The Sweetest Burn

Page 52

If I thought they’d looked skeptical before, this time, both Adrian and Costa’s faces registered sheer disbelief. Then, after a silence that slashed across my nerves, Adrian’s expression changed, becoming so hard and calculating that, for a split second, he reminded me of Demetrius.

“Yes, I’ve been to Poland,” he said in a stiff voice.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. Now, for the million-dollar question. “Any particular place?” If he’d been all over that country, it would blow a huge hole in my theory, but the look he gave me sent chills up my spine.

“There was one that I kept going back to.”

“Was it a church?” Costa asked, his tone almost urgent.

Adrian answered while keeping his gaze locked with mine, and what I saw in its depths convinced me that I was right. “Calling it a church is an understatement.”

Zach appeared, walking over as casually as if he hadn’t left in an angelic huff. “Are you ready?”

“For what?” I asked, wary.

He smiled, a rare real one. “To go to the Salt Cathedral.”


ZACH LED US through the gateway to Wieliczka, Poland. All of us, even though I had wanted Jasmine to stay behind. Zach refused, saying that he had important tasks to carry out and couldn’t continue to act as our supernatural doorman. That analogy would have amused me if he didn’t follow it up by disappearing as soon as he’d pulled the last of us through.

“This is just great.” I could still feel the gateway, but true to Zach’s warning, I could no longer cross through it. “Get your Archon ass back here, Zach! You can’t strand us in a tiny foreign town with no passports, money, transportation or weapons!”

No response. I resisted the urge to give the gateway the middle finger only because I didn’t think Zach could see it. The only person more upset than me was Brutus. He snarled at the bright light around us, hitching his wings up to cover himself. Then he glared at me as if to say, More sunshine? How could you?

“Don’t worry,” Adrian said, rubbing my back. “I can call someone and get what we need. We just need a phone.”

Costa pulled out Father Luis’s cell phone, tried to turn it on and then put it back. “Yep, battery’s definitely dead.”

I forced myself to relax. Okay, so we might have a long walk ahead of us, but there were worse things. At least it wasn’t dark, making this area demon-free for a few more hours until the sun went down. After that, well, where there was a light realm, there was a demon one. I could only hope that it wouldn’t drop on us or leak out onto us, either.

Adrian looked around. “I know this place. It’s the town’s version of an urban market.”

The quaint buildings arranged in a square around us didn’t strike me as that, but whatever, it meant that phones were close. And hey, one of the shop’s names was even in English. Granted, it was called Fuck Luck Tattoos, but all I focused on was that if the title was in English, then someone in the shop probably spoke it.

Adrian must’ve felt the same way. He took my arm, murmuring, “Let’s try here.”

“I’ll stay with Jasmine,” Costa said. Brutus had already run toward the shop because it had a sun-blocking awning.

I glanced at my sister. She met my gaze, then deliberately looked at the diamond ring on my hand before looking back at me. After her blowup following Adrian’s parentage reveal, I expected accusation in her stare, or anger, but instead, the only emotion I read was sadness that bordered on grief.

Don’t let him hurt you, she mouthed at me. Please.

Adrian’s back was turned, so he didn’t see it. I closed my eyes for a moment, wishing I could reassure her that her fears were groundless. Adrian wouldn’t betray me. He’d only hidden the true purpose of my destiny from me before because he’d been trying to help me, and while that had been a betrayal of my trust, he’d had good intentions. Just like I’d had good intentions when I’d hidden my knowledge of Demetrius from him.

Adrian tugged on my arm again, turning around. “Ivy?”

“Coming,” I said, adding, “I’ll be fine,” to my sister. Then I went into the tattoo shop with Adrian.

The proprietor did speak English, and he agreed to let Adrian make an international call after he dropped a hundred-dollar bill onto the counter. I didn’t think he’d had any money, so I was more than surprised to see several more Benjamins in his wallet. At my questioning look, Adrian shrugged.

“I brought some emergency cash along with our dry clothes.”

“You didn’t get any sleep earlier, did you?” I muttered.

Adrian only smiled as he accepted the phone from the proprietor and dialed. After a moment, he began to speak in French, judging from the few words I recognized. The conversation lasted about five minutes, and when Adrian hung up, he looked satisfied.

“We now have a hotel reservation and a car on the way. The rest of what we need will arrive tomorrow.”

He knew someone who could get four fake passports within twenty-four hours? I was impressed. “Wow.”

“The salt mine’s just a few blocks up from here, isn’t it?” Adrian asked, as if only casually inquiring.

“Yes,” the black-haired, heavily tattooed man replied in accented English.

“Thanks.” To me, Adrian said, “Want to walk by and see if it interests you?”

I translated the subtext and let out a short laugh. If I felt nothing at the mine, then I had been wrong about Adrian being the map and possibly everything else.

“We came all the way to Poland,” I replied. “I sure as hell hope that it interests me.”

* * *

COSTA, JASMINE AND BRUTUS came with us, even though the three of them hung well back. That was fine. I was focused on my hallowed sensor. So far, I didn’t feel anything, and the closer we got to the mine, the more that worried me. I’d been so sure that I had figured out the real clues to finding the staff. Zach knowing without us telling him that we wanted to go to Poland only seemed to confirm that, but in retrospect, he’d never said that I’d gotten it right. He’d never said anything, in fact, except that he wasn’t our doorman. Would Zach really drop us here if he knew that it was nothing more than a wild-goose chase based on a very incorrect assumption?

Yes, I thought grimly. He would. And probably be smug about it afterward, too.

When Adrian said, “This is it,” I was still registering a zero on my hallowed meter. The small, rather plain-looking building in front of us didn’t match with my mental picture of the home to a salt cathedral, either, although it was a mine so everything interesting was below.

“How deep is the mine?” I asked Adrian. Maybe that was the problem. I could be standing directly above the staff, and yet perhaps still be far enough away not to sense it.

“Very deep,” Adrian replied. “Over a thousand feet. And the mine is also well over a hundred miles long.”

I gaped at him. “Are you serious?” If it was that massive, it could take a full week of underground explorations before I picked up a hint of the staff, even if it was here!

“You don’t feel anything?” Adrian asked, his tone light.

I knew him well enough by now to know that the more deliberately unconcerned Adrian sounded, the more he usually cared. “Not yet, but if it’s under a thousand feet of solid rock because it’s at the bottom of this thing, I wouldn’t expect to.”

So saying, I walked toward the entrance of the mine. At some point, this place had been turned into a tourist attraction, and signs in four different languages, English being one of them, told me where to go. Adrian caught up to me in a few strides. So did Brutus, who was eager to be inside anywhere.

“Stay here, Brutus,” Adrian told the gargoyle when we entered the building. Then he spoke to him in Demonish, and the tourists ahead in the ticket line cocked their heads at us.

“You talking to bird?” the woman asked in stilted English.

“He’s our pet,” I told her, patting Brutus and stifling my smile as she goggled at that. “We just love seagulls.”

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