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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
Since the minions’ ashes must’ve been discovered right away for Obsidiana to beat us back to our realm, he was right. We would’ve gotten caught taking the boy with us to search the castle. If I’d known him throttling me would make my powers flare that way, I would’ve demanded that he do it. I’d take bruises any day over abandoning a child to a demon realm.
“And Obsidiana?” I hated that I couldn’t stop myself from asking, so I tried to hide my motivation behind a fake laugh. “Now I know why you stopped in your tracks when you saw her in Mayhemium’s realm. Must’ve been weird to run into your old girlfriend, but you should’ve told me who she was. It’s not fair to keep finding out from other demons where they used to rank in your life.”
His jaw clenched, and I thought he’d leave as he’d done so many times before. Instead, he began to pace.
“I stopped in my tracks that day because I was worried that Obsidiana would sense who I was through my disguise. Demetrius always can, and if she had, she would’ve realized who you were, too. As for why I didn’t tell you about her, it’s because she means nothing to me. The whole time we were together, she lied to me just like the rest of them did.”
“About what?” Your supposed destiny? I thought but didn’t say out loud.
He gave me a measured look. “Tomas told you what it was like for me in the realms before I walked out.”
“Girls, gold, power, adulation...” I forced another insincere laugh. “Your basic hedonistic fantasy.”
“He didn’t tell you why I hated Archons back then. My earliest memory was of them trying to kill my mother and me.”
“What?” I gasped.
His mouth twisted. “Judas’s descendants are a threat to Archons, so eliminating the line means eliminating the threat. Throughout history, demons have tried to do the same to David’s descendants. They nearly succeeded several times, most recently with the Holocaust.”
“I’m Jewish?” That should’ve occurred to me before....
“Possibly. David’s line started out that way, but over thousands of years, beliefs changed, even if genealogy didn’t.”
“Back to Archons trying to kill you,” I said, filing the other away under Future Musings.
Those beautiful features hardened. “All my life, I’ve had nightmares about my mother and me being chased through the tunnels. My mom said I was remembering when I was five and Demetrius saved us from Archons trying to eliminate the Judian line. I was brought up believing we were only safe in their realms. Since the demons gave us everything we wanted, it took a long time before I even asked to see the world we’d come from.”
“But when you did, how could you go back?” I said, voicing the question that had been eating at me. “You would’ve seen how evil the demon realms were by comparison.”
His jaw tightened. “They thought of that, so they hid the uglier aspects from me for as long as they could. After I discovered them, they took me to places in the human world that looked the same. Like Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered while the world gives a collective shrug. Or South African diamond mines, where laborers are regularly worked to death, or all the countries with unchecked human trafficking, and of course, the countless sweat shops around the world.” His sigh was bitter. “Seeing those things made it easier to believe what the demons taught me—that the only difference between them and humanity was more opportunity.”
“Bullshit,” I said at once. “Yes, atrocities exist here, too, but so do people who try to fight them. For every horrible example you gave, you can find a thousand more of people helping other people, even from several continents away.”
Adrian’s expression softened. “I know. When I started sneaking out to explore on my own, I saw that, too. The first time I encountered children at a playground, I watched for hours.” Brief smile. “Someone called the cops, but that made an impression, too. Strangers came to protect the young of other strangers. I’d never seen that before, and for the first time, I understood what I’d become. A monster.”
“Is that when you left?” I asked softly.
He threw me a jaded look. “That’s when my drug addiction began. I couldn’t leave because I was afraid the demons would retaliate against my mother, and she said she’d never leave while Archons were after us. So instead, I escaped through every mind-altering substance I could find. Of course, I couldn’t snort enough, shoot up enough or smoke enough to forget all I’d done. I thought my bloodline kept me from overdosing, but after what Demetrius said the other week, it might’ve been him. I wanted to die, though. That’s why I kept sneaking out of the realms, hoping Archons would find me. One night, I got my wish.”
His smile was jagged. “I was puking in an alley behind a bar when light suddenly exploded all around me. You’ve seen what Zach looks like when he shows his true nature, so I knew what he was. He said, ‘If you’re ready, come with me.’ I thought he meant ready for death, so I did. He didn’t kill me, though. He took me to the old Shanghai tunnels in Portland.”
His expression became haunted. “My dream was always the same—Mom and I were running through the tunnels, trying to get away from the monsters. She was screaming at them to leave me alone, and I was so tired, but I kept going because she was terrified. We were almost at the end when a black cloud swallowed her. At the same time, the exit got really bright and a voice told me to keep running. Then my mom came out of the cloud, picked me up...and that’s when I’d wake up.”
He paused, his mouth curling down. “That night, in the same tunnels, Zach showed me what really happened.”
After I’d seen what Demetrius could do, I’d already guessed, but it still made me ache to hear Adrian say it.
“What came out of the darkness that day was Demetrius, not my mom. He’d killed her, but he used her appearance to trick me into staying in the realms while he molded me into someone who hated Archons as much as demons did. I didn’t think to question why I never saw my mom and Demetrius in the same room, and everyone played along, pretending he was my mother when they knew she was dead. All so when I met the last Davidian, I wouldn’t hesitate to fulfill my destiny and betray him.” He met my eyes. “Or her, as it turns out.”
My throat felt tight, both from unshed tears at the merciless manipulations Adrian had been put through back then, and the pain he still carried now. No wonder he’d reacted with such horror when Zach told him who I was. I was the destiny he’d been groomed for, and then rebelled against by turning his back on the creatures that raised him.
Well, I didn’t believe in destiny. Fate couldn’t override free will, and just because Adrian’s ancestors were betrayers didn’t mean he was doomed to be. He’d already had several opportunities to hand me over to the demons, yet instead, he’d fought them with all the power they’d assumed would be to their benefit. No matter what anyone thought, his choices determined his destiny, not the other way around.
Now to convince Adrian of that.
“If your fate was already sealed, Demetrius wouldn’t have worked so hard to mold you into a monster.” My voice was raspy from all the emotion I held back. “He must know your destiny is still up to you. Same with Zach. He helped you back then, and he keeps looking out for you now—”
Adrian’s laugh stopped me. For a moment, it sounded so ugly, it could’ve come from a demon.
“Zach showed me everything that happened in the tunnel that day.” Something sharper than pain edged his tone. “He was the light I saw at the exit. Ever since, I’ve wondered if Zach could’ve stopped Demetrius from taking me if he’d wanted to. That night at the Mexican sanctuary, when Zach decimated Demetrius’s shadows in seconds, I finally got my answer.”
Shock made me stammer. “But that...that’s...”
“Indifferent at best, cruel at worst?” Adrian supplied with another ragged laugh. “I know, but Zach’ll say he was only following orders, so that means his boss doesn’t want me to beat my fate. No, I’m supposed to play my part like a good little Judas, but screw them. Once Demetrius is dead, I’m gone, both from your life and theirs. It’s the only way I can pay them back for what they allowed Demetrius to do to me.”
I didn’t know what to say. Everything he’d been through was made more awful by the knowledge that it had all been preventable. Zach should’ve stopped Demetrius, with or without “orders.” He also should be supporting Adrian now, not telling him to resign himself to a fate he clearly didn’t want. Couldn’t they see how hard Adrian was trying? Didn’t they even care?
If they didn’t, I did. I might not be able to do anything about their former betrayals, but I wasn’t helpless. I got out of bed and took Adrian’s hand, tightening my grip when he tried to pull away.
“You’re right,” I said huskily. “We’ll find the weapon, use it to save Jasmine and kill Demetrius, then we’ll walk away from each other. Both sides can choke on their expectations of your fate. They don’t know how strong you are, but I do, and I trust you, Adrian.”
He jerked his hand away. “Ivy, don’t—”
“I trust you,” I repeated, gripping his shirt so he either had to stand still or risk me ripping it off. “There’s no danger of you betraying me while we’re working to get this weapon. I can always trust your hatred of demons, remember?”
Some of the tension eased from his shoulders as I used his own argument to make my point. “Yeah, but you still don’t understand your full part in this—”
“I do,” I interrupted grimly. “Tomas and Costa said that only a Davidian or a demon from Goliath’s line can bring out the weapon’s true power, which means I have to be the one to use the slingshot, and I’m not even that good with a gun.”
He stared at me, emotions flickering across his face too rapidly for me to translate. Then his jaw flexed, and his expression hardened into one I recognized well.
Pure, unadulterated determination.
“I’ll teach you how to use a slingshot,” he said, his voice rougher. “With practice, you can do anything.”
“Then we have a plan,” I agreed, smiling because I had another plan. One that involved showing Adrian he didn’t have to walk away from me when this was all over, but for now, I’d keep that to myself.
Demetrius had said the bond between us would grow every moment that we spent together. Demons were liars, but my heart knew that much was true. Already, I cared about Adrian more than I’d cared about any other guy, and he’d admitted that he was powerfully drawn to me, too. By the time we’d found the weapon, killed Demetrius and rescued Jasmine, I intended to convince Adrian that he wasn’t doomed to betray me. Everyone else might have given up on him, but I hadn’t, and I’d use every bit of our supernatural bond to show him he shouldn’t give up, either.
Now to break down the wall he’d erected around himself, one stubborn brick at a time.
Adrian was right. Zach didn’t even need to look at the boy before he told us that his name was Hoyt, and his family was dead. I was a little skeptical, but Adrian believed Zach. When I asked him why, he reminded me that Zach had told Adrian the exact time and place that minions would attempt to kidnap me. How Zach knew these things, I still didn’t know, but according to Adrian, the Archon had never been wrong.
It was all I could do not to ask if Zach had taken the day off when my sister was kidnapped. I didn’t because I’d bet Zach’s response would contain the word “orders,” and I didn’t trust my reaction to that. Until I had the weapon, I needed Zach, plus punching him in the face might be the last mistake I ever made. In this case, ignorance wasn’t bliss. It was necessity.
Costa was taking Hoyt to Tomas’s family in Phoenix. They’d agreed to shelter the boy, and the long drive would give Costa a chance to share his own realm experience. Hoyt still wasn’t speaking, but I held out hope that, with time, he’d be able to recover mentally, physically and emotionally.
I had to believe that, for Hoyt’s sake, and for Jasmine’s.
This time, Zach glamoured me into looking like a young guy with shiny, cloud-rolling eyes. Having both Adrian and I pose as minions came from our being zero for two on finding the weapon, and two for two on getting caught. Not an auspicious start, but if at first you don’t succeed and demons haven’t killed you...well, trying again was a given.
Collinsville, Illinois, was the proud owner of the world’s largest ketchup bottle. It was also home to over a hundred man-made earthen mounds. Such quaint distinctions should’ve meant the city wasn’t a hotbed of demonic activity, but guess again. Tourists visiting the Cahokia Mounds only saw lots of little green hills and one big one amidst a tranquil park, but I saw a bustling populace in a dark, glacial world where the little mounds were a lot bigger, and the big one was a gargantuan pyramid.
“I gotta ask,” I said, following Adrian to the realm gateway, “what’s with demons and pyramids?”
“Ego,” he replied succinctly. At my raised brow, he elaborated. “The first demons were Archons who rebelled against their boss because they wanted to be masters instead of servants. After they were sent to the dark realms as punishment, they built their kingdoms there, using force to get the worship they craved. Pyramids, castles, towers...they’re the demonic version of bling, so whoever has the biggest and best wins.”