Black Heart Page 15

“There is no one of Lucifer’s kind,” I said. “I don’t belong to him. I don’t represent him. I told you. I just want to go home.”

“She will tell us nothing, Father,” Sakarian announced. “She will not betray her master.”

“No one is master of me,” I said coldly.

Batarian gave me a long look. “Every creature has a lord.”

“Not me, pal. I’m an American.”

“What is an ‘American’?” Sakarian asked.

“Do you want the long version or the short version?” I asked.

The three of them blinked at me, looking confused.

“Never mind,” I said, peering into a cup of something that smelled sweet with a whiff of alcohol. “Got any water?”

“We do not drink the water here,” Sakarian answered. “It is disrespectful to the gods that live there.”

“Gods, huh? I thought they were nothing but a bunch of mean-ass water sprites,” I said.

There was a cry of alarm from outside, and the sound of running feet.

All three men stood abruptly. Batarian and Sakarian started toward the door. The king barked orders in his native language to Litarian.

The third man silently stood and indicated that I should go with him. I stuffed something that looked and tasted roughly like bread in my mouth and followed him out of the room.

He held my sword loosely grasped in his left hand. I could knock him out, take the sword, and get away in the chaos. There were people running everywhere, carrying weapons. Even looking the way I did, it would be easy to take advantage of the confusion.

“I would not attempt what you are considering,” Litarian said, his English heavily accented. He seemed to have a lot more trouble with the language than either Sakarian or Batarian.

“What am I considering?” I asked as we continued down a passageway. The walls were uniformly bland—plain wood with no decoration. Several rooms emptied off the hall, all of them with leaves hanging over the entranceway.

“You are considering escape, as I would if I were you,” Litarian said. “However, if you run, you will be captured again, and Lord Batarian will not be so kind to you a second time.”

“Who says I’ll be captured?” I said under my breath, but I knew Litarian was right.

I couldn’t run far or fast enough to get away from the fae. I needed my wings, and to get my wings back, one of them had to unknot the bindings. So I was stuck playing along for the time being.

We reached the end of a passage, and Litarian politely held the hanging leaves aside so that I could pass through. I ducked under his arm and found that we stood on a balcony. I stared down. And down, and down.

I hadn’t realized we were in a tree house several dozen feet off the ground. My fingers curled around the railing as I twisted around to get a sense of the size of the place.

The structure continued up for three stories, laced with a series of stairs and outer walkways. The trunk of the tree was enormous, larger than anything I’d ever seen, and its height would easily rival that of a sequoia.

Far below, I could see the remaining buildings of the village neatly laid out. They appeared to be similar in construction to the building I’d burned down—simple, one-room huts.

Warriors carrying weapons disappeared into the forest. Several women holding children converged upon the tree. I couldn’t see whether there was some kind of walkway below, but I assumed they were fleeing to the safety of the tree house. Despite its lofty position, I couldn’t see much of the surrounding area. The forest was too thick.

Litarian’s hand closed around my upper arm, gently but firmly pulling me away.

“It is not safe to be outdoors at this time,” he said.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Are you under attack?”

“Yes,” Litarian said briefly.

“Another band of faerie?” I persisted. It would be useful to know more about the situation here.

“No,” Litarian replied without elaboration. “How do you know that we are fae?”

“I’ve seen faeries before, in my world,” I said.

Litarian did not reply, but his forehead wrinkled slightly.

Something about him reminded me of Gabriel. Gabriel never said two words when one would do.

Inside my belly, my baby fluttered its wings, as if he felt the same sadness I did whenever I thought of Gabriel. My memories of my husband were getting further and further away from me. I never seemed to have time to dwell on the past. The present always required too much of my attention.

Litarian led me to an external staircase that wrapped around the tree until it reached the next level. We followed the stairs up and then crossed the length of the building. I thought we would reenter, as the main body of the house didn’t appear to go any higher, but Litarian followed the balcony to its end and then pointed up.

A rope ladder hung there, leading up to what looked like a small, covered platform.

“You want me to go up there?” I asked.

The platform didn’t appear very large or very stable. Without my wings, it didn’t seem very safe either.

He nodded. “Someone will return for you later.”

I was nearly overwhelmed by the desire to punch Litarian in the gut. It really burned to have to submit to someone else. But there was nothing much I could do about it at the moment. I needed my wings. I’d never escape—or make it to the portal—without them. So I gritted my teeth, grabbed one of the rungs of the ladder, and climbed.

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