Black Heart Page 5

All of that didn’t even take the Retrievers into account, which were the reason why I was in the middle of a jungle on an alien world trying to avoid getting eaten by a dragon or drowned by malicious water sprites.

When I ran down the list like that, it was hard not to feel depressed. And my group of friends had shrunk rapidly. No matter how magically powerful I became, it was still a lot nicer to know that I had my super team at my back. Now I didn’t have a team at all.

Well, hanging around here won’t solve anything, I thought. I was going back. I’d take my chances with the Retrievers and the Agency. Maybe Lucifer would even show up and throw his weight around for a change. That would be nice.

I was hardly the helpless princess in a tower, but it would be refreshing if someone else rode to the rescue once in a while.

I realized I was standing under a tree in the dark, woolgathering. It would be a fine thing if I was attacked because I was spacing out instead of getting on with my business.

I flapped my wings, ascending high enough to be out of the reach of the grasping water creatures. I flew over the stream, landing on the far side, looking for the glint of metal in the darkness. I didn’t see it.

Maybe I’d miscalculated. Maybe the sword was a little farther up- or downstream. I was leery of getting too close to the water. I didn’t know whether the sprites woke up only if you drank from the stream, or whether they lay in wait for anyone who approached. It didn’t seem smart to risk it, but my memory told me the sword was pretty close to the water. If I wanted it, I’d have to get closer.

I crept cautiously toward the flowing water, and almost immediately felt an overwhelming urge to drink it again. I slid backward in the dirt, and the impulse passed. Interesting. The stream exerted a pull on anyone who had drunk from it before, so that if by chance the sprites’ victim escaped, they would not be able to do so again. I hadn’t experienced the same compulsion when I was flying, so the enchantment was probably limited to the ground close to the stream. I lifted up again and approached the stream as before. I felt like myself, no pull to drink water that would try to kill me.

Ha! I thought. At least I’d managed to outsmart at least one trap. A second later my elation faded. I’d seen the gleam of the sword in the darkness.

It was in the water.

2

I MUST HAVE BEEN BORN UNDER THE UNLUCKIEST star there ever was. I couldn’t even drop a sword in the dirt without its retrieval turning into a minor saga. The blade flashed as the water ran over it, so tantalizingly close. But I knew as sure as I knew my own name that if I put one fingertip in there, the sprites would be upon me.

I floated back to the shore and settled down in the dirt, just out of reach of the spell. I wrapped my arms around my knees and stared hard at the stream, willing a solution to present itself.

Everything went blurry, and I wiped the tears out of my eyes. I figured I had a right to cry. I had been hounded out of my home. I was hungry, tired and pregnant. And I wanted my sword back.

That sword had saved my life in the Maze, and countless times after. And if I left it here, it would be gone forever, because I was most definitely not coming back to this place again.

There had to be a magical solution that didn’t involve putting my hand in the water. I had already tried and failed to draw the blade toward me like Thor calling Mjolnir.

My skill as a firestarter was completely useless against water. The truth was I’d never learned to do much with my power except smash obstacles in my way.

Think like Lucifer would. There was both danger and wisdom in such a thought. Lucifer was a master of subtlety, a trait that I did not seem to possess. Subtle magic did seem to be required here.

On the other hand, thinking like Lucifer even for a moment opened a door that I wasn’t sure I could close again later.

You could just leave the sword and go home. It’s just a piece of metal. Maybe Lucifer will have another one made for you, this time with an auto-return feature.

That hardly seemed likely. Lucifer had put a bit of himself inside that sword, and he had done that for a reason. He certainly wouldn’t give any part of his power away again, especially not with Evangeline leaning over his shoulder.

My many-greats-grandmother bore no love for me. She doubtless felt even less kindly toward me now that she had lost both her eyes and one arm as the price for passing from the dead back to the living. Despite the fact that the price had been set by the universe and not by me, I was sure to get blamed for this. I always get blamed for such things.

No, I couldn’t leave the sword behind. It was more than a bit of metal. It was a powerful magical object. More than that, it was mine. I didn’t easily give up anything that was mine.

And the idea of being defeated by a bunch of sneaky water monsters did not sit well with me at all.

Grabbing the sword out of the water was out of the question. But what if I moved the water? Could I even do that? The enchantment on the stream was very strong. If I tried to shift the water, it would probably fight back. Still, it wasn’t as if I were trying to divert the whole body. I just wanted to move the water around the sword so I could safely grab it without being grabbed myself.

Trouble was, I’d never tried to do this kind of magic. I wasn’t really sure where to start.

Think subtle. Think like you did when you exorcised Amarantha from J.B.

That had definitely been a delicate magic. I’d had to get Amarantha out without killing J.B. It had been difficult, but I’d been under pressure. So I hadn’t really thought about how to do it. I just did it.

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