Black Heart Page 4

My stomach rumbled and I felt a powerful urge to pee. I was pregnant, and I had biological needs that had to be met. But I didn’t want to jump down and potentially attract the water creatures’ attention. If they woke up before I managed to get the sword back, I’d have to wait them out again, and who knew how long that would take?

I peered into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of the sword on the ground. I thought I saw a flash of the hilt, but I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t my imagination. The sword was on the far side of the stream. I’d been able to see it from my perch in the tree when the sun was up.

But the landscape seemed to have shifted in the dark. I wasn’t sure exactly where the sword was now. There was nothing for it. I was going to have to get closer and hunt around. At least I would be able to fly above the surface. The water creatures would not have another opportunity to grab me.

I was about to lift off the branch when I heard something large moving through the brush. Something very large. It snorted, and I realized it was only a few feet from me. I froze. I couldn’t tell what direction the sound came from.

The night was a place of deception, a place where predators thrived. It didn’t seem like a very good idea to fly around attracting attention, especially as it wasn’t safe to assume whatever was nearby didn’t have wings. I’d been chased by plenty of monsters that flew.

And even if it didn’t fly, it could have giant tentacles to snatch me out of the air. No, it was best just to stay still and wait. And hope that the creature passed by me in the dark without noticing my presence.

The creature snuffled around, knocking aside branches and brush. Heavy footsteps padded in the dirt. It felt like the air was getting hotter, getting heavier. It smelled smoky, like the remains of a charcoal barbecue that had burned out. The creature scraped against the tree that I sat in, and the whole thing trembled.

I grabbed the branch with both hands so I wouldn’t fall on top of the thing’s back. I could just make out a broad expanse topped with a ridge of triangular scales.

A stegosaur? I thought. Nathaniel, just where in hell did you send me?

The animal continued past the tree, and it seemed to go on forever. Whatever it was, it was a lot bigger than the skeleton of the stegosaur at the Field Museum.

I stayed still and tried to breathe quietly. I was up pretty high, at least twenty feet off the ground, but I could have reached out and touched the tip of the creature’s scales. I didn’t want to tangle with anything this size. I didn’t want to engage in another battle if I didn’t have to.

Truth be told, I was getting pretty damned sick of fighting. I wasn’t the kind to run, but I was starting to feel like there had to be more to life than bludgeoning things. The gigantic creature’s tail dragged in the dirt, and it was finally past me.

Unfortunately it headed directly for the stream. I wasn’t getting my sword back as long as this thing was hanging around.

The gigantic animal stopped moving. Had it smelled me? I tensed, ready to fly away and come back for the sword later.

The night was lit by a burst of flame. Something squealed in pain, and the air filled with the acrid scent of burning flesh. I was deeply grateful that I hadn’t tried to fly away when I heard the creature in the forest. The burst of flame had illuminated the creature’s head, and I now knew that it would be able to catch me whether I was in the air or on land.

It was a dragon.

The dragon crunched noisily on its crispy prize. Bones cracked and muscle squished as it ate. Instead of making me sick, I was reminded of my own hunger, which had not yet been addressed.

The creature seemed to take forever to eat. I hoped that it wouldn’t decide to nap there by the stream, because my bladder was starting to protest. After a very long while, the dragon finally lumbered to the stream and took a long drink.

I heard it slurping and wondered whether the water would enchant the dragon as it had me. Apparently not, because a few moments later the dragon beat its heavy wings and soared into the starry night.

I jumped down from the tree, using my wings to drift to the ground, and attended to my needs with great relief. Soon the baby would start pressing on my bladder all the time. I wondered how that would affect my ability to deal with the almost-daily threats to my life. I didn’t think any of my mortal enemies would stop trying to kill me just because I said, “Hang on. I’ve got to pee.”

And mortal enemies I had aplenty. Titania, the High Queen of Faerie, ranked number one right now, but Focalor was still lurking around somewhere waiting for his chance to strike. Focalor had gone to the trouble of helping my father, Azazel, rebel against Lucifer. He’d kidnapped and tortured Gabriel once and tried to sell my bodyguard to Amarantha as a stud. And he’d tried to have me killed many times over. There was no way he was going to just forget about me, not when I was instrumental in making sure he did not get what he wanted.

Amarantha had proved a tenacious foe despite the fact that I had already killed her once. And surely the vampires would be sending assassins my way soon in vengeance for the complete and utter destruction of their brethren at my hands—which had been caught on live television.

Then there was the pending problem of Lucifer’s new progeny, conceived in death and currently growing inside Evangeline’s belly. Now that Alerian had risen, it seemed the millenniums-old power struggle between Lucifer, Puck, Alerian and their mysterious fourth brother was starting anew.

You didn’t need to be a seer to know that Evangeline’s child was going to be a factor—or that Puck and Lucifer were going to do everything they could to drag Nathaniel and me into this mess.

Prev Next