“Meena,” I gasped, “Was that a portal?”
“Catches on quick, doesn’t she?”
I gave an involuntary twitch of shock; I had forgotten about Willow, who was leaning against the abandoned counter with her arms crossed. I looked around and the man emerged from behind a row of shelves. He locked my eyes with his fierce yellow gaze, somewhere between hawk and lion, and I had to blink and look away.
Willow had stood up properly in obvious indignation, looking from me to him.
“You can’t wipe her memory.”
Before I could process the meaning of those words, he had spoken. His voice was quite rough and low.
“I can’t whether you think it is right or not. She’s blocking me.”
The man - Mr Gray - looked furious but Meena was smiling widely.
“I told you, Lycan, didn’t I? She’s -”
But he fell silent at a withering glare from Lycan Gray. He straightened up to his full height - which was intimidatingly tall - and towered over the three of us. Just as he was about to speak, the mirror rippled, and as we all half-turned to look at it something tumbled out as though it had launched itself through the window and hit Lycan Gray, knocking him to the floor which I would have thought an impossible task.
I stood dumbly, aware that my mouth was open, as the newcomer untangled himself and his long leather trench coat as he got to his feet. He was almost as tall as Mr Gray, and as thin, with curtains of honey-blonde hair hanging tousled to his jaw. He was pale, wearing tinted black shades even in the dead of winter and a laughing smile. He was older than me; he looked around 19, definitely younger than 20.
“Sorry, Mr Gray, sir,” he said, snapping off a salute and offering the glaring man a hand, not quite keeping the laughter out of his voice. “You know how unreliable these portals can be.”
Mr Gray ignored the hand and sprang lightly to his feet, smoothing his rumpled grey suit. The movement was graceful but aggressive.
“Almost as unreliable as you,” he replied coldly, but the newcomer’s grin didn’t falter. He stuck both hands in the pockets of his coat and said cheerfully, “Well, at least I found you.”
“Yes, at least there’s that,” Mr Gray agreed irritably. “Are you going to get around to telling me why you attempted to kill me, Phoenix?”
“Yes, sir,” he replied, keeping his voice sombre although the corner of his mouth was twitching upwards in withheld amusement. He remained indifferent to the older man’s withering tone of voice and sarcasm. “Though we both know I couldn’t kill you. I was…er…just passing the Arsenal when Elixa Hope happened to see me and gave me a message.”
“I have no doubt that you were ‘just passing‘.“
Mr Gray gave no indication that he should continue other than the rising of his thick dark eyebrows.
Phoenix - an odd name, I thought - glanced around at us; Meena and Willow were stood on either side of me, having moved closer after his arrival.
“The message is as follows: Warning one, the target is on the move, threat to the mark.”
Lycan Gray considered the message, which made no sense at all to me, for less than a second. He turned his tawny eyes on me; they were ambivalent.
“I’m needed elsewhere. Willow… Meena… you can take it from here.”
Without acknowledging Phoenix but with a curt nod to the girls he vanished. Just like that. No smoke, no mirrors, no bright lights, just gone.
“Flies don’t taste so good, you know,” a voice said and Phoenix put a finger under my chin to close my gaping mouth.
My brain struggled to comprehend all of this, but it was just too much; also, Phoenix’s icy touch had sent an electric pulse through my body and my legs had turned to jelly.
I collapsed to the floor of the shop.