Black Heart Page 38

I guess these were the questions that most people had about their existence. But most people didn’t have access to the answers through their relation to some of the oldest creatures in the universe.

When Evangeline and I had crossed the desert, it had taken us less than a day on foot to find the portal. Daharan and I were flying, so I’d assumed it would take less time. But after a couple of hours we still hadn’t come across the place where I’d helped Evangeline’s soul cross over.

Everything in the desert sort of looked the same, so it was possible we were going in the wrong direction.

“Hey, shouldn’t we have found the portal by now?” I said to Daharan. “The one I used with Evangeline wasn’t that far away.”

Daharan shook his head. “That portal was only present by your will and Lucifer’s, a tool of the Hound of the Hunt. The real portal is much farther.”

“Right, because nothing can ever be simple or straightforward,” I said.

“Madeline,” Daharan said. “You need to stop thinking that the universe is tossing obstacles in your way for its own amusement. You are just a tiny thing in the grand scheme.”

“Well, nothing like having your uncle put you in your place and remind you how insignificant you are,” I muttered.

“You have a part to play,” he said calmly. “And it is an important one. But the gears of the galaxy are many, and they grind exceedingly small.”

“Does that mean I can take a break from saving the world, then?” I said.

“No, you may not,” Daharan said. “Unless you are willing to let the innocent die.”

“You know that I’m not going to let that happen.”

“Then this conversation is pointless,” Daharan said. He didn’t sound irritated, but there was a finality in the way he spoke that told me the subject was closed.

I was annoyed and I didn’t really know why. I’d resisted taking on this role. I didn’t want to be a hero, but I felt it had been thrust upon me over and over. I’d repeatedly said I just wanted an ordinary life, but that life had been sacrificed at the altar of the greater good. And because of that I’d gotten a little arrogant, I guess. I’d thought that I was important, that the world couldn’t do without me.

Now Daharan was telling me that I was just a little piece of a grand jigsaw. A very little piece. And that made me wonder whether all the sacrifice was worth it.

It’s worth it if you save one life, I thought. Hadn’t I said that to Nathaniel once? He’d questioned why I struggled, why I threw myself in front of the bus over and over for people who would never know or care about me. And I’d told him that it was worth it if I saved one person. No one deserved to be mowed down in the street just because they had gotten in the way of something huge and horrible and incomprehensible.

I sank into my own thoughts, brooding. I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going or how long it took. I just kept close to Daharan, who seemed to know what he was doing. So I was surprised when we suddenly started to descend.

I was equally surprised when I saw that the landscape had changed significantly. The parched desert was gone, replaced by lush and rolling hills dotted with trees and flowers. But I didn’t sense the presence of the portal.

“The portal isn’t here,” I said. “Why are we going down?”

“Do you not need to rest?” Daharan asked, but he avoided my eyes as he said it.

Daharan had been extremely straightforward in my dealings with him thus far. I had to wonder why he was keeping his gaze from mine. And if I should be worried that this was the double-cross I’d been half expecting ever since Daharan had agreed to help me.

“What’s down there?” I demanded, stopping in the sky.

Daharan paused, turned to face me. His eyes were sad, the fire in them banked. “Not what. Who.”

There could be only one person he meant.

“Is he here?” I said, my heart leaping with a joy that I hadn’t felt since the day I’d lost him.

Daharan nodded. “You have a short time. I will return for you.”

My whole being flooded with anticipation. I dropped to the ground as rapidly as I could, turning in a circle, looking for the one face that I’d been searching for ever since he’d been taken from me.

And he was there, coming to his feet beneath a tree, his expression a mixture of astonishment and wonder.

“Gabriel,” I breathed.

I ran to him, ran like I’d never run before, tears blinding me. I leapt into his arms and kissed him like I would never kiss him again. Because I wouldn’t. I knew that this was the last time, the last chance. And Daharan had given it to me.

“Madeline,” he said, over and over, his hands on my face, in my hair, like he couldn’t believe I was real.

Inside my belly, my son fluttered his happiness. He knew his father was near.

Gabriel sank to his knees, pushed my shirt up so my stomach was revealed. He put his hand there, and his head next to it, turning his ear to my skin.

A pulse of magic passed through his fingers and shot through me, into the place where our son was cradled. Incredibly, the baby gave a tiny little pulse back, his magic meeting Gabriel’s.

I looked at Gabriel in wonder and amazement, through eyes blurred by tears, and saw that he had the same expression on his face.

“How can he be so strong already?” I whispered.

“He is growing quickly,” Gabriel said. “You will show soon.”

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