Crimson Blaze: Retribution

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Chapter 7

Lukiel awoke to a stiff ache in his neck and back. As he slowly sat up, he also noticed a tingling in his arm, and his rear end felt numb. It took a few minutes for his groggy mind to catch up and realize he still sat at the office desk.

That’s right. The daily paperwork hadn’t been finished, so he attacked it after Adonai left. He remembered getting it done, and then he noticed he had a nasty headache thanks to the strain. He laid his head in his arms and closed his tired eyes against the light ... and that was it. He must have fallen asleep.

Although darkness now enveloped the room, night hadn’t quite yet fallen. He could still see well enough without a lantern or the use of his enhanced vision. Neither could he hear the telltale sounds of repair work anywhere else in the building. Adonai must have finished the job hours ago.

Lukiel carefully rose to his feet to stretch out the kinks. After quite a few pops and cracks, he chuckled as the brief thought of, I’m getting old, flashed through his mind. It wasn’t true, of course, but he found it funny how even a vampire could feel like an old man when he didn’t move around for a long time.

At this hour, it wasn’t likely anyone would be looking for a room at the inn. If somebody did need one, he kept a sign at the front desk with directions to the house. So he wandered out of the office to check on a few things in the lobby, and then he closed up for the evening.

As he approached the house, he realized he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep properly tonight. His nap at the desk must have lasted two or three hours, and he already had a bad habit of staying up far too late on most nights. He’d be lucky if he nodded off again by dawn.

He nudged open the front door and peeked into the living room. Lucien was nowhere in sight, but Tajali sat in the chair by the fireplace with a lit lantern and an open book.

His friend glanced up from his reading with a smile. “Looking a little groggy there,” he teased lightly. “Fall asleep on the job, did you?”

The vampire playfully stuck out his tongue in response. He pushed the door closed behind him and made his way to the sofa. With a tired groan, he plopped down and let his arms and legs spread out wherever they landed. “I managed to finish everything, believe it or not. Sorry I stayed out so late.”

Tajali shrugged. “Eh, it’s fine. I had fun convincing Luc that nothing was wrong and you were just busy at the inn, but otherwise, it’s been quiet.”

“He’s in bed, then?”

“Yeah. All that running around he did today wore him out.”

At any other time, Lukiel would find that amusing. But he knew the boy had been “running around” with Lilias. The kid wanted to show her around the town and spent far more time alone with her than the vampire would have liked.

He supposed he could assume by now that Lilias didn’t mean them any harm. Three weeks had passed since her unexpected arrival, and she never said or did anything to arouse suspicion. If she wanted to do something, she’d had plenty of time.

But his gut told him to hold out a little longer before he fully trusted her. Just to make sure.

The thought made him sit up. “By the way, have you seen Adonai?”

The other man quirked an eyebrow. “Not since this morning. I thought he was with you.”

“He was, but he left to repair a desk in one of the rooms. He didn’t stop by the office again, so ... I guess he went on one of his night walks.” The phoenix liked to wind down like that after work, so it didn’t surprise him.

Tajali set the book aside and stood up. “Well, whichever. I’m heading home, then, if you don’t need anything else.”

Lukiel got up as well to pull his friend into a quick hug. “Thanks for keeping an eye on Luc. Have a good night.”

He returned the hug with a smile, and then he headed for the front door. “You, too. I’ll see you later.”

The vampire spent most of the night wide awake and lying silent on his bed to listen for Adonai’s return. He tried to start a new book during that time but couldn’t get into it, so he continued to stare at the ceiling through the dim lantern light. At some point, he noticed the songs of the morning birds and saw the first hint of sunrise through the window.

Initially, he grew concerned. Adonai hadn’t come home yet. He rarely stayed out this late ...

A second later, Lukiel shook the thought away. He probably just didn’t hear him come in. It was easy to zone out when his mind had nothing to focus on. And whenever Adonai got home late, he went to the downstairs bedroom so he didn’t wake anyone. If he hadn’t shown up by now, then he had to be there.

A yawn crept up on the vampire, so he put out the light and turned over to get a few hours of sleep. He’d talk to the phoenix in the morning.

Lukiel slept later than he intended. It was near midday by the time he awoke - but more importantly, he could hear noises downstairs. Adonai was in the kitchen to prepare lunch for himself and Luc. As usual.

He felt a wave of relief as he climbed out of bed to get dressed. For a short while last night, his anxiety kicked in. It tried to convince him the former hunter’s old prejudices had resurfaced or that he’d grown tired of this mundane life and moved on to something more exciting.

But he managed to shove those thoughts aside when he reminded himself of what Adonai said a few weeks earlier: “If I haven’t turned tail by now, I’m not going anywhere.” And he had no reason to disbelieve it.

He tried not to move too quickly on his way down the stairs. Still, he noticed a spring in his step as he hopped down the last few and turned toward the back of the house. “Adonai?”

To his surprise, he found Tajali in the kitchen instead.

The brunet looked just as confused. “No ... just me.” He set a pot on the counter and closed the cupboard. “Has he still not shown up?”

Lukiel didn’t answer. Instead, he spun on his heel and headed to the downstairs bedroom.

He pushed the door open to look around inside ... only to find it empty. And he saw no sign of it being occupied recently. Tajali appeared behind him and also peeked into the room.

The vampire didn’t bother to hide his anxiety. “You dropped Luc off at the inn, right? You didn’t see Adonai there?”

“No. It was quiet. Looked like it always does in the morning.”

His nerves began to kick in again. “Where could he be? He’s never away this long ... ”

His friend didn’t seem to know what to make of the situation, either. “Well ... he had to go to Illano’s, right? For supplies? Maybe the shopkeeper knows what happened.”

Lukiel barely spared the time for a quick thanks before he hurried out of the house.

It took every ounce of self-control not to break into a run. This wasn’t like Adonai at all. He always let someone know if he had to go off somewhere so nobody had a reason to worry. If none of their friends knew where he was, then that meant something serious had happened.

And his gut told him Lilias was the one behind it. Damn it, he knew he couldn’t trust her!

By the time he reached the shop, he was walking so fast he nearly did plow into the door. He stopped for a moment to collect himself, and then he stepped inside, trying - and failing - to keep a somewhat calm composure.

At first glance, the place appeared empty. When he didn’t see any movement, he called out to get someone’s attention.

Illano peeked out from the back room, and a smile appeared on his face when he saw the vampire. But as he approached the counter, he seemed to catch on that something had gone wrong. His smile faltered a little bit. “Hey ... what’s going on?”

Lukiel cut right to the chase. “When was the last time you saw Adonai?”

The shopkeeper paused to think. “Um ... yesterday. Early evening, I think. Why?”

“Because he’s missing.”

Valyrna and Corie also appeared from the back room. The group must have been restocking the shop floor because both women carried an armful of various items. Corie wandered elsewhere to unload her pile of clothing while the hunter set her cookware on the counter.

Valyrna didn’t appear concerned. “You sure he’s not just in town somewhere?”

Lukiel shook his head. “No. No one knows where he is. He’s just gone.”

“Um ... actually ... ”

The vampire turned his attention to Corie. “What?”

She hesitated to continue. “Well ... it was kinda hard to see from here, but ... I might have seen someone load him into a wagon down by Third Star. If it was Adonai, I don’t think he was conscious.”

He bristled. He wanted to ask her why she hadn’t said anything earlier. But then he reminded himself she couldn’t have known anything was amiss, especially if she couldn’t tell for sure if she saw the phoenix. “Could you see what she looked like?”

Corie’s face twisted into confusion. “She? It was a man. Tall and slender, with a dark ponytail. Some sort of uniform. I couldn’t see his face, though.”

Lukiel’s confusion briefly overpowered his anxiety and vexation. So ... Lilias wasn’t responsible? Then ... who else would want to - ?

Valyrna’s shoulders sagged. “That ass. Sounds like Alec. He must have stolen Illano’s wagon. It’s missing, too.”

The shopkeeper responded to the news of the pilfered vehicle with an exasperated outburst, but Lukiel didn’t hear the words. His mind could only latch on to one thought. That son of a bitch took Adonai.

It completely made sense. This was payback for making a fool out of him. It had to be.

His hands clenched into fists at his sides, and his whole body began to quiver in anger. After a moment, he forced himself to calm down. Getting emotional wouldn’t help. There would be plenty of time for that later. After he found Adonai - and turned that asshole of a hunter over to Eleya.

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