Black Heart Page 73

“Possibly,” I said. “But it won’t be today. And it won’t be you.”

Bryson and Hill took off in the direction of the Agency. Hill looked back once over his shoulder at me, floating in midair, surrounded by the Retrievers that were supposed to destroy me.

“Now, what am I supposed to do with the three of you?” I murmured. “I hope you don’t like pizza, because I don’t think Beezle will share.”

I continued flying north again, toward the place where my house used to be. The Retrievers loped along in the air beside me. It seemed that the more doglike I thought of them, the more doglike they became. Their ears and heads grew more defined, and they all let their tongues loll out as they ran.

I flew over my street, unsure what I was doing there. I just wasn’t sure what else to do with myself. After I defeated the big bad monster, I always went home. This was where my home was, even if the house was gone.

Except that the house was there.

I landed on the sidewalk in front of the building. It looked just like the house I’d grown up in. The porch was painted red, and the paint was peeling. The bricks over the second-floor window were crumbling. Beezle’s nest of sticks and blankets was perched on the roof over the porch. Lights were burning inside on the second floor.

I walked forward as if in a dream, wondering whether this was a glamour, a trick. But the steps felt solid beneath my feet. The front door opened when I turned the knob.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor. The carpet was worn in the same places. I reached the top landing, and heard someone moving around inside my apartment. The Retrievers had silently followed me inside, and crowded around me, nudging my legs with their wet noses.

I opened the front door.

Daharan was setting the dining room table. There was an amazing array of food set up there—a roast chicken, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus. He turned and smiled when he saw me standing in the doorway, but his smile was touched by sadness.

“How?” I said.

“Magic does not only destroy,” he said. “I thought that this was the least service I could do for you, especially since . . .”

He trailed off, shaking his head. “Not now. First, you must eat.”

I let him lead me to the table. I wasn’t aware until I sat down that I was still wet from my dunking in Lake Michigan, and that the water that drenched my clothes didn’t smell all that great.

“Um, maybe I should change,” I said.

Daharan nodded. “The meal will stay warm for you. I have contacted your gargoyle, and told him that you are well.”

“Is he coming home?” I asked.

“Soon,” Daharan said.

I went into the hallway to the bathroom, where my shampoo and soap waited for me, just as if the house had never burned down. The same towel was thrown over the rack, just as if I’d hastily left it there the day before.

The Retrievers had trailed me to the bathroom door, and I pointed them back to the dining room. “Wait for me there,” I said.

The three gigantic dogs reluctantly returned to the other room. I was going to have to come up with some names for them. I wondered what Beezle would think of the new additions to our household.

I wondered what he would think when he saw the way the darkness had spread inside me.

I showered, dressed in clothes that had magically returned to my closet, and tied my hair in a braid. My belly protruded slightly above my jeans, exposed by a too-short T-shirt. I was going to have to buy maternity wear soon.

Beezle would probably have some choice words about maternity shopping, too.

When I returned to the dining room, I found that Daharan had set my plate with heaping servings of food. The Retrievers were flopped on the furniture in the living room, resting but watchful. All three perked up their ears when I entered the room. Daharan was drinking a glass of red wine, and appeared to be brooding.

“I note you have gained some new companions,” he said, glancing at the Retrievers.

“Yes. I’m not really sure what to do with them yet. They seem to want to keep me,” I said.

“They will be powerful allies for you,” Daharan said. “They will protect your child.”

I hadn’t thought about that. Any advantage I might gain in keeping my baby safe was a good thing. I gave the three giant dogs an appreciative glance.

“They seem to be getting more doggy by the minute,” I said, putting a forkful of chicken in my mouth. It was delicious, perfectly roasted and crisp outside and juicy inside. Beezle would die of happiness if he could get some of this.

“They were born of the same stuff that created the universe,” Daharan said. “And they never found a perfect form. Thus they have been malleable, prone to the whims of those who rule them.”

“Were they never free?” I asked, glancing at the three dogs.

“Once they might have been. But Michael tamed them long ago, and they were put to the Agency’s service.”

“Michael?” I asked. “The archangel who was friends with Lucifer?”

“If anyone can truly be friends with Lucifer, then Michael was,” Daharan said. “The Retrievers terrorized humans, killing them and eating their souls.”

“But Michael showed them mercy?” I asked.

“If you could call what he did ‘mercy,’” Daharan said. “He entrapped them, forced them to serve the Agency. The creatures were only acting upon their natures. It is not fair to shoot a tiger simply because it behaves like one.”

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