loud bang, then another - like explosions.

  They were so close, immediately urgent, immediately dangerous. Before I could see anything, we went straight into a station wagon. My whole body jolted forwards, the seatbelt doing little to hold my slight frame in place. If Dad"s hand hadn"t been there to push me back, I would have flown right through the windshield. To this day I don"t know how he got his hand there so fast.

  Or bonnet crumpled like a piece of paper. Steam and smoke rose from the car, melting into the heated air of that hot summer"s day, rippling reality.

  Dad screamed at me. At first I thought I was in trouble, until I realised he was just panicking. I nodded, frightened, and that seemed to settle him, the rigid tension in his expression easing slightly. Then we looked ahead.

  We were not the main event. We"d barely caught the tail end.

  Three maybe four cars were in front of us, all in varying degrees of compressed state.

  And in front of them, a truck was visible and maybe another car. I wasn"t sure.

  Dad got out and circled our car. I don"t know what he was looking for, petrol perhaps.

  Whatever he saw, he was satisfied enough to leave me there, ordering me not to move until he returned. I watched as he went to the station wagon we"d crashed into. The passengers were okay, I realised, because Dad didn"t stay for long at each car, moving on up the line.

  I heard sirens in the distance, but when I looked behind me the traffic had been brought to a halt and it was clear to would be some time before an ambulance could make its way through the new car park.

  People were stating to move around me, running forwards into the disaster zone.

  I found myself out of the car and caught up in the tide of people. I could see Dad running ahead. He was the first to reach the truck. I wondered if he had helped anyone out but then I got closer and saw him through a gap in the cars.

  He was bending over.

  I hurried towards him, thinking he must be hurt. I hadn"t even asked him if he was okay before he got out of the car.

  I weaved my way between bystanders, dodging pieces of wreckage but when I burst into the open space where Dad was standing, I abruptly froze.

  He wasn"t helping anyone. He didn"t know how.

  The truck had gone right over a small family car. It was completely crushed. The truck driver was alive. Still sitting in the front seat. He didn"t look hurt at all. At least, not on the outside.

  But I saw his face.

  He looked right at me. Beneath him, there was no sign of life and when he looked at me -

  even though I was only a kid - I knew he wished, desperately, that his fate had been the same.

  It was his fault.

  -

  When Lincoln burst through the door behind me I tore myself from the memory and saw only the scene spread before me. Dapper, on the floor by the minibar, covered in blood, mutilated. His apartment had been torn apart, as if a herd of elephants had stampeded the place and then come back for a second run, just to be sure.

  I stood barely a few steps inside. Frozen.

  Lincoln came in behind me and gasped. I turned my eyes to him and I knew the look I wore was the exact same one that truck driver had given to me ten years ago.

  It was my fault.

  -

  Lincoln didn"t hesitate. He took one look at the scene, one look at me and, just as my father had ordered me to stay in the car, he ordered me to stay where I was. And I did, for a while.

  Dead. Dead. They"re all dead. My fault. Phoenix knew. Knew me. My fault.

  I watched as Lincoln ran to help Dapper, feeling through all the blood and exposed flesh, looking for vitals. The only way I knew it was really Dapper was his diamond-studded belt -

  it was wrapped around his neck, embedded in the flesh.

  Lincoln carefully but quickly unwrapped it.

  That"s when I saw the thing that changed everything something that the truck driver never had the chance to see.

  Dapper"s fingers … moved.

  „He"s alive," I gasped. And that was all it took.

  Maybe, just maybe. Oh, please, please, please.

  I flung myself into action, bolting past Dapper and Lincoln knowing I couldn"t do anything to help there. I ran through the living area into the hallway, where I pulled up, almost falling over myself.

  Onyx.

  I crouched beside him. Like Lincoln had. I tried to ignore the blood, the massive swelling over his face. His shirt had been ripped off and he"d been beaten so badly that some of his ribs had broken outwards, one poking through his chest.

  I swallowed down the urge to be sick and I tried to breathe through my mouth. Now that I was more lucid, the senses were pressing down on me. Demanding, I know.

  Apple poured through my mouth, giving the illusion that it was flooding my airways and that I couldn"t keep swallowing so much. Regardless, it was better to breathe through my mouth - the scent of flowers was so overwhelming and had made the air so dense it was impossible to breathe through my nose effectively.

  I didn"t know
where to start. Onyx was alive, I knew that much. He was breathing impossibly difficult, short shallow breaths.

  Not nearly enough, was all I could thing. That"s not nearly enough air.

  Then I looked again at his ribs, puncturing the space where his lungs were.

  I put my hands lightly on his chest. I didn"t know what was better, keeping my eyes open or closed. It was practically impossible to concentrate over the blinding flashes of morning and evening - so strong, switching between searing sunlight and the darkest of moonless nights.

  „Onyx," I forced through my strangled throat.

  His puffy eyes opened bloodshot slits. His arm moved slightly and I grabbed his hand.

  „H-he…"

  „It"s okay, you"ll be okay," I lied. Because looking at him, looking at what they"d done to him and Dapper, I didn"t think they"d be okay at all.

  My eyes flitted away, further down the hall.

  The bathroom and the bedroom to go, I need to look.

  But I couldn"t just leave him

  He gripped my hand a little tighter. I looked at him and then it occurred to me: maybe he wanted this? He"d wanted someone to kill him. End it. He"d asked me t do it myself when we"d found him drunk and on the streets. He never wanted to be only-human. Maybe this had all worked out for him.

  He tried to speak.

  I bent forwards, trying not to touch anywhere that would hurt, which was everywhere.

  „H-elp me."

  I watched his swollen eyes, trying to force themselves open properly, to show me the truth in his words. Onyx wanted to live.

  My hand, still holding his, stirred. I put my other hand to his face gently. Then I let my power go, let it flow from me to him, wanting to heal him, to give him this chance at life. But I hit a brick wall, which almost made me black out.

  I heard more people arrive, orders being shouted out. Griffin.

  Spence came running into the hallway. „Jesus," he said.

  I stood up. „I can"t help him. I can"t heal him." I shook my head. „He wants to live," I said.

  But my eyes were fixed on the end of the hall again, urgently.

  Spence dropped down beside Onyx. „I"ll help him. Go!"

 
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