The Beautiful Ashes Page 76

’’No, Zacchaeus did not lie to you. Archons cannot lie, as he told you. We also cannot enter the dark realms, as he told you, but we can see into them. You never asked him that.’’

’’Sonofa ’’ I began furiously, only to have his warning look stop me. ’’You mean Zach knew my sister was alive this whole time and never bothered to tell me?’’

Jasmine wiped her eyes. This was too much, too soon for her. The Archon merely shrugged. ’’Those weren\ his orders.’’

Orders. A slew of curses ran through my mind. The Archon gave me another glare, but I snapped, ’’Oh, please! I didn\ say any of them, so give me a break!’’

’’Mortals,’’ he muttered. ’’So obsessed with technicalities.’’

’’Jaz,’’ I said, controlling my anger with great difficulty. ’’Can you see if Adrian\s back, please?’’

I didn\ want him to stop transporting humans, but I wanted to get my sister out of here for a few minutes. She was running on shock and adrenaline, so at any moment, she could snap.

She disappeared into the house without arguing, another indicator that she wasn\ herself. Moments later, Adrian came out onto the lawn, eyeing the two Archons with guarded optimism.

’’I hope you came to help. We\ll need several buses to get all these people out of here.’’

’’We will not,’’ Freckles replied. With those words, she and everyone else vanished, leaving me, Adrian and Dreadlocks alone on the lawn. From the sudden silence in the house, that had been cleared out, too.

’’What. Just. Happened?’’ I managed. Even Adrian appeared startled.

The blond Archon wasn\ . If anything, I\d say he looked bored. ’’These people needed to be taken to safety. Sarai has done that.’’

’’But they\ e just gone,’’ I stressed, as if I was the only one who\d noticed that.

A shrug. ’’Archons aren\ limited by your laws of physics.’’

After everything I\d seen, why did that surprise me? ’’Is Jasmine still here?’’ I asked in sudden anxiousness.

’’Yes. We will provide care for the others, but she is yours to look out for.’’

Good. I didn\ want it any other way.

Adrian drew me next to him, his arm a welcome weight across my shoulders. Aside from those few, blissful minutes in the tunnel, we hadn\ had a moment together since I found him alive. He\d been ferrying people through the gateway and I\d tried to do what I could for the traumatized survivors. I hadn\ even had time to wash my hands. Calling dibs on the bathroom when so many of these people hadn\ had a hot shower in years would\ve been selfish in the extreme, so I was still covered in ashes. So was Adrian. We looked like coal miners after a cave-in.

Zach came out onto the lawn. He exchanged a glance with the blond Archon that had Adrian tensing into stonelike stillness.

’’Don\ ,’’ he said low.

’’It is too late,’’ Zach replied, his voice equally soft. ’’The second trial has already begun.’’

’’What trial?’’ I asked, stiffening, as well.

Zach\s dark brown gaze rested on me. ’’Adrian no longer needs to transport the survivors. They are crossing through to this realm on their own.’’

I was incredulous. ’’How?’’

’’The gateways are opening,’’ Zach said simply.

Adrian\s arm dropped from my shoulders as he ran both hands through his hair. They were still covered in blood beneath the soot from all his injuries. Without Zach healing him the first time he\d crossed over to this side, I didn\ think Adrian would even be conscious now. Zach\s statement back-burnered my concern for Adrian, however.

’’The gateways are opening,’’ I repeated. ’’From your tone and Adrian\s reaction, that\s bad, but why? If trapped people can now get out of the realms without the aid of a demon, Judian or minion, isn\ that a good thing?’’

’’The gateways are opening because the walls between our worlds have started to crumble,’’ Zach said. ’’The gateways are affected first, since they connect the realms.’’

Now I understood, and horror filled me. ’’But if the walls crumble until nothing separates the demon realms from ours, it\ll be hell on earth in no time at all.’’

’’Exactly,’’ the blond Archon stated in a mild tone.

His nonchalance made me want to slap him. ’’Well, someone\s got to do something!’’

A pained sound came out of Adrian right as Zach said, ’’That someone is you, Ivy.’’

’’Me?’’ I sputtered. ’’What can I do? I lost the slingshot, not that it matters since I already used it ’’

’’It\s not lost,’’ the blond Archon interrupted. ’’It\s been forever embedded in your flesh.’’

I gaped at him, then shoved my coat sleeve up. I couldn\ see anything beneath the grime, so I ran to the hose people had been drinking from and splashed water onto my arm.

As the soot cleared away, I began to tremble. The outline of a brown, braided rope ran from the loop on my finger all the way up to my elbow, the length of the slingshot curling around my arm several times. It looked like an extremely detailed tattoo, only this wasn\ ink. It was like a supernatural brand.

Large hands gripped my shoulders and I turned in Adrian\s arms. He was shaking, I realized with shock, and when his cheek brushed against mine, it was wet.

’’Whatever happens next,’’ he whispered. ’’Remember I love you. I didn\ lie about that, Ivy.’’

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