The Beautiful Ashes

Page 39

“Girls, gold, power, adulation...” I forced another insincere laugh. “Your basic hedonistic fantasy.”

“He didn’t tell you why I hated Archons back then. My earliest memory was of them trying to kill my mother and me.”

“What?” I gasped.

His mouth twisted. “Judas’s descendants are a threat to Archons, so eliminating the line means eliminating the threat. Throughout history, demons have tried to do the same to David’s descendants. They nearly succeeded several times, most recently with the Holocaust.”

“I’m Jewish?” That should’ve occurred to me before....

“Possibly. David’s line started out that way, but over thousands of years, beliefs changed, even if genealogy didn’t.”

“Back to Archons trying to kill you,” I said, filing the other away under Future Musings.

Those beautiful features hardened. “All my life, I’ve had nightmares about my mother and me being chased through the tunnels. My mom said I was remembering when I was five and Demetrius saved us from Archons trying to eliminate the Judian line. I was brought up believing we were only safe in their realms. Since the demons gave us everything we wanted, it took a long time before I even asked to see the world we’d come from.”

“But when you did, how could you go back?” I said, voicing the question that had been eating at me. “You would’ve seen how evil the demon realms were by comparison.”

His jaw tightened. “They thought of that, so they hid the uglier aspects from me for as long as they could. After I discovered them, they took me to places in the human world that looked the same. Like Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered while the world gives a collective shrug. Or South African diamond mines, where laborers are regularly worked to death, or all the countries with unchecked human trafficking, and of course, the countless sweat shops around the world.” His sigh was bitter. “Seeing those things made it easier to believe what the demons taught me—that the only difference between them and humanity was more opportunity.”

“Bullshit,” I said at once. “Yes, atrocities exist here, too, but so do people who try to fight them. For every horrible example you gave, you can find a thousand more of people helping other people, even from several continents away.”

Adrian’s expression softened. “I know. When I started sneaking out to explore on my own, I saw that, too. The first time I encountered children at a playground, I watched for hours.” Brief smile. “Someone called the cops, but that made an impression, too. Strangers came to protect the young of other strangers. I’d never seen that before, and for the first time, I understood what I’d become. A monster.”

“Is that when you left?” I asked softly.

He threw me a jaded look. “That’s when my drug addiction began. I couldn’t leave because I was afraid the demons would retaliate against my mother, and she said she’d never leave while Archons were after us. So instead, I escaped through every mind-altering substance I could find. Of course, I couldn’t snort enough, shoot up enough or smoke enough to forget all I’d done. I thought my bloodline kept me from overdosing, but after what Demetrius said the other week, it might’ve been him. I wanted to die, though. That’s why I kept sneaking out of the realms, hoping Archons would find me. One night, I got my wish.”

“What happened?”

His smile was jagged. “I was puking in an alley behind a bar when light suddenly exploded all around me. You’ve seen what Zach looks like when he shows his true nature, so I knew what he was. He said, ‘If you’re ready, come with me.’ I thought he meant ready for death, so I did. He didn’t kill me, though. He took me to the old Shanghai tunnels in Portland.”


His expression became haunted. “My dream was always the same—Mom and I were running through the tunnels, trying to get away from the monsters. She was screaming at them to leave me alone, and I was so tired, but I kept going because she was terrified. We were almost at the end when a black cloud swallowed her. At the same time, the exit got really bright and a voice told me to keep running. Then my mom came out of the cloud, picked me up...and that’s when I’d wake up.”

He paused, his mouth curling down. “That night, in the same tunnels, Zach showed me what really happened.”

After I’d seen what Demetrius could do, I’d already guessed, but it still made me ache to hear Adrian say it.

“What came out of the darkness that day was Demetrius, not my mom. He’d killed her, but he used her appearance to trick me into staying in the realms while he molded me into someone who hated Archons as much as demons did. I didn’t think to question why I never saw my mom and Demetrius in the same room, and everyone played along, pretending he was my mother when they knew she was dead. All so when I met the last Davidian, I wouldn’t hesitate to fulfill my destiny and betray him.” He met my eyes. “Or her, as it turns out.”

My throat felt tight, both from unshed tears at the merciless manipulations Adrian had been put through back then, and the pain he still carried now. No wonder he’d reacted with such horror when Zach told him who I was. I was the destiny he’d been groomed for, and then rebelled against by turning his back on the creatures that raised him.

Well, I didn’t believe in destiny. Fate couldn’t override free will, and just because Adrian’s ancestors were betrayers didn’t mean he was doomed to be. He’d already had several opportunities to hand me over to the demons, yet instead, he’d fought them with all the power they’d assumed would be to their benefit. No matter what anyone thought, his choices determined his destiny, not the other way around.

Now to convince Adrian of that.

“If your fate was already sealed, Demetrius wouldn’t have worked so hard to mold you into a monster.” My voice was raspy from all the emotion I held back. “He must know your destiny is still up to you. Same with Zach. He helped you back then, and he keeps looking out for you now—”

Adrian’s laugh stopped me. For a moment, it sounded so ugly, it could’ve come from a demon.

“Zach showed me everything that happened in the tunnel that day.” Something sharper than pain edged his tone. “He was the light I saw at the exit. Ever since, I’ve wondered if Zach could’ve stopped Demetrius from taking me if he’d wanted to. That night at the Mexican sanctuary, when Zach decimated Demetrius’s shadows in seconds, I finally got my answer.”

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