Jacob wandered the halls, avoiding Oberon at all costs. Now that Ethan was dead, he couldn’t face Oberon at all without being consumed by anger and feeling his malevolence rise to disastrously murderous levels. He would have been fine with that result if it had allowed him the ability to kill Oberon, but that was impossible.
Wherever Oberon derived his power from, it apparently gave him the power to resist influence from the spirit realm, leaving Jacob with no recourse but to keep his distance. Even that was not always possible.
He could feel the stiletto in the distance whenever Oberon stroked it. He cursed the fact he’d allowed his spirit to be bound to the object, and almost wished he’d taken the opportunity offered to him by Nevala and Finn when they’d attempted to exorcise him.
But then he would have never killed Sparrow, and his friends would have likely been captured long ago, and already been bent to the will of Oberon. He had to accept the bad with the good, even if it meant Oberon would likely continue to torture him until the end of time.
Jacob’s mind kept returning to his final conversation with Ivan, which took place in the interim between his friends abandoning him in the manor and Oberon’s arrival. Ivan had sensed Jacob’s presence and summoned him, telling him Oberon would soon be there, and it was imperative Jacob learn what he could about the King of Avalon so he could help his friends later.
It was why Jacob had spent his time following Oberon for the first few days, but now that Oberon had made it clear his only goal was to toy with him, Jacob had given up on the idea of learning any more. What use was the knowledge going to be, if all of his friends were going to be killed before he ever had a chance to give it to them?
And so he kept his distance, or at least he tried. He was about to pass through the wall of the study when he felt a tugging on his link to the stiletto. Oberon was calling him.
Jacob decided to resist, and he walked through the wall and into the study, but as soon as he stepped foot on the other side he felt the pull again, and this time it was much stronger. Jacob felt his malevolence rise and considered letting it build. If he was lucky, he’d come across an elf in the process of heading toward Oberon and be able to still its heart as payback for the summons.
As he entertained the thought, the call came again, and this time Jacob was unable to resist as he was ripped through the ether toward the office where Oberon sat at his desk, an annoyed expression on his face. He scowled at Jacob when he reemerged from the ether, and he clenched the stiletto tightly before ramming its blade into the heavy wooden desk.
“You think to resist me, Jacob?” Oberon asked, his eyes flashing dangerously.
“Perhaps if you’d stop killing everyone I care about, I’d be a little nicer,” Jacob said with equal hostility.
Oberon matched Jacob glare for glare, neither one looking away as the intensity in their eyes only grew. After a moment, Oberon’s lips curled into a humorless grin and he said, “I no longer have need of you, Jacob. Your friends are now seeking to come directly to me, and it will only be a matter of time before I have defeated them all.”
“It won’t work,” Jacob said without hesitation, refusing to look away. “They’ll win.”
“You don’t understand, Jacob,” Oberon said, ripping the knife from the desk, sending several splinters flying away. He stood and started toward Jacob slowly, each word he said methodically cold. “I’ve already won,” he continued, stroking the handle of the knife as he advanced. If Jacob still had a spine, he was sure from the chill he felt that he would be shivering. “They’ll be defeated the moment they open the portal to Avalon. They won’t even realize that I’ve been leading them there all along.”
“Who is the mole?” Jacob asked, holding his ground. “Who is your agent hidden among my friends?”
“You think you’ve been betrayed?” Oberon asked, stopping his advance as he covered his mouth in mock surprise. “Perhaps it’s the shape shifter. They have a reputation for switching sides. You never know what one is thinking, or even who they really are. Perhaps I had someone replace Micah?”
“I doubt that,” Jacob said, rolling his eyes. “Micah has a personality difficult to impersonate.” He folded his arms over his chest and said smugly, “You don’t have anyone.”
Oberon scoffed at that and said, “It’s a good thing you’re not with them anymore. You likely would have overlooked everything. It would have been easy to dupe you.”
“Then who is it?” Jacob asked, rolling his eyes. He was sick of these games, but as long as Oberon held the knife Jacob had no choice but to participate.
“It’s the tiger,” Oberon replied, nodding slowly. “Sparrow connected to her mind while she was captive here, and I’ve been using that link since.” He shook his head in wonder, but his eyes held the same level of wrath as they had held before. “It’s amazing, the mind of a predator. It’s fascinating how a creature can be bred for such a feeling of superiority over all other life forms.”
“I can’t believe a word you say,” Jacob said with an annoyed sigh. “You wouldn’t tell me who it was, even to mess with me.”
“Unless I was planning on killing you,” Oberon replied, holding the stiletto in front of him. “You do realize I’m holding the object you’re haunting, don’t you? It’s time I sent you on to the great beyond, Jacob. It’s time you bothered me no more.”
“Threatening me with death, huh?” Jacob chuckled. He held his head up high and met Oberon’s eyes with determination. “I’m not afraid of that anymore.”
“Unfortunate. You’ve been entertaining,” Oberon said with a sneer though his eyes remained unchanged. “I won’t have any use of you once I return to Avalon, however, and I don’t want to give you access to my kingdom.”
“You’re leaving?” Jacob asked, suddenly interested.
“Of course,” Oberon replied as if there was no other option. “I would rather be in Avalon when my guests arrive.”
“Perhaps you should consider leaving Jacob alive, my liege.”
The voice seemed to catch Oberon off guard almost as much as it did Jacob, and when Jacob turned around to face the source of the voice he was startled again when he saw the beautiful man standing there. He had long, dark hair, which hung neatly behind his shoulders. His striking green eyes were almost identical to Oberon’s in shade, but they held compassion and mirth, two emotions Jacob had yet to witness in Oberon’s eyes.
Oberon’s eyes narrowed as he regarded the newcomer, but his wicked grin widened as he said, “Puck, so glad you could join us at last.”
“My liege,” Puck replied, bowing low. “I suggest you keep the ghost alive. There could still be uses for him.”
“I don’t keep you around for your suggestions, Puck,” Oberon growled. “I keep you around because you do my bidding.” He extended the stiletto toward Puck and ordered, “Now, do my bidding and exorcise this spirit.”
Puck extended his bow even lower before straightening and taking the stiletto, “Very well, my liege,” he said, closing his eyes and focusing on the knife. Jacob felt Puck delving into the blade and prepared himself mentally for what was about to come. He had been exorcised from an object more than once, and he knew how it felt to lose that connection, but he also knew this would be different.
He would soon be completely dead. No haunting of the manor. No being sent flying through the ether to The Icarus Confederacy headquarters. He would go wherever Kurt had gone. If there was a silver lining to what was about to happen, that was clearly it.
Jacob watched Puck closely. Puck was muttering in some language Jacob had never heard, chanting under his breath. The knife began to glow, and Jacob felt warmth engulf his entire being. Oberon watched with grim satisfaction, his smile slowly widening as Puck’s chanting grew in intensity.
And then Puck was gone, taking the stiletto with him. Jacob’s jaw dropped and Oberon seemed just as stunned as he stared at the place where Puck had been standing. Jacob felt a tugging on the knife to somewhere else in the manor, but he resisted as he watched Oberon’s entire calm demeanor shatter.
“Puck!” Oberon shouted to the open air. “You’re going to regret this.”
Jacob was about to taunt Oberon when he was ripped into the ether. The pull had a sense of urgency to it that hadn’t been there when Oberon had pulled him earlier, and after the initial tug he allowed himself to be wrenched away, wondering what awaited him on the other side.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jacob reemerged from the ether in the manor kitchen, where Puck was frantically digging through drawers, searching for something. Jacob watched for a few seconds before he decided to break the silence. “What are you doing?”
Puck didn’t look up, and kept his focus on his search. He opened the cutlery drawer and sighed in relief. He quickly withdrew a large collection of knives from the drawer and gathered them in one hand before looking up at Jacob.
“I’m trying to save your life, and hopefully mine at the same time,” Puck said with a determined nod. “I’ve been forced to do terrible things, and it’s only a matter of time before . . .” Puck cursed and looked in the direction of the office where they’d left Oberon. “Sorry, Oberon is already reaching out to me through our link and trying to control me,” He explained before disappearing from sight. But his disembodied voice remained for a moment as he added, “We need to move again. Rendezvous in the library.”
Jacob nodded as he felt Puck’s presence vacate the room entirely. Before he traveled into the ether to join him, his gaze was drawn to the cutlery drawer, sensing Puck’s residual energy. He didn’t know what Puck had in mind, but whatever the knives were for, Jacob had to trust Puck.
He traveled to the library, where Puck was rifling through the bookshelves, every so often hiding one of the kitchen knives on the shelves. As Jacob watched, the knives transformed before his eyes to become exact copies of the stiletto, though he didn’t feel the draw toward any of them that he felt toward the real stiletto tucked into Puck’s belt.
“What is going on?” Jacob asked. “Why are you helping me?”
“I’ve been sent out by Oberon to lead your friends to him,” Puck explained as he rammed another pseudo-stiletto into one of the bookcases. “I’ve been masquerading as Loki, the former leader of the rebellion against Odin and Nightshade in an attempt . . .” he cursed again and looked in the direction of the kitchen. “The garden,” he said with urgency. “Meet me in the garden.”
Jacob nodded and followed Puck to the garden, almost arriving before he did. Puck eagerly tossed several of the kitchen knives into the bushes, each one becoming a copy of the stiletto as it flew. Jacob watched each one fly as he tried to formulate his next question.
“Why do you have to keep moving?” Jacob asked. He noticed that he felt a slight tug on each of the knives, as if Puck were somehow duplicating Jacob’s link to the stiletto as well as its appearance. Whatever Puck was doing, Jacob was sure Oberon was being driven mad, and that was something Jacob was glad to support.
“I only have a limited amount of time before Oberon tracks me mentally, and then he’ll see everything I can see and hear everything I can hear,” Puck said as he threw one of the knives into the rose bush. “It’s hard to keep secrets from him. You don’t have the same problem, and that means I need you to be able to communicate with your friends, once we get you out of here,” Puck explained.
Jacob felt a twinge of hope at the thought of seeing his friends again, and he started to ask more about them, “What about—”
“Boiler room,” Puck snapped, cutting him off as they both felt a sudden surge of malevolence headed their way. “Now!”
They reemerged inside the boiler room, and here Puck’s strategy shifted. He moved around to the pipes filled with hot water and stabbed knives into each of them before teleporting to another pipe. The room began to fill with steam and hot water, making it difficult to see.
Puck did all of this with grim determination, but he was quickly running out of knives, and as he shoved the third to last one into a pipe he teleported again, reappearing in front of Jacob and looking him in the eye.
“I’m attempting to keep you alive, and if I can then I’ll take you to your friends,” Puck said, smiling hopefully. “It’s going to be difficult to get you there without Oberon knowing, but it will also be worth it.” As Jacob nodded his understanding, Puck added, “Your friends have to know what Oberon is planning, or he’ll win the moment they open the portal to Avalon.”
“Okay,” Jacob said eagerly, “What do you want me to do?”
“Just keep hidden for the time being,” Puck said, staring into the distance where he sensed Oberon. “I have this covered. Hold this for a moment will you?” He held his hand out, and Jacob looked down to see the stiletto.
Jacob raised a questioning eyebrow as he took the knife. As soon as he picked it up he was sure it was the real one. His connection was stronger to it than the pull to any of the others Puck had scattered around the manor. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Strike when the moment is right,” Puck said with a grin. “Legend says Oberon can be killed by a ghost blade, and I think it’s time we gave it a shot.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Puck kept himself hidden as Oberon burst into the boiler room. Hiding from Oberon’s sight wouldn’t work for long, especially since the link between them allowed Oberon to sense wherever he was, or at least wherever he had traveled to as long as Oberon himself was at the source.
Which was why Puck had traveled back to Oberon’s study briefly before teleporting back to the boiler room, knowing it would distract Oberon from his presence. He wanted to make sure the rest of his plan was in place, and that required observation.
Oberon walked through the boiler room, his glowering eyes piercing the steam as he searched for each of the knives Puck had left behind. Oberon reached for knife after knife with precision, barely fazed by the steam at all. Each knife he retrieved he held in his hand, offering a quick chant and melting the metal in his hand with his inner phoenix heat.
“You know you can’t evade me forever,” Oberon said, the words lost amidst the hissing steam, though the words reverberated across their mental link as well, and Puck heard them clearly in his mind. “Eventually I’ll be there ahead of you,” Oberon growled as he prepared to leave the boiler room. “I own you, Puck.”
As he was about to teleport away, he stopped and turned to look in Puck’s direction. If there weren’t a cloud of steam and a mass of pipes between them, Puck knew Oberon would be staring directly at him.
“Perhaps I’ve learned a thing or two in my time as the God of Mischief,” Puck said through the steam. And then he felt Oberon moving closer, charging through the room. Puck teleported diagonally away, keeping a single pipe between them.
Oberon arrived where Puck had been standing, and he clenched his fists in frustration as he realized Puck had moved again. He drew his sword and seemed to go into a trance-like state as he searched for Puck’s presence. “Goblins are always trying creatures,” he muttered. “You think that teleportation will hide you from me?” Oberon called, ending his trance as he looked up again. He turned and stared directly at him again. Puck started to teleport again as Oberon came around the pipe, slashing out with his sword twice and cutting a large section away from the pipe. “I am Ifrit!” Oberon roared as he passed the pipe. Puck teleported back to his previous position, and then was slammed into the wall by the chunk of pipe. He was dazed for a moment as he looked up and saw Oberon standing on the other side of the pipe, his leg still raised from where he had kicked the cut section out and toward Puck. He had a satisfied sneer as their eyes met.
Puck had lost. As long as they had eye contact, Oberon could do whatever he wanted with him, and Puck no longer had the option of looking away. Oberon walked forward slowly, holding his sword at his side in a non-threatening manner. There was no longer any reason for Oberon to threaten, Puck was already at his mercy.
Puck struggled to his feet as Oberon approached, keeping his eyes open and locked on Oberon’s the entire time. As Oberon reached him, he gripped the front of Puck’s shirt and slammed him hard into the wall behind him, growling as he leaned his head forward so their faces were barely inches apart.
“My liege, such violence will ruin your benevolent reputation,” Puck said indignantly, sliding his hand slowly toward the stiletto still tucked into his belt.
“You dare to challenge me, Puck?” Oberon asked, pulling back slightly and then slamming Puck into the wall again. “Have you forgotten what I can do to you?”
“You won’t get him from me, Oberon. Jacob will live, and you’ll lose your advantage,” Puck said as he slipped the knife out of his belt and in one quick motion brought it up and rammed it toward the side of Oberon’s neck.
Puck grunted as his hand stopped, the tip of the blade an inch away from Oberon’s neck. Oberon shook his head and let go of Puck’s shirt before reaching up to pluck the stiletto from Puck’s hand. “If you hide the knife on your person, it’s rather easy to find.” He held the knife for a moment, smiling because he’d finally acquired the real stiletto, but that smile quickly faded and then melted in his grasp before he tossed it away from him. “That isn’t the real knife, either . . .” he growled, leaning into Puck’s face again. “Where is it, fool?”
“Have you checked the kitchen?” Puck challenged, smirking. “A lot of knives there.”
Oberon wrapped his hand around Puck’s throat as his body trembled with rage. “I’m going to introduce you to levels of pain you’ve never imagined possible.”
Puck felt the agony start to move through him, starting from the core of his being and radiating outward. He began to sweat and gritted his teeth. Despite the pain, he smiled as he noticed Jacob moving in slowly from behind, the stiletto held high in his hand as he aimed for the back of Oberon’s neck. “As long as I take you with me,” Puck said, staring deep into Oberon’s eyes.
Oberon smirked, and shook his head redoubling the pain he was causing to Puck. “You always give yourself away too easily.” He released his grip on Puck and spun around, slashing out with his sword and cutting Jacob’s form, causing it to shimmer. Jacob lost his grip on the stiletto and it dropped into Oberon’s waiting hand.
Jacob came back into sight as Oberon stared at him, holding the knife in his hand as he smiled with satisfaction. “I’ll do it myself this time,” he said before he began chanting in the ancient language of Atlantis. Puck covered his ears from the sound of the words, his own spiritual nature cringing from the strength of the exorcism as the knife grew white hot in Oberon’s grip.
Puck screamed, “Jacob!” as Jacob’s form began to distort in a white glow of fire and lighting. He writhed and screamed on his own as the exorcism took hold, forcing him away from the knife and onto another plane altogether.
As soon as he was gone, Oberon tossed the knife to the side where it splashed into a puddle of water, quenching its heat. He then looked down at Puck, meeting his eyes again, emerald flame to emerald defiance. “And so it ends for him,” Oberon said with a sneer, “but for you?”
“Do your worst,” Puck spat. With Jacob gone, all Puck had left was his defiance.
Oberon made good on Puck’s words, and Puck’s entire body was wracked with more pain than he’d ever felt before. His spine arched as his nerves flared with heat and electricity, ripping through his flesh and bones as he lost complete control of his movements. He lost the contents of his stomach and his bowels, but he had given up on preserving dignity a long time ago.
He barely noticed when Oberon started moving away, but the words he said echoed in his mind as surely as if they had been shouted in his ears. “When you’re done writhing on the floor, join me in Avalon and we’ll discuss our ambush.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jacob waited in the kitchen, standing next to the open cutlery drawer, holding the stiletto in his hand when Puck walked into the room, shuffling slowly as he pushed away the pain.
“How did you do that?” Jacob asked, smiling at Puck in wonder. Puck grinned back and then winced as he moved forward again, looking at the stiletto and then up at Jacob’s eyes before he reached the counter and used it to steady himself.
“Djinn bend reality, witches create illusions. A goblin is the offspring of both, and that allows a great deal of flexibility, even when dealing with a god,” Puck replied, laughing nervously. “Especially one as arrogant as Oberon.”
“But what . . .” Jacob shook his head and stared at the stiletto in his hand again which he had found in the cutlery drawer a few minutes earlier. “I felt the exorcism take hold, and then I was back in the ether, but I knew I could move back to the knife in the kitchen at any time.”
“Well, I concocted the plan fairly quickly,” Puck said with a shrug. “I knew Oberon wouldn’t search the cutlery drawer as long as I made it obvious what I was doing with all the knives inside of it, so it was the perfect hiding spot while I worked out everything else.” He leaned toward Jacob and whispered, “The trick was to get you to believe the link between you and the knife you held was the real link. That’s what gave power to the illusion, and it’s the same thing which fooled Oberon. As long as you both thought the knife was the real one, the exorcism worked like a real one, all except for the exorcism part of course. If he ever finds out . . .” he trailed off with a shudder.
“Isn’t he watching you now?” Jacob asked with alarm.
“No,” Puck said slowly. “He believes he won and that’s good enough for him for now. He’ll wait until I’m in Avalon and then he’ll send me on my next mission as if nothing has happened.” His face grew grim as he added. “He will notice where I go next, however. Cool how I pulled it off though, huh?
“Fascinating, I’m truly impressed by your skills, Puck,” Jacob replied with a grin. “What now?”
“Now we need to get out of here before Oberon realizes I’m taking too long and investigates. Then he’ll know he was duped,” Puck shuddered again and reached for the stiletto. After only a moment of hesitation Jacob put the knife in Puck’s hands and waited for Puck to continue. “I’ll have to take you with me to Avalon first, but then . . .” He nodded slowly as he formed the rest of the plan in his mind. “It will give you some time for some reconnaissance, and then we’ll get you to your friends once I have another opportunity to leave.”
“You play a dangerous game, Puck,” Jacob said, grinning wide.
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