He set his hands on his hips. “Come now,” he said after a moment, “what are you thinking?”

“That you don’t seem dangerous,” she admitted. “Which makes me suspect you are very dangerous.”

“I hope that is not a logic you apply to your everyday life.”

“No,” Farideh said. “Just devils … and the like.”

“I’m only half a devil.”

“That’s enough like a devil.” Her voice hitched, and she pressed a hand to her mouth, willing herself not to cry again. But it was too much and the tears overcame her.

“Oh Hells,” he said, holding out a hand, “come here.”

She didn’t know how he snatched her wrist away from the layers of the blanket, how he pulled her free of it and to her feet, but as soon as she realized he was moving and she should stop him, Lorcan had her tucked against him, her back pressed to his chest, his arms wrapped around her.

“You’re freezing,” he commented. Fortunately he was warmer than the fire.

She stiffened, and kept her eyes resolutely on Mehen’s sleeping form. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Proving you haven’t doomed yourself. Really, I’m a pleasant enough fellow if you give me a chance.”

She was sure in her heart of hearts that Lorcan would say anything if it meant she’d stay bound to him. But that night, far from home and far from any future, she was still seventeen, still a girl, and still desperately lonesome. She stayed where she was.

“Why me?” she said. “You said … ‘the king of the Hells’ own blood.’ Is that why?”

All tieflings have the blood of Asmodeus,” he said. “Regardless of who first dirtied the well. An effect of the ascension-it’s terribly boring. Don’t worry about it.”

Farideh pursed her lips. “I don’t like people telling me what to think.”

“Fascinating. How do you feel about people telling you what to do?”

He snatched up her hands in his own. Her breath caught-her double concerns twining over each other. She’d heard stories enough of people who lost their souls by not paying close enough attention to canny devils.

But at the same time no one had ever grabbed her hands like that. Lorcan’s hands were strong, and she found herself considering how much larger than hers they were.

If he held tight, she didn’t think she could break away.

“Close your eyes,” he said.

She gave a little shake of her head. She didn’t want to, and yet she did. She wanted to see what he was going to try-it wasn’t as if anyone had tried anything on her-but she wasn’t a fool and she knew he was up to no good.

“Close your eyes. Think about your burn,” he said. “And think about the world.”

“The whole world?”

“Yes. Think about Toril.”

Tempted, Farideh tried, but it was like trying to think about how to walk or how the color yellow looked-Toril was Toril. She opened her eyes.

“I don’t know how-”

“Stop talking,” he said, “and concentrate.”

Farideh closed her eyes again, and instead, thought of the ground. The way it felt to stand solid and to spread her weight between both feet in one of Mehen’s fighting stances. She thought of the cold, dry air and the wind that stirred the snow over the solidness of the mountains. She thought of the sun and Selune looking down at her, and the color of the moon goddess’s light on the rocks and the snow. The stillness of the cold winter night and the sound of the breath through her nostrils and the heat and pop of the fire.

And the burn-no, she thought, not burn. Brand. Lorcan could call it whatever pleased him, the lines that laced her shoulder were more than a burn. Tieflings didn’t burn easily-she and Havilar had scared Mehen enough times, snatching dropped bits of bread or meat right out of the flames, quick enough that they didn’t feel a thing. Only setting fire to their sleeves now and again.

But this burn, this brand, was no more a part of Toril than Lorcan was. Farideh knew that all the way to her marrow. The way it pulled at her, the way it still ached after hours and hours and Mehen’s ministrations. The brand was something magical, and it tied her to Lorcan.

And something tied him to someplace … else. If she let her thoughts drift along the bindings, she could sense another world beyond Toril.

The Nine Hells.

Farideh swallowed hard and opened her eyes.

“You’ve noticed,” Lorcan said.

She nodded, not wanting him to be a devil, not wanting him to be a monster. Not wanting to have said anything to him in the first place, if she could just wish for things to be true, so that she wouldn’t be standing there, as unsafe as she could be.

Lorcan let go of her hand and traced the lines of the brand peeking through her hastily mended dress. “This mark is what connects you to the powers of the Hells. Well,” he amended, “rather it’s what lets you channel them. Through me. Easier than spellbooks.”

“Does it hurt?”

“You’ll be fine.”

She looked back over her shoulder. “I meant you. Does it hurt you?”

He smiled-such a wicked, wicked smile. “I’ll be fine too. Here’s your first lesson.” Lorcan took her hands up again. “Think about that connection. You were close. You felt the power.”

She still could-it was like a primed pump, waiting for someone to grab hold of the handle and start it flowing. And it seemed to want her to grab hold of it, as if it were aware, as if it wanted to flow through her.

“What will it do?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Lorcan said, “unless you take hold of it.”

She opened her eyes. “Is this how you’re going to take my soul?”

He sighed. “Lords. If I promise to leave your soul alone for the time being will you just do what I say?”

Farideh laughed bitterly. “What’s your promise worth?”

“Plenty,” he said, sounding affronted. “I’m not some demon or something. I keep my word.”

“You lied about the circle.”

“I didn’t lie. I wasn’t forthcoming. There’s a difference. And I give you my most solemn word that you can keep whatever semblance of a soul you’ve managed, devil-child-unless you want to give it up-if you just do what I say.”

“For now,” Farideh added. “If I do what you say for now.”

He chuckled again. “You are terribly melodramatic. For now.”

Farideh hesitated again, sensing the power lying just out of reach. It seemed, she thought, to be only a part of something larger, a fraction of the Nine Hells, and still it was vast and roiling. She wondered if she managed to open that channel wider, like the breaking of a dam, if it would surge through her and Lorcan and kill them both.

“You know,” Lorcan said, “you are bound to come up against bandits. Or monsters. Or just people who don’t like the look of you. Maybe those neighbors of yours will decide you need more punishment than just banishment. This will help. For all I’m sure your dragonborn has trained you with a sword, you’re not practiced enough with it.”

“How do you know that?” she asked.

He rubbed his thumb over her palm in a slow circle. “Calluses. Your hands are far too smooth.”

She blushed to the roots of her hair.

Later, Farideh would think if anyone ever asked her about that night, she would need to invent a story- something where she acted because she was prideful and thought she could handle what she should have known she could not; or because Lorcan was clever and she was grief-stricken and foolish; or because she was forced against her will to grasp the powers of a warlock.

Anything, she would think, is better than the truth-that I reached for the powers of the Hells so I wouldn’t have to think of something to say to the half-devil stirring up my blood in ways I didn’t want to think about

Вы читаете Brimstone Angels
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату