The Sweetest Burn

Page 34

“Come on, Brutus,” I yelled. “Let’s do this!”

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

I PULLED UP, and Brutus began to blast us into the sky. Even though I was in a frenzy to get back to Adrian, we needed the velocity. Once we were about a hundred stories up, I turned Brutus so he’d have plenty of space to circle back around to the remains of the crowd, and then I yanked the reins down.

Brutus dove so fast that it looked like the ground was rushing upward to meet us. At the last moment, he leveled out and headed toward the crowd without me even needing to steer.

“Good boy!” I shouted. “You know exactly what we’re doing!”

Then, I tucked my head behind his bulky shoulders the way Adrian had. Otherwise, at this speed, I’d decapitate myself when Brutus collided with the crowd, and I wanted other peoples’ heads to roll, not mine. Right before we hit, I gripped Brutus as tight as I could and braced for all I was worth.

Despite that, when Brutus plowed into the minions and demons, the impact almost knocked me off his back. Blood spattered me and countless thuds felt like they were rattling my bones as body parts were sheared off from the bladelike effect of his wings. If I didn’t trust him so much, I’d worry that Adrian would inadvertently be cut down, too. But I did trust Brutus, so I held on for dear life as the gargoyle hacked his way through the crowd.

When we came out on the other side, Brutus swung around so fast that my legs flew out behind me. Only my grip on the reins kept me from being launched off, and when I scrambled back on and saw what was left of the crowd, I was stunned.

Ashes littered the ground in piles that coated the body parts Brutus had just hacked off so ruthlessly. Only a few people were left standing. The rest were all dead, and that hadn’t been Brutus’s doing. Despite the gargoyle’s best efforts, he could only kill minions, and there had been a lot more demons here. For a moment, I didn’t understand. Then I heard a furious bellow followed by a voice I knew all too well.

“I told you not to touch him,” Demetrius snarled, grabbing one of those few remaining figures. His shadows stabbed out from his hands, their reach miniscule compared to before, but the pale-haired demon in his grasp screamed. Then dark, smoking holes appeared in those small stab wounds. They grew, spreading all over the pale-haired demon’s body, until they turned the screaming demon into ashes right before my eyes. It only took seconds, and the remaining demons exchanged a look of terror before running for the nearest realm plume.

Then, something moved in the heap of ashes and body parts, followed by the sound of Adrian groaning. Brutus heard it, too. He let out a warning snarl and flared his wings into chopping position. Then he began to lumber toward the demon.

“Stay back,” Demetrius snapped, and I was so shocked at what I saw next, I actually pulled on Brutus’s reins to stop him.

Unless I was hallucinating, I was watching the most evil demon I’d ever encountered gently lift Adrian’s prone form from the ashes. He wiped them off Adrian’s face, revealing bloodstains and more than a few slashes. Adrian groaned again, but he didn’t open his eyes, and his limbs had the kind of looseness that spoke of a severe concussion or something worse.

“You killed your own kind to protect him,” I said, still shocked beyond belief. “Why?”

Demetrius looked at me. His usual, venomous hatred quickly filled his dark gaze, but in the instant before it, I saw something I would’ve sworn was impossible from a demon.

Love.

Despite all the horrible things he’d done to Adrian, and despite the fact that Demetrius was as close to evil incarnate as anything could come, he truly loved Adrian. If I hadn’t seen the proof for myself, I would never have believed it.

“He is my son.” The words were spit at me, then his voice softened as he looked back at Adrian. “Minions can’t kill him, but demons could, and they weren’t obeying my orders to stop.”

His words sank in, bringing with them a realization that rocked me. I didn’t want to believe it, but in that moment, the truth was too obvious to be denied. Demetrius’s revelation that only demons could kill Adrian just confirmed what I now knew all the way to my soul. Demetrius had been hiding the truth in plain sight every time he referred to Adrian as “my son.”

“You’re his father,” I breathed. “His real father.”

Demetrius set Adrian down and rose. Brutus reared up in a threatening manner, but the demon didn’t move toward me. Instead, he smiled, and the wisps of his shadows sliced the air around him as if yearning to be cutting into my flesh.

“The only reason I’m letting you live is because Adrian needs manna and I don’t have any.” Demetrius’s tone was light, yet his gaze held no less hatred. “So, take my son and heal him, Davidian. I’ll save killing you for the next time we meet.”

With that, Demetrius raised his arms, and the unnatural wind that had been swirling around the campus picked up speed, increasing until it felt like a hurricane had landed on us. More incredible was how the black tunnels began to pull back, leaving the buildings and returning to the realm they had spilled out from. Flashes of lightning revealed that realm. In it, as if looking through a dark, frozen mirror, I caught a glimpse of all the buildings, streets and cars that were here, but over there, they were desolate and ice-covered. Then, with a rush of wind strong enough to knock Brutus back a few feet, Demetrius, the realm and all of those encroaching tunnels simply disappeared.

As if on cue, police and fire truck sirens began to ring out. I looked back at Adrian. The ashes around him were gone, as were the body parts that had turned to ash during Demetrius’s mind-blowing display of power. I wasn’t sure if this was a trick or if Demetrius was really letting me go so I could heal him.

Didn’t matter. I slid off Brutus’s back and grabbed some of the rocks that the gale-force winds had scattered across the ground. If this was a trick, I’d be ready. With rocks in my pocket and one notched in my sling, I ran over to Adrian.

Brutus beat me there, and his wings formed a protective shield around us as I knelt beside Adrian. He was still unconscious, and he was covered in so much blood and soot that I had to feel him to judge which wound needed immediate attention.

A crashing sound made me jerk up with my sling at the ready. Relief filled me when I saw that it wasn’t Demetrius or another demon, but a familiar bus driving over fallen tree limbs, rubble and other debris left after the realm tunnels’ retreat.

“Get in,” Jasmine urged, opening the door. Then she yelled, “Adrian’s down!” at Costa, and jumped out of the bus.

“Is he dead?” she asked, hurrying over.

I continued to search Adrian with my hands. The worst of his wounds seemed to be his head and a very nasty gash on his stomach. “No, but he’s hurt pretty bad.”

“We don’t have any more manna,” Jasmine said, telling me something I already knew, not that I had been about to share that information with Demetrius.

I glanced at the bus, then back at the street sign that Demetrius’s unearthly winds had blown over.

“Help me load Adrian into the bus, then follow me. I think I know where we can get some.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

I WASN’T ABOUT to put Demetrius’s promise to kill me the next time we met to the test, so I didn’t go into the Eden realm alone. I pulled Adrian, Jasmine, Costa and even Brutus into the stunningly gorgeous realm. Now, no one could be taken as a hostage while I got the manna that Adrian needed. Zach was our supplier, so either he had some, or he knew where to get it.

Once through, Brutus took one look at the endless sunlight and ran for the nearest set of bushes. Zach seemed to be in the exact same spot that he’d been before, so either he’d been waiting on me, or he was really comfortable in that position. I knew it wasn’t the time difference. What had been about half an hour on the other side should have equated to a lot longer here.

“I need manna,” I stated. The words were simple, but my thoughts conveyed everything I didn’t want Jasmine and Costa to overhear. How could you not have told Adrian who his real father was? I know that you knew! You always know things like that!

“Jasmine, Costa, would you go down to the tree with the white flowers at the bottom of the hill?” Zach replied. “Bring me several of their blooms. They contain manna.”

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