The Beautiful Ashes Page 65

Mrs. Paulson\s office looked a lot different on this side. It didn\ have a stick of furniture and the only decorations on the walls were holes. Aside from some ratty-looking blankets, it was also empty. When I crept out into the hallway, however, I found out that the rest of the B and B wasn\ .

’’Hound!’’ a brown-haired guy who looked about my age yelled. Then he froze, giving me a chance to take in his ragged clothes, unkempt hair and wiry build. If I\d seen him in the real world, I\d have expected him to be holding up a sign asking for money. For a human in a demon realm, he looked great. His clothes were dirty and torn, but they were real clothes. Not disgusting human hides, and though he was lean, he didn\ look half-starved.

Was the Bennington realm slightly less appalling than the other ones? The thought gave me hope that my sister was still alive. I wished I could ask the guy about Jasmine, but all he\d hear were hisses, and I\d left my notepad back on the other side.

Adrian had told me that Jasmine wouldn\ be in the B and B, yet I checked it anyway. All the people stood like statues in whatever posture they\d been in when they heard the ’’Hound’’ warning, making them look like exhibits in a wax museum. They were in their teens or twenties and looked as disheveled as the first guy I\d seen. Still, no one looked abused, and the kitchen had real food in it. From the makeshift beds in almost every room, these people seemed to live here, yet I hadn\ come across a minion yet.

I also didn\ see Jasmine, but she\d been here. One of the girls had on a sweater that I recognized as hers. Again, I ached to ask, but I didn\ have time to find a way to communicate, not to mention that minions could show up here any minute.

So could Adrian. I let that thought spur me as I left the B and B, dropping my sack by a nearby tree stump so I could grab it on my way back. Then I ran toward the lights in the distance. The temperatures made my teeth chatter, but being here filled me with a desperate sort of hope.

Soon, I\d know for myself if Jasmine was really still alive. If she was, I\d keep up my search for the weapon, even if I\d be doing it without Adrian. Zach would help me, if only because he didn\ want the demons to get it. After I found the slingshot, I\d use it to free Jasmine. Then we\d hide out from the demons and I\d help her get over her captivity while helping myself get over my feelings for Adrian.

Bleakness threaded through me. Guess I should focus on one impossible task at a time.

Growling sounds made me skid to a stop midway up the hill. Lots of trees remained in this realm, standing like tall, petrified monuments to the world they\d been snatched from. That made it hard to see, even with my abilities working at full capacity. Had to be Hounds patrolling the woods.

Those odd snarls came nearer, echoing in ways that almost sounded like they were coming from above. I looked around, expecting a demon lizard to pounce out from behind a tree, but none did. Since I wasn\ supposed to act afraid, I continued back up the hill, though going at a walk instead of a run.

Crashing noises above were my only warning. Then I had to run to avoid being flattened by a pile of frozen tree branches. Even at top speed, I still got struck, but I forgot about the pain when I saw what had caused them to come down around me.

Gray, leathery wings snapped back from their protective circle, revealing a creature that had to be nine feet tall. It crouched in almost apelike style, with its straight, massive arms resting between its bent legs. Shoulder and chest muscles bulged as it raised its head, showing red, glowing eyes and a face that was wider than a Hound\s, but no less animalistic.

If Hounds looked like what would happen if a werewolf mated with a Komodo dragon, then this thing looked like the love child of a Komodo-werewolf-pterodactyl threesome. Worse, the way it stared at me said that moving or standing still made no difference. It could see me either way.

Gargoyle ran through my mind with a morbid sort of fascination. The Bennington realm had a gargoyle.

Chapter thirty-four

I did the only thing I could think of when confronted by a much-larger creature who thought I was a dog-lizard: I rolled on my back and showed it my belly, hoping the ’’Don\ kill me, I\m friendly!’’ gesture was as universal among animals here as it was in my realm.

The gargoyle cocked its head, staring at me as if I was the strangest thing it had ever seen. It didn\ start tearing into me with those knifelike claws or teeth, though, so I considered my move a win. Cautiously, I rolled over, twitching so much from nervousness that my Archon-glamoured tail probably looked like it was wagging. I wasn\ just in over my head with this situation I was a thousand feet underwater.

The gargoyle chuffed at me. That\s the closest way I could describe it, but at least it didn\ start speaking Demonish. Hey, gargoyles could talk in cartoons;how the hell did I know if they could talk in real life, too?

’’Hiya,’’ I said back, hoping what it heard was a similar-sounding chuff.

It chuffed again, beating its wings for emphasis. Clearly I was supposed to do something. Damned if I knew what.

’’Uh, follow you?’’ I guessed, taking a hesitant step back up the hill.

It rose with an explosion of air from those powerful wings, which I took as a yes. Then I had to scramble to avoid another shower of frozen branches as it blasted through the tops of the trees. Triumph and terror mingled inside me. I\d met a real-life gargoyle and survived. Now there was a Facebook update for a later time, not that anyone would believe me. Besides, what if gargoyles weren\ the only unexpected creatures in this realm?

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