Black Heart Page 10

I stumbled closer to the dragon, unable to go anywhere else. The animal seemed more curious than anything, but maybe I was just projecting human emotion on a monster in hopes that I wasn’t about to be barbecued. The dragon drew me closer and closer, until my face was level with one eye.

The pupil was slit and long, like a snake’s. It exhaled noisily, smoke rising from its nostrils. I couldn’t think. I didn’t have a plan, or even a half-assed idea. I couldn’t fly away. I couldn’t do anything except breathe, and hope each breath wasn’t my last.

The dragon peered at me for a long time. I stared back, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. And as I stared I felt like I was sinking, sinking into flame, flame hot enough to kill, but it didn’t hurt me.

The fire was everywhere, dancing on my skin and over my fingers. It consumed me, and it didn’t feel like death. It felt like life.

I came back to myself, to the dragon’s eye, which now seemed speculative. I leaned toward his face, yearning for something I didn’t understand. The dragon turned its muzzle toward me, nudged me with its nose. Its scales were rough and hot against my skin.

“I know you,” I whispered. “I know you.”

The dragon huffed out a smoky breath in response. Then it jerked away from me, bellowing. An arrow was embedded in its neck.

I spun around, trying not to fall over. My coordination had pretty much gone out the window with my hands bound.

The dragon roared, spitting fire at the platoon of armed faerie that surrounded us. I noticed several of them carried long shields in addition to bows and arrows. As my dragon blew flame at them, the faerie held up the shields, which were made of a shiny hammered metal and deflected the fire away.

Other faerie continued to shoot arrows at the dragon, who knocked the intruders away with his tail if they approached too close. Why would the faerie risk death at the mouth of a dragon just to retrieve me? Why was I so important?

“Go,” I said to the dragon. I couldn’t bear it if they killed him because of me. I didn’t know why, but I wouldn’t be able to bear it. “Go. It’s me they want.”

The faerie were grim-faced and obviously determined. More and more of them appeared, streaming silently out of the trees, more than I’d thought possible.

The dragon huffed out a sound that might have been refusal.

“Go!” I shouted, my eyes full of tears. I didn’t want them to hurt him anymore. Whatever they wanted from me didn’t even matter. I was tired of fighting. I was sick of death.

And if I died, I could be with Gabriel. There was a lot of peace in that thought.

“Go,” I said to the dragon for the third time. I turned my back on the faerie closing in around us so I could meet his eyes. The dragon roared, blasted fire at the faerie.

“Please.”

He narrowed his eyes at me, then flapped his wings and lifted off. I followed him with my eyes as he rose above the forest. He paused for a moment, high above me. I heard a low voice in my head, almost a growl.

Be careful, Madeline. They are not what they seem. Do not give in.

Then rough hands were on me, dragging me down, binding my ankles again, lashing my arms to my sides. I jerked my head around, trying to see him, trying to catch one more glimpse of my dragon.

But by the time the faerie had trussed me up again and backed away, the sky was empty. The dragon was gone.

I felt a strange mixture of relief and despair. I was glad the dragon was safe, but now I was alone again—and back where I’d started.

Two faerie came forward carrying a long strip of the same silver netting they’d used to capture me in the first place. I was unceremoniously hoisted into it and the two faerie were joined by two others who held me in it like four posts holding a hammock. All of this was done without speaking, and I wondered who was in charge. The faerie seemed to know instinctively what their job was, moving seamlessly like insects in a hive.

My captors fell into line and began moving back toward the village. It was rough going for me. I rolled around inside the net, unable to control my movements as all of my limbs were immobilized. The fae that carried me weren’t deliberately trying to harm me, but they weren’t taking any special precautions, either. If they bumped into a tree or a rock, they weren’t concerned. And I didn’t hear anything that sounded like an apology.

The sky and the roof of the forest whirled dizzyingly above me. After a while I started to feel sick and closed my eyes. I didn’t think I had run that far, but the journey back seemed to take forever.

I fell asleep again despite the uncomfortable ride. The pregnancy book I’d purchased (a hundred years ago, in another life, it seemed) had mentioned a constant state of tiredness, particularly in the first trimester. It hadn’t mentioned anything about supernatural offspring, although I could extrapolate that my child might be especially exhausting.

I was shaken roughly awake when I was unceremoniously dumped in another dwelling. This one was a lot less primitive than the last. There was an actual floor, made of smooth planks of light wood. The floor was scattered with shiny green leaves.

The faerie that had carried me silently left the room. They probably figured I couldn’t do too much damage as tightly bound as I was. Which meant they hadn’t realized I was the one who had set the other hut on fire. That was good. It meant I could still surprise them. And the way things were going so far, I would need all the surprises I could get.

I rolled onto my back so I could get a good look at the rest of the room. This position was not even remotely comfortable. My wings and hands were bound behind me so I had to lie on top of them. Still, by lifting my head up I could get a better view without flopping from one side to another.

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