Black Heart Page 25

Litarian said nothing to this. I knew it was a bitter pill for him to swallow, to think that there was never anything that could be done to save his people.

We passed through a particularly dense patch of trees and into a clearing. The moon had risen high while we walked, and the light danced on the surface of a sparkling stream. I pulled up short.

“I’ll be flying over that, thank you,” I said. “Come on, I can hold you up for a few seconds.”

Litarian turned toward me, a question in his eyes. “Why would I need to do such a thing?”

“Because of the creepy, grabby water creatures that live in there,” I said.

Litarian shook his head. “The gods in the water will not harm you if you show them respect.”

To demonstrate, he walked to the water’s edge and knelt there. He spoke what sounded like a prayer in his own language, then stood and offered me his hand. “Come. It is safe to cross now.”

“I think I’ll just stay and watch,” I said, waving him away.

Litarian shrugged and stepped into the water. I tensed, expecting the creatures to rise up and grab at his legs. But he crossed without incident. When he was done, he turned back and gave me an expectant look.

I rose up into the air, muttering to myself. “Of course. I should have thought to say a prayer in a language I don’t know. How stupid of me.”

I didn’t care what Litarian said. I’d destroyed one of the water “gods.” I didn’t think any amount of respect from me would let them allow me to pass unharmed.

Sure enough, as soon as my feet crossed high above, the surface of the water broke, filling with hissing faces.

I landed beside Litarian, who goggled at me. “What did you do to them?” he asked.

“It’s not worth getting into,” I said briskly. “Let’s go.”

Litarian didn’t press. That wasn’t his way. I’d figured that out pretty quickly. I was again strongly reminded of Gabriel. Gabriel was never one to press, either. He just waited, with his infinite store of patience.

I swiped at the tears that had risen to the surface, the unwanted proof of a grief that seemed to creep up on me more frequently since my arrival here. I was glad Litarian walked in front of me. He wouldn’t press, but I didn’t want to feel obligated to explain anything to him. Gabriel belonged to me. He had nothing to do with this place.

Litarian suddenly held up a hand to halt me. “What is it?” I whispered.

“The dragon approaches,” he said, very still.

I didn’t see or hear anything. “How do you know?” I asked, moving up to his side. His eyes were closed.

“Can you not feel him?” Litarian said, and his voice didn’t sound like his own.

I looked at him sharply. For a moment, I thought I’d heard . . .

But the thought faded as the presence of the dragon filled my mind. Litarian was right. I could feel him approaching, like a flame-lit shadow that covered the night.

“I know you,” I said into the darkness. I felt that inexorable pull that I had experienced in the dragon’s presence before, felt something buried deep in my blood that drew me toward the creature. I took a step forward.

6

LITARIAN GRABBED MY ARM, HIS VOICE ANGRY. “WHAT are you doing? Do not draw it to us. I told you to halt so that we would not attract its attention.”

“It won’t hurt me,” I murmured, my head full of fire and darkness.

I yearned for something, something elemental and just out of reach.

Litarian came around to grab both my shoulders, to shake me. The jolt snapped the connection between the dragon and me. Litarian and I stared at each other. Something shifted behind his eyes, and just for a moment I thought the color of the iris changed.

It must have been a trick of the light. Then he was speaking, more harshly than I had heard him speak before.

“Are you mad?” he asked through his teeth. “That creature would destroy both of us in an instant. What were you thinking?”

He punctuated this with another little shake, which made me angry. I slapped his hands away from my shoulders.

A headache was brewing behind my eyes as the darkness in my mind retreated. It felt like this when I was first coming into my power, my legacy from Lucifer. There had been the same sense of a door opening just a crack before it slammed shut again. And because the door hadn’t opened all the way, pain streamed in its wake.

There was a mystery here to be solved, something else I needed to discover before I left this place. And Litarian was keeping me from that discovery. He was preventing me from finding the source of fire deep inside me.

“I told you, he wouldn’t hurt me,” I said.

“But he would hurt me,” Litarian said. “He despises all of us.”

“He wouldn’t if I asked him not to,” I said, still angry, still longing for the thing that was just out of reach.

“Can you communicate with the dragon?” Litarian asked suspiciously. “I thought you said you had not been here before.”

“I haven’t,” I said, now feeling defensive. “It’s just . . . a feeling I have when I see him.”

“A feeling,” Litarian said flatly.

“Look, I don’t have to explain to you,” I said, pushing past him.

“I think you do,” Litarian said, following me. “I have a right to know if you’re going to draw the dragon down on my head.”

“Don’t be stupid,” I said. “Look, just forget it, okay? The dragon isn’t coming anywhere near us right now. Let’s just focus on the Cimice.”

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