The Beautiful Ashes Page 67

Shock turned into wild, inconceivable hope. Not only was Jasmine alive, she was in the same realm as the weapon that could save her.

Chapter thirty-five

I followed the Hounds inside the castle, but instead of turning down the low hallway that must\ve led to their version of a spa mud bath, I veered off into a corner. A baying hiss was probably one of them cursing me for not keeping up again, yet the lure of getting warm kept them from coming after me.

Good. One Hound roaming though the castle would already garner suspicion. A pack of them? I might as well write my name on my chest so everybody would know who I was.

Then again, maybe it didn\ matter. I could feel the weapon yanking on my abilities, urging me to free it from its hidden location. Once I did, I wouldn\ need to be afraid anymore. Instead, the demons and minions would fear.

The thought emboldened me. I left the corner, ignoring the startled looks I got as I ran through the inner courtyards. At least these food vendors sold cow, pig and poultry instead of human meat, which meant I didn\ have the urge to vomit as I wove through them. Then I was past the vendor area and running for the first stone staircase I saw. The weapon was several floors above me, according to what I could feel, and its power pulsed through my emotions like a beacon.

I passed some humans on the way, so this realm did have more. In fact, they seemed to live in the castle, judging from the instant slamming of doors as they caught sight of me and hid. The ones I came across on the staircase froze in midstep, only their eyes moving as I dashed past them. Just as I\d thought, Hounds must have certain designated areas, and the main castle interior wasn\ one of them.

A voice shouted in Demonish behind me. Had someone sent the Hound handlers after me? I ignored the shout, running faster, a fearful exhilaration rising up to almost strangle me. I couldn\ let someone stop me when I was so close to my goal. I just couldn\ .

I left the staircase at the fourth-floor landing, the slingshot pulling me toward it like I was a fish being reeled in on a line. Following that inner pull, I dashed down the hallway to an ornate, wood-paneled room that looked like a library, of all things. Either word of a Hound on the loose had preceded me or this room wasn\ used a lot, because no one was in it.

That didn\ mean it was empty. My body pulsed from the weapon\s nearness, drawing me toward the center of the room. A huge, four-sided fireplace rose up through the floor, the stone chimney disappearing into the soaring ceiling. Shields adorned the side facing me, with wicked-looking battle-axes on the opposing sides. The hearth was almost as tall as I was, and warmth radiated from the crackling flames, but that wasn\ why I stood next to it, reaching as high as I could to touch the stones above the mantel.

There. The slingshot was right up there, and I was too short to reach it!

I spun around, grabbing the nearest chair and hauling it over to the fireplace. Then I paused, eyeing the polished stone chimney. I couldn\ punch through it without breaking every bone in my hand, and then I wouldn\ be able to use the slingshot.

Seized with inspiration, I stood on the chair and yanked one of the battle-axes off. It felt heavy and solid like a real weapon. Time to see if it worked like one.

Stone shards pelted me with my first swing, their sharp edges stinging. Okay, so the ax worked! I swung it again, harder, and a bigger chunk of stone split off. The chair tilted from my momentum, reminding me to watch my balance. I used my legs to counter my force as I swung the ax again and again, until I was whacking at the chimney like a lumberjack trying to chop down a tree.

My heart pounded when enough stone crumbled away to reveal a smooth wall beneath, like a hidden panel. Something brown and twisted clumped at the bottom of it, and I threw the ax away. No way would I risk severing the slingshot by chopping my way to it. Instead, I used my hands to pry the rest of the stones away before reaching down into the panel.

Power sizzled up my arm, the sensation so sudden and strong, it was painful. Instinctively, I snatched my hand back, then grinned, bracing myself as I reached down again. This time, I pulled up a long, braided rope that was identical to Adrian\s slingshot except this one was stained brown from age.

’’Hondalte!’’ someone shouted behind me.

I turned, seeing two armor-wearing minions and a third minion with so much mud covering him, he had to be a Hound handler. Muddy Minion had a harness in one hand and what looked like raw pot roast meat in the other. My enticement to come quietly, I supposed.

I jumped off the chair, which made all of them flinch. Guess they hadn\ expected to see a Hound standing on the furniture. They also didn\ expect one to use a slingshot, and as I slid my finger through the loop on the weapon, I smiled.

This was it. Jasmine\s freedom and our ticket out of here, all courtesy of the raggedy-looking weapon that vibrated with so much power, my arm throbbed just from touching it. I picked up one of the rounder pieces of stone that had chipped off the chimney, and placed it in the thicker section of the sling. Adrian might have intended to betray me, but he\d taught me how to use this, and I didn\ hesitate as I began to spin the rope, walking toward the minions while savage anticipation flooded me.

The minions began to back away, either in incredulity at seeing a Hound wield a slingshot, or in realization of what was really going on. I spun the rope faster, determined not to let them or any of the other awful creatures in this realm get away. Then I aimed, sending the stone hurtling toward them with a snapping sound that was music to my ears.

Take that, bastards!

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