Black Heart Page 16

The platform was farther away than it looked. Sweat beaded on my forehead. I couldn’t believe how tired I felt. About halfway up I paused and glanced down. Litarian watched me impassively. Lucifer’s sword glinted in the sun.

I continued up, trying not to think about how far I would fall if I slipped. Litarian didn’t seem like the sort who would catch me unless he was ordered to do so.

I finally reached the top of the ladder, bumping the crown of my head on the platform. There was a trapdoor just above the ladder. I pushed it open and pulled myself through, slamming the trapdoor behind me.

The space was small. Frighteningly small.

The platform was perhaps five feet by five feet, which meant that even with my less-than-impressive height I would not be able to stretch out. There were four beams holding up a little roof, but no walls.

I pressed my back against the tree, feeling dangerously exposed. I’d never been afraid of heights before—how could I be, having spent so much of my life in the air? But my wings were bound and the ground below was much farther away than I liked.

I discovered I was not immune to vertigo.

My leg had healed completely, and my stomach was full. Sleep was what I needed now, but the idea of sleeping on this platform was terrifying. What if I rolled off the side in my sleep? The best-case scenario would be that I’d land on the roof of the tree house below, which would break my fall.

Or, quite probably, my neck.

The sounds of frantic activity below had ceased, and there was no noise from the forest. Even the birds and insects had gone quiet. The air was heavy, hushed with waiting. I folded my hands over my belly. My eyes drifted closed.

I heard Gabriel’s voice in my head saying, “Things are not as they seem.”

“Where are you?” I called, groping in the shadows. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“You are not alone,” another voice said.

A figure rose out of the darkness, sheathed in flame, its eyes two pools of exploding stars. “You will never be alone again.”

The figure reached for me, hands drenched in fire. I was drawn to the flame, even as I shrank from it in terror. There was a keening cry, something metallic and alien, and my eyes opened.

My clothes were soaked with sweat, and my face felt as though it had been singed by flame. My son beat a rapid tattoo in my belly. It was full dark.

The moon had risen over the trees and shafts of white light filtered through the branches. I was surprised that I had gone to sleep. I thought my fear of falling was greater than my exhaustion.

The alien cry echoed through the forest again. I realized it had not been part of my dream as I’d thought but had woken me from sleep. The sound was vaguely familiar. It fluttered at the corner of my brain, just out of reach. I knew what made that sound. I just couldn’t remember.

A flock of birds suddenly rose into the air from their roost nearby, several of them flying straight at me in their panic. I flattened myself on my belly against the platform, not wanting my eyes to be pecked out by some crazed bird. The crown of my head stuck out over the edge.

My own wings were cramping from being tied together for so long. I pressed uncomfortably into the wood, waiting for the birds to pass by, burning with jealousy at their freedom. My personality is really not well suited to being a prisoner.

After a while the flapping and the chirping stopped. I eased forward an inch or so until I could peek over the edge. Far below, I could see the shadows moving, the silent warriors returning.

A glad cry was raised, and torches were lit in greeting. It was difficult to tell from that distance, but several of the faeries seem to be covered in blood. None of them seemed to be seriously wounded, and no one was carrying the dead home. Either they had left the corpses behind or the attack had just been a skirmish.

I wondered what had panicked the birds, though. The faerie seemed to slip through the woods unobtrusively. There must be another predator out there. I stared hard into the foliage, but couldn’t see anything. The forest kept its secrets.

Now that I was awake, I was hungry again. And thirsty. No one was going to send room service to me in the middle of the night, so I was just going to have to deal with the discomfort. I pushed up to a kneeling position and carefully eased back against the tree.

My mind buzzed with questions. What had happened in this place between Lucifer and these fae? Why was the world closed to others but I had been able to arrive? How far was I from my own home? And most important—had Nathaniel known where he was sending me, and if he did, why here? If he didn’t, then how did I end up in another dimension where Lucifer was not only known, but despised? Was it nothing but bad luck, or was I a magnet for Lucifer’s enemies? Did my blood draw me to them, ensuring that I would never have any peace?

I couldn’t do much about philosophical questions regarding my unlucky bloodline. There was no way to determine Nathaniel’s trustworthiness from here. What I could do was find out what had happened between these fae and Lucifer. And I had to gain their trust so that my wings could be released, but I couldn’t wait forever for that to happen.

When I’d left Chicago, Puck, Alerian and Lucifer had met for the first time in centuries. I didn’t think it was a good idea for the three of them to run around unsupervised for long. And twice since coming here I’d dreamed of Gabriel warning me that “they” were not to be trusted.

Did he mean the fae, or was he warning me of others I had not yet met? Was I actually hearing Gabriel speaking to me from beyond the dead, or was it all just a projection of my anxieties?

Prev Next