Peace Talks Chapter 6

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

If you missed Chapters OneTwo, Three, Four, and Five, you can catch up on those as well.

I might have been feeling pretty smug on my way back to the car.

But my babysitter had an early morning, so as pleasant as it sounded, there would be no staying around for more. I had to go do the responsible dad thing.

I was whistling as I got in the Munstermobile and got it to roar to life. The car was an old hearse from the forties, painted in shades of dark blue and purple, with flames on the hood and front fenders. It was not subtle. It was not anywhere close to subtle. But I figured that since I wasn’t, either, that made it an entirely appropriate vehicle for me.

The car growled its way to life, and I turned and put one arm on the backrest of the front seat, to look behind me as I pulled out of Karrin’s driveway, and nearly had a freaking heart attack.

Two monsters sat in the backseat.

My reflexes kicked in as I flinched, twisting at the waist to bring up my left hand, the one with my makeshift shield bracelet. I let out a garbled, incoherent cry as my will slammed through it and the copper band exploded with a small cloud of green‑yellow sparks as the shield came up between me and the threat. My right hand locked into a rigid claw and a small sphere of the same color of green‑yellow energy gathered within the cage of my fingers, spitting and hissing with vicious heat.

The wavering, unsteady light flickered and flashed with manic irregularity, and I got a chance to process the threat.

Neither of the monsters was moving, and both of them were beautiful.

The one on my left was a woman who looked like she had come to a glorious autumn of youthful beauty. Her hair was darker than an undertaker’s grave, and her silver‑grey eyes threw back the light of my readied magic in flashes of green and gold. Her teeth were white and perfect, and her smile looked sharp enough to cut a throat. She was wearing a white suit and sat with her legs crossed, gorgeously, and her hands folded in her lap.

“New colors,” she said, her voice velvety smooth and calm. “The shield used to be blue. What changed?”

“He made an alliance with a powerful guardian entity,” said the second monster, a woman seated beside the first. She was as lean as a rod of rebar, but colder and harder, and her opalescent green eyes were too big to be strictly human. Silver‑white hair fell to her shoulders, today in a fine silken sheet. Her voice sounded calm and precise, and she wore a glacier blue dress that belonged on a runway. “It does not interfere with his duties.”

I looked back and forth between the two women. My heart rate began to slow as my conscious mind started to catch on to the fact that I was not, apparently, under attack.

Which was not to say that I was not in danger.

I silently counted to five while I took a slow breath and decided to be calm and cautious—and polite. “Lara Raith,” I said to the first monster, inclining my head slightly. Then I turned to the second and  did  the same, only a shade more deeply. “Queen Mab.”

“So nice to see you again, Harry,” Lara said, her sharp smile widening as she tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear. “I love your hair.   You look absolutely wolfish. How long has it been?”

“Since that mess on the island,” I said. “How’s the Vampire Queen business?”

There was something merry in her eyes as she widened them. “Booming. I sometimes think I might be about to explode at the prospect of all the marvelous opportunities that have been opening to me.”

“As  long as you don’t  do it in my car,”  I said. “Hi, Mab.”

The second monster stared at me for a silent moment. Mab was the OG wicked faerie, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and her tolerance for my usual insouciance had limits. It had such limits that I still had a small lump on my skull that hadn’t gone away, ever since she’d smashed my noggin against the inside of an elevator. She stared at me the way a cat stares at any creature of about the right size to be eaten, and said, “It is, in fact, my car.”

“Ah,” I said. “Right. Well. It’s a company car.”

Mab continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “And Ms. Raith is welcome to explode within it or not, as she sees fit.”

“Uh,” I said, “I think she was employing a metapho—”

“Particularly during such a shocking display of bad grace as you are engaging in at the moment.” She gave my hands a pointed look and then stared back at my eyes. “Do you mean to attack my person and my guest or not, my Knight?”

I twitched and remembered that my shield and the energy for an offensive strike were still glowing and pulsing between us. I relaxed my will and let the spells fade out, until there was nothing left but a drizzle of inefficiently transferred energies falling as campfire sparks from my bracelet. “Oh, right,” I said. “Um. Excuse me.”

“I regret my Knight’s . . . excessive impulse‑control issues,” Mab said, turning to Lara. “I trust it has not cast a sour tone upon this meeting.”

“On the contrary,” Lara said. “I find it rather charming.”

Mab’s expression was entirely unreadable. “Your response does nothing to increase my good opinion of you, Ms. Raith. My Knight needs no encouragement.”

“Hey!” I said.

Lara’s eyes wrinkled at the corners. “Think of it as you would someone who had encountered a novel kind of food.” She looked at me, and her eyes turned a few shades paler. “Something substantial and rarely obtained.”

Mab considered that for a moment. Then she smiled. Her  scary smile. I mean, most of what Mab does is sort of scary, but her smile is  just unnerving. “Just so long as you understand that my Knight is a part of my house. Do not attempt to eat my porridge, Ms. Raith. You will find it neither hot nor cold nor just right,  because, unlike Goldilocks, the bears will have eaten you. Am I understood?”

“Entirely,” Lara said, inclining her head to Mab. Her eyes lingered on me for a moment. “Are you sure what I ask isn’t too much trouble?”

“Such things are part and parcel of his duties,” Mab said. “Assuming you find him acceptable.”

“Oh my,” Lara said, glancing at me again. “Oh yes.”

I didn’t much like the sound of where this conversation was going, so I cleared my throat and said, “Ladies. I’m sitting right here. I can hear you.”

“Then you shall have no trouble understanding your orders,” Mab said. “Ms. Raith is owed three favors by the Winter Court.”

“Three?” I blurted. “I had to fight for my life through Arctis Tor and slug it out with an Elder Phobophage just to earn one favor!”

Mab’s eyes swiveled to me. “And you were repaid appropriately for your deeds.”

“I got a doughnut!”

“It is hardly my concern if you wasted your favor upon something so frivolous,” Mab said.

I scowled. “What the hell did she do?”

“She used her mind,” Mab said. “Unlike some.”

“Hey!” I said.

“She has indicated that she wishes to collect upon these favors,” Mab said. “I have already agreed to one. I place the responsibility for providing the substance of the remaining two in your hands.”

I blinked and then narrowed my eyes. “You . . . what?”

Mab blinked her eyes and appeared to, just barely, avoid rolling them in exasperation. “Two favors. She may ask them of you during the approaching summit. You will provide whatever she asks, with as much energy and sincerity and forethought . . . as you are capable of employing. You will not fail me in this.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I’m already kind of busy. You know that. I’m guarding the Senior Council and liaisoning between the Council and Faerie already.”

“My time and attention are infinitely more important than yours,” Mab said. “You now have more work. Cease your whining, desist from your dalliances, and do your duty.”

“Two favors,” I said.

“No more, no less,” Mab said.

“Just . . . anything she asks, you expect me to do.”

“I expect her to show respect for my Court and my resources,” Mab said. “I expect her to ask nothing of you that she would be unwilling to ask from me. Within those constraints—yes.”

I sputtered and said, “Suppose she asks me to steal something?”

“I expect you to acquire it.”

“Suppose she asks me to burn down a building?”

“I expect a mountain of fine ash.”

“Suppose she asks me to kill someone?”

“I expect their corpse to be properly disposed of,” Mab said. She leaned forward and narrowed her eyes slightly. “For you to do anything less would be for you to cast shame and dishonor upon my name, upon my throne, and upon all of Winter.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I invite you to contemplate the consequences of that.”

I didn’t meet her eyes. I’d seen the kind of thing Mab would do to someone who merely displeased her, much less made her look bad. My predecessor begged me to kill him. He’d been a monster when he’d had my job—but Mab had crushed him into a broken, whimpering mass of cells before she’d allowed him to die.

And if I gave her reason, she would do the same to me. No.

She’d do worse. A lot worse.

I glanced at Lara, who was watching me with a much less inhuman but no less unreadable version of Mab’s feline expression. As the effective queen of the White Court, Lara was a card‑carrying monster. She was intelligent, driven, and dangerous as hell. Rumor was that she owned politicians coast to coast in the United States now, and that her ambition was driving her to reach even further. Lara was perfectly capable of asking me to do something beyond the pale of any functioning conscience.

But Lara was damned smart, too. She had to know that I had limits— that my compact with Mab hadn’t changed that.  If she told me to do something unconscionable, I was going to tell her where she could shove it.

Which would get me killed. Overkilled. Überkilled.

I looked back at Mab. Her face was blank granite, immovable.

Lara was a ruling peer under the Unseelie Accords, the Geneva Conventions of the supernatural world.  If I said no, if I defied Mab in front of her, I was pretty sure I would get the Prometheus treatment at the very least. But if I said yes, I could find myself in even more trouble. If I knew one thing about paying off favors that were part of a Faerie bargain, it was that they were never, ever simple.

I had nothing but lousy choices. So what else was new? “Fine,” I said. “Whatever.”

“Excellent,” Mab said. “Ms. Raith?”

Lara nodded, her large, luminous eyes never leaving my face. “Acceptable.”

“Then our business is concluded, for now,” Mab said.

There was a sudden surge of icy cold wind, so out of place in the summer evening that the windows of the car glazed over with misty condensation and I was forced to blink my eyes and shield them with  one hand.

When I could see again, Mab and Lara were gone, and I was alone in the Munstermobile.

“Drama queen,”  I muttered, and started rolling down the windows. A few minutes later, the glass was clear and I was on the road, muttering imprecations about the ruthless nature of Faerie Queens as I drove back to the apartment.

I heard the sirens a couple of blocks out. I nudged the accelerator as I came down the street toward the svartalf embassy, suddenly anxious.

I became a lot more anxious when I saw the haze of smoke in the air—and when I saw the fire department’s emergency vehicles deploying onto the grounds, anxiety blossomed into pure panic.

Flames leapt forty feet into the air above the compound as the building burned.

The embassy was on fire—and my daughter was inside.

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