Black Heart Page 8

I rose above the trees and headed off in the direction where I’d detected a largish body of water. More time had passed than I’d realized. The moon was already setting, so low in the sky that it appeared to brush the tops of the trees.

In the distance, off to my left, something huge spread its wings and soared into the sky. The dragon. Or rather, a dragon. There was no guarantee that there was only one dragon in this forest.

The gigantic animal flew away from me. It seemed not to have noticed me at all. Thank goodness. Maybe my luck was changing. I’d managed to avoid a dragon twice.

I flew low, just above the tree line. I was keeping a sharp eye below, looking for the lake or a good place to forage for food. I didn’t see any movement or any evidence of creatures beyond the dragon.

Soon enough I realized I was too tired to keep going. I lowered into a tree, found a comfy-looking branch, and was asleep before I knew it.

My dreams were tangled things, images of Gabriel and Nathaniel twisted into one body; the dark, lurking menace of the Retrievers; the sight of Alerian rising from Lake Michigan; the feeling that I was drowning when I touched his hand.

Then Lucifer was there, and behind him Evangeline. He smiled at me as Evangeline rose up, growing taller and taller, her belly huge with child, her shadow threatening to smother the world. I was just an insect to her, something to be smashed.

I ran and ran, my own belly unwieldy, swollen with my son, but I could never run far enough or fast enough. She was coming for me.

I woke to a searing pain, and the sensation of falling. There was an arrow embedded in my upper right thigh, and whoever had shot it had knocked me out of the tree. I flapped my wings so I wouldn’t smash into the ground. But they got tangled in something.

A net.

I hit the dirt hard and all the breath went out of my lungs. I rolled over, the net twisting in my wings and covering my face. My thigh burned from the arrow embedded in it. I grabbed the net with my hands and tried to set fire to it, but it was made of some kind of flexible metal and all I succeeded in doing was burning myself.

There was a flurry of movement all around me, soft footsteps in the dirt, voices whispering in some musical language. I struggled inside the net, flopping around, unable to make any headway because of my wings.

Tall, slim shadows crowded around me, their faces hooded. They all held bows with nocked arrows pointing straight at me.

I stopped flailing around. I was only tiring myself out anyway. There were six of the figures surrounding me, all of them perfectly still. I knew that if I tried throwing magic, those arrows would fill me up like a pincushion.

I hate feeling trapped, and I hate thinking I have no choices. I had enough obstacles in my way without being kidnapped by some hostile species.

“What do you want?” I asked, trying to sound like I wasn’t as insanely ticked off as I actually was.

The hooded figures did not respond.

“What do you want?” I repeated. I confess that I sounded a lot meaner the second time around.

Which may have been why one of the figures stepped forward and hit me in the head with his bow.

Everything faded to black again.

Someone was calling me.

Madeline?

Gabriel? Was that Gabriel’s voice?

Madeline, be careful. They are not what they seem.

“Gabriel!” I shouted, or rather, tried to shout.

My mouth was gagged with a piece of cloth. I was in a low hut that appeared to be constructed of large leaves and long strips of tree branches. The floor was dirt, making the structure little more than a glorified tent.

My hands and ankles were bound with something cold and metallic. I tested the strength of the bonds to see whether I could pull them apart. I am a lot stronger than an ordinary human, but the bracelets around my wrists had no give. In fact, they seemed to get tighter. My skin chafed against the metal, and I ceased before I tore my wrists up.

I lay on my right side facing a wall, so I rolled myself to the other side so that I could see the rest of the room. This was not as easy as it seemed, especially when one’s ab muscles were—ahem—underdeveloped. After spending several moments doing an excellent imitation of a fish out of water, I managed to heave myself to my left side.

The view from this side was less than inspiring. The hut was small and round and just one room. In the center were a fire pit and a small opening at the top of the hut to vent smoke.

There were no other objects in the room. Several leaves cut into long strips hung over the doorway in a kind of makeshift curtain. I was alone in the hut, but there were surely guards posted outside. Well, I wasn’t going to lie here and wait for them to come for me.

I still had my wings. I tested them out to see whether my captors had restrained them. Unfortunately, they had. I felt some kind of cord pulling on them. There was no way I’d be able to fly like that. I was trussed up like a Sunday turkey, and I couldn’t move at all unless I flipped over and did an impression of an inchworm.

Crawling on my belly hardly seemed like an efficient method of escape. But if that was the only option available to me, then that was what I would do. Nobody had ever taken me prisoner before, and I was a little insulted.

Plus, I had pretty much been spinning my wheels since I’d landed on this stupid planet. Now that I knew where the portal was, I wanted to get to it.

The first order of business was to get out of these bonds. If I had endless time and energy, I could probably figure out a way to pick the bracelets apart at the molecular level. But I did not have endless time or energy. So I did what I do best.

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