Black Spring Page 21

“You are a human on the verge of giving birth to a child of mixed and extremely powerful origins. I believe you are underestimating what changes this baby has wrought in your body. All I suggest is taking each problem as it presents itself and not worrying about what may happen on Saturday at this time.”

“But what if Lucifer is collecting all his known associates in one place so he can squash them in the most efficient manner possible?”

“You need not worry. If Lucifer were to do such a thing, your life would no doubt be spared,” he said.

I frowned at him, knowing he could see my face despite the veil. “You think it would make it okay if I lived even if everyone else died?”

“All I am attempting to say is that Lucifer would not permit harm to come to you.”

“Yeah, as long as I’m carrying the little prince,” I said. “After that I’ll be just as expendable as anyone else.”

“I know you do not wish to hear this, but if you had accepted Lucifer’s protection in the first place . . .”

“I’m not going to have this argument with you. Again.”

“Very well,” Nathaniel said, but I could tell he didn’t want to let it go.

Beezle had made the same argument once I’d discovered I was pregnant. Both of them seemed to think I would be safer with Lucifer. But I didn’t think it was a good idea to stay in such close quarters with the Prince of Darkness.

We landed on the lawn of the house. Everything seemed quiet and normal on the street. Our usual mail carrier was about half a block from my house, whistling as he jogged up porch steps to drop off catalogs and bills. I could hear the happy cries of kids released for recess at the school down the street.

For some reason, though, tension wound tight in my belly. Beside me Nathaniel appeared stiff and alert.

“Something’s coming,” I said.

He pushed me toward the house. “Get inside.”

“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me,” I said. “No way.”

“Do not be stubborn for a change. For the love of the gods, let me protect you.”

I shook my head. “I’m not being stubborn. You hear those kids playing down the street? There’s no way I’m going to go inside and hide and let whatever’s coming take out its frustration on them. Enough innocents have died in this city.”

He did not argue anymore after that. We moved so that we were back-to-back, and waited.

There was still no sign of whatever was making us so tense. The mailman approached the house, working his way cheerfully down the block. I gave him a good hard stare, wondering whether he was the shapeshifter in disguise, but it didn’t do me any good. I didn’t have Beezle’s powers.

Beezle. Right. What was I thinking?

I pulled out my phone. Nathaniel gave me a startled look.

“You are making a phone call now?”

I dialed the house phone. After five rings the answering machine picked up. “Damn. Beezle must still be out with Samiel. But where’s Daharan? He’s usually at home all day.”

The mailman reached my front walk. He stopped whistling abruptly as he noticed us, tense-faced and ready for a fight.

“Um, good morning,” he said, sidling past us like whatever was wrong with us might be communicable.

“Morning,” I said through my teeth. The knot in my belly tightened. It was about to happen.

The mailman offered the rubber-banded bundle of envelopes to me. “Do you want to take it, or should I just leave it in the—”

I grabbed it from him and tossed the packet to the ground.

“—box,” he finished.

“Thanks,” I said. I wanted him to leave. I wanted him to leave immediately, before he was caught in the cross fire.

The mailman started to walk away, then stopped. “Are you by any chance the same Madeline Black who—”

“Alerian,” Nathaniel and I both said simultaneously.

The mailman appeared confused. “Alerian? I was going to ask about the vampires.”

“Get down!” I yelled just before the world seemed to explode.

There was no warning rumble, no indication that anything was going to happen. The grate flew off the sewer opening that was right in front of my house. The street seemed to cave in on itself before bursting outward, chunks of cement flying everywhere. I watched in horror as the pieces of the street crashed through the windows of people’s homes. And then the first tentacle emerged.

“What the hell is that?” the mailman screamed. “Just what in the hell is that?”

My sword was in my hand before I even considered what I was doing.

“Go in the house!” I shouted, hoping the mailman would have the sense to take cover in the foyer, but the man seemed paralyzed by fear.

I couldn’t blame him. I was feeling fairly paralyzed myself. A small, still-thinking part of my brain realized the gigantic tentacled sea creature rising from the rubble wasn’t Alerian himself but an avatar, a sending to do his dirty work.

Nathaniel and I moved toward the thing, defying my very natural instinct to move away from the monster that wanted to eat us.

And I was pretty sure that it did want to eat us, as it seemed primarily composed of teeth and tentacles. Its mouth was a giant maw of rotating layers of teeth that seemed to circle in its jaw like razor-sharp gears. I could not see any eyes, but its front two tentacles shot toward us with unerring accuracy.

I did the only natural thing in those circumstances. I slashed at the tentacle that reached for me. The tip of the arm sliced off under the blade of the sword. Black blood, like cephalopod ink, poured out of the wound, splashing over us, smelling of salt and the sea.

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