The Beautiful Ashes Page 56

’’Ivy, over here!’’

I adjusted my course at Adrian\s directive, now noticing him next to the cluster of dead trees. He\d remained so still that he\d blended in at first glance. Once I reached him, I almost hurtled myself into the ankle-length parka he held out and yanked my boots on fast enough to leave skid marks.

’’It\s not here, let\s go,’’ I panted.

We ran the short distance to the gateway, but before he dropped us through it, he paused.

’’Are you up for doing another realm now?’’

My body felt like a Popsicle and I never wanted to see another Hound feeding trough again, but I didn\ hesitate.

’’Yes.’’

I\d find this weapon, and not only would I save my sister, I\d kill every damn demon and minion in the realm she\d been trapped in.

Chapter twenty-eight

I made it through seven realms the first day, and finished the other five two days later. A stint with hypothermia was responsible for the delay, but it wasn\ just manna combined with Adrian and Costa treating it that got me past it so quickly. I was changing. I could feel it in the muscles I\d never had before, and in the hallowed-hunting sensor that was easier and easier to utilize. I\d searched the last realm without even entering the main building, and despite keeping that to myself, Adrian had sensed the changes, too.

That\s why he said it was time for me to learn how to use a slingshot.

Because of my hideous disguise, we went into the Pisgah National Forest to practice. Costa came with us in case we needed an extra trigger finger, if minions happened upon us, though I doubted it. We were out in the middle of beautiful nowhere, with tall trees, waterfalls and bubbling creeks as far as the eye could see. Compared to demon realms, the forties temperature was also downright balmy, but it seemed to keep park visitors at bay. Good thing, too. Forget innocent hikers if Bigfoot were real, he\d crap himself at the sight of me.

After Adrian set up a target, Costa sat on a fallen tree stump to watch. I stood next to Adrian, frowning when I saw the long, braided rope he pulled out of his duffel bag. Was that a duplicate of the infamous weapon? In my head, David\s slingshot looked like a Y-shaped branch with stretchy material wound around the opposing ends. Not what resembled a skinnier version of a child\s jump rope.

’’What am I supposed to do with that? Hang the demons with it?’’ I wondered.

Adrian grinned, taking a stone from the bag and placing it in the small section of rope that split into two pieces. Then he began to spin the rope in a lasso-like circle, increasing the speed until it made a low, whirring sound. That turned into a crack as he snapped it forward. I didn\ see the stone release, but one of the glass bottles he\d set up thirty feet away suddenly exploded, spewing beer over the branch he\d set it on.

’’Wow,’’ I said, impressed. ’’You nailed that like you were using a sniper rifle. How long have you been practicing?’’

His grin vanished. ’’When I met Zach and learned about my mother\s death, I researched the slingshot David would\ve used, then made sure I knew how to use it. Zach didn\ bother telling me until recently that only a Davidian or a demon from Goliath\s line can utilize the slingshot\s true power.’’

Somehow, I wasn\ surprised. It could be that Zach hadn\ cared enough to relay the information before, but I thought the Archon might\ve had another motivation.

If Adrian had known he couldn\ use David\s slingshot to kill demons, he wouldn\ have learned how to use the ancient weapon. Because he had, now he was teaching me. Was that Zach\s plan? To keep Adrian near me at every opportunity so he\d be unable to avoid his fate?

If so, I intended that plan to backfire, and I knew how to do it because Adrian had told me himself that touching me was his weakness. So I deliberately brushed against him when he showed me which finger the loop went on and how to hold the rope. His lips tightened, but he acted as if he didn\ notice. Then he took my wrist, moving it to mimic the far faster manner I\d need to perfect to get the stone to fly out.

’’First you spin the rope to build up momentum,’’ Adrian said. ’’Then you aim and snap it when you let go. Try it.’’

I did, and the stone dropped near my feet instead of slinging toward the target. Legendary bloodline or not, clearly I wasn\ a natural.

’’That happens to everyone the first time,’’ Adrian said evenly. ’’Try again.’’

I did three more times, and got the same results. My spirits sank. No wonder Demetrius had said he wasn\ afraid of me. I couldn\ hit the broad side of a barn, let alone him or any other demons guarding Jasmine.

’’Here.’’ Adrian pulled me to him, his body so close that I could feel his heart beating. Then his hand covered mine, though he spread his fingers so he didn\ impede the rope. ’’We\ll do it together. Move when I do, Ivy.’’

We began to spin the rope, first in slower circles, then fast enough to hear that whirring noise. My sense of despair diminished because it was easy to move with Adrian. So easy. His arm shadowed mine while his chest was a muscled wall that teased my back. Every time I adjusted my stance, his thighs brushed the backs of mine, making my breath catch. He was so big, so powerful, yet his breathing roughened when I leaned into him, and brought my body tighter against his. I\d started the taunting touches to chip away at his self-control, but I might end up being the one who came undone.

’’On the count of three,’’ Adrian ordered, voice much hoarser than before. ’’One...’’


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