Black Heart Page 33

“We could renegotiate our deal,” Puck said.

“No way,” I said. “I’ll sort it out without you.”

“Just as I thought,” he said, but he looked a little disappointed that I hadn’t changed my mind.

I studied the grayish-green substance clinging to the blade of the sword. When I had called the vampires to me I’d used the magic in their blood, the traces of magic Azazel had left on the serum the vamps had swallowed.

But there was no magic for me to latch on to here. All the Cimice had in common were their genes.

Although creating life is its own kind of magic, isn’t it? I thought. And magic always leaves a trace of itself behind.

I touched the tip of my finger to the blade, brushed some of the blood onto it. Then I sent my power through that drop of blood, just a little questing thread looking for a spark of magic. And I found it.

Deep inside the blood of the Cimice was a minuscule remnant of magic, the magic that was life itself. And this magic bound all of the Cimice together. I knew it with the same certainty that I knew my own name. My power welled up inside me, knowing instinctively what to do.

It surged through the magical spark in the Cimice’s blood, searching for the next connection, the next link in the chain.

It touched that Cimice, and sped through its bloodstream. And then it stopped the insect’s heart.

Once my power had done that, it looked for the next link, and the next. And the next. And so on and on.

The Cimice’s voices rose as one as they screamed their anguish to the sky. The spell plowed forward, knocking the Cimice down one by one, squeezing their hearts until they stopped.

I felt them die, their agony in their final throes, and the pain brought me to my knees. I hadn’t calculated this. I hadn’t considered the possibility that I might feel sorry for the monsters. But there was no stopping it now, and in any case my purpose was still clear. They meant to kill innocent humans at the behest of the Faerie Queen. I couldn’t let that happen.

This was preventive medicine. It was necessary.

The spell went deep into the heart of the cavern, to where the vast majority of the Cimice were. I gasped as I felt the presence of all of them. There were not hundreds, or thousands. There were millions, stacked up on one another in a vast hive.

My spell was killing them all, and I could feel every one. I closed my eyes, covered my ears, tried to drown them out. But I couldn’t drown them out. They were inside me, their screams and their pain. I couldn’t escape the truth of what I had done.

I believed I had done this for the right reasons. But there was no disguising this darkness. This was a shadow on my soul, and it would stay there forever.

I thought it couldn’t get any worse. I thought my body was numb to what was happening. Then the spell hit the hatchlings.

They were just little monsters, I told myself. They weren’t children screaming.

If I hadn’t done this, there would be children screaming—human children. The Cimice hatchlings would grow up to be just as ruthless as their parents.

“They’re just monsters,” I said over and over. “Monsters.”

But what are you? a voice in my head asked, and that voice sounded a lot like Beezle’s. You keep justifying what you do, but when do you draw the line that’s not supposed to be crossed?

“I’m still myself,” I said as the spell ravaged the Cimice, worked its destruction on them. It seemed to take a long time, but then, there were a lot of the creatures.

I don’t know how long I kneeled in the dirt, muttering to myself, hands over my ears, tears running down my face.

Eventually the spell found the last of them, every last insect out on patrol, every creature hidden in a cavern in the darkness. I opened my eyes and dropped my hands.

The spell was over, but I could still hear them screaming in my head. I could still feel them in my heart.

I felt weary in a way that I had never been before. I had pushed my body to the limit on countless occasions, gone past the point of pain and exhaustion. I had suffered in my body and soul—when Gabriel died, when Ramuell had torn my heart out, in the Maze. But this was worse than any of that.

This was not the weight of my own pain. You can carry your own suffering, learn to adapt, learn to live with it. But this was not my suffering. This was the hurt of another, of many, many others, and I was the one who had deliberately done them harm.

The burden was tremendous, almost incomprehensibly huge. I felt broken inside.

I stood slowly, like an old woman. Puck sat on top of a large boulder, his legs dangling down. He looked like a child who had just seen a wonderful show.

“That was excellent,” he said, clapping his hands together. “They never knew what hit them.”

“No, they didn’t,” I said wearily.

“Are you not pleased?” Puck asked. “You have done what you set out to do. You have destroyed the Cimice utterly.”

“Yeah,” I said, looking out over the place where the creatures had built their colony.

Everywhere I looked there was death. Death, my constant companion, the truest friend I had ever had. There was no point in denying my true nature any longer. I was now, and always had been, an instrument of Death. As I thought this, something shifted inside me. The mantle of darkness settled more comfortably on my shoulders.

I opened my arms wide, and rose up into the air.

“What are you doing?” Puck called, and there was real alarm in his voice.

“Burying them,” I said. “If you don’t want to be buried yourself, you’d better get the hell out of the way.”

Prev Next