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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
“You’re not human,” I panted, my strides no match for his.
“I’m as human as you are,” he said, shocking me. “And you need to run faster. He’ll wake up soon and send every minion in this realm after us.”
“I can’t...run faster.” I could barely talk, I was huffing and puffing so much from our frantic pace.
“Yes, you can.” He hauled me closer, his body a guide in the stygian darkness. “We’re the last of the two most powerful lines in history, and our ancestors passed down all their supernatural abilities to us. If you try, you can do everything I can do, except sense demon gateways. It’s in your blood, so use it.”
The source of his incredible abilities was also in my blood? Impossible. I wasn’t superwoman; I was the girl who’d hated gym class because of all the times I’d gotten picked last for teams.
“I’m running as fast...as I can,” I gasped out.
He only yanked harder on my arm. “Not yet, and you need to. I can protect you from a few demons, but not all of them. Do you know what will happen if they catch you? Death will be the best part. Before that, they’ll hurt you worse than they’ve hurt anyone else. Rape won’t be enough. Torture won’t be enough—”
“—and they’ll make you watch as they do the same to your sister,” he continued ruthlessly. “You’ll die knowing that everything she suffered was your fault, so run, Ivy!”
Something snapped in me. I’d already failed Jasmine by leaving her in that B and B when I should have stayed until I found a way to get her. The last time I’d seen my sister, I’d been running away, and she had no way to know that I was coming back for her—
“That’s it,” Adrian yelled, his grip on me loosening. “Faster, Ivy, you can do it!”
I didn’t feel any change in my body. My legs didn’t work harder, my lungs didn’t suck in more air, but I was somehow ahead of Adrian, running flat out into the impenetrable darkness. Once again, I flashed to that day at the B and B. Mrs. Paulson had attacked me, and I’d made it into my Cherokee without knowing how. Right now, I did. I must’ve run just like this, with a speed no human should have, but I somehow did.
Was Adrian right? Had ancient legacies and inherited abilities been simmering in me this whole time?
He drew even with me, his hand a brand on my chilled flesh, guiding me in directions I couldn’t see. At some point, I’d dropped the ski gear, but I was glad I didn’t have it. All that padding would’ve hindered me, and the cold spurred me on. In my mind, it was now tied to this place, so I hated it. I ached to be back in the sunshine where it was warm and demon-free, and all I had to do to accomplish that was to run faster.
So I did, my legs pumping with the same velocity as Adrian’s. When he grabbed me and I felt the body-bending force of hurtling through one realm into another, then found myself facedown with a mouthful of hot sand, I smiled.
We were back in the Zone of Silence.
Adrian didn’t give me time to celebrate by kissing the ground, which I wanted to do. He also didn’t pull me back through the gateway so we could search another demon realm through the vortex’s version of a revolving door. Not with Costa and Tomas waiting here like sitting ducks. Instead, Adrian hauled me up into the Jeep, barking something to Tomas in Spanish that had the brawny Mexican and the handsome Greek scrambling for their machine guns.
“Vamonos!” Tomas shouted, starting the Jeep.
Adrian practically flung me into the back, jumping in after me and grabbing the third gun. To my surprise, he shoved it into my hands, barking out quick instructions.
“Hold it tight. It’ll still fire if you drop it, then you’ll blow your own head off. Stay down, but if anyone gets too close, shoot them until you see ash.”
He grabbed the last gun, hooking his other arm through the railing behind the seats. I did, too, after Tomas’s rapid acceleration almost pitched me out the back. I’d just gotten a good grip on both the automatic weapon and the metal bar when a stream of people hurtled out of the oblong rock behind us.
“Incoming!” Adrian yelled, and started firing. Costa did, too. The noise was like explosions going off in my ears, but when the minions began running after us as if they had rockets strapped to their asses, I didn’t care if I’d go deaf.
They moved like Adrian did, and they were armed, too.
Adrian shoved me down at the first hail of bullets. The back of the Jeep shuddered, but the rounds didn’t penetrate. Now that I was eye level with it, I saw how thick the back door was, and that extra metal plating couldn’t have come standard.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay down?” I heard Adrian snap, then another barrage of gunfire stole his voice. The Jeep bounced madly from Tomas’s speed, but Adrian and Costa held on to the rails as they fired and ducked in a frenetic display of violence and defense.
“You gave me a gun, let me help!” I protested.
“No,” Tomas yelled, whipping the Jeep around so fast that I hit my head on its side panel. “Stay down! You’re who they most want to kill!”
Me? Then I remembered Mayhemium’s look of loathing, and what he’d hissed right before Adrian hit him. The last Davidian. Did the demons want me dead because I was the only one who could locate a weapon that could kill them?
It didn’t take long to get my answer. Despite the hail of gunfire Adrian, Costa and even Tomas leveled at the minions, they kept trying to get to where I crouched. My little corner became dented from all the bullets fired at it, and every so often, minions would hurtle themselves into the Jeep kamikaze-style. Adrian threw them out with his incredible speed, but I was soon covered in blood, bruises and cuts. And they kept on coming, until I was convinced that the whole realm had emptied in their attempt to kill us.
Or kill me, specifically.
When Tomas had to slow down to get through the tight passage between the mountains, five minions managed to jump onto the Jeep. Adrian got clobbered by three of them, and Tomas and Costa sounded like they were in their own life-and-death struggles. Their bulky machine guns were a hindrance in a close-contact fight, but I still had mine. I got up, raising it with grim determination.
Out of nowhere, another minion grabbed the barrel and used it to yank the gun from my hands, delivering a brutal kick to my midsection at the same time. I fell back into the corner, and for a split second, our eyes met. His were cerulean blue, and he grinned as he raised his own gun. Unarmed and wedged between the door and the seat, there was nothing I could do to save myself.
A knife suddenly slammed into the top of his head, twisting with vicious force. My would-be killer abruptly went cross-eyed and dropped his gun. I snatched it up, clutching it but not firing. Adrian was now right in front of me, and I didn’t want to hit him, plus my would-be killer looked really, really dead.
Adrian yanked his knife out and the minion began to fall. As he did, his body transformed, turning dark as pitch and then dissipating altogether. What landed on the blood-spattered floor wasn’t a man. It was a pile of ashes that coated me when the Jeep bounced from Tomas’s wild acceleration as we finally cleared the mountain pass.
Adrian knelt, one hand roughly cupping my face while the other searched me for injuries.
“Thank God you’re okay,” he breathed.
For some reason, hearing Adrian thank a deity he mostly seemed to despise shocked me as much as seeing my would-be killer disintegrate before my eyes. I stared at Adrian, the ashes covering me and then the horizon. No more leaping, murderous minions appeared, and since Costa and Tomas had stopped firing, I assumed we were finally in the clear.
But with the sun hanging lower into the sky, we wouldn’t be clear for long. Night was coming, and with it, demons.
We didn’t go back to our hotel in Ceballos. Tomas drove straight to an empty, ancient-looking monastery, and we passed through the gates right as the last rays of sunlight disappeared. I staggered into the abandoned sanctuary with relief so intense, it felt like a cheap high. Who knew that entering a church would be my new favorite thing?
“Hide the Jeep,” Adrian ordered. “How’re we on ammo?”
“Nearly out,” Tomas said, running a red-splattered hand through his hair. “I’ll make a call, try to get more.”
“Costa.” Adrian threw the bag of manna at him. “Here.”
The curly-haired man winced as he reached up and caught it. “Thanks. Bastards got me.”
When Costa lifted his shirt and I saw two oozing holes in his abdomen, I ran over to him. “You’ve been shot!”
Mentally defective is right, I immediately chided myself. Talk about stating the obvious.
“Let me help you,” I added, tucking my shoulder under Costa’s arm so he could use me as a crutch. Adrian shook his head, muttering something unintelligible as he left the gutted sanctuary. I led Costa to an alcove, seating him on the groove.
“You know what you’re doing with that?” Costa asked, sounding pained yet amused.
“Scoop ’n slap, right?” I replied, digging my fingers into the mushy substance. Out of everyone, my hands were the cleanest, but I still left bloody smudges in the bag.
Costa grunted. “That’s it.” Then he visibly braced as I held my manna-smeared hand over the first entry wound. “Do it.”
I pressed it against the bullet hole, wincing in empathy as his whole body jerked. After a few minutes, his harsh breathing eased, so I pulled my hand away.
No more blood oozed from the hole, which was growing smaller before my eyes. After another minute, it disappeared entirely, leaving a smooth, shiny patch of skin in its place.
“One to go,” I said, reaching for more manna.
“Did your hands get shot, too, Costa?”
The question startled me. I hadn’t noticed Adrian return, but there he was, standing where the doors would have been, if the sanctuary entrance still had them.
Costa lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “Only a fool turns down attention from a pretty girl.”
Adrian’s expression hardened even more than his current scowl, which made no sense. First, having your bullet wounds treated could hardly be counted as flirting, and second, why would he care even if Costa was flirting?
“I’m trying to help,” I said, placing manna over the second bullet hole, which effectively silenced Costa. “I didn’t prove too useful with a gun, but this, at least, I can do.”
Adrian’s stare went from my face to my hand on Costa’s abdomen and back again. “Oh, I’m sure he appreciates it.”
After those quietly growled words, he disappeared. Costa’s brow rose. I lifted my free hand in a “don’t ask me” gesture. Maybe his rudeness was just another side effect of having been raised by demons.
“I don’t think he likes you touching me,” Costa said, his mouth curling. “Adrian, acting jealous. That’s a first.”
“He’s not jealous,” I muttered, wiping my hands on my shorts after I confirmed that his wound had healed. “He keeps reminding me that he can’t wait to get away from me.”
“That’s not about you.” Something dark flitted across Costa’s expression. “That’s about him.”
Tomas returned, stopping me from probing more. “Jeep’s hidden,” he announced, “and more guns are on the way.”
Relief swept through me. Who knew that guns would be my second favorite thing after hallowed ground?
“What’re the odds the demons won’t find us until we get those guns?” I asked, hoping for a high percentage.
“Fifty-fifty,” Tomas replied, dashing that. “They know you can’t have gotten too far by sundown, so they’ll have minions search every hallowed site within a hundred miles.”
“Right, they want me dead because I’m the only person who can find a demon-killing weapon,” I said wearily.
“That’s not—” Tomas began, then shut his mouth at the warning look Costa gave him.
“Not what?” I asked, suspicion replacing my fatigue.
“If Adrian hasn’t told you, he must have a reason,” Costa said, landing himself right after Demetrius on my shit list.
“Yeah, because he’s pathologically secretive,” I snapped. “I’m getting sick of being the only person who doesn’t know what’s going on, so one of you had better talk.”
Tomas exchanged another look with Costa, then he leaned back against the wall.
“You know what it was like for us in the realms?” he asked in a conversational tone. “We were beaten, forced into cannibalism, worked almost to death...and that was on a good day.”
Sympathy tempered my anger. “I am so sorry,” I said, meaning every word.
Tomas’s dark brown stare held mine. “Don’t be. We survived. Know how Adrian was treated before he started fighting demons? Like a prince.” He paused, letting that sink in. “Anything he wanted, he got. He didn’t even have to ask. They practically worshipped him, and when demons want to shower someone with adulation, crèeme, they make it rain. Beautiful women, more gold than Fort Knox, power to rule any realm he entered—”
“Why?” I whispered, stunned.
“Because of his lineage, they believe he’s going to do something that will make demons unbeatable in their war against Archons.”
It’s your destiny! Mayhemium had roared at Adrian. Demetrius had said something similar when he caught up with us. Even Zach had told Adrian he couldn’t escape his fate, but Zach was an Archon, so he couldn’t believe Adrian was destined to help demons win the war against them. If he did, why wouldn’t Zach kill Adrian as a preemptive strike? The demons sure wanted to kill me, and all I could do was find one ancient weapon....