The Beautiful Ashes Page 49

My jaw tightened. Not Jasmine. As soon as I found that weapon, I was coming for her, and with Adrian\s help, she would see the sun again.

’’I\m ready,’’ I said, my tone now only slightly breathy.

He didn\ look at me when he pulled me to him and then dropped us into the gateway I hadn\ been able to see, let alone penetrate. As soon as we finished tumbling through the invisible membrane linking our realms, he let me go. I blinked, my eyes adjusting to the darkness that seemed to seep inside my soul, chasing away my desire while hardening me with purpose. If the weapon was here, Jasmine\s awful captivity would be over. All I had to do was stay strong, focus and find it.

Light from the town reflected off the icy ground, adding an eerie, faint luminescence that kept me from being totally blind. Still, it was dark enough that I couldn\ see Adrian\s face. Only the bulk of his large body next to me. The tall silhouettes around us must have been trees, frozen into place from the cold. I couldn\ see more than the widest part of their outlines;their branches, if they had any, were invisible against the darkness that hovered above us like a malevolent spirit.

Adrian leaned down, his warm breath in stark contrast to our frozen surroundings as he spoke near my ear.

’’Anyone stops us, let me do the talking.’’

Since I didn\ speak Demonish, I\d already planned on that. I was about to tell him the same when his whole body froze with such suddenness, it was as if he\d been transformed into stone.

’’Ivy, don\ move,’’ he whispered in a low, vehement voice.

I tried to will every part of me to similar stillness, but I couldn\ stop my eyes from darting around or my chest from rising as my heart sped up and my lungs responded with a demand for more oxygen. What was out here that was so dangerous, Adrian was playing statue instead of reaching for his gun?

My answer was a hissing sort of growl that raised every hair on the back of my neck. It sounded like a feral wolf that had just found a meal, and somewhere to my left, an answering, howling hiss shattered the dark in answer.

’’Adrian,’’ I whispered, terror skittering through me.

Fast as lightning, he was behind me, his arms like twin bands around me. ’’Close your eyes,’’ he ordered, his voice barely audible. ’’It can\ hurt you if you don\ move.’’

I slammed my eyes shut. I\d seen people butchered plus demons transform into deadly clouds and crows, but if Adrian didn\ think I could handle whatever this was, I\d believe him. The growls came closer, and with a sudden vibration in the ground, I felt something big land right in front of me. Reeking breath came in pants that hit my face like light slaps. I fought a fresh surge of panic as I realized I was standing, yet the creature was still eye level with me. What was it?

Its hiss turned guttural before I felt something slimy and wet flick across my face with the quickness of a snake\s tongue. Fear-driven revulsion would\ve made me immediately swipe at the spot if not for Adrian\s warning.

It can\ hurt you if you don\ move.

I didn\ know how that could be true. The thing had licked me;it knew I was here! Not a muscle on Adrian twitched, though, and after that disgusting lick, the creature didn\ do anything except wheeze in that weird, hissing way. I mimicked Adrian\s stillness, keeping my eyes shut and willing my breaths to be soft and shallow. Then a new, ominous vibration shook the ground. Another creature had landed right behind us.

More reeking breath filled the air with the stench of old garbage and rotted fish. A hissing snarl blasted out, loud as a trumpet and so terrifying, my knees felt like they turned to Jell-O. Only Adrian\s grip kept me standing perfectly still as something massive bumped my body, like a shark testing its prey. I squeezed my lids tighter, fighting a near-overwhelming urge to go for my gun. I felt beyond helpless, beyond vulnerable. If Adrian\s arms hadn\ been wrapped around me, a tangible reminder that I wasn\ facing this alone, I might have started shaking.

Then a roar blasted in front of my face, so loud it seemed to reverberate inside me. My heart pounded as something sharp grazed the top of my head, parting my hair with multiple hard points. I didn\ need to open my eyes to know what it was. The creature\s gigantic fangs. My guts twisted with terror and resignation. One snap of those jaws, and it would all be over.

It can\ hurt you if you don\ move!

I couldn\ tell how long I frantically repeated Adrian\s promise, but the fangs on my head eventually vanished. Then, with two sets of vibrating thumps, the space around us felt less oppressive and I knew the huge, hulking beasts had gone. I still didn\ move or open my eyes, though. Not until Adrian lifted me up, ran, and I felt us tumbling through the gateway back into the light and warmth of Collinsville, Illinois.

Grass hit me in the face from our hard landing, but I didn\ care. Instead of standing up, I started to swipe at my cheek hard enough to bruise, and still it felt like the slime from the creature\s tongue remained. I wanted to wash my skin with scalding water, but I couldn\ . All I could do was keep rubbing my face with my gloved hands.

’’What were those things?’’ I whispered, still too traumatized to speak in a normal tone.

Adrian knelt and grasped my wrists, forcing me to stop my rough grooming. His face had shiny trails on it, too, showing I hadn\ been the only one the creatures had licked.

’’Hounds,’’ he said evenly, ’’which means we have a problem.’’


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