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       Emblaze, p.7

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  I was at the end of the hall before he finished telling me to go. I don"t know how long it had been since I entered the apartment, less than a minute maybe. Less than a minute for everything to change. And yet I knew, in a few seconds … everything could get so much worse.

  Steph. Please, no! my fault, not hers.

  The bathroom was clear. In the bedroom, I found Kaitlin and Samuel. Kaitlin was out cold, but her Grigori strength had protected her and, though bruised, looked in a much better state than Dapper or Onyx. Samuel was already trying to get up.

  I ran to him, putting a hand under his arm to help him.

  „Samuel, Samuel! What happened?" I screamed, even though now I knew.

  „There were eight of them that I saw. They caught us by surprise."

  And I understood why. We"d expected to be dealing with all the action tonight, out on the rooftops.

  Samuel looked over at Kaitlin and raised his fingers to a head wound dripping with blood, before looking back at me. „We should be dead."

  He was right.

  But I couldn"t focus. I couldn"t concentrate on the other details right now. I heard sirens coming from out in the street. Griffin had called ambulances. Onyx was human and Dapper, although not altogether human, clearly needed medical attention.

  „you should get her out of here. You don"t want the ambulance trying to cart her away," I said, in a daydream to Samuel. The last thing we needed was doctors getting their hands on a Grigori when they were in a rapid-healing mode. Way too many questions there.

  Samuel nodded, scooping Kaitlin up and heading for the door.

  I followed him out. He didn"t even pause to look at Onyx or Dapper. He had his job to do and right now that was to get Kaitlin to safety. He was a good partner.

  Spence was still talking to Onyx, giving words of encouragement. Onyx was gripping his hand. There was a time, after Spence jumped him and beat the information we"d needed from him, when I didn"t think those two would get within five metres of each other. But that had been the beginning for Onyx in some ways. His true beginning, his human one. Spence had forced him to admit he valued his life, and now was helping him keep it.

  Griffin had taken over from Lincoln with Dapper and when Lincoln saw me come back into the room he looked at me with urgent eyes. Griffin turned, too.

  They"d obviously seen Samuel taking off with Kaitlin and Onyx down the hall. Everyone was looking at me for one reason,.

  I wanted to wake up. Or go back,

  My fault.

  I wanted to go back to the day I"d told her - convinced her that this otherworld existed, invited her to be part of it. Why? Because I needed her. I didn"t want to let go of my human world, lose her, too.

  My fault.

  „Violet?" Lincoln prompted.

  I started. He was right in front of me. I hadn"t even noticed him walk towards me. He grabbed my arms. I though he was going to shake me, but he didn"t I should"ve seen this coming. Phoenix saw me coming. He knew I couldn"t just hand over the Scripture to release Lilith. He knew me and played me and I … I walked right into it.

  I heard the medics slam through the doors downstairs and their feet on the stairs. They were calling out, announcing themselves as they moved. I wondered fleetingly if people still filled the bar, dancing and drinking while above them …

  I looked at Lincoln and then Griffin, still bent over Dapper. A similar guilt showed on their faces as mine. But not nearly as much.

  Lincoln squeezed my arms, trying to bring me back to him. I blinked.

  „Steph"s gone. They"ve taken her."

  CHAPTER NINE

  „And out of the darkness, came the hands that reached Through nature, moulding men."

  Alfred Lord Tennyson

  I don"t remember much of what followed. The medics had come in to Dapper"s apartment and gone straight into damage control.

  We"d followed the ambulances to the hospital in Lincoln"s Volvo, but there wasn"t much we could do and we were confined to the waiting room.

  The doctors told us that Onyx would be okay. His major internal injuries were to his ribs, which had also punctured his lungs, as I"d suspected. The main thing had been to plug the holes and get him breathing again, which they had managed to do. The rest was superficial.

  Painful, but he"d live,

  Dapper was in worse shape. The doctors were amazed he was still alive. The injuries inflicted by the belt alone should have been enough to shatter his throat and airways. Not to mention the damage caused by the internal bleeding from the vicious beating. They assumed he"d been attacked by weapons of some kind as human hands simply could not cause this level of harm. We didn"t correct them.

  To the doctors, Dapper was a medical miracle.

  To us that meant we had been wrong about him too.

  Dapper clearly had healing abilities. If he kept recovering at a such rapid rate, he was going to have some explaining to do in the hospital. None of use cared right now, but Dapper would. He was part of the community with his bar, so hiding his otherworldly abilities was all-important to him

  I went through the motions, helped by everyone but oblivious to anyone in particular.

  Eventually, someone different moved in beside me, lifting me onto his lap. His arms moved around my waist, holding me close, as if his body would somehow power mine to life. And it could. My body, my soul, gravitated towards him in recognition, igniting something both marvellous and excruciating. He pushed the hair in my face and tucked it behind me. I breathed in the feeling of warm sun on my skin and felt the trickle of honey caress me from the inside.

  When he leaned into my ear he whispered, just for me. „I promise you, she"s alive. I promise you, we"ll get her back." He swallowed deeply. „Unharmed."

  I didn"t respond. I wanted to believe him. Oh, I wanted to so badly. But how could I?

  As if he knew my question, he moved closer, brushing a shaking hand down my hair.

  „Phoenix won"t hurt her, because …" He faltered and something about that pause made me think he didn"t say exactly what he was going to say. „He needs her to get what he wants."

  That was all it took for me to snap out of it. I hadn"t been thinking clearly. I hadn"t been thinking at all, but Lincoln broke through the barriers, found me when others couldn"t, and he was right. Absolutely right.

  I pulled my head up. „This is the real trade."

  He nodded.

  Phoenix knew this would hurt me the most, knew I"d felt guilty about bringing Steph into this world. He"d expected it to hit me hard, but he didn"t understand. Not fully. He didn"t ever really get what Lincoln and I had, that Lincoln was my pillar of strength and that he was the only one who could bring me out of it to focus on what had to be done.

  -

  By the time we got back to Lincoln"s place, I was no longer in such a fragile state of mind. When we"d left the hospital, I"d walked out without anyone supporting me.

  Sure, I couldn"t completely remember getting back to the warehouse, but that was because from that moment only one thing held my attention: the choice.

  Since I"d discovered my Grigori status, everything always seemed to come down to something like this. But usually it was a choice between letting someone else get hurt or letting myself get hurt. Like embracing to save Lincoln or facing Phoenix even though I knew the power he held over me. It wasn"t that simple this time.

  It was worse.

  This time the choice could have been anything - the answer would be the same. I wasn"t going to stand by and let Steph die. The price was huge and I could feel the tension in the room. Griffin pacing, Spence hovering.

  Lincoln didn"t pace or hover. He went to the kitchen and made sandwiches. He put them in front of me. „You need to eat."

  I did, chewing on autopilot. I needed my strength.

  Samuel had called. He and Kaitlin were fine. The confirmed what we already knew, that the exiles had taken Steph. They had both tried to stop them, but they were taken down.

  The only
thing that didn"t make sense was why everyone had not been killed. It wasn"t in an exile"s nature to leave life behind. Especially when it came to Grigori.

  Griffin had arranged for Beth and archer to take the first shift at the hospital, waiting for Onyx and Dapper to come round fully. Dapper would have to be removed before anyone became suspicious. Griffin was arranging a bogus hospital transfer through Grigori connections.

  „I should get you home," Lincoln said from behind me. He seemed so calm, even though I knew he wasn"t.

  „I have to do it," I said, not daring to look at him as I voiced the very thing he didn"t want to hear.

  He sighed. „We can talk about it in the morning."

  I jumped up. „What do you expect me to do? Just go home? Curl up in bed and get a good night"s sleep? Steph is out there! With him! "

  Lincoln just sat there, letting me yell at him. Spence and Griffin had settled down at the dining table. They were flicking through papers, Steph"s research. I wanted to storm over and rip it out from under their noses. We needed to do something.

  „There are too many of them for us to try and take them tonight. They"ll be expecting something and they"ll be waiting for us," Lincoln said, knowing my thoughts.

  I slumped back onto the sofa beside him, hating that he was right.

  „I can"t go home," I said. „Dad thinks I"m at Steph"s tonight."

  Lincoln was silent for a moment, as if this one piece of news had caught him more off-guard than anything else that had happened this evening, I felt the honey of his power stir.

  Griffin stood up. „Violet, where is Steph supposed to be tonight?"

  „At her place, with me." We"d expected to get back after the exchange around midnight. I looked at my watch, realising what Griffin was getting at.

  As if on cue, my phone rang. All of us jumped. We"d been waiting for a call all night. But then I saw who it was and groaned.

  „Oh, no."

  „Who?" Lincoln asked, still calm.

  „Dad."

  Griffin spoke quickly. „You have to cover this up, Violet. We can"t have more humans involved."

  He didn"t mean it the way it came out, but I felt even worse.

  Lincoln put his hand on my knee. „A party, out of town. Car trouble. Bad phone reception, but you"re staying at a friend"s place. A girl"s," he clarified, meaningfully. „Someone I introduced you to through rock climbing.

  The phone was still ringing. He held my eyes. My pillar of strength. I nodded.

  „Dad."

  „Violet, where are you? I"ve had Eliza Morris on the phone with me for the last half hour.

  You"re supposed to be at her house tonight with Steph!" He was really upset. Steph"s mum must have seriously let loose on him.

  „Dad! Dad, don"t worry. Listen," I took a deep breath. „I might get cut off, there"s terrible reception here, but Steph and I are fine. We went to a house party outside the city."

  „Violet! You never had permission to go out of the city! Where are you?"

  „Dad, just listen. We"re fine. We would"ve been home by now, but Steph"s car broke down and our phone"s weren"t working."

  Lincoln nodded me on. I might get into trouble for going to an out-of-town part, but that was nothing compared to the alternative.

  „I remembered a friend of Lincoln"s lived nearby. I met her out rock climbing a few times and we had lunch at her place once."

  Lincoln nodded again.

  „And?" Dad prompted.

  „Well, we came back to her place. We"re staying here tonight and we"ll be back tomorrow."

  Lincoln gave me a look and tapped his watch.

  „After we take the car to get fixed. We"ll go straight to school and I"ll be home after that," I added.

  Lincoln gave another small nod. I"d bought us more time.

  „Why didn"t you call?"

  „Lucy doesn"t have a house phone and this is the first time my mobile"s had reception," I lied.

  Dad sighed. It was working. It was time to drive it home.

  „Dad," I"m really sorry.. We didn"t expect to be late back to Steph"s."

  „Well, Steph"s mother is irate." He sighed again. „Give me the address and I"ll come and pick you up."

  My eyes almost popped out of their sockets. I"d expected him to leave it there.

  I looked at Lincoln, urgently. He pressed his thumbs down a couple of times, telling me to hang up. I knew he was right, I needed to get out of this conversation and we needed to keep my phone free.

  „Dad, we"re already in bed for the night. Just call Steph"s mum back for us, Steph"s …

  already asleep and don"t worry if you can"t get a hold of us, the phone drops out all the time. I"ll call you as soon as we"re on our way home."

  I heard Dad yelling into the phone, insisting in more information. I waited a moment and ended the call.

  Everyone in the room let our their breath as if they"d been holding it for the entire conversation.

  „I don"t think he"ll send out any search parties tonight, but he knows something isn"t right."

  This, on top of the questions he had already been asking. I knew there would be more to come now.

  Before anyone had long to consider this, my phone rang again. Everyone jumped again, except me. There was no one left to call. It had to be him. I raised it to answer, but Lincoln stopped me and put out his hand.

  „He"ll be expecting you."

  I didn"t want to do anything to upset Phoenix. I didn"t want to cause any more possible danger for Steph, but Lincoln held my eyes and they seemed to say so much. He was asking me to trust him.

  I handed him the phone. He put it on loudspeaker.

  Phoenix sighed languidly, the way he had in the past, knowing it unnerved me. „Ah, there you are, lover. I was worried you weren"t going to take my call."

  I didn"t respond and instead closed my eyes and just concentrated on breathing.

  „Put Steph on the phone," Lincoln said, calm as ever, but with a hint of something else in his voice. Hatred.

  „No," Phoenix said, not even considering it. But I could tell he was surprised to hear Lincoln"s voice. „She"s … busy."

  „If you touch her, I"ll kill you," Lincoln said, making his threat sound very convincing.

  But Phoenix only chuckled lightly. „Will you?"

  Lincoln was silent.

  Phoenix thought he had this all figured out. As far as he was concerned he was more than immortal, he was impenetrable. With the power he held over me, with our lives connected so inexorably, he knew no one would hurt him if it could be avoided.

  No one but me, that is.

  „ I will," I said, ensuring that the full weight of my intention was clear in those two small words.

  Lincoln gave me a resigned look and sank back in his chair.

  „Now that I believe. There you are, lover. It seems I now have two things you want badly."

  „I hate you" I snapped.

  He laughed again. „Yes, well, we can disagree about that later. Say tomorrow evening.

  Why don"t we forget the elaborate design and just meet at our café. Just two lovers sharing a coffee and making an exchange."

  „You"ll give me Steph, and the Scripture."

  This triggered a different kind of laugh from him. Darker. „No. I"ll give you one. You choose. Oh, and this time, if I don"t get what I want it will be Steph who suffers the consequences of your choices."

  „She"s not going to meet you alone," Lincoln said, the loathing dripping from his voice.

  „Violet?" Phoenix said and waited.

  Lincoln looked at me. „We"ll find a better way than this," he whispered.

  I glanced at Griffin and his truth leaked out of him.

  Not if we want to get Steph back alive.

  Lincoln was biased, I knew that. Griffin was concerned with retrieving an innocent and we were Grigori.

  „What time?" I asked.

  I could hear the victory in Phoenix"s voice. „9 p.m. And Violet?"

/>   „What?"

  „Tell your friend Spence his services will not be required on this occasion."

  He ended the call.

  He was never going to stop. There were no boundaries he would not cross.

  I looked around the room. My friends and fellow warriors. I couldn"t keep putting everyone at risk.

  „I have to return him," I said, knowing it was true.

  Lincoln jolted. „No! Not yet. Not until we know how to break the-" but I cut him off.

  „We"re not going to break it! Ever! As long as I live, he lives. It"s like a part of everything he does wrong. I can"t do that any more!" Then I couldn"t stop the final thought as I looked at Lincoln. „It will be better for everyone this way."

  „And how is that?" he snapped, the cool exterior he"d worked so hard to maintain completely gone, his hands gripping the back of a dining chair, angrily.

  „He"ll be gone. The Scriptures will be safe and I"ll … You can get another partner, one less … complicated."

  Lincoln shook his head as if he thought I was crazy. „Yeah. I can see all of that working out just swell. And I guess your Dad and Steph will live happily ever after, too?"

  That stopped me.

  „Violet," Griffin said, breaking into the discussion. „If it were our only option - we could consider it."

  Lincoln spun on Griffin so fast it was clear it wasn"t just a chair he was considering throwing into the wall.

  „But right now," Griffin continued, unfazed by Lincoln"s violent stare, „it is not a good option. If you make those kinds of intentions clear to Phoenix he will hurt Steph - or someone else to hold you to bay."

  I knew what he was saying.

  Dad. He"ll go after Dad.

  He was the only one left. And Phoenix wouldn"t think twice.

  „Not if he"s gone," I said, but I"d lost my fight.

  „Do you really think he will be that easy to return?" Griffin said, already aware he"d won the argument.

  „I"m sorry," Spence chimed in, sounding agitated, „but I think everyone is missing the other option."

  All eyes turned to him. Except Lincoln"s - they were still fixed on me and fuming.

  „What do you mean, Spence?" Griffin asked.

  „I get that we all want to get Steph back, but there is no way you can really be considering making this trade. If you give that scripture to Phoenix he"d going to bring the mistress of Hell upon us all. For the sake of one life, you will be forfeiting an unknown number of innocents."

 
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