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Jim Butcher

Chapter 22~24

  Chapter Twenty-two

  M urphy's car looked like it might have been through a war zone, and there were odd-colored stains in the snow underneath it. As a result we'd taken Michael's truck. I rode in the cab with Michael, while Mouse rode in the back. Yeah, I know, not safe, but the reality of the situation is that you don't fit two people our size and a dog Mouse's size into the cab of a pickup. There wouldn't be any room left for oxygen.

  Mouse didn't seem to be the least bit distressed by the cold as we sallied forth to Union Station. He actually walked to the side of the truck and stuck his head out into the wind, tongue lolling happily. Not that there was a lot of wind to be had-Michael drove patiently and carefully in the bad weather.

  After the third or fourth time we passed a car that had slid up onto a sidewalk or into a ditch, I stopped tapping my foot and mentally urging him to hurry. It would take a hell of a lot longer to walk to Union Station than it would to drive with what was obviously appropriate caution.

  We didn't talk on the way. Don't get me wrong. It isn't like Michael is a chatterbox or anything. It's just that he usually has something to say. He invites me to go to church with him (which I don't, unless something is chasing us) or has some kind of proud-papa talk regarding something one of his kids has done. We'll talk about Molly's progress, or weather, or sports, or something.

  Not this time.

  Maybe he wanted to focus his whole attention on the road, I told myself.

  Yeah. That was probably it. It couldn't have anything to do with me opening my big fat mouth too much, obviously.

  A mound of plowed snow had collapsed at the entrance of the parking garage, but Michael just built up a little speed and rumbled over and through it, though it was mostly the momentum that got him inside.

  The parking garage's lights were out, and with all that piled snow around the first level, very little of the ambient snow-light got inside. Parking garages are kind of intimidating places even when you can see them. They're even more intimidating when they're entirely black, except for the none-too-expansive areas lit by the glare of headlights.

  "Well," I said, "at least there's plenty of available spaces. "

  Michael grunted. "Who wants to travel in weather like this?" He wheeled into the nearest open parking space and the truck jerked to a stop. He got out, fetched the heavy sports bag he used to carry Amoracchius in public, and slung the bag from his shoulder. I got out, and Mouse hopped out of the back to the ground. The truck creaked and rocked on its springs, relieved of the big dog's weight. I clipped Mouse's lead on him, and then tied on the little apron thing that declared him a service dog. It's an out-and-out lie, but it makes moving around in public with him a lot easier.

  Mouse gave the apron an approving glance, and waited patiently until his disguise was in place.

  "Service dog?" Michael asked, his expression uncomfortable. He had a flashlight in his right hand, and he shone it at us for a moment before sweeping it around us, searching the shadows.

  "I have a rare condition," I said, scratching the big dog under the chin. "Can't-get-a-date-itis. He's supposed to be some kind of catalyst or conversation starter. Or failing that, a consolation prize. Anyway, he's necessary. "

  Mouse made a chuffing sound, and his tail thumped against my leg.

  Michael sighed.

  "You're awfully persnickety about the law all of a sudden," I said. "Especially considering that you're toting a concealed weapon. "

  "Please, Harry. I'm uncomfortable enough. "

  "I won't tell anyone about your Sword if you won't tell anyone about my gun. "

  Michael sighed and started walking. Mouse and I followed.

  The parking garage proved to be very cold, very dark, very creepy, and empty of any threat. We crossed the half-buried street, Mouse leading the way through the snow.

  "Snow's coming down thicker again now that the sun's down," Michael noted.

  "Mab's doing, maybe," I said. "If it is, Titania would be less able to oppose her power after the sun went down. Which is also when Titania's agents would be able to move most freely through town. "

  "But you aren't certain it's Mab's doing?" Michael asked.

  "Nope. Could just be Chicago. Which can be just as scary as Mab, some days. "

  Michael chuckled and we went into Union Station. It doesn't look like that scene in The Untouchables, if you were wondering. That was shot in this big room they rent out for well-to-do gatherings. The rest of the place doesn't look like something that fits into the Roaring Twenties. It's all modernized, and looks more or less like an airport.

  Sorta depressing, really. I mean, of all the possible aesthetic choices out there, airports must generally rank in the top five or ten most bland. But I guess they're cost-effective. That counts for more and more when it comes to beauty. Sure, all the marble and Corinthian columns and soaring spaces were beautiful, but where do they fall on a cost-assessment worksheet?

  The ghost of style still haunts the bits of the original Union Station that have been permitted to stand, but, looking around the place, I couldn't help but get the same feeling I had when I looked at the Coliseum in Rome, or the Parthenon in Athens-that once, it had been a place of splendor. Once. But a long, long time ago.

  "Which way are the lockers?" Michael asked quietly.

  I nodded toward the northeast end of the building and started walking. The ticketing counters were closed, except for one, whose clerk was probably in a back room somewhere. There weren't a lot of people walking around. Late at night train stations in general don't seem to explode with activity. Particularly not in weather like ours. One harried customer-service representative from Amtrak was dealing with a small knot of angry-looking travelers who had probably just been stranded in town by the storm. She was trying to get them a hotel. Good luck. The airport had been closed since yesterday, and the hotels would be doing a brisk business already.

  "You know your way around the station," Michael commented.

  "Trains are faster than buses and safer than planes," I said. "I took a plane to Portland once, and the pilot lost his radio and computer and so on. Had to land without instruments or communications. We were lucky it was a clear day. "

  "Statistically, it's still the safest-" he began.

  "Not for wizards it isn't," I told him seriously. "I've had flights that went smoothly. A couple of them just had little problems. But after that trip to Portland. . . " I shook my head. "There were kids on that plane. I'm going to live a long time. I can take a little longer to get there. Hey, Joe," I said to a silver-haired janitor, walking by with a wheeled cart of cleaning supplies.

  "Harry," Joe said, nodding with a small smile as he passed by.

  "I've been here a lot lately," I said to Michael. "Traveling to support the Paranet, mostly. Plus Warden stuff. " I rolled my eyes. "I didn't want the job, but I'll be damned if I'll do it half-assed. "

  Michael looked back at the janitor thoughtfully for a moment, and then at me. "What's that like?"

  "Wardening?" I asked. I shrugged. "I've got four other Wardens who are, I guess, under my command. " I made air quotes around the word. "In Atlanta, Dallas, New York, and Boston. But I mostly just stay out of their way and let them do their jobs, give them help when they need it. They're kids. Grew up hard in the war, though that didn't give them brains enough to keep from looking up to me. "

  Mouse suddenly stopped in his tracks.

  Me too. I didn't rubberneck around. Instead I focused on the dog.

  Mouse's ears twitched like individual radar dishes. His nose quivered. One paw came up off the ground, but the dog only looked around him uncertainly.

  "Lassie would have smelled something," I told him. "She would have given a clear, concise warning. One bark for gruffs, two barks for Nickelheads. "

  Mouse gave me a reproachful glance, put his paw back down, and sneezed.

  "He's right," Michael sa
id quietly. "Something is watching us. "

  "When isn't it?" I muttered, glancing around. I didn't see anything. My highly tuned investigative instincts didn't see anything either. I hate feeling like Han Solo in a world of Jedi. "I'm supposed to be the Jedi," I muttered aloud.

  "What's that?" Michael asked.

  The station's lights went out. All of them. At exactly the same time.

  The emergency lights, which are supposed to come on instantly, didn't.

  Beside me Michael's coat rustled and something clicked several times. Presumably he was trying his flashlight, and presumably it didn't work.

  That wasn't good. Magic could interfere with the function of technology, but that was more of a Murphy effect: Things that naturally could go wrong tended to go wrong a lot more often. It didn't behave in a predictable or uniform fashion. It didn't shut down lights, emergency lights, and battery-powered flashlights all at the same time.

  I didn't know what could do that.

  "Harry?" Michael asked.

  Mouse pressed up against my leg, and I felt his warning growl vibrating through his chest.

  "You said it, Chewie," I told my dog. "I've got a bad feeling about this. "

  Chapter Twenty-three

  P eople started screaming.

  I reached for the amulet around my neck and drew it forth as I directed an effort of will at it to call forth light in the darkness.

  And nothing happened.

  I'd have stared at my amulet if I could have seen it. I couldn't believe that it wasn't working. I shook the necklace, cursed at it, and raised it again, forcing more of my will into the amulet.

  It flickered with blue-white sparks for a moment, and that was it.

  Mouse let out a louder snarl, the one I hear only when he's identified a real threat. Something close. My heart jumped up hard enough to bounce off the roof of my mouth.

  "I can't call a light!" I said, my voice high and thin.

  A zipper let out a high-pitched whine in the dark next to me, and steel rasped against steel, then rang like a gently struck bell. "Father," Michael's voice murmured gently, "we need Your help. "

  White light exploded from the sword.

  About a dozen things crouching within three or four yards of us started screaming.

  I'd never seen anything like them before. They were maybe five feet tall, but squat and thick, with rubbery-looking muscle. They were built more or less along the lines of baboons, somewhere between pure quadruped and biped, with wicked-looking claws, long, ropy tails, and massive shoulders. Some of them carried crude-looking weapons: cudgels, stone-headed axes, and stone-bladed knives. Their heads were apelike and nearly skeletal, black skin stretched tight over muscle and bone. They had ugly, almost sharklike teeth, so oversized that you could see where they were cutting their own lips and-

  And they didn't have any eyes. Where their eyes should have been there was nothing but blank, sunken skin.

  They screamed in agony as the light from Michael's sword fell on them, reeling back as if burned by a sudden flame-and if the sudden, smoldering reek that filled the air was any indicator, they had been.

  "Harry!" Michael cried.

  I knew that tone of voice. I crouched as quickly as I could, as low as I could, and barely got out of the way before Amoracchius swept through the space where my head had been-

  - and slammed into the leaping form of one of the creatures that had been about to land on my back.

  The thing fell back away from me and landed on the floor, thrashing. Its blood erupted into blue-white fire as it spurted from the wound.

  I snapped my head around to stare at Amoracchius. More blood sizzled on the blade of the sword like grease on a hot skillet.

  Iron.

  These things were faeries.

  I'd never seen them face-to-face before, but I'd read descriptions of them-including when I had been boning up on my book learning to figure out the identity of the gruffs. Given that this beastie was a faerie, there was only one thing it could be.

  "Hobs!" I screamed at Michael as I drew the gun from my coat pocket. "They're hobs!"

  After that I didn't have time to talk. A couple of the hobs around us had recovered enough from the shock of sudden exposure to light to fling themselves forward. Mouse let out his deep-chested battle roar and collided with one of them in midair. They went down in a tangle of thrashing limbs and flashing teeth.

  The next hob leapt over them at me, stone knife in its knobby hand. I slipped aside from the line of his jump and pistol-whipped him with the barrel of the heavy revolver. The steel smashed into the hob's eyeless face, scorching flesh and shattering teeth. The hob screamed in pain as it flew by, crashing into one of its fellows.

  "In nomine Dei!" Michael bellowed. I felt his shoulder blades hit mine, and the light from the great sword bobbed and flashed, followed by another scream from a hob's throat.

  The hob wrestling with Mouse slammed the huge dog to the floor and rose up above him, baring its fangs.

  I took a step toward it, jammed the revolver into its face, screamed, "Get off my dog!" and started pulling the trigger. I wasn't sure what hurt the hob more-the bullets or the muted flashes of light from the discharge. Either way it recoiled so hard that it flung itself completely off of Mouse, who came to his feet still full of fight. I grabbed him by the collar and hauled him back with me until I felt Michael at my back again.

  The hobs withdrew to the shadows, but I could still hear them all around us. As bright as Michael's sword was, I should have been able to see the ceiling far overhead, but it spread out for only twenty feet or so-far enough to keep the hobs from leaping onto us in a single bound, but not much more than that.

  I could hear screams still, drifting through the interior of the station. I heard a gun go off, something smaller than my. 44, the rapid shots of panic fire. Whoever was packing was presumably shooting blindly into the dark. Hell's bells, this was going to turn into a real mess if I didn't do something, and fast.

  "We've got to get out of the open," I said, thinking out loud. "Michael, head for the ticketing counter. "

  "Can't you clear the way?" Michael asked. "I can cover you. "

  "I can't see in this crap," I said. "And there are other people in here. If I start tossing power around I could kill somebody. "

  "Then stay close," Michael said. He moved out at a stalk, sword held high over his head, ready to sweep down on top of anything stupid enough to come leaping at him. We went over two dead hobs, both of them covered in blue flames that gave off barely any light but consumed the bodies with voracious rapidity. I heard a scuffle of claws on the floor and shouted a wordless cry.

  Michael pivoted smoothly as a hob armed with a pair of stone axes rushed into the light of the holy sword. The dark faerie flung one of the axes at Michael on the way. My friend slapped it aside with a contemptuous flick of his sword, and met the hob with a horizontal slash that shattered its second ax and split open its torso all the way back to its crooked spine. The hob dropped, spewing flame, and Michael kicked its falling body back into its companions, scattering them for a moment and gaining us another twenty feet.

  "Nice," I said, keeping close, trying to watch the bobbing shadows all around us. "You been working out? You look good. "

  Michael's teeth flashed in a quick smile. "Wouldn't speaking give these creatures a fine means of tar-" He broke off as Amoracchius flicked in front of my face, deflecting a tumbling stone knife. "Targeting us," he continued.

  Me and my big mouth. I shut up the rest of the way to the ticketing counter.

  I led Michael around behind it and all but tripped over the form of a wounded man in a business suit. He let out a choked scream of pain and clutched at the bloodied cloth over his lower leg. There was the broken shard of a stone blade still protruding from the man's leg.

  "Harry," Michael said, "keep moving. They're gathering for a rush. "
<
br />   "Okay," I said. I knelt down by the wounded businessman and said, "Come on, buddy; this is no place to be sitting around. " I grabbed him underneath the arms and started backpedaling down the counter. "There's a doorway back here somewhere, goes to the rear area. "

  "Perfect," Michael said. "I can hold that for as long as you need. "

  The wounded man struggled to help me, but mostly all he did was make it harder to move him. He was making continuous sounds of terror and pain. I was glad that we had the barrier of the counter between us and the encroaching hobs. I didn't particularly care to find out what getting hit with a sharp stone ax felt like.

  We reached the door behind the ticketing counter, which was closed. I jiggled the handle, but it was apparently locked. I didn't have time for this crap. I lifted my right hand and focused on one of the energy rings I wore. There was one of them on each finger, a band made of three rings woven into a braid. The rings stored energy, saving back a little every time I moved my arm, and allowing me to unleash that stored energy all in one spot.

  I brought my will to bear on the door as I lifted my hand in a closed fist, focusing the energy of the rings into as small an area as I could. I hadn't designed them for this kind of work. They'd been made to shove things roughly away from me before they could rip my face off. But I didn't have a lot of time to waste putting together something neater.

  So I aimed as best I could, triggered the ring, and watched it rip the doorknob, the lock, and the plate they were all mounted in right out of the door, to send them tumbling into the room beyond. Unimpeded by any of those pesky metal security fittings, the door swung inward.

  "Come on!" I said to Michael, seizing the wounded man again. "Mouse, lead the way. "

  My dog padded through the doorway, crouched low and with his teeth bared. I practically walked on his tail as I came in behind him, and Michael was all but treading on the wounded man's bloodied leg.

  As the light from Amoracchius illuminated the room we entered, it revealed the harried customer-service rep we'd seen a few minutes before. She knelt on the floor, crucifix in hand, her head bowed as she frantically recited a prayer. As the light fell over her she blinked and looked up. The white fire of the holy sword painted the tear streaks on her face silver as her mouth dropped open in an expression of shock and stunned joy. She looked down at her crucifix, and back up at him again.

  Michael took a quick glance around the room, smiled at the woman, and said, "Of course He's there. Of course He listens. " He paused, then admitted, "Granted, He doesn't always answer quite this quickly. "

  There were other people in the room-the customers she'd been trying to find a hotel room for. When things had gone dark and scary she had somehow rounded them up and gotten them into the room. That took a lot more moxie than most people had. I also noted that she had been kneeling between the customers and the doorway. I liked her already.

  "Carol," I said, sharply enough to make her tug her gaze from Michael, who now stood in the doorway, holy Sword in hand. "Carol, I need you to give me a hand here. "

  She blinked and then nodded jerkily and rose. She helped me drag the wounded man over to where the others were seated against the wall. "H-how did you know my name?" she stammered. "Are y-you two angels?"

  I sighed and tapped a fingernail on the name tag she wore. "I'm sure as hell not," I said. I jerked my head at Michael. "Though he's about as close to one as you're ever likely to see. "

  "Don't be ridiculous, Harry," Michael said. "I'm just a-" He broke off and ducked. Something solid whizzed past him and slammed a hole the size of my head into the drywall above us. Bits of dust rained down, and frightened people cried out.

  Michael slammed the door shut, but without, you know, all those pesky metal security fittings, it swung open again. He slammed it closed and leaned one shoulder against it, panting. Something struck the door with a heavy thump. Then there was silence.

  I ripped open the wounded man's pant leg along the seam. The knife had hit him in the calf and he was a bloody mess, but it could have been worse. "Leave it in," I told Carol, "and make sure he stays still. That's close to some big veins, and I don't want to open them trying to take it out. Stay close to him and keep him from trying to take it out. Okay?"

  "I. . . Yes, all right," Carol said. She blinked her eyes at me several times. "I don't understand what's happening. "

  "Me either," I responded. I rose and went to stand beside Michael.

  "Those things are quite a bit stronger than I am," he said in a low rumble that the people behind us couldn't hear. "If they rush this door I won't be able to hold it shut. "

  "I'm not sure they will," I said.

  "But you're here. "

  "I don't think they're after me," I said. "If they were, they wouldn't be going after everyone else, too. "

  Michael frowned at me. "But you said they were faeries. "

  "They are," I said. "But I don't think this was supposed to be a hit. There are too many of them for that. This is a full-blown assault. "

  Michael grimaced. "Then there are people in danger. They need our help. "

  "And they're going to get it," I said. "Listen, hobs can't stand light. Any kind of light. It burns them and it can kill them. That's why they called up this myrk before they came in. "

  "Myrk?"

  "It's matter from the Nevernever. Think of it as a cellophane filter, only instead of being around a light, it is spread all through the air. That's why we couldn't see the light from my amulet, and why the muzzle flash of my gun was so muted. And that's how we're going to take them out. "

  "We get rid of the myrk," Michael said, nodding.

  "Exactly," I said. I raked my fingers back through my hair and started fumbling through my pockets to see what I had on me. Not much. I keep a small collection of handy wizarding gear in the voluminous pockets of my duster, but the pockets of my winter coat contained nothing but a stick of chalk, two ketchup packages from Burger King, and a furry, lint-coated Tic Tac. "Okay," I said. "Let me think a minute. "

  Something slammed into the other side of the door and shoved Michael's work boots a good eighteen inches across the floor. A claw flashed through the opening at me. I got out of the way, but the sleeve of my coat didn't. The hob's claws ripped three neat slits in the fabric.

  Michael lifted Amoracchius in one hand and drove its blazing length through the sturdy door. The hob screamed and pulled away. Michael slammed the door shut again and jerked the weapon clear. Dark blood sizzled on the holy blade. "I don't mean to rush you," he said calmly, "but I don't think we have a minute. "

  Chapter Twenty-four

  "D ammit!" I swore. "This is my only winter coat!" I closed my eyes for a second and tried to focus my mind to the task. A myrk wasn't like other forms of faerie glamour. Those could create appearance, and could simulate emotional states related to that appearance. The myrk was a conjuration, something physical, tangible, that actually did exist and would continue to do so as long as the hobs gave it enough juice, metaphorically speaking.

  Wind might do it. A big enough wind could push the myrk away-but it would have to be an awful lot of wind. The little gale I'd called up to handle Torelli's hitters would barely make a dent in it. I could probably do something more violent and widespread, but when it comes to moving matter around, you don't get something for nothing. There was no way I'd be able to maintain that kind of blast long enough to get the job done.

  I might be able to cut the myrk off from the hobs. If I could sever that connection it would prevent them from pouring constant energy into it, and poof, the myrk would resume its natural state as ectoplasm. Of course, cutting them off wouldn't be a cakewalk. I would need some means of creating a channel to each and every hob in order to be sure I got the job done. I didn't have anything I could use as a focus, and I had no idea how many of them were out there, anyway.

  An empowered circle could cut the power to the spell from the other
side of the equation, isolating the hobs from the flow of energy outside the circle. But the circle would need to encompass the entire freaking building. I doubted the hobs would be considerate enough to let me run outside and sprint around an entire Chicago city block to fire up a circle. Besides, I didn't have that much chalk. Running water can ground out a spell if there's enough of it, but given that we were inside a building, that wasn't in the cards. So how the hell was I supposed to cut off this stupid spell, given the pathetic resources I had? It isn't like there are a whole lot of ways to rob a widespread working of its power.

  My nose throbbed harder, and I leaned my head back, turning my face upward. Sometimes doing that seemed to reduce the pressure and ease the pain a little. I stared up at the office ceiling, which had been installed at a height of ten or eleven feet, rather than leaving the place open to the cavernous reaches of the old station, and beat my head against the proverbial wall. The ceiling was one of those drop-down setups, a metal framework supporting dreary yet cost-effective rectangles of acoustic material, interrupted every few yards by the ugly little cowboy spur of an automatic firefighting sprinkler.

  My eyes widened.

  "Ha!" I said, and threw my arms up in the air. "Ha-ha! Ah-hahahaha! I am wizard; hear me roar!"

  Mouse gave me an oblique look and sidled a step farther away from me.

  "And well you should!" I bellowed, pointing at the dog. "For I am a fearsome bringer of fire!" I held up my right hand and with a murmur called up the tiny sphere of flame. The spell stuttered and coughed before it coalesced, and even then the light was barely brighter than a candle.

  "Harry?" Michael asked in that tone of voice people use when they talk to crazy people. "What are you doing?"

  The drywall to one side of the door suddenly buckled as a hob's claws began ripping through it. Michael bobbed to one side, temporarily leaving the door, held his thumb up to the wall, as if judging where the stud would be, and then ran Amoracchius at an angle through the drywall. The Sword came back hissing and spitting, while another hob howled with pain.

  "Without the myrk, these things are in trouble," I said. "Carol, be a dear and roll that chair over here. "

  Carol, her eyes very wide, her face very pale, did so. She gave the chair a little push, so that it came the last six feet on its own.

  Michael's shoulder hit the door as another hob tried to push in. The creature wasn't stupid. It didn't keep trying to force the door when Amoracchius plunged through the wood as if it had been a rice-paper screen, and Michael's Sword came back unstained. "Whatever you're going to do, sooner would be better than later. "

  "Two minutes," I said. I rolled the chair to the right spot and stood up on it. I wobbled for a second, then stabilized myself and quickly unscrewed the sprinkler from its housing. Foul-smelling water rushed out in its wake, which I had expected and mostly avoided. Granted, I hadn't expected it to smell quite so overwhelmingly stagnant, though I should have. Many sprinkler systems have closed holding tanks, and God only knew how many years that water had been in there, waiting to be used.

  I hopped down out of the chair and moved out from under the falling water. I pulled one of the pieces of chalk out of my pocket, knelt, and began to draw a large circle all around me on the low-nap carpet. It didn't have to be a perfect circle, as long as it was closed, but I've drawn a lot of them, and by now they're usually pretty close.

  "E-excuse me," Carol said. "Wh-what are you doing?"

  "Our charming visitors are known as hobs," I told her, drawing carefully, infusing the chalk with some of my will as I did so. "Light hurts them. "

  A hob burst through the already broken drywall, this time getting its head and one shoulder through. It howled and raked at Michael, who was still leaning on the door. Michael's hip got ripped by a claw, but then Amoracchius swept down and took the hob's head from its shoulders in reply. Dark, blazing blood spattered the room, and some of it nearly hit my circle.

  "Hey!" I complained. "I'm working here!"

  "Sorry," Michael said without a trace of sarcasm. A hob slammed into the door before he could return to it, and drove him several paces back. He recovered in time to duck under the swing of a heavy club, then swept Amoracchius across the creature's belly and followed it up with a heavy, thrusting kick that shoved the wicked faerie out of the room and back into its fellows. Michael slammed the door shut again.

  "B-but it's dark," Carol stammered, staring at Michael and me alternately.

  "They've put something in the air called myrk. Think of it as a smoke screen. The myrk is keeping the lights from hurting the hobs," I said. I finished the circle and felt it spring to life around me, an intangible curtain of power that walled away outside magic-including the myrk that had been caught inside the circle as it formed. It congealed into a thin coating of slimy ectoplasm over everything in the circle-which is to say, me. "Super," I mumbled, and swiped it out of my eyes as best I could.

  "S-so," Carol said, "what are you doing, exactly?"

  "I'm going to take their smoke screen away. " I held the sprinkler head in my right hand and closed my eyes, focusing on it, on its texture, its shape, its composition. I began pouring energy into the object, imagining it as a glowing aura of blue-white light with dozens of little tendrils sprouting from it. Once the energy was firmly wrapped around the sprinkler, I transferred it to my left hand and extended my right again.

  "B-but we don't have any lights. "

  "Oh, we have lights," I said. I held out my right hand and called forth my little ball of sunshine. In the myrk-free interior of the circle, it was as white-hot and as bright as usual, but I could see that outside of the circle it didn't spread more than five or six feet through the myrk out there.

  "Oh, my God," Carol said.

  "Actually, all the regular lights are on too-they're just being blocked. The myrk isn't shutting down the electricity. These computers are all on, for example-but the myrk is keeping you from seeing any of the indicator lights. "

  "Harry!" Michael called.

  "You rush a miracle worker, you get lousy miracles!" I called back in an annoyed tone. The rest of the spell was going to be a little tricky.

  "H-how are you doing that?" Carol breathed.

  "Magic," I growled. "Hush. " I wore a leather glove over my left hand, as usual, which should offer my scarred skin a little protection. All the same, this wouldn't be much fun. I murmured, "Ignus, infusiarus," and thrust the end of the sprinkler into the flame floating over my right hand.

  "How does this help us?" Carol demanded, her voice shaking and frightened.

  "This place still has electricity," I said. Maybe I was imagining the smell of burned leather as the heat from the flame poured into the metal sprinkler. "It still has computers. It still has phones. "

  "Harry!" Michael said, swinging his head left and right, staring up at the ceiling. "They're climbing. They're going to come through the roof. "

  I began to feel the heat, even in the nerve-damaged fingers of my left hand. It was going to have to be hot enough. I drew up more of my will, lifted the sprinkler and the flame, and visualized what I wanted, the tendrils of energy around it zipping out to every other sprinkler head in the whole building. "And it still has its sprinklers. "

  I broke the circle with my foot, and energy lashed out from the sprinkler to every other object shaped like it in the surrounding area. Heat washed out of me in a wave, headed in dozens of different directions, and I poured all the energy I could into the little ball of sunshine, which suddenly had several dozen sprinkler heads to absorb its energy instead of only one.

  It took maybe ten seconds before the fire detector let out a howl and the sprinkler system chattered to life. People let out surprised little shrieks, and a steady emergency klaxon wound to life somewhere out in the station. Sparks flew up from several phones, monitors, and computers.

  "Okay," I said. "So the office doesn't have computers. But the rest s
till applies. "

  Michael looked up at me and showed me his teeth in a ferocious grin. "When?"

  I watched my little ball of sunshine intensely as the water came down. For maybe half a minute nothing happened, except that we got drenched. It was actually kind of surprising how much water was coming down-surprising in a good way, I mean. I wanted lots of water.

  Somewhere around the sixty-second mark I felt my spell begin to flicker, its power eroded away by the constant downpour.

  "Wait for it," I said. "Ready. . . "

  At two minutes my spell buckled, the connection to the other sprinklers snapping, the fire in my hand snuffing out. "Michael!" I shouted. "Now!"

  Michael grunted and flung open the door. Before he'd stepped through it there was a sudden flutter of faltering power in the air, and the holy blade blazed with light brighter than the heart of the sun itself.

  He plunged through the door, and as the burning light of Amoracchius emerged into the station at large, dozens or hundreds of hob throats erupted into tortured cries. The sound of the wicked faeries' screams was so loud that I actually felt the pressure it put on my ears, the way you can at a really loud concert.

  But louder still was the voice of Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross, avenging angel incarnate, bearer of the blade that had once belonged to a squire called Wart. "Lava quod est sordium!" Michael bellowed, his voice stentorian, too enormous to come from a human throat. "In nomine Dei, sana quod est saucium!"

  After the Sword had left the room, I could see that all the office lights had come back, as well as those outside. "Mouse!" I screamed. "Stay! Guard the wounded!" I hurried after Michael and glanced back behind me. Mouse trotted forward and planted himself in the doorway between the hobs and the people in the office, head high, legs braced wide to fill the space.

  Outside the sprinklers were doing a credible impersonation of a really stinky monsoon. I slipped in a puddle of water and burning hob blood a few feet outside the door. The light from the Sword was so bright, so purely, even painfully white that I had to shield my eyes with one arm. I couldn't look directly at Michael, or even anywhere near him, so I followed him by the pieces of hob he left in his wake.

  Several wicked faeries had been struck down by Michael's sword.

  They were the lucky ones.

  Many more-dozens that I could see-had fallen too far away for Michael to have reached them with the blade. Those were simply lumps of smoldering charcoal spewing columns of greasy smoke, their meat flash-cooked away from bone. Some of the soon-to-be-former hobs were still thrashing as they burned.

  Hell's bells.

  I don't call him the Fist of God as a pet name, folks.

  I followed Michael, alert for any dimming of the Sword's light. If any of the sprinklers in the building were a different model from the one I'd used to focus my spell, it wouldn't have been able to heat them and trigger them. If Michael wound up plunging back into the myrk, then the hobs, afforded a measure of protection from the light, would gang up on him-and fast.

  But as luck (or maybe fate, or maybe God, but probably a cheap city contractor) would have it, it looked like they'd all been the same. Water came down everywhere, washing away the myrk as if it had been a layer of mud, replacing it with thousands upon thousands of fractured rainbows as the pure illumination of Amoracchius shone through the artificial downpour.

  For the hobs, there was nowhere to hide.

  I followed the trail of smitten fiends. Smiten fiends? Smited fiends? Smoted fiends? Don't look at me. I never finished high school. Maybe learning the various conjugations of to smite had been in senior-year English. It sure as hell hadn't been on my GED test.

  I stopped and peered around as best I could through the blinding light and steady fall of water from the sprinklers, trying to get an idea of where Michael was headed.

  I felt a sudden, swift vibration that rose through the soles of my shoes, and then a heavy thud accompanying a second such tremor. I whirled to face the front of the building as glass and brick and stone exploded from the entry door. Behind it was a vague flicker of haze in the air, but as whatever was behind the veil entered the glare of Amoracchius and my impromptu thundershower, the spell faltered and vanished.

  Twenty feet and four or five tons of Big Brother Gruff erupted from the veil.

  He wore armor made of some kind of translucent crystal, and the sword in his hand was longer than my freaking car. His mouth opened, and I felt his battle roar rather than hearing it over the cacophony of combat, a sound so deep and loud that it should have been made by a freaking whale.

  "Oh, yeah," I muttered. "Today just keeps getting better and better. "