The Beautiful Ashes

Page 38

“Ivy.” Adrian’s tone was urgent. “What’s wrong?”

I swiped under my eyes, only now realizing that I’d started to cry. “Nothing.”

“Bullshit,” he said emphatically.

“Just a little post-traumatic stress.” I forced a shaky laugh. “I’m still not used to narrowly escaping death, okay?”

His gaze repeated the same thing—bullshit. Okay, so maybe I was a terrible liar. I pretended not to notice him staring at me as much as he could without wrecking, and busied myself by tucking the boy’s feet under my legs so they’d be warm.

Then an idea struck me, exciting me so much that I reached over the seats to grab Adrian’s shoulder.

“Drive to Bennington! We snuck the boy out with our disguises, so we can use them to get Jasmine out, too!”

Costa gave me a pitying glance, and I felt as well as heard Adrian’s sigh.

“Remember I told you that your sister will be the best-treated human in all the realms? She’ll also be the most guarded. Bennington might not be Demetrius’s main realm, but he’ll expect you to try that. I guarantee he’s given an order that if anyone unfamiliar shows up, they’re to be detained.”

My brief hope crashed. Adrian was right. The demons had no intention of making this easy on me, so either I went in with the ability to kill them all, or I died.

Or both. No one had said that, but no one needed to. Having the weapon didn’t mean I’d suddenly be bulletproof, so finding it didn’t guarantee victory. It only gave me a chance at it.

“You’re going to be okay,” I told the boy, giving him the assurance I so badly wished someone could give to me.

A slow blink was his only response. Either he still wasn’t processing what was going on, or he didn’t believe me. I patted his leg, wishing I could tell him I knew how it felt to be surrounded by people and yet still be on your own.

I couldn’t fix that for myself, but I could fix it for him. Then I’d keep trying to save Jasmine while trying not to get killed by demons, and maybe somewhere along the lines, reclaim my own life, too.

Dreams were beautiful things to have, weren’t they?

Chapter twenty-three

We left North Carolina and drove to a Catholic seminary in Washington, D.C. Adrian knew two of the priests who met us around the back of the large church complex, which was Surprise One. Surprise Two was him telling them that the boy had been rescued from a demon realm. The priests didn’t accuse Adrian of being crazy, either. Instead, one of them hurried to take the boy back into what they called the “house” section.

“Are demon realms an open secret to priests?” I whispered to Costa while Adrian continued to talk to the other priest.

Costa grunted. “No. These two know about them because Adrian saved them from a demon kidnapping a few years ago.”

I don’t know why that surprised me. It was how we’d met, and Adrian had said he’d been “retrieving” people for Zach for a while. Guess I never expected to meet anyone he’d rescued, let alone find out that they were priests.

I was too tired to swap rescue experiences with the two Fathers, which was why I was relieved when Adrian came back to tell us that the seminary had rooms for us tonight, too. Even more wonderful than that, it had leftover pizza and a microwave. I devoured several pieces, then showered and flopped onto the narrow bed in a room that reminded me a lot of my college dorm. Just with a lot more crosses and pictures of saints and popes.

I was almost asleep when my door opened. No locks meant relying on the honor system, but since Adrian hadn’t knocked, he must not be in an honorable mood. Situation normal, then.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded wearily.

He’d showered, too, the dampness making his hair look darker than its usual honeyed shades of blond. I refused to notice how that same dampness caused his shirt to cling to him. I was still too mad.

He shut the door behind him. “I’m sorry for hurting you,” he said, actually managing to sound as though he meant it.

Which time? I thought, but touched my throat as if the bruises there were the only damage he’d inflicted on me today.

“Did you know choking me would work to activate my abilities?” I asked, my tone grating. “Or was it a lucky guess?”

His stare reminded me of ancient sailors’ legends of sea serpents. On the surface, all I saw was roiling blue, but every so often, glimpses of the monster appeared beneath.

“Demetrius wanted me to be the strongest Judian ever, so he did whatever was necessary to hone my abilities. Like throwing me into the gladiator rings at thirteen. Lesser demons fought there, too, and if a ruler wanted to show off, he or she jumped into the fight. Demetrius didn’t let anyone kill me, but he let them beat me within an inch of my life enough times that I learned what he wanted me to know—the fastest, most efficient way to use my abilities. So, no, I wasn’t guessing. I was counting on you being just like me in that regard. I hated hurting you, but it was the only way you could search the castle without getting caught with the boy.”

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.”

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