Black Heart Page 26

He wanted to pursue it. There was a quality of expectation in his silence. But he didn’t. Maybe he’d decided to trust me. Maybe he’d decided not to pursue the issue so long as he wasn’t in immediate danger. All I know is that we did not speak another word to each other for all of that long night.

The fae from the village did not pursue us; nor did we encounter any animals in the wood.

I don’t know what was in Litarian’s head, but I was brooding on my seeming connection to the dragon. Had the dragon been left here by Lucifer, created by Lucifer’s magic long ago? Was that why I was drawn to him, and him to me?

As the moonlight began to fade and the first rays of sunlight showed pink in the sky, I noticed the forest had changed. We were no longer surrounded by lush vegetation. Everywhere I looked the trees were stripped of their leaves, the underbrush similarly denuded. The back of my neck itched. I felt exposed.

“I suppose we’re getting closer to the colony,” I said.

“Yes, we are very near now,” replied Litarian. “We must proceed with caution.”

“Let’s get under a veil,” I suggested. “We’re too easy to see here.”

Litarian hesitated, like he wasn’t certain he wanted to be that close to me.

“I won’t attract the dragon while we’re under a veil,” I said impatiently. “That doesn’t even make any sense.”

He stepped closer, his expression embarrassed. I summoned my magic, settled the veil over us.

“Stay close to me,” I warned.

“I remember,” Litarian said.

We moved forward again, proceeding more cautiously. Neither of us wanted to be surprised by the Cimice. The landscape grew bleaker, more barren, as we walked.

“They’ve completely destroyed this part of the forest,” I said. “I wonder if it will ever even grow back.”

“We cannot allow them to encroach any further on our village,” Litarian said.

I agreed, but I wasn’t thinking of the fae. I was thinking of Chicago, and what would happen if these creatures appeared in my city. They would destroy every thing, every person in their path. And when they were done they would move on to the next city, and the next. All the while they would breed, until their numbers were impossible to comprehend.

Once they had wiped every last trace of life from Earth, they would move to another world, presumably through the power of whatever architect had brought them here in the first place.

I gradually became aware of a buzzing sound that filled the air. It was like the persistent hum of cicadas, only a lot louder and after a while a lot more irritating. The headache behind my eyes spread. I found myself growing angry. I was hot, tired, thirsty. I hadn’t showered in a couple of days and I was desperate to get out of my clothes and wash.

And my head hurt. And that sound was so pervasive, so damned annoying. It wasn’t just in my ears. It was in my teeth, and the sockets of my eyes. It vibrated up and down my spine, crawled over my nerve endings, made me madder and madder until I felt like I would explode.

“Stop,” Litarian said, his hand going around my upper arm.

“Quit manhandling me!” I shouted.

The veil had fallen away at some point. I’d lost track of the magic, become preoccupied with the noise.

“You need to stop. You need to breathe,” Litarian said soothingly, the kind of tone that you use on a child throwing a temper tantrum.

“No,” I said angrily, wiping my face with my sleeve. I was covered in sweat. It poured from me like I’d just run a very long distance. “I don’t need to breathe. I need for this damned noise to stop. I need it to stop.”

I scrunched up my eyes, covered my ears, but it was still there, inside me.

“Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop,” I said.

Litarian closed his arms around me. “You stop,” he said insistently. “Relax. Breathe. The Cimice will make you insane if you allow them to do so.”

I kicked at him, flailed, but he was strong, much stronger than he seemed, and he held me fast.

“Breathe,” he repeated. “Breathe with me.”

The low, steady insistence of his voice was finally breaking through the haze of madness. I tried to push away the noise, to focus on the steady rhythm of his inhalations and exhalations. I let my breath go, let it fall into the same pattern as his.

The buzzing of the Cimice continued, but it receded from my body. My nerves felt scraped raw. I was a hollow thing, ready to be born anew.

I opened my eyes and looked into Litarian’s—and saw what he had tried to hide.

“You!” I said, wrenching myself from his embrace as Litarian’s green eyes bled blue—the merry sapphire blue of Puck.

“Are you not pleased to see me?” he said, grinning.

I punched him in the face.

Last time I’d hit Puck, he had tried to strangle me to death. This time he was so pleased with his trick that he just shook off my blow, still smiling.

“I’d have thought you’d be pleased to see a family member in this strange place.”

“What the hell are you doing here pretending to be a faerie?” I demanded. “Aren’t you supposed to be in Chicago with Alerian and Lucifer?”

I had a sudden thought that chilled me to the bone. “Oh, gods above and below. You didn’t let him take over the city, did you?”

“So many questions. Which to answer first?” Puck said, tapping his finger on his chin.

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