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Beneath This Man (This Man #2) Darkness Becomes Her (Gods & Monsters #1)

The sisters faced one another and traded knowing glances.

"Right," I said, the word slurring a little. "There." "Dammit, Dresden," Karrin said, her voice exasperated. "Just lie down until we can look at you." I threw her a salute with my right hand and paused, feeling an unfamiliar weight on my arm. I looked. Captain Hook dangled from it, half a dozen of his armors barbs caught in the denim of my jacket. I peered at the tiny armored figure and then poked him with a fingertip. He let out a semiconscious little moan, but the hooks had effectively immobilized him. "Huh," I said. Then I cackled. "Hah. Hah, hah, heh hahhah." Thomas glanced over his shoulder and blinked several times. "What the hell is that?" "A priceless intelligence asset," I replied. Thomas lifted his eyebrows. "Youre going to interrogate that little guy?" "If Molly has a turkey baster, maybe you can waterboard him," Murphy said in an acid tone. "Relax," I said. "And drive. We need to . . ." I forgot what I had been about to say we needed to do. I guess all that cackling had really taken it out of me. The world turned sideways and the leather of the backseat pressed up against my unwounded cheek. It felt cool and nice, which was a stark contrast to the waves of pure ache and steady burn that pulsed through my body with every heartbeat. The world didnt fade to black so much as turn a dark, restless red. Chapter Twenty-seven I woke up when someone shoved a branding iron into my neck. Okay, that isnt what happened, but I was coming out of unconsciousness at the time, and that was what it seemed like. I let out a curse and flailed with my arms. "Hold him, hold him!" someone said in an intent voice. Hands came down on my arms, pressing them back against a smooth, rigid surface beneath me. "Harry," Thomas said. "Harry, easy, easy. Youre safe." There were lights in my eyes. They werent pleasant. I squinted against them until I could see Thomass upside-down head looming over me. "There you are," Thomas said. "We were getting worried." He lifted his hands from my arms and gave the side of my face something somewhere between a pat and a slap. "You werent waking up." I looked around me. I was lying on the table in Mollys apartment, the same spot where wed seen to Toots injuries earlier in the day. There was the sharp smell of disinfectant in the air. I felt terrible, but less terrible than I had in the car. I turned my head and saw a wiry little guy with a shock of black hair, a beaky nose, and glittering, intelligent eyes. He picked up a metal bowl in one hand, and moved a pair of needle-nose pliers in the other, dropping something into the bowl with a clink. "And he just wakes up?" Waldo Butters, Chicagos most polka-savvy medical examiner, asked. "Tell me that isnt a little creepy." "What are you talking about?" I said. Butters held up the metal bowl, tilting it so that I could see inside. Several tiny, bright, sharp, bloodied pieces of metal were inside. "Barbs from those fishhooks," he said. "Several of them broke off in your skin." I grunted. My collapse in the car made more sense now. "Yeah," I said. "Any kind of iron gets under my skin, it seems to disagree with the Winter Knights bundle of awesome. Takes the gumption right out of me." I started to sit up. Butters very calmly put his hands on my chest and shoved me back down. Hard. I blinked at him. "I dont do assertive much," he said apologetically. "I dont really like doctoring people who are still alive. But if Im going to do it, dammit, Im going to do it right. So. You stay put until I say you can get up. Got it?" "I, uh . . ." I said. "Yeah, I guess." "Smart," Butters said. "You have two giant bruises where the lower halves of your arms usually go. Youre covered in lacerations, and a couple need sutures. Some are already inflamed. I need to clean them all out. Thatll work best if you hold still." "I can do that," I said. "But Im feeling all kinds of better, man. Look." I held up my hands and wiggled my fingers. They felt a little tight. I glanced down at them. They were a mottled shade of purple and swollen. My wrists and forearms were blotchy with bruises and swollen, too. "Harry, I once saw an addict pound his fist into concrete until hed broken nearly every bone in his hand. He never even blinked." "Im not on drugs," I said. "No? Theres damage to your bodys machinery. Just because you arent feeling it doesnt mean it isnt there," Butters said firmly. "Ive got a theory." "What theory?" I asked, as he got to work on the cuts. "Well, lets say youre a faerie queen with a need for a mortal enforcer. You want the guy to be effective, but you dont want to make him too powerful to handle. It seems reasonable to me that you might fiddle with his pain threshold. Hes not actually any more indestructible, but he feels like he is. Hell ignore painful things like . . . like knife wounds or . . ." "Gut shots?" Thomas suggested. "Or gut shots, right," Butters said. "And most of the time, that is probably a huge advantage. He can Energizer Bunny his way right through your enemies-and then, when its over, there he is. He feels great, but in reality hes all screwed up and its going to take his body weeks or months to repair itself. If you dont like the job hes done, well, there he is all weakened and vulnerable. And if you do like it, you just let him rest and use him again another day." "Wow, thats cynical," I said. "And calculating." "Im in the right ballpark, arent I?" Butters asked. I sighed. "Yeah, it sounds . . . very Mab-like." Especially if what Maeve had said about me being dangerous to Mab was true. Butters nodded sagely. "So, as strong or quick or as fast to heal as it makes you, just remember: You arent any more invincible to trauma than before. You just dont notice it when something happens. . . ." He was quiet for a moment and then asked, "You didnt even feel that, did you?" "Feel what?" I asked, lifting my head. He put the heel of his hand on my forehead and pushed it down again. "I just stitched up a three-inch-long slice over one of your ribs. No anesthetic." "Huh," I said. "No, I didnt. . . . I mean, I felt something; it just wasnt uncomfortable." "Supports my theory," he said, nodding. "I already did that cut over your eye while you were out. Thats a beauty. Right down to the bone.""Courtesy of Captain Hook," I said. "He had this bitty sword." I glanced up at Thomas. "Weve still got Hook, right?" "Hes being held prisoner on a ceramic-lined cookie sheet in the oven," Thomas said. "I figured he couldnt jigger his way out of a bunch of steel, and it would give him something to think about before we start asking questions." "Thats an awful thing to do to one of the Little Folk, man," I said. "Im planning to start making a pie in front of him." "Nice." "Thank you." "How long was I out?" I asked. "About an hour," Thomas said. Butters snorted. "Id have been here sooner but someone broke into my house last night and I was cleaning up the mess." I winced. "Uh, yeah. Right. Sorry about that, man." He shook his head. "Im still kind of freaking out that youre here at all, honestly. I mean, we held your funeral. We talked to your ghost. It doesnt get much more gone than that." "Sorry to put a speed bump on your mental train track." "Its more of a roller coaster, lately, but a good mind is flexible," Butters said. "Ill deal with it; dont worry." He worked for a moment more before adding, in a low murmur, "Unlike some other people." "Eh?" I asked him. Butters just looked up across the large apartment and then went back to work. I followed the direction of his gaze. Karrin sat curled up in a chair beside the fireplace, on the far side of the big apartment, her arms wrapped around her knees, her head leaning against the chairs back. Her eyes were closed and her mouth was open a little. She was evidently asleep. The gentle snoring supported that theory. "Oh," I said. "Uh. Yeah. She didnt seem to handle it real well when I was ghosting around. . . ." "Understatement," Butters breathed. "Shes been through a lot. And none of it made her a bit less prickly." Thomas made a low sound of agreement. "Shes run most of her friends off," Butters said. "Never talks to cops anymore. Hasnt been speaking to her family. Just the Viking crew down at the BFS. Im hanging in there. So is Molly. I guess maybe we both know that shes in a bad place." "And now here I am," I said. "Man." "What?" Thomas asked. I shook my head. "You gotta know Karrin." "Karrin, eh?" Thomas asked. I nodded. "Shes real serious about order. A man dying, she can understand. A man coming back. Thats different." "Isnt she Catholic?" Thomas asked. "Dont they have a guy?" I eyed him. "Yeah. And that makes it so much easier to deal with." "Medically speaking," Butters said, "Im pretty sure you were never dead. Or at least, never dead and beyond revival." "What, were you there?" I asked. "Were you?" he countered. I grunted. "From my end, it went black, and then I woke up. Ghosty. Then it went white and I woke up. Hurting. Then did a bunch of physical therapy to recover." "Wow, seriously, PT?" Butters asked. "How long?" "Eleven weeks." "Yeah, that really leans things toward coma for me." "And all the angels and ghost stuff," I said. "Which way does that make them lean? In your medical opinion?" Butters pressed his lips together and said, "No one likes a smart-ass, Harry." "I never liked him anyway," Thomas confided to him. "Why dont you do something useful?" I said. "Go outside; see if anyone is lurking out there, waiting to kill us the second we walk out." "Because Molly has to go with me each and every time or they wont let me back in, and shes out dealing with your scouts," Thomas said. "You worried about that faerie crew using your blood to track you?" "Not sure. Using it is trickier than most people think," I said. "Youve got to keep it from drying out, and youve got to get it undiluted. It was raining, so if someone wanted my blood, theyd have had to get to it pretty quick-and it looked like Sith was keeping them busy." "Sith?" Butters asked. "Not what youre thinking," I said. "Oh," he said, clearly disappointed. "Besides," I said to Thomas, "Im less worried about them using it to follow me than using it to make my heart stop beating. Or you know . . . explode out of my chest." Thomas blinked. "They can do that?" "Oh, my God," Butters said, blinking. "Is that what that was?" "Yes, they can do that, and probably, if you mean all those murders around the Three-Eye drug ring bust," I answered them. "Butters, whats the story here? You done yet?" "Empty night," Thomas said, his manner suddenly serious. "Harry . . . shouldnt we be putting up circles or something?" "No point," I said. "If theyve got your blood, theyve got you, period. Maybe if I ran and hid somewhere in the Nevernever, but even then it isnt certain." "How much blood do they need?" Butters asked. "Depends," I said. "Depends on how efficient their magic is-their skill level. Depends on how fresh the blood is. Depends on the day of the week and the phase of the moon, for all I know. It isnt something Ive experimented with. The more energy theyre sending your way, the more blood they need." "Meaning what?" Butters asked. "Sit up so I can dress these." I sat up and lifted my arms out of the way as I explained. "A tracking spell is hardly anything, in terms of energy input," I said. "They wouldnt need much at all for that." Butters wound a strip of linen bandage around my midsection several times. "But if they want to make your head explode, it takes a lot more?" "Depends how good they are," I said. "They dont have to crush your head into paste, sledgehammer style. Maybe they put an ice pick up your nose. Less force but concentrated into a smaller area, see?" I shuddered a little. "If theyve got my blood and can use it, Im f**ked and thats that. But until that happens, Im going to assume that I still have a chance and proceed as if I do." There was a silence then, and I realized that both Butters and Thomas were just staring at me. "What? Magic is dangerous stuff, guys," I said. "Yeah, for all of us," Butters said, "but, Harry, youre . . ."

Undead and Unworthy (Undead #7)

"What? Bulletproof?" I shook my head. "Magic is like the rest of life. It doesnt matter how much a guy can bench-press, or if he can break trees with his hands. You put a bullet through his brain, he dies. Im pretty good at figuring out where to stand so as to avoid that bullet, and I can shoot back a lot better than most people-but Im just as vulnerable as everybody else." I frowned at that thought. As vulnerable as everybody else. Something nagged at me from beneath the surface of my conscious calculations, but I couldnt poke it into visibility. Yet. "Point is," I said, "if they were going to try to kill me with it, theyve had time to do that already." "Unless theyre saving it for the future," Butters said. I made sure not to growl out loud. "Yes. Thank you. Are you finished yet?" Butters tore off a final piece of medical tape, stuck the end of the bandage down with it, and sighed. "Yeah. Just try not to . . . well, move, or jump around, or do anything active, or touch anything dirty, or otherwise do anything else that I know youre going to do anyway in the next twenty-four hours." "Twelve hours," I said, swinging my legs down from the table. "Oy." Butters sighed. "Wheres my shirt?" I asked, standing. Thomas shrugged. "Burned it. You want mine?" "After you got your guts all over it?" I asked. "Ew." Butters blinked and looked at Thomas. "My God," he said. "Youve been shot." Thomas hooked a thumb at Butters. "Check out Dr. Marcus Welby, MD, here." "Id have gone with Doogie Howser, maybe," I said. "Split the difference at McCoy?" Thomas asked. "Perfect." "Youve been shot!" Butters repeated, exasperated. Thomas shrugged. "Well. A little." Butters let out an enormous sigh. Then he picked up the bottle of disinfectant and a roll of paper towels and started cleaning off the table. "God, I hate this Frankenstein-slash-Civil War medicine crap. Give me a second. Then lie down." I left them to pad across the apartment to my bedroom. To Mollys guest bedroom. I opened the door as quietly as I could so that I wouldnt wake Karrin, and went in to put on another secondhand shirt. I found one that was plain black, with the Spider-Man emblem on it in white. The black uniform. The one that made Spidey switch teams for a bit, and which eventually gave him all kinds of grief. It seemed fitting. I slipped into it and turned and nearly jumped out of my boots when Karrin quietly shut the bedroom door behind her. I stood there for a long moment. The only light was from a single small, glowing candle. Karrin faced me with an opaque expression. "You dont call," she said, one corner of her mouth quirked into an expression that wasnt a smile. "You dont write." "Yeah," I said. "Coma." "I heard," she said. She folded her arms and leaned back against the door. "Thomas and Molly both say its really you." "Yeah," I said. "Howd you find me?" "Scanner. The last time a bomb went off in this town, it was in your office building. I hear another one goes off in the street, and then reports of explosions and gunfire out over the lake just after dawn this morning. Math wasnt hard to do." "Howd you follow me?" "I didnt," Murphy said. "I staked out Thomass place and followed the guy who was following you." She moved a foot absently, touching the back of her other calf with it as if scratching an itch. "His name was Ace . . . something, right?" I nodded. "You remember." "I try to keep track of the bad guys," she said. "And on an entirely unrelated note . . . I hear you belong to Mab now." The words hit me like a slap in the face. Karrin had been a detective for a long time. She knew how to manipulate a suspect. I guessed I was a suspect, then. "Im not a cocker spaniel," I said quietly. "Im not saying you are," she said. "But there are creatures out there that can do things to your head, and we both know it." "You think thats what happened?" I asked. "That Mabs bent my brain into new shapes?" Her expression softened. "I think shell do it slower," she said. "Youre . . . an abrupt sort of person. Your solutions to problems tend to be decisive and to happen quickly. Its how you think. Im willing to believe that you found some kind of way to prevent her from just . . . I dont know. Rewriting you." "I told her if she tried it, Id start being obstreperous." "God," Karrin said. "You havent started?" She half smiled. For a second, it was almost okay. But then her face darkened again. "I think shell do it slower. An inch at a time, when you arent looking. But even if she doesnt . . ." "What?" "Im not angry at you, Harry," she said. "I dont hate you. I dont think youve gone bad. A lot of people have fallen into the trap you did. People better than either of us." "Uh," I said. "The evil-Queen-of-Faerie trap?" "Christ, Harry," Murphy said quietly. "No one just starts giggling and wearing black and signs up to become a villainous monster. How the hell do you think it happens?" She shook her head, her eyes pained. "It happens to people. Just people. They make questionable choices, for what might be very good reasons. They make choice after choice, and none of them is slaughtering roomfuls of saints, or murdering hundreds of baby seals, or rubber-room irrational. But it adds up. And then one day they look around and realize that theyre so far over the line that they cant remember where it was." I looked away from her. Something in my chest hurt. I didnt say anything. "Do you understand that?" she asked me, her voice even more quiet. "Do you understand how treacherous the ground youre standing on has become?" "Perfectly," I said. She nodded a few times. Then she said, "I suppose thats something." "That all?" I asked her. "I mean . . . is that the only reason you came in here?" "Not quite," she said. "You dont trust me," I said. Her eyes didnt meet mine, and didnt avoid them either. "That will depend largely on the next few minutes." I inhaled through my nose and out again, trying to stay calm, clear, even. "Okay," I said. "What do you want me to do?""The skull," she said. "I know what it is. So does Butters. And . . . its too powerful to be left in the wrong hands." "Meaning mine?" I asked. "Ill tell you what I know. I know you broke into his house when he was at work and took it. I know you left Andi with cuts and bruises. And I know you wrecked the place a bit along the way." "You think that means Ive gone bad?" She tilted her head slightly to one side, as if considering. "I think you were probably operating under some kind of harebrained lone-hero rationale. Lets say . . . that Im concerned that you have enough things to juggle already." I thought about snapping at her but . . . she had a point. Bob was a resource far too powerful to be allowed to fall into the hands of anyone who wouldnt use him responsibly. And Id been doing the Winter Knight gig full speed for about twelve hours, and Id already had some disturbing realizations about myself. Twelve hours. What would I be like after twelve days? Twelve months? What if Karrin was right, and Mab got to me slow? Or worse: What if I was just human? She was right about that, too. Power corrupts-and the people being corrupted never seem to be aware that its happening. Id just told Butters that I wasnt magically bulletproof. What kind of arrogant ass would I be if I assumed I was morally infallible? That I would be wise and smart and savvy enough to avoid the pitfalls of power, traps that had turned better people than me into something horrible? I didnt want her to be right. I didnt like the idea at all. But denial is for children. I had to be a grown-up. "Okay," I said, my throat tight. "Bobs in that satchel out in the living room. Give him back to Butters." "Thank you," she said. "I found where you left the swords." She meant the two Swords of the Cross, two of three holy blades meant to fill the hands of the righteous in the battle against true evil. Id wound up babysitting them, being their custodian. Mostly theyd sat around in my place gathering dust. "Yeah?" I said. "I know how powerful they are," she said. "And I know how vulnerable they are in the wrong hands. Im not telling you where they are. Im not giving them back to you. Im not negotiating." I exhaled slowly. A slow, hard anger rolled into a knot in my guts. "Those . . . were my responsibility," I said. "They were," she said. There was something absolutely rigid in her blue eyes. "Not anymore." The room suddenly felt too hot. "Suppose I disagree." "Suppose you do," she said. "What would you do if you were in my position?" I dont remember moving. I just remember slamming the heel of my hand into the door six inches from the side of Karrins head. It sounded like a gunshot, and left me standing over her, breathing harder, and the difference in our sizes was damned near comical. If I wanted to, I could wrap my fingers almost all the way around her throat. Her neck would break if I squeezed. She didnt flinch. She didnt move. She looked up at me and waited. It hit me, what I was thinking, what my instincts were screaming at me to do, and I suddenly sagged, bowing my head. My breath came out in uneven jerks. I closed my eyes, tried to get it under control. And then she touched me. She rested her hand lightly on my battered forearm. Moving carefully, as if I were made of glass, her fingers slid down my arm to my hand. She took it gently and lowered it, not trying to force anything. Then she took my right hand in her left. We stood that way for a moment, our hands clasped, our heads bowed. She seemed to understand what I was going through. She didnt push me. She just held my hands and waited until my breathing had steadied again. "Harry," she said quietly then. "Do you want my trust?" I nodded tightly, not trusting myself to speak. "Then youre going to have to give me some. Im on your side. Im trying to help you. Let it go." I shuddered. "Okay," I said. Her hands felt small and warm in mine. "I . . . weve been friends a long time," I said. "Since that troll on the bridge." "Yes." My eyes blurred up, stupid things, and I closed them. "I know Ive screwed up," I said. "Im going to have to live with that. But I dont want to lose you." In answer, Murphy lifted my right hand and pressed it against her cheek. I didnt open my eyes. I couldnt hear it in her voice or her breathing, but I felt a slight dampness touch my hand. "I dont want to lose you, either," she said. "That scares me." I didnt trust myself to speak for a long time. She lowered my hands slowly, and very gently let me go. Then she turned to the door. "Karrin," I said. "What if youre right? What if I change? I mean . . . go really bad." She looked back enough for me to see her profile, and a quiet, sad smile. "I work with a lot of monsters these days." Chapter Twenty-eight Ipicked up another jacket hanging in the closet, an old surplus military garment with an eighties-style camouflage pattern-not because I thought I would get cold as much as because I figured maybe the extra pockets would be handy if I found anything for which they would be needed. I didnt have any money or ID. I didnt have a credit card. Hell, I didnt have a business card. What would it say? "Harry Dresden, Winter Knight, Targets Slain, No Barbecues, Waterslides, or Fireworks Displays." I could joke around with myself all I wanted, but I would be doing it only because I didnt want to face a larger question, a really hard one: How the hell did I put my life back together? Assuming I could do it at all. Fortunately, I had dire evil to fight at the moment, which meant that I could think about the life thing later. Thank God for imminent doomsday. Id hate to have to face up to the really tough stuff so soon after getting back into the game. I heard the front door of the apartment open and close, and some quiet talk. I came out of the bedroom to find that Molly had returned. Toot-toot was riding along on one of her shoulders, hanging on to the top rim of her ear to keep his balance. He looked none the worse for wear. "Harry," Molly said, smiling. "You look better. How do you feel?" "Ill do," I said. "Major General, I see youre back on your feet. The last time I saw you, I figured youd be down for weeks." Toot stiffened to attention and threw me a salute. "No, my lord! The Little Folk dont have enough time to waste weeks and weeks healing like you big people."That probably shouldnt have surprised me. Id seen Toot literally eat half his weight in pizza. And his wings were powerful enough to lift him off the ground into flight. Anything that can put food away that quickly and produce such a prodigious amount of physical power relative to its size must have a ridiculously high-burning metabolism. And with the day Id been having, it did my heart good to see him upright again. "Where are we on our scouts?" I asked Molly. "Theyre in a food coma," she said. "I ordered twenty pizzas. Must have been five hundred of them in the parking lot. Theyll be ready to go as soon as you tell me where you want them to look." "I need a map," I said. Molly reached into her back pocket and produced a folded map. "Way ahead of you, boss." "Soon as theyre done, lay it out on the table," I said. "Got it." "Major General, Im glad youre here," I said. "I need you to stay close." Toot saluted again, and his wings blurred into motion, lifting him up off Mollys shoulder. "Yes, my lord! What is the mission?" "To prevent a prisoner from attempting escape," I said. "I captured Captain Hook." "Sort of," Karrin chimed in, her voice amused. Shed returned to her seat by the fireplace. I gave her a look. "We have him; hes captured; thats the main thing." Toot put his hand on his sword. "Shall I dispatch him for you, my lord?" he asked eagerly. "Because I totally can." "If it needs to be done," I said soberly, "Ill make sure its your hand that does it. But well give him a chance to talk first." "You are a man of mercy and grace, my lord," Toot-toot said, clearly disappointed. "You bet your ass," I said. "Make sure youre in a good spot to stop our guest from leaving." "Aye!" Toot said, saluting, and darted across the apartment. Molly shook her head. "Youre always so careful to make him feel involved." "He is involved," I said, and started back toward Butterss makeshift examination table. "Of course it hurts," Thomas was saying. Butters was stitching up a small, puckered hole in his lower abdomen. "But not as much as it did before you got the bullet out." "And youre sure you can handle care this crude?" Butters asked. "Because if you were a regular human being, I could pretty much guarantee you that this thing would go septic in a couple of days and kill you." "Microorganisms arent a problem to my kind," Thomas said. "As long as I dont bleed out, Ill be fine." My brothers tone was calm, but the color of his eyes had changed, growing lighter, a shade of fine grey with almost no blue at all in it. A vampire of the White Court had superhuman strength and speed and resilience, but not an infinite supply. Thomass eyes changed as his personal demon, his Hunger, gained more influence over his actions. At some point, he would need to feed to replenish himself. "You about done?" I asked him. "I need the table." "What is it with you people?" Butters groused. "For Gods sake, these are real injuries here." "There will be more of them than a thousand reluctant physicians could patch up if we dont get moving," I said. "Todays serious business, man." "How serious?" "Cant think when its been grimmer," I said. "Freaking waste-of-space vampires, lying around on tables you need to use." "Useless wizards," Thomas said, "jumping on enemy guns and accidentally shooting their allies with them." "Oh," I said. "That was when I jumped Ace?" He snorted. "Yeah." I winced. "Ah. Sorry about that." "One of these days, Dresden," Thomas drawled, "pow, right in the kisser." "Talk is cheap," I said. "Table, table, table." Butters finished patching Thomas up, wrapping a long strip of gauze bandage around his middle. Thomas leaned back on his elbows as the doctor worked. The pose made his muscles stand out sharply beneath pale skin-but then, most poses seemed to do that with Thomas. His pale eyes lingered on Molly for a long moment, and my apprentice abruptly turned away with spots of color high up in her cheeks. "I, uh," Molly said. "Wow." "Thomas," I said. "Sorry," he said. He didnt sound sincere. He got up off the table with lazy grace. "Say, Harry, do you have any more shirts back there? I bled, nobly and sacrificially, all over mine." "Theyre Mollys," I said. He looked at my apprentice. "Oh? What do I have to do to get one?" "Go ahead," Molly said. Her voice was not quite a squeak. "Take one." "Appreciate it," Thomas said, and sauntered into the spare bedroom. Murphy watched him walk by, openly, then gave me a rather challenging look. "What?" she asked. "Hes pretty." "I heard that," Thomas said from the other room. "Map," I said, and Molly hurried over to the table. Butters got his stuff off of it in rapid order. Hed evidently pulled the slug out of Thomass guts without making a horrible bloody mess of things. The bullet had to have been close to the surface. Aces gun must have been fairly lightweight, a .25 or a .22. Maybe hed been using cheap ammo and the round had been short on powder. Or maybe Thomass super-abs had stopped the bullet before it could sink in. After the table was clean, Molly spread the map out on it. It was a map of Lake Michigan and the shores around it, including Chicago and Milwaukee and on up to Green Bay. Molly passed me a pen, and I leaned over and started making marks on the map with my swollen fingers. It hurt but I ignored it. Karrin got up and came over to watch. Thomas joined us a moment later, freshly attired in a plain white T-shirt, which looked like it had been made to fit him. Hes a jerk like that. "What Im doing here," I said, "is marking out all the nodes I remember." "Nodes?" Butters asked. My clumsy fingers made it a little hard to put the marks exactly where I wanted them. "The meeting points of one or more ley lines," I said. "I got to know all about them a few years ago." "Those are like magical power cables, right?" Karrin asked. "More or less," I said. "Sources of power that you can draw on to make major magic. And there are a lot of them in the Great Lakes region. Im drawing from memory, but Im pretty sure these are right."

The Wolfs Hour (Michael Gallatin #1)

"They are," Molly confirmed quietly. "Auntie Lea taught them to me a few months ago." I looked up at her, eyed my battered fingers, and said, "Then why am I doing this?" Molly rolled her eyes and took the pen. She started marking nodes rapidly and precisely on the map, including the Well on Demonreach (though the island didnt appear on the map). "Whoever is going to attempt the spell on Demonreach has to do it from somewhere near the shore of the lake," I said. "Theyre almost certainly going to be at one of these nodes-the closer to the edge of the lake, the better." I pointed out several nodes near the shore. "So we need to send the guard out to check these six locations near the edge of the lake first. After that, they go after the next nearest and so on." "Some of those are a good way off," Karrin noted. "How fast can these little guys move?" "Fast," I said. "Faster than anyone gives them credit. They can fly and they can take shortcuts through the Nevernever. They can get to the sites and back before sundown." Sundown. Which was when the big, bad immortals would come out to play. "Any questions so far?" I asked, looking at Murphy. She jerked her chin toward my brother and said, "Thomas filled me in." "Good," I said. "Exposition gets repetitive fast. A spell like this takes time to set up, and they wont really be able to hide it if we can get eyes on the site. Once we know which of the sites shows signs of use, we can get to it and thwart whatever lunatic is using it." "Do we know who it is yet?" Murphy asked. "Answer unclear," I said. "Its got to be those Outsiders, right?" Thomas asked. "Stands to reason. But the real question is, who is helping them?" I got a bunch of looks at that. "Outsiders cant just show up in our reality," I said. "Thats why theyre called Outsiders in the first place. Someone has to open the door and let them in." I took a deep breath. "Which brings me to the next twist. I talked to Lily and Maeve, and they tell me that Mab is the one planning to tinker with the island." Silence followed that. "Thats . . . a lie, right?" Butters asked. "They cant lie," I said. "They physically cant. And, yes, I got them to speak directly about it. Theres no confusion of signals, no room for obfuscation." Thomas whistled quietly. "Yeah," I said. "Uh," Molly said. "Were up against Mab? Your boss?" "Not necessarily," I said. "Lily and Maeve may not be lying but they could still be wrong. Lily has never been a cerebral titan. And Maeve is . . . maybe insane is the only word that really describes it, but shes definitely firing on an odd number of cylinders. Its possible that theyve been deceived." "Or," Thomas said, "maybe they havent." "Or maybe they havent," I said, nodding. "What would that mean?" Molly asked. "It would mean," Karrin said quietly, "that Mab sent Harry to kill Maeve because either she wanted Maeve out of the way or she wanted Harry out of the way. Which is good, because it means that shes worried that theres someone who could stop her." "Right," I said. "Or maybe . . ." I frowned, studying a new thought. "What?" Thomas asked. I looked slowly around the room. If Mab had been taken by the contagion, which really needed a better name, that certainly meant that Lea had been taken as well-and Lea had been tutoring Molly. If it had spread into the White Court, my brother could have been exposed. Murphy was maybe the most vulnerable-she was isolated, and her behavior had changed radically over the past couple of years. Hell, Butters was the person in the room least likely to have been exposed or turned or whatever-which made him the most ideal candidate for being turned. Paranoia-because why should the conspiracy theorists get to have all the fun? I just couldnt see any of these people turning on me, no matter the influence. But if you could see treachery coming all that easily, Julius Caesar might have lived to a ripe old age. Id always been slightly inclined to the paranoid. I had a sinking feeling I was going to start developing my latent potential. I picked my words very carefully. "Over the past several years," I said, "there have been several conflicts between two different interests. Several times, events have been driven by internal conflicts within one or both of those interests." "Like what?" Butters asked. "Dual interests inside the Red Court, for one," I said. "One of them trying to prevent conflict with the White Council, one of them trying to stir it up. Multiple Houses of the White Court rising up to vie for control of it. The Winter and Summer Courts posturing and interfering with each other when Winters territory was violated by the Red Court." I didnt want to get any more specific than that. "Do you guys see what Im getting at here?" "Oh!" Butters said. "Its a phantom menace!" "Ah!" Molly said. Thomas grunted. Karrin glanced around at all of us and then said, "Translate that from nerd to English, please." "Someone is out there," I said. "Someone who has been manipulating events. Playing puppet master, stirring the pot, stacking the deck-" "Mixing metaphors?" Thomas suggested. "Fuck off. Im just saying that this situation has the same shape as the others. Mab and Maeve at each others throats, with Summer standing by ready to get involved, and Outsiders starting to throw their weight around." "The Black Council," Molly whispered. "Exactly," I said, which it wasnt. Up until earlier today, I had known someone was covertly causing the world a lot of grief-and due to their connections with some grim events within the White Council I had assumed it was a group of wizards, which was both naturally arrogant and extremely nearsighted of me. But what if Id been wrong? What if the Black Council was just one more offshoot of one enormous, intangible enemy? If what Id gotten from Lily was accurate, the problem was a hell of a lot bigger than I had realized. And I did not want that problem to know that I had spotted it. "The Black Council," I said. "A group of practitioners using dark magic to influence various events around the world. Theyre powerful, theyre bad news, and if Im right, theyre here. If theyre here, I figure its a good bet that Sharkface and his chums-""Shark," Butters said. "Chums. Funny." "Thank you for noticing," I said, and continued the sentence. "-are working for the Black Council." "The theoretical Black Council," Karrin said. "Theyre out there, definitely," I said. Karrin smiled faintly. "If you say so, Mulder." "Im going to ignore that. The only question is whether or not theyre here now." Molly nodded seriously. "If they are? How do we find them?" "We dont," I said. "There isnt enough time to go sniffing around methodically. We know someones going to mess with the island. It doesnt really matter whos pressing the button that sets off the bomb. We just have to keep it from getting pressed. The Little Folk find us that ritual site, and then we go wreck it." "Um," Butters said. "Not that I lack confidence in you guys, but shouldnt we be calling in the cavalry? I mean, doesnt that make more sense?" "We are the cavalry," I said in a flat tone. "The White Council wont help. Even if I knew the current protocols to contact them, it would take them days to verify that I am in fact alive and still me, and we only have hours. Besides, Mollys on their most-wanted list." I didnt add in the third reason not to contact the Council-when they found out about my relationship with Mab, the monarch of a sovereign and occasionally hostile supernatural nation, they would almost certainly panic and assume that I was a massive security risk. Which would, for a variety of reasons and to a variety of degrees, be an accurate assumption. And now that I thought about it, given how my, ah, induction had been psychically broadcast to all of Faerie, there was no chance whatsoever that the Council didnt know. Knowing stuff is what they do. Butters frowned. "The Paranetters?" "No," I said. "The last thing we need is a small army of newbies floundering around and stumbling into us. Thats asking for trouble in the short term, the long term, and every other term there might be. We can go to them for information only. We arent dragging them in." The little ME took off his glasses and cleaned them absently with the hem of his scrubs. "What about Laras team? Or the Einherjaren?" Thomas shrugged. "I could probably convince Lara to send the team somewhere." "Ditto," Karrin said, "only with Vikings." "Good," I said. "We might need more bodies, and we might need to cover multiple sites. Can you two get that lined up when we break?" They nodded. "Molly," I said. "Youll take the map up to our little scouts and tell them where to look and what to look for. Keep it simple and promise an entire pizza to whoever finds what were after." My apprentice grinned. "Drive their performance with competition, eh?" "Millions of abusively obsessed sports parents cant be wrong," I said. "Butters, youll go to the Paranetters and ask if anyones seen or heard anything unusual anywhere even close to Lake Michigan. No one investigates anything. They just report. Get me all the information you can about any odd activity in the past week. We need to collect data as quickly as possible." "Right," Butters said. "Ive got some now, if you want." I blinked. I mean, I knew the Internet was the fast way to spread information, but . . . "Seriously?" "Well," Butters hedged. "Sort of. One of our guys is a little, um, imaginative." "You mean paranoid?" "Yes," Butters said. "Hes got this Internet lair in his mothers basement. Keeps track of all kinds of things. Calls it observing the supernatural through statistics. Sends me a regional status update every day, and my spam blockers just cannot keep him out." "Hngh," I said, as if I knew what a spam blocker was. "Whats he got to say about today?" "That boat rentals this morning were four hundred percent higher today than the median for this time of year, and dark forces are bound to be at work." "Boat rentals," I muttered. "Hes a little weird, Harry," Butters said. "I mean, he has a little head-shot photo tree of the people responsible for the Cubs billy goat curse. That kind of odd. He blows the curve." "Tell him to take the tree down. The billy goat curse was a lone gunman," I said. "But paranoid doesnt necessarily equal wrong. Boats . . ." I bowed my head and closed my eyes for a moment, thinking, but if Butters paranoid basement freak was right, then the puzzle piece hed handed me was woefully unhelpful. I needed more pieces. "Okay," I said. "Right. Get more data." I looked up, jerked my head at Thomas, and headed for the kitchen. "Lets go talk to our guest about his boss." * * * I leaned down to look into the oven through the glass door. There was no light inside, but I could make out Captain Hooks armored form huddled disconsolately on a coated cookie sheet. I knocked on the glass, and Captain Hooks helmet turned toward me. "I want to talk to you," I said. "Youre my prisoner. Dont try to fight me or run away or Ill have to stop you. Id rather just have a nice conversation. Do you understand me?" Hook didnt give me any indications either way. I took silence as assent. "Okay," I said. "Im going to open the door now." I cracked open the oven door and opened it slowly, doing my best not to loom. Tough to do when youre the size of a building relative to the person over whom you are standing. "Now just take it easy and we will-" Id opened the door maybe six inches when Captain Hook all but vanished in a blur of speed. I swiped an arm at him about a second and a half too late, but I didnt feel too bad about missing, because Thomas tried to snatch the little maniac, too, and missed completely. Hook, who worked for our enemies, and who had been right there in the kitchen the whole time wed been scheming, shot toward a vent on one wall, crossing the room in the blink of an eye, and none of us could react in time to stop him. Chapter Twenty-nine None of us but the major general. Toot dropped down from where hed been crouched atop a bookcase, intercepting Hooks darting black form, and tackled the other little faerie to the floor in the middle of the living room. They landed with a thump on the carpeting, wings still blurring in fits and starts, and tumbled around the floor in irregular bursts and hops, sometimes rolling a few inches, sometimes bounding up and coming down six feet away. Toot had planned for this fight. Hed tackled Hook into the carpet, where the hooks on his armor would get tangled and bind him, slowing him down. Furthermore, Toots hands were wrapped in cloth until it looked like he was wearing mittens or boxing gloves, and he managed to seize Hook by the hooks on the back of his armor. He swung the other little faerie around in a circle and then with a high-pitched shout flung him into the wall.

Captain Hook slammed into the wall, putting gouges in the freshly painted drywall, then staggered back and fell to the ground. Toot bore down with a vengeance, drawing his little sword, and the armored figure held up a mailed fist. "Invocation!" he piped in a high, clear voice. "I am a prisoner! I invoke Winter Law!" Toots sword was already in midswing, but at those last two words he checked himself abruptly, pulling the weapon back. He hovered there over Hook with his feet an inch off the ground, gritting his teeth, but then he buzzed back from Hook and sheathed the sword. "Uh," I said. "Toot? What just happened?" Toot-toot landed on the kitchen counter next to me and stomped around in a circle, clearly furious. "You opened your big fat mouth!" he screamed. After a moment, he added, sullenly, "My lord." I frowned at Toot and then at Hook. The enemy sprite just sat there on the floor, making no further effort to escape. "Okay," I said. "Explain that." "You offered to take him prisoner," Toot said. "By Winter Law, if he accepts your offer he may not attempt escape or offer any further resistance to you for as long as you see to his needs. Now you cant kill him or beat him up or anything! And I was winning!" I blinked. "Yeah, okay, fine. So lets make with the questions already." "You cant!" Toot wailed. "You cant try to make him betray his previous covenants or terror-gate him or anything!" I frowned. "Wait. Hes a guest?" "Yes!" "By Winter Law?" I asked. "Yes! Sort of." "Well," I said, starting toward Hook. "I never signed on to that treaty. So screw Winter Law-" And abruptly, as if someone had just slammed a row of staples into my skin, the mantle of the Winter Knight vanished completely. Pain soared back into my body, inflamed tissue crying out, my bruises throbbing, the edemas beneath my skin pounding with a horrible tightness. Fatigue hit me like a truck. The sensations were so intense, the only way I could tell that I had fallen to the floor was by looking. And my body abruptly went numb and useless from my stomach down. That scared the hell out of me and confirmed one of my worst fears. When Id consented to serve Mab, my back had been broken, my spine damaged. Taking up the mantle had covered what would probably have been a crippling and long-term injury. But without it, my body was only mortal. Better than most at recovering over time, but still human. Without the mantle, I wouldnt have legs, bladder or bowel control, or, most important, independence. I was on the ground like that for a subjective week, but it could have been only a few seconds before Thomas reached my side, with Murphy, Butters, and Molly right behind him. I knew they were there because I could see them, but their voices swam down to me from what seemed like a great distance among the cacophony of raking sensations scouring my nervous system. They lifted me to a sitting position-and then abruptly the pain was gone, and my legs started moving again, jerking in a single, gentle spasm. The mantle had been restored. "Okay," I said in a ragged voice. "Uh. Maybe we wont screw Winter Law." "Harry," Thomas said, as if hed said my name several times already. "What happened?" "Uh," I said. "I think its . . . a side effect. Fallout from defying the order of things." "What?" he asked. "Faeries," I said. "Theyre kind of insane, and mischievous, and dangerous as hell, but they all share one trait-theyre good to their word. They obey what they recognize as law. Especially Mab." "You arent making much sense right now," Thomas said. "The mantle of power comes from Mab. And now its in me. But its still a piece of her. If I go violating her own realms laws, it looks like the mantle isnt going to have my back." "Meaning what?" "Meaning Id better figure out what the laws are pretty damned quick," I replied. "Help me up." Thomas hauled me to my feet and I looked at Toot. "You know the Winter Law?" "Well," Toot said as if I were an idiot, "of course." "Where can I learn it?" Toot tilted his head. "What?" "Winter Law," I said. "Where can I learn it?" "I dont understand," Toot said, tilting his head the other way. "Oh, for the love of . . ." I pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and forefinger. "Toot. Can you read?" "Sure!" Toot said. "I can read pizza and exit and chocolate!" "All three, huh?" "Absolutely." "Youre a scholar and a gentleman," I said. "But where did you learn Winter Law?" Toot shook his head as if mystified. "You dont learn it, Harry. You just . . . know it. Everyone knows it." "I dont," I said. "Maybe youre too big," Toot said. "Or too loud. Or, you know-too human." I grunted. Then I eyed Hook, who had continued to sit in the same spot during the entire conversation. "So Ive gone and made him my guest, eh?" "Well. More like your vassal." I frowned. "Uh? What?" "Thats what surrender is, duh," Toot said. "His life is yours to do with as you please. And as long as you dont starve him or make him an oathbreaker, you can tell him to do whatever you want. And if his liege wants him back, he has to pay you for him." "Ah. Medieval-style ransom." Toot looked confused. "He did run some, but I stopped him, my lord. Like, just now. In front of you. Right over there." There were several conspicuous sounds behind me, the loudest from my apprentice, and I turned to eye everyone else. They were all either covering smiles or holding them back-poorly. "Hey, peanut gallery," I said. "This isnt as easy as Im making it look." "Youre doing fine," Karrin said, her eyes twinkling. I sighed. "Come on, Toot," I said, and walked over to Hook. The little faerie sat there, apparently ignoring me, which took considerable nerve. If I fell or stepped on him, it would be like a tree falling on a lumberjack. If I were trying to hurt him, physically, I could twist him up like Stretch Armstrong. On the other hand, Hook was a faerie. It probably never even occurred to him that I might violate Mabs laws. "The prisoner will stand and face the Za Lord!" Toot shrilled. Hook obediently got up and turned to face me.

"Identify yourself, please," I said. "I dont want your Name. Just something to call you." "By some I am called Lacuna," he replied. "Suits me, Lacuna," I said. "Remove the helmet, please. I want to see who Im supporting." Lacuna reached up and removed the face-shrouding helmet. She was gorgeous. Fine black hair bound into a braid at least a foot long spilled down out of the helmet when she did. Her skin was paper white, her huge eyes black all the way through. There were small markings or tattoos of some kind in deep purple ink on her skin, but they shifted slightly as I watched, some fading from sight, others appearing. Her features were long and very lean. She had a straight razors elegant, dangerous beauty. Toots jaw just about dropped off of his head. "Wow!" "Hmmm," Karrin said. "Thats the one who beat you up last night, is it?" "And tripped him this morning," Thomas reminded her. "And tripped me this morning," I growled. I turned back to Lacuna and studied her for a moment. She looked back at me without blinking. Actually, she didnt move at all-except for her braid, which drifted upward like cobwebs over a heating vent. "Huh," I said. "Was not expecting that." Lacuna stared, her eyes flat. "I wont ask you to break your word," I told her. "And I will treat you with respect and provide for your needs in exchange for your service. Do you understand?" "I understand," Lacuna said. "Wow!" said Toot. "Without breaking any oath, I would like to know," I said, "whatever you can tell me about the person you were serving until you were taken prisoner." She stared. I caught my mistake and rolled my eyes. "Let me rephrase that. Tell me whatever you can about the person you were serving until you were taken prisoner without breaking any word youve given him." Lacuna nodded at that and frowned pensively. Then she looked up and said in a serious, confidential tone, "He does not seem to like you very much." I took a slow, deep breath. There were more titters behind me. "I noticed that, too," I said. "Tell me what you know about whats happening tonight." "Children," she said in a sepulchral voice, and her little face twisted up with unmistakable fury. "And candy. Lots and lots of candy." "Wow!" Toot said. He zipped away in a flutter of wings. "Without breaking your word, tell me everything else you know about Ace," I said. "He owes me," Lacuna replied grimly, "for services rendered." I sighed. "I dont suppose youd like to volunteer to offer me some more useful information?" The armored faerie stared at me without blinking. It was a little creepy. "Nah, I didnt think so," I said. "Are you hungry?" She seemed to consider that for a moment, then said, "Yes." "Do you want some pizza?" Lacunas face twisted up in disgust. "Ugh. No." My eyebrows went up. That was a grade-A first. The Little Folk would quite literally go to war over pizza. They liked it that much. "Uh. What would you like to eat, then?" "Celery," she replied promptly. "Cheese. Green tea. But mostly celery." "How random," I said. I looked over my shoulder. "Molly?" "Ive got those," she said, and went to the kitchen. "Okay, Lacuna," I said. "Weve got a bunch of business to take care of. I want you to eat, get some rest, and make yourself comfortable. You arent to leave this apartment. Understood?" Lacuna nodded somberly. "Yes." Her wings blurred and she darted across the apartment to the kitchen, where Molly was preparing a plate with Lacuna-chow on it. "Good. Ill figure out what to do with you later." I rubbed the back of my neck and went back over to the others. "Well. That was a little frustrating." "Whyd you take her prisoner then?" Thomas asked. I glowered at him. "Dont you have a squad of mercenaries to round up? Or a bridge to jump off?" "I guess so." "Okay, everybody," I said. "Youve got your assignments. Lets get them done. Molly, youve got the apartment and the phone, so after you send the search parties, youre coordinating. Anyone learns something, call Molly with it. Otherwise, meet back here by five." There was a round of nods and agreements, and Butters, Thomas, and Karrin headed out into the city. Once they were gone, Molly asked, "Whyd you ditch them like that?" I lifted my eyebrows again. The grasshopper just kept getting cleverer. "I wasnt ditching them," I said. Molly arched an eyebrow. "You werent?" "Not entirely," I said. "That stuff needs doing, too." "While you go somewhere dangerous all by yourself. Am I right?" I didnt answer her right away, and she finished making Lacunas meal. She put the plate on the counter and the serious little faerie fell upon it like a ravening wolf. "Something like that," I said. "Dont you have a job to do, too?" Molly eyed me. Then she picked up the map on the table, folded it, and walked toward the door. "Im not going to fight you about it. I just wanted you to know that I knew." Just then, Toot buzzed back into the apartment from somewhere. He zipped in frantic, dizzying circles, starting at the point hed last seen Lacuna, until his spiral search pattern took him to the kitchen. Then he swooped down to Lacuna, landing neatly on the counter. I peered at the two little faeries. Toot held out to Lacuna a wrapped watermelon Jolly Rancher, as if he were offering frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child. "Hi!" he said brightly. "Im Major General Toot-toot!" Lacuna looked up from her food and saw Toots gift. Her eyes narrowed. And then she sucker punched Toot-toot right in the face. My little bodyguard flew back a couple of feet and landed on his ass. Both of his hands went up to his nose, and he blinked in startled bewilderment. Toot had dropped the Jolly Rancher. Lacuna calmly kicked it into the disposal drain of the kitchen sink. Then she turned her back on Toot, ignoring him completely, and went back to eating her meal. Toots eyes were even wider as he stared at Lacuna. "Wow!" he said. Chapter Thirty The Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary has a second name-the Magic Hedge. There are about fifteen acres of trees, brush, and winding trails. Its been an established bird sanctuary for decades, and is a major port of call for birds migrating south for the winter. If you read some flyers about the place, theyll tell you all about how the Magic Hedge is chock-full to bursting with the magic of birds and nature.She wanted me to get better, and I wanted to get better for her. She was the best thing that had ever happened to me—and I wasn't going to lose her now.

I was back on Feinstein's couch again, and I was pissed.After twenty minutes of telling him about how I'd followed all of his advice and it still wasn't working, he narrowed his brows and asked me if there was anything else I was missing.

Pretty When She Kills (Pretty When She Dies #2)

"What do you mean?" I asked, frustrated. "I just told you all the shit I've done and it hasn't helped at all! When is this going to start making a difference?"Dr. Feinstein studied me from his leather chair. "It will make a difference when you find the trigger that is causing your issues. Do you think there may be anything in your life that you've missed? Think back carefully."

I felt my temper rising and did my best to suppress it. After giving up fire, I hadn't gotten better—and I'd been forced to put his last piece of advice into action. "I sold the damn bike. What else do I have to say? No, there's nothing left. Yes, I still have a nightmare every fucking night."He scribbled on his pad but said nothing for several seconds. "Have you had any more sleepwalking episodes?"

I sighed and bit my lip hard. This treatment was going nowhere. "No. Is that the most progress I can hope for? I'm hallucinating, Doc. This isn't working."Dr. Feinstein wrote something on his pad and then put the pad down and rubbed his eyes. "Jax, I want you to think very carefully back to that night. Think about objects and people that you associate with what happened. Can you do that?"

"Doc, we've already done this.""Can you humor me? Just put your head back on the couch and close your eyes for a moment."

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