The Beautiful Ashes

Page 62

“What the—?” he began, only to stop talking so fast, I whirled, expecting to see a minion or a demon behind me.

Nothing. I spun back around to see the boy staring at my chest with widened eyes. I looked down—and then yanked the coat together. It had flown open during my tumble, and I no longer had my Hound disguise, so not only had I landed on a kid who looked about ten, I’d done so while mostly naked.

And being a prepubescent boy, he’d fixated on that even while trapped inside a demon realm. My hand went to my coat pocket, anxiously checking for the slingshot. Still there.

“Sorry,” I said, then stopped when I saw what the boy had in his hand. He must’ve found the beer bottle of blood that I’d left here.

“Rub some of that on your arms and legs,” I said quickly. “Then run at the corner I just came through. You’ll come out in the real world, promise.”

“Are you a minion?” the boy asked suspiciously.

I let out a snort. “No. In fact, I’m here to kill them and all the demons.”

“You’re crazy,” the boy scoffed.

I didn’t believe that I could do it either, but that was the problem. It doesn’t work, I’d told Zach. Without faith, it wouldn’t, he’d replied. And Costa had said, thousands of years ago, a shepherd boy killed a giant with nothing more than a slingshot and blind faith. All right, I had the weapon. Now, I had to find the blind faith. Fast.

“Rub that stuff on you, and you can get out of here,” I repeated. “Tell the others.”

“You’re gonna die, crazy naked lady,” he muttered.

The scary truth was, he was probably right. After Zach’s cold dismissal of Adrian’s situation, I had less faith now than I’d had the last time I’d tried to use the weapon. Let’s face it: it was too hard to believe in a benevolent, cosmic “boss” when his employees were made of so much suck!

Fear urged me to turn around and run back through the gateway. A far stronger emotion had me pulling out the slingshot and running out of the B and B as fast as I could. Yes, I was probably crazy, and yes, I’d probably die, but if there was even a chance that I could save Adrian, I had to try. Besides, if the Archons’ boss didn’t want the equivalent of a nuclear bomb in His enemies’ hands, then He had to show up—

The braided rope pulsed with a sudden flare of power. I was so surprised, I almost stumbled during my mad dash up the hill. What had caused that? I hadn’t been thinking anything pious. I’d been thinking that only an idiot would fail to realize the weapon would either work for me, or I’d be delivering it right into the demons’ hands—

The slingshot pulsed again, stronger this time, until my right arm almost felt numb. The reason why hit me then, and I began to laugh with wild, ragged whoops.

I didn’t need to have pious faith. I didn’t even need to have complimentary faith. No, this weapon’s batteries ran on the same juices that had kept Adrian going when no one else had believed in him. You can trust my hatred of demons, he’d always told me. That had been his faith. Mine, apparently, was believing that the Archons’ boss didn’t want the slingshot to end up in demon hands. I didn’t trust the Great Being with much, but it seemed that I trusted Him not to be stupid.

Power sizzled up my arm and light infused the rope, making it glow against the darkness. At the same time, shouts sounded about a hundred yards ahead of me, with more close behind those. With the Hounds dead and the gargoyle gone, minions must be on patrol, and I didn’t have a disguise anymore.

I stopped running to grab a stone for the slingshot. Since nothing was around except frozen ground, all I managed to get was a ragged piece of ice. I put it in the glowing, pulsating rope, starting to spin it as soon as I reached the top of the hill where the trees abruptly ended.

The valley spread out below, faint, iridescent lights from the castle showing three minions dashing up the hill toward me. Worse, it looked like a larger group of them weren’t far behind. Demetrius must’ve been hoping I’d come back.

Well, here I was, armed with nothing except cynical faith and a weapon that hadn’t worked in thousands of years. I spun the rope faster, my emotions feelings like they were whirling in circles alongside the ancient weapon. I was scared beyond belief, yet I also felt the strangest sort of exultation. I was about to die or about to kick some serious ass, but either way, I’d be doing it for Adrian. Prophecies, destinies...they weren’t why I was here. He was, and in life or in death, I wasn’t going to fail him again.

Raising the weapon, I ran down the hill to meet my enemies.

The three closest minions leaped forward with such ferocity, they were briefly airborne. At the same time, an incredible surge of power caused pain to rocket through my whole body. Then light shot out from the weapon. As soon it touched the minions, they stopped moving so abruptly, it looked like they’d hit a wall in midair. Another agonizing surge caused those thin streams of light to hit the group of minions behind them. They froze, too, some with weapons still pointed in my direction.

I staggered, trying not to fall over from the searing sensations that made my insides feel like they were boiling. The beams of light coming from the slingshot kept the minions frozen into place, but the overwhelming pain made me want to fling the weapon aside. My body must have been the power conduit, and if this was what two supernatural blasts felt like, would I survive more?

Sirens came from farther down the hill. Someone must’ve seen the strange lights and sounded the alarm. I clenched my jaw, trying to keep from screaming as I spun the rope into a tighter, faster circle. This hurt so much, my bones actually ached. Who knew they could do that?

Then I walked past the first group of minions. If I only had one shot, I needed it for saving Adrian. The lights coming from the slingshot stayed on them, though, until the weapon had glowing strings both behind it and ahead. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, the castle was in full defense mode.

Gunfire sounded, making me duck while holding the weapon aloft enough to keep the rope spinning. Another blast of power emanated from the slingshot, the subsequent pain almost driving me to my knees. As soon as that light touched them, the bullets stopped with the same suddenness as on that day in the desert when Zach had intervened. Hope clawed through my agony. The slingshot held the same power as an Archon. It really could do everything it was supposed to, as long as I could stand to wield it.

I forced myself to keep walking toward the castle. This time, I didn’t duck as a barrage of gunfire came my way. I braced, a cry ripping out of me at the sizzling pain of dozens of bullets being supernaturally frozen in midair. Then more light shot from the weapon, landing on the guards like laser sights on a rifle. The new surge of power had me shaking in torment. I wasn’t sure I could walk, let along keep the rope spinning. The slingshot felt like a thousand pounds of molten agony being funneled from my arm into the rest of my body.

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