Black Heart Page 42

It seemed like too much on top of everything else. My home had always been my safe haven, the place where I could find refuge when everything else was falling apart. Now there was nowhere for me to go. I was breaking to pieces inside. Soon there would be nothing left of me.

I realized that this was what my enemies wanted. They wanted to break me, to make me helpless. Just the thought of it hardened me. I was not helpless. I would not break. My eyes were dry. I would find out who did this and they would pay.

“What happened here?” I asked Daharan again.

“I was with you, Madeline. I do not know,” he said. “But I can use a spell to discover the answer.”

“Then do it,” I said, and my voice was cold.

Daharan gave me a mildly reproving look, but said nothing. He raised his hands up. I went to stand beside him.

What happened next was a lot like watching a film in reverse. I saw everything that had happened on this spot from the moment we emerged from the portal backward. At first, there wasn’t much happening. People walked by; dogs peed on the remains of my lawn. Kids dared one another to climb down into the pit where my house used to be.

The leaves on the trees seemed to shrink down to buds, and then disappear altogether. Samiel and Chloe stood before the charred bits of the building. Beezle sat on Samiel’s shoulder. They were speaking, but I couldn’t hear what they said.

Then they were gone, and J.B. was there on the sidewalk with his hands in his pockets, tears running down his face.

And then I saw the house, surrounded by darkness and fury and covered in flame. The Retrievers were scorching the earth in their rage. They would make sure that I had no home to return to.

Because I was watching time run in reverse, it seemed that Nathaniel stumbled toward the Retrievers, then knelt on the sidewalk on his hands and knees, coughing up smoke. Nathaniel staggered back into the burning building.

I knew now that he’d escaped, and I was grateful. And I knew that the Agency had caused this. I had given most of my life to them, to a job that I’d hated and never asked for. When I had broken their laws through no fault of my own, they had sent the Retrievers to take me. When the Retrievers couldn’t find me, they’d destroyed everything they could in my stead. I’d had enough.

“You don’t need to show me any more,” I said.

Daharan dropped his hands, and the vision of the house burning, surrounded by furious Retrievers, disappeared.

“What will you do now, Madeline?” he asked.

Part of me wanted to go downtown to the Agency and burn the whole thing to the ground. The other part of me recognized that this was a dark-side thought, and that my argument was not with the Agency but with a select few members of it. So I reined in my impulse to destroy things.

The world was getting more dangerous by the minute, especially for me and for my child. Emotion wasn’t enough to carry me through anymore. I had to think, to use my brain.

It was a lot harder to think when my home was gone. I’d always perceived that I was safe there. Supernatural creatures could not cross a threshold without an invitation, and that was powerful magic.

Without a threshold I was vulnerable to more than Retrievers. I could get a hotel room, but the threshold just wasn’t as strong. So many people moving in and out of the same space didn’t create the same sense of home. And if I was in a hotel, you could bet that some freaky thing would come looking for me there, and that would mean that ordinary people would wind up as collateral damage. I had no idea where Nathaniel was staying. I didn’t think that Chloe and Samiel would let me bunk with them, since Samiel had moved out of my place because it was unsafe. There was nowhere for me to go, unless . . .

I looked sharply at Daharan. “Do you think Lucifer knew this would happen? He can see the future, right?”

“He can see aspects of it, yes,” Daharan said. “So can we all.”

“So he knew—you all knew—that I would wind up homeless?” I asked.

“I did not know this,” Daharan said. “Your future is a gray thing to me, despite the familial bond that I feel with you. But soothsaying is not my best skill in any case. That is what Alerian excels at.”

“Alerian knew for sure,” I said, thinking hard. “Possibly Puck. And almost definitely Lucifer.”

“What are you thinking, Madeline?” Daharan asked.

“I’m thinking that it would suit Lucifer very well if I had nowhere to go and no safe place to be, and therefore was forced to come knocking at his door, seeking shelter,” I said.

“Well, what do you know? She can use her brain every once in a while,” said a familiar voice behind me.

I turned slowly, disbelievingly. Beezle was there, a few feet away, flapping his wings so that he was eye level with me in midair. It hurt to see him, to remember the way he’d left when I’d needed him.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, and my voice was hard and cold.

I expected a smart remark, some typical Beezle offhandedness. Instead his face was grave as he said, “I’ve been checking back here off and on, looking for you. Everyone thought you were dead. But I knew you’d be here, sooner or later.”

“J.B. would know that I wasn’t dead,” I said, fighting the emotion that had surged with Beezle’s sudden appearance. He was the first creature I wanted to see, but the very last one that I’d expected. “He would have seen the order for my soul to be collected if I was.”

“Sokolov did show him an order, one that said Bryson collected your soul after you fought the Retrievers and lost,” Beezle said.

Prev Next