Black Heart Page 6

Now I was dawdling. I knew I was. I even knew why.

I’d honestly grown so accustomed to succeeding that I didn’t know how to fail. I didn’t know what other option I had except to leave the sword behind if this didn’t work.

I stood up, took a deep breath and flew into the air. I positioned myself above the water, well out of the reach of any water creatures that might rise up. I hoped. There was always the possibility that the sprites could spray out of the surface like a giant fountain.

I reached for my power and it surged up, the way it always did, like a massive tidal wave. Except this time I didn’t have a plan for it, or a place to go. My body was suffused with magic, magic that tingled on my skin and arced across my fingertips. I imagined that magic as an invisible force that poured steadily from my hands.

The moon had risen, drenching the sky and the landscape with blue-white light. I opened my palms, directing the spell at the water around the sword.

As soon as the magic hit the surface, the creatures exploded out of the water, hissing, their hands grasping for me. When they saw how high I was they gave off strange watery growls. I pushed the spell harder, into the face of the creature nearest to the sword. It flinched and covered its face for a moment with its hands, but this was not enough to make it leave. The spell didn’t seem to do more than irritate it.

I wanted to just break the ground open and send the water into a chasm. That was more my style. But there were doubtless numerous animals that depended on the stream for water, and I didn’t want to cause an ecological disaster. I just wanted to get my sword and go home.

I pushed the magic again, with more force, and a strange thing happened. I was aiming for the mass of creatures huddled around the sword. The magic bounced off the group, seemingly without affecting them at all. The spell spun sideways, hit the bank of the stream, and caused several clumps of dirt to tumble into the water.

The sprites gave a sharp cry as one, holding on to their heads. I was going about this the wrong way, apparently. The creatures must draw their power from the bank of the stream, not the stream itself. Or maybe they did draw power from the water, and the presence of dry land was like kryptonite. Either way, I could stop messing around with the water. Which was good, because I wasn’t making much headway in that arena.

I shifted position so that I was closer to the shore, and sent a full blast of nightfire into the land that ran along the lip of the stream. It exploded in a very satisfying way, raining earth over the water creatures.

As soon as the dirt splattered over them, steam rose from the creatures’ bodies at the points of impact. They screeched at me, the sounds horrible in my ears. Their voices were like pieces of broken glass grating together. I hit the bank with more nightfire, keeping up a continuous stream so that the creatures were pummeled over and over.

They screamed, they howled, they gnashed their watery jaws together, but they would not yield. These creatures didn’t know me. I never gave up, not in an argument with Beezle or a battle against a more powerful foe. And I was pissed. And hungry. And thirsty.

All of those things were merging inside me as white-hot anger. I just wanted my sword back. It didn’t have to be this difficult. How much more pain could these creatures take? When would they give up? When would they give in?

I was so busy working myself into a fury that I didn’t notice that most of the creatures were gone. Only one remained, hovering over the sword like a possessive spirit, refusing to let go despite the fact that it was obviously in extreme pain.

Now it was really down to a battle of wills. But I would win. I could feel it. I could taste it.

The more dirt I blasted at the creature, the more of its body was eaten away. After a while it was a gross, distorted version of itself. It looked like a Dalí painting, its limbs elongated. Huge chunks were missing from its head and torso.

I dropped my arms for a moment, overwhelmed by a strange pity for this pathetic thing. It was like a broken insect, a daddy longlegs that had its legs pulled off by some cruel child and was left with nothing but its body, quivering and crippled on the ground.

“Let go,” I said.

The creatures hissed at me in response.

“Let go,” I repeated. My anger had faded, and I’d lost my appetite for punishment. I didn’t want to hurt it anymore. I just wanted it to leave.

The creature rose up in response, showed me the full extent of the damage I’d done. It lifted its head in obvious pride, daring me to continue. But it would not leave, and I had started this, so I had to see it through.

“I’m sorry,” I said, and let my power flow.

The creature kept its head up and its body straight even as the structure of it disintegrated around him. After a while I couldn’t see it clearly anymore. My tears flowed too hard and too fast.

Finally, it was done. The creatures were gone. Whether I’d killed them or I’d frightened them away was irrelevant. I’d won. I flew down to the surface of the water, plunged my hand beneath it, and pulled out the sword.

“Yay for me,” I said sadly.

I touched down on the ground well away from the stream and prepared to open a portal home. At least the Retrievers were a known quantity. Here I could end up fighting who knew what freaky thing.

And really, Lucifer could help for a change. Surely he wouldn’t want his precious unborn grandchild to be taken by the Retrievers. Or maybe he did. Maybe it was part of some grand design of his. I wasn’t going to pretend to understand Lucifer. If I started thinking Lucifer’s actions made sense, then it was probably a bad sign.

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