Black Heart Page 71

When I found it, a place light-years from my own blue planet, I fixed its location in my mind. Then I opened a portal in the silt at the bottom of the lake, a special portal that looked like a window. On the other side of it, I could see a gray rock floating in space, circling a dead star.

I concentrated on the little light flickering inside Titania. Then, with one final push of magic, I crushed it out.

I dropped Titania through the portal just as she started to come apart.

I watched as the High Queen of Faerie disintegrated, piece by piece, into motes of dust on the surface of that faraway place.

Suddenly there was a tremendous explosion, like a star going supernova. I heard nothing. I felt nothing. I could only see the burst of light through the portal.

When the starburst was over, the little gray rock floating in space was nothing but a memory.

And so went Titania. I wondered who would rule Faerie now that Bendith and the queen were dead, and Oberon was diminished.

I swam to the surface of the lake and flew up into the blue sky, turning my face to the sunshine. The darkness still swam inside me, a live thing, and I knew that a line had been crossed. I would never be able to rid myself of it. The shadow was a part of me now.

Inside my heart, I could feel Lucifer radiating his approval.

I flew toward the city. I should have been elated, but instead I was just exhausted. Titania was gone, but I still had no home to return to. I had embraced the darkness inside me to save myself and the life of my child, but what price would I pay?

Anything that made Lucifer happy couldn’t be a good thing.

I turned north, automatically heading toward the site of my old home. Maybe I could pitch a tent in the yard or something. I was nearly to the lakeshore when I saw three figures flying toward me.

I paused and peered at the people coming into focus. It wasn’t Nathaniel or J.B. It was Bryson, and two other Agents I didn’t know. They were dressed in the black military fatigues of the Agency retrieval unit.

I rubbed my forehead tiredly. “Really? I have to deal with this now?”

I waited for them to reach me. Bryson looked surprised when he saw that I wasn’t going to make them chase me; then his expression grew wary. They stopped a few feet from me in the air, almost as if we had accidentally met on the street.

“Madeline Black,” Bryson said. “You are under arrest for defying the law of the Agency and willfully crossing into the land of the dead. You have fraternized illegally with a dead soul. You will submit to our authority and return to the Agency for sentencing, or else you will have the Retrievers set upon you.”

“Okay,” I said.

Bryson’s eyebrows winged up to his hairline. “Okay?”

“Okay, call the Retrievers,” I said. “Bring your armies. Do whatever you want. But I am not going with you.”

“You are not a law unto yourself, whatever you may think,” Bryson said angrily.

“Oh, yes, I am,” I said.

Bryson indicated to the other two with a shake of his head that they should grab me.

I gave them a look. “I just killed one of the oldest creatures in the universe. Are you sure that you want to be the one who tries to force me to come back to the Agency with you?”

Bryson’s lackeys paused and glanced at each other.

“Captain . . .” one of them began.

“I will call the Retrievers if you will not do your duty,” Bryson said, with the air of a magician pulling his best trick.

The other two visibly cowered at the thought of being in the presence of the Retrievers. I tried flying around Bryson, who grabbed my arm.

“Where are you going?” Bryson shouted. He was starting to look a little unhinged, like he just couldn’t believe that I would ignore him so completely.

“I told you, do what you want. The Agency has no authority over me anymore,” I said, shaking him off like he was a flea.

“I am going to enjoy watching the Retrievers eat your soul,” Bryson hissed through his teeth.

He pulled a small silver whistle from his pants pocket and put it in his mouth. He blew into it, but I didn’t hear anything.

“You use a dog whistle to call the Retrievers?” I said.

“I have watched from afar as you have defied the Agency, defied the very laws of the universe,” Bryson said. “You cast off your Agent’s mantle, the sacred charge that was given to you. You entered the realm of the dead and brought forth a soul even when you knew that it was forbidden. You do as you please, over and over, and I am sick of it. Now I will watch the Retrievers tear you to pieces, and I will enjoy it.”

I don’t know whether it was my intense exhaustion or the artificial boost I was getting from my acknowledgment of the totality of my power, but I just couldn’t get that worked up about the arrival of the Retrievers. Which was strange. They had been the bogeymen under the bed for as long as I’d been an Agent, and I’d fled through a portal to another world just so I wouldn’t have to tangle with them.

But now I couldn’t care less. “Let them come,” I said to Bryson.

“Agent Black,” one of the other Agents said.

I looked at him. He was young, muscular, and looked like the type who was dedicated to his job. His eyes were worried.

“I’m not an Agent anymore,” I said to him.

“But . . . shouldn’t you be running? Or fighting? Or something?” he said. “The Retrievers are pretty bad.”

“I know,” I said softly. “I’ve seen them before.”

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