Black Heart Page 24

There was something strange going on here. The more I considered it, the more I realized that Batarian’s response to my aid during the battle didn’t make any sense. I’d just been too tired and out of sorts myself to realize it.

We moved out of the hall and onto the walkway. Some guards were posted at intervals, but not nearly as many as I thought there would be. I wanted to ask Litarian about it, but first we needed to get away. The guards would still be able to hear us even if they couldn’t see us.

Litarian led me to a staircase that went to the ground. The stairs were narrow, and I hoped that we wouldn’t encounter anyone on the way down. I would be able to fly out of the way, but I didn’t think I would be able to lift Litarian. I was stronger than an ordinary human, but not strong enough to lift a man twice my size. But there was no one on the staircase, and only a few guards posted at the perimeter at ground level. The guards seemed preternaturally still, almost like dolls or statues.

We slipped easily out of the village and into the dense forest. Once we were out of sight I dropped my hand from Litarian’s shoulder and lifted the veil.

“Something isn’t right,” I said, keeping my voice low in case it carried back to the village.

The light was faint under the trees but I could easily read Litarian’s troubled expression. “I agree,” he said.

I sensed the tug that pulled him back toward the village, toward his people, but he seemed to shake it off.

“First, the Cimice,” he said.

He started through the forest, moving with the smooth stride of an experienced woodsman. I grimaced and followed as quietly as I could.

Litarian looked askance at me when he heard me clomping through the woods like a team of horses, but he didn’t say anything.

We walked in (relative) silence for some time. “How far is the colony from the village?” I asked.

“Several hours’ walk,” Litarian said.

“Do you think Batarian will raise the alarm and send men after us?”

“Perhaps,” Litarian said. “Perhaps he will not consider my safety a priority.”

“Your relationship with your family is more confusing than mine,” I said. “It seemed like Sakarian had to obey you when you came to arrest me. Batarian seems to have given you a lot of power, as well. But you’re saying he wouldn’t come after you if he thought you’d been kidnapped or thought you’d disobeyed him.”

Litarian was silent for a while after this. We continued moving through the forest. I figured Litarian wasn’t going to comment, and I wasn’t going to push it. I didn’t need to get involved in anyone else’s weird family dynamics.

Finally, Litarian said, “My father has mixed feelings about me.”

I could sympathize. “Yeah, so did my father.”

“Did?” Litarian asked. “What happened to him?”

“I, uh, blew him up,” I said.

Litarian paused, his gaze assessing. I could almost hear the calculations in his head, his rapid reconsidering of both my ruthlessness and my abilities. “I will be very cautious around you.”

“He was gathering an army to destroy humanity at the time,” I said. “Also, he was really, really mean to me.”

As in trying-to-kill-me-multiple-times kind of mean.

“I will certainly make every effort not to be ‘mean’ to you,” he said seriously.

I laughed, but it was without mirth. People who were mean to me had an unfortunate tendency to die in horrible ways. Chloe had said something to that effect once, when we were arguing about my methods. I’d told her I wasn’t a monster.

But then I’d destroyed every vampire in the city in one fell swoop. I’d tortured Bryson. I’d condoned and acted on morally questionable impulses. And Beezle had left, because I was changing.

Maybe if Gabriel still lived, it would be different. But he was gone, and I was left to fend for myself, to muddle through, to do whatever was necessary to preserve my life so that I could keep my child safe. So first I would destroy the Cimice, even though they hadn’t invaded my city yet. But before that . . .

“Someone’s directing the Cimice,” I told Litarian. “If we can, I’d like to find out who.”

“Why do you think that?”

“It’s too much of a coincidence that they’re here and that one of them came through to Chicago. One of my enemies is giving them pointers.”

“You make it sound as though you have many enemies,” Litarian said.

“Probably more than I can count,” I said.

“Then how will you determine who is leading the Cimice?” Litarian asked. “They do not speak our language. They do not feel pain the same way that we do. You will not be able to bargain with them, or torture them.”

“They speak my language,” I said, remembering the metallic voice telling me that its brethren would descend upon me, destroy everything I loved.

“They have never indicated such to us,” said Litarian, sounding vaguely insulted.

“Maybe that’s because they don’t want to converse with you,” I said. “They want to kill you.”

“Still,” he said. “If we had known they could speak with us, we would have tried to negotiate, to save—”

“You couldn’t save them,” I said, cutting him off. “There is nothing you could have done. Just as no amount of fae fighting ability would have defeated the Cimice if they had chosen to advance. Your people are nothing but pawns in some larger game.”

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