Black Heart Page 29

“How much farther?” I asked as we started to climb. “Can’t we fly?”

“It’s better if we don’t,” Puck said.

“Because of the Cimice?” I asked. “I didn’t think they could fly.”

“They can’t,” Puck said briefly, and then he did not elaborate any further.

Which made me think of the dragon, and wonder again why my uncle was so determinedly hiding from this creature.

The climb fatigued me very quickly. I had yet again traveled very far with little sustenance, and my body was devoting all its resources to my growing baby. I was sure now that I was getting thin despite the swelling in my abdomen. My pants were getting looser almost by the minute.

After a while I stopped, leaning against a large rock and panting, my face soaked with sweat. “Look, I can’t take much more of this without food. We’re going to have to take our chances in the air.”

“We can’t,” Puck said. “It’s too dangerous.”

I felt his arm go around me, lifting me up so I could lean against him.

“It’s just a little farther,” he said.

“Yeah, but what kind of shape am I going to be in when I get there? What if I can’t destroy them all?”

“You will have the strength to do what is necessary when the time comes,” Puck said. “You always do.”

We were both silent for a few moments. I focused on just putting one foot in front of the other, trying to conserve my energy for what lay ahead.

“You’re so like him, you know,” Puck said, and there was a mixture of tenderness and bitterness in his voice. I knew that the “him” Puck referred to was Lucifer. “Are you sure he’s not your father?”

“Don’t even joke about it,” I said fervently. “Besides, don’t you think he would have laid claim to me if he were my father?”

“Probably,” Puck said. “He does brag about you with annoying regularity. It’s quite sickening, actually. I’m sure he would love to be able to claim you were his child instead of his granddaughter.”

“When is Lucifer talking about me with you?” I asked. “I thought the two of you could barely stand to be in the same room together.”

“We can barely stand to be in the same galaxy together, to tell the truth,” Puck said. “And despite all that, we do communicate regularly.”

He said this with all of the relish of a person describing a trip to the dentist. I gave a short laugh.

“At least I’m not the only one who doesn’t cherish my family ties.”

“The truth is, the only being who has ever actively desired my brother’s company is Evangeline,” Puck said. “Which is probably why he was unable to let her go, even in death.”

“What about all of the other women who bore him children?” I asked.

“Oh, he can—and does—seduce. And those women will want him, at least for a little while. But sooner or later my brother’s true nature will reveal itself. And once it does, his conquests usually flee screaming. That is, if they haven’t already been killed for some minor slight against his lord and majesty. But only after the baby is born, of course. He always makes sure to take the children.”

It was sickening to think of Lucifer using and abusing scores of women as nothing more than broodmares. And I knew that if given sufficient opportunity, he would lay claim to all life on Earth, would declare himself emperor and demand fealty from all.

But a part of me, a very small part of me, felt sorry for him. No one had ever loved him except one lone, crazy girl. Even his own family couldn’t stand the sight of him. Had lack of affection created the monster, or had his monstrosity ensured he would never be loved?

Of course, Puck and Alerian weren’t exactly lovable, either. There was a warmth and charm present in Puck that wasn’t in the other two, but I knew there were hidden depths in Puck. I’d seen just a hint of them, but they were there. I would no more trifle with Puck than I would with Lucifer. And my brief encounter with Alerian had terrified me. I didn’t even want to meet brother number four, who was apparently so frightening that the other three left him to his own devices as much as possible.

I was so busy thinking of all of this that I didn’t notice I was feeling better until Puck dropped his arm, saying, “You should be able to walk under your own steam now.”

I was suddenly aware of the fact that I felt warm and well rested, like I’d just had a nap and a big cup of hot chocolate.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“No need to sound so accusing,” Puck said mildly. “All I did was give you a little boost, so that you would not feel quite so tired. I can do that because we share blood.”

“You didn’t do anything permanent?”

“Like what?” Puck said.

My mind conjured up a lot of possibilities, starting with his magic harming my unborn son and finishing with Puck planting some kind of time bomb inside me that would force me to do his will at some later date. But I didn’t say any of that out loud. I didn’t want to give him any ideas. Instead, I zeroed in on his non-answer.

“I noticed you didn’t actually say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Did you leave a permanent mark on me?”

“Not in the way you are thinking,” Puck said after a long pause. “I cannot force you to do anything you do not wish to do. Lucifer’s power over you as Hound of the Hunt is too strong, and would take precedence. Likewise would I be unable to harm your child.”

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