Black Heart Page 69

“You were there,” she said. “You, and Amarantha’s whelp, and that fallen angel that Puck fathered.”

“Yes. We were looking for your child,” I said. Something in me grasped at straws, hoping she would believe we were there for benevolent reasons. It didn’t seem likely. Titania had thought the worst of me from the start. As I gathered my energy, I touched the place of darkness inside me, the place that had nearly overwhelmed me. I did not want to go to that place again. But I would, if I had to. I could not let Titania take my son.

“You were looking for him so you could kill him?” Titania said. “Spare me your lies.”

“Titania,” I said. “It doesn’t have to end this way. I never sought to be your enemy.”

“And yet you have behaved as my enemy from the start. You murdered Queen Amarantha, one of my subjects. You killed my Hob. You diminished my husband. Time and again, you have defied me, made me look the fool in front of my own court. And now you have taken my son from me.”

“I did not,” I said. “Someone made sure that you would think that. I might be guilty of all the other stuff, but I didn’t kill Bendith. Why would I?”

“To hurt me, of course,” she said. “To lay me low.”

“I don’t care that much about you,” I said. “I don’t want anything to do with you. I’m not interested in having you as ally or an enemy. I just want to be left alone. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“And your wish shall be granted,” Titania said. “After I cut your child from your belly, I will bury you alive at the bottom of the sea, on a planet at the far end of the universe. There will you die slowly, alone, secure in the knowledge that it was your own actions that brought you there.”

“You won’t take my child,” I said, my anger flaring. Thus far I’d managed to remain relatively calm in the face of Titania’s magic, in the face of her threats. But when she spoke the very words I had thought only a few minutes before, my temper surged. Nightfire lit on both of my palms.

To my surprise, Titania laughed. It was a high and mirthless cackle, the cry of a heartbroken witch.

“Do you really think that you can defeat me with such small and pathetic spells?” she said. “I have seen galaxies rise and fall. You are nothing but a blip in the universe, and your power is nothing to me.”

She lifted her hand, palm flat, and blew air across her fingers at me.

I tumbled backward across the sky, caught in the gale of a hurricane wind. There was no way to right myself as the world went spinning. Titania’s laugh trailed behind me.

The wind abruptly stopped, and I plummeted toward the lake. I managed to pull my body up just before I crashed into the cold depths below.

The nightfire in my hands had been extinguished by Titania’s wind. I looked wildly around for the Faerie Queen, but she seemed to have disappeared.

I did a quick search of the area for a trace of magic that I could follow. I didn’t want Titania to sneak up on me again. But there was nothing. The Faerie Queen had appeared without warning, and disappeared just as quickly.

She hadn’t even really used her power on me, and I’d been completely neutralized. Somehow, despite all the odds against me, I’d always managed to defeat my enemy. Even when I’d fought Azazel, I’d been sure I could find a way.

But I was outclassed here. Everyone had warned me that tangling with something as old as Titania was a bad idea. Too bad it took me so long to realize it.

The attack, when it came, arrived without warning. One moment I was searching the air for Titania. The next moment pain was arcing through my body. It was like I had been set on fire from the inside out, but it was a small, subtle fire. It wormed in between the layers of muscle and nerve. It made me want to scream and tear at my clothes, claw at my skin until it bled and I let the burning thing that was underneath out.

Titania blinked into sight a few feet in front of me. She’d been covered under a veil so thorough that I hadn’t even been aware she was using magic. My own spell hadn’t found a trace of her.

She had one hand raised, and her eyes were focused with laser intensity on mine. I could feel her hate. She wanted me to bleed, and she wanted to watch.

The pain was agony. I couldn’t fight this. Fire was the weapon I used on everyone else. It had never harmed me before, and a part of me felt vaguely betrayed. I couldn’t smash it or hit it or knock it down. I could barely even think straight. The fire had sped through my spine and up to my brain, seeping into the layers of cortex, setting off all the synapses like a triggered minefield. Pain exploded in my head, and I did scream then. Blood gushed from my nose in a torrent.

I had to get away from her, get away from the pain. But I couldn’t even move, and I realized she was holding me in place, keeping me still so she could torture me. I hung in the air like a rag doll, suspended only by Titania’s will, unable to do anything more than writhe in agony.

There had never been any hope for me, really. It had always been a matter of time before I was caught and pinned like a struggling butterfly by one of these creatures.

As I thought this, my son shifted in my belly, his little wings fluttering in distress.

My son. My son. I couldn’t let Titania win. I couldn’t let her take him away. That thought centered me, gave me the clarity I needed to think through the pain.

There was no chance of my reversing the spell on Titania as I had with Azazel. This magic was much more powerful, and much more invasive. I needed to get her to stop.

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