The Beautiful Ashes Page 74

Sirens came from farther down the hill. Someone must\ve seen the strange lights and sounded the alarm. I clenched my jaw, trying to keep from screaming as I spun the rope into a tighter, faster circle. This hurt so much, my bones actually ached. Who knew they could do that?

Then I walked past the first group of minions. If I only had one shot, I needed it for saving Adrian. The lights coming from the slingshot stayed on them, though, until the weapon had glowing strings both behind it and ahead. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, the castle was in full defense mode.

Gunfire sounded, making me duck while holding the weapon aloft enough to keep the rope spinning. Another blast of power emanated from the slingshot, the subsequent pain almost driving me to my knees. As soon as that light touched them, the bullets stopped with the same suddenness as on that day in the desert when Zach had intervened. Hope clawed through my agony. The slingshot held the same power as an Archon. It really could do everything it was supposed to, as long as I could stand to wield it.

I forced myself to keep walking toward the castle. This time, I didn\ duck as a barrage of gunfire came my way. I braced, a cry ripping out of me at the sizzling pain of dozens of bullets being supernaturally frozen in midair. Then more light shot from the weapon, landing on the guards like laser sights on a rifle. The new surge of power had me shaking in torment. I wasn\ sure I could walk, let along keep the rope spinning. The slingshot felt like a thousand pounds of molten agony being funneled from my arm into the rest of my body.

A new wave of minions began to flood the lower section of the castle. The weapon reacted, beaming light onto every one of them and freezing them in place. I screamed, tears almost blinding me as I used both hands to keep the rope spinning. Adrian, Adrian, I repeated feverishly, forcing my feet to keep moving even though shudders racked me so fiercely, I staggered. He was trapped in the tunnel, but if I could get close enough, the weapon would incapacitate his attackers. No minion or demon could stop me, as long as I kept walking. The weapon took them out as soon as its light touched them.

Problem was, the weapon might also take me out.

Somehow, I made it past the gates and into the outer courtyards of the castle. By that time, I couldn\ stop my screams at the merciless blasts of pain. Each new minion the light landed on sent agony shooting through me, until everything else faded beneath the constant, brutal onslaught. After a few minutes, I couldn\ be sure if I was still holding the weapon anymore. A few minutes after that, I couldn\ remember where I was or why I\d come here. Only the pain was real, and it was excruciating. I couldn\ take it, and the pressure building inside me warned me that I wouldn\ have to for much longer. Something was about to happen. Something big.

I fell to my knees from the next surge of power, which felt like a thousand knives ripping into me at once. This is it, I thought dazedly. I\m dying. Instead of being afraid, the thought filled me with profound relief. Anything to escape the pain.

Release the stone.

The whisper somehow made it past the torturous insanity strafing my mind. That\s right, the stone. Until it was free, this wasn\ over. With my last reserves of strength, I stood up and snapped the slingshot, releasing the ice rock into the nothingness that was coming for me.

My whole body convulsed as the light marking every minion suddenly exploded with sunlike brightness, until I couldn\ see anything except burning, dazzling white. Just as swiftly, my agony disappeared, leaving me almost paralyzed with weakness. Unable to move or see, I fell onto the ground, feeling countless brushes of something light across me.

Slowly, that blinding whiteness faded, though at first, I thought the swirls around me were snowflakes. Then, as my vision returned even more, they changed color, turning from white to gray to charcoal. Ashes, I realized, shock giving me enough strength to sit up. Ashes were blowing everywhere, yet I didn\ see a single minion or demon. I did see several humans venturing into the courtyard, their expressions mirroring the same sort of hopeful disbelief I felt, now that I could think again.

The slingshot seemed to have done the impossible, killing all the demons and minions without harming any of the humans. I\d kiss the weapon, if I knew where it was. My hand only had smudges from ashes in it at the moment.

Then a horrible thought crept into my mind, demolishing my happiness with one brutal question.

What if the slingshot had killed Adrian, too?

Fear got me to my feet, though I swayed so much, I expected to fall when I took my first step. Adrian was human, but his lineage had so much dark power, he could cross into demon realms. Did that same power cause the weapon to mark him for death as it had the minions and demons? Had he survived the attack Demetrius ordered against him, only to have me kill him?

God, please, no! I half ran, half staggered toward the Hound tunnel where I\d last seen him. The low, enclosed space kept the wind out, so the thick layer of ashes lining the floor weren\ swirling around. They were ominously, deathly still.

’’Adrian!’’ I cried out, sloshing through the grayish-black mess. ’’Adrian, please, answer me!’’

I heard nothing but my own voice echoing hollowly back at me. I\d almost made it to the end of the tunnel when my legs gave out. Then I sank into the ashes, despair filling me as the pile I knelt in came nearly to my waist. From all the minion remains, the fighting must\ve been thickest here, so this was probably where Adrian had died. I plunged my hands into the embers, tears making everything blur as the particles either fell from my fingers or curled into wisps and floated away.

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