Black Heart Page 75

I spun around. Puck leaned against the doorframe, his arms crossed, his usual expression of merriment on his face. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a black Neubauten T-shirt, and he wore engineer boots. His hair had been artfully arranged with some kind of hair product. He looked like he was going to a concert at the Metro.

And while Puck was grooming himself for a night out, I was drawing upon the darkness in my soul to unwittingly kill the Faerie Queen for him.

“I am going to kill you,” I swore.

I raised my hand to throw a spell at him, but Puck waggled his finger at me.

“Uh-uh-uh,” he said. “I think you’ll find you can’t do that.”

I paused. I was pretty sure that, having taken Titania down, I could definitely put the hurt on Puck, but he seemed very confident.

“Why in the name of all the hells not?” I said.

“Remember what I told you about magic leaving a trace of itself behind?” Puck said.

Back on the far-distant planet, when Puck had given me a boost of energy when I’d been flagging, he’d told me that the spell would not leave permanent damage. But that it would leave a trace of itself.

A bond. And that I might find that I would be unable to harm him should I ever wish to do so.

“You didn’t just arrange Bendith’s death,” I said. “You arranged the whole damned thing from beginning to end.”

Puck twinkled at me. “Of course I did. And let me tell you that it was no simple thing. I had to cull you away from your herd of merry men by sending you to Batarian’s world. I had to maneuver you into trusting me, into unleashing the dark power inside you. Without it you never would have been able to defeat Titania. I had to make sure that I left a mark on you so that you could not harm me. And I had to give Nathaniel and Bendith enough time to form a bond so that you would all chase after him if you thought he was kidnapped. So many pieces to arrange, but I must say that I am pleased with the way my jigsaw turned out.”

I felt sick to my stomach. “So there never was a threat from the Cimice? Titania wasn’t going to unleash them on Chicago? You just put me there and told me that story so I would exercise a part of my power that I had never touched before?”

“Yes, basically,” Puck said. “It was a pain to plant the Cimice there, too, with Lucifer’s thrice-bedamned portal restrictions.”

“And Batarian’s fae?” I said. “What of them? Did you even care that they might suffer because you had put an alien species on their planet, in their forest?”

“Oh, those fae were never there in the first place,” Puck said dismissively. “They used to be, long ago, but Lucifer killed them all. I simply summoned the memory of them to help convince you to take care of the Cimice. You do so seem to enjoy protecting innocents,” Puck said.

I’d told Batarian that his people were nothing more than pawns on a chessboard. But I hadn’t realized just how right I was when I’d said that.

“That means you sent that Cimice here to kill Jayne Wiskowski,” I said slowly, as I put the pieces together. “All this time, all along, you were leading me here, to this place, so that I would get rid of Titania for you? How dare you? How dare you?”

“How dare I what?” Puck said, and the merriment vanished from this eyes. “Use you? I would have done anything if only it meant that I could be free of that witch. I suffered for centuries at her hand, treated like an inferior creature when my power was far greater than hers. When you appeared in court it was as if you had been sent to me by fate. I knew as soon as I saw you that you would be the one. Only you would have power enough to do it, and only you were human enough to be manipulated into place.”

I turned furiously to Daharan, who still sat at the table, watching, saying nothing. “And what did you know of all this?”

“I was not aware of all his machinations. But when Puck broke Lucifer’s decree and placed the Cimice on that planet, I went there to attempt to limit his mischief. I did not know he had drawn you into his web. When finally I did know, it was too late to stop it. Events had already been set in motion,” Daharan said. “I would not deliberately harm you, Madeline. You must believe that.”

I did believe that. I knew it in my bones, because he couldn’t lie to me. But my anger surged and seethed inside me with no outlet. I wanted to destroy the one who had done this to me, but by his own prescient behavior I was unable to do so.

I’d never before felt so impotent, so helpless. All along I’d thought I was doing the right thing. But I was nothing more than a pawn in Puck’s bid for freedom.

I’d killed the High Queen of Faerie. I’d killed one of the oldest creatures in the universe, because I thought I was protecting the people of Chicago, because I thought I was protecting my child. But none of it had been real, and still the queen was dead.

“Wait,” I said. “What else do you get, besides your freedom?”

Puck smiled. “The throne of Faerie, of course. There will be challengers, but none that can match me in power.”

“And then?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“I will have an army, of course. I imagine I might need one someday,” Puck said.

“To start a war with Lucifer?” I asked. “You had me take one of the most powerful pieces off the chessboard so that you would have an easier path to victory over your brother?”

“Now, little Madeline. What fun is there for me if you know all my plans?” Puck said, and he touched the tip of my nose with his finger.

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