Black Heart Page 27

“I don’t care which you answer first so long as you do answer,” I growled. “Are you the reason I’m here in this thrice-forsaken place?”

“I may have given dear Nathaniel a little nudge,” Puck acknowledged. “Although when I did so I didn’t realize the dragon was here.”

“What’s the dragon got to do with anything?” I said, my mind generating more questions before he could answer the first ones. “Have you been here all along, playing the part of Litarian? Or is that just something new for me? Does Batarian know who you really are?”

Puck held up his hands. “I will tell you all.”

“I doubt that very much,” I muttered. “But you will answer my questions.”

“Or what?” Puck asked, raising an eyebrow in challenge. “We both know you can’t kill me.”

“I won’t,” I said. “I’ll call the dragon to me.”

It was a calculated risk. I was pretty sure that the panic I’d seen in Puck’s eyes was real when we had sensed the presence of the dragon.

It was very satisfying to see him pale a little, even though he was careful to maintain his expression of merriment. “Ah, well, it suits me to satisfy your curiosity in any case,” he said offhandedly.

But I had seen, and I knew. Puck was afraid of the dragon. I would find out why. But not yet. First I wanted to know why I was here, and why he was here, and what web he was spinning.

“So start talking,” I said.

“And where shall I begin?” he asked.

“Tell me why you pushed Nathaniel into sending me here,” I said. I’m sorry for doubting you, Nathaniel.

Puck feigned a look of surprise. “Why, to protect you from the Retrievers, of course. I knew they had no dominion here.”

“Where is here, anyway?”

“A planet that is light-years from yours, in time and space. Long ago a war was waged here between Lucifer’s armies and the fae that live here. Lucifer won, but he did not particularly care to keep the spoils. He simply wished to prove that he could win, that he was stronger than his opponent.”

This last was said with no small amount of bitterness. I sensed that Puck had been on the losing end of more than a few conflicts with his brother.

“After the war, Lucifer graciously agreed to leave this land to those he had defeated. He told them that as punishment for their defiance against him, they would not be able to pass freely from world to world, that they would be confined to this place always. He also told them that he closed all the portals between this and other worlds, so that none may enter or leave.”

“But he lied,” I said, thinking of the portal across the ocean.

“Yes, he does that,” Puck said. “He wanted to ensure that he had a way in and out if he needed it.”

“But why?” I asked. “What could he possibly want from such an out-of-the-way place, from a people he’d already defeated?”

“As you might say, do not ask me to explain what he is thinking,” Puck said. “And it was of no concern to me if he chose to have a bolt-hole on this planet. At least, it was of no concern until Titania chose this place as the launchpad for her invasion of Earth.”

“Titania,” I said. “I should have known.”

“Yes, you probably should have,” Puck agreed. “At any rate, once Titania chose this world, I felt it was a good idea if I were on the spot, as it were. Monitoring the situation. Since Lucifer closed the borders of this world, he might take Titania’s decision to open a portal here as an act of aggression.”

“So you—what? Presented yourself to Batarian as his long-lost son?”

Puck’s eyes twinkled. “Not exactly.”

Mine narrowed. “How was it, exactly, then?”

Puck shrugged. “I gave Batarian and all of his people a memory of Litarian. A memory that told them he was always here.”

“And how do you explain your absences to Batarian when you must attend to Titania?”

“I don’t have to. When I am here, they remember me as though I were always here. When I am gone, the memory of Litarian fades without a trace. I established the spell as such so that if I am unable to return, Batarian would not be haunted by the memory of a lost son.”

“Very thoughtful of you,” I said sourly.

I was very disturbed by the depth and breadth of Puck’s power. That kind of spell took more than strength. It took subtlety. It would also need safeguards built in so that the magic would continue even if Puck were not there to maintain it. I knew Lucifer and his brothers were strong, that their power was almost beyond comprehension. But it was one thing to know that, and quite another to be confronted with the proof of it.

“Yes, I am thoughtful,” Puck said in response to my comment. He sounded perfectly sincere.

“Does Titania know you’re here?” I asked.

Puck shook his head. “My queen does not monitor my every move.”

“Are you sure about that? If I were Titania, I would definitely keep a close eye on you.”

“I am certain,” Puck replied with a touch of arrogance. “Powerful the faerie queen may be, but she is not yet as powerful as I.”

And yet you pretend to be her inferior. Why? I had always wondered about this, but now was not the time to try to get the answer.

“Okay,” I said. “Titania is using the Cimice to do what? Take over Chicago? Claim dominion over the Earth?”

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