Chapter Eight

Smoke roiled around in the darkness, which was suddenly split by the scorching lick of flames. An errant breeze fanned the fire, sending the searing blaze soaring into the early morning sky. In the distance came the responding howl of the sirens summoned by one who smiled quietly from afar, one to whose ears the siren was another song, one that summoned men to their deaths. "Die, young Phoenix. Only through flames can you be reborn..."

Sonny Corinthos opened his eyes and cursed fluently in Spanish and English. Then, he picked up his phone which was ringing insistently. "What the hell is going on? It's five am, damnit! This better be good...What? You think that Moreno is behind...wait, Luke's kid lives there. He get out? Don't tell me that. I don't want to hear that. Get the kid out or don't come back. Got it? What do you mean, it's too late?"

Sonny slammed the phone down on his nightstand, wondering why he'd ever gotten into some of the things he'd gotten into, and laid back down onto his pillow. He stared up at the ceiling in the darkness of his room, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. For a few seconds, he tried to tell himself that nothing was wrong, that he'd had another nightmare like the kind that plagued him after Lily's death, after Brenda's death. Lucky Spencer was a survivor, one who made it out of tight spots like his old man, who eluded the Grim Reaper time and time again.

Not this time.

Death had become his constant companion, Sonny thought with a growing feeling of impotence. No matter where he went, what he did, Death came stalking those around him, those he sought to protect. Not for the first time, he wondered why Death chose those around him rather than taking him at its prize. Was this some sort of cosmic lesson? He wondered. If so, somebody needed to tell the Teacher that he'd gotten the message loud and clear by now. People around him died, and died hideously.

But that wasn't enough to make him change his ways, he knew with an equally sickening sensation. He dragged himself from his bed, from the black silk sheets that he enjoyed as a symbol of the financial success he'd achieved in his climb to the top of his profession. Sonny shrugged into a silk shirt, shorts and a finely tailored suit, one appropriate for a man of his means, of his importance. His power. So why did he feel like a damned undertaker in it?

Sonny caught his reflection in the mirror as he paused by it. Life wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be something enjoyable, something he arranged to his satisfaction, removing obstacles from his path and from the paths of those he loved. Suddenly, he saw another reflection in the mirror, a brief vision of the man who was his best friend, the man he'd just let down. Sonny sighed deeply, knowing in the depths of his soul, assuming that he still had one, that nothing would ever be the same again.

"Damn firetrucks, anyhow," Luke grumbled as he was roused from his sleep in his temporary quarters at Kelly's. "Never there when you need them, when they might save your club or something important." He scratched his chin and crawled out of bed, idly wondering what was burning now. First it was the warehouse, then his club. He could remember some old wives' tale about bad things coming in threes. "Of course, they didn't reckon with Cassadines. Bad things come in scores with them."

He pulled on a sweatsuit, not caring that it was inside out, not caring that it wasn't exactly the freshest thing in his wardrobe. Hell, he reflected, these days he didn't care about just a whole lot, anyhow. "Does that make me a carefree guy, or one who just doesn't give a damn?" he mused as he stomped down the stairs to the kitchen where the coffeemaker was waiting to be switched on.

"What's that noise?" queried Tammy as she cinched her satin robe around her waist and followed Luke down the stairs. "Sirens?" She reached out and turned on one light, the one that provided the least illumination for the diner's kitchen.

"Hell, maybe you'll be getting another new tenant," Luke muttered, breathing in the aroma of the first droplets of coffee that were percolating into the pot. He winced at the light breaking the darkness. "Wonder what's burning now?"

"You keep carrying on about Cassadines," Tammy began. "But the only one I've spoken with for more than a moment is Nikolas, who seems like a sweet kid, if a bit stuffy. Even hanging out with that rich bitch Katherine Bell hasn't loosened him up any."

Luke grinned. "You ought to spend time with his old man, Stefan-make that Stiffen Cassadine. A more anal guy you'll never meet. 'Course, if I had his mamma, I'd probably be locked up by now. Matricide or whatever the legal term is for whacking your mother."

"She's that bad?"

"Let's put it this way. Offing the old broad would be justifiable homicide by anybody's standards." He met Tammy's eyes and smiled. "And, before you ask why I haven't tried my hand at it...don't ask. There are things that you really don't want to know. Make that don't need to know."

Tammy nodded in appreciation. "You know, I knew a woman like that when I was working a joint in The Big Apple. It was her way or the highway, so to speak. I hit the road." She switched on the police scanner that she had brought along and listened. "Real life is always more interesting than TV," she confessed to Luke. "Besides, I figured that it didn't hurt to know what's going on around me."

Luke nodded as impatiently, he pulled the pot from under the dripping coffee and inserted his mug instead. "Yeah. That never hurts."

The scratchy reception on the scanner cleared abruptly. "911 call in about a fire at a bike shop over at..."

Luke's eyes widened in horror as he heard Lucky's address listed.

Kathryn turned to Nikolas who was lying asleep beside her, sated after a night's exertions. Odd, how vulnerable he was, Kat reflected. But then, a man always was when a woman really wanted him to be. An experienced woman, that is. A little loving, a little wine and a little white powder.....She reached over into the purse she'd brought with her, and pulled out the small package that she'd been given. For the first time, she opened it, looking at the contents.

Very carefully, Kat pulled the knife from the box, marveling at its deadly beauty. It was gold, probably solid gold, including the blade, but the hilt was a work of art. She admired the blood red cabochon ruby that was set in one side, a large stone that hinted of ancient treasures bought and sold by the blood of those who would die for them, willingly or otherwise. The ruby was surrounded by old cut diamonds, carefully faceted to the highest standards of a bygone era, the stones set deep into the heavily carved gold. Turning the dagger to the other side, she noted the large emerald, the brilliant green barely shaded by the impurities that usually discolor large emeralds. No, this one was close to perfection, again a cabochon, the smoothness seeming to flow down to the metal that held it in place. This one was surrounded by yellow diamonds, again old European cut stones.

But it was the stone on the pommel that drew her eye. The stone atop it was a murky golden color that suddenly revealed its chatoyancy in the burgeoning rays of the dawn. Kat recognized it for what it was-a chrysoberyl cat's eye. It was perfect, she thought, realizing that the small stones that surrounded were of the same mineral, and while they were clear, the morning sunlight changed them from the deep red that the lamplight revealed to deep green. Alexandrite was changeable, like the cat's eye that they held encircled, both forms of chrysoberyl, yet with different qualities. "So right," she breathed in appreciation. "And named for Alexander II of Russia."

"You know," Kat asked softly as she gripped the knife tightly, plunging the blade towards Nikolas' bare chest. "I wonder if this dagger ever belonged to one of your ancestors?"