Paranormal investigations are Harry Dresden’s business and Chicago is his beat, as he tries to bring law and order to a world of wizards and monsters that exists alongside everyday life. And though most inhabitants of the Windy City don’t believe in magic, the Special Investigations Department of the Chicago PD knows better.
Karrin Murphy is the head of S. I. and Harry’s good friend. So when a killer vampire threatens to destroy Murphy’s reputation unless Harry does her bidding, he has no choice. The vampire wants the Word of Kemmler (whatever that is) and all the power that comes with it. Now, Harry is in a race against time—and six merciless necromancers—to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead...
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Praise for The Dresden Files
“What’s not to like about this series?…I would, could, have, and will continue to recommend [it] for as long as my breath holds out. It takes the best elements of urban fantasy, mixes it with some good old-fashioned noir mystery, tosses in a dash of romance and a lot of high-octane action, shakes, stirs, and serves.”
“Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series has consistently been one of the most enjoyable marriages of the fantasy and mystery genres on the shelves…a great series—fast-paced, vividly realized and with a hero/narrator who’s excellent company.”
“Butcher’s latest maintains the momentum of previous Dresden outings and builds the suspense right up to a rousing conclusion.”
“Horror fans with a sense of humor will be pleased.”
“A mix of the supernatural and bounding adventure…. A fun-loaded series.”
“Filled with sizzling magic and intrigue as well as important developments for Harry, the latest of his adventures will have fans rapidly turning the pages.”
“Butcher maintains a breakneck pace in Harry’s exciting fifth adventure. This imaginative series continues to surprise and delight with its inventiveness and sympathetic hero.”
“Death Masks is his most assured book yet, a smooth melding of inventive story lines, dark supernatural themes, edge-of-your-seat adventure, strong characterizations, and irreverent humor…. The balance is perfect.”
“Intense and wild, Death Masks is another roller-coaster ride from Jim Butcher, a skillful blend of urban fantasy and noir, sure to satisfy any fan and leave them begging for more.”
—The Green Man Review
“As usual in Butcher’s books, the action begins on page one and moves rapidly from there…an excellent, and in my opinion powerful, chapter in the Dresden case files.”
—The Best Reviews
“Butcher is definitely among the best. Summer Knight starts with a bang and doesn’t let up…. A very good detective series…. Fans of any kind of fiction can enjoy Butcher’s fun and fast-paced style…. I can’t wait until Harry Dresden is on the case again.”
—The News-Star (Monroe, LA)
“A haunting, fantastical novel that begins almost as innocently as those of another famous literary wizard named Harry.”
“Harry is a likable protagonist with more than his share of troubles, and Grave Peril will keep readers turning the pages to find out how he overcomes them.”
“A great supernatural who-done-it…. Few horror, fantasy, or mystery tales get any better than this wonderful plot that smoothly combines all three genres into one novel.”
“It’s even more entertaining…than the first in the series, good fun for fans of dark fantasy mystery.”
“Storm Front was one of the most enjoyable books I read last year, and Fool Moon is even better. Butcher keeps the thrills coming, with plenty of mystery, suspense, and edge-of-your-seat action.”
“A fast-paced, fascinating noir thriller.”
“A really enjoyable read…. Jim Butcher strikes just the right narrative balance between wizard and wise guy, mystic and mobster.”
—Lynn Flewelling, author of Traitor’s Moon
“A very promising start to a new series, not to mention an unusually well-crafted first novel.”
“Interesting characters, tight plotting, and fresh, breezy writing…an auspicious start to an engaging new series.”
“Butcher deftly blends the fantasy and detective genres in this entertaining yarn.”
—Publishers Weekly (review of the audio edition)
“Required summer reading for anyone who likes a few laughs.”
—The Reporter (Vacaville, CA)
“Wish I’d thought of this myself. Try it. You’ll like it.”
—Glen Cook, author of Whispering Nickel Idols
“Exciting, well-plotted, complex, an excellent read…amazingly good.”
—Chris Bunch, author of Dragonmaster
A NOVEL OF THE DRESDEN FILES
A ROC BOOK
I owe another round of thanks to the usual suspects: The inmates of the Beta Foo Asylum, both long-term and recent arrivals. The Dresden Files’ new editor, the warm and gracious Anne Sowards—are you sure you actually live in NYC, Anne? My agent, Jennifer Jackson, who has been doing ten kinds of running around getting various deals put together, and for whom I am most grateful.
More thanks to my family for their continuing support and love. To Shannon for being who she is, and whose good opinion I would work ten…well, wait, no, maybe three times as hard to keep—okay, okay, five, tops. (Ten would be more hours than exist, babe, and besides, when could I play Halo?) Also thanks to my son JJ, whose boundless energy, enthusiasm, and love are wonderfully intimidating.
Oh, and also for my ferocious furry bodyguard, Frost, who supports my career by frightening away any bad guys long before they get near enough to actually bother me, and by helping me eat any potentially distracting snacks.
On the whole, we’re a murderous race.
According to Genesis, it took as few as four people to make the planet too crowded to stand, and the first murder was a fratricide. Genesis says that in a fit of jealous rage, the very first child born to mortal parents, Cain, snapped and popped the first metaphorical cap in another human being. The attack was a bloody, brutal, violent, reprehensible killing. Cain’s brother Abel probably never saw it coming.
As I opened the door to my apartment, I was filled with a sense of empathic sympathy and intuitive understanding.
For freaking Cain.
My apartment isn’t much more than a big room in the basement of a century-old wooden boardinghouse in Chicago. There’s a kitchen built into an alcove, a big fireplace almost always lit, a bedroom the size of the bed of a pickup truck, and a bathroom that barely fits a sink, toilet, and shower. I can’t afford really good furniture, so it’s all secondhand, but comfortable. I have a lot of books on shelves, a lot of rugs, a lot of candles. It isn’t much, but at least it’s clean.
Or used to be.
The rugs were in total disarray, exposing bare patches of stone floor. One of the easy chairs had fallen over onto its back, and no one had picked it up. Cushions were missing from the couch, and the curtains had been torn down from one of the sunken windows, letting in a swath of late-afternoon sunshine, all the better to illuminate the books that had been knocked down from one of my shelves and scattered everywhere, bending paperback covers, leaving hardbacks all the way open, and generally messing up my primary source of idle entertainment.
The fireplace was more or less the epicenter of the slobquake. There were discarded clothes there, a couple of empty wine bottles, and a plate that looked suspiciously clean—doubtless the cleanup work of the other residents.
I took a stunned step into my home. As I did my big grey tom, Mister, bounded down from his place on top of one of the bookshelves, but rather than give me his usual shoulder-block of greeting, he flicked his tail disdainfully at me and ghosted out the front door.
I sighed, walked over to the kitchen alcove, and checked. The cat’s bowls of food and water were both empty. No wonder he was grumpy.
A shaggy section of the kitchen floor hauled itself to its feet and came to meet me with a sheepish, sleepy shuffle. My dog, Mouse, had started off as a fuzzy little grey puppy that fit into my coat pocket. Now, almost a year later, I sometimes wished I’d sent my coat to the cleaners or something. Mouse had gone from fuzz ball to fuzz barge. You couldn’t guess at a breed to look at him, but at least one of his parents must have been a wooly mammoth. The dog’s shoulders came nearly to my waist, and the vet didn’t think he was finished growing yet. That translated into an awful lot of beast for my tiny apartment.
Oh, and Mouse’s bowls were empty, too. He nuzzled my hand, his muzzle stained with what looked suspiciously like spaghetti sauce, and then pawed at his bowls, scraping them over the patch of linoleum floor.
“Dammit, Mouse,” I growled, Cain-like. “It’s still like this? If he’s here, I’m going to kill him.”
Mouse let out a chuffing breath that was about as much commentary as he ever made, and followed placidly a couple of steps behind me as I walked over to the closed bedroom door.
Just as I got there, the door opened, and an angel-faced blonde wearing nothing but a cotton T-shirt appeared in it. Not a long shirt, either. It didn’t cover all of her rib cage.
“Oh,” she drawled, with a slow and sleepy smile. “Excuse me. I didn’t know anyone else was here.” Without a trace of modesty, she slunk into the living room, pawing through the mess near the fireplace, extracting pieces of clothing. From the languid, satisfied way she moved, I figured she expected me to be staring at her, and that she didn’t mind it at all.
At one time I would have been embarrassed as hell by this kind of thing, and probably sneaking covert glances. But after living with my half brother the incubus for most of a year, I mostly found it annoying. I rolled my eyes and asked, “Thomas?”
“Tommy? Shower, I think,” the girl said. She slipped into jogging wear—sweatpants, a matching jacket, expensive shoes. “Do me a favor? Tell him that it—”
I interrupted her in an impatient voice. “That it was a lot of fun, you’ll always treasure it, but that it was a onetime thing and that you hope he grows up to find a nice girl or be president or something.”
She stared at me and then knitted her blond brows into a frown. “You don’t have to be such a bast—” Then her eyes widened. “Oh. Oh! I’m sorry—oh, my God.” She leaned toward me, blushing, and said in a between-us-girls whisper, “I would never have guessed that he was with a man. How do the two of you manage on that tiny bed?”
I blinked and said, “Now wait a minute.”
But she ignored me and walked out, murmuring, “He is such a naughty boy.”
I glared at her back. Then I glared at Mouse.
Mouse’s tongue lolled out in a doggy grin, his dark tail waving gently.
“Oh, shut up,” I told him, and closed the door. I heard the whisper of water running through the pipes in my shower. I put out food for Mister and Mouse, and the dog partook immediately. “He could have fed the damned dog, at least,” I muttered, and opened the fridge.
I rummaged through it, but couldn’t find what I was after anywhere, and it was the last straw. My frustration grew into a fire somewhere inside my eyeballs, and I straightened from the icebox with mayhem in mind.
“Hey,” came Thomas’s voice from behind me. “We’re out of beer.”
I turned around and glared at my half brother.
Thomas was a shade over six feet tall, and I guess now that I’d had time to get used to the idea, he looked something like me: stark cheekbones, a long face, a strong jaw. But whatever sculptor had done the finishing work on Thomas had foisted my features off on his apprentice or something. I’m not ugly or anything, but Thomas looked like someone’s painting of the forgotten Greek god of body cologne. He had long hair so dark that light itself could not escape it, and even fresh from the shower it was starting to curl. His eyes were the color of thunderclouds, and he never did a single moment of exercise to earn the gratuitous amount of ripple in his musculature. He was wearing jeans and no shirt—his standard household uniform. I once saw him in the same outfit answer the door to speak to a female missionary, and she’d assaulted him in a cloud of forgotten copies of The Watchtower. The tooth marks she left had been interesting.
It hadn’t been the girl’s fault, entirely. Thomas had inherited his father’s blood as a vampire of the White Court. He was a psychic predator, feeding on the raw life force of human beings—usually easiest to gain through the intimate contact of sex. That part of him surrounded him in the kind of aura that turned heads wherever he went. When Thomas made the effort to turn up the supernatural come-hither, women literally couldn’t tell him no. By the time he started feeding, they couldn’t even want to tell him no. He was killing them, just a little bit, but he had to do it to stay sane, and he never took it any further than a single feeding.
He could have. Those the White Court chose as their prey became ensnared in the ecstasy of being fed upon, and became increasingly enslaved by their vampire lover. But Thomas never pushed it that far. He’d made that mistake once, and the woman he had loved now drifted through life in a wheelchair, bound in a deathly euphoria because of his touch.
I clenched my teeth and reminded myself that it wasn’t easy for Thomas. Then I told myself that I was repeating myself way too many times and to shut up. “I know there’s no beer,” I growled. “Or milk. Or Coke.”
“Um,” he said.
“And I see that you didn’t have time to feed Mister and Mouse. Did you take Mouse outside, at least?”
“Well sure,” he said. “I mean, uh…I took him out this morning when you were leaving for work, remember? That’s where I met Angie.”
“Another jogger,” I said, once more Cain-like. “You told me you weren’t going to keep bringing strangers back here, Thomas. And on my freaking bed? Hell’s bells, man, look at this place.”
He did, and I saw it dawn on him, as if he literally hadn’t seen it before. He let out a groan. “Damn. Harry, I’m sorry. It was…Angie is a really…really intense and, uh, athletic person and I didn’t realize that…” He paused and picked up a copy of Dean Koontz’s Watchers. He tried to fold the crease out of the cover. “Wow,” he added lamely. “The place is sort of trashed.”
“Yeah,” I told him. “You were here all day. You said you’d take Mouse to the vet. And clean up a little. And get groceries.”
“Oh, come on,” he said. “What’s the big deal?”
“I don’t have a beer,” I growled. I looked around at the rubble. “And I got a call from Murphy at work today. She said she’d be dropping by.”
Thomas lifted his eyebrows. “Oh, yeah? No offense, Harry, but I’m doubting it was a booty call.”
I glared. “Would you stop it with that already?”
“I’m telling you, you should just ask her out and get it over with. She’d say yes.”
I slammed the door to the icebox. “It isn’t like that,” I said.
“Yeah, okay,” Thomas said mildly.
“It isn’t. We work together. We’re friends. That’s all.”
“Right,” he agreed.
“I am not interested in dating Murphy,” I said. “And she’s not interested in me.”
“Sure, sure. I hear you.” He rolled his eyes and started picking up fallen books. “Which is why you want the place looking nice. So your business friend won’t mind staying around for a little bit.”
I gritted my teeth and said, “Stars and stones, Thomas, I’m not asking you for the freaking moon. I’m not asking you for rent. It wouldn’t kill you to pitch in a little with errands before you go to work.”
“Yeah,” Thomas said, running his hand through his hair. “Um. About that.”
“What about it?” I demanded. He was supposed to be gone for the afternoon so that my housecleaning service could come in. The faeries wouldn’t show up to clean when someone could see them, and they wouldn’t show up ever again if I told someone about them. Don’t ask me why they’re like that. Maybe they’ve got a really strict union or something.
Thomas shrugged a shoulder and sat down on the arm of the couch, not looking at me. “I didn’t have the cash for the vet or the groceries,” he said. “I got fired again.”
I stared at him for a second, and tried to keep up a good head of steam on my anger, but it melted. I recognized the frustration and humiliation in his voice. He wasn’t faking it.
“Dammit,” I muttered, only partly to Thomas. “What happened?”
“The usual,” he said. “The drive-through manager. She followed me into the walk-in freezer and started ripping her clothes off. The owner walked through on an inspection about then and fired me on the spot. From the look he was giving her, I think she was going to get a promotion. I hate gender discrimination.”
“At least it was a woman this time,” I said. “We’ve got to keep working on your control.”
His voice turned bitter. “Half of my soul is a demon,” he said. “It can’t be controlled. It’s impossible.”
“I don’t buy that,” I said.
“Just because you’re a wizard doesn’t mean you know a damned thing about it,” he said. “I can’t live a mortal life. I’m not made for it.”
“You’re doing fine.”
“Fine?” he demanded, voice rising. “I can disintegrate a virgin’s inhibitions at fifty paces, but I can’t last two weeks at a job where I’m wearing a stupid hairnet and a paper hat. In what way is that fine?”
He slammed open the small trunk where he kept his clothes, seized a pair of shoes and his leather jacket, put them on with angry precision, and stalked out into the gathering evening without looking back.
And without cleaning up his mess, I thought uncharitably. Then I shook my head and glanced at Mouse, who had lain down with his chin on his paws, doggy eyes sad.
Thomas was the only family I’d ever known. But that didn’t change the truth: Thomas wasn’t adjusting well to living life like normal folks. He was damned good at being a vampire. That came naturally. But no matter how hard he tried to be something a little more like normal, he kept running into one problem after another. He never said anything about it, but I could sense the pain and despair growing in him as the weeks went by.
Mouse let out a quiet breath that wasn’t quite a whine.
“I know,” I told the beast. “I worry about him too.”
I took Mouse on a long walk, and got back in as late-October dusk was settling over Chicago. I got my mail out of the box and started for the stairs down to my apartment, when a car pulled in to the boardinghouse’s small gravel lot and crunched to a stop a few steps away. A petite blonde in jeans, a blue button-down shirt, and a satin White Sox windbreaker slipped the car into park and left the engine running as she got out.
Karrin Murphy looked like anything but the head of a division of law enforcement in charge of dealing with everything that went bump in the night in the whole greater Chicago area. When trolls started mugging passersby, when vampires left their victims dead or dying in the streets, or when someone with more magical fire-power than conscience went berserk, Chicago PD’s Special Investigations department was tasked to investigate. Of course, no one seriously believed in trolls or vampires or evil sorcerers, but when something weird happened, SI was in charge of explaining to everyone how it had been only a man in a rubber mask, and that there was nothing to worry about.
SI had a sucky job, but the men and women who worked there weren’t stupid. They were perfectly aware that there were things out there in the darkness that were beyond the scope of conventional understanding. Murphy, in particular, was determined to give the cops every edge they could get when dealing with a preternatural threat, and I was one of her best weapons. She would hire me on as a consultant when SI went up against something really dangerous or alien, and the fees I got working with SI paid the lion’s share of my expenses.
When Mouse saw Murphy, he made a little huffing sound of greeting and trotted over to her, his tail wagging. If I had leaned back and kept my legs straight I could have gone skiing over the gravel, but other than that, the big dog left me with no option but to come along.
Murphy knelt down at once to dig her hands into the fur behind Mouse’s floppy ears, scratching vigorously. “Hey, there, boy,” she said, smiling. “How are you?”
Mouse slobbered several doggy kisses onto her hands.
Murphy said, “Yuck,” but she was laughing while she did. She pushed Mouse’s muzzle gently away, rising. “Evening, Harry. Glad I caught you.”
“I was just getting back from my evening drag,” I said. “You want to come in?”
Murphy had a cute face and very blue eyes. Her golden hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and it made her look a lot younger than usual. Her expression was a careful, maybe even uncomfortable one. “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” she said. “I’ve got a plane to catch. I don’t really have time.”
“Ah,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I’m going out of town for a few days,” she said. “I should be back sometime Monday afternoon. I was hoping I could talk you into watering my plants for me.”
“Oh,” I said. She wanted me to water her plants. How coy. How sexy. “Yeah, sure. I can do that.”
“Thanks,” she said, and offered me a key on a single steel ring. “It’s the back-door key.”
I accepted it. “Where you headed?”
The discomfort in her expression deepened. “Oh, out of town on a little vacation.”
“I haven’t had a vacation in years,” she said defensively. “I’ve got it coming.”
“Well. Sure,” I said. “Um. So, a vacation. By yourself?”
She shrugged a shoulder. “Well. That’s sort of the other thing I wanted to talk to you about. I’m not expecting any trouble, but I wanted you to know where I was and with who in case I don’t show up on time.”
“Right, right,” I said. “Doesn’t hurt to be careful.”
She nodded. “I’m going to Hawaii with Kincaid.”
I blinked some more.
“Um,” I said. “You mean on a job, right?”
She shifted her weight from one hip to the other. “No. We’ve gone out a few times. It’s nothing serious.”
“Murphy,” I protested. “Are you insane? That guy is major bad news.”
She glowered at me. “We’ve had this discussion before. I’m a grown-up, Dresden.”
“I know,” I said. “But this guy is a mercenary. A killer. He’s not even completely human. You can’t trust him.”
“You did,” she pointed out. “Last year against Mavra and her scourge.”
I scowled. “That was different.”
“Oh?” she asked.
“Yeah. I was paying him to kill things. I wasn’t taking him to b—uh, to the beach.”
Murphy arched an eyebrow at me.
“You won’t be safe around him,” I said.
“I’m not doing it to be safe,” she replied. Her cheeks colored a little. “That’s sort of the point.”
“You shouldn’t go,” I said.
She looked up at me for a moment, frowning.
Then she asked, “Why?”
“Because I don’t want to see you get hurt,” I said. “And because you deserve someone better than he is.”
She studied my face for a moment more and then exhaled through her nose. “I’m not running off to Vegas to get married, Dresden. I work all the time, and life is going right by me. I just want to take the time to live it a little before it’s too late.” She pulled a folded index card out of her pocket. “This is the hotel I’ll be at. If you need to get in touch or anything.”
I took the folded index card, still frowning, and full of the intuition that I had missed something. Her fingers brushed mine, but I couldn’t feel it through the glove and all the scars. “You sure you’ll be all right?”
She nodded. “I’m a big girl, Harry. I’m the one choosing where we’re going. He doesn’t know where. I figured he couldn’t set anything up ahead of time, if he had any funny business in mind.” She made a vague gesture toward the gun she carried in a shoulder holster under her jacket. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”
“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t even try to smile at her. “For the record, this is stupid, Murph. I hope you don’t get killed.”
Her blue eyes flashed, and she frowned. “I was sort of hoping you’d say something like, ‘Have a good time.’”
“Yeah,” I said. “Whatever. Have fun. Leave me a message when you get there?”
“Yes,” she said. “Thanks for looking out for my plants.”
“No problem,” I said.
She nodded at me, and lingered there for a second more. Then she scratched Mouse behind the ears again, got in her car, and drove off.
I watched her go, feeling worried.
Really, really jealous.
Was Thomas right after all?
Mouse made a whining sound and pawed at my leg. I sighed, stuck the hotel information in a pocket, and led the dog back to the apartment.
When I opened my door, my nose was assaulted with the scent of fresh pine—not pine cleaner, mind you. Real fresh pine, and nary a needle in sight. The faeries had come and gone, and the books were back on the shelves, the floor scrubbed, curtains repaired, dishes done, you name it. They may have weird bylaws, but faerie housecleaning runs a tight ship.
I lit candles with matches from a box I had sitting on my coffee table. As a wizard, I don’t get on so well with newfangled things like electricity and computers, so I didn’t bother to try to keep electric service up and running in my home. My icebox is a vintage model run on actual ice. There’s no water heater, and I do all my cooking on a little wood-burning stove. I fired it up and heated some soup, which was about the only thing left in the house. I sat down to eat it and started going through my mail.
The usual. The marketing savants at Best Buy continued in their unabated efforts to sell me the latest laptop, cell phone, or plasma television despite my repeated verbal and written assurances that I didn’t have electricity and that they shouldn’t bother. My auto-insurance bill had arrived early. Two checks came, the first a token fee from Chicago PD for consulting with Murphy on a smuggling case for an hour the previous month. The second was a much meatier check from a coin collector who had lost a case of cash from dead nations over the side of his yacht in Lake Michigan and resorted to trying out the only wizard in the phone book to locate them.
The last envelope was a big yellow manila number, and I felt a nauseating little ripple flutter through my guts the second I saw the handwriting on it. It was written in soulless letters as neat as a kindergarten classroom poster and as uninflected as an English professor’s lecture notes.
There was no rational reason for it, but that handwriting scared me. I wasn’t sure what had triggered my instincts, unless it was the singular lack of anything remarkable or imperfect about it. For a second I thought I had gotten upset for no reason, that it was a simple printed font, but there was a flourish on the last letter of “Dresden” that didn’t match the other Ns. The flourish looked perfect, too, and deliberate. It was there to let me know that this was inhuman handwriting, not some laser printer from Wal-Mart.
I laid the envelope flat on my coffee table and stared at it. It was thin, undeformed by its contents, which meant that it was holding a few sheets of paper at the most. That meant that it wasn’t a bomb. Well, more accurately, it wasn’t a high-tech bomb, which was a fairly useless weapon to use against a wizard. A low-tech explosive setup could have worked just fine, but they wouldn’t be that small.
Of course, that left mystical means of attack. I lifted my left hand toward the envelope, reaching out with my wizard’s senses, but I couldn’t get them focused. With a grimace I peeled the leather driving glove off of my left hand, revealing my scarred and ruined fingers. I’d burned my hand so badly a year before that the doctors I’d seen had mostly recommended amputation. I hadn’t let them take my hand, mostly for the same reason I still drove the same junky old VW Beetle—because it was mine, by thunder.
But my fingers were pretty horrible to look at, as was the rest of my left hand. I didn’t have much movement in them anymore, but I spread them as best I could and reached out to feel the energies of magic moving around the envelope once more.
I might as well have kept the glove on. There was nothing odd about the envelope. No magical booby traps.
Right, then. No more delays. I picked up the envelope in my weak left hand and tore it open, then upended the contents onto the coffee table.
There were three things in the envelope.
The first was an eight-by-ten color photo, and it was a shot of Karrin Murphy, director of Chicago PD’s Special Investigations division. She wasn’t in uniform, though, or even in business attire. Instead she was wearing a Red Cross jacket and baseball hat, and she was holding a sawed-off shotgun, an illegal model, in her hands. It was belching flame. In the picture you could also see a man standing a few feet away, covered in blood from the waist down. A long, black steel shaft protruded from his chest, as if he’d been impaled on it. His upper body and head were a blur of dark lines and red blobs. The shotgun was pointing right at the blur.
The second was another picture. This one was of Murphy with her hat off, standing over the man’s corpse, and I was in the frame with her, my face in profile. The man had been a Renfield, a psychotically violent creature that was human only in the most technical sense—but then the camera shot of his murder was a most technical witness.
Murphy and I and a mercenary named Kincaid had gone after a nest of vampires of the Black Court led by a deadly vampire named Mavra. Her minions had objected pretty strenuously. I’d gotten my hand badly burned when Mavra herself took the field against us, and I had been lucky to get away that lightly. In the end, we’d rescued hostages, dismembered some vampires, and killed Mavra. Or at least, we’d killed someone we were meant to think was Mavra. In retrospect, it seemed odd that a vampire known for being able to render herself all but undetectable had lurched out at us from the smoke and ash of her ruined stronghold to be beheaded. But I’d had a full day and I had been ready to take it on faith.
We tried to be as careful as we could during the attack. As a result, we saved some lives we might not have if we’d gone in hell-for-leather, but that Renfield had come damn close to taking my head off. Murphy killed him for it. And she’d been photographed doing it.
I stared at the photos.
The pictures were from different angles. That meant that someone else had been in the room taking them.
Someone we hadn’t even seen.
The third item that fell to the coffee table was a piece of typewriter paper, covered in the same handwriting as the address on the envelope. It read:
I desire a meeting with you, and offer a truce for the duration, bound by my word of honor to be upheld. Meet with me at seven p.m. tonight at your grave in Graceland Cemetery, in order to help me avoid taking actions that would be unfortunate to you and your ally in the police.
The final third of the letter had a lock of golden hair taped to it. I held the picture up next to the letter.
The hair was Murphy’s.
Mavra had her number. With pictures of her committing a felony (and with me aiding and abetting, no less), Mavra could have her out of the cops and behind bars in hours. But even worse was the lock of hair. Mavra was a skilled sorceress, and might have been as strong as a full-fledged wizard. With a lock of Murphy’s hair, she could do virtually anything she pleased to Murph, and there wouldn’t be squat anyone could do about it. Mavra could kill her. Mavra could worse than kill her.
It didn’t take me long to make up my mind. In supernatural circles, a pledge of truce based upon a word of honor was an institution—especially among the old-world types like Mavra. If she was offering a truce so that we could talk, she meant it. She wanted to deal.
I stared down at the pictures.
She wanted to deal, and she was going to be negotiating from a position of strength. It meant blackmail.
And if I didn’t play along, Murphy was as good as dead.
The dog and I went to my grave.
Graceland Cemetery is famous. You can look it up in just about any Chicago tour book—or God knows, probably on the Internet. It’s the largest cemetery in town, and one of the oldest. There are walls, substantial ones, all the way around, and it has far more than its share of ghost stories and attendant shades. The graves inside range from simple plots with simple headstones to life-sized replicas of Greek temples, Egyptian obelisks, mammoth statues—even a pyramid. It’s the Las Vegas of boneyards, and my grave is in it.
The cemetery isn’t open after dark. Most aren’t, and there’s a reason for it. Everybody knows the reason, and nobody talks about it. It isn’t because there are dead people in there. It’s because there are not-quite-dead people in there. Ghosts and shadows linger in graveyards more than anywhere else, especially in the older cities of the country, where the oldest, biggest cemeteries are right there in the middle of town. That’s why people build walls around graveyards, even if they’re only two feet high—not to keep people out, but to keep other things in. Walls can have a kind of power in the spirit world, and the walls around graveyards are almost always filled with the unspoken intent of keeping the living and the unliving seated at different sections of the community dinner table.
The gates were locked, and there was an attendant in a small building too solid to be called a shack, and too small to be called anything else. But I’d been there a few times, and I knew several ways to get in and out after dark if need be. There was a portion of the fence in the northeast corner where a road construction crew just outside had left a large mound of gravel, and it sloped far enough up the wall that even a man with one good hand and a large and ungainly dog could reach the top.
We went in, Mouse and I. Mouse might have been large, but he was barely more than a puppy, and he still had paws that looked too big for his lean frame. The dog had been built on the scale of those statues outside Chinese restaurants, though—broad chested and powerful, with that same mountainous strength built into his muzzle. His coat was a dark and almost uniform grey, marked on the tips of his fuzzy ears, his tail, and his lower legs with solid black. He looked a little gangly and clumsy now, but after a few more months of adding on muscle, he was going to be a real monster. And damned if I minded the company of my own personal monster going to meet a vampire over my grave.
I found it not far from a rather famous grave of a little girl named Inez, who had died a century before. The little girl’s grave had a statue mounted on it. I’d seen it often, and it looked mostly like Carroll’s original Alice—a cherub in a prim and proper Victorian dress. Supposedly the child’s ghost would occasionally animate the statue and run and play among the graves and the neighborhoods near the graveyard. I’d never seen her, myself.
But, hey. The statue was missing.
My grave is one of the more humble ones there. It’s standing open, too—the vampire noble who bought it for me had set it up to be that way. She’d gotten me a coffin on permanent standby, too, sort of like the president gets Air Force One, only a little more morbid. Dead Force One.
My headstone is simple white marble, a vertical stone, but it’s engraved in bold letters inlaid with gold: HARRY DRESDEN. Then a gold-inlaid pentacle, a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle—the symbol of the forces of magic contained within mortal will. Underneath it are more letters: HE DIED DOING THE RIGHT THING.
It’s a sobering sort of place to visit.
I mean, we’re all going to die. We know that on an intellectual level. We figure it out sometime when we’re still fairly young, and it scares us so badly that we convince ourselves we’re immortal for more than a decade afterward.
Death isn’t something anyone likes to think about, but the fact is that you can’t get out of it. No matter what you do, how much you exercise, how religiously you diet, or meditate, or pray, or how much money you donate to your church, there is a single hard, cold fact that faces everyone on earth: One day it’s going to be over. One day the sun will rise, the world will turn, people will go about their daily routines—only you won’t be in it. You’ll be still. And cold.
And despite every religious faith, the testimony of near-death eyewitnesses, and the imaginations of storytellers throughout history, death remains the ultimate mystery. No one truly, definitively knows what happens after. And that’s assuming there is an after. We all go there blind to whatever is out there in the darkness beyond.
You can’t escape it.
That’s a bitter, hideously concrete fact to endure—but believe me, you get it in a whole new range of color and texture when you face it standing over your own open grave.
I stood there among silent headstones and memorials both sober and outrageous, and the late-October moon shone down on me. It was too cold for crickets, but the sound of traffic, sirens, car alarms, overhead jets, and distant loud music, the pulse of Chicago, kept me company. Mist had risen off of Lake Michigan like it did a lot of nights, but tonight it had come on exceptionally thick, and tendrils of it drifted through the graves and around the stones. There was a silent, crackling tension in the air, a kind of muted energy that was common in late autumn. Halloween was almost here, and the borders between Chicago and the spirit world, the Never-never, were at their weakest. I could sense the restless shades of the graveyard, most of them too feeble ever to manifest to mortal eyes, stirring in the roiling mist, tasting the energy-laden air.
Mouse sat beside me, ears forward and alert, his gaze shifting regularly, eyes focused, his attention obvious enough to make me think that he could literally see the things I could only vaguely feel. But whatever was out there, it didn’t bother him. He sat beside me in silence, content to leave his head under my gloved hand.
I wore my long leather duster, its mantle falling almost to my elbows, along with black fatigue pants, a sweater, and old combat boots. I carried my wizard’s staff with me in my right hand, a length of solid oak hand-carved with flowing runes and sigils all up and down its length. My mother’s silver pentacle hung by a chain around my neck. My scarred flesh could barely feel the silver bracelet hung with tiny shields on my left wrist, but it was there. Several cloves of garlic tied together in a big lump lay in my duster’s pocket, and brushed against my leg when I shifted my weight. The group of odd items would have looked innocuous enough to the casual eye, but they amounted to a magical arsenal that had seen me through plenty of trouble.
Mavra had given me her word of honor, but I had plenty of other enemies who would love to take a shot at me. I wasn’t going to make myself an easy target. But standing around in the haunted graveyard in the dark started to make me nervous, fast.
“Come on,” I muttered after a few minutes. “What’s taking her so long?”
Mouse let out a growl so low and quiet that I barely heard it—but I could feel the dog’s sudden tension and wariness quivering up through my maimed hand, shaking my arm to the elbow.
I gripped my staff, checking all around me. Mouse was doing much the same, until his dark eyes started tracking something I couldn’t see. Whatever it was, judging from Mouse’s gaze, it was getting closer. Then there was a quiet, rushing sound and Mouse crouched, nose pointed at my open grave, his teeth bared.
I stepped closer to my grave. Patches of mist flowed down into it from the green grounds. I muttered under my breath, took off my amulet, and pushed some of my will into the five-pointed star, causing it to glow with a low blue light. I draped the amulet over the fingers of my left hand while I gripped the staff in my right, and peered down into the grave.
The mist inside it suddenly gathered, congealed, and flowed into the form of a withered corpse—that of a woman, emaciated and dried as though from years in the earth. The corpse wore a gown and kirtle, medieval style, the former green and the latter black. The fabric was simple cotton—modern manufacture, then, and not actual historic dress.
Mouse’s snarl bubbled up into a more audible rumbling snarl.
The corpse sat up, opened milk-white eyes, and focused on me. It lifted a hand, in which it held a white lily, and held it toward me. Then the corpse spoke in a voice that was all rasp and whisper. “Wizard Dresden. A flower for your grave.”
“Mavra,” I said. “You’re late.”
“There was a headwind,” the vampire answered. She flicked her wrist, and the lily arched up out of the grave and landed on my headstone. She followed it out with a similar, uncannily smooth motion that reminded me of a spider in its eerie grace. I noted that she wore a sword and a dagger on a weapons belt at her waist. They looked old and worn, and I was betting that they were not of modern make. She came to a halt and faced me from across my grave, her face turned very slightly away from the blue light of my amulet, her cataract eyes steady on Mouse. “You kept your hand? After those burns, I would have thought you would have amputated it.”
“It’s mine,” I said. “And it’s none of your business. And you’re wasting my time.”
The vampire’s corpse lips stretched into a smile. Flakes of dead flesh fell down from the corners of her mouth. Brittle hair like dried straw had mostly been broken off to the length of a finger, but here and there longer strands the color of bread mold brushed the shoulders of her dress. “You’re allowing your mortality to make you impatient, Dresden. Surely you want to take this opportunity to discuss your assault on my scourge?”
“No.” I slipped my amulet on again and rested my hand on Mouse’s head. “I’m not here to socialize. You’ve got dirt on Murphy and you want something from me. Let’s have it.”
Her laugh was full of cobwebs and sandpaper. “I forget how young you are until I see you,” she said. “Life is fleeting, Dresden. If you insist on keeping yours, you ought to enjoy it.”
“Funny thing is, trading insults with an egotistical superzombie just isn’t my idea of a good time,” I said. Mouse punctuated the sentence with another rumbling growl. I turned my shoulders from her, starting to turn away. “If that’s all you had in mind, I’m leaving.”
She laughed harder, and the sound of it spooked the hell out of me. Maybe it was the atmosphere, but something about it, the way that it simply lacked anything to do with the things that should motivate laughter…There was no warmth in it, no humanity, no kindness, no joy. It was like Mavra herself—it had the withered human shell, but underneath it all was something from a nightmare.
“Very well,” Mavra said. “We shall embrace brevity.”
I faced her again, wary. Something in her manner had changed, and it was setting off all my alarm bells.
“Find The Word of Kemmler,” she said. Then she turned, dark skirts flaring, one hand resting negligently upon her sword, and started to leave.
“Hey!” I choked. “That’s it?”
“That’s it,” she said without turning.
“Wait a minute!” I said.
“What the hell is The Word of Kemmler?”
“Leading to what?” I asked.
“And you want it.”
“And you want me to find it.”
“Yes. Alone. Tell no one of our agreement or what you are doing.”
I took in a slow breath. “What happens if I tell you to go to hell?”
Mavra silently lifted a single arm. There was a photo between two of her desiccated fingers, and even in the moonlight I could see that it was of Murphy.
“I’ll stop you,” I said. “And if I don’t, I’ll come after you. If you hurt her, I’ll kill you so hard your last ten victims will make miraculous recoveries.”
“I won’t have to touch her,” she said. “I’ll send the evidence to the police. The mortal authorities will prosecute her.”
“You can’t do that,” I said. “Wizards and vampires may be at war, but we leave the mortals out of it. Once you get mortal authorities involved, the Council will do it as well. And then the Reds. You could escalate matters into global chaos.”
“If I intended to employ the mortal authorities against you, perhaps,” Mavra said. “You are White Council.”
My stomach twisted with sudden, sickened understanding. I was a member of the White Council of Wizards, a solid citizen of the supernatural realms.
But Murphy wasn’t.
“The protector of the people,” Mavra all but purred. “The defender of the law will find herself a convicted murderer, and her only explanation would make her sound like a madwoman. She is prepared to die in battle, wizard. But I won’t merely kill her. I will unmake her. I will destroy the labor of her life and her heart.”
“You bitch,” I said.
“Of course.” She looked at me over her shoulder. “And unless you are prepared to unmake mortal civilization—or at least enough of it to impose your will upon it—there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
Fury exploded somewhere in my chest and rolled out through my body and thoughts in a red fire. Mouse rolled forward toward Mavra a step, shaking the mist around us with a rising growl, and I didn’t realize at first that he was following my lead. “Like hell there isn’t,” I snarled. “If I hadn’t agreed to a truce I would—”
Mavra’s corpse-yellow teeth appeared in a ghastly smile. “Kill me in my tracks, wizard, but it will do you no good. Unless I put a halt to it, the pictures and other evidence will be sent to the police. And I will do so only once I am satisfied with your retrieval of The Word of Kemmler. Find it. Bring it to me before three midnights hence, and I will turn over the evidence to you. You have my word.”
She dropped the photo of Murphy, and some kind of purple, nauseating light played over it for a second as it fell to the ground. There was the acrid smell of scorched chemicals.
When I looked back up at Mavra there was no one there.
I walked slowly over to the fallen photo, struggling to slap my anger aside quick enough to reach out with my supernatural senses. I didn’t feel any of Mavra’s presence anywhere near me, and over the next several seconds my dog’s growls died down to low, wary sounds of uncertainty—and then to silence. While I wasn’t quite certain of the all the details, Mouse wasn’t your average dog, and if Mouse didn’t sense lurking bad guys, it was because there weren’t any bad guys lurking.
The vampire was gone.
I picked up the photo. Murphy’s picture had been marred. The dark energy had left scorch marks in the shape of numbers over Murphy’s face. A phone number. Cute.
My righteous fury kept on fading, and I missed it. Once it was gone, there was going to be only sick worry and fear left in its place.
If I didn’t work for one of the worst of the bad guys I’ve ever dealt with, Murphy would get hung out to dry.
Said bad guy was after power—and was on a deadline to boot. If Mavra needed something that soon, it meant that some kind of power struggle was about to go down. And three midnights hence meant Halloween night. Aside from ruining my birthday, it meant that black magic was going to be brought into play sometime soon, and at this time of year that could mean only one thing.
I stood there in the boneyard, staring down at my grave, and started shivering. Partly from the cold.
I felt very alone.
Mouse exhaled a breath that was not quite a whimper of distress, and leaned against me.
“Come on, boy,” I told him. “Let’s get you home. No sense in more than one of us getting involved with this.”
I needed some answers.
Time to hit the lab.
Mouse and I returned to my apartment in the Blue Beetle, the beat-up old Volkswagen Bug that is my faithful steed. “Blue” is kind of a metaphorical description. The car has had various doors and panels replaced with white, yellow, red, and green. My mechanic, Mike, had managed to pound the hood more or less back into its original condition, which I’d bent out of shape while ramming a bad guy, but I hadn’t had the money to repaint, so now the car had primer grey added to its ensemble.
Mouse had been growing too quickly to be very graceful about getting out of the car. He filled up most of the backseat, and when climbing from there to the front and then out the driver’s-side door he reminded me of some footage I’ve seen of an elephant seal flopping through a New Zealand parking lot. He emerged happily enough, though, panting and waving his tail contentedly. Mouse liked going places in the car. That the place had happened to be a clandestine meeting in a freaking graveyard didn’t seem to spoil anything for him. It was all about the journey, not the destination. A very Zen soul, was Mouse.
Mister hadn’t come back yet, and neither had Thomas. I tried not to think too hard about that. Mister had been on his own when I found him, and he frequently went rambling. He could take care of himself. Thomas had managed to survive for all but the last several months of his life without me. He could take care of himself too.
I didn’t have to worry about either of them, right?
I disarmed my wards, the spells that protected my home from various supernatural intrusions, and slipped inside with Mouse. I built up the fire a bit, and the dog settled down in front of it with a pleased sigh. Then I ditched my coat, grabbed my thick old flannel robe and a Coke, and headed downstairs.
I live in a basement apartment, but a trapdoor underneath one of my rugs opens up on a folding wooden stair ladder that leads down to the subbasement and my lab. It’s cold down there, year-round, which is why I wear the heavy robe. It’s one more drop of romance sucked out of the wizarding mystique, but I stay comfortable.
“Bob,” I said as I climbed down into the pitch-dark lab. “Warm up the memory banks. I’ve got work to do.”
The first lights in the room to flicker on were the size and golden-orange color of candle flames. They shone out from the eye sockets of a skull, slowly growing brighter, until I could see the entire shelf the skull rested upon—a simple wooden board on the wall, covered in candles, romance novels, a number of small items, and the pale human skull.
“About time,” the skull mumbled. “It’s been weeks since you needed me.”
“’Tis the season,” I said. “Most of the Halloween jobs start looking the same after a few years. No need to consult you when I already know the answers I need.”
“If you were so smart,” Bob muttered, “you wouldn’t need me now.”
“That’s right,” I told him. I pulled a box of kitchen matches out of my robe’s pockets and began lighting candles. I started with a bunch of them on a metal table running down the center of the small room. “You’re a spirit of knowledge, whereas I am only human.”
“Right,” said Bob, drawing out the word. “Are you feeling all right, Harry?”
I continued on, lighting candles on the white wire shelves and workbenches on the three walls in a C shape around the long steel table. My shelves were still crowded with plastic dishes, lids, coffee cans, bags, boxes, tins, vials, flasks, and every other kind of small container you can imagine, filled with all kinds of substances as mundane as lint and as exotic as octopus ink. I had several hundred pounds’ worth of books and notebooks on the shelves, some arranged neatly and some stacked hastily where they’d been when last I left them. I hadn’t been down to the lab for a while, and I don’t allow the faeries access, so there was a little bit of dust over everything.
“Why do you ask?” I said.
“Well,” Bob said, his tone careful, “you’re complimenting me, which is never good. Plus lighting all of your candles with matches.”
“So?” I said.
“So you can light all the candles with that stupid little spell you made up,” Bob said. “And you keep dropping the box because of your burned hand. So it’s taken you seven matches now to keep lighting those candles.”
I fumbled and dropped the matchbox again from my stiff, gloved fingers.
“Eight,” he said.
I suppressed a growl, struck a fresh match, and did it too forcefully, snapping it.
“Nine,” Bob said.
“Shut up,” I told him.
“You got it, boss. I’m the best at shutting up.” I lit the last few candles, and Bob said, “So did you come down here to get my help when you start working on your new blasting rod?”
“No,” I said. “Bob, I’ve only got the one hand. I can’t carve it with one hand.”
“You could use a vise grip,” the skull suggested.
“I’m not ready,” I said. My maimed fingers burned and throbbed. “I’m just…not.”
“You’d better get ready,” Bob said. “It’s only a matter of time before some nasty shows up and—”
I shot the skull a hard look.
“All right, all right,” Bob said. If he had hands, the skull would have raised them in a gesture of surrender. “So you’re telling me you still won’t use any fire magic.”
“Stars and stones.” I sighed. “So I’m using matches instead of my candle spell and I’m too busy to get the new blasting rod done. It’s not a big deal. There’s just not much call for blowing anything up or burning it to cinders on my average day.”
“Harry?” Bob asked. “Are your feet wet? And can you see the pyramids?”
I blinked. “What?”
“Earth to Dresden,” Bob said. “You are standing knee-deep in de Nile.”
I threw the matchbook at the skull. It bounced off halfheartedly, and the few matches left in tumbled out at random. “Keep your inner psychoanalyst to your damned self,” I growled. “We’ve got work to do.”
“Yeah,” Bob said. “You’re right, Harry. What do I know about anything?”
I glowered at Bob, and pulled up my stool to the worktable. I got out a notebook and a pencil. “The question of the hour is, what do you know about something called The Word of Kemmler?”
Bob made a sucking sound through his teeth, which is fairly impressive given that he’s got no saliva to work with. Or maybe I’m giving him too much credit. I mean, he can make a B sound with no lips, too. “Can you give me a reference point or anything?”
“Not for certain,” I said. “But I have a gut instinct that says it has something to do with necromancy.”
Bob made a whistling sound. “I hope not.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because that Kemmler was a certifiable nightmare,” Bob said. “I mean, wow. He was sick, Harry. Evil.”
That got my attention. Bob the skull was an air spirit, a being that existed in a world of knowledge without morality. He was fairly fuzzy on the whole good-evil conflict, and as a result he had only vague ideas of where lines got drawn. If Bob thought someone was evil, well…Kemmler must have really pushed the envelope.
“What’d he do?” I asked. “What made him so evil?”
“He was best known for World War One,” Bob said.
“The whole thing?” I demanded.
“Mostly, yeah,” Bob said. “There were about a hundred and fifty years of engineering built into it, and he had his fingers into all kinds of pies. He vanished at the end of hostilities and didn’t show up again until he started animating mass graves during World War Two. Went on rampages out in Eastern Europe, where things were pretty much a nightmare even without his help. Nobody is sure how many people he killed.”
“Stars and stones,” I said. “Why would he do something like that?”
“A wild guess? He was freaky insane. Plus evil.”
“You say ‘was,’” I said. “Past tense?”
“Very,” Bob said. “After what the guy did, the White Council hunted him down and wiped his dusty ass out in 1961.”
“You mean the Wardens?”
“I mean the White Council,” Bob said. “The Merlin, the whole Senior Council, the brute squad out of Archangel, the Wardens, and every wizard and ally the wizards could get their hands on.”
I blinked. “For one man?”
“See above, regarding nightmare,” Bob said. “Kemmler was a necromancer, Harry. Power over the dead. He had truck with demons, too, was buddies with most of the vampire Courts, every nasty in Europe, and some of the uglier faeries, too. Plus he had his own little cadre of baby Kemmlers to help him out. Apprentices. And thugs of every description.”
“Damn,” I said.
“Doubtless he was,” Bob said. “They killed him pretty good. A bunch of times. He’d shown up again after the Wardens had killed him early in the nineteenth century, so they were real careful the second time. And good riddance to the psychotic bastard.”
I blinked. “You knew him?”
“Didn’t I ever tell you?” Bob asked. “He was my owner for about forty years.”
I stared. “You worked with this monster?”
“I do what I do,” Bob said proudly.
“How did Justin get you, then?”
“Justin DuMorne was a Warden, Harry, back at Kemmler’s last stand. He pulled me out of the smoldering ruins of Kemmler’s lab. Sort of like when you pulled me out of the smoldering ruins of Justin’s lab when you killed him. Circle of life, like that Elton John song.”
I felt more than a little tiny bit cold. I chewed on my lip and laid my pencil down. I had the feeling the rest of this conversation was not going to be something I wanted to create a written record of. “So what is The Word of Kemmler, Bob?”
“Not a clue,” Bob said.
I glowered. “What do you mean, not a clue? I thought you were his skull Friday.”
“Well, yeah,” Bob said. His eyelights flickered suddenly, a nervous little dance. “I don’t remember very much of it.”
I snorted out a laugh. “Bob. You never forget anything.”
“No,” Bob said. His voice shrank into something very small. “Unless I want to, Harry.”
I frowned and took a deep breath. “You’re saying that you chose to forget things about Kemmler.”
“Or was compelled to,” Bob said. “Um. Harry, can I come out? Just inside the lab? You know, while we talk.”
I blinked a couple of times. Bob was full of mischief on the best of days. I didn’t let him out except on specific intelligence-gathering missions anymore. And while he often pestered me to let him out on one of his perverted minirampages, he had never asked permission to leave his skull for the duration of a chat. “Sure,” I told him. “Stay inside the lab and be back in the skull at the end of this conversation.”
“Right,” Bob said. A small cloud of glowing motes of light the size of campfire sparks came sailing out of the skull’s eyes and darted to the far corner of the lab. “So anyway, when are we going to work on the new blasting rod?”
“Bob,” I said. “We’re talking about The Word of Kemmler.”
The lights shot restlessly over to the other side of the lab, swirling through the steps on my stair ladder in a glowing helix. “You’re talking about The Word of Kemmler,” Bob said. The glowing cloud stretched, motes now spiraling up and down the stairs simultaneously. “I’m working on my Vegas act. Lookit, I’m DNA.”
“Would you stop goofing around? Can you remember anything at all about Kemmler?”
Bob’s voice quavered, the motes becoming a vague cloud again. “I can.”
“Then tell me what you know.”
“Is that a command?”
I blinked. “Do I have to make it one?”
“You don’t want to command me to remember, Harry.”
“Why not?” I demanded.
The cloud of lights drifted in vague loops around the lab. “Because knowledge is what I am. Losing my knowledge of what I knew of Kemmler took away a…a big piece of my existence. Like if someone had cut off your arm. What’s left of what I know of Kemmler is close to the missing pieces.”
I thought I started to understand him. “It hurts.”
The lights swirled uncertainly. “It also hurts. It’s more than that.”
“If it hurts,” I said, “I’ll stop, and you can forget it again when we’re done talking.”
“But—” Bob said.
“It’s a command, Bob. Tell me.”
It was a bizarre sight. The cloud of lights shivered for a second, as if in a trembling breath of wind, and then abruptly just shifted, flickering to one side as quickly as if I had been looking at it with one eye closed and suddenly switched to the other.
“Kemmler,” Bob said. “Right.” The lights came to rest on the other end of the table in the shape of a perfect sphere. “What do you want to know, wizard?”
I watched the lights warily, but nothing seemed all that wrong. Other than the fact that Bob was suddenly calm. And geometric. “Tell me what The Word of Kemmler is.”
The lights pulsed scarlet. “Knowledge. Truth. Power.”
“Uh,” I said, “a little more specific?”
“The master wrote down his teachings, wizard, so that those who came after him could learn from him. Could learn about the true power of magic.”
“You mean,” I said, “so that they could learn about necromancy.”
Bob’s voice took on the edge of a sneer. “What you call magic is nothing but a mound of parlor tricks, beside the power to master life and death itself.”
“That’s an opinion, I guess,” I said.
“More than that,” Bob said. “It is a truth. A truth that reveals itself to those who seek it out.”
“What do you mean?” I said slowly.
There was a flash, and a pair of white eyes formed in the glittering cloud of red points of light. They weren’t pleasant. “Shall I show you the start of the path?” Bob’s voice said. “Death, Dresden, is a part of you. It is woven into the fabric of your being. You are a collection of pieces, each of them dying and in turn being reborn and remade.”
Excerpted from "Dead Beat"
Copyright © 2006 Jim Butcher.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
“The wildest, strangest, best Dresden adventure to date....Butcher’s blending of modern fantasy with classic noir sensibilities ensures that there’s never a dull moment.”—SF Site
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“Offbeat humor, a hard-boiled style, and rich detail.”—Library Journal (starred review)