The Beautiful Ashes

Page 54

Not that the guests were grateful for my saving them. I had to dodge several plates one of the guys threw at me before he ran down the hallway. Finally, the woman I’d been waiting for appeared, looking flustered as she entered the dining room.

“What is going on—” Mrs. Paulson began, only to stop dead at the sight of me.

“Dyate,” she whispered.

Chapter thirty-three

My grin must’ve looked savage, because I felt every inch the fearsome creature she thought I was as I came toward her. The innkeeper looked like the same salt-and-ginger-haired old lady I’d first met. She even still had on an apron, as if I’d interrupted her while she was baking dessert, but out of the two of us, she was the real monster.

This bitch had delivered my sister to demons. She’d also sent Detective Kroger after me, and for all I knew, might’ve been the person who’d messed with the brakes on my parents’ car. I wanted her dead so badly, it burned. But first...

I dropped my sack when I was a few feet away. She still didn’t move, following protocol on how to avoid being mauled by a Hound, but her gaze flicked to the sack in surprise. Guess she hadn’t noticed it before, what with not expecting a hulking demon lizard to show up in her dining room. Then I pulled out the note I’d written earlier, shoving it in front of her.

Take me to the gateway.

Her face puckered into a frown as she stared at it. I knew she could read what I’d written; my note to Costa had proven that. My hope was that she’d think I was a stray who’d gotten separated from its handler, but that had a note telling whichever minion that found me to send me back home. As for the sack, well, dogs carried stuff sometimes. Maybe I should’ve held the sack in my teeth to look more Hound-like.

When her frown cleared and she looked at me with palpable hatred, I knew my plan had backfired.

“Davidian,” she hissed, yanking something out of her apron.

I lunged to the left when I caught sight of a barrel. Her first shot missed me by inches and her second one went over my head as I ducked. Then I charged, steamrolling into her, fueled by hatred and strength from a legacy I still didn’t understand. She went down, the back of her head smacking against the tile floor. But she still didn’t let go of the gun.

I yanked its barrel to the side just in time, sending the shot she fired into the wall instead of my stomach. Despite her aged appearance, she had a grip like a bear. Teeth like one, too. She tore into my shoulder, making me yelp with pained surprise. I couldn’t get the gun free, yet I didn’t dare let go of it to pull her mouth off me.

As if Adrian were whispering instructions into my ear, I suddenly knew what he would do. So I did it.

I threw myself forward, my momentum causing Mrs. Paulson’s head to smack against the tile again. Her scream reverberated against my aching shoulder, yet she didn’t let go of the gun or stop biting me. I flung forward several more times, ignoring how it drove her teeth deeper into my flesh. Finally, her grip on the gun loosened and I was able to yank it away. My shoulder throbbed—I’d need a tetanus shot now, dammit!—but my grip didn’t waver when I pointed the gun in her face.

“Where’s the gateway?” I snapped, forgetting for a second that she couldn’t understand me.

Mrs. Paulson spat at me, landing a disgusting glop on my cheek. I wiped it off with my other hand before grabbing the note that had fluttered to the floor near us.

“Where?” I said, shaking it at her.

She responded with a torrent of Demonish, some of which I recognized as more curse words. My jaw clenched. Adrian was on his way, and I didn’t know whose side he was on, so I had to be gone before he arrived. That meant I couldn’t waste any more time asking Mrs. Paulson nicely.

I lowered the gun and shot her in the arm. At this range, it blew a large chunk off, coating me in an instant spatter of red. She howled, her agonized writhing almost dislodging me, but I held on and shoved the note in front of her again.

“Where?” I yelled, putting the barrel to her leg next.

She didn’t need to understand my words to translate the threat. “In my office!” she gasped. “Please, no more!”

She deserved more. So, so much more, but I didn’t have the time or the stomach to give it to her. I hauled her up, planting the barrel of the gun into her side. She sagged, leaning against me so heavily, she almost toppled us over.

“Show me,” I said, jerking my head at the hallway.

Once again, she got the gist and began staggering down the hallway. From the quiet around us, we were now alone in the inn. Guess if a massive demon lizard hadn’t been enough to scare the guests off, hearing several gunshots had done the trick.

“Here,” she said, leaning against the doorway to an office.

I couldn’t see through to the dark realm here, but then again, I hadn’t with any of the other gateways, either. Still, I wasn’t going to take her word for it. I jabbed her harder in the side with the gun and shook the note for emphasis.

“Where?” I said, shoving her into the room.

Blood had turned her graying hair crimson, and more dripped from what was left of her upper arm, but she still managed to catch herself instead of falling. Again I was reminded that minions might look human, but they weren’t, so while Mrs. Paulson was acting weak and defeated, the bitch still had lots of fight left in her.

“There,” she said, pointing at the corner. Then she braced herself against her desk, as if she didn’t have the strength to hold herself up on her own.

Sure she didn’t. I kept the gun aimed at her as I went inside. The corner had a bookshelf on one side and an oil painting on the other. Certainly nothing that screamed “Demon door!” but when had any of them been helpfully marked? I stretched out my hand toward the center of the corner—and gasped when the blood coating it suddenly pulsed with an almost painful energy.

Adrian was right. It did feel like an electric shock, but only for the parts of me that Mrs. Paulson had bled on. That’s why I’d done the most awful, unforgivable thing to him before I left him tied up and alone in that room.

I’d bled him.

Adrian told me I needed minion, demon or Judian blood to cross through a gateway. I hadn’t been sure if Mrs. Paulson would be here tonight, so I’d taken precautions to ensure that I could get through the gateway anyway, and by precautions, I mean about two beer bottles’ worth of Adrian’s blood.

Maybe now, I wouldn’t need it. The last thing I wanted to do was paint my skin with the proof of my awful deed. I could barely look at the bottles without feeling guilty enough to cry, so hopefully Mrs. Paulson had bled on me enough to—

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