Black Heart Page 35

“He is the firstborn of his kind. But Daharan is the eldest,” Puck said.

“Aren’t you all the same kind, from the same parents?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” Puck said, grinning. He was enjoying my confusion.

His smile disappeared as Daharan slowly descended in lazy spirals until he landed farther down the beach. I’d never seen Puck look so genuinely unhappy as he did now, not even when he’d discovered that I’d accidentally undone the spell he’d put on Nathaniel at birth.

Daharan’s claws touched the sand, and for a second he looked blurry. Then the dragon was gone, and in his place stood a man made of fire.

He walked down the beach toward us, and the flame gradually receded until he looked like an ordinary man. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and work boots, and he looked a lot like a guy headed to a construction job. His hair was as black as mine, a little shaggy and overlong.

But when he reached me I realized he would never look normal. He would never be able to disguise those eyes. They blazed with the fire that he could not bank completely.

“Madeline,” he said, and he took my shoulders in his hands. He kissed both of my cheeks very gently, like I was something precious to him, and tears came to my eyes.

This is what it feels like to have a father, I thought. This is why he makes me feel so safe.

Then he turned from me to look at Puck, standing with his hands still shoved in the pockets of his pants.

“Brother,” Daharan said. “Will you not greet me?”

Puck gave Daharan the barest of nods, then dropped his hands to his sides and approached his eldest sibling. The two of them embraced, with much stiffness on Puck’s side and, I think, amusement on Daharan’s. It was very apparent that Daharan was the more powerful of the two, and they both knew it.

“I was surprised to find you here, in this place,” Puck said when they parted.

“As I was surprised to find you, and Madeline,” Daharan said.

Some unspoken undercurrent passed between them, and they stared intently at each other. I wondered whether they were communicating telepathically, or whether they were just trying to stare each other down.

After a few long moments Puck looked away.

“Now, my niece,” Daharan said, turning to me. “I believe you wish to return to your world, and have had some difficulty doing so.”

I nodded, and Puck glanced at me in surprise.

“You want to go back to Chicago? To the Retrievers? But I brought you here to keep you away from them,” Puck said.

“No, you brought me here to manipulate me into doing something for you that you were too cowardly to do yourself,” I said. “The fact that I needed to escape the Retrievers was just a happy coincidence for you.”

“You always think the worst of me,” Puck said, the twinkle back in his eye.

“That’s because you always prove me right,” I said. I addressed Daharan. “So, do you think you can help me get out of here? I tried to open a portal myself but the world wouldn’t let me. The fae told me that Lucifer had closed all the ways out of this place, but I found a permanent portal across the ocean.”

“The fae told you that, hmmm?” Daharan said, looking significantly at Puck again. “Yes, Lucifer did close all the ways to and from here, save that one. It is just possible, with the right manipulation of magic, to come into this world. But the only way to leave it is that permanent portal.”

My heart sank. “So I’ve got to cross the ocean.”

Daharan nodded. “Yes. But I will help you. It will take less time for my dragon form to take you there. However, there is a catch.”

“There always is,” I muttered.

“The portal does not lead directly to your world. You must pass through it to another place, and then you can go on,” Daharan said.

“And where does the portal lead?” I asked, dreading the answer.

Daharan looked at me, and the flames in his eyes burned more brightly than before.

“The land of the dead.”

8

“THE LAND OF THE DEAD,” I SAID. “OF COURSE IT DOES. Because I’m already in trouble with the Agency and I need to be in even more hot water.”

Daharan frowned. “Why does Lucifer not clear your way with the Agency? Particularly since you collected Evangeline at his behest.”

“You know about that?” I asked.

“I know much more than you think I do. Either of you,” Daharan said, with a pointed look at his brother. Puck shifted uncomfortably in the sand.

“Well, anyway,” I said. “Lucifer likes to see me get out of my own jams. That’s why he wouldn’t do anything about the Retrievers coming after me. And it wouldn’t matter, anyway. They’ve got it in for me—Sokolov and Bryson and probably some faceless members of the board. Bryson’s got a personal problem with me because I, um, might have physically harmed him at one point or another.”

Daharan raised an eyebrow at me.

I wasn’t going to go into detail about how I’d let Nathaniel torture Bryson. I hurried on. “But mostly they don’t like that I managed to squeeze out of my eternal contract with them. Nobody at the Agency ever thought it would be possible.”

“Yes, they believe you could incite rebellion amongst the Agents, cause them to give up their duty,” Daharan said. “It is foolish. None of the other Agents has your powers or your bloodlines. Were you not one of us, you would have been entirely unable to throw off the mantle of death.”

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