Fire and Ice Young Adult and New Adult Books

Phoenix Elite #2

Ruhk's Rising

by Melissa Starr



"Ruhk's Rising" by Melissa Starr Elora's days at Marlind Prep are anything but safe or boring. She receives news of her BFF's death not long after she disappears and is certain the Phoenix Elite are responsible. While searching for stability, Elora is stripped of her strength and sanity by the ancient Ruhk, Isaac, who continues to infiltrate her mind. Adding icing to the cake, she finds herself at odds with her mate/advisor, Ezra, leaving her vulnerable to the new guy, who just happens to find her on the verge of a nervous breakdown. What dangers await Elora among her own in RUHK'S RISING?


 

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Teens


Chapter One

~Elora~

 

“Are you freaking kidding me?” I felt faint. I grabbed hold of the door facing to steady myself. I knew I must’ve looked like I’d been kicked in the gut by a goat or at the very least, a martial arts expert with a bad attitude. I smoothed my tresses away from my eyes and took an uneven breath.

 

“No. I’m not.” Ezra took me by the hand and led me over to my bed. As I numbly followed, I took note that my roommate, Wynter Claire’s Victorian style bed was in pristine, pre-sleep condition while mine was the picture of a hurricane, that, or the victim of a deranged insomniac. Wynter’s bed didn’t appear to have been slept in, and here my boyfriend was telling me she hadn’t made it home the night before to confirm this. In fact, she was lying in a hospital bed barely clinging to life. A nightmare I’d recently had of Wynter, who lay dying in the snow covered in blood, eyes glassy, a mask of fear on her face, probed the forefront of my mind sending quivers down my spine. It had been a nightmare—right?

 

“What the heck happened?” My eyes began to mist and blur.

 

“Not really sure. The authorities aren’t letting anyone know anything right now. There are police outside of her hospital room. They won’t let anyone but her parents in to see her, not even High One Barova who is head over the Oklahoma PEC (PEC was short for the Phoenix Elite Council who pretty much run my dang life and then some nowadays.). You remember him, I’m sure.”

 

Yeah, I remembered him. High One Barova or Breslin Barova was the Phoenix who told me I had to take the blasted Phoenix Oath to save my life or die. Only I had no way of knowing exactly what that meant until I took the Oath and received council from my boyfriend and advisor, Ezra Denton on the dos and don’ts of Phoenix-hood . If I’d known that I would have had to consume human life to live- I would never have taken the Oath. Phoenixes were born into a human life but had ancient, immortal Egyptian blood webbed within their DNA which triggered a change in the sixteenth year of life. If the bloodline and Phoenix spirit was strong enough in the would-be Phoenix to fight the human counterpart, there would be a life altering change which would ultimately lead to taking an Oath and swearing fealty to the Phoenix Elite, a secret society of other Phoenixes like me. (And I say secret because even though people know about us, our lives are built on secrets and deception. And I’m convinced the secrets Ez and I are privy to only scratched the surface.) I also found that in order to live out the rest of my life, I would have to take life, literally, by sucking the life force out of normal humans or Normals or Norms as the Elite called them, by breathing their very essence into me. When I first learned of this atrocity I had sworn to myself that I wouldn’t take another beings life, ever. But I also knew the consequence for that choice. Death. It was either me or them. So I’d pretty much resigned myself to being some kind of crime fighter or something like that and when the time came I’d only take from those who had squandered their lives, like murders and rapists. But the thought of breathing someone’s life into me still disturbed me to my core.

 

“So, maybe the police are keeping the Elite out because they believe the Elite are involved.” I reasoned. And I totally believed the Elite’s involvement plausible after all the mess they had already put me and my BFF, Chloe Salas though. I swallowed a knot forming at the base of my throat at the thought of my BFF. She’d been reported missing awhile back and then I received notice that her body had been found, charred, not far from her home. I completely held the Elite responsible and believed them capable of just about anything, except perhaps mercy.

 

“Probably. All I know is that after I met up with you for dinner, I returned to my dorm room for a peaceful night’s sleep and awoke this morning to find police officers hammering on the door with night sticks demanding to know where Kane was.” Kane Gates was Wynter’s boyfriend and Ezra’s best friend since he was old enough to jabber “best friend”.

 

“No way.” I personally hadn’t thought anything amiss about Wynter’s absence at such an early hour because she often lit out early to meet Kane for breakfast and some early morning necking. Much like my and Ezra’s own routine. And I’d simply brushed the nightmare off as, well, a nightmare. Except they had been doing a lot of fighting as of late…

 

“Yeah. And what I don’t get is, why? He was in our room when I got there last night and he was there all night as far as I know. He was still sleeping when I opened the door to the cops. They have him downtown questioning him right now.” Ezra stood and began to pace the room. My stomach cringed. Wynter and Kane had had a really big fight recently but I would never have thought him capable of murder no matter how odd I thought he was. “Where was Wynter when you got back to the room?”

 

“She was gone. In fact, she had left a note on her nightstand which I tossed into the bathroom wastebasket when I took a hot bath just before bed.” I raised a brow realizing the significance of it. “I took the trash out just this morning. You don’t think the garbage has been collected yet do you?”

 

“I don’t know but we’d better find out.”

 

 

 

Chapter Two

I raced down three flights of stairs behind my wickedly fast boyfriend and out the exit door located on the backside of the girls’ dorm. Two steps from the door I could see the hot pink garbage bag I had flung onto the pile maybe an hour before. It was a typical Monday at Marlind Prep, (Marlind Prep is Oklahoma PEC’s private school just outside of Ponca City exclusively for us Phoenixes.) and I had gotten up bright and early to get ready for school before meeting Ezra for breakfast which is what I was going out to do when I ran smack into his rock hard chest. I held up my hand for the bag as Ezra scaled the dumpster like a professional alley cat (Lol.). He plucked it from the bin and tossed it down.

 

“No way am I rummaging through feminine products for it. That’s all on you, baby.”

 

“Such a gentleman.” I stuck out my tongue and then began pawing through the bag. Luckily, neither I nor Wynter had been on our monthly and the note she’d written was still sitting near the top. I pulled it out, tied the bag shut and tossed it back up to my dumpster diving honey. Gotta love him.

 

“Let’s get back to the room.”

 

“No. Let’s get some breakfast and look it over. I’d like to get at least a peek at it before the FBI show to confiscate it. They’ll be knocking on your door next. I’m surprised they haven’t already.”

 

I nodded and followed him up the walk toward the main building which was nothing short of a small mansion/castle. Its whimsical nature still dumb founded me when I thought about all the times I had pretended to live in one as a child. It was a 43,561 square foot mansion that sprawled out in four, magnificent levels complete with elevator, one of the first in operation in Oklahoma. There were fifty-five rooms including ten bedrooms which were occupied by the staff. Twelve lavish bathrooms, seven extravagant fireplaces and three fully stocked kitchens to complete the structure. The original owners, the Marlind’s, a husband and wife duo who were both Phoenixes in life had spared no expense with its construction. The dorms, bowling alley, FILM-our exclusive movie theatre, Cherry on Top-the ice cream shop and Threads-the campus store were added just before the start of the semester, which happened to be the second semester of my junior year and last semester of Ezra’s high school career. Between our new home and finding out that I was becoming a Phoenix my life was one big fairy tale. Or nightmare, depending on how you wanted to look at it. Becoming a Phoenix hadn’t been a picnic for me, thanks to the Elite, which I was now forcefully a part of as soon as I’d sprouted feathers and took the Oath. Then, I was absolutely floored when my best friend of nine years went missing. I had no proof that the Elite were involved in her disappearance but I just knew they were. If she had run away like the police claimed, the Elite were the cause of it, at the very least. And there for accessory to murder if not wholly responsible.

 

It all started in eighth grade when Chloe swore that the Elite were some kind of super-beings who were in control of our entire world. (She wasn’t far off either. They seemed to have their hand in everything. There had even been a Phoenix or two in the Oval office years back.) Chloe had been on the Junior High school paper, “Jr. Wings” since sixth grade and continued her career as “Wings” main girl through our junior year in High School. She had been doing research on the Elite for years but had never really gotten enough concrete evidence to prove anything underhanded was going on. (Except for maybe the occasional party where some of the Elite took part in lewd sexual behavior, drank heavily or partook in illegal drug use, if you catch my drift. But that was par for many influential humans as well.) She had a few photos of Elite members with what could only be described as a tattoo of some sort on the lower back or right shoulder (which I now had on my lower back and knew was what our kind called the Mark of the Uroboros) and that in no way made the Phoenixes immortal in my eyes or anyone else’s at the time. Then I began to change. Somehow, unbelievably, a cavity formed between my shoulder blades and an opalescent set of wings emerged. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I was informed after taking the Elite Oath, which kept me from spilling any of the information to my BFF or anyone else, that the Phoenixes including myself were nothing short of horror story monsters who sucked the life out of a human once a year on our birthday just to sustain our lives for one more year.

 

Chloe was beside herself with fear and rage when she discovered I had gone through the change and she began to dig much deeper into the Elite world than before thinking that if she was able to expose them somehow they’d just expel me from the “club” and everything would return to normal. She’d showed up at my bedroom window one night battered, she said at the hands of several Phoenixes and promised to drop the whole “expose the Elite” business. Then Chloe just up and disappeared. Most people thought she ran away but those who knew her best couldn’t comprehend why someone with such a bright future would just drop everything and run- unless she feared for her life. And that was exactly the hope I had been clinging to, as bad as that sounds, but I also didn’t want to accept any other drawn conclusion. I had refused to believe that she was dead. Then I got the devastating phone call from my dad that she was in fact found dead. I hadn’t even been allowed to attend the memorial. Mrs. Salas was convinced the Elite were involved and didn’t want me anywhere around. And that act alone had been almost as heart wrenching as losing Chloe. Mrs. Salas had been the only mother-type figure in my life.

 

And now, Wynter, one of our own was clinging to life. Phoenixes didn’t just die that easily. The spirit of the Phoenix which resided in each of us made us nigh near invincible to things that would kill the average human but here Wynter was clinging to life anyway. I couldn’t fathom how anything but not renewing her life force could do her in. Wait-

 

“Ezra, do you know when Wynter’s birthday is?”

 

“No. Why- wait, you don’t think?”

 

“Yeah, I do. Do you know if she’s even been responsive since they found her?”

 

“Uh, uh. And just after seven a.m. the Elite gave up trying to get into her room. I think her parents were meeting with the doctors to unplug her from life support. But that thought never occurred to me, I just thought she was so badly injured she couldn’t fight it. It has happened.”

 

Something crackled overhead and pulled our attention along with a hand full of other students in the breakfast room to the intercom just above the exit sign. It crackled once more followed by a high pitched scream and then someone cleared his or her throat. His, definitely his.

 

“This is Dean Michaels. If I may have your attention, students, I’d like to take the time to share some news with you.” He cleared his throat once more. “Last night, and we are unsure of what time, one of our own here at Marlind Prep went missing for a few brief hours. We know this because I received a phone call approximately five-fifteen this morning by an officer and Lovie who informed me that Miss. Wynter Claire was in dire need of being rushed to the E.R. in Ponca City. At this time the details surrounding what happened to Miss. Claire are somewhat cloudy and they do have a suspect in custody. A suspect whom they believe committed this atrocity. Miss. Claire was taken off of life support approximately ten minutes ago. I would like all of you to take this day to reflect on Miss. Claire’s life and achievements. If any of you are in need of counseling, feel free to see the school counselor right away. She will be in her office well into the evening hours should she be needed. Class is dismissed for the day.” He sighed heavily. “Now, I would like to see Miss Elora Gannon and Mr. Ezra Denton in my office. That is all.” With that, my heart and the intercom flat lined.

 

I grabbed Ezra’s strong, steady hand and together we made our way to Dean Michael’s office on the fourth floor adjacent his living quarters. Hesitant, I let Ezra knock softly against the hard wood. My knuckles where whitening with the death grip I had on Ezra’s hand.

 

“Come in.” Ezra turned the knob and pushed the heavy door forward. The Dean motioned for us to come inside. “Hello, kids. Come and sit,” he began. “I’d like you both to meet Mr. Riggins. He is with the FBI and he is here to ask you a few questions.” He swept a meaty hand in the direction of a high-backed, leather chair where a man with mocha skin and eyes the color of dusky nights sat, legs crossed, in a crooked number four. The man stood upon our entrance and extended his hand, then motioned to two chairs, which had obviously been brought in from the lobby area next to the expensive leather one. From the looks of it, the Dean rarely had more than one visitor at a time. I took the man’s hot, brown fingers in mine and shook them firmly; letting him know that I was not intimidated and had nothing to hide though my insides were a jumbled mass. A smile broke across his face making me feel somewhat more at ease.

 

“Sorry we have to meet under these circumstances.” He shook Ezra’s hand next. “I understand that the two of you knew Wynter rather well?” He stated more than asked getting right down to the point. We both nodded. “Here’s the thing, we are hugely troubled by a number of inconsistencies. We recovered Miss Claire’s cell. She had made a call to a friend of yours, Mr. Gates right before midnight. We had assumed she’d been with him during the attack, which makes no sense if she called him. Unless of course, he used her phone to call his self to cover his tracks, but we have no proof- unless one of you has information that may shed some light on this mystery? I don’t want to let this guy go if he’s the guilty party but I can’t hold him without cause and right now I have nothing. Nothing at this point.”

 

I reached into the back pocket of my blue jeans and pulled out the note Wynter had left me and handed it to him with shaky digits. He unfolded it and scanned the page. I nervously regarded the paintings on the wall with false interest while awaiting his response.

 

“Do you believe this to be Wynter’s handwriting?” he asked after giving the note a thorough read.

 

“I did when I first read it because it looked familiar to me and I really had no reason to think it wasn’t her hand writing at the time, but I don’t know her handwriting well. We’ve only been roommates since the beginning of the semester and back home we only had one class together.” I swallowed. “I couldn’t swear to it, sir.”

 

“Let me ask you this; were you aware of any problems between Miss Claire and Mr. Gates?” My heart sank. As bad as I disliked Kane, I didn’t want him to be held on assault or murder charges because of something I said to incriminate him if he wasn’t at fault. But if he was guilty… Ezra spoke first. Thank God.

 

“Look, Mr. Riggins. The truth is, Kane is a pretty troubled guy but I don’t believe he could have done this. He loved that girl. She’s what kept him straight.”

 

“Mr. Denton, I do understand that you want to stick up for your childhood friend but the truth of the matter is… is that Mr. Gates has been in trouble before. Hasn’t he?”

 

Ezra sighed and reluctantly nodded his head in agreement. My brow creased. Trouble?

 

“Miss Gannon? Anything?”

 

“Not too long ago,” I started. “Wynter burst into our dorm room in tears. She claimed that Kane had been drinking, actually, she said he was trashed and that they had gotten into it over something- but I can’t tell you what exactly,” I fibbed. There was no way I could tell this guy that Kane suspected Ezra and I of digging into the Elite’s sordid past and hiding a Phoenix Elite murder plot which could have been the cause of the couple’s fight in the first place, or could I? If I spilled that kind of information Kane would really look guilty not to mention the kind of trouble Ezra and I would get into with the Elite. Ezra must have known what I was thinking because he gave me the “look”. “I just assumed it was a typical boyfriend-girlfriend squabble. She was actually the one who hit him.”

 

“Really?” His well-groomed face lit up. “Mr. Denton?” He raised a brow and pushed Ezra a tad further.

 

“To my knowledge, Kane was in our dorm room the whole night.” He said matter-of-factly. “He was there when I got there around ten-thirty p.m. and he was still there when you guys come beating on the door this morning.” Ezra rubbed his palms on his jeans before crossing them stiffly across his solid chest.

 

“Very well.” Mr. Riggins scribbled a few notes down on a pad in his hand then stretched out his hand once more. “It was nice meeting you both. If I have any more questions, I will contact Dean Michaels.”

 

I, then Ezra in turn shook Mr. Riggins’s hand. When he had Ezra’s hand in his, he pulled him in close to him and whispered something into his ear only he and Ezra could hear. And just as quickly- he released him. “Have a good day.” Mr. Riggins excused himself leaving me utterly confused as to what I believed about the matter at hand.

 

“Sit.” Dean Michaels exhaled noisily like a hot air balloon. “What a mess, what a mess. I will divulge to the two of you what I have learned and it had better not leave this office.” His face was red and sweat was trickling down his beefy cheeks. “Wynter’s hypothermic body was found about half a block outside the campus gates approximately four-thirty a.m. this morning by Lovie who happened to be returning from her daughter’s home in Ponca City for the weekend. She stated she had planned on getting back before five o’clock so that she could get a shower and some breakfast in before she began her day. She also claimed Wynter looked as if she had been trying to get to the gate to get help. Her cell phone was dead so she couldn’t have called for help if she’d wanted to and the night guard was nowhere to be found. At first we thought the guard hadn’t shown for work at all but the guard from the previous shift said that he hadn’t clocked out until he was relieved by the guard who was supposed to be on duty when Wynter was found. So not only do we have a murder- we have a missing guard. His wife reported that she hadn’t seen him since he left for work approximately eleven forty-five p.m. last night and the previous guard corroborated the wife’s story saying that he was relieved about two minutes before midnight. Since the guard is still missing we can’t rule him out as a suspect but can’t just assume it was he who assaulted Miss Claire, so they moved on to the next possible suspect. Kane Gates. And here’s the kicker, Lovie was just about to get Wynter inside the gates and have our physician tend to her which could’ve, would’ve most likely saved her life, as soon as we got a donor to her, when the FBI arrived on the scene. We have no clue who reported the incident to them but it was quickly taken out of Lovie’s hands. Wynter was taken in by ambulance to Ponca City Memorial to be treated before I was able to dress and arrive on the scene. My hands were tied. I could not insist on caring for Miss Claire on campus without explaining how it would be beneficial for her to be admitted into such a small facility when she was so near death.” Dean Michaels rose and stared out of the window. “And here’s where it gets hairy. See, we have it verified through Wynter’s parents that Kane promised to take Wynter out for her birthday. It was her first time renewing the Phoenix within her and she had wanted Kane by her side. Only problem is, Kane swears that when he went to meet Wynter, she didn’t show. They had argued over the phone a few hours earlier which he refused to tell the police, for fear of incrimination. They were supposed to have met at a local Ponca City coffee shop where they planned to get a bite to eat and then go in search of a donor. But again according to Kane, he never met Wynter so he went out on his own to clear his head. He assumed after the argument, Wynter had been so angry with him she decided to go it alone. Which might have been believable had the cashier at the diner not verified both Kane and Wynter having been there last night around the same time. Only the cashier couldn’t say for certain that they were together.”

 

“That makes no sense. He has to be lying about not meeting her then,” I piped.

 

“That or the cashier was mistaken about who Wynter was with.” Ezra frowned. “They just missed each other, that’s all.”

 

“That’s just the thing. The cashier says Wynter had been sitting alone almost the whole time but did finally leave with the guy resembling Kane. That’s why they are holding Kane at this time.” Dean Michaels rubbed his balding head. “They admitted an unresponsive Wynter to Ponca City Memorial and posted guards outside her room. The officers claimed since they had no proof Kane did it and the guard was still missing, both of them Phoenixes, they couldn’t take any chances that someone wouldn’t come back to finish her off before she woke to identify her attacker. She was heavily sedated to relieve the pain from her injuries. She couldn’t have consumed life from an attending nurse; she was in such bad shape. Her life force literally slipped away while in that induced coma. She wasn’t in that body anywhere when she was plugged into that machine- or after. Her parents were beside themselves. They knew why her body wasn’t repairing itself and had pleaded with the police to let them be alone with Wynter but were rebuffed repeatedly. Can you imagine watching your only child so broken and sedated that she couldn’t even feed herself?” The Dean shook his head.

 

“So it wasn’t her injuries that did her in?” I crinkled my nose. “We had speculated...”

 

“No. It wasn’t.” Dean M. continued. “And even if it was Kane who used her for a punching bag, which I don’t believe is the case, he will still be tried for murder or manslaughter at the least because the Norms do not know of our consumption of human life and the consequences for missing the deadline. They assume her injuries did her in.”

 

“We can’t let him go down for murder, D.” Ezra clenched his fist. “I don’t think he did this.” Wynter’s glassy eyes resurfaced from my most recent nightmare. Her body lay like a frosted rag doll with a pair of expressionless, sapphire orbs against a pallet of crimson and white. Her platinum locks blowing wildly in the wind around her, partially flying away, partially saturated with blood and stuck to the side of her neck where dozens of puncture wounds marred her otherwise perfect swan-like neck.

 

“What do you propose we do, Ezra?” The Dean’s voice woke me from my temporary stupor. His brow creased. “Tell them the truth- that we suck the lives out of their kind to save one Phoenix’s life and all of us end up in concentration camps-only to be tortured and murdered by the thousands? You know the end result! We cannot risk our entire race for the sake of one.”

 

“So when they’re done questioning him, he goes into hiding.” I scratched my head, suddenly wondering why I was willing to stick my neck out for the likes of Kane Gates. Again, I wasn’t convinced of his guilt- just yet. “Chloe’s grandmother, she lives close to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. I’ve never met her personally but I’ve spoken to her on the phone through Chloe’s parents and via Chloe’s video chat and she’s really nice. I think she would hide Kane. She knows what it is like to be on the run. From what Chloe says, her grandfather was killed by Cartel in Mexico for refusing to work in some drug lab. Her Gram Gram went on the run with her kids; as soon as she could she sent Chloe’s dad to America when he was old enough to fend for himself with his older brother. I definitely think she’d take him in. There would be a language barrier but I can’t see Kane not jumping at the chance to be near a beach as opposed to a jail cell.”

 

“Kane speaks some Spanish.” Ezra’s eyebrows shot up. “He’s not fluent but I think they could make it work.” Ezra rose. “I’ll pack his bags. He won’t call his parents to pick him up from the jail. He’ll call me and Marlov. It’ll be Marlov who has to sign him out of there. He’s on his list of guardians when his parents are away, which is about ninety-nine percent of the time. Question is how do we go about getting him out of town, D? They’ll probably be watching the airlines and buses just in case.”

 

“I have a private jet at the municipal airport here in Ponca City. They’ll never know he left. I’ll have one of my men escort him to Puerto Vallarta. You can get Gram on video chat again, Elora?”

 

“Yeah. Mr. Salas bought Gram a laptop a few years ago and they keep in contact. She knows my face. I should be able to convince her. I think she goes to market in Puerto Vallarta once a week. She could meet him there.”

 

“Great. You can use my laptop right now. Ezra, do you have a picture of Kane we could email Gram?”

 

“Sure.” Ezra dug it out his wallet. “You aren’t afraid they’ll check your computer for any activity concerning Kane?”

 

“Probably, this is why we’re not contacting Gram with Kane’s real name. They’ll be searching for his birth name in the data base if they even do search and his new name will not be flagged. How about Gavin Huxley? I knew a young Phoenix by that name many years ago. It wouldn’t be difficult to use his name and falsify documents for Kane until this matter is cleared up.”

 

“What happened to Gavin?” Ezra handed me the picture of Kane, only Kane wasn’t alone in it. It was of him and Ez kicked back by an open fire dressed in hunting gear, night and trees shadowing their faces, both of them equally good looking in contrasting ways. I quickly scanned it through the Dean’s system.

 

“He refused to take the Oath. He let his life force expire on his seventeenth birthday.” Dean Michaels appeared choked up. I shuddered. That could be my fate in the near future, if I couldn’t go through with the renewal process…

 

“How did you know him?” I handed the picture back to Ezra and clicked send on the short email I had composed to Chloe’s Gram. I knew very little Spanish and Gram would probably be confused until I was able to speak to her directly and make her understand what I needed. I typed in the correct address and pulled Gram up via video chat and waited for her to respond.

 

“He was my childhood best friend.” Dean Michaels sniffed.

 

I realized that I didn’t have Chloe’s parents here to interpret for me as they did for Chloe and me in the past. Gram logged on. I prayed Ezra knew more Spanish than I.

 

“Hola`!” She grinned. She was missing two front teeth but the warmth of her smile stole your attention away from that.

 

“Ezra- Mr. Michaels, do either of you speak Spanish?”

 

“Si`.” The Dean stood behind me and rattled off something in Spanish and Gram immediately responded. “She says, ‘I hope you are good, little one.’”

 

“Si`.” I smiled.”

 

The Dean continued to converse with Gram Gram. Gram’s brow furrowed then she responded promptly.

 

“She says, “Is this boy a friend of yours? Do you believe he is innocent?” I nodded in response to the Dean’s interpretation. Gram nodded back and smiled then added something with a laugh. The Dean laughed back. “She says, “Is he a jackass-type or mule-headed to deal with?” more or less was the question. Is he hard-headed?”

 

Ezra responded to that one. “Si`, sometimes. Well, most of the time.” Gram seemed to understand without the interpretation; she grinned, a semi-toothy grin and nodded again. Then Gram touched the screen and I could tell by the tone in her voice she was asking another question but this time I knew it did not concern Kane. Chloe’s name escaped her fragile, sun-weathered lips.

 

“She asked, “Where is Chloe? Something is wrong. You have never contacted me without my Ayana.” She knows something is amiss, Elora. You will have to tell her something.” I paused. What would I tell her? Had the Salas’s not filled her in on anything? It had been months since Chloe’s disappearance. And Gram had used Chloe’s middle name causing a lump to form in my throat. My brow creased .The pain of her death was still heavy on my heart. I sighed.

 

“Tell her I haven’t spoken to her. The police in Frederick believed she may have run away.” I wouldn’t be the one who told Gram of her death. It was not my place. And I didn’t want to give the Dean any inkling as to what I believed may have happened to her or whom I held responsible.

 

He rattled off again. Gram put her hand to her mouth and gasped. Then she whispered something that unnerved me even though I couldn’t understand it.

 

“She says, ‘She did not run away. She was taken. And do not fear her dead.’ I’m not sure if she’s just superstitious or what but she also said, ‘In my dreams, she wears wings.’ The Dean shook his head incredulously.

 

“Assure her that we will figure it out. And send her my love.” The Dean nodded once more and relayed my message. Gram touched the screen again, wiped her moist eyes then spouted one last thing just before logging off. Her face then vanished from the screen and I was left with an empty, scared feeling in the pit of my stomach. Something wasn’t right.

 

“She said she returns your love and she believes your friendship will prevail in the end but not before it crumbles. But I’m not sure what that means since Chloe’s body was found recently. How could the Salas’s have not told her about her granddaughter...?” The Dean was sidetracked for a moment. Then, “Never mind. Anyway, she also said she would meet the Gringo at the Sanchez’s market on Friday.”

 

I smiled, confused. I was unsure what to make of Gram’s comments, especially those about our friendship crumbling before prevailing, as if Chloe was still alive. And I somehow thought I’d feel it when she passed...I hadn’t. What did that mean, if anything? And wings?

 

“Thank you, kids. I don’t think anyone would think to look for Kane at a deceased, human girl’s grandmother’s home in another country.”

 

“No prob.” I took Ezra’s hand in mine and together we let ourselves out of the Dean’s office.

 

“This is a nightmare.”

 

“Are we doing the right thing, Ez?” I tippy-toed and planted a light kiss on his lips. “Do you think he’s innocent?”

 

“I don’t know. I honestly don’t believe he would do this but if he was drunk, I can’t say. He’s been acting really weird lately.”

 

“I wonder what the heck Gram was talking about in reference to Chloe. She acted like she knew, just knew something even though the Salas’s obviously hadn’t confided in her what happened.”

 

“I think she’s just superstitious, Els. Don’t worry about it. I know you don’t want to hear it but I think ole Gram is off her rocker. It’s time we put all of this craziness behind us...”

 

I shook my head refusing to let him finish. “But what was she talking about her wearing wings? She wasn’t a Phoenix. Maybe it means she was being held by someone with wings. That would mean that the Phoenixes were involved in her disappearance.”

 

“Maybe. Or maybe she means she’s with the angels, you know- dead? Look, I’m going back to my dorm to pack Kane’s bags. Hopefully they’ll release him sometime today.” Ezra shook his head looking somewhat agitated. He’d been that way a lot lately. I guessed the dangerous aspects of this life and Chloe’s disappearance and then death was weighing on him. I let his abrasiveness slide.

 

“Okay.”

 

“Are you going to be okay going back to your dorm with Wynter’s things still there and all?”

 

“I kind of don’t have a choice. She isn’t coming back and I obviously have to move on without her there.” My eyes sank to the floor. Why was everyone around me dropping like flies?

 

“Babe, it’s going to be okay.” He lifted my head and tilted it until my eyes then lips met his. “I know you feel like since becoming a Phoenix your whole world has been falling apart and on the surface it appears it has been but you’ve got to know that I am here for you and I always will be.” His face softened before brushing my mouth with his one last time.

 

“I know. I just miss her.”

 

“I know. I get you.” He wrapped his arms around me and squeezed.

 

“Yeah, you do. And I love you madly for it.”