The Beautiful Ashes

Page 29

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.

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