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       Emblaze, p.9

           Jessica Shirvington
 

  It was like I"d walked into the twilight zone.

  Is my father actually practising real parenting?

  I couldn"t help the small smile. It was just so „out there". But I really couldn"t afford this type of attention, so explained, „I already have plans this afternoon and tonight."

  „Change them," he said flatly, redirecting his focus back to his work.

  I shot Caroline a look that told her I knew damn well this must be her doing. We"d always got on in the past, but she"d crossed a line.

  „I can"t!" I snapped, which got Dad"s attention back and not in a good way.

  „Yes, you can," he said.

  „No," I said, thinking quickly. „I … I can"t. It"s … I have to go to the orientation night for the Fenton art course."

  If anything would get Dad to back off right now, I knew that was it. But just in case, I gave him one more reason, realising as I said it that hit part was actually true. „And I was going to go to the cemetery this afternoon."

  i hated myself instantly.

  It might not have been a lie, but I shouldn"t have told him just like that, and not in front of Caroline. A veil of darkness floated over him and whatever seemed to have changed in him in the last week, changed back in an instant. He stood up, grabbing a pile of papers.

  „We have to get back to the office," he squeezed out with an anguished expression.

  Caroline moved quickly, slipping on her light trench coat. „I"ll wait downstairs, James."

  She smiled kindly as she opened the door, which just made me feel worse. „Stop by the office some time. We miss seeing you around there."

  I nodded awkwardly.

  Dad was close behind. I didn"t expect him to say anything by the surprise me by stopping at my side as he passed.

  „Violet, I know you"re hiding something. Just tell me you aren"t in trouble?" His voice had dropped and he was almost pleading.

  I realised then that if something were to happen to me there would be little to hold Dad to life or sanity. I had always though I wasn"t on his radar, not enough. Now I saw the true story - I was everything to him.

  „Everything"s fine, Dad," I swallowed hard. The deception now carried more weight. „I promise."

  He gave a lopsided nod and left. I knew he wouldn"t come out of the daze again today.

  Telling him I was going to see Mum had been cruel.

  But necessary, a harsher voice within coaxed.

  -

  I didn"t visit my mother often. I always felt like a bit of a fraud when I did.

  Dad and I used to go to the cemetery together and it was awful - the silence of the car trip broken by awkward forced conversation. I always felt like an intruder on his - their -

  time. He deserved to visit her alone, not have to hold my hand. It was enough effort for him to just keep himself together, let alone carrying the burden of having to include me - worse -

  assure me somehow that he didn"t blame me.

  I knew he didn"t, but I could always feel his uncertainties about how much reinforcement his issue required.

  Dad loved her so much. Completely. No, more than that. It"s a forever thing. He"s a lifer.

  That"s why now he"s so lost. My earlier discovery that if there were any anchor in this life for him at all, I was it, made me sad for him and even madder at her.

  I"m a poor man"s substitute. Not nearly enough.

  Dad loved me, I knew that, but he had planned on loving me with her. When that didn"t happen … Let"s just say Dad doesn"t specialise in the roll-with-the-punches department.

  I knelt down before the headstone. My long hair fell forwards and grazed the words I knew by heart.

  Evelyn May Eden

  „I will find you again,

  my darling."

  Beloved wife to James

  Mother to Violet

  I cleared the damp leaves that had stuck to the marble and laid down a bunch of white lillies that I"d picked up on the way. I always brought her lillies.

  I didn"t say a prayer. It wasn"t my thing and I was sure it hadn"t been hers, either. I wished in a way I could cry for her, but I had never know her. I only knew of her lies. Well, that wasn"t altogether true any more. I knew some of her, maybe more than Dad ever would.

  Like the fact that she held me for less than five minutes before she chose to leave us.

  I closed my eyes, placed a hand on the headstone of the mother I"d never know or understand and tried not to think, How could you?

  Perhaps it was for the best that I never knew, I couldn"t forgive her but I still respected her in my own way. She was a Grigori warrior. She had faced down a rival mightier than most ever crossed paths with, and survived. She was a legend among us, any story I had ever heard hailed her as a champion, a saviour even. As her daughter I had little compassion to offer her, but as a fellow Grigori I at least owed her this.

  „I"m sorry. If it were you, I know you wouldn"t do it."

  She"d sacrifice herself. Her partner had died. She"d sacrifice me, too. If she thought Lilith would return, I was confident she"d be willing to sacrifice Steph.

  „But Steph … She"s my family. So if you think I"m doing the wrong thing, just remember, you made this way."

  I shook my head, disappointed at myself. I took a deep breath and started again.

  „I"m going to give Phoenix the key to releasing Lilith, and he"ll do it, too. I know he will.

  And it"s going to be bad, really bad, because they will be here, together." Tears welled. „But I promise you, I"ll do whatever it takes to make this right. I"ll stop them." The enormity of the battles ahead swept over me and I considered the price of the promise I just made. I knew I would pay the price for it.

  Walking away from her grave, I got the feeling it wouldn"t be too long until I saw my mother again.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  „ …the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?"

  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

  I stood on the pavement outside my apartment building and marvelled at how the world, ever-unaware, continued to buzz around me even as I functioned in a seemingly doomed existence that was now dragging down the people I cared about the most.

  I fidgeted as I waited - my hand nervously brushing the hilt of my dagger. It was 7 p.m.

  Two hours left.

  It felt like a small eternity waiting for the car to pull up. Lincoln was driving, Griffin was up front and Spence kicked open the back door from inside. I jumped in, glad to get out of the cold.

  „Hi," I said, including everyone but avoiding looking directly at Lincoln. I wasn"t sure I would be able to stop myself reaching out to touch him.

  „Did you have any trouble with your father?" Griffin asked.

  „He knows something"s up. He"ll leave it for now but," I blew out a breath, „I don"t know for how long."

  Griffin gave me a nod. „We will have to give some thought to how we can manage him."

  He was right, but I couldn"t get into it now. I knew it would just involve more lies. „Let"s just get Steph back," I said.

  „Nice hair," Spence said with a smirk, causing Lincoln to glance back in our direction before he could stop himself.

  Out eyes unwittingly locked and my chest felt crushed under the weight of his beautiful gaze. My hand went self-consciously to the hair I had pulled into an unusually slick, high ponytail.

  „I didn"t want it to get in the way."

  „You won"t be fighting tonight," Lincoln said, quietly and seemingly in control. The white-knuckled grip he had on the steering wheel suggested otherwise.

  „Just in case. Where are we going?"

  „Hades," Griffin said.

  I shifted in my seat, uneasy with the idea of going back there. Not only was it the scene of the crime but without Dapper and Onyx - it felt wrong.

  „Dapper"s back there," Griffin said, as if reading my mind. „He"s healed at a remarkable rate. I really
would like to know more about what he is."

  „So he"s okay?"

  „Bruised and battered but up and walking about."

  I was amazed. That man looked like he"d been turned inside out less than twenty-four hours ago. No wonder Griffin wanted to know more.

  It was a short drive to Hades and we pulled up out the front in the no-parking zone.

  Clearly Lincoln wasn"t in a law-abiding mood.

  The security guy pulled open the door. „Any word on Onyx?" he asked as we passed. He seemed to care about him.

  „Saw him today. Should be out of hospital in a few days," Spence said, reminding me I hadn"t even asked after Onyx myself.

  It was a bit surprising to hear it had been Spence who"d gone to visit him. I wondered if they were becoming friends.

  Inside Hades, the restaurant tables were filling up and the bar was just getting started for the night. Before long, the place would be heaving.

  We went straight for the unmarked door that led upstairs and headed to Dapper"s apartment. Griffin knocked on the door. It took a while but eventually we hear a voice on the other side.

  „Who is it?" he called in his normal gruff tone, but there was something else, too. Fear.

  „It"s Griffin, Lincoln, Violet and Spencer," Griffin said, considerately ensuring Dapper would receive no surprise when he opened the door.

  I heard his grunt and then a number of clicks as Dapper released what must have been at least eight deadbolts.

  „Griff," I said, „maybe we should"ve gone somewhere else?" It didn"t seem fair to keep dragging Dapper into all of this stuff, especially when he hadn"t wanted be involved in the first place.

  „He insisted," Griffin said.

  „Oh."

  The door opened and Dapper stood aside to let us in. He wasn"t alone. Kaitlin and Samuel were settled on one sofa, while Archer and Beth were sitting on stools at the minibar.

  I felt a pang of guilt that even with company he"d still felt the need for locks.

  He looked incredible. I mean, he looked like he"d been hit by a bus, with bruises over his face and sunken cheeks, but it was a more than significant improvement.

  „I"m so glad you"re okay," I said, holding back the tears that caught me by surprise. With everything else going on, I"d had little time to think of the others who had been hurt, but Dapper and I had become friends. He"d never admit it, but it was true.

  „Might not have been if you hadn"t got here so quickly. Griffin told me you were the one to figure it out and led „em all here. Wouldn"t have lasted much longer with that belt wrapped around my neck."

  „Lincoln took it off," I said, needing him to understand I hadn"t done anything good, hadn"t helped anyone. It was my fault in the first place.

  He shrugged. „Even so. I owe you one."

  It looked like a big thing for him to say. Almost as if some kind of promise had passed between us. I looked at the others, settling on the free sofa and none the wiser.

  „Should I ask?" I responded.

  „Not unless you wanna collect," Dapper said, closing and bolting the door with his new security precautions. I didn"t bother telling him those locks would hold off an exile for a total of zero seconds. I figured he knew it already.

  „So," Dapper said, walking back into the living area with me on his tail. We both took a seat. „How you suggesting to get that girl back?"

  No one answered. Obviously, the day of planning hadn"t resulted in any bright ideas.

  „I"m going to give Phoenix the Exile Scripture as a trade," I said, a flat resolve in my tone.

  „No," Lincoln said, from his seat across the room. „She is not."

  „Actually, I am," I said, not wanting to have this discussion in front of everyone but willing to if necessary.

  „I"m not letting you go in there on your own. He"s too strong and he"ll have exiles everywhere. You aren"t strong enough to fight him. And he has too much power over you."

  „Thanks for the vote of confidence," I said, holding onto my anger. It was the only thing that would stop me absorbing all the put-downs he"d loaded into that one sentence.

  „That"s not what this is about," he said, still calm, but not looking at me. He knew what he was saying was cruel but he was playing to the room destabilising me and making everyone doubt I was the right person to do this. By the looks on some faces, it was working.

  Fine. Two can play at this.

  I controlled my breathing, took a moment, and then got to work. „You told me yourself, Lincoln, that Phoenix won"t hurt Steph as long as he needs the Scripture. It wouldn"t serve his purposes to ambush me. I think you"re forgetting he has been popping up around me for the past six weeks and hasn"t tried to hurt me."

  „But all that changes once he has the Scripture in his hands."

  Lincoln looked at me now. The man has determination in spades.

  „True, but he"d know Grigori would be close. If he killed me in the café he"d be fair game.

  He"d know you"d be out there and that you"d return him in an instant. I can"t see him risking facing you one-on-one."

  Ta da! He"d struck me with cruel criticism and I"d struck him with bitter compliments.

  And now I have the room.

  „She"s right," Griffin said and I knew it hurt him to go against Lincoln like this.

  Lincoln stood up and dropped his head. „Fine. But I want to be in her ear the whole time."

  „What? What does that mean?" I asked, worried he was going to possess me or something.

  „That"s understandable," Griffin said to Lincoln, motioning to Samuel, who opened a large case that was resting on the minibar. He handed something small to Lincoln and then something else t me. I looked down. It was a tiny earpiece and a small silver pin.

  „They"re hard to spot but, just in case, they glamoured so there"s no chance. Put the pin on your clothes and the earpiece in - well, you get the drift," Samuel said, cocking a smile.

  Great, me and Phoenix in a conversation and Lincoln listening in. This is going to go really well.

  „We"ll have eight Grigori around the perimeter plus myself and Lincoln in close range,"

  Griffin continued. „If you see something that makes you think it"s an ambush or setup of any description you call us in. if, for whatever reason, you can"t speak directly to us but you need us, say the word “cherry”."

  „Christ," said Dapper, echoing my thoughts. „You people like to make things complicated.

  Just give her the damn thing - her bloodcurdling screams will let you know if she needs you."

  I couldn"t hide the smile. Dapper and I had turned a corner. Lincoln, on the other hand, didn"t share our amusement.

  Everyone gradually got themselves together, arming themselves with their daggers and anything else they felt appropriate. Samuel was like a walking armoury. I wondered why he bothered since Grigori daggers were the only weapon that really worked. I must have been gawking because he winked at me and pulled out his blade, angling it to the light. Running down one side were delicate grooves, like engravings.

  „Our blades are very powerful - even the smallest splinter, melted down and blended with plain silver can have a result." He shrugged. „Having this certainly doesn"t hurt. Shavings from my Grigori blade have contributed to a good number of my weapons."

  I also spied a few grenades on the inside of his coat. Guess they could come in handy in a pickle, too.

  I really do need a book on this stuff.

  „But the stronger the exile," Griffin interjected, "the more likely that they would be immune to anything other than the pure force of a Grigori blade."

  I nodded, my mouth now dry. Griffin didn"t think Samuel"s specialist blades would work on Phoenix. Samuel shrugged again, unfazed.

  Dapper surprised me by sheathing an impressive-looking sword and slinging it over his shoulder before heading out. Two thoughts came to mind when I saw it. Kill Bill - and - I"m going to have to broaden my weapon range.

  I guess I could und
erstand Dapper not wanting to be left behind again, but he didn"t seem like the fighting type. He gave me a semi-smile, sensing my concern.

  „Girl"s got some of my books to return," he said.

  It was a lie. Steph had grown on him.

  I pushed the thought aside quickly. I couldn"t think about Steph. Not until I had her back.

  -

  Lincoln walked me to Dough to Bread, the late-night café Phoenix referred to as „ours".

  I"d told him he didn"t need to. He"d been completely mature and ignored me.

  „You can"t go in there with me," I said after we"d walked most of the way in silence.

  „I know," he said, sounding both resigned and worried.

  „You think I"m doing the wrong thing, don"t you?"

  He was silent for a while. His breathing deepened. „On one side yes, very much. On the other, no."

  „Care to elaborate?"

  „Not really. Only that - I believe the choice is right. The trade. I just wish you weren"t making it so impossible to keep you safe." He stopped walking. „We"re here."

  I stopped beside him. „I"d do anything for someone I love," I said, quietly, not sure exactly what I was trying to say, or what I wanted him to hear.

  „I know you would," he said sadly. „That"s just my point." He looked towards the café across the road. „How many can you sense?"

  I concentrated for a moment. „Four." Then I decided to investigate further. „Hang on …" I delved into the well of my power, deep in my core, and connected to the senses.

  I was still there, standing in front of Lincoln, looking right at him. But I was aware of a lot more, too, and able to take that awareness wherever I willed it. I felt a surge of power -

  more than I was sure I could control if I ever let go fully. I moved my sense up so I had a bird"s-eye view and took in the immediate area.

  The exiles stuck out like pulsing hot spots. Three. One hidden in the alley behind the café, one on the rooftop, one at the back entrance. I could also see the Grigori, glowing in various shades, dotted around, in pairs. I recognised Spence somehow. I wasn"t actually seeing him clearly - I just knew it was him. He was blue. I sensed Griffin, too, a kind of fuchsia, and near him something else I didn"t recognise. Neither Grigori nor exile.

 
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