The Sweetest Burn

Page 38

Costa arched a brow. “Impatient to get your favor, huh?” he drawled with a knowing look that almost caused me to blush.

“We don’t need Zach for that,” I hastily said, then as Adrian swung a surprised glance my way, I amended, “Okay, not only for that. Zach is who-knows-how-old, right? And he knows all kinds of things, so maybe he knows how to read runes, too.”

“He might,” Adrian said, his expression turning thoughtful. “It’s definitely worth a shot. I have no idea who Father Louis was going to show the tablet to, so that’s a dead end, and for obvious reasons, I don’t want just anyone looking at it.”

“I do in fact read runic,” a voice stated from nearby.

I turned around. Zach hadn’t been behind us seconds ago, of course, but now, he was lounging a little higher on the grassy knoll as serenely as if he’d just roused himself from a nap. His ability to suddenly appear—and disappear—was something that continued to unnerve me, but at this moment, I was so glad to see him that I didn’t point that out.

“Look at these photos of the tablet,” I said, tossing Father Louis’s cell at him. “Can you read the runes?”

Zach scrolled through the pictures. A little line stitched between his brows, as if he were concentrating very hard or having trouble seeing through the sun’s glare on the screen.

“It’s drawn by someone who obviously wasn’t an expert in runic,” he finally said, “but roughly translated, it says ‘It is back in its holy home.’”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I burst out. “That’s not a map, it’s the vaguest riddle ever!”

“Maybe not,” Adrian said, starting to pace. “Remember the history of St. Joan’s Chapel that Father Louis told us about? The chapel originally came from France, so what if its old site is the ‘holy home’ that the staff was taken back to?”

“But there’d be nothing there now, right?” Jasmine asked, beating me to the same question.

“There might be a leftover slab, or something else to mark where the church was,” Costa said, giving Adrian an appraising look. “And if Zach can read runes, the demon that snatched the tablet might be able to, also. Or he’s bringing it to somebody who can, so it’ll be a race to see who gets there first.”

Adrian’s features hardened as he looked at me. “We’ll need to use demon realms to get there. A plane would take too long.”

He didn’t say out loud what the rest of his expression confirmed. The demons would know that their realms would be the fastest way for us to travel, too, so they’d be expecting us.

I wanted to go back to those frozen, pitch-black realms and fight more demons about as much as I wanted to brush my teeth with razors, but I got up at once. “Just give me a minute. I want to make sure I’ve got enough rocks for whatever happens.”

“There is another alternative,” Zach pointed out.

Adrian’s stare was like a laser. “Are you finally going to fight with us side by side?”

Zach’s dismissive gesture wasn’t quite a shrug. “You know that Archons cannot enter the dark worlds, and as I have often reminded you, I only intercede when I am ordered, which I have not been in this case.”

Adrian turned away, muttering, “Figures.”

I didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t stop the stab of hurt I felt. After everything that had happened, Zach still didn’t regard us as anything aside from obligatory tasks to be dealt with if the appropriate instructions came down? Not that I’d been so naive as to think the powerful Archon regarded us as friends, but I’d hoped... I’d hoped that he cared.

Jasmine came up to me, taking my hand. When I saw my hurt mirrored on her features, I forced my expression into a smile.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got this,” I told her, glad that my voice sounded light and confident. I’d had to give so many false reassurances over the past few months; I was finally getting good at them. To Zach, I simply said, “What alternative?”

In the time it took me to look from my sister to him, his features became impassive, though his dark stare reminded me that he’d heard all my thoughts. Still, for a split second, I saw something in his expression. It was gone so fast, I couldn’t tell if it had been pity or contempt, but whatever it was, he’d felt it strongly enough to crack his usual inscrutableness.

“These realms are not bound by the limitations of their dark counterparts,” he replied, nothing in his tone giving a hint to what he was feeling. “Each one of them contains a vortex that connects them together, so those with the ability to enter them can then be transported anywhere in the world where light realms exist. You need only to think of the destination you wish to go when you use the gateway, and it will take you there.”

“Wow,” I said, so impressed that I stopped trying to decipher Zach’s elusive emotion. “You’re saying that I can just think my way to where we need to go? Talk about an upgrade from using the demon realms to travel!”

“Anywhere other light realms exist, huh?” Adrian looked from me to Zach, but instead of being awed like I was, an expression of deliberate calculation took over his features. “And where might those be? France, I hope?”

Zach arched a brow. “You should know. These realms are in the same places where demon realms are. Every time they strike into your world, we strike back.”

Now I was really impressed, and in the midst of that, also a little ashamed. I’d just been thinking about how Zach didn’t care about us, and I regularly bemoaned how the rest of his kind as well as his boss didn’t do enough to help humanity. But hearing about this made me wonder if there was a lot more going on behind the scenes in this war. For all our sakes, I hoped so.

“I’ll get lots of rocks just in case, but other than that—” this time, my smile was real “—let’s take a trip to France.”

“Just me, Ivy and Brutus are going,” Adrian said when Jasmine left my side and started gathering up her things.

Costa looked as surprised as my sister did. “Why?” he asked. “Ivy didn’t have any trouble pulling all of us through.”

A muscle flexed in Adrian’s jaw. “If you’re my friend, Costa, don’t press this. Just stay here.”

“I’m asking,” Jasmine said, striding over to Adrian. “Why?”

I’d assumed it was to keep them safe since demons might be waiting for us there, which was why Adrian’s reply stunned me.

“Demetrius dropped a realm on us within a few hours of our arrival in Death Valley. Then he leaked one onto us only a few hours after we showed up at the campus.” Adrian’s voice, already sharp, became harder than diamonds. “Once is coincidence, but twice is a pattern, and both times, the two of you were conveniently out of harm’s way. That’s why neither of you is coming with us now because I don’t know which of you has been going behind our backs with Demetrius.”

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

AFTER A MOMENT of shocked silence, I found my voice. “That’s impossible. Neither of them would ever do that.” Then, louder, “Jasmine, Costa, tell him you’d never do that!”

“Of course I wouldn’t!” was my sister’s immediate response. “You know how horrible I felt about what I told the demons when they tortured Tommy. Do you think I’d ever do anything even resembling that again?”

The stare Costa leveled at Adrian was full of anger. “After all these years, I never thought I’d have to say that I wouldn’t betray you,” Costa bit out.

“See?” I said. “You’re wrong, Adrian!”

Adrian turned to Zach, who I just realized had remained ominously silent. “Well?” Adrian asked. “You know almost everything, so tell me, am I wrong?”

Zach let his gaze rest on each of us before replying, and though it only took moments, the tension grew and stretched, until my nerves felt as if they were about to snap.

“You are correct. One of you has been alerting Demetrius,” Zach replied.

An explosion seemed to go off in my mind, making Jasmine’s sputtered denials and Costa’s angry protestations fade into white noise. As if I’d never seen them before, I stared back and forth between the sister I loved and the friend I trusted. I didn’t want to believe it was true, but Archons never lied, and if I didn’t focus on how this bombshell ripped me apart emotionally, I’d recognize that each of them had motive.

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