We try to avoid posting more than once a week out of respect for your inboxes, but this time, we have to make an exception. Part 2 of this week’s Dresden Drop: Entertainment Weekly has revealed the cover for Peace Talks, as well as an EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT from the book!
Now that the exclusivity period is over, we can share both below…
And that was when every hair on my neck suddenly rose and stood on end, all the way down to my heels. Gooseflesh erupted over my entire body at once, and a primal, primeval wave of utter terror flickered through my lizard brain, utterly dislodging every rational thought in my head.
For a wizard, that’s . . . less than ideal. Control of our own thoughts and emotions is vital. Otherwise, all kinds of horrible things can happen. The first lesson every practitioner learns is how to quiet and focus his or her mind. And in the face of that mindless fear, I ran to that first lesson, allowing emotions to slough away, seeking calm, patience, balance.
I didn’t get any of those. But it was enough to let me shove the terror back and to start processing some degree of rational thought.
That hadn’t been the result of some random eddy of energy. Terror that focused was nothing less than a psychic disruption, a mental attack, the psychic equivalent of an ear-piercing shriek, loud enough to burst eardrums—and whatever had done it wasn’t even in sight yet.
In the sleeping city around me, hundreds or thousands of people had just been seized in the talons of nightmares of pursuit and mindless fear. Those who were awake and didn’t know what they were dealing with would interpret it as a brief, frightening hallucination or a migraine or simply a dizzy spell.
The old man had recovered faster than me, and by the time I’d cleared my head, he was already staring out at the night, his jaw set.
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked him, my voice shaking.
“Outsiders,” he confirmed grimly. “Someone just whistled them in.”
“Super,” I said. “Just once, I’d like to be wrong about these things.”
The old man snorted. “Now, if you were an Outsider, what would you be doing in Chicago the night before a big peace conference?”
The question was almost meaningless. Outsiders were creatures from beyond the borders of reality, from outside of our universe. They weren’t human. They weren’t anything close to human. They were hideous, and they were dangerous, and they . . . were just too alien to be understood. There are Outsiders who want to eat your face off, and then there are the rest of them, who don’t go in for that kind of namby-pamby cuddly stuff.
Demons they might be. But demons summoned by mortals, the only way for them to get into our reality. They always have a mortal purpose, if not always a rational one.
“Trying to interfere with it in some way,” I suggested. “If a senior member of the Council was torn apart by monsters, it would tend to tilt blame toward the Fomor.”
“Definitely a poor way to begin negotiations,” Ebenezar agreed. “And I don’t think that we—”
He suddenly froze and stared.
I followed his gaze.
In a corner of the alley, where one of the building’s cornices formed a shadowy alcove, blue lines of light had appeared at the intersection of the ground and the two walls.
“Oh, Hell’s Bells,” I breathed. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Belike,” growled the old man, his eyes shifting around. “How well do you know this block?”
“It’s Chicago,” I said.
“Good. We need a place without people or much that can catch fire.”
I eyed him and said, “It’s Chicago.”
The light in the corner shifted weirdly, warped, spun into curlicues and spirals that should only have existed in Escher drawings. The stone of the building twisted and stretched, and then rock rippled and bubbled like pancake batter, and something started hauling itself out of the surface of the stone at the intersection of the three lines of light. My chest suddenly vibrated as if I’d been standing in a pool in front of an outflow pipe, and a surge of nausea nearly knocked me down.
The thing that slithered into our world was the size of a horse, but lower, longer, and leaner. It was canine in shape, generally—a quadruped, the legs more or less right, and everything else subtly wrong. A row of short, powerful-looking tentacles ran along its flanks. A longer, thicker tentacle lashed like a whip where its tail should have been. The feet were spread out, wide, for grasping, kind of like an eagle’s talons, and where its head should have been was nothing but a thick nest of more of the tendrils. It had something like scales made of mucus, rather than fur, and flesh squelched on flesh.
“Cornerhound,” Ebenezar said, his voice purely disgusted. “Damned things.”
The old man looked weary and obdurate, like a stone that had been resisting the sea since the last ice age. His expression was annoyed.
But then I noticed one of the more terrifying sights I’d seen in my life.
Ebenezar McCoy’s hands were unsteady.
The end of his staff quivered as they trembled.
My mentor, my teacher, the most feared wizard on the planet, was frightened.
He stepped between the hound and me and lifted his left hand as the thing stood there for a second, dripping slime onto the ground beneath it and seething. Dozens of little mouths lined with serrated teeth opened along its flanks, gasping at the thick summer air as though it was something that the creature found only partially breathable.
Then the cornerhound crouched, its body turning toward us with serpentine fluidity. The cluster of tentacles around its head began to quiver and undulate in weird unison, the motion becoming more and more energetic, and a weird moaning sound erupted from the creature, descending swiftly down the scale of audible sound until the tentacles all undulated together in a single quivering movement, and suddenly flew forward at the same instant, with a sound so deep I could feel it more than hear it.
The old man lifted his hand with a single sharp word, and a wall of pure arcane power blazed into light between us…
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