The Beautiful Ashes

Page 22

My staring seemed to annoy him, so I looked away. He said something sharply to Adrian and then grabbed my wrist hard enough to bruise me. Adrian moved with that lightning quickness, putting Camo Guy in a headlock with his arm bent at the wrong angle before I could even say, “Let go.”

“I told you, she goes straight to Mayhemium,” Adrian said, speaking English this time. “And if you delay me again, I’ll rip your head off.”

I didn’t know if it was Adrian’s dangerous tone or how quickly he’d broken Camo Guy’s arm, but he grunted something that must’ve been an agreement. Adrian let him go, smiled as though they’d exchanged a friendly hello, and then half dragged me through one of the openings in the wall.

Lots of stone steps later, we reached the pyramid’s lower courtyards. At first glance, it looked like an average street market. Vendors hawked various wares inside their booths, food cooked on open grills, and people milled around, either buying or window shopping. But every other person had that strange roll of light over their eyes, and when I got a closer look at some of the vendors’ wares, my legs abruptly stopped working.

“Keep moving,” Adrian whispered, half lifting me so it wasn’t obvious that shock had frozen me where I stood.

I forced my suddenly numb limbs to keep working. It helped that Adrian took us quickly through the market section and into a side alcove that had a drain in the floor. Even though his large frame blocked most of my view of the courtyard, I still couldn’t stop the grisly images from replaying in my mind.

Along with a few slabs of cow and pig, food vendors also sold human body parts. For customers who wanted fresher meat, their human selections were slaughtered on the spot.

“Why?” I choked, unable to say more because words couldn’t make it past the bile in my throat.

“There’s no sunlight here.” Although Adrian’s tone was matter-of-fact, something haunted flashed across his expression. “That means no grass, grains, vegetation or animals. Minions and pampered human pets get to have regular food imported from the other side, but the slaves have only one thing to eat. Each other.”

That bile turned into vomit that I couldn’t hold back. At the same time, I was shaking with rage. Now I knew what all the leather garments and doorway flaps were probably made of, too.

Adrian didn’t mock me for puking, or tell me to pull myself together. He held back my hair, his other hand moving over my shoulders in a comforting caress.

“We can leave,” he said low. “The realm’s not going anywhere. We’ll come back another day to search it.”

Laughter drifted down from one of the pyramid’s balconies, its sound an abomination. No one should laugh here. No sound should be made except screams of horror at what was going on in this lightless pit of evil. I wanted to run back to my world as fast as I could and never, ever return, but if I did, I’d be condemning Jasmine to spending the rest of her life in a similar hellhole. I’d rather die than do that.

Resolve mixed with my rage, helping me get control of my stomach. I wiped my mouth with a gloved hand and gave Adrian a look that reflected the new hardness creeping through my soul.

“Take me deeper inside this place. I’m not leaving until I check every frigging wall for that weapon.”

* * *

I learned more about demon life than I ever wanted to know as Adrian guided me through the pyramid’s many levels. First, generators supplied heat as well as light to the massive structure, so my extra clothes were now slung over my arm. Second, the inside looked like someone had taken the Great Pyramid of Giza and pimped it out with modern—albeit barbaric—amenities.

The large stadium section was for gladiator-style fights to the death, a popular form of entertainment here. “Pets,” which was how Adrian referred to humans who’d caught the eye of demons, lived above the courtyards. Minions lived above them in condo-styled units, and of course, the best, most luxurious quarters were reserved for the supernaturally sadistic rulers of this realm. Adrian said we’d be avoiding those places unless I sensed something, but so far, I hadn’t picked up a hint of anything hallowed in this opulent, stone-and-brick nightmare.

I also found out how Adrian was able to escort me around without arousing suspicion. For one, he spoke the language, and every light-show-eyed guard who stopped us only used that to communicate. For another, Adrian’s cover story was that I was a newly arrived “pet” for Mayhemium. From the knowing looks that garnered, whoever Mayhemium was, he had a lot of “pets.”

I’d figured out Adrian’s final trick after noticing how quickly every human looked away from him when we passed. The only other people they treated that way were guards, and since they didn’t all dress alike, that left only one other thing.

“Zach glamoured your eyes to shine like the guards’ eyes, didn’t he?” I whispered once we had a moment alone in one of the pyramid’s many stairways.

The barest smile cocked his mouth. “That’s right.”

“Why do theirs do that?” Also whispered, but wheezier. I must’ve climbed two miles in steps by now.

“Part of the perks of being a minion. Along with increased strength and endurance, demon marks give them the supernatural version of tapetum lucidum.” At my raised brow, he added, “The extra layer of tissue in animals’ eyes that allows them to see in the dark.”

That explained the odd shine, but... “You don’t have that, and you see as well as they do.” And move faster, I mentally added.

I couldn’t read the look he threw me. “I’ve already told you why.”

Right, his mysterious lineage. He might’ve told me some of the whys, but he hadn’t spilled the “what” yet. The more secrets he revealed, the more I burned to know his biggest one.

“That’s the gift that keeps on giving, then,” I said, trying not to sound like I was probing, which I was.

His jaw tightened until I swore I heard cartilage crack. “I’d give anything not to have this lineage.” Sapphire eyes seemed to burn as they swept over me. “Especially after meeting you.”

If we weren’t inside a demonic version of the Luxor hotel, I would’ve demanded that he elaborate. He’d already told me more since we’d arrived than he had in the week leading up to it, but “bad timing” didn’t begin to cover our current situation.

Of course, that meant it was about to get worse.

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