Turn Coat, Page 16Jim Butcher
I figured I had an hour, maybe, before someone was going to show up from Edinburgh. It was time enough to grab a cab and head to the hospital.
Back in the ICU, Will was sacked out in the waiting room and Georgia was the one sitting with Andi. A middle-aged couple who looked as if they hadn't slept much was in there with her. I knocked on the glass. Georgia said something to the couple and rose to come out into the hallway with me. She looked tired but alert, and had her long, rather frizzy hair pulled back into a ponytail.
"Harry," she said, hugging me.
I returned the hug, cutting it off a little early. "How is she?"
Georgia studied me for a second before she answered. "In bad shape. The doctors don't seem to be willing to say whether or not she'll recover. "
"Better that way," I said. "If one of them said she'd be fine and then she wasn't. . . "
Georgia glanced at the couple sitting beside Andi's bed, holding each other's hands. "I know. It would be cruel to offer false hope, but. . . "
"But you're still irrationally angry that the docs haven't saved her yet. You know better, but you're upset anyway. "
She nodded. "Yes. Irrationality is not something I'm comfortable with. "
"It isn't irrational," I said. "It's human. "
She gave me a small smile. "Will and I talked. And you're in a hurry. "
I nodded. "I need you both, and right now. "
"I'll get him," Georgia said.
We took Georgia's SUV back down to the marina and arrived with ten minutes to spare on my estimated time window. I definitely wanted to be out over open water by the time members of the Council started showing up. The water wouldn't be a perfect protection from incoming magic, but it would make it a lot harder for anyone to target me solidly, and it was a hell of a lot better than nothing.
"Okay," I said. "You guys wait here for a minute. "
Will frowned. "Why?"
"I need to talk to someone who can be a little shy around strangers. One minute. " I hopped out of the SUV and walked down the rows of cars until I found two vans parked together. I slipped between them, put the fingers of one hand to my lips, and let out a sharp whistle.
There was a whirring sound and Toot-toot streaked down from overhead, came to a hover in front of me, drew his little sword, and saluted. "Yes, my liege!"
"Toot, I have two missions for you. "
"At once, my lord!"
"No, I want you to do them one at a time. "
Toot lowered his sword, his expression crestfallen. "Oh. "
"First, I want you to find the boat out on the lake that my apprentice is in. She's not more than a mile or two from shore. " I took off my silver pentacle amulet, wrapped the chain around it, and handed it to Toot-toot. "Leave this where she will notice it right away. "
Toot accepted the amulet gravely, tucking it under one arm. "It will be done. "
"Thank you. "
Toot-toot's chest swelled out, and he stood a little bit straighter.
"Second," I told him. "I need to know how many of the little folk you could convince to join the Guard for one night. "
He frowned and looked dubious. "I don't know, Lord Harry. The pizza ration is already stretched as far as it can go. "
I waved a hand. "The Guard's pay won't change. I'll order extra to pay for the new guys' service. Call them the Za-Lord's Militia. We only need them sometimes. How many do you think would agree to that?"
Toot buzzed in an excited circle. "For you? Every sprite and pixie and dewdrop faerie within a hundred miles knows that you saved our kind from being imprisoned by the Lady of the Cold Eyes! There's not a one who didn't have comrade or kin languishing in durance vile!"
I blinked at him. "Oh," I said. "Well. Tell them that there may be great danger. Tell them that if they wish to join the Militia, they must obey orders while they serve. And I will pay them one large pizza for every fourscore volunteers. "
"That's less than you pay the Guard, Harry," Toot said smugly.
"Well, they're amateurs, not full-time veterans like you and your men, are they?"
"Yes, my lord!"
I looked at him seriously. "If you can recruit a Militia and if they perform as asked, there's a promotion in it for you, Toot. "
His eyes widened. "Does it come with cheese in the crust and extra toppings?"
"It isn't a pizza. " I said. "It's a promotion. Get this work done, and from that time forward, you will be. . . " I paused dramatically. "Major-General Toot-toot Minimus commanding the Za-Lord's Elite. "
Toot's body practically convulsed in a spasm of excitement. Had a giant yellow exclamation point suddenly appeared in the air over his head, I would not have been surprised. "A Major-General?"
I couldn't resist. "Yes, yes," I said solemnly. "A Major-General. "
He let out a whoop of glee and zipped up and down the little space between vans. "What do you wish us to do when I have them, my lord!"
"I want you to play," I said. "Here's what we're going to do. . . "
I rejoined Will and Georgia, and ten minutes later, the Water Beetle came chugging back toward the marina. The grasshopper got my brother's boat into dock with only a mildly violent impact. I secured lines quickly, and Will and Georgia jumped on. Almost before Will's feet were on the deck, I was already untying the lines and following them onto the boat. Molly, for her part, already had the engine in reverse.
"Now what?" she called down to me from the wheel atop the cabin.
"Use the compass on the dashboard. One to two degrees south of due east, and call me when you spot the island. "
Will squinted at Molly and then at me. " 'Aye aye'?"
I shook my head sadly. "Landlubbers. I'm going to go shiver timbers or something. I haven't slept in a while. "
"Go ahead, Harry," Georgia said. "We'll wake you if anything happens. "
I nodded, shambled down to the second bunk, and passed out immediately.
Someone shook me two seconds later and I said, "Go away. "
"Sorry, Harry," Will said. "We're here. "
I said several uncouth and thoughtless things, then manned up and opened my eyes, always the hardest part of waking up. I sat up, and Will retreated from the cramped cabin with a glance at Morgan's unconscious form. I sat there with my mouth feeling like it had been coated in Turtle Wax. It took me a second to identify a new sound.
Raindrops pattered onto the deck of the boat and the roof of the cabin.
I shambled out onto the deck, unconcerned about the rain ruining my leather duster. One handy side effect of going through the painfully precise ritual of enchanting it to withstand physical force as if it had been plate steel was that the thing was rendered waterproof and stainproof as well-yet it still breathed. Let's see Berman's or Wilson's do that.
Sufficiently advanced technology, my ass.
I climbed up to the bridge, keeping an eye on the sky as I did. Lowering clouds of dark grey had covered the sky, and the rain looked to be a long, steady soaker-a rarity in a Chicago summer, which usually went for rough-and-tumble thunderstorms. The heat hadn't let up much, and as a result the air was thick and heavy enough to swim through.
I took the wheel from Molly, oriented myself by use of the compass and the island, now only a few minutes away, and yawned loudly. "Well. This makes things less pleasant. "
"The rain?" Molly asked. She passed me my pentacle.
I slipped it back over my head and nodded. "I'd planned on lying off the island until closer to dark. "
"Mostly because I just challenged the Senior Council to a brawl there at sundown," I said.
Molly choked on her gum.
I ignored her. "I didn't want to make it easy for them to slip up on me. Oh, and I've arranged to trade Thomas for Morgan with Shagnasty. He won't get word o
f where to go until later, though. I think otherwise he'd cheat and show up early. He looks like a shifty character. "
The pun went past Molly, or maybe she was just that good at ignoring it. "You're trading Morgan for Thomas?"
"Nah. I just want to get Shagnasty out here with Thomas in one piece so that the White Court can take him down. "
Molly stared at me. "The White Court, too?"
I nodded happily. "They've got a stake in this as well. "
"Um," she said. "Why do you think the Senior Council will take you up on your challenge?"
"Because I told them I was going to be producing an informant who would give testimony about who really killed LaFortier. "
"Do you have someone like that?" Molly asked.
I beamed at her. "No. "
She stared at me for a moment, clearly thinking. Then she said, "But the killer doesn't know that. "
My smile widened. "Why, no, Miss Carpenter. He doesn't. I made sure word got around headquarters of my challenge to the Senior Council. He's got no choice but to show up here if there's any chance at all that I might actually have found an informant ready to blow his identity-which, by the way, would also provide substantial proof of the existence of the Black Council. "
Her golden brows knitted. "What if there's no chance of such an informant existing?"
I snorted. "Kid, groups like these guys, the ones who maim and kill and scheme and betray-they do what they do because they love power. And when you get people who love power together, they're all holding out a gift in one hand while hiding a dagger behind their back in the other. They regard an exposed back as a justifiable provocation to stick the knife in. The chances that this group has no one in it who might believably have second thoughts and try to back out by bargaining with the Council for a personal profit are less than zero. "
Molly shook her head. "So. . . he or she will call in the Black Council to help?"
I shook my head. "I think this is happening because the killer slipped up and exposed himself to LaFortier. He had to take LaFortier out, but with all the security at Edinburgh, there was every chance something could go wrong and it did. Everything else he's done has smacked of desperation. I think that if the Black Council finds out that their mole has screwed up this thoroughly, they'd kill him themselves to keep the trail from leading back to them. " I stared at the glowering mass of Demonreach. "His only chance is to tie off any loose ends that might lead back to him. He'll be here tonight, Molly. And he's got to win. He has nothing to lose. "
"But you're putting everyone together in a confined space, Harry," Molly said. "This is going to be a huge mess. "
"Pressure cooker, padawan," I said, nodding. "The perp is already desperate enough to be acting hastily and making mistakes. Especially the mistake of taking things a step too far and trying to incriminate the White Court in LaFortier's death as well. "
Molly stared out at the water thoughtfully. "So you put him together in a confined space with two major groups of power who will want to kill him. His worst nightmare has got to be the wizards and the White Court being drawn into a closer alliance because of what he's done. And with as much power as they have, there's no way he's going to be able to fight them all. "
I smiled at her. "Yeah. It sucks to feel helpless," I said. "Especially for a wizard, because we usually aren't. Or at least, we're usually able to convince ourselves that we aren't. "
"You think he'll crack," she said.
"I think he'll be there. I think that with enough pressure, something is going to pop loose, somewhere. I think he'll try something stupid. Maybe a preemptive spell, something to take everyone down before they know a fight is on. "
"A sneak attack," Molly said. "Which won't be a sneak attack if you know where he is and what he's doing. Intellectus!"
I tapped my temple with a finger. "Capital thinking, grasshopper. "
Thunder rumbled far away.
I sighed. "Thomas can sail in bad weather, but I don't know how to do it intelligently. Something like this could turn ugly, fast. We're going to have to head into the dock and take our chances. "
I navigated. Sheesh, listen to me, "navigated. " The boat had a steering wheel and a lever to make it go faster. It was about as complicated to make move as a bumper car. Granted, simple isn't the same thing as easy, but even so. The actual process of pointing the boat and making it go is not complicated enough to deserve to be called navigation.
I drove the Water Beetle around to the safe passage through the reef, and pulled her into the dock, much more smoothly this time. Will was waiting by the rail and ready. He hopped onto the dock and Georgia threw him the mooring lines.
"Don't step onto the land until I get a chance to get there, first!" I called to them. "I want to, ah, sort of introduce you. "
Billy gave me an oblique look. "Um. Okay, Harry. "
I climbed down from the bridge and was just about to hop to the dock when a tall, slender figure in a black robe, black cape, and black hood appeared from behind a veil, standing at the very end of the dock. He lifted his old rune-carved staff, muttered a word, and then brought it smashing down onto the wooden planks.
A disk of sparkling blue light washed out from the point of impact. I had time, barely, to draw in my will, cross my arms at the wrists, holding them against my chest, and slam will into both my shield bracelet and into strengthening my mental defenses.
Smears of deep blue, purple, and dark green appeared like puffs of smoke where the expanding ring struck Molly, Will, and Georgia, and the three of them simply collapsed, dropping into sprawling heaps on the dock and the deck of the boat. My vision darkened and for an instant I felt unbearably tired-but in a panic I forced more energy into my defenses, and the instant passed.
The robed figure stood staring at me for a few seconds. Then it spoke in a deep voice. "Put the staff down, Dresden. " Swirling narcotic colors gathered around his staff, and he pointed it at me like a gun. "It is over. "
The rain came down steadily. I risked a glance at the others. They were all down, but breathing. Molly's head, shoulders, and arms hung off the side of the boat. Wet, her sapphire-dyed hair looked like a much darker hue. Each rock of the boat made her hands swing. She was in danger of falling into the water.
I turned back to the cloaked figure and peered at him. Big billowy cloaks and robes are nicely dramatic, especially if you're facing into the wind-but under a calm, soaking rain they just look waterlogged. The outfit clung to the figure, looking rather miserable.
The rain also made the cloth look darker than it was. Looking closer, I could see faint hints of color in the cloth, which wasn't actually black. It was a purple so deep that it was close.
"Wizard Rashid?" I asked.
The Gatekeeper's staff never wavered as he faced me. He lifted a hand and drew back his hood. His face was long and sharp-featured and weathered like old leather. He wore a short beard that was shot through with silver, and his silver hair was short, stiff brush. One of his eyes was dark. The other had a pair of horrible old silver scars running through it, from his hairline down to his jaw. The injury had to have ruined his natural eye. It had been replaced with something that looked like a stainless-steel ball bearing. "Indeed," he said calmly.
"Should have seen it sooner. There aren't many wizards taller than me. "
"Lay aside your staff, Wizard Dresden. Before anyone else is hurt. "
"I can't do that," I said.
"And I cannot permit you to openly challenge the White Council to battle. "
"No?" I asked, thrusting out my jaw. "Why not?"
His deep, resonant voice sounded troubled. "It is not yet your hour. "
I felt my eyebrows go up. "Not yet. . . ?"
He shook his head. "Places in time. This is not the time, or the place. What you are about to do will cost lives-among them your own. I wish you no harm, young wizard. But if you will not
surrender, so be it. "
I narrowed my eyes at him. "And if I don't do this, an innocent man is going to die. I don't want to fight you. But I'm not going to stand by and let the Black Council kill Morgan and dance off behind the curtains so that they can do it again in the future. "
He tilted his head slightly. "Black Council?"
"Whatever you want to call them," I said. "The people the traitor is working for. The ones who keep trying to stir up trouble between the powers. Who keep changing things. "
The Gatekeeper's expression was unreadable. "What things?"
"The weirdness we've been seeing. Mysterious figures handing out wolf belts to FBI agents. Red Court vampires showing up to fights with Outsiders on the roster. Faerie Queens getting idealistic and trying to overthrow the natural order of the Faerie Courts. The Unseelie standing by unresponsive when they are offered an enormous insult by the vampires trespassing on their territory. The attack on Arctis Tor. I can think of half a dozen other things to go with those, and those are just the things I've personally gotten involved with. " I made a broad gesture with one hand, back toward Chicago. "The world is getting weirder and scarier, and we've been so busy beating on one another that we can't even see it. Someone's behind it. "
He watched me silently for a long moment. Then he said, "Yes. "
I frowned at him, and then my lips parted as I realized what was going on. "And you think I'm with them. "
He paused before speaking-but then, he damn near always did. "Perhaps there is reason. Add to your list of upset balances such things as open warfare erupting between the Red Court and the White Council. A Seelie crown being passed from one young Queen to the next by bloody revolt, and not the will of Titania. Wardens consorting with White Court vampires on a regular basis. College students being taught magic sufficient to allow them to become werewolves. The Little Folk, Wyld fae, banding together and organizing. The most powerful artifacts of the Church vanishing from the world-and, as some signs indicate, being kept by a wizard who does not so much as pay lip service to the faith, much less believe. "
I scowled. "Yeah, well. When you put it like that. "
He smiled faintly.
I held up my hand, palm out. "I swear to you, by my magic, that I am not involved with those lunatics, except for trying to put out all these fires they keep starting. And if questionable things surround me, it's because that's the kind of thing that happens when you're as outclassed as I usually am. You have to find solutions where you can, not where convenient. "
The Gatekeeper pursed his lips thoughtfully, considering me.
"Look, can we agree to a short truce, to talk this out?" I said. "And so that I can keep my apprentice from drowning?"
His gaze moved past me to Molly. He frowned and lowered his staff at once. "Five minutes," he said.
"Thanks," I said. I turned around and got Molly hauled back onto the boat. She never stirred. Once she was safely snoozing on deck, I went down the dock to stand in front of the Gatekeeper. He watched me quietly, holding his staff in both hands, leaning on it gently. "So," I said. "Where's the rest of the Senior Council?"
"On the way, I should think," he said. "They'll need to secure transportation to the island in Chicago and then find their way here. "
"But not you. You came through the Nevernever?"
He nodded, his eyes watching me carefully. "I know a Way. I've been here before. "
"Yeah?" I shook my head. "I thought about trying to find a Way out here, but I didn't want to chance it. This isn't exactly Mayberry. I doubt it hooks up to anything pleasant in the Nevernever. "
The Gatekeeper muttered something to himself in a language I didn't understand and shook his head. "I cannot decide," he said, "whether you are the most magnificent liar I have ever encountered in my life-or if you truly are as ignorant as you appear. "
I looked at him for a minute. Then I hooked my thumb up at my ridiculous head bandage. "Dude. "
He burst out into a laugh that was as rich and deep as his speaking voice, but. . . more, somehow. I'm not sure how to explain it. The sound of that laugh was filled with a warmth and a purity that almost made the air quiver around it, as if it had welled up from some untapped source of concentrated, unrestrained joy.
I think maybe it had been a while since Rashid had laughed.
"You," he said, barely able to speak through it. "Up in that tree. Covered with mud. "
I found myself grinning at him. "Yeah. I remember. "
He shook his head and actually wiped tears away from his good eye. It took him another moment or two to compose himself, but when he spoke, his living eye sparkled, an echo of his laughter. "You've endured more than most young people," he said. "And tasted more triumph than most, as well. It is a very encouraging sign that you can still laugh at yourself. "
"Well, gosh," I said. "I'm just so ignorant, I don't know what else to do. "
He stared at me intently. "You don't know what this place is. "
"It's out of the way of innocent bystanders," I said. "And I know it better than most of the people who are on the way. "
He nodded, frowning. "I suppose that is logical. "
I sighed. Wizards. "So? What is this place?"
He considered his words for a moment. "What do you think it is, beyond the obvious physical and tactical terrain?"
"Well," I said. "I know there's a ley line that comes through here. Very dark and dangerous energy. I know that there's a genius loci present and that it is real strong and isn't very friendly. I know that they tried to start up a small town here, linked with the shipping interests in the Great Lakes, but it went sour. Demonreach drove them away. Or insane, apparently. "
"Demonreach?" he asked.
"Couldn't find a name on the books," I said. "So I made up my own. "
"Demonreach," the Gatekeeper mused. "It's. . . certainly fitting. "
He gave me a tight smile. "It wouldn't help you for me to say anything more-except for this: one of your facts is incorrect. The ley line you speak of does not go through the island," he said. "This is where it wells up. The island is its source. "
"Ah," I said. "Wells up from what?"
"In my opinion, that is a very useful question. "
I narrowed my eyes. "And you aren't going to give me anything else. "
He shrugged. "We do have other matters to discuss. "
I glanced back at my unconscious friends. "Yeah. We do. "
"I am willing to accept that your intentions are noble," he said. "But your actions could set into motion a catastrophic chain of events. "
I shrugged. "I don't know about that," I said. "What I do know is that you don't kill a man for a crime he didn't commit. And when someone else tries to do it, you stop them. "
"And you think that this will stop them?" the Gatekeeper asked.
"I think it's my best shot. "
"You won't succeed," he said. "If you press ahead, it will end in violence. People will die, you amongst them. "
"You don't even know what I have in mind," I said.
"You're laying a trap for the traitor," he said. "You're trying to force him to act and reveal himself. "
A lesser man might have felt less clever than he had a moment before. "Oh. "
"And if I can work it out," the Gatekeeper said, "then so can the traitor. "
"Well, duh," I said. "But he'll show up anyway. He can't afford to do anything else. "
"And he'll come ready," the Gatekeeper said. "He'll choose his moment. "
"Let him. I've got other assets. "
Then he did something strange. He exhaled slowly, his living eye closing. The gleaming steel eye tracked back and forth, as if looking at something, though I could only tell it was moving because of the twitches of his other eyelid. A moment later, the Gatekeeper opened his eye and said, "The chances that you'll survive it are minimal
"Yeah?" I asked him. I stepped around him and hopped off the dock and onto the island, immediately feeling the connection with Demonreach as I turned to face him. "How about now?"
He frowned at me, and then repeated the little ritual.
Then he made a choking sound. "Blood of the Prophet," he swore, opening his eyes to stare at me. "You. . . you've claimed this place as a sanctum?"
"I punched it in the nose. Now we're friends," I said.
The Gatekeeper shook his head slowly. "Harry," he said, his voice weary. "Harry, you don't know what you've done. "
"I've given myself a fighting chance. "
"Yes. Today," he replied. "But there is always a price for knowledge. Always. "
His left eyelid twitched as he spoke, making the scars that framed the steel orb quiver.
"But it will be me paying the price," I said. "Not everyone else. "
"Yes," he said quietly. We were both silent for several minutes, standing in the rain.
"Been longer than five minutes," I said. "How do you want it to be?"
The Gatekeeper shook his head. "May I offer you two pieces of advice?"
"First," he said, "do not tap into the power of this place's well. You are years away from being able to handle such a thing without being altered by it. "
"I hadn't planned on touching it," I said.
"Second," he said, "you must understand that regardless of the outcome of this confrontation, someone will die. Preferably, it would be the traitor-but if he is killed rather than captured, no one will be willing to accept your explanation of events, no matter how accurate it may be. Morgan will be executed. Odds are excellent that you will be as well. "
"I'm sure as hell not doing this for me. "
"Don't suppose you'd be willing to lend a hand?"
"I cannot set foot on the island," he said.
"Because this place holds a grudge," he said.
I suddenly thought of the drag-thump limp of the island's manifest spirit.
He turned to the dock behind him and flicked a hand at the air. A neat, perfectly circular portal to the Nevernever appeared without a whisper or flicker of wasted power. The Gatekeeper gave me a nod. "Your friends will awaken in a moment. I will do what I can to help you. "
"Thank you," I said.
He shook his head. "Do not. It may be that true kindness would have been to kill you today. "
Then he stepped through the portal and was gone. It vanished an instant later. I stood there in the rain and watched the others begin to stir. Then I sighed and walked back to them, to help them up and explain what was going on.
We had to get moving. The day wasn't getting any younger, and there were a lot of things to do before nightfall.