The Beautiful Ashes

Page 35

I stopped shooting only when the butcher’s body turned into ash. Adrian looked at the black ashes on the ice, at the slack-jawed minion who’d stopped mopping, and finally at me.

“Shit,” he said simply.

Chapter twenty-one

Mopping Minion opened his mouth. Before he could scream, Adrian’s punch to the throat cut him off. Then Adrian gripped him in a brutal headlock that ended with a jerk, a snapping sound, and the minion dissolving into a pile of ashes on the floor.

“Move, Ivy,” Adrian ordered. “We don’t have long until someone finds them.”

With the same eerie calm I’d felt when I shot the butcher, I put my gun away and knelt next to the naked boy.

“Give me your knife,” I said to Adrian.

He frowned but passed it to me, and I cut through the plastic that bound the boy’s hands. He blinked once, but said nothing, even when I took off my parka and wrapped him in it.

“Ivy,” Adrian said in a warning tone.

“We’re taking him with us,” I replied, kicking off my boots.

Pity creased Adrian’s expression. “I wish we could, but—”

“We’re taking him with us,” I repeated, almost spitting out the last two words. “I don’t care if it’s more dangerous. I don’t care if he’ll slow us down. He’s coming or I’m not.”

“You’d risk your sister’s life to save him?” Adrian asked harshly.

I shoved my boots onto the little boy’s feet. He couldn’t have been more than twelve, so they were too big. Tightening the laces would have to do.

“I can’t save Jasmine right now,” I said, my voice calm from the absolute certainty I felt that this was the right thing to do. “But I can save him. Don’t pretend you don’t understand. Costa and Tomas are proof that you do.”

Adrian muttered something in Demonish, but picked the boy up, throwing a hard glance at my now-bare feet.

“Put the boots back on. I’ll carry him.”

“He’s freezing and I can manage,” I argued.

“We do it your way, all of us die,” Adrian said flatly. “Put the boots back on, then shut up and do what I say.”

I bristled, but our survival outweighed pride, so I took the boots off the boy and put them back on. He still didn’t say anything. Maybe he was in a state of catatonic shock.

“Now, activate your power and search the castle from right here,” Adrian ordered.

I tried to clear my mind enough to concentrate. It didn’t work, probably because I was in a small icebox with two piles of minion ash on the floor and a chopped-up body less than five feet away.

“I need to get out of this room,” I said.

Adrian’s sapphire gaze seemed to burn into mine. “Not an option, and we’re running out of time.”

I tried again, closing my eyes, but I still couldn’t concentrate on anything except the carnage around me. I was standing on layers of frozen blood, for crying out loud.

“Adrian,” I started to say, but his sudden grip on my throat cut me off.

“Maybe you don’t understand,” he said, fingers slowly tightening. “You need to search this castle right now, and you’re not moving from this spot to do it.”

I grabbed his wrist, digging my nails into his skin. His hand only tightened more, until my throat burned from the pressure. He didn’t even need to shift his grip on the boy to throttle me, and the child watched us with dull, empty eyes. Panic filled me as I couldn’t get in more than a few thin, insufficient breaths. My chest started to heave in urgency, trying to force in air that Adrian wasn’t allowing me to have.

Stop! I thought, unable to say anything. My nails ripped into Adrian’s wrist, yet that ironlike grip didn’t lessen.

“Still can’t utilize your power?” he asked, staring into my eyes with pitiless determination. “Then I’m going to choke you unconscious and leave this kid behind while I carry you out instead. You can’t look for the weapon anyway, or can you?”

My gasp of horror caught in my throat. He wouldn’t do that...would he? Had I been wrong about him? Was he every bit the monster he’d warned me about?

“The only way you’ll stop me is to access your power and search this place,” he went on. “And, Ivy? I can feel it when you do, so don’t bother trying to fake it.”

I’ll never forgive you! my gaze swore, but then his grip loosened and air rushed into my lungs, claiming all my attention. My second deep breath was ambrosia, quelling the frantic clenching in my chest. The third took away my panic, and the fourth had me closing my eyes as I sagged with relief—

An invisible flare ripped out of me, like I’d fired off a sonar ping that somehow made no sound. With it, I felt the castle and nearby grounds as though I’d managed to scour them in an instant. At the end of it, I knew, with a certainty as strong as my decision to take the boy, that the weapon wasn’t here. Nothing hallowed was. This was a frozen wasteland of evil.

With a measured look, Adrian let me go. Red drops blended into the ruby-colored floor as blood dripped from his wrist where my nails had ripped into it.

“I’m sorry,” he said stonily. “We couldn’t take the boy into the castle without getting caught, so I had to do something extreme to make you access your power from here.”

“How’s this...for extreme?” I rasped, then slapped him as hard as I could, anger tapping into strength I normally didn’t have. Adrian’s head rocked sideways, and when he turned to face me, a red handprint was already swelling along his cheek.

“I deserved that,” he said, still in that flinty voice. “Now, let’s get out of here.”

I was furious at him for choking me into near-unconsciousness and threatening to leave the boy, but I filed that away under a rapidly growing list titled Paybacks To Come. I did shake his hand off when he led me toward the exit, and my glare warned him not to touch me again as I followed him down the pink-floored hallway.

Before we reached the door, Adrian took my gun out of my parka, replaced the empty clip with a full one, and then handed it back to me.

“We might have to shoot our way out,” he said, mouth curling with the dark anticipation he always showed before a fight. “But this time, don’t fire unless I do.”

I bit back my caustic reply because talking made my throat hurt more. Besides, we might not live through this. If we did, though...Paybacks.

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