Chapter Fourteen

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The soldier managed to fire his gun once before a bullet found its way to his chest. He could almost see it pierce through the heavy veil of smoke, misty air swirling in its wake, as it furrowed a bloody path right through him. 

It didn't hurt as much as he thought it would, but everything went very still and very quiet, the sounds of suffering and carnage a distant scream on the wind. 

He didn't realise he was falling until his back pressed against the damp soil; like the ground had reached up to take him, earthy hand cradling his bleeding, dying body. 

In a way it was peaceful, lying there in his early grave, darkness prowling the corners of his vision. A part of him, though smaller than he'd like to admit, knew he was deserving of this fate, knew that some twisted sense of justice had brought him here to die, to atone for his crimes. 

It was then, in that limbic state of almost-death, that he saw him. 

***

Elodie de la Fontaine watches the red and blue lights dance over the facade of the little antiques store, eyes tight with annoyance. She'd warned Julian that following up on why that girl knew of Atlas' symbol would be a bad idea, and, as soon as he gets back from wherever he's disappeared off to, she'll take great pleasure in informing him that she'd told him as much. 

She straightens her back, letting a disarming smile settle over her perfect features, and wanders over to where a smattering of curious people have gathered by the storefront, a fluorescent line of police tape laying the boundary to the crime scene. 

A young police officer loiters past the tape, eyes warily watching the sparse crowd as the flashing lights cast blue and red colours over his bland face. His eyes slide to her as she approaches, and she flashes him a stunning smile in response, triumphantly noting the faint blush climb up his cheeks. 

"Good evening, Officer," she greets him brightly, letting her French accent flood her voice a little more. "What happened here?"

He gapes at her for a moment, her question falling on deaf ears, and Elodie resists the urge to drop the whole flirtatious act and demand that he tell her exactly what her hard-headed companion has gotten himself into. But then he shakes his head, as if he's trying to free himself from some sort of enchantment over him, and says, "I'm sorry miss, but I can't tell you that." 

Annoyance tugs at her lips, but she leans into him, lowering her voice, "Are you sure you can't?" she asks, letting innocence lace the seduction of the sound. 

The officer's face reddens even more, but Elodie doesn't move, letting her breath skim his skin. 

"Well... I guess I could tell you a little," he says finally, his reluctance apparent. 

She shoots him a brilliant smile, designed to allay his hesitation and convince him she's merely a curious bypasser. 

"There was a murder," he begins, and she reforms her expression into one of horror. 

As if on cue, two paramedics exit the shop, carrying a large black bag on a stretcher, and she wonders whose lifeless corpse is sealed inside. Not Julians, she knows that much. The girl's, then, she concludes, absently wondering whether it had been Julian or Atlas that had killed her. 

"Who?" she asks, making her eyes widen in alarm.

"The owner of the store," the officer replies, and this time she does not have to fake her shock. "He was seventy-six," he shakes his head in pity for the powerful demon. "Why anyone would want to kill an innocent old man is beyond me." 

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