The Beautiful Ashes

Page 40

Shock made me stammer. “But that...that’s...”

“Indifferent at best, cruel at worst?” Adrian supplied with another ragged laugh. “I know, but Zach’ll say he was only following orders, so that means his boss doesn’t want me to beat my fate. No, I’m supposed to play my part like a good little Judas, but screw them. Once Demetrius is dead, I’m gone, both from your life and theirs. It’s the only way I can pay them back for what they allowed Demetrius to do to me.”

I didn’t know what to say. Everything he’d been through was made more awful by the knowledge that it had all been preventable. Zach should’ve stopped Demetrius, with or without “orders.” He also should be supporting Adrian now, not telling him to resign himself to a fate he clearly didn’t want. Couldn’t they see how hard Adrian was trying? Didn’t they even care?

If they didn’t, I did. I might not be able to do anything about their former betrayals, but I wasn’t helpless. I got out of bed and took Adrian’s hand, tightening my grip when he tried to pull away.

“You’re right,” I said huskily. “We’ll find the weapon, use it to save Jasmine and kill Demetrius, then we’ll walk away from each other. Both sides can choke on their expectations of your fate. They don’t know how strong you are, but I do, and I trust you, Adrian.”

He jerked his hand away. “Ivy, don’t—”

“I trust you,” I repeated, gripping his shirt so he either had to stand still or risk me ripping it off. “There’s no danger of you betraying me while we’re working to get this weapon. I can always trust your hatred of demons, remember?”

Some of the tension eased from his shoulders as I used his own argument to make my point. “Yeah, but you still don’t understand your full part in this—”

“I do,” I interrupted grimly. “Tomas and Costa said that only a Davidian or a demon from Goliath’s line can bring out the weapon’s true power, which means I have to be the one to use the slingshot, and I’m not even that good with a gun.”

He stared at me, emotions flickering across his face too rapidly for me to translate. Then his jaw flexed, and his expression hardened into one I recognized well.

Pure, unadulterated determination.

“I’ll teach you how to use a slingshot,” he said, his voice rougher. “With practice, you can do anything.”

“Then we have a plan,” I agreed, smiling because I had another plan. One that involved showing Adrian he didn’t have to walk away from me when this was all over, but for now, I’d keep that to myself.

Demetrius had said the bond between us would grow every moment that we spent together. Demons were liars, but my heart knew that much was true. Already, I cared about Adrian more than I’d cared about any other guy, and he’d admitted that he was powerfully drawn to me, too. By the time we’d found the weapon, killed Demetrius and rescued Jasmine, I intended to convince Adrian that he wasn’t doomed to betray me. Everyone else might have given up on him, but I hadn’t, and I’d use every bit of our supernatural bond to show him he shouldn’t give up, either.

Now to break down the wall he’d erected around himself, one stubborn brick at a time.

Chapter twenty-four

Adrian was right. Zach didn’t even need to look at the boy before he told us that his name was Hoyt, and his family was dead. I was a little skeptical, but Adrian believed Zach. When I asked him why, he reminded me that Zach had told Adrian the exact time and place that minions would attempt to kidnap me. How Zach knew these things, I still didn’t know, but according to Adrian, the Archon had never been wrong.

It was all I could do not to ask if Zach had taken the day off when my sister was kidnapped. I didn’t because I’d bet Zach’s response would contain the word “orders,” and I didn’t trust my reaction to that. Until I had the weapon, I needed Zach, plus punching him in the face might be the last mistake I ever made. In this case, ignorance wasn’t bliss. It was necessity.

Costa was taking Hoyt to Tomas’s family in Phoenix. They’d agreed to shelter the boy, and the long drive would give Costa a chance to share his own realm experience. Hoyt still wasn’t speaking, but I held out hope that, with time, he’d be able to recover mentally, physically and emotionally.

I had to believe that, for Hoyt’s sake, and for Jasmine’s.

This time, Zach glamoured me into looking like a young guy with shiny, cloud-rolling eyes. Having both Adrian and I pose as minions came from our being zero for two on finding the weapon, and two for two on getting caught. Not an auspicious start, but if at first you don’t succeed and demons haven’t killed you...well, trying again was a given.

Collinsville, Illinois, was the proud owner of the world’s largest ketchup bottle. It was also home to over a hundred man-made earthen mounds. Such quaint distinctions should’ve meant the city wasn’t a hotbed of demonic activity, but guess again. Tourists visiting the Cahokia Mounds only saw lots of little green hills and one big one amidst a tranquil park, but I saw a bustling populace in a dark, glacial world where the little mounds were a lot bigger, and the big one was a gargantuan pyramid.

“I gotta ask,” I said, following Adrian to the realm gateway, “what’s with demons and pyramids?”

“Ego,” he replied succinctly. At my raised brow, he elaborated. “The first demons were Archons who rebelled against their boss because they wanted to be masters instead of servants. After they were sent to the dark realms as punishment, they built their kingdoms there, using force to get the worship they craved. Pyramids, castles, towers...they’re the demonic version of bling, so whoever has the biggest and best wins.”

“And they realm-snatch from each other to get more.” I nodded as if it made perfect sense.

The look Adrian gave me made me wonder if I’d missed something important. “Not just from each other. Every chance they get, they absorb more of our world into theirs.”

“You never mentioned how,” I reminded him.

A shrug. “If you believe in M theory, they do it by manipulating gravity to force contact between two dimensional layers, creating a new interdimensional bubble.”

He sounded like a physicist. “Laymen’s terms, please.”

“When a vacuum gets switched on, it sucks whatever’s closest into a lint bag, right? When they get enough power, demons use gravity like a vacuum’s On switch to activate an area’s natural geographic instability, crashing one multiverse into its reflective duplicate. Once the gravitational layer restabilizes—in essence, the vacuum getting turned off—everything in the new lint-bag realm is trapped.”

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