Black Heart Page 28

“Those are side benefits. If she releases an army on your planet, it would be tantamount to declaring war on Lucifer, as my brother believes that world belongs to him.”

“Then why do it? Does she think she can defeat Lucifer with the Cimice?”

“Yes, she does,” Puck said.

I stared at him. “But she’s wrong.”

“I know,” Puck said.

“And if she brings her armies against Lucifer and he chooses to retaliate—”

“He will,” Puck interjected.

“Then there will be nothing left of the planet,” I said.

“Precisely,” Puck said. “Which is exactly why I brought you here.”

“And what am I supposed to do?” I said.

“Just what you intended to do when you thought I was Litarian,” Puck said. “Destroy the Cimice.”

“First of all, if you’re here, why can’t you do it yourself?” I asked. “And second of all, won’t Titania be pissed if she finds out you screwed up her plans? And finally, since when do you care if humanity is destroyed?”

“I like people,” Puck said lightly. “Existence was so much more fun once you came along.”

“That’s only part of an answer,” I said.

Puck sighed theatrically. “Oh, Madeline, you know me so well.”

“Why?” I repeated.

Puck tapped the tip of my nose with his finger. “What if I said it doesn’t suit my purpose to have the two of them at war just yet?”

“That, I would believe,” I said, although I didn’t like to think about what would happen once he did decide it would suit his purpose. Puck might think the world was more fun with humans in it, but if he could harm his brother, then people had just better watch out for the cross fire. Puck would certainly not be looking out for them.

No, that’s your job. It was a little startling to think of myself in those terms, to consider that I might really be all that was standing between the monsters and civilized society. Especially since the civilized society seemed perfectly willing to throw me to the wolves to protect themselves, as was demonstrated when a bunch of kids had tried to turn me in to Therion’s vampire authority.

I realized Puck was watching me with a knowing look. I wondered how much of my thoughts he could read on my face. Then I decided I was better off not knowing. It would be nice to at least have the illusion of privacy in my own mind, especially since Lucifer and Puck and all of their brethren had infected every other corner of my life.

“So?” I said. “How come you need me to hammer the Cimice when you have more than enough power to do it yourself?”

“It’s better if I don’t make grand gestures,” Puck said. “It tends to draw unwanted attention.”

“And it doesn’t draw unwanted attention when I do it?” I asked.

“Well, yes, it might,” Puck admitted. “But when you do it, ancient beings don’t construe your actions as an act of war. They just think you’re flying off the handle—again.”

“So lovely to know my reputation precedes me,” I said.

Puck grinned. “It does. It really, really does.”

“And what will happen to you if Titania finds out you’ve thwarted her?” I asked.

“She won’t find out,” Puck said.

I didn’t know whether it was extreme arrogance or that he had a fail-safe in place, but he seemed supremely confident that Titania would not discover his machinations. Fine. It had nothing to do with me, anyway. It was none of my business what happened to Puck, and I had no desire to make it my business. I had enough on my plate.

“Will you continue on with me now and eliminate the threat posed by the Cimice?” Puck asked.

I was angry that Puck had manipulated both Nathaniel and me, but I was going to help him anyway and Puck knew it. There was no way I could allow Titania to set the Cimice on my city.

“Let’s go,” I said, and started forward again. And stopped.

The buzzing of the Cimice had ceased. Good for my sanity, sure, but possibly bad news otherwise. I dropped a veil over myself. Beside me, Puck did the same.

“Can you see me even when I’m veiled?” I whispered.

“Yes,” he said.

“Fine,” I said. “Stay close to me, because I can’t see you.”

“Will do,” he said.

It sounded so strange to hear modern phrases coming out of the mouth of such an old creature, but both Puck and Lucifer were much more attuned to the modern world than most ancient things. All the faerie pretty much seemed trapped in the fifth century.

I continued moving through the forest in the direction the noise had come from. I assumed Puck would put me right if I strayed too far in the wrong direction. That was, if he hadn’t just decided to trip off somewhere and leave me for his own amusement.

I wanted to ask whether he was nearby, but I didn’t want him to think I was needy.

“I’m right here,” Puck said, touching my right shoulder.

“Can you read my mind?” I asked suspiciously.

“No,” Puck said, laughter in his voice. “But in some ways you are very predictable.”

I didn’t respond to that. On one hand, it was definitely good news that Puck was not a mind reader. On the other hand, it stung my pride a little to think that anything I ever did was predictable.

The barren forest slowly gave way to tumbled boulders as a series of high, rocky peaks rose before us. I had not seen or even detected any sign of life since our brief encounter with the dragon.

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