Black Heart Page 31

Even if I had crossed a few lines in defense of my life, I still believed I was on the side of good. I was still trying to be something better than my grandfather wanted me to be. But every time I went deeper into that pool, every time I drew a little bit more of that power and made it my own, I was also drawn a little deeper into Lucifer’s web. Puck may have known, or at least suspected, most of my feelings on that count.

He wouldn’t want me belonging to Lucifer any more than I already did, unless it served his purpose. And Puck’s purpose was just as opaque as that of his brother. If I used my magic in this new way, I would get rid of the Cimice, thereby eliminating a threat to my city and thwarting Titania at the same time. But it was also possible—even probable—that I would play myself right into the middle of some scheme of Puck’s.

Could I avoid being trapped by Lucifer’s brother? Was the risk worth it if I could save innocent lives? If I wanted to stay on the side of good, then the answer had to be yes. But maybe I could clear myself of an obligation at the same time.

“If I do this, I want one of the favors I owe you wiped off my ledger,” I said.

Puck shook his head, tut-tutting. “Oh, no, no, no. A favor from Lucifer’s best beloved is far too valuable a quantity to give up for something such as this. Besides, you would go after the Cimice whether I were here or not. You were going to do it when you thought I was Litarian.”

“Yes, but it also benefits you if I do your dirty work. So I want one of my favors cleared.”

Puck continued to shake his head. “Are you telling me you would really allow innocent humans to die just because you didn’t get what you want? I don’t believe that of you. If you did behave that way, I would say you were more like Lucifer than I thought.”

“Of course I won’t allow anyone to die because I didn’t get my way,” I said.

Puck spread his hands wide. “Then I rest my case.”

“But if you don’t clear me of my obligation, then I’ll call the dragon here, and you can take your chances.”

Puck stared, his jewel-blue eyes carefully blank. “You wouldn’t,” he said.

“I would,” I said, and made sure he could see the conviction on my face.

I was definitely taking a gamble. If Puck became angry that he had been boxed into a corner, he’d find a way to pay me back later—and I was certain I wouldn’t like the payback. It was always possible that he wasn’t actually scared of the dragon. Maybe he’d feigned fear just to see what I would do.

I was giving myself a headache, thinking in circles like this. How did Puck and Lucifer and Titania do it—weigh all the angles, contemplate all the possibilities?

Beezle had once compared me to the Hulk, and it was an apt description. I liked to crash and bash and worry about the consequences later. The trouble was that everyone around me was playing the long game, and if I continued the way I had before, I was always going to be on the losing end of the stick.

I watched Puck, and waited for his decision. I didn’t have a hint of what he was thinking.

Finally, he said, “Deal.”

I couldn’t conceal my shock. “Deal?”

“You don’t want it?” Puck asked craftily.

“Of course I do,” I said. “I want your word, by the blood we share, that you forfeit your right to one favor from me if I kill all the Cimice present on this world.”

I was careful to add that last qualifier. If there were Cimice alive on other worlds, Puck could easily claim that I had not adhered to the letter of our agreement. He would then absolutely use that as a loophole to put my favor back in his ledger.

“I give you my word, by the blood we share, that I forfeit the right to one favor from you if you kill all the Cimice present on this world,” Puck said solemnly, but his eyes twinkled.

Had he thought of something that I hadn’t? It was very likely he had, but my brain was pretty much done with exhausting the options. I’d have to accept that I wasn’t as well equipped in that department as my relatives.

“So now we’ve just got to catch one of these suckers so I can use its blood to direct the spell.”

“We?” Puck said.

“Aren’t you going to help me?” I asked.

Puck shook his head. “You are fulfilling an obligation to me. You must perform the task on your own.”

I bit my tongue so that I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of listening to me curse him out. “Enjoy the show, then,” I said.

I veiled myself and stalked away, Puck chuckling softly behind me.

I surveyed the situation. The Cimice were all pretty centrally located around the cavern. Even if I was under a veil, the Cimice would notice if I grabbed one of them. Then an alarm would be raised, and I would lose the element of surprise, and this whole enterprise would quickly become more annoying than it already was.

If I had known I’d need the blood of one of the creatures, I would have taken out one of the patrols we had passed earlier. They were nice and isolated from the rest of the population. Now it would be too time-consuming to double back. I was just going to have to take my chances here. That was pretty much the default of my life, so at least I was in familiar territory.

I crept carefully over the ground between me and the colony, mindful of any place where there was loose rock or dirt that I might dislodge beneath my boots. I skirted around the entrance to the cavern and took up a spot several feet away from the epicenter of activity.

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