Cold days, p.14
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       Cold Days, p.14

         Part #14 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

  “Molly,” I said, as she finished.

  She paused, still not looking up at me.

  “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I had to ask you to help me . . . do what I did. I’m sorry that I didn’t make you stay home from Chichén Itzá. I never should have exposed you to that. You weren’t ready.”

  “No kidding,” Molly said quietly. “But . . . I wasn’t really taking no for an answer at the time, either. Neither of us made smart choices that night.”

  “Maybe. But only one of us is the mentor,” I said. “I’m supposed to be the one who knows what’s going on.”

  Molly shook her head several times, a jerky motion. “Harry—it’s over. Okay? It’s done. It’s the past. Let it stay there.”

  “Sure you want that?”

  “I am.”

  “Okay.” I picked up a paper towel and dabbed at a few runnels of peroxide bubbling their way down my stomach. “Well. Now all I need is a clean shirt.”

  Molly pointed at one of the oak doors. “In there. There are two dressers and a closet. Nothing fancy, but I’m pretty sure it will all fit you.”

  I blinked several times. “Um. What?”

  She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Harry . . . duh. I knew you were alive. That meant you’d be coming back. Lea told me to keep it to myself, so I got a place ready for you.” She took a quick step back into the kitchen, opened a drawer, and came back with a small brass key. “Here, this will get you past the locks, and past the svartalves’ wards and past my defenses.”

  I took the key, frowning. “Um . . .”

  “I’m not asking you to shack up with me, Harry,” Molly said, her tone dry. “It’s just . . . until you get back on your feet. Or . . . or just as long as you’re in town and need a place to stay.”

  “Did you think I couldn’t take care of it myself?”

  “Of course not,” Molly said. “But . . . you know. I guess I think that maybe you shouldn’t have to?” She looked up at me uncertainly. “You were there when I needed you. I figured it was my turn now.”

  I looked away before I got all emotional. The kid had gotten this place together, made some kind of alliance with a very suspicious and cautious supernatural nation, furnished a room for me, and picked me up a wardrobe? In just a few weeks? When she’d been living in rags on the street all the time for the better part of a year before that?

  “I’m impressed, grasshopper,” I said. “Seriously.”

  “This isn’t the impressive part,” she said. “But I don’t think we have time to get into that right now, given what you’ve got going.”

  “Let’s survive Halloween,” I said, “and then maybe we can sit and have a nice talk. Molly, you shouldn’t have done this for me.”

  “Ego much?” she asked, the ghost of her old, irreverent self lurking in her eyes. “I got this place for me, Harry. I lived my whole life in one home. Living on the street wasn’t . . . wasn’t a good place for me to put myself back together. I needed someplace . . . someplace . . .” She frowned.

  “Yours?” I suggested.

  “Stable,” she said. “Quiet. And mine. Not that you aren’t welcome here. While you need it.”

  “I suppose you didn’t get those clothes for my sake, either.”

  “Maybe I started dating basketball teams,” Molly said, her eyes actually sparkling for a moment. “You don’t know.”

  “Sure I do,” I said.

  She started putting the kit away. “Think of the clothes as . . . as a birthday present.” She looked up at me for a second and gave me a hesitant smile. “It’s really good to see you, Harry. Happy birthday.”

  “Thanks,” I said. “I’d give you a hug, but I’d bleach and bloodstain your clothes at the same time.”

  “Rain check,” Molly said. “I’m, uh . . . Working up to hugs might take a while.” She took a deep breath. “Harry, I know you’ve got your hands full already, but there’s something you need to know.”

  I frowned. “Yeah?”

  “Yeah.” She rubbed her arms with her hands as though cold. “I’ve kind of been visiting your island.”

  In the middle of the southern reaches of Lake Michigan lies an island that doesn’t appear on any charts, maps, or satellite images. It’s a nexus point of ley lines of dark energy, and it doesn’t like company. It encourages people who come near it to get lost and wander away. Planes fly over the thing all the time, but no one sees it. A few years back, I’d bound myself to the island, and the world-class genius loci that watched over it. I’d named it Demonreach, and knew relatively little about it, beyond that it was an ally.

  When I’d been shot and plunged into the dark waters of Lake Michigan, it had taken Mab and Demonreach both to preserve my life. I’d woken up from a coma in a cavern beneath the island’s surface with plants growing into my freaking veins like some kind of organic IV line. It was a seriously weird kind of place.

  “How did you get there?” I asked.

  “In a boat. Duh.”

  I gave her a look. “You know what I mean.”

  She smiled, the expression a little sad. “After you’ve had someone like the Corpsetaker pound your mind into pomegranate seeds, a psychic No Trespassing sign seems kinda slow-pitch.”

  “Heh,” I said. “Point. But it’s a dangerous place, Molly.”

  “And it’s getting worse,” she said.

  I shifted my weight uneasily. “Define ‘worse.’”

  “Energy is building up there. Like . . . like steam in a boiler. I know I’m still new at this—but I’ve talked with Lea about it and she agrees.”

  God, she was dragging this out, making me wonder what she knew. I hate that. “Agrees with what?”

  “Um,” Molly said, looking down. “Harry. I think that within the next few days, the island is going to explode. And I think that when it does, it will take about half the Midwest with it.”



  “Of course it is,” I said. I looked around and grabbed the first-aid kit, then started stomping toward the indicated guest bedroom. “I swear, this stupid town. Why does every hideous supernatural thing that happens happen here? I’m gone for a few months and augh. Be right back. Grrssll frrrsl rassle mrrrfl.”

  There was a light switch in the bedroom and it worked. The lightbulb stayed on and everything. I scowled up at it suspiciously. Normally when I’m in a snit like this, lightbulbs don’t survive eye contact, much less my Yosemite Sam impersonation. Evidently, the svartalves had worked out a fix for technological grumpy-wizard syndrome.

  And the room . . . well.

  It reminded me of home.

  My apartment had been tiny. You could have fit it into Molly’s main room half a dozen times, easy. My old place was almost the same size as her guest bedroom. She’d furnished it with secondhand furniture, like my place had been. There was a small fireplace, with a couple of easy chairs and a comfortable-looking couch. There were scuffed-up old bookshelves, cheap and sturdy, lining the walls, and they contained what was probably meant to be the beginning of a replacement for my old paperback fiction library. Over toward where my bedroom used to be was a bed, though it was a full rather than a twin. A counter stood where my kitchen counter had been, more or less, and there was a small fridge and what looked like an electric griddle on it.

  I looked around. It wasn’t home, but . . . it was in the right zip code. And it was maybe the single sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me.

  For just a second, I remembered the scent of my old apartment, wood smoke and pine cleaner and a little bit of musty dampness that was inevitable in a basement, and if I squinted my eyes up really tight, I could almost pretend I was there again. That I was home.

  But they’d burned down my home. I had repaid them for it, with interest, but I still felt oddly hollow in my guts when I thought about how I would never see it again. I missed Mister, my cat. I missed my dog. I missed the familiarity of having a place that I knew, that was a shelter. I missed my life.

  I’d been away from home for what felt like a very long time.

  There was a closet by the bed, with a narrow dresser on two sides. It was full of clothes. Nothing fancy. T-shirts. Old jeans. Some new underwear and socks, still in their plastic packaging. Some shorts, some sweatpants. Several pairs of used sneakers the size of small canoes, and some hiking boots that were a tolerable fit. I went for the boots. My feet are not for the faint of sole, ah, ha, ha.

  I ditched the tux, cleaned up and covered the injuries on my legs, and got dressed in clothes that felt familiar and comfortable for the first time since I’d taken a bullet in the chest.

  I came out of the bedroom holding the bloodied clothes, and glanced at Molly. She pointed a finger at the fire. I nodded my thanks, remembered to take the bejeweled cuff links out of the pockets of the pants, and tossed what was left into the fire. Blood that had already been soaked up by cloth wouldn’t be easy to use against me, even if someone had broken in and taken it somehow, but it’s one of those things best not left to chance.

  “Okay,” I said, settling down on the arm of a chair. “The island. Who else knows about it?”

  “Lea,” Molly said. “Presumably she told Mab. I assumed word would get to you.”

  “Mab,” I said, “is apparently the sort of mom who thinks you need to find things out for yourself.”

  “Those are real?”

  I grunted. “Have you had any contact with Demonreach?”

  “The spirit itself?” Molly shook her head. “It . . . tolerates my presence, but it isn’t anything like cordial or friendly. I think it knows I’m connected to you.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure it does. If it wanted you off the island, you’d be gone.” I shook my head several times. “Let me think.”

  Molly did. She went into the kitchen, to the fridge. She came out with a couple of cans of Coca-Cola, popped them both open, and handed me one. We tapped the cans together gently and drank. I closed my eyes and tried to order my thoughts. Molly waited.

  “Okay,” I said. “Who else knows?”

  “No one,” she said.

  “You didn’t tell the Council?”

  Molly grimaced at the mention of the White Council of Wizards. “How would I do that, exactly? Given that according to them, I’m a wanted fugitive, and that no one there would blink twice if I was executed on sight.”

  “Plenty of them would blink twice,” I said quietly. “Why do you think you’re still walking around?”

  Molly frowned and eyed me. “What do you mean?”

  “I mean that Lea’s clearly taught you a lot, Molly, and it’s obvious that your skills have matured a lot in the past year. But there are people there with decades’ worth of years like the one you’ve had. Maybe even centuries. If they really wanted you found and dead, you’d be found and dead. Period.”

  “Then how come I’m not?” Molly asked.

  “Because there are people on the Council who wouldn’t like it,” I said. “My g— Ebenezar can take anyone else on the Council on any given day, if he gets mad at them. That’s probably enough—but Ramirez likes you, too. And since he’d be the guy who would, theoretically, be in charge of capturing you, anyone else who did it would be walking all over his turf. He’s young, too, but he’s earned respect. And most of the young guns in the Wardens would probably side with him in an argument.” I sighed. “Look, the White Council has always been a gigantic mound of assorted jerks. But they’re not inhuman.”

  “Except sometimes,” Molly said, her voice bitter.

  “Humanity matters,” I said. “You’re still here, aren’t you?”

  “No thanks to them,” she said.

  “If they hadn’t shown up at Chichén Itzá, none of us would have made it out.”

  Molly frowned at that. “That wasn’t the White Council.”

  True, technically. That had been the Grey Council. But since the Grey Council was mostly made up of members of the White Council working together in secret, it still counted, in my mind. Sort of.

  “Those guys,” I said, “are what the Council should be. And might be. And when we needed help the most, they were there.” I sipped some more Coke. “I know the world seems dark and ugly sometimes. But there are still good things in it. And good people. And some of them are on the Council. They haven’t been in contact with you because they can’t be—but believe me, they’ve been shielding you from getting in even more trouble than you’ve already had.”

  “You assume,” she said stubbornly.

  I sighed. “Kid, you’re going to be dealing with the Council your whole life. And that could be for three or four hundred years. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get in their faces when they’re in the wrong. But you might want to consider the idea that burning your bridges behind you could prove to be a very bad policy a century or two from now.”

  Molly looked like she wanted to disagree with me—but she looked pensive, too. She drank some more of her Coke, frowning.

  Damn. Why couldn’t I have figured out that particular piece of advice to give to myself when I was her age? It might have made my life a whole lot simpler.

  “Back to the island,” I said. “How sure are you about the level of energy involved?”

  She considered her answer. “I was at Chichén Itzá,” she said. “It’s all pretty blurry, but I remember a lot of fragments really well. One of the things I remember is the tension that had built up under the main ziggurat. Do you remember?”

  I did, though it had been pretty far down on my list of priorities at the time. The Red King had ordered dozens, maybe hundreds of human sacrifices to build up a charge for the spell he was going to use to wipe me and everyone connected to me by blood from the face of the earth. That energy had been humming inside the very stones of the city. Go to a large power station sometime, and stand near the capacitors. The air is full of the same kind of silently vibrating potential.

  “I remember,” I said.

  “It’s like that. Maybe more. Maybe less. But it’s really, really big. It’s scaring the animals away.”

  “What time is it?” I asked.

  Molly checked a tall old grandfather clock, ticking steadily away in a corner. “Three fifteen.”

  “Ten minutes to the marina. An hour and change to the island and back. Call it an hour for a service call.” I shook my head and snorted. “If we leave right now, that puts us back here in town right around sunrise, wouldn’t you say?”

  “More or less,” she agreed.

  “Mab,” I said, in the same tone I reserved for curse words.


  “That’s why the lockdown,” I said. Then clarified. “Mab closed the border with Faerie until dawn.”

  Molly was no dummy. I could see the wheels turning as she figured it out. “She’s giving you time to deal with it unmolested.”

  “Relatively unmolested,” I corrected her. “I’m starting to think that Mab mainly helps those who help themselves. Okay. Once Maeve gets to start moving pieces in and out of Faerie in the morning, things are going to get busy, fast. Also, I don’t want to be working with the magical equivalent of a reactor core the next time Hook and his band of minipsychos catch up with me. So.”

  Molly nodded. “So we go to the island first?”

  “We go to the island now.”

  * * *

  Molly had the apartment building’s security call us a cab on the theory that it would be slightly less noticeable than the monster car now in the parking lot. They took her orders as if she were some kind of visiting dignitary. Whatever she’d done for the svartalves, they had taken it very, very seriously. I left Toot sleeping off the fight, with some junk food left out where he would find it when he woke up. Bob was in a cloth messenger bag I had slung over one shoulder, still buttoned up tight. Molly glanced at the bag, then at me, but she didn’t ask any questions.

  I felt like wincing. Molly hadn’t ever exactly been shy about pushing the boundaries of my authority in our rel
ationship as teacher and apprentice. Her time with my faerie godmother, the Leanansidhe, Mab’s girl Friday, was starting to show. Lea had firm and unyielding opinions about boundaries. People who pushed them got turned into dogs—or something dogs ate.

  The marina was one of several in the city. Lake Michigan provided an ideal venue for all kinds of boating, sailing, and shipping, and there was a nautical community firmly established all around the shores of the Great Lake. I’m not really part of it. I say “wall” instead of “bulkhead,” and I’m not quite sure if port is left, or if it’s something best left until after dinner. I get the terms wrong a lot. I don’t care.

  Marinas are parking lots for boats. Lots of walkways were built on piers or were floating pontoon bridge–style in long, straight rows. Boats were parked in individual lots much like in any automobile parking lot. Most of the boats showed signs of being prepared for winter—November can be a dangerous time for pleasure boating on Lake Michigan, and most people pack it in right around Halloween. Windows and hatches were covered, doors closed, and there were very few lights on in the marina.

  Which was good, because I was breaking and entering again.

  I’d had a key to the marina’s locks at one time, but I’d lost track of it when I got shot, drowned, died, got revived into a coma, haunted my friends for a while, and then woke up in Mab’s bed.

  (My life. Hell’s bells.)

  Anyway, I didn’t have a key or any time to spare, so when I got to the locked gate to the marina, I abused my cool new superstrength and forced the chain-link gate open in a low squeal of bending metal. It took me about three seconds.

  “Cool,” Molly murmured from behind me. “Wait. Did you do the car, too?”

  I grunted, a little out of breath from the effort.

  “Holy cow,” Molly said. “You’re like Spider-Man strong.”

  “Nah,” I panted. “Spider-Man can press ten tons. I can do sets with four hundred kilos.”