Battle Ground Chapter 3

This summer brings not one but TWO Dresden Files novels! Peace Talks arrived July 14th, and Battle Ground hits September 29th. Order both through the store!

I piloted the Water Beetle back into dock, while Molly and her squadron of sharks escorted us the rest of the way in. I secured the ship, and by the time I’d gotten the last line tied off, there was a crackling sound, and the end of the dock was suddenly coated in ice. Molly stepped up out of the lake on the icy stairs she’d created, patterns of frost forming in her wet hair. She studied the city as she came, her eyes distant.

I lowered the boarding plank and shambled down to join her on the dock. “What do you see?” I asked quietly.

“Spirits,” she said. “Messengers, I think. Hundreds of them.”

“Martha Liberty,” I said. “She’s in tight with the loa. She’ll have them watching for the Fomor.”

“More than that,” she murmured. “Angels of death . . .” Molly stared sightlessly toward the city for a long moment in cat‑eyed silence. Then she shivered.

“What is it?” I asked.

“We should get moving,” she said. “We need to get back to the castle.”

I eyed her. Her face was blank, distant.

Lara Raith strode out onto the deck of the Water Beetle. The battle had done for her change of clothing. She’d had to make do with some of Thomas’s stuff, stored in the ship’s cabin—leather‑look tights and a big white Byronic poet’s shirt. My brother was not above embracing the classic stereotypes. The pale skin of her arms, where I could see it, was covered with dark, vicious bruises and round, mostly closed wounds, courtesy of the kraken.

Lara noticed me looking. “Not one quip about hentai, Dresden.” She glanced at Molly and nodded. “Thank you for the assistance.”

“It is no more than is due you under the mutual defense stipulations of the Accords,” Molly replied in a rather frosty tone.

Lara stared at Molly carefully for a moment before inclining her head. “Ah. Of course.”

Something like real anger flickered over Molly’s face for a second  and then was gone.

I glanced back and forth between them.

I hate it when I miss things.

“We need to coordinate with the rest of the Accorded nations immediately,” Lara said to Molly.

“I concur.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You guys do that. There’s something I have to do first.”

Lara blinked. “As I understand it, Dresden, you may have a role to play tonight. And you have seen to it that I have an additional vested interest that you survive to do so. That being the case, I will not countenance you traipsing around the city alone.”

This could get complicated. Lara had already used two of the favors owed her by the Winter Court, but apparently, she had one remaining on credit with Mab. If she cashed it in, I wasn’t sure I would be able to stop myself from cooperating.

I liked it way better when I could just be openly defiant, rather than being forced to resort to reason.

“Hey,” I said, “do you hear that?”

Lara cocked her head. “Hear what?”

“Exactly,” I said. “It’s quiet. Barely after midnight. There’s time.”

“Time for what?” she demanded.

“To warn them,” I said. “The community in Chicago. Someone has to let them know what’s going on. Take me half an hour. Don’t bother arguing.”

Lara’s expression flickered with exasperation and her jawline twitched. “Empty night, Dresden. Why must you make everything more complicated?”

“It’s kind of my best feature,” I said.

“It should be done,” Molly observed, her tone remote. “If you will excuse me, there is something that requires my immediate attention.”

She took a step forward and vanished into a curtain of cold wind and mist that whipped about her and then dispersed, leaving only empty dock in its wake. I blinked and tried to look as if that was something I had been expecting to happen for at least ten minutes.

Lara shook her head. “I won’t try to stop you from fulfilling an obligation of Winter, if that’s what this is,” she said.

Ah. On her way out, Molly had set up cover for me. “That’s as easy a way to explain it as any,” I said.

“I need you alive if I’m to save my brother. I would feel better if you weren’t going alone.”

There were footsteps on the gangplank and Murphy said, “He isn’t.” I looked up to see Murph in her tactical gear. If you didn’t know what to look for, you almost couldn’t tell she’d been crippled, when she was standing still like that.

“I don’t doubt your loyalty to him, Ms. Murphy,” Lara said. “Only your current limits. Time is critical. He needs to move.”

“She’s not going to slow me down,” I said. “You and Freydis should  hit the castle. Riley was assembling your people when we left. They’ll need you.”

“Very well,” she said. “But don’t waste time. The Fomor could appear at any moment.”

“Aw,” I said, “you’re worried about me.”

Her smile had a little poison in it. “Yes. Which we will discuss, when time serves.” She raised her voice and called, “Freydis.”

The Valkyrie came up the stairs from the cabin and vaulted lightly to the dock. Lara nodded, murmured, “Good luck,” and then the two of them darted off toward the city, Lara in the lead, running in almost complete silence. They were out of sight in seconds.

Murphy exhaled slowly. “Hey, Harry?”


“My everything is broken,” she said frankly. “How the hell am I going to keep up with you?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Um. Work with me, here.” She arched an eyebrow at me.

Murphy gripped the edges of the shopping cart with both hands as I ran, pushing it down the middle of the street. “If you tell anyone about this, Dresden,” she said, “I will murder you slowly. With dental implements.”

I leaned down and kissed her hair. “Now, now. If you’re good, we can get you a piece of candy at checkout.”

“Goddammit, Dresden.”

I grinned, and then the wheels of the shopping cart hit a crack in the road and Murphy hissed in pain. I tried not to flinch in sympathy and to pilot around the rougher bits that I could see.

Murphy could limp along, but there was no way she could have moved through the city quickly enough to keep up. I could have carried her, but it would have bounced her around even worse than the shopping cart. So we just had to make do.

It wasn’t hard to move, really. The cars that had died on the streets blocked them to vehicular traffic, but there was plenty of room to maneuver around them for pedestrians, bicycles, and lanky wizards pushing shopping carts.

CPD had come out in force, armed and armored to the teeth. There were at least four officers posted at every major intersection, where they had lit the streets with road flares and trash‑can fires. It didn’t make the streets less dark or threatening, really, but it did the most important thing it could have done—it threw a spotlight on the police officers themselves. If you were looking around outside that night, practically the only thing you could see reliably was the police in their uniforms and badges, standing their posts at each intersection. They were showing the flag for civilization and law, reassuring people that there were still boundaries that would be defended.

But the looting had started, here and there. I saw several window fronts that had been broken out, though not as many as it could have been. Officers were advising people to get home and get off the streets, and we got the fisheye from more than a few uniformed guys as we went by. Murphy made me stop to talk to a couple of the uniforms she knew, and she passed on warnings for the people in law enforcement whom she still had contact with—that this was a Special Investigations problem, and that this was a time for all hands on deck, fully armed tactical teams on standby, right the hell now, and why are you still standing here?

Things hadn’t gotten bad, at least not yet. But there was something  in the air that hadn’t been there before—the psychic stench of a widespread terror that was slowly gathering momentum.

The city’s residents had begun to realize that something was very, very wrong.

The firelight, almost alien to mortal cities for a century or more, cast high, deep shadows that made buildings loom threateningly in the night and turned alleyways into pits of blackness. The presence of the police had to be reassuring—but it was also a warning, that things were bad, and that city hall was worried. The people who were walking on the street did so briskly, in tense silence, and tended to move in groups of three   or four. I saw very few women out in the open.

I felt myself getting more tense. You couldn’t have fear spreading  like this without building up considerable psychological pressure. Sooner or later, that pressure was going to cause something to burst.

They say civilization is a thin veneer over barbarism. Chicago stood waiting for the first tearing sound.

We arrived at McAnally’s Pub to find it . . . well, like always, only a lot more crowded.

Mac’s place was a basement pub underneath an office building. You had to descend concrete stairs from the street to get in, and it featured a constantly irritating combination of a fairly low ceiling and ceiling fans. The entire place was done in old, stained wood, with thirteen stools at the crooked bar, thirteen tables for customers, and thirteen carved wooden columns featuring images mainly inspired by Grimms’ fairy tales. The usual candles and lanterns burned, lighting the place. Mac’s charcoal grill was alight and covered in the various foods he offered to his customers, and the ale flowed freely.

When we came in the door, nothing happened for a second, and then a cloud of silence began to spread out from my feet until it had engulfed the room. All eyes were on me. These were people who knew who I was.

I could hear whispers. Harry Dresden. Wizard.

I adjusted the strap on the nylon backpack I had taken from the Water Beetle. “Mac,” I said clearly. “Storage room. We need to talk.”

Mac was a lean man around six feet tall with broad‑knuckled hands and a shining bald pate, dressed in his usual black slacks, button‑down shirt, and spotless white apron. He’d been a friend for a long time. He looked at me and then nodded toward his pantry and office.

Karrin and I walked over and went in. Without a word, I opened up the backpack, took out the little wooden sign, and put it down carefully on his desk.

Mac saw the sign and his eyes widened. He looked at me, his face written heavily with consternation.

“You know what it is,” I said.

Mac rocked back half a pace. He looked from the sign to me. He didn’t quite lick his lips in nervous guilt, but it was pretty clear that he didn’t like that I’d realized what he knew.

“A lot of the Paranetters are here tonight,” I said, “because we put out an alert yesterday and this is one of the designated shelters.”

Mac nodded firmly.

I met his eyes for as long as I dared and said, “What’s coming could kill every one of them. So I need your help.”

Mac looked from me to the sign and back, grimacing.

“Mac,” I said quietly. “Not just anyone would recognize that sign. I mean, it’s just an old piece of wooden board, right?”

His expression became pained and he held up his hands.

“There’s a Titan coming to Chicago,” I said, “with an army, courtesy of the Fomor, to burn the place to the ground. They’ll be here in maybe an hour. There’s no time to get cute. Are you willing?”

He frowned. He stared at the sign for a second and then away.

“Mac,” I said, “there’s no time for this.” I bowed my head, rested the fingertips of one hand against my temples, and began to call up my Sight.

A wizard’s Sight is a powerful tool for perceiving the energies of the universe. It gets called a lot of things, from dream sight to the third eye, but it amounts to the same thing—adjusting your thoughts to be able to perceive magical energies as they move around and through the natural world. The Sight shows you things in their purest nature, reveals fundamental truths about people, creatures, and things that you look at.

A while ago, some of the Outsiders had come looking for trouble at Mac’s.

They’d recognized him.

I didn’t know what Mac was, but it seemed clear that he wasn’t just your average bartender. I figured it was about time we got to know each other a little better.

But before I could look up, Mac pressed my hand gently against my face, making it impossible to open my eyes.

“Don’t,” the mostly mute man said gently. “Hurt yourself.”

He didn’t let me move my hand until I’d released my Sight—and there was no way he should have been able to know that. But he did anyway. Which put him in a relatively small pool of beings—those with a connection to divine knowledge, to intellectus, and given what the Outsiders had called him, I was pretty sure I knew what Mac was now. Or at least what he had once been.

He lowered his hand slowly, his expression resolved. Then he took a step back, pursed his lips, looked at me, and shook his head. After that, he moved briskly, opening a storage cabinet and taking out a small, efficient toolbox. A moment of effort and he’d  put a couple of screws in  the back of the sign, connected by a strand of wire.

“What is it?” Murphy asked as he worked.

“The placard from the Cross,” I said. “The one that said, ‘Here is the King of the Jews.’”

Her golden eyebrows went up. “From the vault?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“What does it do?”

“It’s embodied intercession. It focuses energy on an individual,” I said. “Something about pouring out the accumulated sins of humanity onto Christ, maybe. Hang it up and it puts up a kind of threshold that will hold off just about anything supernatural, as long as the property’s rightful owner is alive.”

Mac took a small folding knife out of his pocket, opened it, and pricked his thumb. A drop of blood welled.

“So everyone here will be safe,” Karrin said.

Mac hesitated for only an instant. Then he took a deep breath and pressed his thumb against the back of the placard, smearing his blood there.

“Anything that wants to get to them will have to go through Mac first,” I clarified quietly.

Mac took out a nail and a hammer; then he tucked the placard under one arm and walked out with them. A moment later, we could hear him using the hammer as he hung up the sign.

I turned to Murphy and said, “Here’s where we part trails.”

Her eyes flashed. “Harry,” she said warningly.

I spoke in a flat, harsh voice. “You’re slowing me down.”

Karrin’s eyes blazed. And then they shone and overflowed.

“Goddammit,” she said, looking away.

I could have hit her, hard, and hurt her a lot less.

I sighed and put a hand on her shoulder. “I saw Will and the Alphas out there,” I said quietly. “Look. I have to go work with the Council. But the Accorded nations don’t really care about regular people so much. Someone has to look out for them. I want to put you in charge of the Alphas and the Paranetters defending one another and anyone around here who needs help.”

“You want me to be safe,” she said harshly.

“If I wanted that, you’d be on the island,” I said. “You’re hurt. And you’re a goddamned adult, Karrin. This is a war. I want you where you will do the most good.”

“And where I won’t distract you,” she said.

I sighed and mopped a hand over my face. “If I could fix your injuries, I would. But the fact is that you can’t keep up right now. It’s just that simple.”

“Fuck you,” she said, her voice raw, and turned away. Then a moment later, and very wearily, she murmured, “Goddammit.”

I put a hand on her shoulder. “Take care of our people. You’re one of the few I’d trust to do it anyway.”

Without turning, she gave a single severe nod.

Then she whirled, seized my coat, and dragged me down to her for a kiss. It was sharp, sweet, fiercely and desperately hot.

When she let me go, it took me a second to open my eyes and straighten up again.

“Harry . . .” she said.

“Be careful of the big bad Titan?” I said.

Her eyes wrinkled at the corners. “You’re not going to do that,” she said. She put her hand on my arm and squeezed, her eyes intent and ferocious. “Kick. Her. Ass.”

This summer brings not one but TWO Dresden Files novels! Peace Talks arrived July 14th, and Battle Ground hits September 29th. Order both through the store!