Black Heart Page 23

There was a long sort of sofalike thing made of branches that stretched out against a wall. I lay down on it. My mind was racing, and I was still pumped full of energy from using my magic during the battle with the Cimice. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep, but almost immediately I drifted off. My body knew what it needed even if I didn’t.

My baby fluttered inside me. My son. The last tangible evidence that I had of my beloved. In my mind were Gabriel’s eyes, Gabriel’s mouth, Gabriel’s touch. Gabriel’s voice whispering in my ear. For now and forever they would only be in my mind, only in my memory. Since he had died, I’d had only fleeting moments to remember.

I chased monsters. I battled demons. I felt the shadow on my heart growing larger and larger with each passing day. But the grief was always there, the pain that was unyielding and unending. Even when I tried to hide from it, to find solace where I could, my sadness chased me down and overtook me.

I woke with the wetness of my tears on my cheeks, salt in my mouth, and Litarian standing above me, an indefinable expression on his face. He held my sword in one hand.

I sat up quickly, scrubbing my cheeks. “What did Batarian decide?”

“Despite my arguments to the contrary, my lord feels you cannot be trusted,” Litarian said. “He has ordered me to bind all your limbs, heedless of any possible harm to myself, and remove you as far from the village as possible so you can do no damage here in retribution.”

“Under normal circumstances I would consider that a threat,” I said, studying him carefully. “But I don’t think you’re going to carry it out.”

“No,” he said. “I am not.”

“You don’t agree that I am a threat to your village?” I asked.

“I believe that you could harm us all greatly if you so chose,” Litarian said. “However, I also believe you would not choose to do so unless necessary.”

“I don’t want to hurt you at all,” I said. “I just want to be free.”

Litarian nodded and indicated I should turn around. I did so, hoping he was going to release my wings and not slit my throat with my own sword when my back was turned.

He murmured low in his native language, and the bonds were released. My wings stretched, unfurled—and immediately cramped from being held in a fixed position for so long.

I eased them out slowly, until they were at their fullest extension, arching my back like a cat as the blood flowed though the tight muscles. I felt a touch on the silver feathers and closed my wings, turning to Litarian in surprise.

He drew his hand back, his cheeks coloring. “I’m sorry,” he said. He handed my sword to me to cover his embarrassment. “They are just so beautiful. It must be an incredible feeling, to soar above the trees.”

“It is,” I said, thinking of how free I felt when flying. “Well, listen, thanks for letting me go.”

“You go to destroy the Cimice,” he said. It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” I said. “I can’t let them get to my city.”

“I will go with you,” he said.

“Um,” I said. I could travel a lot faster without him, especially now that I had my wings back.

“I can show you precisely where the colony is located,” Litarian said. “My life is forfeit, in any event. My lord will certainly take it hard that I released you.”

“I could knock you out,” I offered. “Make it look like you tried to hold me here but I escaped.”

Litarian shook his head. “Batarian would see through such a fiction. I argued too ferociously in your favor.”

I didn’t want to bring Litarian with me. But it seemed a poor repayment for my freedom to leave him here to be executed.

“All right,” I said finally, although I had no idea what I would do with him once I’d taken care of the Cimice. “Take my hand.”

Litarian hesitated.

“If you want to come with me, you’re going to have to trust me,” I said impatiently. “If I wanted to hurt you, I could have done so a hundred times over.”

Litarian nodded and took my hand. There was a supple strength in his fingers, honed from years of pulling a bowstring. I spoke the words of the veil that would cover us, and heard him gasp.

“You disappeared,” he said, his voice full of wonder.

“Yes,” I said. “And so have you. We’re more or less invisible now.”

I kept a firm grip on his hand so he wouldn’t go wandering off.

“What is ‘more or less invisible’?” Litarian whispered.

“Most things can’t see us. Some can,” I said. “It kind of depends on how magical the being is that’s looking.”

I didn’t know whether the spell would actually hide us from the fae on this world. I figured if it didn’t, I could always fall back on my usual crash-and-burn routine.

“Lead the way,” I said. “And remember, you’re invisible but people will still be able to feel you if you bump into them.”

“I will be cautious,” Litarian said.

I put my hand on his shoulder so we would stay close together, and followed him out of the room. There was no one in the hallway, which was a surprise. Either Batarian completely trusted that Litarian would follow through on his orders without question, or else he didn’t care about the possibility that his son might be killed by me.

It seemed foolish to have sent Litarian without a guard to back him up. The whole settlement seemed unusually quiet. I must have slept longer than I realized. Still, why was Batarian not more vigilant? He was so concerned that the Cimice would send the horde down on their heads.

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