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|The Beautiful Ashes(Broken Destiny #1) by Jeaniene Frost|
“You lied to me.”
Adrian took off his long coat, putting it around me. The whole time, his gaze never left Demetrius’s, even when I felt him furtively remove something from the coat’s pocket.
“You wanted me to be a betrayer.” Adrian’s voice was thick with sarcasm. “Be careful what you wish for, father.”
“If you won’t rule with me, then you can die with your whore,” Demetrius hissed, digging the knife deeper into Jasmine’s throat. “But not before she tells me where the weapon is. I know you found it, Davidian. Where did you put it?”
Adrian’s gaze swung to me. “It was here?”
I nodded, too horrified by the line of blood trailing down Jasmine’s throat to answer audibly. Another ounce of pressure, and her jugular would be severed.
Adrian let out a short laugh. “Right under your nose this whole time. Must’ve been hidden here before you stole this realm from Ciscero.”
“Give it to me, Davidian, or watch her die,” Demetrius ordered, ignoring that.
I tightened the coat around me, then went over to the pile of bones and pulled the slingshot out from under it. Damned thing didn’t work anyway, but maybe it would provide enough distraction for Adrian to use whatever he’d brought with him.
“Ivy, don’t,” Adrian said, grasping my arm.
I glanced at his hand and then back at him, trying to tell him with my eyes to get ready.
“If he has this, he doesn’t need us anymore,” I said, knowing the demon would try to kill us anyway, but hoping Demetrius believed I was that naïve.
The two minions who’d brought Jasmine began to circle around us. Blondie, Muddy Minion and Scowling Minion moved to block the tunnel entrance, as if the dozens more behind them weren’t enough to prevent our escape. Demetrius didn’t seem to notice the extra activity. He stared at the braided rope dangling from my hand with something akin to rapture.
“So let us all go,” I continued, “and it’s yours.”
Adrian translated my words to the demon. He dropped my arm, too, his hooded sapphire gaze flicking between me and Demetrius.
I hoped that meant he understood and was on board. Demetrius was. He lowered the knife, revealing a small, still-bleeding cut on Jasmine’s neck. Then he shoved my sister toward me. She caught herself before she reached me, staring at me with horrified confusion. Right, I still looked like a Hound. How could I keep forgetting that?
“A deal’s a deal,” I said, tossing the slingshot toward the demon.
He reached out to catch it—and Adrian hurled the small object he’d concealed in his coat. Dazzling white exploded in the underground room, throwing Demetrius backward while briefly blinding me. The demon’s agonized scream seared my ears as Adrian yanked me into his arms, and I felt rather than saw him haul my sister against him next.
When my vision cleared, the five minions were dissolving into ashes from the Archon grenade and the Hounds were dead, but Demetrius was still alive. And mad as hell.
“You failed,” the demon spat, hauling himself over to block the exit to the tunnel. “You may have killed these men, but you will not escape!”
Adrian’s response was to whistle, loud and long. Demetrius cocked his head, confusion replacing the pain on his pale features. Then his eyes widened as screams erupted from farther down the tunnel. He sprang aside right as a huge gray form hurtled into the room. Dark gray wings unfolded, revealing the monstrous, massive gargoyle I’d encountered earlier.
“Thanks for keeping everything just the way I left it,” Adrian told Demetrius before throwing Jasmine at the gargoyle. “Especially for keeping my most loyal pet, Brutus.”
Jasmine screamed as the gargoyle caught her against its chest with one leathery, muscled arm. Then it was my turn to yelp as Adrian shoved me at the creature. The gargoyle pressed me next to Jasmine, its arm an unbreakable band across our stomachs. Adrian ran across the room, snatched up the slingshot and then threw himself at the gargoyle right as it began to beat its massive wings. The gargoyle caught Adrian and shot forward, the powerful expulsion of air propelling us down the tunnel.
The gargoyle was so strong that it could hold us without difficulty, but the weight of our three bodies proved too heavy for it to fly. We smashed into some of the minions lining the tunnel, resulting in a brief, fierce fight before another rush of the gargoyle’s wings cleared us over them in a sort of hop. Then we plowed back down again.
Demetrius’s enraged scream filled the tunnel behind us. “Kill them, kill them!”
Countless hands seemed to pull at us, weighing the gargoyle down even more. Adrian punched and kicked while the creature rallied valiantly, another burst of power clearing us over the seething mass in this section of the tunnel. Before we could reach the end, though, we dropped back down again. Only fifty yards away, a wall of minions rushed toward us, urged on by Demetrius’s furious commands in English and Demonish.
Adrian looked at me, then barked out a few words that made the gargoyle halt and, unbelievably, let him go.
“What are you doing?” I gasped.
He took my head, his silvery-sapphire gaze almost burning into mine.
“He can’t fly with all of us, and I’m the heaviest. Brutus’ll take you to the B and B, then you need to cross through the gateway.” A dark, quick smile. “You already know how.”
I was appalled. “Adrian, you can’t—”
He pulled my head down, his mouth searing mine in a kiss that matched the blazing intensity in his eyes. Desperation, desire and despair seemed to pour from him into me, but when he broke the kiss and pulled away, he was smiling.
“I love you, Ivy. I love you, and I didn’t betray you. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can do anything.”
Then he stuffed the slingshot in my coat pocket, smacked the gargoyle on the side and yelled, “Tarate!” Those mighty wings began to beat at once.
“No!” I screamed, struggling to get free.
The gargoyle rose up, no longer encumbered by too much weight. The last thing I saw before we cleared the tunnel and the realm’s eternally dark skyline enveloped us was Adrian turning toward the horde of minions that was almost upon him.
Jasmine screamed in terror the whole way to the B and B. I screamed, too. In anguish. Adrian was strong, but he couldn’t beat dozens of minions when they were armed and he wasn’t. He was going to die, and he knew it, but he’d willingly doomed himself to save me.
I love you, Ivy.
I thought my heart had been wounded before. Now, I could feel it ripping wide-open, scalding my insides with the kind of pain that would never heal. There had to be a way to save him.
As soon as the gargoyle released us at the entrance to the B and B, I started yelling the same word Adrian had used to make it leave him.
“Tarate, tarate! Go back and get Adrian!”
The creature only stared at me. Jasmine backed away a few feet, rubbing her arms against the chill I barely noticed in my desperation.
“If you’re really Ivy, do something to prove it.”
Do something? Like what, start miming out the letters to my name? Couldn’t she see that I was trying to get the winged monstrosity to save Adrian, yet the stupid thing just kept looking at me!
In complete frustration, I flipped Jasmine off. She blinked in disbelief, then threw herself at me.
She started crying in the loud, hiccupping way she used to do when she was a child. I held her with one arm, flapping the other at the gargoyle in a last-ditch attempt to get it to understand that it had to fly. Now.
The creature chuffed at me in obvious annoyance. Then its wing whipped out so fast, for a second, wild hope filled me. I shoved Jasmine back, screaming “That’s it!” while flapping both my arms. Then I noticed something rolling on the ground toward me. What was—?
Jasmine shrieked and I recoiled. It was a head, and as it dissolved into a small pile of ashes, I noticed the form to the right of the gargoyle just before it, too, dissipated into ashes.
The gargoyle angled its wings flat like two massive, leathery blades. Then it took one step toward me, and a burst of motion behind me made me spin around.
The minion who’d been sneaking up on us turned around and started hightailing it into the woods. The gargoyle chuffed loudly, as if saying, “Yeah, you’d better run!” before folding its wings into two compact piles on its back.
I wanted to thank it and rail at it at the same time. Yes, it had just saved my life, but it should be saving Adrian’s. Not standing here like a dinosaur version of a knight in shining armor. Since I couldn’t seem to communicate that, I ran to the tree stump where I’d left my supplies. Where there were two minions, there’d soon be more, so I had to get Jasmine out of here while I still could. Besides, maybe Costa and a lot of weapons were waiting on the other side of this realm. If I couldn’t make the gargoyle rescue Adrian, maybe I could find a way to do it myself.
Once I had my sack, I took Jasmine’s hand and led her into the B and B. Unbelievably, the gargoyle followed us, though it stayed bent down because it was taller than the ceiling. The human residents of the B and B stood stock-still in terror at the sight of a Hound and the winged creature in the house, and I had no way of telling them that neither one of us were dangerous.
Well, the gargoyle probably wasn’t dangerous.
I drew Jasmine into Mrs. Paulson’s office, pain knifing my heart again when I pulled out one of the two beer bottles filled with Adrian’s blood. I’m coming back for you, I silently promised, hating myself for what I’d done. Then, because I had no choice, I smeared my hands with Adrian’s blood and started running them over Jasmine.
She let out a noise that was half whimper, half fearful sob. “W-what are you doing, Ivy?”
I wasn’t about to waste Adrian’s blood by using it to write out an explanation, so I held my finger to my lips in the universal gesture for silence. Once I estimated that she was covered enough, I used the rest of his blood on myself. Betrayer! those red smears seemed to scream at me.
My eyes blurred with tears. Yes, I was a betrayer and Adrian wasn’t. Now, to make sure he lived so I could apologize to him for the rest of my life.
I put the second bottle in the opposite corner of the office, then grabbed Jasmine around the waist and hurtled us both toward the gateway. That push-pull-stretch-puke sensation as we crossed through the realms seemed worse, but we tumbled out into the non-demon version of Mrs. Paulson’s office.
Unfortunately, we weren’t alone.
“What the hell?” the young, sandy-haired cop sputtered.
Right, the guests would’ve called the police after I’d scared them out of here with my rampaging monster act. I let go of Jasmine, but put myself in front of her. If the cop went for his gun, I had a better chance at stopping him since I was faster than Jaz.
Then something knocked me over from behind. I didn’t have time to register what had caused me to suddenly face-plant before the cop’s head was on the floor in front of me. The rest of him was still up where I couldn’t see.
I rolled over, stunned to see the gargoyle looming like a dark shadow over me and Jasmine. His one wing was still extended in that chopping formation, and a thump nearby had to be the guard’s body falling next to his severed head.
“Why’d you do that?” I snapped, only to feel a small “poof” by my face. When I looked again, the head had turned into ashes.
The cop was a minion. Of course. Detective Kroger wasn’t the only one at the Bennington police department, and who else would investigate stories of a monster at the same inn that doubled as a demonic Brimstone and Breakfast?
“Uh, good boy,” I told the gargoyle awkwardly.
“What is that doing here?” a familiar voice asked, his tone heavy with disapproval.
Zach! I bolted up, so excited to see the Archon in the doorway that I knocked Jasmine over in my haste to get to him.
“Get me out of this disguise, I need to talk to the gargoyle!” I said in a rush. It hadn’t understood me as a Hound, but maybe Adrian had taught it to speak English.
Zach touched the top of my head. I knew the instant my disguise disappeared because Jasmine choked, “Oh, Ivy!” and threw her arms around me again.
I wanted to hug her back. A big part of me even needed to after everything we’d been through, but I was too terrified for Adrian to do anything except gently shove her aside.
“Brutus, you have to go back and save Adrian,” I told the gargoyle, grabbing the edge of its wing in my urgency. “Please, go back now!”
The gargoyle cocked its head, the wing beneath my hand quivering. From his expression, he seemed to want to do what I asked, yet he made no move toward the gateway.
“Go, now!” I repeated, trying to shove him in the right direction, but the gargoyle was way too heavy for me.
“He doesn’t understand you,” Zach said, sounding bemused this time. “This must be Adrian’s pet. Why did he follow you here?”
“Adrian said something to him and he hasn’t left my side since, but that doesn’t matter.” I let go of the gargoyle’s wing to grasp the Archon’s trademark sweater. “Adrian’s fighting for his life, so I need all the weapons you have, now!”
“I don’t have any weapons,” Zach said, as if the idea was preposterous.
“Then glamour some up,” I all but snarled. “Didn’t you hear me? Adrian’s going to die!”
“I can’t. Glamour is illusion—it’s not creating something out of nothing.” Zach’s dark gaze narrowed as he looked at my pocket. “But you already have a weapon, don’t you?”