The Beautiful Ashes

Page 60

When my vision cleared, the five minions were dissolving into ashes from the Archon grenade and the Hounds were dead, but Demetrius was still alive. And mad as hell.

“You failed,” the demon spat, hauling himself over to block the exit to the tunnel. “You may have killed these men, but you will not escape!”

Adrian’s response was to whistle, loud and long. Demetrius cocked his head, confusion replacing the pain on his pale features. Then his eyes widened as screams erupted from farther down the tunnel. He sprang aside right as a huge gray form hurtled into the room. Dark gray wings unfolded, revealing the monstrous, massive gargoyle I’d encountered earlier.

“Thanks for keeping everything just the way I left it,” Adrian told Demetrius before throwing Jasmine at the gargoyle. “Especially for keeping my most loyal pet, Brutus.”

Jasmine screamed as the gargoyle caught her against its chest with one leathery, muscled arm. Then it was my turn to yelp as Adrian shoved me at the creature. The gargoyle pressed me next to Jasmine, its arm an unbreakable band across our stomachs. Adrian ran across the room, snatched up the slingshot and then threw himself at the gargoyle right as it began to beat its massive wings. The gargoyle caught Adrian and shot forward, the powerful expulsion of air propelling us down the tunnel.

The gargoyle was so strong that it could hold us without difficulty, but the weight of our three bodies proved too heavy for it to fly. We smashed into some of the minions lining the tunnel, resulting in a brief, fierce fight before another rush of the gargoyle’s wings cleared us over them in a sort of hop. Then we plowed back down again.

Demetrius’s enraged scream filled the tunnel behind us. “Kill them, kill them!”

Countless hands seemed to pull at us, weighing the gargoyle down even more. Adrian punched and kicked while the creature rallied valiantly, another burst of power clearing us over the seething mass in this section of the tunnel. Before we could reach the end, though, we dropped back down again. Only fifty yards away, a wall of minions rushed toward us, urged on by Demetrius’s furious commands in English and Demonish.

Adrian looked at me, then barked out a few words that made the gargoyle halt and, unbelievably, let him go.

“What are you doing?” I gasped.

He took my head, his silvery-sapphire gaze almost burning into mine.

“He can’t fly with all of us, and I’m the heaviest. Brutus’ll take you to the B and B, then you need to cross through the gateway.” A dark, quick smile. “You already know how.”

I was appalled. “Adrian, you can’t—”

He pulled my head down, his mouth searing mine in a kiss that matched the blazing intensity in his eyes. Desperation, desire and despair seemed to pour from him into me, but when he broke the kiss and pulled away, he was smiling.

“I love you, Ivy. I love you, and I didn’t betray you. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can do anything.”

Then he stuffed the slingshot in my coat pocket, smacked the gargoyle on the side and yelled, “Tarate!” Those mighty wings began to beat at once.

“No!” I screamed, struggling to get free.

The gargoyle rose up, no longer encumbered by too much weight. The last thing I saw before we cleared the tunnel and the realm’s eternally dark skyline enveloped us was Adrian turning toward the horde of minions that was almost upon him.

Chapter thirty-eight

Jasmine screamed in terror the whole way to the B and B. I screamed, too. In anguish. Adrian was strong, but he couldn’t beat dozens of minions when they were armed and he wasn’t. He was going to die, and he knew it, but he’d willingly doomed himself to save me.

I love you, Ivy.

I thought my heart had been wounded before. Now, I could feel it ripping wide-open, scalding my insides with the kind of pain that would never heal. There had to be a way to save him.

As soon as the gargoyle released us at the entrance to the B and B, I started yelling the same word Adrian had used to make it leave him.

“Tarate, tarate! Go back and get Adrian!”

The creature only stared at me. Jasmine backed away a few feet, rubbing her arms against the chill I barely noticed in my desperation.

“If you’re really Ivy, do something to prove it.”

Do something? Like what, start miming out the letters to my name? Couldn’t she see that I was trying to get the winged monstrosity to save Adrian, yet the stupid thing just kept looking at me!

In complete frustration, I flipped Jasmine off. She blinked in disbelief, then threw herself at me.


She started crying in the loud, hiccupping way she used to do when she was a child. I held her with one arm, flapping the other at the gargoyle in a last-ditch attempt to get it to understand that it had to fly. Now.

The creature chuffed at me in obvious annoyance. Then its wing whipped out so fast, for a second, wild hope filled me. I shoved Jasmine back, screaming “That’s it!” while flapping both my arms. Then I noticed something rolling on the ground toward me. What was—?

Jasmine shrieked and I recoiled. It was a head, and as it dissolved into a small pile of ashes, I noticed the form to the right of the gargoyle just before it, too, dissipated into ashes.

The gargoyle angled its wings flat like two massive, leathery blades. Then it took one step toward me, and a burst of motion behind me made me spin around.

The minion who’d been sneaking up on us turned around and started hightailing it into the woods. The gargoyle chuffed loudly, as if saying, “Yeah, you’d better run!” before folding its wings into two compact piles on its back.

I wanted to thank it and rail at it at the same time. Yes, it had just saved my life, but it should be saving Adrian’s. Not standing here like a dinosaur version of a knight in shining armor. Since I couldn’t seem to communicate that, I ran to the tree stump where I’d left my supplies. Where there were two minions, there’d soon be more, so I had to get Jasmine out of here while I still could. Besides, maybe Costa and a lot of weapons were waiting on the other side of this realm. If I couldn’t make the gargoyle rescue Adrian, maybe I could find a way to do it myself.

Once I had my sack, I took Jasmine’s hand and led her into the B and B. Unbelievably, the gargoyle followed us, though it stayed bent down because it was taller than the ceiling. The human residents of the B and B stood stock-still in terror at the sight of a Hound and the winged creature in the house, and I had no way of telling them that neither one of us were dangerous.

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