The Beautiful Ashes

Page 23

The hairs on the back of my neck rose before I saw her. Apparently, my “hallowed” sensor could also pick up on the presence of pure darkness, because with one glance, I knew the woman coming down the staircase was a demon.

It’s not that she had “Evil!” stamped on her forehead, or obvious supernatural indicators like Demetrius’s shifting shadows. Maybe it was the way she moved, as if every muscle instantly coordinated with the others, turning her walk into a graceful, predatory glide. Maybe it was her hair, each wavy lock either midnight black or a burnished copper shade. Her pale skin was also telling, but it was her face that sealed my suspicions.

No one could be that incredibly, perfectly beautiful unless they’d had a million dollars in plastic surgery or had made a deal with the devil, and my money was on Option B.

Even Adrian couldn’t tear his eyes away, which hurt in ways I didn’t even want to acknowledge. Yes, she was gorgeous, but did he need to stop walking and stare like he’d been transfixed? He hadn’t been affected enough to pause in his stride when they were slaughtering people in the courtyards!

I either made a sound, or my instant hostility caught her attention because dark topaz eyes slid over me as she passed. Just like with Demetrius, I fought the urge to wipe my clothes, as if her gaze had left a tangible trail where it landed. She said something in what I now referred to as Demonish and Adrian responded, his voice much raspier than normal.

He couldn’t even talk right around Her Evil Hottiness? I quietly seethed, but when she disappeared down the stairwell, Adrian let out a sigh that almost blew the lid off my temper.

He was actually sighing after her. Guess when he said he hated demons, he meant only the males or the ugly ones.

“How much more ground do we have to cover?” I whispered acidly, hating him and hating myself more for caring.

His attention snapped back to me. “You still don’t sense anything?”

Only your hard-on for evil incarnate. “Nothing.”

“Then we’re done. You sensed the burial ground at half the distance from what we’ve covered, so it must not be here.”

Good, we could leave. Not soon enough for my tastes, either. This realm wasn’t where the weapon had been hidden, I’d already have nightmares from the horrors I’d seen, and now I wanted to punch my only ally in the face. Lose-lose all around.

We made it out of the pyramid without incident, and I looked down as we exited through the courtyards. No one stopped us at the stone gates, and we navigated the pueblo-like village with nary a word spoken in acknowledgement. Once we’d cleared the edge of the wigwam village, however, our luck ran out.

“Hondalte,” a commanding voice ordered.

Adrian paused. I did, too, schooling my features into a blank mask despite the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. When I turned around, I saw that my demon radar hadn’t been malfunctioning. The lanky, blond-haired man approaching us had two tall, dark arcs rising out of his back.

Not arcs, I realized when he drew nearer. Pitch-black wings. Then he spoke, causing my stomach to flip-flop in fear.

“If she is a new pet for me,” the winged stranger said in English, “tell me, why are you leaving with her?”

Chapter fourteen

“My lord Mayhemium,” Adrian said, bowing formally. “I have discovered that this one is too flawed for you.”

The blond demon came closer. I tried not to stare, but he had wings. Were they real or a type of illusion, like Demetrius’s ability to transform into shadows and other people?

“What is so flawed about her?” Mayhemium asked, and my skin felt like it was trying to crawl away as his gaze slid over me.

“I have crabs,” I blurted out, saying the first gross thing that came to mind.

The single glare Adrian shot my way said that I wasn’t helping. “She’s mentally defective,” he replied, his tone implying that it should be obvious. “I’m taking her to Ryse’s realm. He doesn’t mind less-than-superior pets.”

Mayhemium’s gaze swept me again. From his expression, Zach had glamoured me into looking as gorgeous as Adrian’s disguise was plain. Then the demon waved an imperious hand.

“I’ll take her anyway.”

Adrian let go of my arm and stepped away. I tried to conceal my shock, but I wasn’t that good of an actress. Yes, we were deep in enemy territory and outnumbered by a thousand to one, but was he really going to let Mayhemium take me?

The demon thought so. My breath sucked in at the gleam that appeared in those inhuman eyes. Now I knew what death looked like when you stared it in the face. Then Adrian straightened, abandoning his subservient posture.

“I never liked you, Mayhemium,” he said in a tone so flat, he sounded bored. “At least you’re so arrogant, you came alone.”

Before the last word left him, he hit the demon, moving so fast all I saw was his usual blur. Mayhemium stared at him, something inky leaking out from the side of his mouth.

“Adrian?” he asked in disbelief.

“Ivy, leave,” Adrian ordered, urgency now replacing the flatness in his tone.

Mayhemium’s head whipped around, and he stared at me with understanding that turned into unbridled savageness. “The last Davidian,” he hissed.

Adrian punched him so hard, I expected a dent to appear in the demon’s face. It didn’t, but more incredibly, Mayhemium shattered, his body transforming into dozens of large crows that flew straight up before diving in a furious arc toward me.

My arms rose to shield myself, but Adrian was suddenly blocking them, his large body absorbing the stabs from beaks sharpened into knifelike points. With lightning-strike quickness, Adrian snatched the largest crow out of the air and then crushed it in his fist. Mayhemium materialized at once, howling in apparent agony, his long black wings now broken.

“Think I didn’t remember how to neutralize your trick?” Adrian’s purr dripped viciousness as he punched the demon hard enough to knock him over again. “What’s wrong? Can’t fight without your wings?”

Mayhemium snarled something in Demonish that turned Adrian’s face into a mask of rage.

“No,” he spat. “I’ll never do it.”

“You will,” Mayhemium roared. “It’s your destiny!”

“Not today.” With that, Adrian landed a kick that snapped the demon’s leg when he got up again. When Mayhemium bent low and staggered, Adrian smashed a knee into his face, crunching bones with an audible sound. Then Adrian’s fist drove through the demon’s neck, briefly disappearing up to his wrist before he yanked it and a handful of something pulpy out.

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