The Beautiful Ashes Page 75

Gone, just like Adrian was now gone. More tears fell, making pale trails through the stains on my hands. I wanted to scream the way I had before, but though this pain was just as intense, it tore at my soul instead of my body, so there was no outlet for it. I hadn\ been able to tell Adrian how sorry I was for what I\d done. Or tell him that I\d come back for him, or tell him the most important thing of all.

’’I love you, too,’’ I whispered to the ashes.

I\d never said that to a man before. Now, with Adrian gone, I\d never say it again. I didn\ need the gift of prophecy to know that I wouldn\ feel this way about anyone else. Ever.

’’Are you okay?’’ a hesitant voice asked.

My head jerked up, and through the tears, I saw the outline of a woman at the entrance to the tunnel.

’’I saw you go down here,’’ she went on. ’’You won\ find anyone in here, though. This was where they kept the Hounds.’’

’’I know.’’ My voice was thick from anguish.

She took a few steps toward me. ’’Are you...her?’’

’’Her who?’’ I asked wearily.

’’The one who killed them,’’ she replied in an awed whisper.

Her words were a fresh blow to my heart. Yes, I\d killed them. All of them.

I didn\ say that. As I heaved myself to my feet, I said the only thing I could think of to make her go away. I needed a few minutes to pull myself together. Or a few lifetimes.

’’Go to the B and B. The dark-haired boy knows how to get through the gateway, if he hasn\ left already.’’

She turned around and left. Moments later, I heard her excitedly telling someone that she knew a way out. I dragged a hand through my hair, feeling physically and emotionally beaten beyond my ability to cope. I didn\ want to move from this spot, but the single bottle of blood at the B and B wouldn\ be enough. More minion blood would be needed to bring everyone through the gateway. Fast, too, before other demons showed up to commandeer this realm. The slingshot only worked once, so even if I knew where it was, it was useless to prevent other demons from re-enslaving the people here.

That meant I\d have to leave this realm to find a minion, capture it and bleed the hell out of it. Tonight. The realization had me shuffling toward the exit to the tunnel. My body ached like I\d been pummeled from the inside out, but I forced myself to keep moving. If I didn\ , I\d stay here and cry my eyes out, which wouldn\ help the people trapped in this realm. Besides, my tears were already starting to mess with my vision. For a second, I\d thought the ash pile next to me had shifted.

I had gone about ten feet when a distinct rustling sound made me freeze. That wasn\ a figment of my imagination. Something was in the tunnel with me.

Very slowly, I turned around. It looked like a dark pillar had appeared at the entrance to the Hound spa. Then the pillar doubled in height as the person beneath the embers stood up, revealing the form of a tall, broad-shouldered man. When he wiped his face, a layer of blood showed beneath the soot, and the hair he brushed back was stained black from the ashes swirling around him, but I didn\ care. Right now, they were the most beautiful things I\d ever seen.

’’Adrian,’’ I whispered, my tears starting to flow faster.

His head snapped up and then he moved with his incredible speed, gripping me in those powerful arms. Tilting my head back and covering my mouth in a bruising kiss that made joy rip through me with all the intensity of the pain I\d felt before. When he finally broke away several minutes later, I could hardly breathe, but I still managed to speak.

’’I love you,’’ I choked out. ’’I love you, I love you, I love you ’’

His kiss cut me off again, and this time, I wasn\ crying when I kissed him back. I was smiling.

Epilogue

We didn\ need to leave to catch a minion for its blood. Adrian pulled through the remaining people in the realm, taking them in groups of twos and threes. It still took the rest of the night, but I wasn\ afraid of demons stopping us. Not when Zach stayed at the B and B, which rapidly filled to overflowing from all the survivors of the Bennington realm. I might still be mad at him, but no demon would take on one Archon, let alone three of them.

One moment, Jasmine and I were passing out blankets to the people who\d spilled out onto the lawn;the next, I was staring at two people whom I knew were not human despite their normal appearance. The brunette girl had freckles and the guy had blond dreadlocks, of all things, but for an instant, both of them radiated light like Zach had the first time we met.

’’Uh...hi,’’ I said, so surprised I stumbled over my words.

Screams erupted from the people outside. I whirled, groaning when I saw the gargoyle coming toward us. Adrian had told Brutus to stay hidden in the trees. Dreadlocks gave it a single glare. ’’Tell your creature to stay back.’’

’’Admanta!’’ I yelled, using the word Adrian had taught me. The gargoyle chuffed warningly at the Archons but turned around and disappeared into the trees again.

’’Sorry,’’ I muttered, glad that Freckles was calming the people down.

’’He\s not hers,’’ Jasmine offered, staring at the stranger curiously. ’’He, uh, belongs to Adrian.’’

’’Not anymore,’’ Dreadlocks said, with another grunt of disapproval. ’’Adrian bound him to your sister as her protector before he sent the two of you out of the realm.’’

’’What?’’ Jasmine gasped.

I stared at the Archon, too stunned to speak. Thoughts, accusations and questions bombarded my mind, and after a moment, he began to answer them.


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