Black Heart Page 32

The Cimice were carrying rocks of various sizes inside the cavern. They were obviously building something, and I was really not interested in what. Understanding them was not going to help me get rid of them.

After several moments, a Cimice drifted close to my location. First, I quickly dropped a veil over the creature. I could still see the Cimice underneath, but it seemed see-through, like a ghost. I wondered why I could see it when I couldn’t see Puck under my veil before. Was it a product of my will? Or because I hadn’t expected to see Puck then, but needed to see the Cimice now?

There was a lot I still didn’t understand about my powers. Regardless, the insect did not seem to be aware of the veil. The creature went about its business, busily collecting rocks and loading them into the sack it had slung around its neck.

The Cimice were well armored, with shiny green carapaces everywhere except at the soft joints. I remembered killing one before, in Chicago, under the Southport El. That creature had known I was coming, had fought me to the point of exhaustion. But I had managed to kill it by shooting electricity through it at the vulnerable exposed flesh just under its head. Using electricity now would attract a lot of attention. In any case, I needed the creature’s blood, and frying it wasn’t the best way to achieve blood loss.

What I needed to do was use the sword to slit the thing’s neck. There were a couple of logistical issues I needed to work out first, though.

For one, the Cimice were tall—like, NBA-player tall. I am decidedly un-tall. I could fly up behind the insect in order to reach its neck, but it’s a lot harder to be stealthy that way. The Cimice might sense my presence behind it—feel the breeze from my wings or something like that. It seemed better to do it from the front, especially if the insect was distracted into looking up. Which gave me an idea.

Sheer rock rose above the Cimice’s cavern, and above the place where I stood. If I very carefully caused a small piece of rock to break off and tumble down . . . Yes, that could work.

I moved into position. I was close enough to where the Cimice worked to lunge forward and slice its neck. It was kind enough to help me in this regard by suddenly deciding to work on all fours, which made it a lot easier for me to reach the soft throat with my blade.

Now the tricky part. I needed to hold the veil over myself and over the Cimice while using a very small, focused amount of power to dislodge an eensy bit of the rock wall above. I didn’t want to start an avalanche, although that would have been better suited to my skill set.

I took a deep breath, focused my magic and my will to hold the veils steady, and then shot a tiny amount of nightfire at the rock wall. A chunk the size of a potato was dislodged, and it tumbled down in front of the Cimice. It then immediately did the logical thing and looked up.

And when it did, I pounced. The blade sliced through the Cimice’s neck. I put a lot of force into it, nearly taking the thing’s head off entirely. As it was, the creature’s head flapped backward, bending the remains of its neck in an unpleasant way and exposing the cut muscle and veins.

Blood spurted, covering my sword. And my arm and chest and face and hair. This thing had a lot of blood. But at least I had what I hoped was enough of the stuff to perform the necessary spell.

I was congratulating myself on a job well-done when a nearby Cimice let out a high-pitched cry of alarm. And then pointed one of its pincers right at me.

The veils still held steady, so I couldn’t figure out what had given me away. Then I noticed the blood spatter all over the rock. Ah. Yes. That would attract some attention, wouldn’t it?

I raised the sword up, ready to take down any Cimice that came for me. But the creature who had raised the alarm wasn’t actually pointing at me.

It was pointing at the splattered blood, which was behind me. My veils were holding. The insects gathering now could see neither me nor their fallen brethren. They saw the blood, and didn’t understand where it came from. It frightened them.

Good, let them be scared, I thought. It was such an un-Maddy-like thought, such a dark-side impulse that I shook my head immediately. No, I was not going to enjoy their fear. I was going to get the job done and then make sure Puck got me out of this place.

Puck had been adamant that flying was a bad idea, but it was the fastest way for me to get out of the corner I was boxed in. More Cimice were gathering, pointing at the spattered blood and chittering among themselves. I really needed to get away before they approached the wall. They would bump right into me, veil or no veil.

I lifted off, debating whether or not I should drop the veil on the dead Cimice’s body. There were already on to the fact that something was amiss. I would have an easier time with the blood spell if I could focus all of my attention on it. That settled the question.

I dropped the veil on the dead one and flew away. Behind me was an explosion of noise and activity as the body was revealed.

I went straight to the spot where Puck waited, still hidden behind the rock. He laughed out loud when he saw me.

“I told you to get blood, Madeline,” he said, his eyes crinkling with merriment. “I didn’t tell you to roll in it.”

“Shut it,” I said. The Cimice’s blood was drying stickily all over me. I felt like I’d been dipped in a vat of caramel sauce. Except I didn’t smell that good. “Okay, obviously I’ve got the thing’s blood. Now what?”

“I’m sure if you think about it, a solution will come to you,” Puck said.

“You . . . are . . . useless,” I said.

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