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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
I picked up Tomas’s gun, barely noticing how hot the metal was from his repeated firing. Every part of me was consumed by guilt and rage. I’d stayed down like they told me to, and Tomas had died. No more. I’d fight and live, or I’d fight and die, but either way, I was fighting.
I braced the barrel against a hole in the wall like Tomas had done and started firing. For the first few rounds, my aim was terrible, and I hit the cars the minions hid behind instead of them. Stone exploded near my face as they returned fire. I ducked low until it stopped, then began firing again, aiming for the flashes of light I’d glimpsed from the minions’ guns.
I didn’t hear a yelp, but one of their weapons abruptly went silent. I felt nothing except grim satisfaction, which surprised the small part of me that hadn’t been irrevocably changed by the past two weeks. I kept firing, scooting over when the wall became too pocked with holes for sufficient protection. I’d just replaced the magazine clip with the last full one when a thunderous boom shook the sanctuary.
Sand rolled in like a fast-moving fog. Between that and the sudden glare of headlights, I was momentarily blinded, but the noise and the shuddering ground kept me moving. I ran toward the back, keeping low, which was a good thing. The sickening rushes of air over me had to be gunshots I barely avoided.
“Ivy!” I heard someone scream before a frenzy of gunfire drowned out the sound. Then another, more ominous noise swelled. Metal screeched, stone groaned, and the ground shook like I was in the middle of an earthquake. Frantically, I blinked the sand out of my eyes, finally able to see enough to realize the sanctuary was crashing down around me.
I ran for the window, pain exploding over me as I was pelted by chunks of the roof. Then I dove through it right as the walls folded, releasing a thick cloud of crushed stone from the tremendous impact. My knees and arms tore, but I forced myself to keep moving through the rubble. Through the chalklike fog, I saw something dark rush toward me. I raised my arms before realizing I no longer held a gun. Sometime during my mad dash to escape the collapsing sanctuary, I’d dropped it.
I tried to run—and was grabbed before I made it a step. Then I recognized the large body I was pressed to. Felt rough, hot hands race over me, seeking out signs of injury. I hurt everywhere, but the pain faded at the knowledge that Adrian was still alive. I threw my arms around him and, for a blissful second, felt him hug me back with equal vehemence. Then Adrian thrust me behind him fast enough to make my teeth rattle.
“Hondalte!” a voice rang out.
Stop, I mentally translated, recognizing the Demonish word from our time in the realm. The thick cloud dissipated, revealing the cause of the sanctuary’s demise. One of the minions had rammed their truck into the side of the building, taking down the gunfire-weakened walls. What I saw when I peeked around Adrian looked equally ominous.
Half a dozen minions were silhouetted against the vehicles’ headlights. Demetrius stood in the middle, his black hair merging into the shadows that trailed behind him like a cape.
“Adrian, enough,” the demon said in an annoyed voice. “Move aside. I have no wish to hurt you.”
“Sure you don’t,” Adrian mocked. “All those bullets aimed my way were just you trying to say hi.”
Demetrius’s gaze raked over him. “Those were to limit the damage you inflicted on my people, but you, more than anyone, know why we want you alive. In fact, Mayhemium is being punished for not instructing his people to take care with you earlier.”
I hadn’t thought a demon was capable of telling the truth, but right now, I believed Demetrius. For starters, six guns were trained on us, yet at the demon’s command, no one was firing. As for Adrian, blood dripped down him from multiple wounds, staining his clothes and turning his hair auburn, but when I’d held him, he had felt whole. Sad that I was learning to tell the difference between seriously injured and moderately hurt.
“Ah, but if she’s dead, then you don’t need me anymore,” Adrian countered.
Good point, and a very frightening one. I glanced down. We were still on hallowed ground, from the faint luminescence drifting up, so Demetrius couldn’t get to us. Of course, with all the guns pointed our way, he didn’t need to.
“You’re still my son,” Demetrius said quietly. “Give us the Davidian, and I will gladly welcome you home.”
Adrian’s whole body tensed. “Stop calling me that,” he said, each word vibrating with hatred. “And you’re only getting Ivy over my dead body.”
Demetrius sighed, resignation flickering across his pale features. “If you insist on dying for her, so be it.” Then his black eyes gleamed. “I will, however, raise you back up so you can fulfill your destiny.”
Adrian’s breath hissed through his teeth. “You don’t have the power to.”
The demon’s laughter sent shivers of revulsion through me. “All your overdoses, son? I already have. Many times.”
Six guns rose with lethal purpose. Amidst a surge of fear, I also felt sheer resolve take hold of me. I couldn’t save myself, but no one else was dying for me tonight.
I shoved Adrian aside as hard as I could. Whether it was adrenaline or the determination of a last wish, I actually succeeded in knocking him over. Right as his shocked gaze met mine, multiple loud cracks sounded. I tensed, waiting for the pain...and then a cool, familiar voice spoke.
“Is this a bad time?” Zach asked dryly.
Shock froze me with my muscles still bunched and eyes mere slits from the process of squeezing them shut. It took a second before I registered that I was not, in fact, dead. I wasn’t shot, either, unless you counted my leg, but that was from earlier and felt like a flesh wound, anyway.
Bullets were lined up in front of me, though, close enough to reach out and pluck them from the air. They hung as if someone had pressed Pause on a remote control, and I stared at their hollow points in morbid fascination. Then another series of loud cracks sounded.
My firing squad fell in a row, their bodies dissipating into ash as soon as they touched the ground. Not even their clothes or shoes remained. Only their guns were left, the sand absorbing the impact as the weapons dropped with muffled thuds.
“Archon.” Demetrius’s voice was a barely controlled growl. “You should not be here.”
What do you do when you have a demon staring down an angel while the ashes of dead minions blew between them? You get out of the way, of course.
I slunk sideways, clearing that path of bullets in case they suddenly reactivated. Adrian got up, grasping my arm and moving me toward the shattered sanctuary. Zach didn’t look at either of us. His piercing dark gaze was focused on the demon, whose shadows stretched and grew ominously large behind him.
“You should leave,” Zach stated in a mild tone.
I was in full agreement, but he was talking to Demetrius. The demon let out another growl, his shadows increasing even more. Then they began to spin, forming into multiple funnel clouds that whipped up the sand and caused the cars nearest him to slowly slide and spin.
“The Davidian is mine,” Demetrius hissed.
“Uh, time to go, Adrian,” I said nervously.
“Our cars are smashed,” was his grim response.
“Stop the theatrics, Demetrius,” Zach said, still in that calm tone. “You can’t defeat an officer of the Most High.”
“If that’s what you are,” the demon responded with luxuriant hatred. “I know all the officers, because once, I was one, yet none of them are named Zacchaeus.” Then he cocked his head as if curious. “You could be concealing your identity behind that name and your human shell, but if you are what you claim, why not smite me along with my servants?”
“Those weren’t my orders,” Zach replied indifferently.
Why not? I wanted to yell, but kept backing away with Adrian. We were now even with the ruined sanctuary, the desert spreading out like a blank canvas behind us.
“Orders.” Scorn dripped from Demetrius’s tone. “Don’t you ever weary of those?”
Zach’s mouth curled into the faintest of smiles. “Some days.”
“Then free yourself,” Demetrius commanded. “Live under your own rule as we do, my brother.”
Then he said something in a language that reminded me of Demonish, if you took out all the harsh syllables and replaced them with lyrical exquisiteness. Zach replied in the same language, and I almost closed my eyes in bliss. Nothing had ever sounded so beautiful. Of course, if he was accepting Demetrius’s offer, we were both dead.
“Do you know what they’re saying?” I whispered to Adrian.
He kept backing us away. “Demetrius said his people would soon claim this realm, and he urged Zach to join them. Zach refused.”
That had pissed off the demon, clearly. I watched with dread as Demetrius’s funnel clouds grew into what looked like F-4 tornados, tossing up debris from the crumpled sanctuary. One of the minion’s cars flipped over, setting off an alarm.
“Are you able to run, Ivy?” Adrian asked, his voice barely audible over the wind and whooping car alarm.
I felt like I didn’t have the energy to crawl, but if my life depended on it? Yep. “What about Costa and the others?”
“They’re dead,” Adrian replied flatly.
Despair made me stumble. I didn’t even remember all their names, and they’d died because of me. How many more would die if I kept going after that weapon to save my sister?
“Go now,” Adrian urged, releasing my hand.
What about you? I was about to ask, then light crashed around us, briefly illuminating everything with noonday clarity. I saw arms and legs amidst the rubble, the back end of the truck that had demolished the sanctuary, piles of ashes blowing away and every nuance of Demetrius’s shocked expression as his wall of tornados abruptly dissipated.
Zach’s hand dropped, but light still pulsed beneath his skin, as if his veins had been replaced with streaks of electricity. “Leave, Demetrius,” he said in the sudden silence.
“Who are you?” the demon almost whispered.
Zach’s stare didn’t waver. “This is your final warning.”
Demetrius disappeared, taking the wispy remains of his ruined shadows with him. I would’ve let out a triumphant whoop if I wasn’t so upset by the senseless loss.
“Everyone else is dead,” I said, my tone as flat as Adrian’s. “Why didn’t you show up before, Zach?”
“I wasn’t sent,” he replied, the answer making me want to scream. “Besides, not all are dead. Some are asleep.”
With that, he walked over to the rubble and grasped a dirty, limp hand. Costa came up from the rocks with a gasp, his gaze darting around as if expecting an attack.
“Don’t be afraid,” Zach stated. “You are safe.”
And uninjured, judging from how easily Costa moved once he was free from the rocks. I stared, disbelief turning to amazement. No way had he only been “asleep.” He still had bullet holes in his shirt, not to mention he’d been buried under a stone building; yet now, he looked in better shape than me.
One glance at Adrian’s face confirmed it. He stared at Zach while his expression changed from shock to expectancy.
“Wake the rest of them up,” he said with barely contained vehemence.
Zach didn’t reply, but he did go over to another motionless body part and then pulled up a perfectly healthy Tucco.
“What happened to the minions?” Tucco asked, shaking the dust and debris out of his hair.
“Ashes,” Adrian responded in a terse tone.
“Bueno,” was Tucco’s reply, followed by, “Where’s Tomas?”
“In the sanctuary,” I said, my voice catching on the next word. “Asleep.”
“Not asleep. Tomas is dead,” Zach corrected, no emotion in his tone.
Adrian strode over, gripping Zach by the collar of his pullover sweater. “Wake. Him. Up,” he said through gritted teeth.
Zach’s handsome features stayed in that serene mask. “He is dead,” he replied, spacing out the words like Adrian had. “Neither your demands nor your anger can change that.”
“But you can save him,” I burst out, rushing over to grip the Archon’s sleeve. “Please, save him.”
Zach looked at Adrian and me before brushing our hands aside. “His time had come, as with the other two. It is done.”
Then he walked away, adding, “There are others you can still save, if you haven’t given up. Tickets are waiting at the Durango airport. Whatever you decide, don’t remain here. Demetrius will soon find his courage and return.”
As Zach disappeared, one of the formerly silent cars revved to life. The four of us stared at it for a moment, and then, by unspoken agreement, climbed inside.
I didn’t know if the rest of them were motivated by survival instinct, but I knew why I got into the car, and it wasn’t just because I wanted away from the sanctuary of death behind us. I might be angry, confused and in desperate need of a shower, but I still wasn’t ready to give up.
Adrian used the last of the manna he’d stuffed in his pocket to heal our injuries on our way to the airport. Tucco got off on our first layover in Mexico City. Costa, Adrian and I continued to our plane’s final destination of Miami, Florida. I’d learned on the flight there that Costa and Tomas lived in Miami, and they’d journeyed to Durango to help Adrian after he called them. Now only Costa had survived to make the trip home.
Their house was a former church located only two blocks from the beach. It even had a steeple with a cross on top. When Costa showed me around, I realized that he and Tomas had closed in that soaring, pointed ceiling, turning it into the house’s second floor. That was where I stayed, in Tomas’s old room, and for the first day, all I did was sleep.