Black Heart Page 9

I set the hut on fire.

My palms faced outward even though they were bound behind my back. So all I had to do was call up some fireballs and make sure my hands pointed at the walls.

Soon the hut was smoking. Very quickly the flames spread, and in a short time the whole hut was ablaze. The heat of the flames got uncomfortably close pretty quickly, and I rolled toward the exit.

A guard rushed in, his face set in lines of surprise. His hood was pushed back against his neck, and I could see the pointed tips of his ears. Faerie, I thought.

He looked from the flaming wall to me. I widened my eyes and tried to look helpless. I flopped my feet up and down a couple of times so that he would know what I wanted. He seemed torn for a moment, unsure whether he should douse the fire or save the prisoner.

I heard shouts and cries outside as the fire spread. The guard seemed to make a decision. He knelt beside me, hovered his hands over the bracelets that bound my ankles and said something in that musical language I’d heard earlier. The bracelets clicked apart, and the guard put his hands under my shoulders to help me to my feet.

He wasn’t stupid enough to release my hands or my wings, but that was okay. I could work with this. I stumbled as he dragged me out the door, both of us coughing from the smoke that now billowed out of the hut.

Several faerie were running toward the blazing structure carrying containers of water that sloshed onto the ground. The guard pushed me to one side so that I fell to the ground again. I rolled over and sat up, glaring at him.

He pointed his finger at me and said something in a firm voice that was likely some variation on, “Stay here. Don’t move.” Then he ran in the direction the other faeries had come from, probably to help with the fire dousing.

The faeries trying to put out the flames took very little notice of me except to shoot me a quick glance and get on with their business. That suited me fine.

The hut was isolated from the rest of the village, which appeared to be made up of several structures considerably more elaborate than my prison. The village was set in a large clearing, and my hut was right on the edge of the forest. That also suited me fine.

I scooted backward on my bottom toward the underbrush. Leaves scraped against my back. I waited until I thought everyone was engaged with the blazing hut, then went a little farther, until I was against a tree. I used the tree as a brace so I could rise to my feet. The wound in my right thigh burned like hell as I put weight on it.

Then I turned and ran. My hands were bound painfully against my back, and it made running extremely awkward. But I needed to get away. I would figure out how to break the manacles on my wrists later.

The forest was so thick and dense that the sound of activity in the village was quickly muffled by the foliage. I could hear my own desperate, frantic breathing and my unsubtle crashing through the bush, but no sounds of pursuit.

The scent of smoke drifted along behind me, clinging to my clothes and burrowing inside my nostrils. I don’t think I ran for very long, but after a while I was wiped out. My body was losing energy fast. I just couldn’t keep up with the constant exhaustion and hunger and fear anymore. With every day that passed, my baby got bigger, using more and more of my resources. I was supposed to be eating chips and dip on the couch, not running for my life from creatures that intended me harm—again.

I wasn’t really paying attention to where I was going. I was just trying to get as far away from the faerie as possible.

So, naturally, I stumbled into the dragon.


I BARRELED THROUGH A PARTICULARLY ROUGH PATCH of brush that was full of tangled pricker branches. I fought my way through the thorns tearing at my face and arms, and finally I was out.

And there he was.

The dragon was sleeping, curled up like a cat in a small clearing. His tail was wrapped around the front of his body, which was so much more massive than I’d realized. He was the size of three city buses lined up with three more stacked on top. And that didn’t even count the length of the coiled tail, or the triangular spike that protruded from his back.

His face was long, the bones beneath the scaled skin sharply defined. The closed eyes were huge, easily the size of my head. I already knew it could fly, and breathe fire. I wondered what else it could do.

It was a plain miracle that I hadn’t woken it up by crashing through the bushes like that. Maybe it was confident enough in its superiority as the dominant predator in the forest that it didn’t need to stir just because it heard a little human noise.

I didn’t want to go backward into the thorns, so I’d have to go around the dragon. I crept slowly to the right, toward the base of the tail. I figured if the dragon woke up and attacked, I’d be farther away from its mouth and the inevitable fire, and hopefully more likely to survive.

I kept well away from the creature, leaving several feet between it and me. I just had to get through this clearing. And then get my hands and wings unbound. And then fly thousands of miles to the portal. No problem.

The dragon’s tail shifted, uncoiled and landed in front of me. I turned my head slowly, and met the orange eyes of the dragon.

I went perfectly still.

The dragon bumped me with its tail in the back of my legs, herding me closer to its head and its immense jaws.

My mind was a mass of gibbering terror. Everything had finally caught up with me—the stress, the fear, the physical wear and tear. Even if my hands were free, I don’t know whether I could have summoned a spell. I just didn’t have the wherewithal to hold it together anymore. Given the amount of stress I’d been under, it was only surprising that it hadn’t happened sooner.

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