The Beautiful Ashes Page 24

A diffident shrug. ’’I\m used to the cold.’’

I left that alone, forcing a smile as I glanced at Tomas and Costa. ’’See you guys soon, hopefully.’’

I didn\ get a chance to hear their response. Adrian wrapped his arms around me, walked us rapidly toward the tall, oblong rock and then plunged us through it.

* * *

I\ve always loved roller-coaster rides. The wild exhilaration of being propelled through turns and loops so fast that your face felt heavy and your body molded to your seat was second only to the rush of relief when the ride was over. Being transported through a gateway into a demon realm was sorta like that, only with a lot more noise and nausea. It took a few moments to settle my heaving stomach once we were on the other side, and during that time, I was grateful for the icy air. Then I opened my eyes and realized I still saw...nothing.

’’Adrian?’’ I said, panic setting in when rapid blinking didn\ make the blackness disappear. ’’Something\s wrong. I\m ’’

’’You\ e not blind,’’ he said, his deep voice almost as comforting as his hand closing over mine. ’’Sunlight doesn\ exist in demon realms. That\s why they\ e so cold, too.’’

I\d never been in total darkness before. It wasn\ just frightening and disorienting it was dangerous. For all I knew, we were standing on the edge of a cliff. Even if everything around us was flat, I couldn\ judge the length of my steps because I couldn\ see the ground. When I tried to walk, I ended up staggering.

Adrian\s arm went around me, clasping my left side to his right one.

’’Close your eyes and concentrate on moving with me,’’ he said, the confidence in his tone easing my fears. ’’Don\ worry. I can see where we\ e going, and I\m not going to let anything happen to you.’’

We began to walk, first in hesitant steps while I learned to trust the feel of his body instead of my sight, and then at a normal pace. Surprisingly, it did help to keep my eyes closed. Since I wasn\ trying to see, I focused on his smooth strides, the flexing muscles that preceded a change in his direction, and the reassuring way he instantly adjusted his hold to support me if I faltered.

It didn\ take me long to be grateful for the parka, boots, gloves and pants, too. Even with them on, the cold seemed to seep into my bones, but just like the darkness, it didn\ appear to bother Adrian. He didn\ so much as shiver in his light clothing, and his hand felt warm in mine. How many years had it taken for him to adapt to this dark, frigid wasteland? Once more, my heart broke for the child he\d been. Even without demons, growing up in a place like this would have been awful.

After what felt like an hour, Adrian paused. I did, too, of course, sniffing at the new, fuel-like smell in the air.

’’You can open your eyes,’’ he said. ’’The town\s up ahead.’’

At first all I saw was a black-and-gold spotted blur. After a few blinks, my eyes adjusted, and I made out a blaze of light in the distance, showing lots of smaller structures surrounding what looked like a wide, soaring building.

’’Thank God,’’ I breathed, so glad to be able to see that I didn\ care if I was looking at a demon town.

’’Don\ say that. It\s a real giveaway that we don\ belong.’’

Adrian\s face was hidden by darkness, yet his tone made me imagine that he said it with one of his wry smiles.

’’Good point, but aren\ we avoiding the town?’’ I asked, whispering in case someone was out in the blackness with us.

’’Can\ . What\s known of the weapon\s location is that it was hidden in a wall, and the only walls are in town.’’

’’Is that all we know, or do the demons know exactly where it is?’’

He snorted. ’’No. If they did, they would\ve used it for themselves a long time ago.’’

’’Why didn\ the demon that hid it do that?’’

Adrian paused, seeming to choose his words, which meant I\d just be getting part of the truth again. ’’As it turns out, only a few people can activate the weapon\s true power. Minions can\ , and neither can the average demon. Zach said that the demon who hid it was on his way to tell a more powerful demon about it when Zach killed him.’’

’’Wait. You said demons could only be killed with the weapon Zach didn\ have,’’ I emphasized.

A shrug I felt but couldn\ see. ’’Archons don\ need it to kill demons, and other demons don\ need it to kill their own. The rest of us do, which includes you and me.’’

Figures. ’’Couldn\ Zach have gotten its location before he silenced its hider forever?’’

Another pause, longer this time. My temper flared. ’’Could you for once just answer me with the whole truth?’’

’’Fine.’’ His tone thickened. ’’For all I know, Zach did find out where the weapon was. Even if he didn\ , his boss knows, yet here we are. Know why? Because neither of them really cares if we live or die trying to find it.’’

His brutal analysis stunned me. ’’But that\s...they\ e...they\ e on the good side,’’ I sputtered.

His laughter was like glass grinding together. ’’They win or lose this war, Ivy. Not us. We can only depend on each other, because to Archons and demons, we\ e just pawns that they move around for their own purposes.’’

’’But Zach\s your friend,’’ I argued softly.

’’You don\ understand Archons. They\ e not fluffy beings sprinkling supernatural happy dust everywhere they go. They\ e soldiers who\ve been relegated to the sidelines until the pesky issue of humanity has been settled. Frankly, I think Zach\s reached the point where he doesn\ care what happens to our race, as long as he finally gets to fight.’’

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