Black Heart Page 59

The three of us subsided, chastened.

The path between the storage areas was just wide enough for two people to walk side by side. I moved up so that I was at Nathaniel’s shoulder.

He glanced down at me like he wanted to argue, and I shook my head.

“You’re the one who doesn’t want to bicker,” I whispered.

He gave me a brief smile at that. He was so thin now that his face looked like carved stone in the nightfire glare. There was not an ounce of softness on him anywhere, just muscle and bone and fierce blue eyes.

There was now one storage space between us and the stuff all over the floor. I held up my hand so everyone would stop.

“It’s coming from there,” I said, pointing to the last storage area.

We couldn’t see what was inside because the lockup beside it was stuffed to the gills with junk. But it was very apparent that the slime was leaking from something inside the last space.

I summoned a ball of nightfire to hurl at anything that might pop out at us, and wished I held my sword instead.

The three of us crept closer. I winced as my bare feet touched the goop on the floor. The last storage area came into view.

“That . . . is . . . disgusting,” Beezle said.

“What are they?” I asked.

The space was filled with dozens of hanging sacs roughly the size of footballs. Each one was attached to the cage by a kind of looped tentacle that protruded from the top. They were connected to one another by a long cord, almost like a vein with nodules jutting from it. Each sac was dripping slime, and some of them were wiggling, as though the living creature inside was shifting.

I automatically put my hand to my newly swollen belly, covering it protectively. My baby fluttered beneath my touch.

“Whatever they are, they don’t belong here,” J.B. said.

“Quick, get a form,” Beezle said. “I’m sure you’ll need to file some paperwork on this.”

“Why does everyone think I love paperwork?” J.B. said.

“Because you do,” Beezle and I both said together.

“So how do we kill them?” I asked. “It looks like they’re all connected to that vein. I bet it’s some kind of sustenance for them.”

“We’re just going to kill them without knowing what they are?” J.B. said. “They haven’t done us any harm.”

“J.B., anything that grows in the basement in a slime-covered chrysalis is not going to make nice with humans,” I said. “We should count ourselves lucky that they’re still inside and not out running around on the street. I don’t think people could handle another panic so soon after the vampire attacks.”

“But it seems wrong to just slaughter something so helpless,” J.B. said.

“Better them than us,” I said.

“Can we at least find out what it is we’re killing before we kill it?” J.B. asked.

“How can we do that?” I said.

“Hang on,” Beezle said, giving the colony a good hard stare. “It looks like some kind of green insect, kind of praying mantis-y, but not exactly the same.”

“Green insect?” I asked, dread filling me. “Nathaniel, can you put that nightfire closer to one of the cocoons? I want to try to see the shape of the creature inside.”

Nathaniel sent the nightfire close to one of the closer sacs. A shape was silhouetted inside the slime-covered membrane. The shape of a Cimice. I knew suddenly why the smell had seemed familiar. The stink of the insects had pervaded the air around the mountain, but it hadn’t seemed so strong then, as the space wasn’t enclosed.

“I don’t understand,” I whispered. “How did they get here?”

“Who?” J.B. asked.

“The Cimice,” I said. I started to explain about the Cimice, because I hadn’t had a chance to really tell Nathaniel or J.B. about my adventures, but Nathaniel cut me off.

“The gargoyle explained,” Nathaniel said.

He frowned at the colony of eggs, for that was what they were. Tiny little eggs holding tiny little Cimice that would grow into mating pairs. I remembered what Batarian and Sakarian had said about how quickly the creatures bred. They could overrun the city in no time.

“We have to kill them all,” I said.

“Yes,” Nathaniel said. “If they are as dangerous as you say, then we have no choice.”

We both looked at J.B. He nodded with obvious reluctance.

“If we have to do it, then let’s do it,” he said. “But how did they get here, in this building?”

“Good question,” I said. “Who put them here, and why?”

“There are no clues to be found here,” Nathaniel said. “Except only the obvious one, that this is somehow linked to Titania or a member of her court.”

“Yeah, but what’s the point? Are they after J.B., or Bendith, or me?”

“Maybe it’s got nothing to do with you at all, solipsist,” Beezle said. “Maybe this is just a convenient launching place for an attack.”

“And it just happens to be the building in which J.B. lives?” I asked. “Color me skeptical. Plus, this isn’t exactly a strategic location.”

“Why not?” Beezle asked. “It’s close enough to the Loop to cause chaos, and far enough away that it’s not under the same tight security as most of the other buildings.”

“And maybe I would get blamed for missing the threat under my nose,” J.B. said. “Titania is still technically my sovereign, and she would love to have an excuse to take my crown away and put her own puppet on the throne in my court.”

Prev Next