The Beautiful Ashes Page 25

What Adrian described couldn\ be true. Good couldn\ give a complicit shrug to evil, and the faith of billions of people from every race, background and creed couldn\ be worthless to whoever the Archons\ ’’boss’’ was.

’’You\ e wrong,’’ I said, still softly but with an undercurrent of iron. ’’We do matter to them. It just might not look that way sometimes, from our side of the fence.’’

The harshness was gone from Adrian\s laughter, replaced by a despairing sort of anger.

’’That\s why I still hide things from you, Ivy. If you can\ accept the way the board\s set up, you\ e not nearly ready to learn the endgame yet.’’

’’Maybe you\ e the one who\s not ready,’’ I replied, my sense of resolve increasing. ’’I get why. You\ve had it bad for so long, all you see is darkness even when the lights are on.’’

’’Bad?’’ His voice changed, becoming a whisper that seared me even in the frigid temperature. ’’You don\ know the meaning of the word, but you\ e about to find out.’’

Chapter thirteen

I had braced myself, but no amount of mental preparation would\ve been enough. At least, when I finally did throw up, it matched the reaction any human would have at seeing how demons lived inside their own world.

At first, the town reminded me of a medieval fiefdom, with the overlord\s manor overlooking the serfs\ much cruder lodgings. In this case, wigwam structures were laid out in tight clusters along the lowest part of the hill. Smoke billowed from their open tops, reminiscent of pictures I\d seen of sixteenth-century Native American life. Very few people seemed to be in the wigwam village, and the ones we passed looked away when they saw Adrian. They were also skinny to the point of appearing wasted, and their clothes consisted of shapeless leather tunics that couldn\ have been nearly warm enough in these frigid temperatures.

’’This area is for laborers, the lowest level of human slaves,’’ Adrian said tersely. ’’Next are overseers\ and merchants\ quarters.’’

Those must have been the plain but sturdy huts that dotted the hill about a hundred yards higher than the wigwam village. Torches were interspersed among the narrow paths between them, and their interiors glowed from what I guessed were fire hearths. They looked like ancient Southwestern pueblo houses, with the addition of leather flaps covering the doorways and windows to keep the heat in. Once more, no one attempted to stop us as we walked through. In fact, anyone we passed seemed to avoid eye contact with Adrian, and he strode by as though he owned the place. I practically had to run to keep up, and since the hill was steep, it was quite a workout.

After we ascended about three hundred yards, we reached gray stone gates that surrounded what was clearly the town\s epicenter. Torches lined the exterior of the gates, but I smelled fuel and heard the unmistakable hum of generators, which explained how this area appeared to have electricity. The added lighting made it easier to see, and once I did, I stared.

This wasn\ a mini city located at the top of a hill. The city was the hill. The closest thing I could compare it to was a gargantuan pyramid. The base had to be a mile long, with courtyards I couldn\ fully see from my lower vantage point. Massive balconies with elaborately carved stone columns showed people milling around inside the pyramid, and one entire side of it seemed to house a huge stadium.

Further up, the corners had huge faces carved into them. One was a lion and one was an eagle, with the predators\ mouths open as though about to devour their prey. The very top of the pyramid blazed with so much light that it looked like a star had landed there. I couldn\ make out much detail, though. It had to be as high up as the sphere on the Empire State building.

I was so awed that I didn\ realize someone had come up to us until I heard Adrian speaking in that poetically guttural language. My gaze snapped to his left, where a dark-haired, muscled man now stood. It wasn\ the metal breastplate over his brown camouflage clothes that caught my attention, although that fashion mistake should never be repeated. It was the man\s face. Light rolled over his eyes like the passing of clouds, and inky black wings rose and fell beneath his cheekbones, as if he had a tattoo that could magically appear and disappear.

My staring seemed to annoy him, so I looked away. He said something sharply to Adrian and then grabbed my wrist hard enough to bruise me. Adrian moved with that lightning quickness, putting Camo Guy in a headlock with his arm bent at the wrong angle before I could even say, ’’Let go.’’

’’I told you, she goes straight to Mayhemium,’’ Adrian said, speaking English this time. ’’And if you delay me again, I\ll rip your head off.’’

I didn\ know if it was Adrian\s dangerous tone or how quickly he\d broken Camo Guy\s arm, but he grunted something that must\ve been an agreement. Adrian let him go, smiled as though they\d exchanged a friendly hello, and then half dragged me through one of the openings in the wall.

Lots of stone steps later, we reached the pyramid\s lower courtyards. At first glance, it looked like an average street market. Vendors hawked various wares inside their booths, food cooked on open grills, and people milled around, either buying or window shopping. But every other person had that strange roll of light over their eyes, and when I got a closer look at some of the vendors\ wares, my legs abruptly stopped working.

’’Keep moving,’’ Adrian whispered, half lifting me so it wasn\ obvious that shock had frozen me where I stood.


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