The Beautiful Ashes Page 55

If we made it through this, I was drinking an entire bottle of Adrian\s superstrong bourbon. Count on it.

’’B-back off,’’ I said again, making my voice authoritative and firm, which wasn\ easy with chattering teeth. One of the Hounds cocked its head, as if trying to translate the sounds from my rapidly clicking jaw. Then it came forward, leaving a trail of slime over my arm as it gave me a lick, too.

’’Gross,’’ I muttered, but it was better than them ripping me to shreds. Zach\s glamour was fooling them. I knew it worked on demons, minions and humans, but I hadn\ been sure about beasts. Oh, me of little faith.

’’Okay, guys, let\s go into town and get warm,’’ I announced, starting to run toward where Adrian had told me the town was.

One followed me, but the other two stayed back, as if sensing Adrian\s presence even though he hadn\ moved a muscle.

’’Come on!’’ I said, circling back and nudging both beasts, then running toward the town again. Hey, that\s what my dog used to do when I was a kid, and he wanted me to follow him. Here\s hoping the Hounds lived up to their nickname and understood.

After a few more nudges and circles, during which I was pretty sure the nerve endings in my feet had become frostbitten, all three Hounds finally went with me. I let them lead since I couldn\ see in the stygian woods, but I was so eager to get this over with I was cold! that I had to force myself to slow down to keep from outrunning them. Finally, we reached the realm\s epicenter: a mountain-turned-mini-city, from all the lights, terraces, pathways and courtyards dug into the rock.

The Hounds seemed to know exactly where they were going, taking me up a smooth stone bridge that led inside the metropolitan mountain. If I didn\ know that forced human labor had built it, I would\ve been impressed by the stone city. As with other demons\ headquarters, it had electricity, heat and beautiful architectural touches. I also saw jewels artistically embedded into parts of the rock, which reminded me of Adrian\s ego comment. Whoever ruled this realm wanted to show off their wealth, and studding jewels in the wall of your mountain castle was certainly one way to do that.

Looking like a Hound meant that I ran past the guards without once being stopped. We streaked through the courtyard with everyone stepping aside to get out of our way, and as the Hounds led me down a stone hallway past that, the air grew noticeably warmer. When we arrived at the end of the hallway, it was almost humid. Once inside the dimly lit room, I understood.

The Hounds jumped into a large, steaming pool cut into the rock, immersing themselves up to their eyes. The water smelled atrocious, but I jumped in, too, telling myself I was just doing it to avoid suspicion.

It was a lie. That steam sold me. It could\ve been hot mud, and I would\ve still dived right in. After a few painful minutes where my feet and hands felt like they were on fire as circulation returned, I stopped shaking and my teeth quit chattering. Another few minutes, and I felt focused enough to concentrate. Here was as good a place as any to search the castle with my hallowed-radar.

I\d just begun to do that when rolling noises echoed through the nearby hallway. I tensed, but the Hounds next to me began to wiggle in what could only be called joyous expectation.

Moments later, two minions bearing lightning-like marks in their skin pushed wheelbarrows into the room. The Hounds leaped from the water, jostling each other for position as the contents were dumped into a corner. Then they fell on the pile like hungry pigs at feeding time, and what they\d been given to eat was as revolting as it was expected in a demon realm.

I looked away, rage scalding me with such intensity that it flared my abilities. They pulsed outward, covering the castle with the same sonar-like efficiency as before, and my supernatural ping returned with nothing at the end of it.

The weapon wasn\ here.

I got out of the water, still looking away from the Hounds. My anger made my near nudity irrelevant as a minion looked my way, not that he\d see a girl in a belt bikini anyway. He seemed surprised that I wasn\ joining the feeding frenzy, but then came toward me while holding out a large blanket.

I stood still as he dried me, speaking in Demonish the whole time. He even used exaggerated vowels and the singsong voice people affected when talking to babies or favored pets. When he was done, he scratched my head and patted my ass as if I\d been a good little Hound.

’’I wish I was one of them right now,’’ I told him, knowing all he heard were hissing noises. ’’I\d bite your head off.’’

He replied with the Demonish version of what was probably ’’Whoooo\s a grumpy guuurl?’’ and patted me again. This time, I bared my teeth at him.

’’Touch my ass one more time and I\m clubbing you with the nearest femur from that pile.’’

Not that I could, because using a bone like a club was un-Houndlike enough to get the other minion\s attention. Also, I needed to seize my chance. With my search complete and the other Hounds occupied, now was the perfect time to return to Adrian.

I ran out of the Hound-spa, glad there weren\ many turns to remember to get out of the castle. Once again, no one attempted to stop me, and when I was dashing down the hill on my way to where I last left Adrian, something else occurred to me.

I could see where I was going. Not great, as the several times I tripped proved, but I wasn\ blinded by the darkness, and I was far enough away from the lights of the mountain castle that I should\ve been. My abilities were growing at an incredible rate. Was it because I was finally using them, or was it the virulent seesaw of emotions that kept kicking them into hyperdrive? Between my feelings for Adrian, my guilt over Jasmine, and the rage that demon realm atrocities brought out in me, I wouldn\ know a moment of calm if it bit me in the ass.


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