Black Heart Page 7

I summoned up the energy necessary for a portal, concentrated on my destination and reached for the fabric of space and time.

When a portal is created, a seam is torn in that fabric. I’d never understood how to do this until I’d come completely into my powers. Now it seemed like a simple thing. Think of destination, carve a path home. Easy.

Except that when I tried to create that path, the world resisted. There was no other word for it. There was no space for me to cut a seam.

I exerted more power, more will, and all I succeeded in doing was making myself sweaty and frustrated.

“Just where in hell did you send me, Nathaniel?” I asked aloud.

So I couldn’t create a portal. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t an existing portal somewhere on this world. Every world had an escape hatch. I just had to find it.

I could wander aimlessly until I bumped into it. Or I could use a tracking spell to zero in on its location. The only trouble was I had no idea how large this world was. I could expend a lot of energy on finding the portal and then discover that I was too weak to get there.

I was already past the point of extreme hunger and was moving into that place where I was so hungry I couldn’t feel it. If I ate more than a couple of bites of anything at the moment, it would just make me feel sick. This was really bad, because I thought that my baby was eating up more than the usual amount of resources. My clothes weren’t flapping on me yet, but it wouldn’t be long before they were.

My priority was still to find edible food and water. But if there was a portal nearby, I could go directly there and eat when I got home. After I defeated the Retrievers. Or not.

Hunger and sleep deprivation were making me scattered. I made a concerted effort to pull myself together. Find the nearest portal. Make an action plan after that.

Using the tracking spell was going to be pretty distracting, so I needed to find a semi-safe place to close my eyes. I flew back to the tree where I’d napped earlier. I’d slept there for several hours without disturbance, so it seemed my best option. I settled down in my perch and tried to ignore my growling stomach.

Once, when Gabriel and Beezle had gone missing, I’d thrown a net of power over an alley and found a permanent portal in the middle of Chicago. I wanted to do something like that now, but given the potential size of this world, I needed to start small and expand slowly.

I visualized the net in my mind, imagined it settling over everything I could see. Once I felt I had a good grasp on it I expanded the net out slowly. I deliberately limited the parameters of the spell to a portal. If I expanded it to include anything with a magical signature, I’d end up getting a lot of signals. Anything with even a touch of magic, including the dragon, the water creatures, and the enchanted stream bank, would show up.

As the spell spread its fingers slowly outward, I could “see” the shape of the land underneath it. This jungle seemed to go on forever with nothing to interrupt it except the occasional body of water. There were streams, rivers, lakes, waterfalls. The ground undulated with softly rolling hills, and far in the distance, across the forest, were high, rocky peaks.

All of that water had to go somewhere, so I expected—and found—a huge body that could only be an ocean.

And still there was no portal.

For the first time I felt a little twinge like despair. It seemed impossible that I had survived such insane odds over and over again only to die of thirst or starvation on a lonely planet far from home.

Keep looking, I told myself. Keep going. If you’re not going to fight, you might as well have allowed the water creatures to take you.

My spell expanded outward, crossing the ocean. I sensed the movement of gigantic animals under the surface, and couldn’t help but think of Alerian. Lucifer’s brother. The water god.

He’d first appeared as something that looked a lot like a giant squid. I wondered whether Lucifer and Puck had managed to find out what Alerian wanted, why he had woken after such a long time. I wondered whether Chicago would still be there when I managed to get out of here, or if I would return to a smoking ruin.

Who cared enough to protect it in my absence? Nathaniel? Maybe. But he had sent me to a place that I couldn’t easily leave. He may have done that in order to guarantee my safety, since he knew me well enough to realize I would have second thoughts about running from the Retrievers.

Or, if I wanted to be suspicious, it was also possible that he had sent me here to get me out of the way without killing me and therefore drawing the wrath of Lucifer down on his head.

I didn’t want to think of Nathaniel that way. But he belonged to Puck now, and Puck and Lucifer hated each other. If it came down to me or Puck, would Nathaniel choose his reluctant almost-lover, or his father?

I shook my head to refocus. I couldn’t worry about Nathaniel right now. I had a plan and I needed to stick to it. Find a portal. Find water. Find food. Get the hell out of here ASAP.

My spell stretched ever outward. The ocean finally ended, and on the other side were more mountains, young ones, with high, jagged peaks unworn by time. Past the mountains, in the foothills, I finally discovered what I was searching for. My escape hatch. The portal.

I opened my eyes. It was hundreds of miles away, maybe thousands, and past a series of mountains that were probably loaded with peril. How would I ever get there? The flight across the ocean could kill me. On a good day I didn’t have that kind of stamina.

Well, I had to get there. I would just have to figure out a way. Casting the tracking spell had nearly exhausted me again, but I thought I should try to make some progress in the right direction. I knew there was no food or water for me here, so I decided to fly toward the nearest lake. I just hoped that they weren’t all under the same enchantment as the stream.

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