The Beautiful Ashes

Page 52

“Yes, I did.” Something too bitter to be a smile twisted his mouth. “I told you, for a while, the demons had convinced me that humans were no better than they were. Just more hypocritical, because on this side, human slavers, murderers and oppressors were called dictators, kings and presidents, if they did it to enough people. Only the humans who did it to just a few were called criminals.”

“Our race has issues,” I acknowledged, still holding his stare. “Doesn’t excuse what you or the rest of them did.”

“No, Ivy, it doesn’t,” he replied, his voice very soft. “And I see the faces of everyone I harmed whenever I close my eyes. That’s why I started working for Zach. Every person I save feels like washing a drop of blood from my hands, but deep down, I know I’ll never even the score. Some things can’t be atoned for, and all the lives I’ve saved will never restore the ones I’ve taken or ruined.”

I wanted to believe the regret resonating in his tone. Wanted to trust the pain etched on his features, or the look in his eyes that seemed to urge me to revile him for all the things he reviled himself for. But Jasmine’s life—and mine—hung in the balance, so I couldn’t trust him. He’d told me that enough times, and this time, I’d believe him.

I looked away and forced out a shaky laugh. “I don’t know about you, but I could really use a beer. Aren’t there still some that didn’t get used for target practice in the trunk?”

He didn’t say anything. I sneaked a glance at him. Adrian still sat exactly as he had been, his elbows braced on his legs while he leaned forward. The only thing new was his frown.

“After everything I just said, your response is to start drinking?”

More than a hint of disbelief tinged his tone. I scrambled for a convincing reply and found myself answering with the truth. Part of it, anyway.

“You might want to keep stewing over all the horrible things in your past, but I want to move forward. Right now, that involves getting a drink.”

A slight snort escaped him. “Guess there are worse ways to move on with our lives.”

He went to the door, but as he opened it, I couldn’t stop from asking a question that had nagged at me. This was the last chance I’d get, even if his answer was just another lie.

“Forget our roles, fates, whatever for a minute. When it’s all said and done, who do you think is going to win this war? Archons or demons?”

He half turned. Though his face was only in profile, I could see that his expression matched the absolute certainty in his tone when he spoke.


I let out a short laugh. “Is it me, or do they seem outnumbered? I’ve seen several demons, but only one of them.”

“You’re right, they’re outnumbered.” Something else lurked in his voice now. A pained sort of wistfulness. “When it’s light versus dark, that doesn’t matter. One shadow in a brightly lit room goes unnoticed, but shine a ray of light into even the darkest corner...and everything changes.”

Then he left, splitting my emotions right down the middle. If he believed Archons would win, how could he betray me to the losing side? Was he that brainwashed by what he’d been told was his fate, or was he just saying that to play me?

Jasmine’s face flashed in my mind, reminding me that I didn’t have time for second-guessing. I ran over to Adrian’s duffel bag, quickly rifling through it. Once I had what I needed, I dragged a chair over to the hotel room door and stood on it. Despite my preparations, two sides of myself remained locked in battle.

Believe him! my hopeful half screamed. Just because he thinks his awful past has doomed him doesn’t mean it has!

It’s too late! my cynical half roared. You can’t trust him, he’s already admitted that he’s too far gone!

Somewhere in the parking lot, a trunk slammed closed, then footsteps approached the door. I sucked in a breath, my vision blurring as I raised my hands. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t.

But I had to.

The door opened—and I slammed the same large rock we kept to smash mirrors down onto Adrian’s head before he even cleared the threshold. His fist shot out with his lightning-fast reflexes, but in the instant before it landed, his eyes met mine. His sapphire ones widened, then his hand buried into the wall instead of my face.

“Ivy?” he asked, as though confused.

Tears streamed from my eyes as I whacked him in the head again. This time, Adrian fell to the floor, and the thump his body made seemed to reverberate all through me. I dropped the rock, sickened at how it was now stained with blood.

“I’m sorry,” I choked out.

He didn’t reply. In fact, Adrian was so still, I wasn’t even sure if he was breathing. I knelt, my whole body rigid from fear as I checked his pulse.

It throbbed beneath my fingers, sending an instant wave of relief through me. He was alive! Even if he’d always meant to betray me, I never would have forgiven myself if I’d killed him. I didn’t think I’d be able to forgive myself for doing this, and I wasn’t done yet.

I grabbed the slingshot from his bag, tying his hands and feet together with it. Then I put duct tape over his mouth, deciding to add a few more layers to his wrists and ankles, too. When he woke up, he’d be pissed, and that was only if he were innocent. If he had intended to deliver me to Demetrius after I found the weapon... Well, maybe I should use all the tape.

When Adrian’s wrists, arms, ankles and mouth were covered by the thick gray tape, I paused. There was one more thing I had to do, and I dreaded it even more than I’d dreaded knocking him out.

With shaking hands, I went back to his duffel bag and pulled out his knife.

Chapter thirty-two

I tried to ignore the screech of brakes from the car next to me, but I couldn’t ignore it suddenly swerving into my lane. I veered left, avoiding that crash, yet swiping the front of the Challenger against another vehicle in the process.

Forget everything else I’d done. Adrian was going to kill me for damaging his precious ride.

The driver I’d sideswiped blasted his horn and slowed down, but when he drew even with me, his expression changed from anger to pure terror. I hunched down and drew the bedspread over my head until I could barely see. Too late. Another screech of brakes and he was driving off the road, coming to a stop in the grassy shoulder along the highway.

It was dark out, and I used the hotel bedspread like a veil, but one look at my face destroyed the notion that I was just your average commuter. Seeing a hulking demon lizard behind the wheel was too much for my fellow drivers. At least it was well past rush hour, so while I’d caused a few individual spinouts, I hadn’t been responsible for a real accident yet.

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