Black Heart Page 37

Unlike most of the other portals I’d seen, the world on the other side was not obscured by mist. I could see the scorched earth of the land of the dead, the place that I’d taken Evangeline from.

Daharan transformed into construction-worker-guy next to me. I turned to him.

“Thanks,” I said simply. “Thanks for feeding me, and bringing me here. If you hadn’t, I probably would have had to ask for Puck’s help, and he would have demanded another favor in return.”

“Madeline,” Daharan said. His face was very serious. That seemed to be his default emotion. I bet there wasn’t a lot of levity when Daharan was around. “Be wary of any deals you make with Puck. He is as changeable as the air.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “But sometimes I don’t have a choice.”

“There is always a choice,” Daharan said.

“Not always,” I said, thinking of the first time I’d indebted myself to Puck. He’d given me a jewel to escape Titania and Oberon’s court, and hadn’t bothered to mention that I would owe him a boon in return. Apparently you didn’t have to actually verbally agree to anything in order to make a contract with Puck.

Daharan gave me a brooding look. I sensed that there was something else he wanted to say to me, that there was something Puck had done that upset him. But he just gave a small sigh and said, “Shall we go?”

I looked at him in surprise. “Wait—you’re going to go with me?”

“Of course,” Daharan said. “I would not be able to leave this world otherwise. And I will not leave you to the tender mercies of the Retrievers as my brother would.”

I blinked away the tears that sprang up. “Thank you,” I said.

“He should do this himself,” Daharan said, and the flames in his eyes blazed higher for a moment.

“We both know that Lucifer only does what Lucifer wants to do,” I said.

“He has always been like that,” Daharan muttered. “From the cradle.”

I had a very strange vision of the four brothers as children. It looked a lot like a chibi-anime cartoon in my head, all soft edges and big eyes. Alerian was a tiny cute squid in a baby pool. Puck a troublesome toddler with chocolate on his face and a stash of cookies behind the couch. Daharan was a teensy dragon blowing puffs of smoke. And Lucifer rose up on little wings before falling to the ground, unable to stay aloft.

I shook my head. My brain seemed to enjoy delivering me these non sequiturs from time to time. A thought occurred to me.

“Who are your parents?” I said. I’d always assumed the four brothers had sprung fully formed from the dust of the universe or whatever. “If you were children, you had parents.”

Daharan shook his head. “This is not for you to know.”

“Why not?” I said. “They’re related to me, too.”

“Our parents are very ancient beings, and they have slept for millennia,” Daharan said. “To speak of them would be to wake them, to draw their attention.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” I said. “Maybe Lucifer and Puck would calm down if Mommy and Daddy put them in a time-out.”

“They would not put them in a ‘time-out,’” Daharan said. “When we were children, if Lucifer and Puck fought over a toy, my parents would simply break the toy.”

“Oh,” I said, getting the picture. “So if they thought that Lucifer and Puck were fighting for, say, dominion over the Earth . . .”

“They would wipe out the Earth and everything on it,” Daharan said.

“Okay, let’s not wake up Great-Grandpa and -Grandma,” I said.

Daharan gave me a very small, very brief smile. “Yes, let’s not.”

In silent agreement we both turned toward the portal.

“I will go first,” Daharan said.

A cold, unreasoning fear gripped my heart. Gabriel had always wanted to go first, and that was why Azazel’s sword had killed him instead of me.

“Do not worry,” Daharan said. “It would take a great deal to kill me.”

“Of course,” I said, and watched Daharan step into the portal. A moment later, I followed.

9

THE PASSAGE THROUGH THE PORTAL WAS RELATIVELY placid. It felt like floating through water, and then I was out on the other side. Daharan caught me easily and placed me on my feet. I shaded my eyes from the burning sun and looked around.

The land of the dead was just as crappy and desolate as it had been the last time I’d been here. The sun beat down on a bleached landscape that was broken only by the occasional rock or tree.

“Do we have to walk?” I asked.

Daharan shook his head. “No, we are not souls that are supposed to be here. We can pass through without penalty.”

“Penalty from this world, maybe,” I said. “The Agency will probably have something else to say about that.”

“The Agency has become too narrow-minded and rigid in its focus,” Daharan said as we took to the air. Like Puck, he didn’t have visible wings, but glided along as easily as Superman.

We didn’t speak as we flew. Daharan didn’t seem like the type for casual chitchat, and I had a lot to contemplate. The existence of Lucifer’s parents had given rise to other questions, but I didn’t think Daharan would give me the answers. Where had the angels come from? Had they been created by Lucifer? By his parents? What did Puck mean when he said that Lucifer was the firstborn of his kind? What about humans? Were we some kind of grand experiment, or just an accident of chemistry and biology?

Prev Next