The Beautiful Ashes Page 42

An invisible flare ripped out of me, like I\d fired off a sonar ping that somehow made no sound. With it, I felt the castle and nearby grounds as though I\d managed to scour them in an instant. At the end of it, I knew, with a certainty as strong as my decision to take the boy, that the weapon wasn\ here. Nothing hallowed was. This was a frozen wasteland of evil.

With a measured look, Adrian let me go. Red drops blended into the ruby-colored floor as blood dripped from his wrist where my nails had ripped into it.

’’I\m sorry,’’ he said stonily. ’’We couldn\ take the boy into the castle without getting caught, so I had to do something extreme to make you access your power from here.’’

’’How\s this...for extreme?’’ I rasped, then slapped him as hard as I could, anger tapping into strength I normally didn\ have. Adrian\s head rocked sideways, and when he turned to face me, a red handprint was already swelling along his cheek.

’’I deserved that,’’ he said, still in that flinty voice. ’’Now, let\s get out of here.’’

I was furious at him for choking me into near-unconsciousness and threatening to leave the boy, but I filed that away under a rapidly growing list titled Paybacks To Come. I did shake his hand off when he led me toward the exit, and my glare warned him not to touch me again as I followed him down the pink-floored hallway.

Before we reached the door, Adrian took my gun out of my parka, replaced the empty clip with a full one, and then handed it back to me.

’’We might have to shoot our way out,’’ he said, mouth curling with the dark anticipation he always showed before a fight. ’’But this time, don\ fire unless I do.’’

I bit back my caustic reply because talking made my throat hurt more. Besides, we might not live through this. If we did, though...Paybacks.

’’Don\ fall behind,’’ Adrian warned, and then exited the castle, running at a crouch in the opposite direction from where we\d come in.

I followed, keeping low like he did. As soon as I was outside, glacial air seemed to pummel my upper body, my thin sweater no protection against the realm\s frigid temperatures. At once, my teeth began to chatter, the wind making it worse as I ran as fast as I could to keep up with Adrian\s form-blurring sprint. Even as I shook, I comforted myself by thinking of how warm the boy would be in my parka. It was made to withstand subzero temperatures, and right now, that was what it felt like outside.

No guards chased us, which was a happy surprise. Maybe it was because we\d run right into the wall of darkness that bordered the rear of the castle. Nothing and no one seemed to be out this way, and as I abruptly fell on the hard, slick surface, I realized why. Adrian had led us out onto the island\s frozen coastline.

I scrambled to my feet, ignoring the jabs of pain from whatever I\d bruised. At least I hadn\ lost the gun or shot myself from the impact. I couldn\ see in front of me, but the glittering castle behind me was all the motivation I needed to keep running toward where I\d last spotted Adrian. Despite my best efforts, I fell again, cutting my elbows and forearms on the uneven ice. Grudgingly, I had to acknowledge that Adrian had been right. I wouldn\ have been able to run ten feet on this without boots. My feet would\ve been cut to ribbons.

Something large and dark rushed out of the blackness toward me. I lifted the gun, only to hear a familiar voice growl, ’’I told you not to fall behind!’’ before Adrian grasped my arm.

This time, I welcomed his grip as he propelled us farther onto the ice. If the town was close enough for me to use its light to see, then we were close enough for the guards to spot us. Adrian didn\ have my visual handicap, of course. He drew me next to him while he moved with his usual breakneck speed, keeping us well inside the blackness while we ran parallel to the coast. By the time he slowed to a stop, I was gasping so hard that I was almost hyperventilating, and icy trails had frozen on my cheeks from wind-induced tears.

’’Be very quiet,’’ he ordered. ’’We have to go back on the island to reach the gateway.’’

I tried to squelch my noisy breaths by sucking in air through my nose instead of my mouth. It only made me sound like a winded horse instead of a winded human. Adrian rolled his eyes, keeping low as he ran across the ice to the mainland. Deciding that meant speed was more important than silence, I followed him.

Light from nearby igloos meant I could see the figure that strode toward Adrian when he reached land, the guard holding out his hand in the universal gesture for ’’stop.’’

’’Hondal ’’ the minion began, but didn\ finish the word. Two short coughing sounds later, the guard dropped like a stone. When I caught up to him, I glimpsed a gaping hole in his forehead before his body dissolved into ashes. In an attempt to cover the evidence of what had happened, I kicked at the ashes, hoping they\d blow away before someone found them.

’’Ivy!’’ Adrian hissed, waving his gun impatiently at me.

I dashed toward him, my thighs burning from running while trying to stay low. A few minutes later, Adrian stopped. I didn\ see anything, but I braced myself when he clasped me to him and then threw the three of us backward.

We tumbled through the gateway into our world, coming out at the base of the split tree trunk. My relief at the embrace of warm temperatures was cut short when I saw how dark it was.

’’What?’’ I rasped. It still hurt to talk, damn him. ’’We\ve only been in the realm two hours, and we entered it at noon!’’

Adrian pulled me to my feet after adjusting his grip on the boy. ’’Time moves differently there,’’ he said, leading me through the woods. ’’Sometimes faster, sometimes a lot slower. Costa told me he and Tomas waited two days in the desert for us in Mexico.’’

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