Turn Coat, Page 20Jim Butcher
Morgan's trial was held the next day, but since Scotland was six hours ahead of Chicago, I wound up getting about three hours' worth of sleep sitting up in a chair. My head and face hurt too much when I lay all the way down.
When I got back to the apartment with Molly, Luccio was gone.
I had been pretty sure she would be.
I got up the next morning and took stock of myself in the mirror. What wasn't under a white bandage was mostly bruised. That was probably the concussion grenade. I was lucky. If I'd have been standing where Lara had been when Binder's grenade went off, the overpressure would probably have killed me. I was also lucky that we'd been outdoors, where there was nothing to contain and focus the blast. I didn't feel lucky, but I was.
It could have been a fragmentation grenade spitting out a lethal cloud of shrapnel-though at least my duster would probably have offered me some protection from that. Against the blast wave of an explosion, it didn't do jack. Having gained something like respect for Binder's know-how, when it came to mayhem, I realized that he may have been thinking exactly that when he picked his gear for the evening.
I couldn't shower without getting my stitches wet, so after changing my bandages, I took a birdbath in the sink. I wore a button-up shirt, since I would probably compress my brain if I tried to pull on a tee. I also grabbed my formal black Council robe with its blue stole and my Warden's cape. I did my best to put my hair in order, though only about a third of it was showing. And I shaved.
"Wow," Molly said as I emerged. "You're taking this pretty seriously. " She was sitting in a chair near the fireplace, running her fingers lightly down Mister's spine. She was one of the few people he deemed worthy to properly appreciate him in a tactile sense. Molly wore her brown apprentice's robe, and if her hair was bright blue, at least she had it pulled back in a no-nonsense style. She never wore a lot of makeup, these days, but today she was wearing none at all. She had made the very wise realization that the less attention she attracted from the Council, the better off she would be.
"Yup. Cab here yet?"
She shook her head and rose, displacing Mister. He accepted the situation, despite the indignity. "Come on, Mouse," she said. "We'll give you a chance to go before we head out. "
The big dog happily followed her out the door.
I got on the phone and called Thomas's apartment. There was no answer.
I tried Lara's number, and Justine answered on the first ring. "Ms. Raith's phone. "
"This is Harry Dresden," I said.
"Hello, Mr. Dresden," Justine replied, her tone businesslike and formal. She wasn't alone. "How may I help you today?"
Now that the furor of the manhunt had blown over, my phone was probably safe to talk on. But only probably. I emulated Justine's vocal mannerisms. "I'm calling to inquire after the condition of Thomas. "
"He's here," Justine said. "He's resting comfortably, now. "
I'd seen what terrible shape Thomas was in. If he was resting comfortably, it was because he had fed, deeply and intently, with instinctive obsession.
In all probability, my brother had killed someone.
"I hope he'll recover quickly," I said.
That would be Justine.
"-is concerned about complications arising from his original condition. "
I was quiet for a moment. "How bad is it?"
The businesslike meter of her voice changed, filling with raw anxiety. "He's under sedation. There was no choice. "
My knuckles creaked as they tightened on the earpiece of the phone.
I left nothing behind. You don't have words for the things I did to him.
"I'd like to visit, if that can be arranged. "
She recovered, shifting back into personal assistant mode. "I'll consult Ms. Raith," Justine said. "It may not be practical for several days. "
"I see. Could you let me know as soon as possible, please?"
"Of course. "
"My number is-"
"We have that information, Mr. Dresden. I'll be in touch soon. "
I thanked her and hung up. I bowed my head and found myself shaking with anger. If that thing had done my brother as much harm as it sounded like, I was going to find the naagloshii and rip him to gerbil-sized pieces if I had to blow up every cave in New Mexico to do it.
Molly appeared in the doorway. "Harry? Cab's here. "
"Okay," I said. "Let's go spoil someone's day. "
I tried not to think too hard about the fact that Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius, pretty near always took a hideous beating at the hands of his foes, and finished the day by plunging off a two-mile-high cliff.
Well, then, Harry, I thought to myself, you'll just have to remember not to repeat Wile E. 's mistake. If he would just keep going after he runs off the cliff, rather than looking down at his feet, everything would be fine.
They held the trial in Edinburgh.
There wasn't much choice in that. Given the recent threats to the Senior Council and the unexpected intensity of the attack at Demonreach, they wanted the most secure environment they could get. The trial was supposed to be held in closed session, according to the traditions of how such things were done, but this one was too big. Better than five hundred wizards, a sizable minority of the whole Council, would be there. Most of them would be allies of LaFortier and their supporters, who were more than eager to See Justice Done, which is a much prettier thing to do than to Take Bloodthirsty Vengeance.
Molly, Mouse, and I took the Way, just as I had before. This time, when I reached the door, there was a double-sized complement of Wardens on duty, led by the big Scandinavian, all of them from the Old Guard. I got a communal hostile glare from them as I approached, with only a desultory effort to disguise it as indifference. I ignored it. I was used to it.
We went into the complex, past the guard stations-they were all fully manned, as well-and walked toward the Speaking Room. Maybe it said something about the mind-set of wizards in general that the place was called "the Speaking Room" and not "the Listening Room" or, in the more common vernacular, "an auditorium. " It was an auditorium, though, rows of stone benches rising in a full circle around a fairly small circular stone stage, rather like the old Greek theaters. But before we got to the Speaking Room, I turned off down a side passage.
With difficulty, I got the Wardens on guard to allow me, Mouse, and Molly into the Ostentatiatory while one of them went to Ebenezar's room and asked him if he would see me. Molly had never been into the enormous room before, and stared around it with unabashed curiosity.
"This place is amazing," she said. "Is the food for the bigwigs only, or do you think they'd mind if I ate something?"
"Ancient Mai doesn't weigh much more than a bird," I said. "LaFortier's dead, and they haven't replaced him yet. I figure there's extra. "
She frowned. "But is it supposed to be only for them?"
I shrugged. "You're hungry. It's food. What do you think?"
"I think I don't want to make anyone angry at me. Angrier. "
The kid has better sense than I do, in some matters.
Ebenezar sent the Warden back to bring me up to his room at once, and he'd already told the man to make sure Molly was fed from the buffet table. I tried not to smile, at that. Ebenezar was of the opinion that apprentices were always hungry. Can't imagine who had ever given him that impression.
I looked around his receiving room, which was lined with bookshelves filled to groaning. Ebenezar was an eclectic reader. King, Heinlein, and Clancy were piled up on the same shelves as Hawking and Nietzsche. Multiple variants of the great religious texts of the world were shamelessly mixed with the writings of Julius Caesar and D. H. Lawrence. Hundreds of books were handmade and handwritten, including illuminated grimoires any museum worth the name would readily steal, given the chance. Books were crammed in both vertically and ho
rizontally, and though the spines were mostly out, it seemed clear to me that it would take the patience of Job to find anything, unless one remembered where it had been most recently placed.
Only one shelf looked neat.
It was a row of plain leather-bound journals, all obviously of the same general design, but made with subtly different leathers, and subtly different dyes that had aged independently of one another into different textures and shades. The books got older and more cracked and weathered rapidly as they moved from right to left. The leftmost pair looked like they might be in danger of falling to dust. The rightmost journal looked new, and was sitting open. A pen held the pages down, maybe thirty pages in.
I glanced at the last visible page, where Ebenezar's writing flowed in a strong, blocky style.
. . . seems clear that he had no idea of the island's original purpose. I sometimes can't help but think that there is such a thing as fate-or at least a higher power of some sort, attempting to arrange events in our favor despite everything we, in our ignorance, do to thwart it. The Merlin has demanded that we put the boy under surveillance at once. I think he's a damn fool.
Rashid says that warning him about the island would be pointless. He's a good judge of people, but I'm not so sure he's right this time. The boy's got a solid head on his shoulders, generally. And of all the wizards I know, he's among the three or four I'd be willing to see take up that particular mantle. I trust his judgment.
But then again, I trusted Maggie's, too.
Ebenezar's voice interrupted my reading. "Hoss," he said. "How's your head?"
"Full of questions," I replied. I closed the journal, and offered him the pen.
My old mentor's smile only touched his eyes as he took the pen from me: he'd intended me to see what he'd written. "My journal," he said. "Well. The last three are. The ones before that were from my master. "
"Didn't used to be a dirty word, Hoss. It meant teacher, guide, protector, professional, expert-as well as the negative things. But it's the nature of folks to remember the bad things and forget the good, I suppose. " He tapped the three books previous to his own. "My master's writings. " He tapped the next four. "His master's writings, and so on, back to here. " He touched the first two books, very gently. "Can't hardly read them no more, even if you can make it through the language. "
"Who wrote those two?"
"Merlin," Ebenezar said simply. He reached past me to put his own journal back up in place. "One of these days, Hoss, I think I'll need you to take care of these for me. "
I looked from the old man to the books. The journals and personal thoughts of master wizards for more than a thousand years? Ye gods and little fishes.
That would be one hell of a read.
"Maybe," Ebenezar said, "you'd have a thought or two of your own, someday, that you'd want to write down. "
"Always the optimist, sir. "
He smiled briefly. "Well. What brings you here before you head to the trial?"
I passed him the manila envelope Vince had given me. He frowned at me, and then started looking through pictures. His frown deepened, until he got to the very last picture.
He stopped breathing, and I was sure that he understood the implication. Ebenezar's brain doesn't let much grass grow under its lobes.
"Stars and stones, Hoss," Ebenezar said quietly. "Thought ahead this time, didn't you?"
"Even a broken clock gets it right occasionally," I said.
He put the papers back in the envelope and gave it back to me. "Okay. How do you see this playing out?"
"At the trial. Right before the end. I want him thinking he's gotten away with it. "
Ebenezar snorted. "You're going to make Ancient Mai and about five hundred former associates of LaFortier very angry. "
"Yeah. I hardly slept last night, I was so worried about 'em. "
"I've got a theory about something. "
I told him.
Ebenezar's face darkened, sentence by sentence. He turned his hands palm up and looked down at them. They were broad, strong, seamed, and callused with work-and they were steady. There were scabs on one palm, where he had fallen to the ground during last night's melee. Ink stained some of his fingertips.
"I'll need to take some steps," he said. "You'd best get a move on. "
I nodded. "See you there?"
He took his spectacles off and began to polish the lenses carefully with a handkerchief. "Aye. "
The trial began less than an hour later.
I sat on a stone bench that was set over to one side of the stage floor, Molly at my side. We were to be witnesses. Mouse sat on the floor beside me. He was going to be a witness, too, though I was the only one who knew it. The seats were all filled. That was why the Council met at various locations out in the real world, rather than in Edinburgh all the time. There simply wasn't enough room.
Wardens formed a perimeter all the way around the stage, at the doors, and in the aisles that came down between the rows of benches. Everyone present was wearing his or her formal robes, all flowing black, with stoles of silk and satin in one of the various colors and patterns of trim that denoted status among the Council's members. Blue stoles for members, red for those with a century of service, a braided silver cord for acknowledged master alchemists, a gold-stitched caduceus for master healers, a copper chevron near the collar for those with a doctorate in a scholarly discipline (some of the wizards had so many of them that they had stretched the fabric of the stole), an embroidered white Seal of Solomon for master exorcists and so on.
I had a plain blue stole with no ornaments whatsoever, though I'd been toying with the idea of embroidering "GED" on it in red, white, and blue thread. Molly was the only one in the room wearing a brown robe.
People were avoiding our gazes.
The White Council loved its ceremonies. Anastasia Luccio appeared in the doorway in her full regalia, plus the grey cloak of the Wardens. Her arm was still in a sling, but she carried the ceremonial staff of office of the Captain of the Wardens in one hand. She entered the room, and the murmuring buzz of the crowd fell silent. She slammed the end of the staff three times upon the floor, and the six members of the Senior Council entered in their dark robes and purple stoles, led by the Merlin. They proceeded to the center rear of the stage and stood solemnly. Peabody appeared, carrying a lap-sized writing desk, and sat down on the far end of the bench from Molly and me, to begin taking notes, his pen scratching.
I put my hand on Mouse's head and waited for the show to begin-because that's all this was. A show.
Two more Wardens appeared with a bound figure between them. Morgan was brought in and stood as all accused brought before the Council did-with his hands bound in front of him and a black hood over his head. He wasn't in any shape to be walking, the idiot, but he was managing to limp heavily along without being physically supported by either Warden. He must have been on a load of painkillers to manage it.
The Merlin, speaking in Latin, said, "We have convened today on a matter of justice, to try one Donald Morgan, who stands accused of the premeditated murder of Senior Council Member Aleron LaFortier, conspiracy with the enemies of the White Council, and treason against the White Council. We will begin with a review of the evidence. "
They stacked things up against Morgan for a while, laying out all the damning evidence. They had a lot of it. Morgan, standing there with the murder weapon in his hand, over the still-warm corpse. The bank account with slightly less than six million dollars suddenly appearing in it. The fact that he had escaped detention and badly wounded three Wardens in the process, and subsequently committed sedition by misleading other wizards-Molly and I were just barely mentioned by name-into helping him hide from the Wardens.
"Donald Morgan," the Merlin said, "have you anything to say in your defense?"
That part was sort of unusua
l. The accused were very rarely given much of a chance to say anything.
It clouded issues so.
"I do not contest the charges," Morgan said firmly through his black hood. "I, and I alone, am responsible for LaFortier's death. "
The Merlin looked like he'd just found out that someone had cooked up his own puppy in the sausage at breakfast that morning. He nodded once. "If there is no other evidence, then the Senior Council will now pass-"
I stood up.
The Merlin broke off and blinked at me. The room fell into a dead silence, except for the scratch of Peabody's pen. He paused to turn to a new page and pulled a second inkwell out of his pocket, placing it on the writing desk.
Anastasia stared at me with her lips pressed together, her eyes questioning. What the hell was I doing?
I winked at her, then walked out into the center of the stage and turned to face the Senior Council.
"Warden Dresden," Ebenezar said, "have you some new evidence to present for the Senior Council's consideration?"
"I do," I said.
"Point of order," Ancient Mai injected smoothly. "Warden Dresden was not present at the murder or when the accused escaped custody. He can offer no direct testimony as to the truth or falsehood of those events. "
"Another point of order," Listens-to-Wind said. "Warden Dresden earns a living as a private investigator, and his propensity for ferreting out the truth in difficult circumstances is well established. "
Mai looked daggers at Injun Joe.
"Warden Dresden," the Merlin said heavily. "Your history of conflict with Warden Morgan acting in his role as a Warden of the White Council is well-known. You should be advised that any damning testimony you give will be leavened with the knowledge of your history of extreme, sometimes violent animosity. "
The Merlin wasn't the Merlin for nothing. He had instincts enough to sense that maybe the game wasn't over yet, after all, and he knew how to play to the crowd. He wasn't warning me, so much as making sure that the wizards present knew how much I didn't like Morgan, so that my support would be that much more convincing.
"I understand," I said.
The Merlin nodded. "Proceed. "
I beamed at him. "I feel just like Hercule Poirot," I said, in my reasonably functional Latin. "Let me enjoy this for a second. " I took a deep breath and exhaled in satisfaction.
The Merlin had masterful self-control. His expression never changed-but his left eye twitched in a nervous tic. Score one for the cartoon coyote.
"I first became suspicious that Morgan was being framed. . . well, basically when I heard the ridiculous charge against him," I said. "I don't know if you know this man, but I do. He's hounded me for most of my life. If he'd been accused of lopping off the heads of baby bunny rabbits because someone accused them of being warlocks, I could buy that. But this man could no more betray the White Council than he could flap his arms and fly.
"Working from that point, I hypothesized that another person within the Council had killed LaFortier and set Morgan up to take the blame. So I began an independent investigation. " I gave the Senior Council and the watching crowd of wizards the rundown of the past few days, leaving out the overly sensitive and unimportant bits. "My investigation culminated in the theory that the guilty individual was not only trying to fix the blame upon Morgan, but planting the seeds of a renewed outbreak of hostilities with the vampire White Court, by implicating them in the death.
"In an effort to manipulate this person into betraying himself," I continued, "I let it be known that a conspirator had come forward to confess their part in the scheme, and would address members of the White Council at a certain place and time in Chicago. Working on the theory that the true killer was a member of the Council-indeed, someone here at headquarters in Edinburgh-I hypothesized that he would have little choice but to come to Chicago through the Way from Edinburgh, and I had the exit of that Way placed under surveillance. " I held up the manila envelope. "These are the photographs taken at the scene, of everyone who came through the Way during the next several hours. "
I opened the envelope and began passing the Senior Council the photos. They took them, looking at each in turn. Ebenezar calmly confirmed that the images of the Wardens exiting the Way together with himself, Mai, and Listens-to-Wind were accurate.
"Other than this group," I said, "I believe it is highly unlikely that anyone from Edinburgh should have randomly arrived at the Way in Chicago. Given that the group was indeed assaulted by creatures with the support of a wizard of Council-level skill at that meeting, I believe it is reasonable to state that the killer took the bait. " I turned, drawing out the last photo with a dramatic flourish worthy of Poirot, and held it up so that the crowd could see it while I said, "So why don't you tell us what you were doing in the Chicago area last night. . . Wizard Peabody?"
If I'd had a keyboard player lurking nearby for a soap-opera organ sting, it would have been perfect.
Everyone on the Senior Council except Ebenezar and, for some reason, the Gatekeeper, turned to stare slack-jawed at Peabody.
The Senior Council's secretary sat perfectly still beneath his little lap desk. Then he said, "I take it that you have proof more convincing than a simple visual image? Such things are easily manufactured. "
"In fact," I said, "I do. I had a witness who was close enough to smell you. "
On cue, Mouse stood up and turned toward Peabody.
His low growl filled the room like a big, gentle drumroll.
"That's all you have?" Peabody asked. "A photo? And a dog?"
Mai looked as if someone had hit her between the eyes with a sledgehammer. "That," she said, in a breathless tone, "is a Foo dog. " She stared at me. "Where did you get such a thing? And why were you allowed to keep it?"
"He sort of picked me," I said.
The Merlin's eyes had brightened. "Mai. The beast's identification is reliable?"
She stared at me in obvious confusion. "Entirely. There are several other wizards present who could testify to the fact. "
"Yes," rumbled a stocky, bald man with an Asian cast to his features.
"It's true," said a middle-aged woman, with skin several tones darker than my own, maybe from India or Pakistan.
"Interesting," the Merlin said, turning toward Peabody. There was something almost sharklike about his sudden focus.
"Working on the evidence Dresden found," Ebenezar said, "Warden Ramirez and I searched Peabody's chambers thoroughly not twenty minutes ago. A test of the inks he used to attain the signatures of the Senior Council for various authorizations revealed the presence of a number of chemical and alchemical substances that are known to have been used to assist psychic manipulation of their subjects. It is my belief that Peabody has been drugging the ink for the purpose of attempting greater mental influence over the decisions of members of the Senior Council, and that it is entirely possible that he has compromised the free will of younger members of the Council outright. "
Listens-to-Wind's mouth opened in sudden surprise and understanding. He looked down at his ink-stained fingertips, and then up at Peabody.
Peabody may not have seen the man turn into a grizzly, but he was bright enough to know that Injun Joe was getting set to adjust another relative ass-to-ears ratio. The little secretary took one look around the room, and then at my dog. The expression went out of his face.
"The end," he said, calmly and clearly, "is nigh. "
And then he flung his spare pot of ink onto the floor, shattering the glass.
Mouse let out a whuffing bark of warning, and knocked Molly backward off of the bench as a dark cloud rose up away from the smashed bottle, swelling with supernatural speed, tendrils reaching out in all directions. One of them caught a Warden who had leapt forward, toward Peabody.
It encircled his chest and then closed. Everything the slender thread of mist touched turned instantly to a fine black ash, slicing through him as effic
iently as an electric knife through deli meat. The two pieces of the former Warden fell to the floor with wet, heavy thumps.
I'd seen almost exactly the same thing happen once before, years ago.
"Get back!" I screamed. "It's mordite!"
Then the lights went out, and the room exploded into screams and chaos.
The truly scary part wasn't that I was standing five feet away from a cloud of weapons-grade deathstone that would rip the very life force out of everything it touched. It wasn't that I had confronted someone who was probably a member of the Black Council, probably as deadly in a tussle as their members always seemed to be, and who was certainly fighting with his back to the wall and nothing to lose. It wasn't even the fact that the lights had all gone out, and that a battle to the death was about to ensue.
The scary part was that I was standing in a relatively small, enclosed space with nearly six hundred wizards of the White Council, men and women with the primordial powers of the universe at their beck and call-and that for the most part, only the Wardens among them had much experience in controlling violent magic in combat conditions. It was like standing in an industrial propane plant with five hundred chain-smoking pyromaniacs double-jonesing for a hit: it would only take one dummy to kill us all, and we had four hundred and ninety-nine to spare.
"No lights!" I screamed, backing up from where I'd last seen the cloud. "No lights!"
But my voice was only one amongst hundreds, and dozens of wizards reacted in the way I-and Peabody-had known they would. They'd immediately called light.
It made them instant, easy targets.
Cloudy tendrils of concentrated death whipped out to strike at the source of any light, spearing directly through anyone who got in the way. I saw one elderly woman lose an arm at the elbow as the mordite-laden cloud sent a spear of darkness flying at a wizard seated two rows behind her. A dark-skinned man with gold dangling from each ear roughly pushed a younger woman who had called light to a crystal in her hand. The tendril missed the woman but struck him squarely, instantly dissolving a hole in his chest a foot across, and all but cut his corpse in half as it fell to the floor.
Screams rose, sounds of genuine pain and terror-sounds the human body and mind are designed to recognize and to which they have no choice but to react. It hit me as hard as the first time I'd ever heard it happen-the desire to be away from whatever was causing such fear, combined with the simultaneous engagement of adrenaline, the need to act, to help.
Calmly, said a voice from right beside my right ear-except that it couldn't have been there because bandages covered that side of my head completely, and it was physically impossible for a voice to come through that clearly.
Which meant that the voice was an illusion. It was in my head. Furthermore, I recognized the voice-it was Langtry's, the Merlin's.
Council members, get on the ground immediately, said the Merlin's calm, unshakable voice. Assist anyone who is bleeding and do not attempt to use lights until the mistfiend is contained. Senior Council, I have already engaged the mistfiend and am preventing it from moving any farther away. Rashid, prevent it from moving forward and disintegrating me, if you please. Mai and Martha Liberty, take its right flank, McCoy and Listens-to-Wind its left. It's rather strong-willed, so let's not dawdle, and remember that we must also prevent it from moving upward.
The entire length of that dialogue, though I could have sworn it was physically audible, was delivered in less than half a second-speech at the speed of thought. It came accompanied with a simplified image of the Speaking Room, as if it had been drawn on a mental chalkboard. I could clearly see the swirling outline of the mistfiend surrounded by short blocks, with each block labeled with the names of the Senior Council and drawn to represent a section of three-dimensional dome that would hem the cloudy terror in.
Hell's bells. The Merlin had, in the literal length of a second and a half, turned pure confusion into an ordered battle. I guess maybe you don't get to be the Merlin of the White Council by saving up frequent-flier miles. I'd just never seen him in motion before.
Warden Dresden, the Merlin said. Or thought. Or projected. If you would be so good as to prevent Peabody from escaping. Warden Thorsen and his cadre are on the way to support you, but we need someone to hound Peabody and prevent him from further mischief. We do not yet know the extent of his psychic manipulations, so trust none of the younger Wardens.
I love being a wizard. Every day is like Disneyland.
I ripped off my ridiculous stole, robe, and cloak as I turned toward the doorway. The frantic motions of panic made the two or three light sources that had not been instantly snuffed into independent stroboscopes. Running toward the room's exit was a surreal experience, but I was certain that Peabody had planned his steps before he'd begun to move, and he'd had plenty of time to sprint across the room in the darkness and leave the auditorium.
I tried to think like a wizard who had just been outed as Black Council and marked for capture, interrogation, and probable death. Given that I had been fairly sure it was going to happen to me over the past few days, I'd already given consideration to how to get out of Council HQ, and I figured Peabody had taken more time to plan than I had.
If I was him, I'd rip open a Way into the Nevernever and close it behind me. I'd find a good spot to get out, and then I'd make sure it was prepared to be as lethally hostile to pursuers as I could make it. The centuries upon centuries of wards placed upon the Edinburgh tunnels by generations of wizards, though, prevented any opening to the Nevernever from inside the security checkpoints, so Peabody would have to get through at least one Warden-manned security gate before he enacted his plan.
I had to stop him before he got that far.
I plunged through the doorway and noted that both Wardens on guard outside were of the younger generation who had risen to the ranks since the disastrous battle with the Red Court in Sicily. Both young men were standing blankly at attention, showing no reaction whatsoever to the furor in the Speaking Room.
A corner of a black formal robe snapped as its wearer rounded a corner in the hallway to my right, and I was off and running. I felt like hell, but for a refreshing change of pace, I had an advantage over an older, more experienced wizard-I was younger and in better shape.
Wizards might stay alive and vigorous for centuries, but their bodies still tend to lose physical ability if they do not take great pains to stay in training. Even then, they still don't have the raw capabilities of a young person-and running at a dead sprint is as raw as physical activity gets.
I rounded the corner and caught a glimpse of Peabody, running up ahead of me. He turned another corner, and by the time I rounded that one, I had gained several steps on him. We blew through Administration and passed the Warden barracks, where three Wardens who were still freaking teenagers, the dangerous babies we'd hurried through military training for the war, emerged from the doors twenty feet ahead of Peabody.
"The end is nigh!" he snarled.
All three of them froze in their tracks, their expressions going blank, and Peabody went through the group, puffing, and knocked one of them down. I pushed harder, and he started glancing over his shoulder, his eyes wide.
He ducked around the next corner, and my instincts twigged to what he was about to try. I came around the corner and flung myself into a diving roll, and a spray of conjured liquid hissed as it went by overhead. It smacked against the wall behind me with a frantic chewing noise, like a thousand bottles of carbonated soda all shaken and simultaneously opened.
I hadn't had time to recharge my energy rings, and they were still on my dresser back home, but I didn't want Peabody to get comfortable taking shots at me over his shoulder. I lifted my right hand, snarled, "Fuego!" and sent a basketball-sized comet of fire flying down the hallway at him.
He spat out a few words and made a one-handed defensive gesture that reminded me of Doctor Stra
nge, and my attacking spell splashed against something invisible a good three feet short of him. Even so, some of it wound up setting the hem of his formal robes on fire, and he frantically shucked out of it as he continued to flee.
I made up even more distance on him, and as he turned into one of the broad main hallways of the complex, I wasn't twenty feet away, and the first security checkpoint was right in front of us. Four Wardens, all of them young, manned the gate-which was to say that, since all the grown-ups, grandpas, and fussbudgets who might object were at the trial, they were sitting on the floor playing cards.
"Stop that man!" I shouted.
Peabody shrieked, obviously terrified, "Dresden's gone warlock! He's trying to kill me!"
The young Wardens bounced to their feet with the reaction speed of youth. One of them reached for his staff, and another drew his gun. A third turned and made sure the gate was locked-and the fourth acted on pure instinct, whipping her hand around her head in a tight circle and making a throwing gesture as she shouted.
I brought up my shield in time to intercept an invisible bowling ball, but the impact hit the shield with enough force to stop me cold. My legs weren't ready for that, and I staggered, bouncing a shoulder off of one wall.
Peabody's eyes gleamed with triumph as I fell, and he snapped, "The end is nigh!" freezing the young Wardens in place, as he'd done before. He ripped the key on its leather thong from around the neck of one of the Wardens, opened the gate, then turned with a dagger in his hand and sliced it along the thigh of the young woman who had clobbered me. She cried out and her leg began spurting blood in rhythm with her heart, a telltale sign of a severed artery.
I got back to my feet and hurled a club of raw force at Peabody, but he defeated it as he had the fireball, leapt through the gate, and ripped at the air, peeling open a passage between this world and the next.
He plunged through it.
"Son of a bitch," I snarled. None of the young Wardens were moving, not even the wounded girl. If she didn't get help, she would bleed to death in minutes. "Dammit!" I swore. "Dammit, dammit, dammit!" I threw myself onto the girl, ripping the belt off of my jeans and praying that the wound was far enough down her leg for a tourniquet to do any good.
Footsteps hammered the floor, and Anastasia Luccio appeared, gun in her good hand, her face white with pain. She slid to a halt next to me, breathing hard, set the weapon on the floor, and said, "I've got her. Go!"
On the other side of the security gate, the Way was beginning to close.
I rose and rushed it, diving forward. There was a flash of light, and the stone tunnel around me abruptly became a forest of dead trees that smelled strongly of mildew and stagnant water. Peabody was standing right in front of the Way as he tried to close it, and I hit him in a flying tackle before he could finish the job. He went over backward and we hit the ground hard.
For a stunned half second, neither of us moved, and then Peabody shifted his weight, and I caught the gleam of the bloodied dagger at the edge of my vision.
He thrust the point at my throat, but I got an arm in the way. He opened a vein. I grabbed at his wrist with my other hand, and he rolled, gaining the upper position and gripping the dagger with both hands, leaning against my one arm with all of his weight. Drops of my own blood fell onto my face as he forced the point slowly toward my eye.
I struggled to throw him off me, but he was stronger than he looked, and it was clear that he had more experience in close-quarters fighting than I did. I clubbed at him with my wounded arm, but he shrugged it off.
I felt my triceps giving way and watched the tip of the knife come closer. The breaking point was at hand and he knew it. He threw more effort into his attack, and the dagger's tip suddenly stung hot against my lower eyelid.
Then there was a huge noise, and Peabody went away. I remained still for a stunned moment, and then looked up.
Morgan lay on the ground just inside the still-open Way, Luccio's gun smoking in his hand, his wounded leg a mass of wet scarlet.
How he'd managed to run after us given his injury, I had no idea. Even with painkillers, it must have hurt like hell. He stared at Peabody's body with hard eyes. Then his hand started to shake, and he dropped the gun to the ground.
He followed it down with a groan.
I went to him, breathing hard. "Morgan. " I turned him over and looked at his wound. It was soaked in blood, but it wasn't bleeding much anymore. His face was white. His lips looked grey.
He opened his eyes calmly. "Got him. "
"Yeah," I said. "You got him. "
He smiled a little. "That's twice I pulled your ass out of the fire. "
I choked out a little laugh. "I know. "
"They'll blame me," he said quietly. "There's no confession from Peabody, and I'm a better candidate politically. Let them pin it on me. Don't fight it. I want it. "
I stared down at him. "Why?"
He shook his head, smiling wearily.
I stared down at him for long seconds, and then I got it. Morgan had been lying to me from the very start. "Because you already knew who killed LaFortier. She was there when you woke up in his chambers. You saw who did it. And you wanted to protect her. "
"Anastasia didn't do it," Morgan said, his voice intense and low. "She was a pawn. Asleep on her feet. She never even knew she was being used. " He shuddered. "Should have thought of that. She got put in that younger body, made her mind vulnerable to influence again. "
"What happened?" I asked.
"Woke up, LaFortier was dead, and she had the knife. Took it from her, veiled her, and pushed her out the door," Morgan said. "Didn't have time to get both of us out. "
"So you took the blame thinking you'd sort things out in the aftermath. But you realized that the frame was too good for anyone to believe you when you tried to tell them what was up. " I shook my head. Morgan hadn't given a damn about his own life. He'd escaped when he realized that Anastasia had still been in danger, that he wouldn't be able to expose the real traitor alone.
"Dresden," he said quietly.
"I didn't tell anyone about Molly. What she tried to do to Ana. I. . . I didn't tell. "
I stared at him, unable to speak.
His eyes became cloudy. "Do you know why I didn't? Why I came to you?"
I shook my head.
"Because I knew," he whispered. He lifted his right hand, and I gripped it hard. "I knew that you knew how it felt to be an innocent man hounded by the Wardens. "
It was the closest he'd ever come to saying that he'd been wrong about me.
He died less than a minute later.