Crimson Blaze: Retribution

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Chapter 6

Lucien’s boredom began to make sense these days.

With the cooler autumn weather setting in, the summer rush had begun to slow down. The inn hadn’t seen as many check-ins this week, and many guests left at around the same time. Enough visitors remained to keep the place half full, but most of the rowdy road trippers had long gone.

Except for one drunk fellow who Adonai had to “escort” out this morning. That was the extent of the day’s excitement, though.

Now the ex-hunter had nothing to do. As he manned the front desk, he leaned back in the chair to stare at the ceiling. At some point, he realized a subtle design had been carved into the wood. It didn’t resemble anything specific, but he hadn’t noticed it before, either.

That’s how bored he was. So when Lukiel approached him with something to do, he welcomed a change of scenery.

The vampire nodded toward the stairs that led to the second floor. “Can you look at something for me?”

“Name it.”

“That drunk guy this morning - he damaged the desk in his room. But I don’t know if it can be repaired or has to be replaced. Can you see if you can fix it?”

“What’d he do?”

“He kicked a hole through the back.” Lukiel became visibly annoyed. “Ass hat tried to hide it but did a piss poor job. He had to know I’d check why the desk was out of place.”

Adonai smiled as he rose to his feet. He pulled the other man into a loose hug to help him calm down. “Relax. I should be able to fix it.”

The vampire’s tension eased a little, but the incident clearly grated on his nerves. “Good. ’Cause I don’t wanna buy a new desk.”

Something like this wouldn’t normally become such a big deal. Adonai could guess why it was different this time. “Nothing’s changed?”

Lukiel huffed, allowing his full frustration to release. “No. Not a damn thing. It’s been two weeks, and she’s still acting normal. I wish I could figure out what she’s after. God, I hate being so cynical towards my own family.”

“Hey.” The phoenix tipped the other’s chin up to look him in the eye. “Remember what led to this. You have a right to be cautious.”

“Yeah, but where do I draw the line? I don’t know what Lilias did to change his mind, but now Luc’s spent a lot of time with her and seems to like her. I wanna take that as a good sign, but I - ”

He waited to be sure Lukiel had no more to say before he cut in. “Luc’s a smart kid. If he feels like something’s wrong, he’ll tell you.”

The vampire mulled over it for a moment. “Yeah ... yeah, I guess so.” His mood seemed to improve a little bit. “Hey, you still haven’t actually met her yet, right?”

“No. I’ve just seen her in passing.”

“If I can arrange something, would you talk to her? I mean ... just kind of get a feel for who she is? I’ve tried, but I think I’m too close to the situation.”

Adonai dropped a quick kiss on the other man’s cheek. “Of course. Just let me know when and where.”

He turned toward the stairs, but a tight grip on his arm forced him to stop. Before he realized what happened, Lukiel pulled him back for an unusually eager kiss.

Though amused at the bold gesture, he couldn’t hide his confusion. “What was that about?”

Lukiel seemed just as flummoxed. “I don’t know, I ... I just got a feeling ... Like if I didn’t, I’d regret it.”

Adonai grinned at the odd answer, and then he did something he knew would trigger an intense reaction. His lips grazed lightly along the vampire’s collar to a certain sensitive spot on his neck. All the while, his fingers trailed through silver hair to tickle the other man’s scalp.

Lukiel didn’t disappoint. Within seconds, he shuddered and went a little weak in the knees. Adonai barely stifled a laugh as he caught the vampire to hold him against him, and he felt no resistance. Rather, Lukiel turned so their lips met properly and wrapped his arms around the former hunter’s neck to draw him in as close as he could.

Afterward, neither of them pulled away. For a moment or two, they simply stood in silence, enjoying other’s company. Lukiel leaned into Adonai’s chest, while the phoenix slowly ran a hand up and down his back. Adonai felt the tension drain away from his partner’s body until he fully relaxed.

The vampire reluctantly eased out of the embrace and flashed a playful glare. “Jerk. You know what that does to me.”

Adonai smirked. “Sure do.” He left a gentle kiss on the other man’s forehead and took hold of his hands. “Try not to stress too much about Lilias, all right? I’ll see you tonight.”

Lukiel nodded as the phoenix stepped away, though a hint of uncertainty lingered in his expression.

Upstairs, Adonai examined the damage to the desk. It didn’t look as bad as he expected, but the entire back did need to be cut out and replaced. So he took some measurements and made a few mental notes, and then he headed down the road to Illano’s shop.

He spent quite a while in the back corner of the store. Illano didn’t stock many building materials to start with, and his supplies were especially low today. But Adonai knew he could make something work - he just had to get creative. He became so preoccupied with the wood samples that he barely heard the shop door open.

Whoever had entered spent some time wandering, perhaps in search of Illano or Corie. After a few minutes, the person spoke up. “Excuse me, do you have any - ”

The male voice trailed off. The phoenix almost turned to check on things, but his attention didn’t otherwise drift.


Now confused, he glanced behind him to face whoever had addressed him. He nearly dropped the wood samples in surprise, but he quickly recovered and sent a fierce scowl toward another former coworker - one he had no desire to see. “The hell you doing here, Alec?” he spat.

On a reflex, the phoenix almost reached for the short sword he used to keep on his belt. He hadn’t carried it with him since Cain’s capture, though. If this guy tried anything, he would have to rely on his fire magic.

Alec didn’t appear surprised to get such a reaction. Oddly, neither did it rile him up. He seemed much calmer than before. “I imagine I’m the last person you want to see, but please hear me out.”

He’d rather not. But since the hunter couldn’t make a move in public, Adonai reluctantly agreed. “Fine. Talk.”

Alec wasted no time. “I came out here to apologize. I was out of line. I mean, hey, I was new and anxious. Surely you can’t blame me for that.”

His gaze narrowed, partly from anger and partly from confusion. Adonai didn’t buy a damn word this idiot said, yet he couldn’t figure out what he hoped to accomplish. “And I’m supposed to believe that’s changed because ... ?”

Alec appeared hurt. “I don’t expect you to believe me. Neither do I expect forgiveness. But if you’ll allow it, I’d like to apologize properly.”

Something wasn’t right here. No way could this moron have straightened up so fast. Adonai would watch him to gauge his intentions, but his gut told him not to trust Alec.

When he gave his answer, he didn’t bother to hide that this went against his better judgment. “All right. I suppose.”

The hunter perked up and ... actually smiled. “Great. Say, does this town have a tavern? I could go for a drink. How about you? It’s on me.”

This just got weirder by the minute. “There’s one down the road. Third Star. You should’ve seen it on your way in.” Adonai didn’t intend to lead the way out of the shop. He didn’t want to turn his back on this guy. Damn it, he wished he could figure out what -

Wait a second.

“Hey, how’d you know I’d even still be here?”

Alec shrugged, completely unfazed. “I didn’t. But I figured it was a good place to start, since it’s the last place I knew you’d been.”

Huh ... So the idiot could actually think like a hunter. Mildly surprised - but refusing to show it - Adonai nodded and motioned for the other man to head for the door.

Inside the tavern, the phoenix tried to shake off the uncomfortable feeling that crept up on him. He never came in here simply because he didn’t drink, so it felt like foreign territory. His unease at Alec’s appearance didn’t help, either.

Once they sat down, the waitress approached their table. “What’ll it be, boys?”

Alec smiled. “I’ll take a pint of your finest mead.” He said it with a little too much enthusiasm.

She nodded and glanced at Adonai.

Here came his next reason for not coming here. Soon as the words left his mouth, he knew the reaction he’d get. “Just a cordial for me.”

Alec raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Likewise, the waitress appeared surprised, but she simply shrugged and turned to leave. “I’ll have ’em right out.”

With the woman gone, the atmosphere became awkward. The other patrons didn’t let it get too quiet, but neither man seemed to know how to proceed with this ... meeting.

Eventually, Alec began to fidget and glanced around the tavern. “Well ... I do have to say I rather like this town. It’s a nice place.”

Yeaaaaaahhh ... this wasn’t going to work. Adonai wanted to rip the bastard’s throat out on principle alone. And he didn’t do well making small talk with people he hated, so he knew his own remark came out forced. “So they finally let you off on your own, huh?”

God, he hated playing nice with this son of a bitch.

If the hunter picked up on the tension, he didn’t let on. “Yeah. Well, I’m on probation right now. But things have been quiet, so Eleya gave me some free time. Figured I’d put it to good use.”

That didn’t make sense. When things were slow, the Guild did give some hunters time off - but not the new ones, especially those on probation. Granted, he supposed it could be that slow ... but something still felt fishy.

A hint of anger slipped through his next words. “Then why are you apologizing to me? I’m not the one you tried to kill before you checked the facts.”

Alec glanced down at his hands. “I intend to apologize to Lukiel, but I found you first. I’ve looked around for him, but I haven’t had much luck.”

That didn’t add up, either. Pretty much everyone in town could point the hunter in the right direction. Either Alec somehow found the few who couldn’t ... or he just lied through his teeth.

Thankfully, the waitress arrived with their drinks and provided a temporary relief from the uneasy conversation. At the same time, a ruckus stirred up elsewhere in the tavern. Adonai instinctively glanced around in time to see a drunk and unruly drifter escorted out. The guy proved so uncooperative that even the waitress approached him with a few choice words.

Alec shook his head and leaned back in his seat. “Man, some people don’t know what to call it quits.”

As much as he didn’t like the guy, Adonai had to agree. He didn’t say anything, though, as he sipped his drink, ignoring the mild pain it caused. It wasn’t straight water, so it didn’t have quite the same effect, but it was still uncomfortable.

Within a couple of minutes, he began to feel ... off. At first, it was just a headache, but then he realized he felt a bit woozy. Except he shouldn’t be. His drink didn’t have any alcohol. Even if it did, he wasn’t that much of a lightweight.

What the hell was going on?

His mind soon became too foggy to think straight, but his instinct kicked in and told him Alec had done something ... somehow. He jumped to his feet and almost immediately stumbled, barely catching himself against the table to stay upright.

“Wha - wha’ ’id you ’o?” Good god, even his speech was slurred. Through his double vision, he thought he saw the hunter stand up to approach him.

“Guess that guy’s not the only one who had a few too many.” Alec’s tone had changed. He almost sounded ... amused. And that familiar cockiness had returned. The concern in his next statement definitely rang false. “Let’s get you home before they throw you out, too, hey?”

“Don’t touch me!” The second he felt a grip on his arm, Adonai lashed out - and completely threw himself off balance. He fell against a chair behind him and nearly knocked its occupant to the floor.

The man spun around as if ready to throw a punch of his own. “Oi! Watch it, pal!”

This time, the phoenix couldn’t fight back as Alec caught hold of him and pulled him away from the stranger. “Sorry for my friend here. He gets a little aggressive after a few rounds.”

In a weird way, Adonai’s brain registered everything that went on, and yet it didn’t. Pretty soon, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. His vision had gone cloudy, and he could barely stay on his feet.

He no longer cared if he made a scene. He was on the verge of a blackout and needed to get away from the hunter before that happened. With no alternative, he lashed out again at what he hoped was Alec ... only to feel a pressure at the base of his neck.

In a split second, everything went dark, and he hit the floor just before he passed out.

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