Black Heart Page 17

Usually when I had this many questions, I took action. I tracked somebody down. I followed clues. I smashed and burned things. I smote my enemies. At the moment there was nothing for me to do except cool my heels.

Unless I wanted to use my power to terrorize the fae, burn down their village and slaughter them one by one until they gave me what I wanted—my wings. But that seemed like the sort of thing a bad person would do. Someone like Lucifer. A monster.

I was still trying hard to be a good guy. According to Beezle, the jury was out on whether or not I was succeeding. Killing a bunch of innocents just so I could get my way would definitely cross a line.

So I waited. The moon set. The sun rose. My eyes remained open. As the first rays of sunlight touched the tops of the trees, I thought I saw a figure moving among the branches. Aside from my physical discomfort, the sensation of being watched made it impossible for me to fall back asleep.

Whatever was making the back of my neck prickle was probably the same creature that had disturbed the birds earlier. It was just a flash of something green. It might have been nothing but a branch moving. Or it might have been yet another creature that wished me harm.

My throat was scratchy from lack of water. The fae clearly thought it was fine to live on mead or whatever had been in my cup yesterday, but I was having elaborate fantasies about a truckload of iced bottled water falling from the sky.

Barring that, I’d settle for some rain. Surely the water gods wouldn’t have dominion over flying drops from the clouds. But the sky was clear and cloudless, and no relief was coming from there. So I waited. And waited.

The sun rose higher. I got more hungry, more thirsty, and a headache built behind my eyes. There was very little movement from below.

The whole village seemed subdued. I started contemplating doing something stupid, like climbing down through the porthole, blasting nightfire at whoever stood guard and then taking Batarian hostage until he released my wings.

I heard movement on the walkway below and leaned carefully out over the edge to see.

Litarian was crossing underneath the platform, carrying a bowl and a cup. I was trying to figure out how he would get up the ladder with that stuff when a rope flew up from beneath, wrapped around one of the poles holding up the roof, and returned to Litarian’s waiting hands.

He placed the bowl and cup inside a sack and tied the sack to the rope.

“Won’t that spill everything?” I muttered, but the sack was already on its way up to me.

The bag was made of soft, aged leather. I unknotted the tie at the top, expecting to see the contents slathered all over the inside. But the bowl and cup rested neatly on the bottom, almost as if Litarian had placed them on a tray and carried them to me.

I took out the bowl, which had something oatmeal-porridgy in it. The cup was filled with the same honey-colored mead drink I’d had the day before.

Once I’d emptied the bag, Litarian yanked on the rope until the sack returned to him. He coiled up the rope and continued without so much as a nod.

“Well, good morning to you, too,” I said loudly.

I tipped the bowl toward my mouth—Litarian hadn’t bothered to provide a spoon—and tentatively tasted what was inside.

The porridge was good, kind of nutty, and seemed to have been cooked in milk. I gulped down the mead, though it was very unsatisfactory and left me feeling more thirsty than before.

The silence of the forest was broken by another of the eerie, metallic cries that had interrupted my sleep. This time another voice joined in, and then another, and another.

The sound seemed to worm inside my ear and permeate my brain. I threw myself on my belly and covered my head with my arms, trying to block out the noise. It grew louder and louder as more voices joined the chorus. Below, the faerie were running to and fro again, as they had the day before.

However, the warriors did not enter the forest. They set up a perimeter around the village and waited, watchful and still. The alien song grew louder, more persistent, and I knew that whatever made that noise approached the village. It was an army, and the fae were ready for war.

The pain in my head made my eyes squint. Just as the song reached a crescendo, it suddenly stopped. I raised my head, my breath held. The first creatures leapt from the forest, a poison green blur.

The fae fired arrows, and when the creatures were close enough the warriors pulled out daggers for hand-to-hand fighting. Both the fae and their enemies moved so quickly that I couldn’t easily identify the creatures.

After a few moments I realized what they were, and why their cries were so familiar to me.

Just before I had given up my Agent’s status forever, I had lost a soul named Jayne Wiskowski. She had been killed by one of these monsters, which looked like giant preying mantises. When I’d fought with the overgrown insect, it had threatened me, told me it was the vanguard of a vast army to come.

I’d never discovered who had sent the thing. Shortly after that I’d killed my father and defeated a city full of vampires, so I never gave the bug another thought.

At the time I’d assumed it had been sent by Azazel or Titania, and I had not seen another one since. Until now.

But how had a creature from this world wound up in Chicago? One of my enemies had to have a way into and out of this place, despite Batarian’s insistence that the borders of the world were closed, even despite the evidence of my own magic, which would not create a portal for me to leave.

There was a way, but who controlled it? Whoever it was would not be friendly to me, for sure. The mantis I had killed had told me that Jayne Wiskowski’s death had simply been a way to get to me. That girl had died for nothing, just another casualty in an ongoing war.

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