The Beautiful Ashes Page 66

For the space of a few heartbeats, I wasn\ sure what to do. Run toward the demon town over the hill? Or go back to the gateway inside the B and B? Adrian hadn\ been kidding when he said the demons in this realm would beef up their security. No wonder there hadn\ been any minions at the B and B. They didn\ need them to keep the humans in line. Not when death flew from above.

And prowled along the ground, I realized as familiar hissing noises heralded the approach of three Hounds.

’’You\ e late,’’ I told them dryly, letting the beasts smear me with disgusting, slimy licks as they said their versions of hello. Between meeting a gargoyle and getting a Hound tongue-bath, I\d have nightmares forever from this realm alone.

Decision made, I followed the Hounds back up the hill. Since I was already scarred for life, I wasn\ leaving until I\d seen for myself that Jasmine was still alive.

When we reached the top of the hill and I caught my first look at the city, I paused. Beautiful, I thought grudgingly.

A lot more time had passed since this section of the realm had been swallowed. Most of the forest had been cut down, leaving smooth, flat ground. Frozen rivers snaked through the valley in zigzags, ice reflecting the lights from the castle. The effect made the castle look like it sat on silver necklaces, and the significance of its blue stone walls wasn\ lost on me.

Silver and sapphire, the same color as Adrian\s eyes. I was staring at his former home, and it was barbarically magnificent.

I felt like I was leaving pieces of my heart behind as I followed the Hounds down the hill to the huge castle. Of course Adrian must have been playing me. No one raised by demons would have the fortitude to give all this up. People not raised by demons would struggle with saying no to all the power, money and supernatural bling that was Adrian\s for the taking.

Like his castle. It could double as an icy version of Hogwarts with its massive size. Add in stone gates with elaborate frozen carvings glittering along their tops like cake frosting, and it was breathtaking. The minions who guarded it had shadow markings in their skin, showing they belonged to Demetrius, but their silvery breastplates all had an elaborately scripted A stenciled into the metal. So did the frescos in the outer courtyards, as if I needed more proof that I was in Adrian\s former realm.

And all of this would be his again, if only he turned me over to the demons like everyone expected him to.

One of the Hounds nudged me, almost knocking me over. Okay, so I\d stopped running to stare at Adrian\s once and future kingdom. It had all the extravagance of the other realms, but with one notable difference. Where were the slaves? I hadn\ passed any ramshackle villages on the way, and most of the people milling around the courtyards were minions. Had ?

Something at the top of one of the towers caught my eye. This tower was lit up more than the others that I\d noticed from the top of the hill and it also had more open spaces, allowing for easier viewing inside.

That\s why I could see the girl in the cage. Amber light surrounded her, coating her hair and body in varying shades of gold. The cage hung by a thick chain from the tower\s roof, and the girl was sitting in it, her back resting against a corner. She wasn\ wearing much more than I was, making me wonder how she hadn\ frozen to death, until the humming noises coming from the tower clicked with the golden lights bathing her.

She was surrounded by portable heating devices. When she glanced down at the Hounds, who\d started to bay in annoyance because I\d stopped moving again, I glimpsed her face. Even though she was more than forty feet above me, my heart started to pound while my soul felt like it sucked in a breath.

Jasmine. My sister was alive and in that cage!

An avalanche of emotions rolled over me, making my eyes blur with a surge of tears. All these weeks, I\d been risking my life to save her, but an ugly, hidden part of me had thought she was already dead. Everyone else I cared for had been snatched away from me, so why should she be any different? That\s why, for the space of several stunned seconds, I couldn\ stop staring at Jasmine. That hopeless, jaded part of me was convinced that if I blinked or looked away, she\d disappear.

She didn\ , despite my finally being brave enough to close my eyes. When I opened them and saw that she was still there, a noise tore from my throat that was part sob, part laugh. She was alive! Really, truly alive, and unhurt, from what I could see of her. If I hadn\ been surrounded by minions who\d kill me the second they realized who I was, I might have giggled from the maelstrom of relief that flooded me, joining all the other feelings that seemed to compete with each other for maximum intensity.

Then something unexpected happened. My hallowed-hunting abilities kicked into gear. Maybe my sudden overload of emotions had activated them. I hadn\ tried using them because the weapon couldn\ be here. It was in a weak ruler\s realm, and Demetrius ruled this one in Adrian\s absence.

Yet the instant flare that thrummed through me wasn\ relief at discovering that Jasmine was alive, though I was beyond relieved at that. It wasn\ even anger over how she was displayed like a taunting trophy, and that made me damned angry. It was something completely different.

The only other time I\d felt anything similar was when I\d found hallowed ground for Adrian and me to flee to. If that had been a blip on my internal radar, this was a boom! that shook me from the inside out. Even feeling Mrs. Paulson\s blood react to the demon gateway paled by comparison, and that meant one thing: something hallowed was here. Something so hallowed my entire body felt like it had multiple alarms blaring inside me, all pointing toward a single location as if it were a tracking transmitter and I was the antennae.


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