The Beautiful Ashes Page 26

I forced my suddenly numb limbs to keep working. It helped that Adrian took us quickly through the market section and into a side alcove that had a drain in the floor. Even though his large frame blocked most of my view of the courtyard, I still couldn\ stop the grisly images from replaying in my mind.

Along with a few slabs of cow and pig, food vendors also sold human body parts. For customers who wanted fresher meat, their human selections were slaughtered on the spot.

’’Why?’’ I choked, unable to say more because words couldn\ make it past the bile in my throat.

’’There\s no sunlight here.’’ Although Adrian\s tone was matter-of-fact, something haunted flashed across his expression. ’’That means no grass, grains, vegetation or animals. Minions and pampered human pets get to have regular food imported from the other side, but the slaves have only one thing to eat. Each other.’’

That bile turned into vomit that I couldn\ hold back. At the same time, I was shaking with rage. Now I knew what all the leather garments and doorway flaps were probably made of, too.

Adrian didn\ mock me for puking, or tell me to pull myself together. He held back my hair, his other hand moving over my shoulders in a comforting caress.

’’We can leave,’’ he said low. ’’The realm\s not going anywhere. We\ll come back another day to search it.’’

Laughter drifted down from one of the pyramid\s balconies, its sound an abomination. No one should laugh here. No sound should be made except screams of horror at what was going on in this lightless pit of evil. I wanted to run back to my world as fast as I could and never, ever return, but if I did, I\d be condemning Jasmine to spending the rest of her life in a similar hellhole. I\d rather die than do that.

Resolve mixed with my rage, helping me get control of my stomach. I wiped my mouth with a gloved hand and gave Adrian a look that reflected the new hardness creeping through my soul.

’’Take me deeper inside this place. I\m not leaving until I check every frigging wall for that weapon.’’

* * *

I learned more about demon life than I ever wanted to know as Adrian guided me through the pyramid\s many levels. First, generators supplied heat as well as light to the massive structure, so my extra clothes were now slung over my arm. Second, the inside looked like someone had taken the Great Pyramid of Giza and pimped it out with modern albeit barbaric amenities.

The large stadium section was for gladiator-style fights to the death, a popular form of entertainment here. ’’Pets,’’ which was how Adrian referred to humans who\d caught the eye of demons, lived above the courtyards. Minions lived above them in condo-styled units, and of course, the best, most luxurious quarters were reserved for the supernaturally sadistic rulers of this realm. Adrian said we\d be avoiding those places unless I sensed something, but so far, I hadn\ picked up a hint of anything hallowed in this opulent, stone-and-brick nightmare.

I also found out how Adrian was able to escort me around without arousing suspicion. For one, he spoke the language, and every light-show-eyed guard who stopped us only used that to communicate. For another, Adrian\s cover story was that I was a newly arrived ’’pet’’ for Mayhemium. From the knowing looks that garnered, whoever Mayhemium was, he had a lot of ’’pets.’’

I\d figured out Adrian\s final trick after noticing how quickly every human looked away from him when we passed. The only other people they treated that way were guards, and since they didn\ all dress alike, that left only one other thing.

’’Zach glamoured your eyes to shine like the guards\ eyes, didn\ he?’’ I whispered once we had a moment alone in one of the pyramid\s many stairways.

The barest smile cocked his mouth. ’’That\s right.’’

’’Why do theirs do that?’’ Also whispered, but wheezier. I must\ve climbed two miles in steps by now.

’’Part of the perks of being a minion. Along with increased strength and endurance, demon marks give them the supernatural version of tapetum lucidum.’’ At my raised brow, he added, ’’The extra layer of tissue in animals\ eyes that allows them to see in the dark.’’

That explained the odd shine, but... ’’You don\ have that, and you see as well as they do.’’ And move faster, I mentally added.

I couldn\ read the look he threw me. ’’I\ve already told you why.’’

Right, his mysterious lineage. He might\ve told me some of the whys, but he hadn\ spilled the ’’what’’ yet. The more secrets he revealed, the more I burned to know his biggest one.

’’That\s the gift that keeps on giving, then,’’ I said, trying not to sound like I was probing, which I was.

His jaw tightened until I swore I heard cartilage crack. ’’I\d give anything not to have this lineage.’’ Sapphire eyes seemed to burn as they swept over me. ’’Especially after meeting you.’’

If we weren\ inside a demonic version of the Luxor hotel, I would\ve demanded that he elaborate. He\d already told me more since we\d arrived than he had in the week leading up to it, but ’’bad timing’’ didn\ begin to cover our current situation.

Of course, that meant it was about to get worse.

The hairs on the back of my neck rose before I saw her. Apparently, my ’’hallowed’’ sensor could also pick up on the presence of pure darkness, because with one glance, I knew the woman coming down the staircase was a demon.

It\s not that she had ’’Evil!’’ stamped on her forehead, or obvious supernatural indicators like Demetrius\s shifting shadows. Maybe it was the way she moved, as if every muscle instantly coordinated with the others, turning her walk into a graceful, predatory glide. Maybe it was her hair, each wavy lock either midnight black or a burnished copper shade. Her pale skin was also telling, but it was her face that sealed my suspicions.


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