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Behind The Façade of Diplomacy...

Chapter Text

In hindsight, I really should have seen this coming.

I lived the biggest part of my life with a constant flood of danger, misery and pain. I just got so used to it, that I couldn't imagine a world without it. I skipped breakfast on a daily basis because something vicious that couldn't at least wait until I had my coffee pulled me out of the bed. I fought for my life before lunch and was glad when I had a few minutes to gobble a steak at MacAnally's and maybe drink a beer, before the chaos decided to attack me again.

This was my life for years. I hadn't known it any other way. Maybe that’s why I have developed some sort of inner defense mechanism, that keeps me from expecting something bad.

I know bad things happen all the time. And I definitely know they happen to me. I’m just so used to it that I can’t predict the exact moment anymore. When I think about it, it sounds like a pretty good excuse.

If you ask me, why I hadn't had this bad feeling when someone pounded at my door at three a.m., I would most likely shrug and tell them, they should try to live my mess of a life and see if they’ll still be surprised by anything. I bet they wouldn't last a week.

The problem is, there was so much shit in my past, all I have left are bad feelings. It’s a constant in my life. I have a bad feeling, when I shower (and that’s not just because the water never gets warmer than a river in march). I have a bad feeling when I go for a walk with my big, bad dog, who likes spending his time dozing in front of my oven, when he isn't scaring the shit out of some innocent bystander and ripping the limbs out of not so innocent bad guys. I have a bad feeling when I’m sitting at Macs and sip at my beer after a rare normal day. And I definitely have a bad feeling when I am being chased by (you can insert what comes to mind here: werewolves, vampires, ghouls, goblins, demons, gods, ghosts, an angry ice queen, an angry summer queen, goats, the White Council (many of them probably related to goats), an ex-girlfriend, the guy who constantly tries to sell me a WiFi router, the landlord, pixies, the press and every single angry creature that I annoyed just with my general presence and charm…). If it exists, I was chased by it. I am really proud to say, that I managed to get away every single time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no fan of running. Its just my professional opinion, as private investigator and wizard, that you have to choose your battles carefully and sometimes that means running for the hills and asking questions later. I burned my fingers on enough occasions (pun definitely not intended).

My whole point with this is, that I definitely don’t expect something especially weird, when I open the door at three am in the morning to my breathless half-brother who stumbles inside like a horde of angry salesmen is on his heels, mumbles something along the lines of “Harry, they’re after me…” and immediately collapses unconsciously onto the living room carpet.

On the bright sight: I had four whole hours of peace. Must've been a record for me.


 

The first thing I do after I stared at his unconscious form for ten whole seconds, is close the door. Someone has to act responsible, its freaking cold outside.

I immediately reactivate my wards in case Thomas is right and there is some unknown evil force now lurking outside my flat (or actually it’s Mollys flat, I’m just the lodger and it’s probably good she isn't in the city this week) in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to attack the defenseless wizard (Hah! Bring it on scumbag, whoever you are!) I make sure every security spell is in place before I turn to Thomas.

He lies between the small sofa and the comfortable chair on the ground and he isn't moving. Mouse jumped up, when he stumbled through the door and now my dog stands with his ears on high alert in front of said door and growls.

“Calm down, boy.” I mumble in his direction before I kneel next to Thomas and let my hand hover over his shoulder.

I don’t touch him, he’s a white court vampire after all and if you like having all your limbs attached, you never touch a wounded vampire without warning.

“Thomas.” I say and when he doesn't move, a little louder: “Thomas!”

He groans. It’s a painful groan. Damn it, he has to be hurt even more than I thought.

“Thomas, I’m going to turn you over now. Please don’t attack me. It’s me, Harry.” I say carefully and just for good measure. “Your handsome brother.”

I hear something from him that could have been a chuckle, but sounds like a wet cough instead. I’m getting really concerned about him, so I grit my teeth and turn him onto his back as carefully as I can.

My breath falters as soon as I have a good look at his chest. There is pale blood everywhere.

“Hell’s Bells what did you do?” I snap at him and immediately regret the harsh tone. He didn't do a thing, obviously. And I would very much love to talk a few words to the person who did.

Deep gashes mark his chest, fresh blood seeps from them. His white shirt is soaked to a degree where you have to wonder if it wasn't red in the first place. It wasn't, obviously. Thomas wears always white. He’s got strange fashion sense, but who am I to judge? My every day outfit consist of a pair of jeans, comfortable working boots, my good old duster, and whatever shirt isn't bloody, singed, ripped or reeking of smoke at the moment. There isn't much room for glamor with these options.

Mouse makes an impatient noise and I realize that I should maybe try to focus less on people’s wardrobe and more on my bleeding brother.

“Don’t look at me like that…” I mutter in my dogs direction (who is way too smart as always) before I address my brother. “Thomas, can you hear me?”

His breathing is shallow, which is as worrying as his pale skin and the silver shimmer in his eyes. He seems to be cold, he has goosebumps all over his arms. Probably a side effect of all the blood loss. “Why did you come here? You have to feed.” I say now a little bit panicky.

Its not the first time I see a dying White Court vampire and my instincts scream at me to run as fast as I can. If they’re hurt, they are the most dangerous. He could kill me within a blink. But I also tell myself, that this is my brother and I can’t just leave him here bleeding on the floor. This is an emergency.

He tries to sit up and fails miserably. His breath comes fast. “Harry…can’t…they would have…mistake to come here…go…leave me here…”

I shake my head. “What are you talking about, idiot? I can’t just leave you! You’re leaking more blood than an average human even has in his body!”

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Go…please…don’t know how long…control it…” he is mumbling now, obviously too weak to form whole sentences but I get the message. He is afraid of his demon getting control and hurting me.

“Nope.” I say and get to my feet. “Nope. Nope. Nope. Not happening.” I scramble for the landline phone in the corner, the only proof in the flat, that we aren't in the 19th century anymore. “I’m not losing the only family I have!” I grumble and after that a little bit louder. “I’m going to call Justine.”

I get the first three numbers punched in before a train hits me from the side.

Or at least it feels like one.

Thomas is hurt, dizzy and not even able to stand on his own, but he manages to push me away from the phone and into my bookshelf nonetheless. White Court vampires. These stubborn bastards.

When my head stops ringing and I am conscious enough to register my surroundings I find a growling Mouse between me and my brother. Thomas doesn't seem like he wants to argue with my dog, but tis to late anyway. The phone has vanished somewhere in the chaos of the flat.

I stare at him. “Are you insane? Do you want to die?”

He grits his teeth and sinks onto the couch which is fortunately in his reach when his legs give in. Even though the blood still flows, and his eyes stay the same silvery color he seems to have regained a little bit of his posture through the adrenaline. When he speaks his voice doesn't waver anymore.

“You can’t call Justine.” He says matter-of-factly.

“Why not?” I ask and my tone definitely doesn't sound like a whining kid. Thank you very much.

He sighs. “Harry, I don’t want to drag her into this. It would risk her safety.”

“What are you talking about? Who attacked you?” I reply and when he doesn't answer: “Stars and Stones! Thomas, cut the crap and tell me already!”

He flinches.

In all the time I've known him, he has looked at me happy and sad, angry and pitiful, excited and bored, scornful, annoyed and amused. But I have never seen the flicker of fear, that I see now in his eyes.

A powerful White Court vampire, a strong personality. A life with more pain than most people can even imagine. He doesn't fear much. Especially not me, his brother.

I stare at him taken aback. Dread comes over me like an ice cold flood, which is not new to me because, newsflash, I’m the Winter Knight. “Thomas…”

I take a step in his direction.

He flinches again.

I freeze.

“Who attacked you? Why are you afraid of me?” I ask in the most calming tone I have. Hell’s Bells he is my brother. He shouldn't flinch away from me.

He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a brief moment before he directs his silver gaze at me.

“Your people.”


 

I blink at him dumb folded. “Huh?” I ask eloquent as ever.

Thomas has the impertinence to actually roll his eyes at me. “Empty night, Harry! Your people! Magic-throwers, wizards, old men with beards and wants and potions, all this crap. Should I phrase it another obvious way, so you understand it?”

I can’t hear him anymore. Within seconds I’m at his side, staring at the wounds again. I have to admit I am not the fastest one when it comes to understanding emotions, but at one thing I’m quite good, because I had a lot of training over the years. I know what magic looks like. It’s so plainly obvious, now that I’m right next to Thomas and I can’t believe that I haven’t noticed it sooner. Magic! His wounds were caused by magic. That means I can do something about it. I try to ignore the screaming voice in my head, that tells me what else this means. There is enough time to think about consequences when Thomas is done unintentionally dyeing my carpet in a pale shade of red. I’m very picky when it comes to interior design, thank you very much. I concentrate on my brother again and this time I don’t even need Mouse to snap me from my thoughts.

“I can help you. You should have said something sooner, you idiot.” I hiss. I let my hand hover over his chest. “Will you let me do this?” I ask just in case he decides to hit me again.

I realized a long time ago one punch before breakfast is enough. Believe me, I can take a lot, if you just let me finish my coffee first.

He narrows his eyes at me. “Promise me, you won’t call Justine.” He says and of course, that’s what he’s concerned about, while bleeding out on my couch.

“Okay, I promise, Romeo. Happy now?”

His lips twitch. “Jerk…” he whispers before he closes his eyes.

I slap his cheek a few times. He’s so damn cold. “Thomas? That’s not the time for a nap!”

He doesn't answer. I look at Mouse for guidance, who gives me one of his looks, which I learned to interpret as stop dawdling and get your shit together, Harry.

“Okay, okay, I’m on it…” I mumble, let my hands fall onto my brothers chest and close my eyes.

I immediately recognize the spell. This is one of the few things my first mentor Justin DuMorne really thrilled me into. It’s also one of the spells I swore to never use again. I grit my teeth when the anger hits me. Whoever did this wanted to hurt Thomas severely. This is a torture spell. It’s pretty easy. The wizard simply throws it at the unfortunate victim and wherever it hits deep gashes appear and leak blood. These wounds are made in a way, that doesn't allow any healing except the magical one. It throws the victim at the mercy of the wizard, because even though he caused the pain in the first place, his magic or the magic of another wizard is the only way to heal it.

The goal with this spell is to cause immense pain, in most of the cases to kill the victim. The thought to use such a raw aggressive force sends shivers down my spine. I know I’m no boy scout, I use fire and wind, and lately ice basically in every fight, but it always seemed like cheating to me, to use such a spell. Maybe it was Justin’s way of teaching things that made me hate it. He threw that thing at me and caused me pain every time I wasn't fast enough to defend myself. Then he healed me and hit me again with it. I know first-hand what Thomas feels in this moment. Justin thought that pain was the best way to learn how to avoid pain. Sometimes I wish he was still alive just so I could kill him again.

However the thing about these magic wounds is, you can reverse them pretty easily. That’s why Justin used this spell so often and another reason why I don’t use it. If you know how, you could just wave your hand at it and all the effects disappear in front of your eyes.  

There are unexperienced wizards who think it’s cool to use such a spell, just because it has such an immediate violent effect and there is a lot of blood involved if you hit correctly. It must have been a younger wizard, who hit Thomas with this thing. The old guys, Wardens or not, know what to do in a fight, and it’s definitely not this. In times like this diplomacy is a big issue. You can’t just run around and kill people on a whim. It causes a lot of paperwork, when you show up at the headquarters and the first thing everyone says is, did you start a war with another vampire court? or you know he should be alive to be questioned?, or why is there so much blood on the floor?

Trust me. I have experience with this sort of questioning.

If there is one thing the Wardens don’t like its someone running around and starting wars. Don’t look at me like that, it was an accident.

I concentrate on Thomas again and do some wavelike gestures over his wounds, which are entirely unnecessary, because come on, this isn't a fantasy novel. All I need is to concentrate on the wounds, think the right thoughts, and let my magic flow through my fingers. The dramatic gestures are just remnants of one of to many cases, where some old lady came to me, to talk to her dead husband. I’m a little bit ashamed to admit I played my role as street magician rather good. Yes I know, I’m a hypocrite, but last month’s rent was due and the good payed jobs had made themselves scarce so I needed the money.

The wounds close under my fingertips and I release a breath I haven’t realized I was holding.

Thomas blinks his eyes open as soon as the last gash has vanished. “Wow…that was fast…” he mumbles his voice still a bit raspy.

“Careful.” I say as I help him sit up on the couch.

He looks down at his chest and sighs. “Another shirt ruined. Why are there always wizards involved when I need a wardrobe change?”

“Thomas!” I groan. He is unbelievable. A few seconds ago he could've died and what is he concerned about? His clothes. And it’s not even that he has no money to buy new ones. He’s loaded, the bastard.

“What?” his voice is pure innocence. “I swear if I lose another single shirt because of you lot…” he grumbles but I see the corners of his mouth twitch before he gets serious again. At least as serious as he can get. Its Thomas after all. His default setting is annoyed amusement with a hint of horniness.

He rubs his arms. “It’s freezing in here. Did you break the heating again?”

I throw a blanket at him. “You lost a lot of blood, it takes a while until your body temperature is normal again.”

He wraps himself in the blanket and obviously remembers why he came here. “Harry, its bad.” He says.

I hold up a finger to tell him to wait. I get up, walk over to my icebox and get us two beers. Macs beer of course. I hope he never finds out, or I lose my dealer and I can’t stand the awful brew they sell in the supermarket. I give one of the ice cold bottles to Thomas before I settle next to him on the couch.

I take a big gulp and look at him. “Now I’m ready. Spit it out.” I say.

His lips twitch again, and he takes a sip of his beer before he looks at me. “I was on my way home from…let’s say from a club.”

I know what that means. When my brother goes to ‘a club’ it isn't as innocently as it sounds. There is probably a lot of naked skin and body fluids involved. At least it explains why he isn't dead. He probably just fed an hour or so ago. He is a white court vampire, he looks like a movie star, and obviously he needs to feed. There is no lack of women (and men) willing to throw themselves at him. I try not to think too much about it. On one hand because I don’t want to spend my free time imagining my brother having orgies, on the other hand because my own love life isn't even worth mentioning when you just count the women that didn't try to kill me at least once. I think I’m a lost cause.

Thomas continues. “So I walked down the street back to my car, I parked it a few blocks away because you don’t want the people in these kind of clubs see how you arrive. I heard a sound behind me and when I turned around there were three of them.”

I sigh. “Them, Thomas? Could you please be a little bit more cryptic? I love a riddle.”

He snorts. “Wizards, Harry. I already told you that.”

“How did you know, they were Wizards?” I ask skeptically.

He laughs. “Empty night, Harry! How do you know I’m a vampire?” I know somehow it takes a lot out of him to not roll his eyes at me again.

I frown at him. “You told me.”

He obviously lost the battle because now he rolls his eyes. “No, I never said to you hi my name is Thomas, I’m a vampire. How did you know?”

I blink at him. He is right. He never told me. “I guess I saw you and just knew it.” I say. “The pale skin, the way other people behaved around you, your look, the sex vibes…” my cheeks are getting hot.

He waves impatient with his hand through the air. “Yeah, see? And I looked at you and thought: dusty coat, no mobile phone, strange jewelry, old car, keeps setting things on fire-”

“Hey!”

“-hence Wizard. Each one of us has his own attributes. Little things that tell an observer what we are. So I just knew, trust me. Besides: They threw magic at me, Harry.”

I snort because of course now he thinks I’m stupid. “What happened then?”

He grimaces. “They attacked me.”

I stare at him. “Just like that? Without any reason?”

There is a flicker of anger in his eyes. “I never met them before and I sure as rain didn't attack them first. I was on my way home, not hungry, not looking for a fight.”

I hold up my hands. “Calm down, I believe you. I just want to understand what happened. Did they say anything?”

He frowns. “They called me abomination, I think, but I wasn't really paying attention, given the fact that I was fighting for my life. One of them hit me with a spell while I tried to fight the other two and you saw the result. If there hadn't been a police patrol near the street, that apparently heard the commotion I wouldn't have gotten away. I don’t know if they wanted to kill me, or if the spell was an accident.”

I nod grimly. “I know this spell. It isn't used anymore because these days there is too much diplomacy at work to outright kill someone, but there was a time where it was a very effective method to torture and kill. It causes wounds that can only be healed by magic.”

He narrows his eyes. “You never used it?”

“Not voluntarily.” I say quietly. I think about Justin and his training methods. Bastard.

Thomas looks like he wants to ask but I interrupt him before he can. “How did they look?”

He frowns. “I don’t know, it was pretty dark, and they attacked without warning. But Harry, I’m sure they were Wardens.”

I stare at him, my mouth gapes open. “They wouldn't be allowed to do something like this.” I say. “It would be a serious breach of all arrangements made with the White Court.”

He snorts. “Do you think I don’t know that? The White Court holds a fragile peace with your people, Lara made sure of that. She wouldn't do anything to endanger that. Both sides are too strong. If it comes to war, at the end of it there would be more dead than alive on both sides. Lara is not stupid, and I don’t think your people are, these three must've taken things in their own hands.”

“How can you be sure, they were Wardens?” I still hope he is wrong. Three common wizards who decided hunting vampires on a whim, aren't as bad as three rogue Wardens knowingly breaking the agreements.

“I just am.” He says. “They worked together too good, knew each other. They obviously hadn't grey cloaks but their magic seemed pretty strong. They fought with practiced moves and had a tactic. They weren't just simple wizards.”

I sigh. “We can’t act until we know for certain who they are. It would be terrible if they truly were Wardens and this comes to light. Like you said, it could cause a war.”

“So what? You just do nothing because it’s bad if this gets out?” his tone is angry.

I shake my head. “Don’t be stupid. You are my brother. Even if it wasn't you they attacked, but another White Court vampire, I would look into this. If there is just the tiny possibility of this being rogue Wardens the White Council has to know. We can’t allow something like this to happen.” My gaze turns stern. “I try to find out what I can but Thomas, you must promise me to lay low. Maybe it was no coincidence they attacked you.”

“What do you mean?” he asks frowning.

“Maybe someone found out about how we are related.” I muse and I pray to some god, that isn't the case.

I had not much time to think about what would happen if this particular secret would come to light because to be honest things have been crazy lately. I found out I am a father, saved my daughter, killed her mother, started a war with the red vampire court and destroyed all of them. I died. Was a ghost, came back just to be Mab’s Winter Knight.

And now here I am trying to keep another war from happening. It’s not easy to be me and sometimes, okay very often, I wish I was just some ordinary guy with an ordinary job and don’t have to watch my every step because I never know who wants to slit my throat today.

Lately every day felt like a horror version of my birthday, with a ticking present on my doorstep, which I had to keep even though I never asked for it, a surprise party where even the most hated of my enemies showed up and tried to push me into an early grave and fireworks as a culmination of the evening where it wasn't sure if I still got all my fingers after it was over.

Today it was Thomas, three insane wizards and an extremely delicate diplomacy problem, tomorrow for all I care, it could be Santa Claus, who was abducted by  Christmas-hating aliens or a mermaid on a personal revenge quest against all fishers with an constant rage against all people eating sushi. No matter what, it will be my problem, and I hate it already.

“You really think, someone knows we’re half-brothers?” Thomas asks and gets my mind out of the gutter.

“I don’t know.” I say honestly. “But we can’t take any chances. You can’t go back to your flat. Stay here. If they don’t know how we’re related, they won’t expect you here. If they do, they come to us, it saves me a lot of work and we can deal with them in a familiar vicinity. Just do me a favor and don’t tell Lara about this.”

“Do you think I’m nuts?” Thomas asks incredulously. “If Lara gets wind of some wizards, maybe Wardens, attacking a White Court vampire, all hell breaks loose. I thought we wanted to avoid that.”

I nod. “That would be great. Hell is outside my jurisdiction.”

He laughs. “Harry, I try to tell you for several years. You don’t have a jurisdiction. You just don’t know how to look away and leave it to others when things go south. If hell knocks at your door, you open it and throw a welcome party before you deal with the mess, even though it hasn't anything to do with you.”

I suppress a smile and take the last sip of my beer. “Shut up.” I mutter under my breath. He just knows me to well. I could never turn down a chance to save people.

Thomas just keeps laughing and suddenly this is one of these moments where I know everything isn't as bleak as it looks. As long as you have family, what could go wrong? I probably should have known better, but like I said: I’m blinded by all the constant chaos.

Chapter Text

First I go looking for my phone that Thomas, in his eager attempt to keep me from involving his girlfriend, has thrown into some undefined corner.

I dig through empty take away boxes, dirty clothes, bags with dog food and dog-eared books, (don’t look at me like that, the last days have been crazy. I had no time to clean up) cursing the whole time under my breath about White Court vampires and their tendency to make a drama out of every possible situation. Thomas is casually sprawled over my couch, sips his second beer and looks as usual like he sprung directly out of a glossy magazine. He watches me and turns a laugh into a very obvious cough, when I stumble over a small tea table, I didn’t even realize was there beneath all the rubbish.

“You could help, you know?” I say through clenched teeth and give him a disapproving look. “After all it’s your fault I can’t find my phone.”

He smirks and lays one hand over his heart in an entirely exaggerated theatrical gesture. “Harry, how could you? I almost died a few minutes ago! I need the rest!”

I snort. “Unbelievable!”

He lifts an eyebrow. “Besides, if you would keep the flat a little tidier…” I throw a bag of dog chips at him, that he promptly catches, as if it is the easiest thing in the world. He sticks his hand inside and holds a few in Mouses direction and of course the damn dog accepts the bribe and happily licks Thomas’ hand.

“Traitor.” I mumble under my breath, but get distracted because I finally see the black cable of my phone under an overladen table. “Got it!” I shout when I emerge from beneath the table, victorious with dust in my hair and my prey in my hands, just to realize the damn thing is dead. I curse and smack it with maybe a little too much force onto the table where it shatters in a dozen pieces.

“Oops.” Says Thomas and if he hadn’t almost died on me less than half an hour ago I probably would’ve strangled him right here and now. He grabs his jacket from the nearby chair and rummages through the pockets. “You can use mine.” He says and holds a sleek grey smartphone in my direction with a generous smile on his face. “I have a backup, so it doesn’t matter, if you break it.”

I glare at him. “You had that the whole time?”

He shrugs. “It was fun to watch you dig through this mess. Mouse and I had a good laugh, hadn’t we?” He winks at me. Mouse lets out a confirming bark.

“Asshole.” I snap at Thomas, give Mouse a we-talk-later-look and snatch the phone out of his hand. He laughs.

I turn my back to him and dial the first person I need to speak to, while trying to think non-magical thoughts, so I don’t fry the phone before I get my calls done. It’s not too difficult. I just concentrate on mentally cursing Thomas. That works every time.


 

Murphy is not amused. “You want what?!” she asks and I sigh because I’m pretty sure everyone likes to mess with me today and she probably understood me perfectly the first time.

I try to stay patient because you know me, I am a very patient person. Oh who am I kidding, I can’t even wait the few minutes the toaster needs, without frying it with my magic, even though I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with this problem. The patience that is, not the magic.

“I want to know if you can call your sources and find out, if they got any reports about a fight at this address.” Thomas tried to give me the required location via absurd hand gestures and exaggerated grimaces, as if we were playing a game of charade, until I managed to smack him with my notebook and he wrote it down for me grumbling under his breath, what a spoilsport I was.

“Harry, I’m sure I told you this before, but I’m not your personal police database.  Not even if I still was a police officer. I need to call in favors to do something like that.” Murphy says with a tone that sounds like she is speaking with a five year old.

She’s right of course, and I tend to forget that she’s no longer with the police. Many things changed in the last few years. She always had my back and her job was the price for that. The only thing she really ever cared about. I still feel guilty about that sometimes. At least she found a new calling with her current position leading the Chicago Alliance, a group of people dealing with the supernatural and its consequences for the humans. And even though she isn’t working directly for the police anymore she still has contacts there. She is also the only person connected to the police, who wouldn’t arrest me on the spot, when I ask for a favor.

“It’s not my job to sit in my office and wait for your call, just to give you information so you can run to wherever the latest danger surfaces. You never understood how it worked.” Now she’s definitely rambling. I don’t interrupt, because I’m a gentleman and when a lady speaks, you have to shut up and listen. Especially if said lady likes to punch people in the face and doesn’t leave the house without her gun. “Look, it’s like in the past. I am part of a company that investigates things. You are specialized in magic, so you are a magic consultant. I call you. You counsel. Not the other way around.”

I roll my eyes and take a step back, when Thomas tries to snatch the phone out of my hand. “Hey Karrin!” he shouts.

“Ignore him.” I say even though she probably didn’t even hear him. “You forget that we both investigate something. It’s even in my business title. I’m private investigator. So basically I’m consulting you.” I joke before I remember why I actually called. This will definitely go nowhere if I don’t tell Murphy at least a little bit of what happened.

“Listen, Murph.” I say and turn my back to Thomas with a look that says keep it together just for five minutes. “It’s about Thomas. He was attacked at the address I gave you. I try to find the ones who did it.”

There is silence on the other end of the line. “Is he okay?” she finally asks and I hear that she really tries to show empathy. She is definitely not best friends with Thomas but she respects him and she knows he would do anything to protect me, as cheesy as it sounds. And so would I the other way around. She knows what family means.

“He’s now.” I answer her question. “That wasn’t the case when he arrived at my doorstep last night, but fortunately I could help him. We don’t know why they did it.” I hesitate, but I know I can trust Murph. “We just know they were Wizards. I believe that falls also into your jurisdiction.”

I hear her sharp intake of breath through the line. She knows how delicate the relationship between the White Council and the White Court is. “Harry, do you think it was political or personal?”

I really love her genius. She gets right to the point. “I don’t know yet. That’s why I need to know, whether they are White Council members and who exactly they are. This is too important to let it slide. Even if it concerns not the entire White Court and is a personal matter we have a problem.”

I hear her affirmative huff. “Because it means, that someone knows your relation to him.” She says.

“Yep.” I reply. “And I believe I don’t have to tell you that would be bad for both of us.”

“Yeah, no shit…” she says grim. “Okay, let me look what I can find out. I call you when I have something.”

“The vampire broke my phone so it’s probably better if you call his mobile.” I tell her and give her Thomas’ number after she stops laughing.

When I hang up, I look at Thomas and realize that he must’ve heard every single word. He smirks. “See? She thought it was funny too.”

I ignore him and punch another number into the phone. Keep calm. Keep calm, Harry. Its not good karma to strangle your only brother right after he was attacked. Maybe wait until the danger is over.

It rings seven times before a grumpy voice can be heard through the line. I realize that it is probably not even five in the morning. Murphy is an early bird since I first met her. I can’t say the same about my old mentor. “For crying out loud, who is calling at this ungodly hour? State your business, and if it’s not worth waking up for, I sent a blister curse your way!”

“Had that once, thank you for that again, but I think this time it’s worth your time.” I say and have to suppress a laugh.

“Hoss! Its you! What’s so important, that you deprive an old man of his sleep?”

“We have to talk in person. Please believe me, its important. I can’t tell you over the phone.”

I hear a grumbling from the other side. “Isn’t it always important with you young folks? Can’t let a minute pass without doing some important stuff. Fine, fine, fine. We can meet. But not before nine. I need my beauty sleep, I’m not getting any younger, you know?”

“Who does?” I ask and tell him where to meet me. After that I hang up and stare at the phone for a few seconds. My thoughts drift from non-magical to absolutely-intentional-magical.

“Harry-“ Thomas begins, but a sizzling from my hand interrupts him, as the phone gives a last spectacular light show and begins to smoke. I stare at it a few seconds longer after the screen turned black (just to be sure) before I give it back to Thomas with an innocent look on my face.

“Oops.” I say and this time I can’t keep my smile from spreading. Sweet revenge.

He just rolls his eyes at me. “Very mature, Harry.”

“That has to come from you.”


 

I meet my old mentor, who is also my grandfather, four hours later at a coffee shop just a few blocks from the flat. The air conditioning is broken so the average temperature is roughly 85 degrees. Whoever is not sweating right now, is probably also not entirely human.

Coffee shops have many advantages when you try to have an unsuspicious meeting.

The very first is probably that everyone who enters is too damn tired to register anything, besides the menu above the counter that promises the eagerly-awaited caffeine boost. That’s why nobody pays much attention to their surroundings.

The other reason is simply, that there is coffee. Obviously.

Additionally you have a stream of people coming and going, the clattering of dishes, and the racket of the coffee machines, which causes a constant noise level, that reduces every conversation going on more than two feet from your ear, to an incomprehensible mumble and makes it impossible to listen to any other person, except the one sitting directly in front of you.

And of course, its in the neighborhood so I don’t have to leave Thomas alone for too long. I obviously couldn’t bring him with me. Ebenezar doesn’t know who he is to me and I would very much like it to stay that way. I don’t know how he would take another grandson at the moment.

I place the two black coffees onto the table and sit down in the booth opposite my former mentor. It was not to long ago, that I found out he is also the father of my mother. It was a surprise to put it simply.

He takes a deep sip of his coffee and promptly spits it back into his mug, as if he burned his mouth. I try not to roll my eyes. No manners, that man. “Damn it, that was hot. As if it’s not warm enough outside.” He says before even acknowledging my presence. “I’m here, Hoss.” He says with his deep rumbling voice, shoving his mug a little bit further away, to let it cool down. “What is it you couldn’t tell me over the phone?”

I hesitate a few seconds. It’s true that I called him, because deep down I still know I can trust him, even though this trust took a pretty bad blow when he told me, that he was the Black Staff for all these years and had basically the order to kill me at the first sign of trouble. Then I learned that he is also my grandfather and we got a little closer again. We decided to bring down the Black Council, a corrupt group of wizards who we believe has already infiltrated the White Council. I still haven’t really forgiven him for lying to me, but I know that he is the only one in the White Council I can trust unconditionally and that is something I can’t say about many people. Especially given the fact, that the members of the Senior Council are in a constant state of mistrust when it concerns me, even the ones that aren’t crooked. Ebenezar and I tried to find out who we could trust, but to be honest there weren’t a lot of people who came into question.

Nonetheless I have to approach this thing as cautiously as I can.

“You remember Thomas?” I ask.

He frowns. “The White Court vampire, that keeps getting you into trouble?”

I snort. “He’s a friend. We benefit from each other’s positions. He helped me negotiate with the White Court a few times and I helped him get out of a few bad situations.”

Ebenezar nods. “I remember him. What has he done?”

“He did nothing.” I reply and try to keep my tone as neutral as I can. Its very difficult not to let my anger show. There are to many prejudices in the world. “He was attacked last night.” I say, bending forward and lowering my voice even more. “By our people.”

Ebenezars eyebrows shoot up. For a few seconds he seems too surprised to say anything. “You mean, a wizard attacked someone of his kind?” he whispers finally.

I shake my head. “Three wizards. And you haven’t even heard the worst. He thinks they were Wardens.”

Ebenezar snorts. “Impossible.” He leans back in his chair. “Hoss…he obviously lied to you. A Warden would never break the White Court arrangements. A common Wizard who doesn’t know any better, maybe. But three of them working together? Highly unlikely. It looks like this vampire tries to provoke a conflict between the White Council and the White Court.”

I grit my teeth and try to stay calm. It’s not easy. Usually I have no problem saying what I think. But this concerns both my brother and me. I can’t tell Ebenezar that I trust Thomas because we are related.

“He didn’t lie. Believe me. It could have been members of the Black Order. These are exactly the signs we were looking for. Maybe we finally found someone who isn’t as untouchable as Greorgi Cristos.”

My old mentor narrows his eyes. “You trust the word of a vampire over mine?” he says angrily.

I blink at him. Where does this sudden anger come from? “Did you hear what I said?” I ask confused.

He snorts. “Yes of course I heard you and I believe its important to find the members of the Black Council and bring them to justice. But that’s not the point. I think you were fooled here. I don’t think you should trust this vampire. It could get you killed, Hoss.”

“You know things are changing!” I snap louder than intended. A few people give me strange looks. “It’s not all black and white. Not all vampires are trying to trick us. We talked about the Black Council, what they could do, if they succeed with this. What if some of them decided to cut the diplomacy crap and start killing White Court vampires, because it’s easier than having to compromise? We can’t know what they want. Maybe their goal is to destroy all vampire courts so they won’t be a problem anymore.”

Ebenezar looks at me for a few seconds. “Would that be so bad?” he says.

I stare at him speechless. What in the world is he suddenly talking about? Does he mean what I think he means? “You can’t be serious…” I whisper.

He bends forward and fixes me with one of his cold looks. In moments like this I don’t doubt, that he once was an ice cold hitman who killed first and asked questions later. The title Blackstaff suddenly seems to suit him perfectly. “Tell me how many people got killed, abducted or tortured by a Red Court vampire since you destroyed their whole line?”

I blink. “Probably none, but that’s clearly not the point-“

“Yes it is, Hoss, It really is the point. So much suffering, so much pain caused by these creatures, for centuries! And everything just stopped when you triggered their extinction. So many children not taken from their parents, so many humans free from the addiction, so many lives saved.”

My gaze turns dark. “Yes.” I say and I’m suddenly sure my voice could have cut steel. “But at what cost? I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t want to be responsible for the death of millions. It wasn’t good. You know how many innocent were among these millions? Not all of them are bloodthirsty monsters. I thought we were on the same page with this. I thought you would understand, that I didn’t want to be the one doing it, even if I had to do it.”

He scoffs. “They maybe weren’t monsters yet, but its in their genes. They can’t keep it contained forever. Sooner or later they snap, and they cause chaos and wreak havoc. It’s the same with the Black and the White court. They fight a constant battle against their demons. Just look at the Skavis and the Malvora. They feed from fear and despair, Hoss! Do you know how much better the world would be without them? The Raiths aren’t the only house in the White Court. And even they can cause the addiction and death of innocent people. If I were you I wouldn’t trust one of them so easily. They are evil beings. I fully understand that you believe you can confide in this creature, but I have to warn you. This is a mistake.”

I stand up. “You know what was a mistake? Coming here. I shouldn't have called you.”

He grabs my arm before I can leave the table. “Listen to me. I don’t like the way things are in this world, but sometimes you have to make difficult decisions so the majority benefits from it. I know some of them aren't evil yet, but all of them have the potential. If you could go back to this day in Mexico, would you change your actions? Would you stop yourself and let the Red Court live instead of causing all the peace you have with this one knife?”

My blood runs cold like ice. I can feel the chill radiating from my skin. Its not just a feeling anymore. Its real. Everywhere around me the people try to comprehend the sudden temperature drop. The manager looks at the broken AC, that suddenly seems to work just fine and frowns. It’s August, so it’s been hot for days and the nights weren't much colder. Moments ago the inside of the coffee shop was as hot as the air outside. Now ice crystals creep over the windows.

Ebenezars hand drops from my arm, his fingers are red from frostbite. My skin is probably like an ice block. He doesn't seem to notice it. He is to concentrated on my face. “Hoss…” he begins. His breath comes in little clouds from his mouth. I close my eyes briefly and try to contain the Winter inside of me. I can feel it lurking in the back of my mind, ready to attack, ready to slay and kill and rip into everyone who is near me whether they deserve it or not.

“You listen to me.” I say as calm as I can, my voice sounds like splintering icicles falling from a roof. “Every single one of us has potential of evil. Do you think the vampires are the only ones battling it? Do you know how many evil humans are out there? How many wizards, how many Faeries? If we start killing everyone who has strength and power we would stand on a very lonely planet. If I could go back to this moment I would probably do the same again, because I am human and selfish and it was the lesser evil at the time, but I would never think it was the right thing to do.

And yes, apparently I trust this vampire more than I do you. If you want to kill someone who battles a demon, start with me, I have plenty of them. Until then I will keep protecting my friends, and find the bastards that attacked him. You are family, because you are my blood, and I can’t change that, but if you want to stay a part of my life, you should learn to respect my choices. I’m not just your apprentice anymore. You can’t tell me what to do and what to think. I’m old enough to make my own decisions. You don’t have to help me with this and I see now that it was a mistake to expect it from you, but if you stand in my way, you will regret it.”

I let one last ice cold wave flow out of my body, before I drag all the winter that escaped back into my thoughts and slam the thick safe door in my mind behind it. Now is not the time to release the full forces of winter. I have to stay concentrated. Ebenezar sits in front of me and blinks. The coffee is frozen. No reason to stay here.

“This was a waste of time. Excuse me, but I have other important things to do.” And with that I grab my staff and stomp past the confused customers. Someone touches my arm unintentionally and cries out from pain. The man stares at his frostbitten arm as if he tries to grasp what he sees, and isn't very successful with it. I dodge the baffled manager, careful not to collide with anyone else and slam the door behind me. As soon as I am on the street, the air inside the shop gets back to its normal temperature. Meltwater runs down the windows.

I manage to keep my anger inside and to not unintentionally set something on fire or inflict someone else with frostbite, while walking the few minutes back to the flat. After I deactivated the wards and opened the door, I step inside still fuming.

Thomas has his phone in his hand and apparently just finished a call. He looks at me questioning. “Don’t ask.” I say darkly. My mood seems to show.

He frowns but doesn't mention it. He holds up his phone. “Murphy called. Bad news.”

I snort. “What is it this time?” I could really do with some things working out for a change.

Thomas grimaces. “Apparently the police found the body of a White Court vampire.”

Chapter Text

Thomas and I arrive at the crime scene in his car. Fortunately it’s ‘just’ a BMW X5 M. He got it brand-new and to be honest its less flashy than his usual cars, but nonetheless worth more than I make in a few years. Of course its white and it has the advantage of a fully functional AC. I try not to sabotage that one with my magic, because I really can’t afford replacing it.

Even though we park 30 yards away from the crime scene tape, I can see the exact moment Murphy spots us by the way her whole body gets rigid.

“Oh, man. She looks pissed.” Thomas whispers beside me.

“Not helping.” I grit my teeth, while Murphy approaches us with the whole force of her five foot body and the anger of a wild banshee. She stops in front of me and shoots an annoyed look at Thomas before she focuses her gaze on my unfortunate person, because apparently as a default setting, I’m to blame.

“What is he doing here?” she snaps at me. “This is an active crime scene. I had to pull a lot of strings to even get you here. You can’t just bring anyone, as if you were invited to a party!” Oh boy, Thomas is right, she really is pissed.

“Oh Harry, I am your plus one.” Thomas grins at me before turning to Murphy. “Hello Karrin, you look dazzling as always.” His voice is smooth and he seems completely unconcerned by her bad mood.

“Shut it.” She says through clenched teeth and her gaze turns deadly when she looks at me again.

I don’t flinch away from her like I would have done a few years ago, but I’m also not stupid enough to throw gasoline into the fire. “I’m sorry Murph. I couldn’t leave him.” I say apologizing. “And he could help with this. If the victim is a white court vampire he might know him or her.”

Murphy scoffs. “Fine. But stick to the rules, Raith. We have to tread very carefully here. I had to call in a lot of favors.”

Thomas grins at her in his typical radiant way. “But of course, Karrin. I will be on my best behavior.”

She waves a dismissive hand in his direction before she looks at me. “Can we talk for a moment?”

I nod and give Thomas a stern look. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Dad.”

Murphy and I step a few feet away, while Thomas pulls the new phone he picked up on the way, out of his pocket, and begins to play something that I couldn’t understand, even if I knew how to operate a modern smart phone for more than two minutes. We had to stop at his flat to get him clothes that weren’t ripped and bloody otherwise the officers at the crime scene would have probably got suspicious.

Murphy touches my upper arm. “Are you okay?” she asks quietly.

I blink at her. She can be astonishingly sensitive sometimes, if she really tries but don’t tell her I said that or I might get punched.

 I sigh. “I’ll manage. To be honest I don’t know what to do, Murph. This could turn pretty bad in a short amount of time.”

I really want to tell her about Ebenezar and how disappointed I am, but this is neither the time nor the place. “I just have to find out who is behind this. And I have to do it quick, before more people get hurt.” I glance sideways at Thomas, who chuckles as a reaction to something at his phone.

Murphy follows my gaze. “How bad was it?”

I clench my teeth. “He would’ve died if he hadn’t come to me. These people used some spells, that could only be reversed by a wizard.”

She takes a sharp breath. “And now there is a body who is probably also a white court vampire.”

I nod. “I can’t leave him out of my sight until this is over.”

“Do you really think someone hunts them down systematically?” Her gaze travels around the crime scene, as if she tries to comprehend the implications of that. She knows how fragile the peace  between the wizards and the vampires is and how little it would take for it all to go south very fast.

“Maybe.” I say. “What did you find out about the attack on Thomas? Did someone get a picture of them? Anything useful?”

She shakes her head grimly. “I’m afraid not. I checked with my contacts at the precinct. It was a pretty bad neighborhood. No CCTV. A lot of clubs and council homes. It was luck some officers got a complaint about noise disturbances and heard the attack. When they arrived at the scene there was nothing there except a lot of blood.”

“Is there an investigation?” I ask. It could be worrying if the blood of a white court vampire gets analyzed as evidence.

“With no body, no witnesses and no suspects there isn’t much to investigate, but I stepped in and got the evidence anyway. Told them something about a possible health risk and a contamination due to wrong storage. The usual crap. Couldn’t allow forensics to have a look at it. The detectives working the case were glad to get rid of it. They thought it was a dead-end anyway.”

“It probably is.” I mutter. “I still need to go to the location of the attack, just in case they missed something. Could you look at what they found and get me everything that looks like it could belong to one of the attackers?”

She shrugs. “Sure, I try, but like I said, there wasn’t much except blood. They were very careful.”

I snort. “They were stupid to do something like this in the first place, but that is another point. Should we look at the body? Maybe they weren’t so careful with this one.”

“Yeah, come on, I’ll get you to it.”

I wave at Thomas who nods and joins Murphy and me. We duck under the crime scene tape after she spoke a few quiet words with the officer guarding it. In the end he nods and lets us pass. “Nothing from last night.” I whisper in Thomas’ direction. “When we are finished here I want to see where it happened.”

“You think that’s a good idea?” he asks frowning.

“There could be a lead there. Can’t hurt to try.”

Murphy approaches the body and steps aside so we have a better look at it. It’s a good looking man in his thirties. He wears a white shirt, tight jeans and red leather shoes with snake design. There is crusted blood in his dark hair. I immediately recognize the wounds across his face and throat. They are the same deep gashes Thomas had on his chest.

“He bled out, according to the medical examiner. Got no ID, though, so we don’t know who he is yet. Maybe the assailant took his wallet.” Murphy explains and looks expectantly at Thomas.

“Definitely White Court.” My brother mutters under his breath. “But I don’t know him. He’s no Raith. Probably a Malvora.” He looks at Murphy. “The wallet missing doesn’t have to mean anything. You don’t really need an ID when you are a vampire. The clubs have other methods to determine who to let in.” for a moment I see a silver shimmer in his eyes and know what he means with that. There are special clubs for White Court vampires, where mortals aren’t allowed to enter except the ones that are there to be food. I shudder. Thomas eyes return to normal. “I leave my ID in the car most of the time. Maybe you should start looking there first.”

Murphy nods. “His car wasn’t found yet, but as far as I heard, they’re already on it.”

“It’s probably white and flashy.” I mumble under my breath and Thomas gives me an insulted look. I crouch beside the victim and look at the wounds. “Looks like the same method.” I say grimly.

Murphy inhales sharply. “So its official, they hunt White Court vampires.”

Thomas looks down the street, which is lined with red brick houses and industrial buildings. “This location is not far from where I was attacked. They could've come here right after they lost me.”

I hold my palm over the deep gashes on the victims throat and close my eyes. When I open them again I open my third eye with them. I concentrate on the body in front of me and try to ignore the bright white and blue in the corner of my eye, that comes from Murphy and the darker shape with flickering sparks that is Thomas. As soon as I see the body my blood runs ice cold. I can see the terror in his face, feel the pain this spell caused. Its like an overlapping flicker of something out of control, something angry. Like a glowing cloud of dust hovering over each gash, waiting to rip, tear and torture the victim. There is also something else lurking in the corner. Something strangely familiar, that I can’t quite grasp. I never looked at the result of this spell with my third eye. Its not pretty. I close my eyes and return my vision to normal.

“Definitely the spell they used on you.” I say in Thomas direction.

“Okay, so that means the assailants were probably the same, at least if there’s not another group of vampire-hunting wizards running around in Chicago.” Thomas tries to keep his tone light, but I know he is as concerned as I am.

This confirms our worst assumptions. If these wizards are Wardens and decided to take drastic measures to reduce the risk they see in the White Court vampires, this could start yet another war with a vampire court. I highly doubt, that someone manages it this time to find a proverbial bomb to nuke them all and get rid of the whole ‘problem’. I doubt it and I don’t want it, obviously. This wasn’t the right solution with the Red Court, and it definitely wont be the right solution with the White Court. I have to stop these maniacs before they tear apart what I tried to build for years. Lara’s and my reluctant truce is basically the only thing standing between us and a war. As soon as this gets out, she wont be able to keep that truce. Her people will scream for revenge.

“We have to keep this from Lara somehow.” I whisper and already begin to rack my brain how in the world we should do that.

Murphy clenches her teeth. “Harry, we can’t just brush this under the carpet. As soon as they find an ID it will be impossible to keep his name out of the process and I’m quite sure the White Court has eyes on the police databases.” She looks at Thomas who nods.

“There isn’t a thing happening in this city, concerning the white court, without Lara knowing of it. She likes to have control. It will be immensely difficult to keep her in the dark, once there is an investigation.”

“Karrin.” I say pleadingly. “I need time. You have to help me with this. There is too much at stake.”

She sighs tiredly and rubs the bridge of her nose. “I guess I can get them to keep the case out of the system for 48 hours. You have to hurry, if you want to catch them. I can’t do more than that. I’m sorry.”

“Its not the first time I work under time constrictions…” I say and try very hard not to panic. Two days are not a lot when you look for three unidentified wizards in the metropolitan area of Chicago and probably the whole state. Okay, now there is the panic. What if they’re already gone? They could’ve vanished anywhere! For all I know they could already be in Timbuktu. Damn it, how do I manage to get myself in such a mess every single time?

“Harry!” Murphy snaps and rips me from my thoughts.

I blink at her. “Sorry what did you say?”

She gives me a pitiful look. “I said, I may not be able to help you as a police officer, because obviously I’m not with the police anymore, but you can always call me, you know that, right? I have experience with monsters. If you need my help punching some bad guys, I’m there.”

I nod. “Thanks, Murph. I know I can call you when something goes wrong, but at the moment I think it is more important that you keep an eye on the case and call us if something else comes up.”

She scoffs at me. “I still think you don’t quite understand your role as consultant.”

Thomas laughs. “He never did. Harry likes to meddle with things, that don’t concern him.”

“Shut up.” I direct at Thomas before smiling sweetly at Murphy. “I understand, that I get a check from the Chicago Alliance, if I help you with a case that concerns you’re organization and I think rogue wizards are pretty much your jurisdiction so…oh look! Here I am, helping with a case. This will be probably the only time I ever get money from Marcone again” I grin. I would like to see his face when he finds out.

“We can talk about that when you found these wizards.” Murphy says matter-of-factly and looks at her watch. “I would hurry. I can’t buy you unlimited time.”

I sigh. 48 hours it is. Again. I have a strange feeling of déjà-vu from basically every major case I worked before. 48 hours, and after that things would begin to go south.

I turn to Thomas, who looks at me with arched eyebrows as if he just waits for me to give the starting signal. “We better get to work.” I say and yep, there is the panic again.


 

First we decide to visit the location where Thomas was attacked last night. It is within walking distance what confirms our previous thoughts about the assailants finding a new target right after my brother escaped.

I stand in the street and look down at the spot were there must have been a very large puddle of blood last night. Someone obviously cleaned the crime scene, because there isn’t any trace of it left, except a metallic smell and a light discoloration of the sidewalk. I turn around and look in every direction. Thomas told me where he came from and where his car was parked.

“Do you think they could’ve followed you from the club?” I muse.

Thomas shakes his head. “I would’ve heard them, I just fed, my senses were enhanced. They must have lurked in the shadows over there and waited for someone to come by.” He makes a vague gesture in the direction of a dark alley with several dumpsters. I sigh. Sometimes I hate my job.

“So it was probably a coincidence it was you?” I ask and stroll over to the alley to have a look around. Thomas follows me.

“I guess. They could have attacked every white court vampire coming from the club. Many of them park their cars a few blocks away.”

I crouch down and look beneath the dumpster. Maybe they were dumb enough to smoke while waiting and leaving the cigarette butt behind or they drank from a can and dumbed it on the ground. No such luck. Probably would’ve been too easy. My bad guys like to be clever and let me do all the work. I stand up and let my gaze wander over the ground. There’s nothing suspicious there. Damn it. I thought I could avoid the dumpster.

“What are you doing?” my brother asks when I take of my duster, let it drop to the floor with a heavy thud and climb over the rim of the dumpster. “What does it look like?” I grumble.

Thomas tries very hard not to laugh. “I hope you don’t expect me to help you with this. I just changed my clothes.”

“Do me a favor and be quiet for a minute, so I can do my work without your annoying comments.”

I know why I usually like to work alone and it’s not just the flexible work time schedule. I just enjoy the silence.

Thomas leans against the brick wall and makes a bored face. “I would have thought your life is more interesting than that.” He says and I can’t suppress a laugh while I keep pushing dirty trash bags aside.

“I enjoy the moments of peace between all the violence and chaos. It’s not usually this quiet, and when it is I can be sure it won’t last long.” I reply absently.

He hums affirmative. “Yes I know. You seem to attract all kind of trouble lately.”

“Not just lately…” I mumble.

For the following few minutes there is nothing but silence and the occasional ringing from Thomas’ phone. During the half hour I work myself through the trash, it rings at least twenty times. He doesn’t pick up a single time. “You’re quite popular today.” I say and try not to sound jealous. Even if I had a working mobile phone it would probably ring not more than once a month, and that would be the Wardens, asking why the heck I wasn’t answering my landline. They’re quite old-fashioned when it comes to things like this. Thomas gets probably hundreds of calls, from admirers and friends every day.

He darts an annoyed look at me. “I don’t answer it anymore, if I don’t recognize the number. Lara gave my number to some Southeast Asian porn hotline, and since then I get dozens of calls every day. Sometimes I pick up just to mess with them, but most of the time they’re just annoying. She thought it was hilarious.” He smirks. “I’m still trying to think about a way to pay her back…”

I burst into a fit of laugher. The situation is everything but funny. I have two days to catch a killer, convince Lara to stand down, as soon as she finds out about this mess, prevent one of the biggest wars in the history of the White Council and I’m standing knee deep in rubbish, trying to find the needle in the proverbial haystack without even knowing whether it is a needle, a toothpick or something entirely different. I should be crying, but as usual somebody, in this case Thomas, finds a way to pull me from my depressing thoughts and show me that no matter how bad the situation seems to be, there is still something to laugh about. He stares at me annoyed. “Really Harry?”

It takes three whole minutes before I can say anything without bursting into little giggles again. “That is so like your sister.” I rasp finally, a massive grin spreading over my face.

Thomas groans. “You are unbelievable, Harry. Are you seriously on her side?” his tone is a mixture of brotherly mocking and played outrage.

“You must admit it’s pretty funny.” I say. “And of course I’m not on her side. She would kill me on the spot if she got the chance.”

I concentrate again on my very important task. Five minutes later I let out a triumphant shout. “Yee-haw!”

Thomas looks up from his phone and stares at the thing I pulled out of the dumpster. “Is that…?” he begins.

“Yep.” I say. “A bloody glove.”

He frowns. “I cant remember whether they wore gloves. And it’s pretty warm outside. You think it belongs to them?”

I jump out of the dumpster and hold it in his direction. “You tell me.” I say. “Do you think its vampire blood?”

He grimaces disgusted. “Harry, I’m not a detection dog.”

I sigh. “Yes, but it’s a lighter shade than normal blood, isn’t it? And maybe they wore it not because its cold, but to avoid fingerprints.”

“Why should they dump it here? It makes no sense.” He replies. “They didn’t touch me physically, so it can’t be my blood, unless they fell in the puddle of blood I left behind, and if it is the blood of the other White Court vampire who died a few blocks away, why did they come back here?”

“Maybe their car was here?” I muse. “Or they killed him first and attacked you after that? No matter what, I should try a location spell. It might lead us to the owner of the glove, and if we are lucky its one of the attackers.

Before anyone of us can speculate further, Thomas’ phone starts ringing again. He glances down and looks at me. “Murphy.” He says. I hold my hand out and he gives it to me.

“Harry.” She says seriously as soon as I pick up. “I just heard there is another body.” My face must look pretty expressive because Thomas’ whole posture gets stiff. Or maybe he just overheard what Murphy said. He looks like a marble statue. That’s something White Court vampires are extremely good at.

“Another…” I say and I cant keep my voice from trembling with anger. “Also White Court?”

“Sounds like it, I haven’t seen the crime scene yet.” She sounds angry too. I can relate to that very well at the moment. “Same method, this time a woman, also no ID.”

I clench my teeth. “This gets out of control pretty fast.”

“That’s not all.” Murphy says. “She was found at the other end of the city.”

I change a surprised look with Thomas. “Time of death?” I ask.

“Around the same time as the other victim, according to the officer at the scene.”

“That can’t be right.” I say. “They never could’ve moved so fast.”

“More than one group maybe?” she says. „This time there were no eyewitnesses either. Someone heard a fight, ran over and mere seconds after that, there was no one but the victim. It‘s like they disappeared into thin air.“

A bad feeling overcomes me. Oh no…I turn and let my gaze wander around the alley again. This time I try to see something that isn’t there, instead of looking at the things that are there. I don’t like what I find. If what I think is true, we could have a bigger problem than originally anticipated. It means I have to talk to some people as soon as possible.

“Where are you now?” I ask Murphy, grab Thomas’ arm without warning and drag him with me in the direction of his car.

“I’m still at the first scene, I heard from one of the officers about the second victim. What-?”

“Harry, where are we going?” Thomas asks. I ignore him.

“Stay there. We’re on our way.” I say and fasten my steps. Before Murphy can say anything I end the call.

“Harry-“ Thomas begins.

“I explain later.” I say curtly.

We arrive at the crime scene five minutes later. Murphy awaits us frowning. “Harry, what’s going on?” she asks.

I shake my head. “I can’t explain now, I have to go somewhere. Do me a favor and don’t leave him out of your sight so nobody kills him.” I say and gesture in Thomas’ direction.

He scoffs. “I don’t need a babysitter, Harry.”

“Yes you do.” I say resolute. “Someone is out there hunting White Court vampires. Don’t be stupid. Murph will you do this for me? I just need a few hours.”

She signs but seems to realize how important this is because she doesn’t argue. “Yeah sure. I guess he can come with me.”

“Hello, I’m right here!” Thomas says outraged.

I held my hand out. “I need your car keys.”

He looks at me for a long moment before he grits his teeth and nods. “Okay, but don’t break it, its new.”

I try to smile. I know even without seeing it, that it’s a complete flop.

„We meet in three hours at your house Murphy.“

„Why not at your flat?“ she asks frowning.

„Because,“ I say, „they could be watching it.“ They both open their mouths. „Don’t ask. Just trust me, please. Three hours, your house, Murphy. If I‘m not there by then, you can begin to worry.“

„Harry!“ they both say with one voice.

„Just kidding!“ I call over my shoulder, while already half running in the direction of Thomas‘ car. „I‘ll be back before that.“

At least I hope that I‘ll be back.

I didn’t tell Murphy and Thomas were I was going, because I realized something none of them did. There was no way this wizards could move so fast from one location to the other and disappear within seconds without using the Nevernever. And there was something in this alley that told me that they opened a portal right there. If they were using portals to the Nevernever they definitely weren’t just young unexperienced wizards. They had to know the paths between worlds. And that means someone in the White Council must‘ve noticed. Someone must have known about this or at least tolerated it.

I had no choice. I have to speak to the Senior Council and hope they won’t find a good reason to kill me this time.

Chapter Text

Harry hurries away, his duster flapping behind him. Karrin stares after him before turning to Thomas. „Why did he smell like a trash can?“ Is the first thing she asks.

The vampire doesn‘t look like he‘s glad to be left behind. „He climbed into a dumpster.“ he says absently.

Karrin arches an eyebrow but doesn’t comment on that. „Did you find something relevant?“

Harry’s brother shrugs, a motion that really shouldn’t be elegant, but somehow he manages it anyhow. Damn White Court vampire. Sometimes she thinks he‘s simply not able to not look good. Not that she would ever tell him that, but it‘s distracting. And she doesn’t like to be distracted. It’s to easy to make mistakes if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.

„He found a bloody glove, and thinks it belongs to the attackers. He planned to do a location spell when you called. I don’t know where he wants to go so suddenly. He didn’t let me in on his plans.“

Karrin snorts. „It‘s Harry.“ she says and they both quietly agree that that is enough to say in this situation.

Thomas drums his fingers against his thigh. „Sooo…“ he says and within seconds his mood seems to change from slightly worried to downright cheery. „How can I help you with your inquiries?“ He smirks at her.

She rolls her eyes at him. „Your not here to play cop.“ she states.

“But, we can’t just sit around, while Harry does who knows what for three hours!”

I won’t sit around. Even though I’m no cop anymore I can go ask some questions.” She says and smiles a little crooked. She wouldn’t admit it out loud but she missed the police work.

“Great, where do we start?” Thomas asks.

Karrin scoffs. “I‘m very much capable of asking people questions without your vampire charm.“

“I don’t doubt that for one second.” He grins. „But you promised Harry to not let me out of your sight, so unless you want to have a break and go drink a coffee with me, I‘m your work partner.“

She grinds her teeth. He is right, of course. She promised Harry, and he is part of the target group. She can’t just leave him somewhere.

„Okay.“ she sighs. „But there are rules. No flirting with suspects or witnesses, no talking while I question someone and for gods sake, don’t tell anyone who you are.“ Damn it, she is already talking like someone from the police again. She shouldn’t let this become a habit.

Thomas makes an innocent face that can’t fool her for one second. „You have my word.“ he says with played seriousness.

She sighs again. She probably can’t expect more from him, he is incredible immature today. It’s times like this she can’t believe she ever doubted his blood relation to Harry.

„So where to first?“ he asks.

„Show me the club.“ she says. „Maybe someone there saw or heard something.“

He looks like she told him his birthday would be two months earlier. „So you do need my help. It will be my pleasure Karrin.“

She waves absentmindedly with her hand in his direction, to show him to get a move on while already walking to her car.

He follows after her. „You know,“ he says. „I always wanted to see how you guys work. We could be like one of these TV-show Detective-Consultant duos. Do you think there will be a car chase?“

Karrin groans and refrains from telling him that she is no cop strictly speaking. Not anymore. She already regrets making that damn promise to Harry.


 

The club is everything Karrin expected. From the outside, you can’t distinguish it from other clubs. A red brick building in an industrial area. No windows, a single black door and a simple logo that doesn’t attract to much attention. If you know it’s there, it’s pretty easy to spot.

„Do people get in, if they’re not White Court vampires?“ she asks Thomas, after they got out of her car. On the two minute drive over he tried really hard to convince her to use the not quite legal, portable siren she still has in her car. She didn’t give in.

He gives her a crooked smile that tells her, that he waited for her to ask this question. „They do, but only if they look for a little thrill.“

She knows what he means with that and she regrets asking. „Would they let wizards in?“

„Probably not, unless a vampire vouches for them. And even then it would be not very likely. Most of these places have a strict no wizards policy. They don’t like them sticking their noses in everything.“

They arrive at the door and Thomas touches her shoulder to hold her back, before she can knock. „Let me do this part, or they won’t let us in.“

She grinds her teeth, but steps back. „Don’t do something stupid.“ she says.

„You spend entirely to much time with Harry.“ he replies and she snorts.

Thomas steps forward and knocks at the door.

„What? No secret knock signal?“ she asks ironically.

„This isn’t an underground poker cave, Karrin.“ he scoffs.

She would‘ve probably replied something along the lines of vampire clubs and underground poker are basically the same, but that’s when the door is opened.

Karrin expected one of the usual bulky bouncers, that you would recognize from a mile away. The kind of man, who can intimidate a whole group of drunk, belligerent college students just by standing there and staring at them.

Instead, the man opening the door is more the type of man who would play the role of the butler, in one of these old English movies. The ones where the inspector solves cases in a little village and the population should have been decimated to zero by the end of season two, due to all the murders taking place there. He is skinny, has smooth dark hair and isn’t particularly good looking. So no White Court vampire.

„Good morning.“ he says and inspects them both over the tip of his long nose. „How can I help you?“

Murphy blinks at him and opens her mouth to introduce herself, but Thomas is faster. He flashes a dazzling grin at the man. „I‘m Thomas. This is my friend Karrin. We would like to drink something.“ The man looks at Thomas for a few more seconds before he nods and opens the door for them.

Before they can enter, he stops her. „Ma’am. I’m afraid we have a strict no-weapons-policy inside. You can leave your gun at the cloakroom.“ Karrin stares at him before looking at Thomas who just shrugs.

„Not my rules.“ he says.

She doesn’t like it but relents nonetheless. „Alright, I leave it there.“

The ‘bouncer‘ smiles coldly at her and for a few seconds she has the strange feeling that even though he is no vampire, he’s also not entirely human. „The lockers are in the hallway to the right. I wish you a pleasant experience.“

They thank him and step into  the building.

„What is he?“ she whispers, while she locks her gun into one of the white lockers and puts the key in her jacket pocket. She didn’t stop wearing a gun after she lost her job at the police. It wasn’t as if her life got any less dangerous. It was rather the other way around. In her whole police career she hadn’t been in so many fights.

Thomas frowns. „Did anyone ever tell you, that’s an extremely impolite question?“ he says.

She stares at him. „Do you know how many things already tried to kill me? If I was polite all the time, I probably would be dead by now.“

„If you tried to be polite sometimes, maybe there wouldn’t be so many monsters trying to kill you.” He replies and her gaze turns deadly. “Okay, okay, relax. He‘s someone ancient. The only thing I know is, that he was here for as long as I can remember and many years before that. He never had problems when someone spoiled for a fight. It is as if every trouble he has just vanishes like this.“ he snaps his fingers.

A shudder runs down her spine. If she thinks about it, she really doesn’t want to know what exactly he is.

They round a corner and step into the main area of the club. Even though it is eleven a.m. there are a already (or probably still) a handful of people around. The room is dominated by a huge dance floor and a long white bar. Everything is white. The bar stools, couches and booths are white leather, LEDs illuminate the liquor shelf behind the bar and there are curtains that lead to private rooms along the walls. She thinks she knows what they are for.

Thomas goes straight for the bar. She has to hurry to keep up. He leans onto the counter and smiles at the barkeeper who is apparently human. At least as far as Karrin can tell, but she has reached a point in her life where ‘human‘ isn’t the default setting anymore. She met to many strange creatures to not question everything she sees.

„I‘ll take a bourbon on the rocks and the house special. And for the lady…?“ he looks at her questioning and she gives him an unbelievable look. He smirks. „Make it a Virgin Margarita.“ he says after some consideration.

She rolls her eyes but doesn’t protest. At least he didn’t order her something alcoholic even though what he ordered isn’t even close to her taste. The barkeeper nods and begins to prepare the drinks.

Karrin looks at Thomas with an arched eyebrow. „Ah.“ he says as if he remembered something. „I almost forgot.“ he leans over the counter and flashes his brightest smile.

To Karrin’s surprise the barkeeper is completely unfazed by it. Maybe not a human after all. Or he is just used to White Court vampires trying to seduce him and has developed some kind of immunity. „I‘d like to know whether you heard of some unusual things in the neighborhood? Maybe some guests who shouldn’t be here? Some strange behavior among the customers?“

The barkeeper stares at him for a moment, before he continues to mix the drinks. „The past nights have been pretty loud. I don’t know what’s going on, out there when I’m in here.“

It didn’t escape her notice how perfectly he avoided answering the question. „Did you see any wizards in the crowd?“ She asks bluntly because sometimes, you simply have to shock people to see their unfiltered reaction. Unfortunately the man seems to have no reaction whatsoever.

His gaze drifts to her for a short time before wandering back to Thomas again. He completely ignores her.

 She blinks at him. „I asked whether you saw any wizards.“ she repeats in case he lost his hearing.

He still doesn’t acknowledge her. He simply finishes mixing their drinks and places them on the bar in front of them.

Thomas jumps in, before she can consider punching the guy in the jaw. „Karrin.“ he says quietly and catches her arm. „Don‘t.“

She stares at him, but he simply shakes his head and looks at the barkeeper. „So did you? See any wizards?“

And just like that the barkeeper seems responsive again. „They don’t come here. They are not welcome on their own. Freddy wouldn’t let them in without an invitation.“ Freddy is probably the bouncer.

Karrin is to stunned to say anything. Did the guy ignore her on purpose because she is a women, human or because she worked for the police? Even though he can’t possibly know about the last one. She’s not sure what would insult her the most.

Thomas nods and knocks back his tumbler. „Thank you. Is your boss around?“

The barkeeper shakes his head. „She’s out.“ he says not very helpful.

Karrin sighs inwardly. This was all pretty useless until now.

Thomas doesn’t seem disturbed. „I‘d like to speak to her anyway.“ he says still grinning, even though now he looks also a little dangerous. The silver in his eyes gets brighter. „Tell her Thomas Raith is here.“

The barkeeper stares at him for a few more seconds, before he turns around. „Wait here.“ he says and walks through a door behind the bar.

As soon as he’s gone Karrin punches Thomas in the shoulder hard. „Ouch!“ he shouts and a few lazy gazes from the couches drift in their direction, before deciding that they’re not worth the attention. „What was that for?“ he asks indignant and rubs his shoulder where she hit him. 

„I don’t know.“ she snaps at him. „Take your pick! Maybe for not telling me, I would be treated like scum in this place. Or for keeping me from punching this guy. Or for telling him your name, even though I explicitly told you not to do so, when we came here!“

„Karrin. Calm down.“ he says soothingly and holds up his hands. „I didn’t know they don’t talk to humans. I usually don’t do conversations when I‘m here and you punching this guy wouldn’t have helped us at all, believe me. Telling him my name was the only option, if we want to talk to the owner. Now relax and take a sip of your drink. Maybe the owner has a lead for us.“

Karrin scoffs and shoots a disgusted look at the Virgin Margarita. „I‘m not this type of woman.“ she says.

“Your loss, I guess.” He shrugs, takes the glass and gulps its contents down. „To much lemon if you ask me. The guy doesn’t know how to mix a Margarita.“ he says grimacing.

She tries to concentrate on the task again. Until now they didn’t get a single useful snippet of information out of this whole mess. „You know we should talk to the bouncer after that. He might be the only one who notices what goes on outside when the club is open.“ she says thoughtful.

Thomas frowns and wants to say something but is interrupted, when the door behind the bar opens again and the barkeeper comes back.

„Good, you’re back.“ says Thomas. His voice is a little slurred. Karrin arches a brow at him. Is he already drunk after one glass of whiskey? The Margarita didn’t even have alcohol in it. „You know, I ordered a house special.“

The barkeeper smiles at him, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. „You can have that, after you talked to the boss. She likes to see you now.“

Thomas grins. „Great. Let’s go then.“

The man turns around again. „Follow me. I‘ll take you to her.“ They follow him through the door and into a black painted corridor with many doors. Probably the staff area. The air conditioning here is adjusted a little bit to cold for her liking. She already has goosebumps on her arms.

„What is the house special?“ She mumbles in Thomas‘ direction even though she has a pretty good idea. He probably lost a lot of blood and energy last night and didn’t feed since Harry healed his wounds. Plus, she would lie if she said she hadn’t noticed the silver shimmer in his eyes.

He doesn’t answer. When she looks at him from the side he seems to be even paler than when they entered the club. „Are you okay?“ she whispers.

He stumbles.

Karrin is too surprised to act fast enough. She has never seen a White Court vampire stumble, unless he was seriously hurt. Everything they do, they do with some kind of elegance or grace. There is no way he just misstepped. She still stares at him, when he catches himself at the wall with one hand. „Karrin…“ he pants and suddenly appears to be breathless. „Something is wrong.“

The barkeeper  turns to them and arches a brow. „Are you feeling well, Sir?“ he asks and that’s the moment in which Thomas legs buckle and she has to catch him around the waist or he would‘ve collapsed to the floor.

„Karrin…leave.“ he slurs and that’s when it finally dawns on her.

„What did you put in these drinks?“ she snaps at the barkeeper.

He looks at her with mild surprise. „Oh, he drank both of them? No wonder you are not affected. How unfortunate.“ he says.

He takes a step forward.

Karrin lets Thomas sink to the floor against the wall, were he stays slumped like a sack of potatoes. He‘s unconscious. She steps in front of him and goes into a defensive stance. „Stay where you are. I work for the police.“ she lies.

He laughs. “You think that matters to me?”

Well, it was worth a try. He obviously doesn’t care about the police. Anger suddenly rushes though her. How could she be so stupid? How could the wizards have known about the club and its procedures, if they hadn’t had someone on the inside? It was suspicious enough they targeted vampires in the direct area around a club where dozens of them went every night and no one noticed a single thing about it. And she had gone in here unarmed, with one of their preferred victims who wasn’t even at his full strength.

But how could she predict that a vampire club is helping to kill its best customers. Maybe it isn’t the whole club. Maybe the barkeeper is on a solo mission. She needs to get information and she needs to distract him.

„Why do you help killing your customers?“ she asks while the man still approaches her careful like a wild animal.

He smiles coldly. „You ask why? You saw how they expect me to threat humans in this club. We are rubbish for them! They just let us in to use us. They let us become addicted to them, until we are nothing more than a drooling mess and after that they drain our energy and throw us away. They are abominations.“ he stops ten feet in front of her. Still to far away to get him. A little bit closer…

„You lost someone, didn’t you?“ she says and knows she is right, even though she just wants him to keep talking. „Someone important to you.“

„My sister.“ he snaps. „She met one of these monsters and it destroyed her. She wasn’t herself anymore, kept running after this vile creature. She was an addict and she didn’t even know it back then. I found her bleeding out in her bathtub. She left a letter writing some crap about how she couldn’t live hurting him with her touch, but also couldn’t live without him, so she had to kill herself. I don’t know what this monster told her, but it turned her insane.“

Karrin grinds her teeth together. She knows just what Harry told her about the White Court and can’t say for sure what the vampire, this man is talking about, did to the woman but she knows one thing: True love can hurt a vampire physically. Harry once told her Thomas had experienced the same with Justine. Non of that is something she should voice now. She has more important things to do than change his opinion about vampires. Maybe he can tell her something about the wizards. And hopefully it distracts him enough for her to knock him out.

„So you found a way to take revenge, by killing innocent people.“ A typical method to get someone to talk. Get them to tell their side of the story, because everyone likes to talk about themselves. And provoke them at the same time, so they let something slip they didn’t intent telling you.

„They’re not innocent!“ he shouts and who would’ve guessed? It’s working. „They deserve this. If the wizards hadn’t shown up I would’ve found another way to destroy them.“

„Destroy them?“ Karrin arches a mocking brow. „Do you think one or two dead vampires make any difference? This is pretty much like a drop in the bucket when there are hundreds of them in the metropolitan area of Chicago and so much more in the whole country.“

He laughs and she knows she’s got him. He feels superior with his knowledge. He thinks she is stupid. „You really think this is the only plan? You’ll see how many vampires remain after the war.“

Damn it. There it is. A war. These wizards know the arrangements, they know the rules and break them anyway, because they want to cause a war between the White Council and the White Court of vampires. „The wizards have rules. They wouldn’t provoke something like that.“ she says.

„Not all wizards like those rules. And not all of them want to share this planet with these monsters.“ he points to Thomas and takes another step forward. „I tell you something,” he continues and she knows now its him who tries to distract her. “It doesn’t have to end bad for you. It‘s still time to change sides. Maybe the vampires corrupted you, but you can resist. You don’t have to be on their side.“

„I‘m on none of your so-called sides.“ Karrin says and brings her left leg a few inches forward so she has better footing. „I‘m just no fan of wars.“

And with that, she ducks to the left and lets her right fist collect with his yaw. „I knew I should have hit you before.“ she mumbles.

The barkeeper stumbles a few steps back and is momentarily dazed. She follows and doesn’t wait for him to regain his balance. She punches right through his defense and this time its her knee in his groin. When you are not taller than five feet this is in most of the cases the best option. He wheezes and crumbles to the floor.

She doesn’t take any chances and kicks him in the stomach one more time, before she rolls him around and pulls the zip ties from her belt, that are fortunately not in the locker with her gun. She ties his hands behind his back and sits up panting heavily. Her gaze sweeps to Thomas, who is still laying on the floor.

“Crap.” She mumbles as she comes to her feet and stumbles over to him to check whether he is breathing, which he fortunately is.

He’s a little bit cold, but maybe that’s normal for him. She doesn’t even bother with checking his pulse because she has no idea if he should even have one. She really would like to have her gun, but she can’t just leave him, so she pulls her phone from her pocket instead and decides to call backup.

She established the emergency call number for all members of the Chicago Alliance. It goes straight to the computer network and alerts a specific response team that is different every week. She would have probably called Harry first if he had a mobile phone. The emergency call can record a message and automatically reads her coordinates. She comes as far as saying her name after the electronic voice picked up, when her phone sends a burst of sparks from its casing and she is forced to drop it to the floor.

Slowly she looks up. Without her noticing it three men have appeared at the other end of the hallway and they are obviously wizards. One of them just lowered his hand. She would put her shirt on a horse that he used a spell to disable her phone, just seconds ago. Karrin slowly rises to her feet and for the second time in five minutes, she is standing between an unconscious vampire and someone who wants to probably kill him.

The difference is, now there are three of them and just one of her and she knows without any doubt, that she has no chance.


 

She thought she was so clever when she tricked the barkeeper. She didn’t even suspect that he was playing for time too. But the bastard was one step ahead the whole time. He called the cavalry before one of them even noticed there was something shady going on.

“Out of the way, human.” The man, who broke her phone says coldly. He is surprisingly old, which disproves Harrys theory, saying the group of wizards must be young and naïve. Granted, the other two behind him are rather young but the older one seems to be the leader. He wears a black suit and an old-fashioned hat. The other to are clad in jeans and T-Shirt. No weapons in sight.

Regardless she can’t take all three of them, and probably not even one without her gun. Harry can throw fire, wind and ice at his adversaries. What could a mere human without any weapon do against such a force?

Well, she has to try something. She can’t just stand here and watch them kill Harrys brother. If he was awake…

She ignores the wizards for the moment and turns to the unconscious vampire. “Thomas!” she hisses and slaps him for good measure across the face. “This would be a really great time to join the fight, don’t you think?” Thomas doesn’t move. He must’ve gotten a pretty strong dose of tranquilizer when he drank both their glasses.

Karrin takes a deep breath and turns around again. The older wizard is watching her with mild amusement, while the two younger ones literally jump up and down from inner anticipation.

“We wasted enough time.” The old one says. “We have no quarrel with you, if you hand over the vampire. Step aside.”

She stands her ground. “Listen.” She says. She’ll be damned if she doesn’t even try to convince them. “Provoking a war with the White Court is not the solution. There will be many dead on both sides. It won’t change a thing.”

“Don’t meddle with things you don’t understand, human.” He says and she loses it.

“You think I don’t understand what war is, because I’m human?” she shouts at him and the anger rushes through her veins like a firestorm. “Did you pay attention to human history at all, while living on this planet or are you to ignorant to learn from past mistakes even if they’re not yours? War is never the solution! And it’s the same with killing someone because he might become a threat! History shows that there are always people with more power than others. Maybe with powers we don’t fully understand.” How do you think I felt, when I was thrown into this whole mess and found out that there are wizards and vampires and werewolves and all kind of monsters out there, who could kill me any second? I didn’t run to the first news station and declared war on them all and not just because no one would’ve believed me but because I knew it would be wrong. Because I knew there were good people among them who just try to live their life like we do. Its not easy to accept some of their flaws but nobody is flawless. We all have them.”

She points at Thomas. “He may be able to kill me, but so are you, and every human on this planet, and humans don’t even have any powers. It doesn’t matter what we potentially can do. It matters what we choose to do. So please, think about it. I just want to avert more death.”

Karrin breaths heavily. She couldn’t stop the flow of words from spilling out and she knows that they are the truth. She’s usually not great at talking but this is an exception. She can’t fight them. She knows she will, if they don’t listen, but she has no chance winning this fight. But if there is just a tiny chance she can reason with these people, she has to try it.

The two younger wizards stare at her as if she has suddenly grown a second head but the older one seems to consider what she said. “You have a very strong will.” He admits slowly. “But I’m afraid I have to disagree with you. There are those in this world who have a stronger potential to be evil. Its our duty as members of the White Council to preserve the peace at all costs. Sometimes that means there first has to be a war.”

“You are insane…” Karrin whispers and he really is. Provoke a war to bring peace is something she thought only the humans could come up with, but obviously it’s a common concept and its absolute bullshit.

“Will you leave this to us, now that you know you can’t persuade us otherwise?” asks the leader.

Karrin clenches her teeth. “No.” she says simply.

The wizard makes a small gesture with his hand and suddenly she gets thrown to the side by a strong cold blast of wind. Her shoulder collides painfully with the wall and something cracks like ice. She doesn’t even has time to scream because she falls to the ground and lands in a crumbled heap. It feels like her left arm is dislocated. She lies there panting and can’t move.

When she looks up again she sees the old wizard tower over Thomas. “Don’t…” she croaks.

He ignores her. Instead he frowns when he crouches in front of the vampire. “That can’t be.” He says and she hears doubt in his voice for the first time. “Look at him and tell me what you think.” He tells the other two wizards.

Both of them step closer after hesitating slightly. “It’s the one from last night.” Says one of them incredulously.

“But he is healed…” adds the other one.

“I can see that.” The old wizard clenches his teeth. “There is only one possibility, how he could’ve survived these wounds.”

He looks at Karrin, who tries very hard to stay conscious. Black spots dance through her vision. The old wizard crouches in front of her now. “Tell me who healed him. Which wizard would help someone like him?”

She smiles weakly at him because he just gave her an idea. “Oh you would like to know, wouldn’t you?” her voice is strained but she manages to squeeze the words out. “There is someone who could sabotage your mission and if you kill us you could have a very serious problem with him.” She doesn’t like using Harrys name as an way out, simply because she can’t stand it being the damsel in distress but this is not the time to be prideful. She’ll get her revenge later. First she has to make sure they survive this confrontation.

His face contorts into a grimace of anger. She sees that she rattled him slightly with her last words. “Who is it?! Tell me!”

She smirks. “He is quite popular in Chicago. I bet you wouldn’t want to cross him. He defeated far worse monsters than you. He has experience with starting wars and knows how wrong it is.” Karrin knows the risk she is taking but there is no other option. She just hopes she doesn’t kill Harry with this. He may be angry but she bets he would be angrier if she would let them kill his brother.

The old wizard seems to finally realize who she means. She notices the exact moment when it dawns on him. He says just one word but he lets all his anger and disgust flow into it.

“Dresden.”

The faces of the two younger wizards turn white.

Chapter Text

I arrive in Edinburgh with an uneasy feeling in my gut. This could go south pretty fast if I’m not careful. I have to find out whether they know anything about the murders and if there is a connection between the assailants and the White Council.

The first indication that there is something wrong, is that someone is waiting for me, when I step through the gate. I don’t know the two guards but with their cloaks and staffs they’re definitely Wardens, even though they seem pretty young, probably just out of training. „Warden Dresden. Please follow us. The Senior Council would like to speak with you.“

Uh-uh. I Think. Not good at all. They’re expecting me.

I stay where I am and don’t move. I was in to many situations, where someone tricked me into thinking he or she was an authority figure before revealing that they actually wanted to kill me the whole time. I’m rather paranoid by now.

„What is this about?“ I ask. „Tell me your names.“

They exchange knowing glances. Obviously someone told them I‘m not the best at simply following orders. Good. I have no intention to just walk into a trap.

„We are the Wardens Rutherford and Delano. The Senior Council demands your presence in a matter of utmost importance. We can’t tell you more than that.“

I laugh. „Okay you two. I don’t know if someone told you that, but I do not trust people I don’t know and who refuse to tell me what’s going on. So if you want me to go with you, you definitely have to be more forthcoming.“

Now they don’t seem to know what to do. I think we would‘ve probably stood there until nightfall, if Ebenezar hadn’t showed up in this moment.

I can’t suppress the little wave of coldness radiating from my body, which drops the air temperature a few insignificant degrees. The others probably didn’t even notice. It seems the Winter Knight is pretty restless lately. I can’t even do anything about it, it just gets me so angry when I remember my old  mentors opinion during our last talk.

Ebenezar is supposed to be on my side. Hell’s Bells, he is my grandfather. A few months ago we decided to bring down the Black Council, we even had a name for our group: Grey Council. I know, it was a pretty good idea. What happened that he changed so much?

I decide to talk to him, as soon as we are alone. Maybe I can change his mind. I refuse to believe that he meant all the things he said earlier.

„What’s the matter here? Rutherford, Delano? Why didn’t you bring Warden Dresden to the Senior Council like you were told?“

I am almost sorry for the two of them, when Ebenezar gives them one of his ice cold stares. They seem lost for words.

I jump in because, you know me. They’re just doing their job and I‘m a general protector of the innocent. Maybe it also has something to do with the fact, that I want to annoy Ebenezar as much as I can. Okay, you got me, it’s probably just that.

„You know I don’t like to just follow people around, McCoy. Especially when I don’t know them. They tend to stab me in the back.“ My voice is dead serious and I intentionally use his last name so he knows I haven’t forgotten what he said a few hours ago.

He looks at me for a few seconds with narrowed eyes before shaking his head as if trying to understand a very difficult math problem and failing miserably.

„Well, you know me. Will you come with us, now you expressed your entirely arbitrary concerns? The Senior Council would like to speak with you and they don’t want to wait the whole day.“

I clench my teeth. Even if I try to fight them, I could take on Rutherford and Delano but I would never win against Ebenezar. He is the Black Staff and that means he’s powerful and he knows that I know it. I may be sometimes reckless but I‘m not stupid enough to look for a fight with my former mentor. Besides I came here to talk to the Senior Council. It would be a waste of time to go now, just because they obviously expected me. I need the information. The proverbial time bombs on the bodies of White Court vampires are ticking and if they blow up, Lara will be there looking for revenge. I really have just this one option.

„Alright. Lead the way.“ I say with playful cheeriness and step away from the gate and into the headquarters of the White Council. I don’t think: This will be fun. Because obviously, it won’t.


 

Ebenezar leads me through the stone halls to one of the smaller meeting rooms. I should probably be glad they didn’t summon the entire Council just for me. That would really be bad news. Instead there are eight wizards in the room. The problem is: Except Ebenezar I don’t know a single one of them and this should be the Senior Council.

They obviously made some changes since I last visited. I don’t like that even a bit.

Not too long ago after the former leader LaFortier was murdered, this guy nobody ever heard of before, stepped up and took the leading position. His name is Gregori Cristos, and he is an alleged Black Council member. We haven’t figured out yet, how deep his connections go, but he is pretty untouchable. I’m surprised to see that he also isn’t present at the moment.

The wizards all wear the official purple stoles of the Senior Council over their dark robes. I take the seat, that Ebenezar gestures to and immediately feel as if I am at a court hearing, when all gazes turn to me. It’s not surprisingly a very familiar feeling.

The Man at the top of the table begins to speak. „Warden Dresden, you are here today because we have to discuss a very serious matter with-“

„Excuse me.“ I say and interrupt the speaking wizard, who is everything a wizard probably should be: Old, wrinkly and stern looking, he has also a gigantic bulbous nose, which (with a little bit exaggeration) covers half of his face. Because of that his little watery blue eyes appear all the more ridiculous. Except for the hair, which is a boring grey, he looks like this one dwarf from the Hobbit films. You know which one I mean. The one who spends most of the time eating. Bombur! It’s definitely Bombur. He even has an unhealthy red skin tone and an enormous paunch, that wouldn’t fit under the table if his chair wasn’t two feet away from it. I try to focus on his eyes, but the nose gets in the way every time I look at him.

„I don’t want to seem disrespectful, but I don’t know a single person in this room. Would someone please tell me where the Senior Council members are?“ I finally ask.

„Firstly you are not allowed to speak while I speak.“  says Bombur.

On top of the things already mentioned, he is apparently also very rude.

I should probably bring up, that if you take a look around the room it seems to be occupied entirely by old men. It looks like a nursing home organized a costume party and everyone showed up in the same boring robe with purple stole. I can basically hear the nurses chitchat in the break room about the lack of originality even though there are so many great options for these well-aged gentlemen and all they come up with, are their old college graduation robes!

„Gregori Cristos is currently very busy with his many tasks and we are his most trusted advisors. We were ordered to overlook this meeting, so be quiet and listen what we have to say to you.“

I raise an eyebrow. Rude. Like I said. Before he can continue I interrupt him again. I never had good manners. „Okay, one more question: Where are the others? Where is the Merlin? Where is Ancient May? What about Injun Joe and Rashid?”

Bombur wrinkles his nose, which is at the same time very impressing and very disgusting. „The Merlin has more important things to do than concern himself with the likes of you, Ancient May is on a critical diplomatic mission in South America, the healer is aiding the Wardens in Europe and the Gatekeeper has to carry out his duties at the outer gates. We are able to handle a situation concerning a single Warden without involving the other members because of this little problem.“

“How flattering…” I mumble under my breath. I see what this means. Gregori replaced the Senior Council with his allies. Except Ebenezar, there is no one here who isn’t an alleged member of the Black Council and Ebenezar seems to be out of his mind at the moment. Even now he’s constantly avoiding my gaze. That means I’m on my own. Fortunately I’m quite used to it by now.

I also don’t believe what Bombur is telling me there. Something is really wrong here. They managed to find the exact time when all other Senior Council members are out of the country? Probably a coincidence…said no one ever before. I’m not stupid, I know there is something fishy about this story.

And even though I don’t like it a bit, I suppose I have to at least listen to what this group of geezers has to say, if I want to figure out what is going on here. So I reluctantly close my mouth and look at them with mild expectation.

Bombur begins again. „Very well. We called you here-“

What is he talking about? They didn’t call me, I personally decided to come here not even an hour ago. The nerve of it!

„-to query you about some events that occurred in the past few days. There was an unsettling amount of information leaked to the White Court of vampires. As a result of this, a very powerful artifact, the White Council sought to store in the interest of safety, vanished from its original location in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. We have reason to believe the White Court, especially Lord Raith had a high interest in this object, and that he orchestrated its disappearance before we could take it into our safe custody.“  

Okay, I have to repeat myself: What in the world is he talking about? An artifact Lord Raith should have an interest in? I refrain from telling them, that Lord Raith has no interest in basically anything anymore, except maybe Lara (Ugh! I really don’t want to think about that) and it’s actually Lara Raith who orchestrated this artifacts disappearance, if the vampires had something to do with this at all.

The power shift in House Raith is a well-kept secret and also the only leverage I have against Lara. Unfortunately she has also leverage against me in form of information about Thomas’ and my blood relation. That’s why we are currently situated in a very tricky Mexican standoff.

And what is that about a leak in the White Council? We’re just at the start of this conversation and they already managed to blind-side me. I didn’t even had the chance to tell them about my vampire murdering wizards yet. And everything has something to do with the White Court. Could that really be a coincidence? Before I can say something he continues and now his stare is fixed directly at me.

„And now the reason you are here, Warden Dresden. It came to our attention that you have very close ties to the White Court vampires. Especially to House Raith.“

Oh Hell’s Bells, do they know about my blood-relation to Thomas? A cold shiver runs down my spine. This can’t be the case, or this conversation would’ve gone entirely different.

„On many occasions you were seen with Thomas Raith, the son of Lord Raith. You have made it clear many times, that you trust this vampire and even corporate with Lord Raith, one of the White Courts most dangerous and without any doubt the most powerful vampire in this area.”

They really are on the wrong track and I have to try very hard to not correct them. The vampire they speak about, is not more than a drooling mess at the moment. It’s Lara they should look out for instead. I guess the disadvantage of a Senior Council consisting entirely of old ignorant men, is that it wouldn’t even come to their mind that a women could be the string-puller behind most of their problems. I definitely won’t tell them.

“There is no obvious reason for this form of trust to the Raiths. And if there is a reason, feel free to enlighten us. Otherwise it’s our impression that you are a spy for the White Court.“

My mouth hangs open which must look pretty hilarious, but I can’t stop myself from showing my surprise.

Ten whole seconds nobody says a thing. I can’t hold it back any longer. I burst into a fit of giggles.

Oh this can’t be it. Can somebody please wake me up from this? The worst thing is, again I should‘ve really expected something like this. How long have I kept the secret, that Thomas is my brother? Nobody in the current White Council knows about it.

I probably should‘ve seen coming that someone would become suspicious, if one of the first calls I make as soon as things go wrong, goes to a white court vampire. And not just anyone, but Lord Raiths son. I never thought about the consequences and now I think I really should have. I don’t know how to get out of this. One thing is pretty clear. If I tell them he is my brother, we are both in deep shit.

„Do you think this is funny? These are serious accusations.“ Bombur says and frowns disapprovingly.

I stop giggling immediately. I should probably try to concentrate before they decide to accuse me of insanity too.  

„I‘m sorry.“ I say even though I‘m not sorry at all. Idiots. These people have no idea how gladly I would punch them in the face right now. I thought the time, where the White Council blames me for basically everything was over.  

„It is funny to me, because it’s the first time I hear of this artifact and you say I‘m accused of leaking information about it, I didn’t even have. You know I‘m a private investigator, right? The first thing you do, if you want to find out who did it, is to build a suspect pool with all the people knowing of it. And I didn’t know of it“.

Bombur seems to be the only one able to speak. The others keep rubber-stamping everything he says with a nod. Even Ebenezar, didn’t say a thing since we stepped into the room.

„The point is not who knew and who didn’t. It’s impossible to prove who knew about it in retrospect. You could’ve heard about the artifact everywhere, we obviously didn’t keep it a secret inside of the White Council, because we didn’t know someone was leaking information to the White Court. We want to know, what you have to say in your defense.“

I stand up. I can’t take these jerks and their stupid accusations anymore. „I obviously can’t prove to you, I‘m not the leak, because how would I do that? But I can tell you why I came here today and maybe as soon as I told you, you understand what is so hilarious about the whole situation.“

Bombur doesn’t look like he appreciates my tone. „By all means.“ he says and makes an impatient gesture for me to continue.

I take a deep breath. This is the moment I waited for. „I came here today to seek your advice in a matter that is more important, than just some dusty old artifact that got lost. Last night three attacks took place in Chicago, two of them ended with the bodies of White Court vampires. Both bodies showed obvious signs of magic and gruesome wounds of a known torture spell.“

Now I have their undivided attention. A gasp goes through the room. I continue before someone can interrupt me.  

„The third vampire managed to get away. He told me the men that attacked him, were without any doubt wizards. I confirmed that by examining the two victims with my third eye. It was definitely a torture spell, which could only be reversed by a Wizard. Two of the three attacks took place in the same area, but the second victim was found at the other end of the city and died at approximately the same time, as the other one. I visited the first scene and found unmistakable traces of portal transportation. The wizards used the Nevernever to travel. They are good enough to have connections to the White Council. Otherwise they couldn’t have traveled between the worlds in such a controlled and discreet way. I came here, to ask for your help in this matter. It is a serious breach of the truce with the White Court. Lord Raith doesn’t know of this yet. By the way, another reason it would make no sense for me to be the spy, or I would‘ve told him about the two dead vampires by now, wouldn’t I? We need to find the wizards responsible for this before the White Court finds out what happened and decides this is a good reason to start a war.“

For thirty seconds there is just silence in the room.

Then all the old men begin to shout at the same time, like an agitated group of bingo players, complaining about the genius, who decided to print all the bingo cards in font size eight.

„Impossible! A member of the White Council would never act this foolish!“

„A total insane accusation!“

„Nobody used this spell for decades!“

„The Nevernever is watched, they couldn’t have traveled through there without someone noticing it!“

“Liars! Each and every one of them!”

Oh look at that, they do have their own voices. And what a surprise, they could’ve kept their mouths shut and it would have made no difference at all. Somehow I knew they wouldn‘t believe me…

Ebenezar McCoy is the only one who isn’t shouting. He stares into the distance and doesn’t seem to register any of the things going on around him.

„ENOUGH!“ Bombur shouts and his skin tone gets so red, I expect him to have a heart attack due to high blood pressure every second. The room goes quiet. All eyes are on him and his nose.

He looks at me. „I think everyone in the room agrees with me when I say, that we need definite prove before acting on any of these accusations. Warden Dresden, this is not looking good for you. It’s even more likely that this whole story is a complot designed by Lord Raith to distract the White Council from the fact that he has stolen the artifact.“

I can’t believe what I am hearing. He has to be kidding. „There are two dead bodies with magical traces and I saw the wounds of the third vampire! Isn’t that proof enough?!“ I snap and it takes very much out of me to hold the anger at bay. It wouldn’t help if the White Council was also confronted with Mabs Winter Knight on top of all that.

„It just proves that the two vampires were killed by someone wielding magic. There are other creatures capable of that, it doesn’t have to be a wizard and even less likely a member of the White Council. We have no intention to start a war with the White Court. The things are different however if House Raith intentionally provokes us into one.“

I can’t suppress a humorless laugh. „Don’t you see what is happening here? Someone from the outside is manipulating the White Court and the White Council. Someone wants this war to happen. Wizards start killing vampires and at the same time someone tells Lord Raith where this artifact is, so the White Council has a reason to challenge him. All of this is staged!“

„The only connection I see in this is you.“ Bombur replies and I snort.

 They see just what they want to see. The only thing they concern themselves with, is their damn artifact. Hell’s Bells it’s probably just some old vase and they are running after it, as if it is the philosopher’s stone!

„If you can prove to the Council, that there are wizards who broke the arrangements by killing White Court vampires, name us the responsible ones, deliver evidence and bring them here, we will take actions against them. It is not our intention to break the peace. If you convince Lord Raith aside from that to give back the artifact he has stolen and find the spy within the White Council, we may consider dropping the accusations against you. Otherwise we see no other possibility then letting you face charges for treachery against the White Council.“

This is the perfect moment to panic, I think. Why not? Don’t I have enough on my plate already? Additional to finding three or more murdering Wizards, keeping the whole thing from Lara, trying to prevent a war and figuring out who is behind all this (because there obviously is someone else), I have to convince Lara to return some ancient artifact, find the mole within the White Council and keep everyone from finding out I’m related to a White Court vampire.

The only thing missing is probably another time limit.

„You have 24 hours.“

I hate my life.


 

I have to ask them three times to tell me what this artifact even is, because surprise: I don’t know a single thing about it! They obviously think I’m just playing dumb because apparently I’m the spy, a fact I ignore because I’m too tired to protest.

The missing artifact is a long lost scroll written by some magic wielding prick from the eleventh century, that some archaeologists dug out of a surprisingly shallow grave in Spain just two weeks ago. I have not the slightest idea, why Lara should be interested in something like that, but I guess I’m about to find out.

How I should face her without telling her about the attacks on the White Court vampires is another problem, I deliberately ignore until it‘s time for it.

First things first I have to meet Karrin and Thomas and tell them how much worse things have gone since I left two hours ago. Maybe Thomas can arrange a meeting with Lara. This is of course the second priority, because obviously the first priority is finding the murdering wizards and preventing a full-blown war from happening.

I plan to try a location spell on the glove I found, since the White Council refuses to even consider, that the wizards used the Nevernever.

They also don’t want to help locating them without definite proof. Their excuse is to say it‘s impossible to track someone, if they don’t even know who it is. I could seriously strangle them all.

Ebenezar vanishes from the room before I can corner him to argue a little bit more about morality and priorities. He didn’t even try to help me during the meeting and I have no idea what is suddenly going on with him. Unfortunately there are larger problems at the moment, so I decide to deal with him later.

Rutherforth and Delano follow me to the gate and I have the suspicion that someone told them to keep an eye on me until I left the premises.

When we arrive I turn around and look at them. „When was the last time the regular Senior Council was here?“ I ask them, since they seem to be the new guards and guards are the best go-to guys if you want to know about the comings and goings of a place.

Rutherforth opens his mouth to say something but Delano elbows him into the side.

„We‘re not allowed to tell you anything about the proceedings within the White Council.“ he says determined.

 I roll my eyes. „Who told you that?“

„The Senior Council.“ replies Rutherforth.

„Which one? The real one, or these retirees in there who just replaced it without being rightfully elected?“

They change unsure looks. „Yes, I thought so.“ I reply and turn to go.

In the last moment I change my mind and take one more look over my shoulder. „I know you are new to this club, so let me give you an advice. Sometimes it’s good to use your own brain before blindly following every order given to you. Wizards are not known for their consistency. Things can change pretty quick around here and it might be good to know where you stand when the time comes. Otherwise you could lose your life faster than you think. I‘ve seen many young people make the same mistake.“

They stare at me and I don’t know whether I have convinced them, but that’s all I can do.

„Wish me luck.“ I say and don’t wait for an answer before I step through the gate back into my city.


 

The air is hot in Chicago. I look at my watch. It’s two p.m. so I have one hour left until the meeting with Murphy and Thomas. Enough time to try the location spell with the glove.

Maybe I can solve at least one problem before something else terrible happens.

I parked Thomas’ car one block away just to be sure I don’t sabotage it.

Now I pull the bloody glove from my duster and hold it carefully in my hands. This wont be easy because of the blood on it. It will probably interfere with the spell and I definitely don’t look for the owner of the blood. I want to know who owns the glove. I hope this is no dead-end and I just found the glove of some normal dude who has nothing to do with all of this.

The spell is not to complicated and I‘m pretty sure it’s already starting to work when someone decides to interrupt me. „Harry Dresden?“

I turn around fast, let the glove drop to the floor and my hand grips my staff so tight the wood cracks slightly under my fingers.

I didn’t hear the man arrive, because I was too deep in concentration, but there he is, standing not more than 30 feet from me.  He is wearing a black suit and an old-fashioned hat, that looks like from the fifties. He‘s older than me and I never saw him before in my entire life even though he reminds me of someone. Probably just the hat. It’s a very common theme in mob movies.

I grip my staff even tighter. Ice crystals crawl over the wood. I have the bad feeling, that the owner of the glove just showed up.

„I believe you have something that belongs to me.“ he says, his voice is raspy. „As it happens I also have something, that belongs to you.” I stare at him and say nothing. What is he talking about?

“Let’s make a deal.“


 

„You know it’s pretty unfair that you know my name and I have no idea who you are. Do you mind to enlighten me?“ I ask. I refrain from blasting him into the next wall right away, because at first, he is alone and I need all of them and secondly I want to know what he means when he says that he has something that belongs to me.

„My name should not concern you.“ he says, because of course he isn’t stupid enough to tell me. I guess it was worth a try. „What should concern you, however, is your vampire and your human friend.“

Another cold shiver runs down my spine. Oh Hell’s Bells, is he talking about Thomas and Murphy? That can’t be, can it? How did he know where to find them?

„Where are they?“ I ask through clenched teeth.

The bastard smiles. „Good, you know who I mean, then. That saves me a lot of time. You know I was about to kill the vampire.”

The temperature of the air around me drops a few degrees.

“I basically already prepared the spell in my mind. Your human friend was very brave. Tried to reason with us, she would‘ve stood between him and me until the end. It didn’t make a difference of course She had no chance.“ I stare at him and a terrifying feeling comes over me. What did they do to Murphy and Thomas? The Winter Knight basically pounds against the safe door now. I can’t let him loose. Not yet.

„Where are they?“ I repeat, with barely contained anger and again he ignores me.

„But then I recognized the vampire from last night and I knew that the only way he could be alive was if a wizard saved him. Your human friend told me your name and here I am.“

„Fascinating story.“ I say through clenched teeth. „Could you maybe come to the point? I‘m a little bit bored and would like to have some lunch soon.“

He smiles arrogantly. „I heard that you lack the necessary seriousness to manage any real job. No wonder you provoke fights wherever you go.“

„I‘m flattered, but mostly the people who try to kill me provoke these fights.“

„What was with the Red Court?“ he asks and I don’t answer. I could tell him, that the Red Court also threatened my life and that of my family but I don’t want to give him more information than he already has about me.

He is still smiling, mistaking my silence for resignation. „Yes I thought so. To be honest that’s the one thing you did right in my opinion. Wiping out these monsters was the best possible solution for a long overdone problem. It’s very unfortunate there isn’t an equally easy way to destroy the White Court.“

My patience runs out. „I already listened to enough people today, telling me they didn’t care about the destruction of a whole species. So if you don’t mind, tell me where my friends are or I go and find them myself. Either way I have no time to listen to your villain monologue.“

He arches an eyebrow. „Straight to the point then. Let’s make a deal.“ he says. „You refrain from messing with me and my associates or disturbing our mission in any way and that includes mentioning any of us to the White Council or the White Court. In return you get your human friend back unharmed.“

I pretend to think about it. Obviously I can’t make a deal with him, no matter what. The White Council would accuse me of treason, Lara will be furious and there will definitely be a war condemning hundreds if not thousands of innocent people to death. That’s the moment I realize what’s missing from his deal.

„What‘s with the vampire?“ I ask. There is a good chance they don‘t know his name and I would like it to stay that way.

He scoffs. „You don’t expect me to hand him over, do you? At least one White Court House is sex addicted and all of them are capable of reproduction. If there‘s even one of them still alive after this war, all would be for nothing and after a few decades we could start again.“

I thought it couldn’t be worse, but he really has the intention to wipe out an entire race.

„You know you will never get all of them.“ I say. „What you’re intending is insane.“

He smirks. „It‘s insane to believe this world could be peaceful with beings like them in it.“

I shake my head. „I can’t take your deal. War is never the right solution.“

His face is nearly disappointed. „I thought you would do the right thing.“ He says.

„That’s kind of depending on the perspective.“ I say. „Last warning: Tell me where my friends are or I’ll take it into my own hands.“

I rise my staff in front of me.

He shakes his head. „What’s happening to them from now on is entirely your fault.“

Forzare!“ I shout and thrust the staff in his direction. The blast of air is ice cold. It hits the brick wall where the wizard stood mere seconds ago and cracks the stones. Ice crystals bloom around the spot.

The man is gone. I stare at the spot where he just stood. There’s nothing more than cold air and a slowly growing puddle of water, where the ice already starts melting in the hot afternoon sun. How could he have moved so fast? I didn’t even see him make a portal. He vanished in the blink of an eye.

I realize that the glove is gone. Did he took it? Fortunately there is another option to find out where they are. I have to get to Thomas and Murphy as fast as I can.

I pull the silver pendant out of my t-shirt and close my fist around it. It’s the pentacle my mother gave me and Thomas has the counterpart. I can track him through it, wherever he is.

As soon as I close my eyes and concentrate it hits me like a punch in the gut and I have to brace myself against the wall.

It‘s so cold. Freezing cold. I usually feel no cold. I‘m the Winter Knight and even though I notice it when something is cold, it doesn’t affect me same way it affects others. But now I can suddenly feel it. It creeps through my veins like a winter storm in January, my teeth clatter, my whole body shivers even though its 85 degrees outside. My breath comes in clouds from my mouth and every single cell in my body feels like it turned to ice. There is also a screaming pain basically everywhere.

The pendant clatters to the ground and as soon as it leaves my hand the cold vanishes. I lean against the brick wall and gasp for breath.

What the heck happened? Did I mess up the location spell?

I look at the pendant that glistens innocently on the tarmac. I still don’t know where Thomas is.

The only thing I apparently know is what he feels.

Chapter Text

Karrin doesn’t know where she is. First of all, its pitch-black around her. They also blind-folded her on the way here, so there is that. They didn’t use a car to get here. As far as she can tell they traveled through some magical portal if the strange feeling in her gut was any indication.

As soon as the younger two wizards heard Dresden’s name, they tried to convince the older one that Dresden meant to much trouble. She had hoped that they all knew Harrys reputation and were too afraid to do something to them. Well, two out of three was still one wizard too many.

The older wizard said they could use this to their advantage and came up with the idea to make a deal with Harry. Probably to keep Harry out of their business.

Karrin knows that Harry would never accept such a deal. He would never allow a war to start, if he had the chance to avoid it. But maybe there is a chance that something good is coming from this meeting. Maybe Harry manages to find them after he talked to the wizards. It’s a small hope.

Karrin knows that she can’t just wait for him to show up. She has to try to free herself. There were enough situations in her life where she had to help herself. Now she is in a room she doesn’t know, and she can’t see. All she knows is that she is alone. The last thing she saw before they blindfolded her, was one of the younger Wizards lifting Harrys limp brother over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. They brought him somewhere and she refuses to think, that they killed him. They just couldn’t have killed him. They won’t dare, now that they know that Harry is connected to him.

The good thing is, her hands and feet are free. They didn’t bother to tie her up, so she can explore the room by feeling her way in the dark. After roughly five minutes she comes to the conclusion, that she is in a locker room. It could be anywhere.

In a school, a gym, maybe a fitness studio or even a public swimming pool. Every major nightclub in Chicago probably has a locker room like this. She can feel the wooden benches in the aisles between the lockers, that line the walls. There is a communal shower, that’s working and a toilet. No windows and just one steel door which is also locked.

She walks around the room two times before she sits down on one of the benches and lets her head sink into her hands. How in the world should she get out of here? Her phone is gone and she has no weapons besides her hands. She somehow doubts that someone would hear her scream. She tries not to panic and thats not easy in the stifling darkness all around her. They probably want to scare her with this. Well, it’s not that easy to scare her.

No, she won’t give up. She survived so much worse than a few wizards, who don’t know what they are doing.

She has to do something, this can’t be the end.

First she needs a weapon. She stands up determined and begins again to feel around in the dark. She can only use her right hand, because her left arm still hurts like hell. She thinks it’s dislocated but can’t do anything about it without an additional pair of hands. She has to solve this problem later.

 Her fingers reach for the benches but they are attached to the floor, so no chance there.

Next she studies the lockers, but they’re steel and every single one is locked so she can’t even take one of the doors out.

That leaves just the shower. She finds her way over there. Six showers, two metal soap trays mounted into the wall. And the shower heads…Bingo! The shower heads are removable from the wall holder and the shower hose is about three feet long. If she gets this removed the shower head could be used as a bat and the hose to strangle someone. She had stranger weapons in her life.

It takes a bit of fumbling in the dark and two of her nails, which end bloody and broken off but eventually she holds the detached shower head in her hand. “Yes!” she whispers before looking up because the door is opened.

A bright yellow beam of light wanders over the floor. The door opens wider and the light brightens. That’s her chance, she has to do something now! She stays in the shadows when a man steps into the room. It’s one of the two younger ones from earlier. “Hey, where are you?” he asks and his voice sounds a little nervous. Good. Let him be afraid for a change. She doesn’t answer.

He is stupid enough to step into the room. She doesn’t know why he isn’t just turning the lights on, but it’s to her advantage. She was longer in the dark, and she knows the room without light. She creeps to the end of one of the locker rows, her back to the wall, her improvised weapon gripped tight with her right hand.

He is turning his back to her, the jerk. He doesn’t hear her. When she’s just two feet away, she jumps at him from behind and clubs him over the head with the shower head as hard as she can. He sinks unconscious to the floor without a sound.

One down, two to go. At least if there are only three of them. She can’t just assume they have no other associates. She has to be prepared to fight. She doesn’t even look for a phone on his person. He is a wizard, even if he had one, it would be broken by now.

First she has to find Thomas. She steps out of the room into a dimly lit corridor, that unfortunately also has no windows and gives her no clue where exactly they are.

There are a few doors but the ones she tries are all locked. That leaves just the door at the end of the corridor which is suspiciously a few inches open. She inches closer to it, careful to not make a sound on the linoleum floor. The walls are simple cement, no surprise there. Maybe there is something in the room in front of her, that can tell her where she is.

“What did Dresden say?” asks a voice and Karrin freezes on the spot. Damn it, there is someone in there. By the sound of it the other young wizard from earlier.

“He didn’t take the deal.” That’s the old wizard. She curses inwardly. He is much more careful than the other two. It will be nearly impossible to get past him. For now she has to keep quiet and hope they leave through another door. Maybe she can hear something important.

“But we have his friends!” the younger one says unbelievingly.

Karrin hears the other one scoff. “He considers himself so powerful, that he thinks he can save them without making a deal.”

“And can he? What if he tries to locate one of them through a location spell? He could find us here.” She notices with great satisfaction that he sounds a little anxious.

A shudder runs down her spine. If it were so easy, why hadn’t Harry found them yet? Something must be wrong. Her thought was confirmed when the older wizard laughed. “He tried already. The vampire had this pendant around his neck. I suspected that Dresden has given it to him and would use it for a location spell. I put my own spell on it. Instead of a geographic information he will get an physical when tapping into the connection. I used a spell to bind whatever the vampire is feeling to the pendant. Dresden won’t be able to find us through it. He will just feel the pain.”

Karrin couldn’t believe what she heard. She knew that the pendants where gifts from Harry and Thomas’ mother and she knew Harry could locate Thomas through it in the past. But to use it in such a way against them was terrible. It also meant that Thomas was in pain, but alive. She probably should be grateful for even that.

“He is cold to the touch.” The voice of the younger one sounded again.

“If that’s the case everything goes according to plan. Why don’t you join us, human?”

She flinches. How-?

“Yes I know you’re there, you may step through the door, but please refrain from attacking us, it won’t end good for you, believe me.”

Shit. He knows she’s out here. Now it’s pointless to pretend not to be there. Carefully she steps through the door, the shower head still tightly in her hand.

It’s a classroom. So they are in a school. At least one more information, even though she doesn’t know what to do with it. The windows are nailed shut and there is a thick coat of dust everywhere. Maybe an abandoned school building?

The two wizards stand in front of the teachers desk and look at her. The younger one seems nervous while the older one smiles when seeing her improvised weapon. “I thought you’d take the shower head. A very obvious choice. Am I right if I assume that you knocked out my other associate?”

She doesn’t answer. She’s too distracted by the vampire sitting slumped in a chair behind them. His shirt is drenched in blood. It looks like the wounds in the bodies of the two dead White Court vampires. For one second she thinks he is already dead, but then he opens his eyes and stares at her. The wounds in his chest are deep gashes and they still leak pale blood onto his shirt, the chair and the floor.

His wrists are tied to the armrests of the chair so they probably think he is a threat even in this condition. His eyes are a bright silver shade and his skin is paler than ever. He seems to radiate a cold that she can feel even from where she stands. She knows what that means. He’s starving.

“Karrin…” he rasps and she will never know, what he wanted to say because the older wizard makes a whipping hand gesture in his direction and more deep gashes open on his skin. Its as if the wizard is wielding an invisible sword that slices skin like butter. Thomas flinches violently but can’t move from the chair. More blood flows down his chest and his head lolls back until his eyes stare at the ceiling. His breath comes ragged.

“Stop that!” She shouts and rushes forward but it needs just a casual flick of the wizards wrist and she stumbles over thin air and has to catch herself at one of the tables. The shower head flies from her grip and vanishes into some corner.

“I said, don’t attack us.” The wizard shakes his head disapprovingly. “Just keep to the rules please.”

She spits onto the floor and gets back to her feet. “Leave. Him. Alone.” She says, emphasizing every word.

He snorts. “Still trying to defend a monster? You will see what you get from this in a few minutes. Until then be quiet. We’re not quite finished here.”

He turns to the younger wizard. “Would you…?” the man nods, grabs her arm and drags her to one of the chairs. She struggles against him but something is wrong with her body. She can’t really do something. Maybe a spell the older one has put on her? It feels like she has to drag her limbs through jelly to get somewhere. Wobbling she sinks into the chair. Every breath is hard.

“Stay there.” The younger one tells her. “Otherwise it will be painful.”

She notices that as soon as she stops struggling against it, the overwhelming feeling decreases a bit. She decides to reserve her strength so she sits still for now.

At least until the older wizard turns to Thomas again. “Tell me why a wizard would care about you?” he asks with venom in his voice.

Thomas looks up at him with clouded eyes. The pain is clearly visible in there. “Free…hair…cutting” he finally gets out and somehow he manages a crooked smile. “Used…to have…salon…”

That clearly wasn’t the answer the wizard wanted.

Karrin turns her head away when he makes the whipping gesture again. Unfortunately she can’t turn out Thomas’ groan and the sound of the dripping blood. How is he not dead yet?

“What is it you want?” she snaps at them.

The wizards turn to her again. “Something against Dresden for a start.” He says. “It’s very difficult to do something if he keeps interfering.”

She hesitates. She can’t tell them. The information is to dangerous, but they kill him if she doesn’t do something. It’s the only option.

“Murphy.” Thomas’ voice is suddenly very clear and very cold. It’s the first time since they met at the crime scene, that he uses her surname. “Don’t you dare. Let them have their fun, I don’t care. But you can’t drag Harry into this.”

She turns to him. “You don’t care? What about me, what about Harry? You think it doesn’t matter to us, idiot? I promised to don’t leave you out of my sight!”

“And you didn’t.” he says gently. “I’m right here. Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t do anything to stop it. But what you can do is keeping Harry safe.”

She closes her eyes briefly. What the heck should she do? They will probably kill them anyway, he is right, she shouldn’t endanger Harry like this when it changes nothing. But she also can’t sit here and watch Thomas bleed out. And Harry is definitely able to care for himself. She also knows what he would have done, if it would be her getting hurt.

“Let us go and I tell you.” She says determined.

The older wizard laughs. “Not possible.”

She clenches her teeth. “Let him go. Keep me.”

“Karrin-“

“Even more impossible.” The wizard replies bored. “Do you have any other successions?”

“I won’t tell you if you keep torturing him. I guess we have a standoff.” She says sternly.

“What if I promise to stop torturing him?” He says.

She shakes her head. “To just kill him? Do you think I’m stupid?”

He laughs. “You’re obviously not. Alright. I promise to neither harm him in any way, nor kill him. My associates will be bound to the same terms.”

“Karrin don’t do this!” Thomas snaps at her, but the older wizard makes another move and suddenly he doesn’t seem to get any air in his lungs. He’s choking.

“Stop it!” she shouts.

“We don’t have a deal yet.” He answers.

“The same has to apply to me.” She says very fast. “If you and all your associates agree to neither kill nor harm us both I will tell you what you want to know.”

“You will tell me the secret, that I can use against Dresden. I fulfill my side of the deal if it’s worth it.” He specifies.

Thomas is still struggling for breath.

“Yes, damn it! Agreed! Let him go!”

“Fulfill your side and the deal stands.” The Bastard smirks at her.

She takes a deep breath. “They are half-brothers. He is Thomas Raith, the son of Lord Raith and he is Harry Dresden’s half-brother. Their mother was Margaret LeFay.”

The choke hold on Thomas’ throat seems to vanish when the wizard drops his hand. Thomas gasps for breath. The wizards face has an expression of surprise. He turns to the younger wizard who looks even more stunned.

“Interesting.”

Karrin grits her teeth. This will probably come bite her in the ass later, but for now she doesn’t regret it.

The old wizard turns to the door. “I have to make a few calls.” He says smirking and nods in the direction of the younger one, who steps outside first.

“You two, stay here.” He then adds. He looks over his shoulder one more time. “Oh, how stupid of me, I nearly forgot!” A snap with his fingers and the ropes that tied Thomas to the chair vanish.

The vampire slumps forward and lands on the ground where he manages to catch himself in the last moment on his hands and knees.

“I see you later.” The old wizard says cheery. “Or at least one of you, and I guess it won’t be you my dear.” He winks at Karrin, closes the door behind him and she suddenly knows what he means.

Everything falls into place. How couldn’t she have thought of this? He had tricked her.

The deal was pretty simple. Neither him nor his associates could harm her. Plain and simple. Nothing to worry about. She thought.

The bad feeling that she missed something important turns quickly into certainty when she turns around and stares into the silver eyes of the starved White Court vampire who is locked in the same room with her.

Chapter Text

Getting the pentacle necklace back around my neck, where it belongs, proves to be difficult. Every time I touch it with my bare hands I feel this overwhelming wave of cold and pain again.

Whatever this is, it’s not my spell. Someone (and I have a pretty good guess who) must’ve done something to Thomas’ pendant, that causes a permanent connection between the two. I wonder if it goes into both directions and Thomas can also feel what I feel at the moment. I hope it’s nicer than the things I get from him.

Eventually I pick the damn thing up with the sleeve of my duster and let it drop into my pocket. I can’t very well wear it around my neck when it’s like this and I decide to touch it every few minutes just to make sure nothing changed.

The location spell failed spectacularly, so I have to find another way to get to Murphy and Thomas.  I hope they manage until then.

I need help.

It’s very unfortunate that this happens now, when I have the White Council breathing down my neck. I can’t just go to them and ask them to help me.

Lara and the White Court are also no option, if I don’t want to explain why there are two dead vampires and a very angry White Council looking for some ancient scroll.

The next person that comes to mind is Molly, before I remember that she is out of the city. So she’s  unavailable too.

The Carpenters and Maggie are on a weekend trip. They left Mouse with me because the car was already too crowded with children, luggage and Michaels camping gear. He proudly bought it this summer and showed it to me a few weeks ago. I tried to comprehend how all the children should fit into one small tent. As suspected Charity was having none of it, because she put her foot down and they bought another tent. It makes me a little nervous to let Maggie go out of the city, but I trust them to protect her and it’s Maggie’s first real camping trip. She was pretty excited even though she tried to smuggle Mouse in and was disappointed when he didn’t fit into her sports bag.

With Michael permanently out of the picture, there is really just one good option left.

I have to contact the Chicago Alliance. I’m not happy about that. I respect their work and they did good while I was…let’s say out of the city. They kept things together. I’m just not a fan of Marcone who is surprisingly one of their founders and built their headquarters, a building called the Castle which stands on the piece of land where my old flat once stood. I’m still a little bit pissed at him because of that, but I understand that this was the only option to shield it from the Nevernever.

Marcone is the real reason I don’t want to call them. Butters is great, the werewolves are friends and Lara is a necessary evil but Johnny Marcone is a pain in my ass since I first decided to become private investigator.

We nearly killed each other more times than I can count, and despite of that it ends most of the time with some greater evil coming for us so we are forced to work together. I know he’s as annoyed by that, as I am. It would be so much easier to just hate one another and be done with it.

Usually I like my battles plain and simple: This is the crime. This is the bad guy. That’s his motive. Go and fight him.

With Marcone it’s rather frustrating. It goes more like: This is the crime. He has a motive and is the bad guy, isn’t he? Go and fight him…or not? That was definitely illegal and why is he helping now? Oh no, he is the victim. Aaaand now he’s doing something bad again. Aah, crap it wasn’t him. For now we have to work together, but I swear someday I get him…

Like I said, it’s frustrating.

Every few weeks, I decide to get back at him for all the illegal crap he pulled off, but that’s usually the moment I realize that I need his help again. If someone has connections and power there is a point where you have to ponder his usefulness against the satisfaction of putting him behind bars. Most of the times the usefulness wins.

Sometimes it feels like an on-off-relationship, where both sides decide to try it again just to realize that it’s never going to work and both agree to be ‘just’ friends from now on, right until the next bad situation knocks at the door.

Maybe I shouldn’t compare our entirely platonic business connection to a romantic relationship. Some people might get ideas…

I sigh and decide that there is no way around it.

Lately I’m a little bit hesitant to just show up on peoples doorsteps, because I got the feeling they like to be prepared before Mab’s Winter Knight is standing in their living room.

It hurts to know that they don’t trust me the same way anymore, like they did before this whole Winter Knight thing but at the same time I understand it. I would be hesitant too in the present of someone with strong ties to the Winter Sidhe.

That’s the reason I don’t drive immediately to Butters or the Alphas. I try to give them some space. Besides they don’t have the connections I need right now.

I also can’t just go to the Castle. The White Court, and with them Lara Raith, is a member of the Chicago Alliance and they have people there. I have to be careful about Lara at the moment.

It’s probably the best idea to meet directly with the source. If someone knows what’s going on in the shadows of this city, it’s Marcone.

I walk back to Thomas’ car and clear my head from any magical thoughts before getting in. I already killed the daytime running lights and I really hope he won’t notice when he gets back. I close the door and take a deep breath.

I don’t like the way all of this develops. It may be good to have some back-up.

I start the motor. First stop: Foo dog.


 

After I got a very agitated Mouse out of my flat and into the BMW, where he happily sticks his head out of the window and lets his tongue hang out of his mouth, I drive to a diner.

Don’t look at me like that, it’s half past two in the afternoon and the last thing I ate was a very disgusting nutrition bar from Thomas’s flat on the way to the crime scene, this morning.

I tried to get Mouse to track Murphy and Thomas, but either they are too far away or cloaked in some way, because he wasn’t able to find them.

I call Marcone from the payphone in front of the diner, tell him some totally fabricated lie story that hopefully gets him to come here and order burger and fries.

Mouse lays on the floor below the table with his eyes closed, but I know he would be up and about as soon as there was any sign of trouble. I give him a few fries, which he begins to munch away joyfully.

I eat my burger with the hunger of a starving person and lean back in my seat after I finished it. I really needed this. Not as good as Mac’s food of course but beggars can’t be choosers.

There aren’t many people in the diner. It is too early for dinner and too late for lunch. Additionally it’s still hot outside so everybody who has an AC at home or at work prefers to stay there.

A few old truckers occupy the bar stools, while drinking coffee and exchanging road stories.

Three tables down the aisle a blond woman is frantically writing something on her computer and a teenage boy tries with red ears to find the money he dropped under the table because he was too busy staring at the young waitress.

The door opens with a jingle and Gentleman John Marcone enters the room. He’s wearing an expensive suit and looks like he just arrived in an environment which is entirely unfamiliar to him. He is followed by two of his bulky bodyguards.

He spots me and marches down the aisle like a man who is definitely uncomfortable but decided to ignore the feeling and look like he owns the room nonetheless. His shadows follow not a feet behind him. There are suspicious bulges under their jackets where they carry their weapons. They’re not very subtle.

Marcone stops in front of my table and wrinkles his nose like he’s looking down on an especially disgusting bug. “Dresden.” He says.

“Jonny.” I say just because I’m able to. I know that I’m probably the only person who calls him that and still has his tongue.

He grimaces but refrains from correcting me. “Why did we have to meet here?” he says. “You could’ve just come to my office.”

“To many eyes and ears.” I say conspiratorially. I lean forward and my voice turns into a whisper. “The walls have ears, you know?”

A grin spreads over my face when he pulls a wry face. I nod to his bodyguards and get serious again. “Can we talk alone?”

He arches an eyebrow. “You seem a little nervous today, Dresden. Do you think it’s a good idea for me to be alone with you?”

I snort. “Believe me, I have worse problems than you at the moment.”

His smile is predatory. “So you admit, you need my help again.”

I clench my teeth. “Will you send these gorillas away if I say yes?” I ask and gesture at his shadows.

“Sir…” one of them begins but Marcone holds up a hand.

“Wait over there.” He says and gestures in the direction of the bar. “Drink a coffee or something, it won’t take long.”

They don’t seem happy but after a moment of silently arguing they decide it’s not worth Marcones ire, so they trot over to the bar where they start to survey the whole room with grim looks and refuse to order anything.

“These two are fun.” I say sarcastically.

The mob boss snorts. “I hire them for their fighting skills, not for their humor. If I want to hear a joke, I just call you.”

I decide to not dignify him with an answer.

He makes a slightly disgusted face when he sinks onto the bench on the other side of the table and refrains from touching anything. His gaze drifts to my dog under the table.

“You are nervous. Otherwise you wouldn’t bring this monster with you.” He says.

Mouse lifts his head and growls at him. “Calm down, Mouse.” I say and direct a cold gaze at Marcone. “Careful. He understands more than you think.”

Marcone lifts an eyebrow but says nothing else to it. “You have my attention Dresden. Why did I have to drive through the whole city for you? What is this about Lara Raith and the wizards?”

I told him on the phone that I have information about the White Court and the White Council, that he would probably be interested in. Otherwise he would have never showed up here. I know he is a business man and as such he’s permanently looking for a way to hedge his bets.

“I come to that point in a moment.”

Obviously I don’t have classified information for him. I just need his help with this problem and I hope that he will see that it’s also his problem, when the White Council and the White Court start a war.

“Last night several attacks on White Court vampires took place. They were orchestrated by wizards who seem to have ties to the White Council.” I begin to explain. “Additionally a few days ago someone leaked classified information about something out of the White Council to the White Court. The White Council believes they have a mole. I assume that there is someone who wants to play both ends against the middle. Someone wants to provoke a war between them and I want to know that it isn’t you.”

There is silence at the table. Marcone stares at me with his green eyes that remind me of Dollar bills each time I look at them. The voices of the other people drift into the background. The only important thing is what the man in front of me has to say.

I didn’t plan to accuse him right away, it kind of slipped out, but of course it came to mind when I thought about who would have an advantage when the White Council and the White Court begin fighting each other.

Marcone is working with the White Court within the Chicago Alliance and he also has connections to the White Council.

He is the first human to sign the Unseelie Accords. The vampires and the wizards were both his allies and enemies in the past.

Lara tried to seduce him after joining the Chicago Alliance but he managed to resist her for whatever reason. I have the feeling that he would be happy to get back at her for that. He is a man with great ambitions. It’s not too farfetched for him to eliminate some of the big players from the game.

But there is a reason I decided to meet him even though he could’ve been behind all of this.

It’s rather simple: I don’t think he is behind all of this.

I know that I should be the last person to defend John Marcone after all what happened in the past. We are not friends, we are not even allies. He is an annoying bug that keeps appearing in my life from time to time just to make it more complicated. He is ruthless, violent and devious.

But he is also clever. He knows his strengths and weaknesses and acts accordingly. He has no delusions of grandeur. Where other mob bosses thought they were invincible, he knows he’s not.

They fell and he’s the last one still standing, because he knows that sometimes you need powerful allies, even if they could turn into your enemy under other circumstances. He stands his ground and uses his connections to his advantage to be prepared for the moment when the tide will turn against him. And when it’s time he fights with all his power. But he would never provoke something like this as long as he has an advantage.

He benefits from the White Council and the White Court. Without them he would never be in the position he is now. They gave him power and he intends to keep it.

So I don’t think it was him. But I have to be sure that he doesn’t know anything about this.

He examines me through narrowed eyes for another few seconds before he finally opens his mouth.

“You don’t think it was me.” He says and damn him, how can the man be so observant?

“Obviously not.” I reply. “You have more to gain with them than without them.”

He nods slowly. “I can tell you that I don’t plan to lose the position I’m in, in the foreseeable future. To provoke a war between these two parties would be stupid and reckless.”

I lean forward onto the table. “I need to know, if you heard something. Anything about a complot against them could be helpful. I understand it’s in your interest too, to prevent this war from happening.”

He arches an eyebrow. “I should help you without any consideration? I think you know me better, by now.”

My fists clench on the table. According to his eyes he noticed the motion but he doesn’t make any attempt to call out to his bodyguards. He probably knows I wouldn’t start a fight with so many innocents around.

“You know what happens if the White Council and the White Court start to destroy each other?” I ask through gritted teeth. “They fight it out. If we are extremely unlucky, and you know I attract bad luck like a magnet, they fight it out in Chicago. I bet you wouldn’t like it if innocent people, innocent children, died because of this. And that’s just the beginning. After everybody is dead, because that’s what is going happen, there will be a power vacuum and you will definitely not be the one to fill it. Someone else will show up and it will be someone you have no connection to. Someone you can’t control with your threats or your charm. There are far worse things out there than seductive vampires and ignorant wizards. If I where you I would stick to the enemy I know.”

I know that I didn’t tell him anything new with that. He probably made up his mind before my speech, but I feel like I should assure myself that he really knows where his interests are.

His lip are pressed together, his face is a little pale and there is barely contained anger in his eyes. I know he tries to appear unperturbed but I can see right through it. I think the comment about children did it. If there is one thing where he draws a line, it’s when children get involved.

He stares at me for ten more seconds before he seems to make a decision. “Alright.” He says. “Tell me what you need to prevent this.”


 

“First you need to find Murphy and Thomas for me.” I say.

He looks mildly surprised. “Interesting. We got an emergency call from Karrin Murphy a few hours ago.”

I stare at him. “And you waited until now to tell me this?” I snap at him.

He doesn’t even flinch. “I wasn’t aware that you work with her on this. I didn’t think it was related. Besides it was a dead-end. A team was send to the location of the call, a nightclub of the White Court but they didn’t find anything. We thought she may have dialed wrong. There was no sign of a fight. Even if we would’ve kept looking there was nothing there.”

I close my eyes for a second. Stay calm Harry…

“She investigated the vampire murders. This club was close to two of the crime scenes.” I say through gritted teeth.

“Why was the vampire there?” he asks.

“He was one of the victims. He told me about the wizards. I left him with Murphy and went to talk to the White Council. After I came back one of the wizards showed up and told me they had Murphy and Thomas. He wanted to make a deal. They plan to destroy the whole White Court. I obviously couldn’t take the deal.”

“And now your first priority is to go looking for your friends. Don’t be naïve, Dresden. They are probably already dead. I recommend focusing on preventing this war you talked about instead.”

I grit my teeth. “This is the way to prevent the war. If we find the location where they keep Murphy and Thomas we also find them. If we find them I can turn them over to the White Council, and Lara won’t seek revenge when she gets wind of it. She doesn’t know of it at the moment and I would like it to stay this way, at least until I found these rogue wizards.”

Marcone shrugs. “I guess I could talk to some of my contacts. If we are lucky they heard something. Why don’t we go to the Castle? I have all necessary resources there.”

“I can’t go there. If Lara shows up I have a problem.” I say contritely.

“The Castle is big. She won’t even know you’re there. Besides I know for a fact she isn’t even near it at the moment. She hosts a gala at her mansion. Some big vampire thing concerning all their Houses.” He wrinkles his nose again. “And I don’t want to spend one more second in this disgusting diner.”

He gets to his feet. “If you want to join me, we’re going now. I would recommend you follow, Dresden. Otherwise I see no option how I should tell you if I find something considering your incompatibility with mobile phones.”

I sigh and look at Mouse who nods at me. It seems to be the only solution. If Lara really tries she will find me, no matter where I am at the moment. And the headquarter of the Chicago Alliance is a good starting point to look for information.

I reluctantly nod at Marcone. “Alright. Let’s go.”

He eyes my dog. “Are you sure you need this one with you all the time?” he asks and I grin at him.

“Why? Are you afraid of dogs?”

He snorts. “How did you know? It’s impossible to get the hair out of the suits.”

I decide to ask Mouse later, to jump at Marcone, when the time is right. I would love to see the mob bosses face when he realizes his suit is ruined.

I stand up and stick my hand into one of my dusters pockets to look for some money, but instead my fingers touch the already forgotten pentacle necklace I put there.

My hand cramps around it and I can’t let go. I choke on my own breath. Suddenly there isn’t enough air in the room. The hand that isn’t clutching the pendant goes to my throat.

“Dresden?” Marcone looks at me and frowns. “What is it?”

I can’t answer. I should probably let go of the pendant, but I can’t. What’s happening here is happening to Thomas and if I don’t touch the pentacle I don’t know what’s going on. Oh Hell’s Bells, he is suffocating.

I sink to my knees at the floor still clutching my throat and the pendant.

I hear agitated voices around me. Someone yells: “He’s choking!”

“He didn’t eat anything, you idiot.” That was Marcone, of course.

Someone grabs my shoulder in a vice grip. “Dresden snap out of it!” Marcone again. I can’t listen to him, there are black spots in front of my eyes. The pain is overwhelming.

I hear a low growl, a bark and some ripping sound like fabric being torn to shreds. Mouse.

“His hand?” asks Marcone.

And then my hand is pulled from my pocket, someone digs a finger into a very painful spot at my wrist, so my fist is forced to open and the pendant clatters to the floor. I stop choking immediately and manage to take a deep breath.

Marcon’s hand digs painfully into my shoulder, and I realize that it’s the only thing still keeping me upright. I blink the black spots from my vision and look up at him. He stares at the pentacle necklace, that lies on the floor. “What on earth was that Dresden?” he snaps at me and his fingers move in the direction of the pendant.

Don’t touch it!” I practically shout. The people around us stare at me even more confused. It must’ve been quite the show. When I look around there is not one gaze in the room thats not directed at us. The truckers from the bar, the young waitress, the teenage boy, the middle-aged blond woman and Marcones bodyguards with their weapons ready. Every single one of them stares at me.

Mouse is sitting next to Marcone, a piece of his suit sleeve still in his mouth. I smile at him. Good boy.

“You can be glad, your dog seemed to know what was going on, or you would probably be dead right now.” Marcone says grim before standing up and turning to address the people around us. “Nothing to see here, folks. Just an Asthma attack. He will be as good as new within minutes. Don’t worry. He left his inhaler in the car.”

A concerned murmur spreads around but finally they all return to their tables. I come to my feet and collect the pendant with my sleeve like I did before. “I wouldn’t have died.” I mutter. That would be impossible. A spell like this can’t kill someone who is miles away. It would’ve just killed my brother. I take a deep breath and touch the pendant again. I have to know.

“Dresden!” Marcone snaps at me but it’s too late. My skin touches the cold metal and I release a relived breath. There is a wave of pain and cold again, but no chocking. I let the pendant slip into my pocket.

“Alright, let’s go.” I say, pull some wrinkled Dollar bills from my other coat pocket and turn to the door. Mouse barks and follows me.

I can hear Marcones fast steps behind me when I step out of the diner into the hot afternoon sun. “Dresden, do you mind explaining to me what just happened in there?” he spits and man, he sounds pissed.

“Yes, I mind. That’s my business.” I say.

“It’s also my business, if I have to save you from suffocating.”

I let out an unintelligibly grunt and look around the parking lot, while rummaging through my duster to find the car keys. There is really just one car, that can belong to Marcone. It’s the big black one, that looks like one of these bulletproof FBI vehicles. Such a braggart.

“We meet at the Castle.” I say and head for the BMW.

Mouse is directly behind me and jumps onto the back seat when I open the door. He is still growling quietly. I think I rattled him with my impromptu choking a few minutes ago.

“Since when do you have such good taste in cars, Dresden?” Marcone calls after me.

“I haven’t.” I say over my shoulder. “That’s just a loan.”

I really hope that I can give it back to the owner before the end of the day.


 

The drive to the headquarters is relatively uneventful except for the fact that I manage to somehow break the windshield washer system and the rest of the way I can‘t turn it off again, which causes many strange looks from the other drivers, because obviously it’s not raining.

The Castle is a four-story building that has this name, because surprise: It looks like a castle. I can’t believe they couldn’t think of a better name for it.

It’s guarded by the Soldiers of Valhalla, a group of grim looking Vikings clad in biker jackets, who are not capable of understanding any sort of humor.

Marcone arrived a few minutes ahead of me and shoots an amused look at the windshield wipers which continue to wipe even though I already turned off the engine. „Such a car is a waste on you Dresden.“ he says.

„How is your suit?“ I shoot back and his amused face turns sour.

I stalk past him with Mouse on my heels. Marcone follows with his own bodyguards close behind.

At the entrance the guards let us pass without arguing. They know me and they know Marcone. He‘s basically the boss of this building.

„It’s best if we go to one of the conference rooms, from there we can coordinate all actions.“ Marcone says and steps into the elevator. „They are also the furthest from any important computer system you could damage.“

I ignore the potshot. „Great idea, I take the stairs. Elevators are also not a great fan of me.“

Marcone shrugs. „Third floor.“

The elevator doors close behind him and his two bodyguards.

I sigh. That’s why I don’t like high buildings. If you are a wizard, you have to get used to stairs.


 

I arrive on the third floor not a little bit out of breath, because fortunately that is one of the advantages of being the Winter Knight. When I arrive, Marcone awaits me in a typical modern looking conference room. The only things not fitting in are the small barred windows and the medieval stone walls.

Mouse trots inside and promptly begins to nervously pace up and down.

Marcone sits at the far end of the table, his bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind him and he holds up a hand when I enter. „Stay over there, Dresden. I‘d like to make a call.“ Of course. He’s still worried about the effects of my magic.

I sit down at the other end of the table and watch while he contacts a few people. It doesn’t take longer than five minutes and the door opens.

A short lean man with a sketchbook and a few pencils enters. „You called Sir?“ he asks Marcone who nods and gesticulates in my direction.

„Dresden, describe the wizard you saw, to him. We begin with a database search. If we find out his name there may be options to also get his location.“

I have to say I‘m impressed. Marcone really thought about this. While I start describing the wizard to the young man, who begins sketching immediately, other people enter the room.

There is one guy with a laptop who sits down in the farthest corner of the room from me and begins searching the police databases for the case files.

A man and a woman in suits start marking the crime scenes on a map. They crosscheck everything the police found and compare it to occurrences the Chicago Alliance was alerted about in these areas. They also check the known paths to the Nevernever near the crime scenes.

Marcone hasn’t put away his phone since he arrived.

„I sent another team to search the club again. They turned everything upside down and found Karrin Murphys gun with her prints on it in one of the lockers.“ He says. „There was also a missing bartender and two glasses with traces of a known tranquilizer on it.“

I nod grimly. „So they were definitely abducted from there.“ I say. „Something about the bartender?“

„Human.“ replies Marcone. „He got the job just one week ago. He also has a dead sister, who had contact to a White Court vampire before she killed herself. Probably a revenge act. The wizards used him to get to the vampires.“

That’s not good. It means they were planning ahead and not just stumbling around like naive young magic wielders. But we already know that at least one of them must be clever.

„Is this the man you saw?“ The sketch artist in front of me asks and shows me the composite sketch.

„It‘s pretty close.“ I say.  Again I have this feeling that he looks familiar somehow but I can’t where I saw him before. The sketch artist nods and gets up.

„Run it through the system as fast as you can. We need a name.“ says Marcone and the man nods and steps out of the room.

„Dresden we need help with the paths through the Nevernever over here.“ Marcone says.

He stands next to the map which lies on the table.

Before I can say something the door opens again and Butters and Billy step into the room. Butters is first and he is already complaining to Marcone before even looking around.

 „What in the world is going on here? Nobody tells us a thing but you seem to have started a massive operation without letting anyone know. You know you can‘t just do your own thing around here, there are more people who get dragged into this-“

They see me and stop in their tracks.

I smile. „Hello Butters. Hey Billy.“

Their gazes are cautious and that hurts like hell. Five seconds no one says a thing and I almost expect them to just leave again when the silence is broken.

„Harry.“ Billy grins and one moment later he embraced me in an rip crushing hug. „Long time no see.“

I grin back at him. „I missed you. How is Georgia?“

“Cranky.” He says and rolls his eyes.

Butters also steps forward and to my utter surprise I get a hug from him too. „It‘s good to see you again.“ he says quietly.

„What’s happening here, Harry?“ Billy asks and looks frowning from me to Marcone as if he can‘t believe what is right in front of his eyes. „Are you two working together?“

I understand his unbelievable tone of voice. It‘s no secret, that Marcone and I have our differences.

„Murphy and Thomas where abducted while investigating a case.“

They stare at me.

„A case?“ Butters says frowning.

„What has the vampire to do with this?“ says Billy.

I sigh. „Long story. You better sit down. We have a situation and need all the help we can get.“


 

Butters and Billy stare at me after I finished explaining the mess. It’s clear they have a hard time grasping what I said. I can relate rather well, sometimes my life is too complicated for my own imagination.

„And this vampire came to you because…“ Billy says frowning slightly.

I shrug. „He had wounds that could only be healed by a wizard.“

„But he couldn‘t know this, could he?“ Billy continues.

I sigh inwardly. This would be easier if I could just tell them, that Thomas is my brother.

„He‘s a friend. I guess he thought I could help.“ I say and I really hope that he’s satisfied with that, but of course that’s the moment Marcone decides to put his oar in.

„So you tell us, this vampire is fatally hurt, and the first thing he does, is not look for someone to feed on, even though he is still just a few yards from the club. He doesn’t go to someone from his family who he would trust under a condition like that. No, the first thing he does is driving through half of the city to get to your flat, Dresden. To the flat of a wizard who could easily kill him in such a weakened state. Can you explain that to me?“

I‘m at a loss for words. He is right, of course. It seems like a strange move if you don’t know that we are related and Thomas probably thought I would be the only person who he could trust when fatally wounded. He would never voluntarily go to his family in an situation like this, because he doesn’t trust Lara. It shouldn’t be as surprising and I didn’t think about it before, but obviously he trusts me.

I never had that before. I never was the person someone would trust so unconditionally.

„Harry?“ I realize that I must‘ve stared into the distance for a few seconds too long.

„Sorry, what did you say?“ I ask and blink at Billy.

Marcone is still frowning. „You didn’t answer the question Dresden.“

I stare at him. „Yes, because I believe there are more important things to worry about than this. Don’t you agree?“

He opens his mouth to argue but in this moment the door opens again and the sketch artist from earlier steps into the room. „Sir.“ he says breathlessly as if he ran here.

„We searched. No matches in any of the databases.“

Marcone arches a brow. „No Warden and no White Council member?“

The man shakes his head. „They can‘t find him. But that‘s not the strangest part. We have access to all the police databases, federal agencies, Interpol and the Driver’s license databases. „He‘s not registered anywhere.“

„That’s not too uncommon.“ I say. „There are many wizards living in the underground. Many of them don’t have a driver’s license.“

Marcone shakes his head. „You don’t understand Dresden. My people are the best. If this wizard exists they are able to find him. Everyone leaves a trace these days.“

I shoot him an annoyed look. „Do you want to say I imagined him?“

„Of course that’s not what Marcone wants to say.“ Billy interjects quickly.

„Maybe you described him wrong, Dresden.“ Marcone says.

„Or your people are not as good as you say.“ I snap back.

„I know him.“ interrupts Butters. He stands next to the sketch artist who brought a copy of the composite sketch and put it on the conference table.

„You know him?“ Billy, Marcone and I say with one voice.

Butters grimaces and nods. „I’m sorry Harry, but I’m pretty sure your guy is a fictional character from a fifties movie.“

Chapter Text

„Thomas.“ Karrin says when she gets up from her chair and makes a step in his direction. Probably not the best move, but she has to calm him somehow.

He immediately scrambles back until his shoulders hit the wall. His skin is glowing now and his eyes are such an intense silver that she can barely see his pupils. His breath goes ragged.

„Don‘t come any closer!“ he hisses.

„You can fight it.“ she says. „We‘ll get out of here.“

„Then do something! I can’t control it forever!“

She doesn’t move. His wounds are still bleeding. His shirt is drenched in pale blood. „We have to bandage this.“ she says and makes another step in his direction.

He takes a sharp breath. „Karrin. Stop right there!“ his voice is sharp. She stops. 

„It‘s no use if you bleed out while I look for an exit.“ she says.

„Well I can’t just stop bleeding. Even if I would feed. These wounds can be only healed by a wizard.“

„Then we have to get you to Harry.“ she says.

She takes of her jacket and throws it over to him. „Pressure on the wounds.“ she says. „I get us out of here.“

He takes the jacket and presses it against his chest. It’s immediately soaked in blood. She knows that she has to act fast, and not just because she will be vampire food if she doesn’t. They will both be dead. She because he killed her, and he because of his wounds.

She has to find a way out of here and Thomas is incapable of helping her.

The windows are nailed shut, which wouldn’t be such a great problem, but when she looks through a small crack between the boards she sees that they are on the third floor.

So no other option than the door.

To her disappointment it opens to the inside, so she can‘t just kick it down. It’s also locked but with the right tool this shouldn’t be the problem. The problem is she has no time. And she has no tools. At least not yet. So she has to hurry. She decides to search the room for something useful.

„What are you doing?“ Thomas asks strained and she has the feeling that he has to concentrate on something in order to not loose control over his hunger.

„Searching for something to pick the lock.“ she says, and pulls open the drawers of the teachers desk. Unfortunately they are all empty. The windows and the thick layer of dust on every surface is indication enough, that this school has been empty for years. She hoped that they maybe left something behind.

She just needs a simple paperclip, but no such luck. She had something in her jacket but she checked that first and they obviously searched her. She pulls open a wall closet and hisses when her left arm collides with the door in a painful way.

„You’re hurt.“ Thomas states.

She shoots him an annoyed look. „Very well observed. My arm is dislocated. When I think about it, you could help me with that.“

He presses his lips together and shakes his head. „Don‘t get closer.“

She sighs. „Okay, first I open the door. But I‘ll have to get closer anyway if I want to get you out of here.“

He says nothing to that, just closes his eyes and turns his head to the wall. She thinks he tries to preserve the last control he still has.

Better hurry then. She turns to the closet again, which obviously was storage for art supplies if she interprets the paint spots on the wooden shelfs right.

No luck here either. She turns around and begins searching the students desks one after another.

There isn’t a single pencil left behind.

Damn it, these people where thorough.

She stands in the middle of the room for a second and just looks around. There has to be something they didn’t think of. Something no one would even think to use as a lock pick.

Something impossible to imagine. It has to be pliable and out of metal. Her gaze drifts to the ceiling. A crazy thought comes to her mind. It’s so crazy it probably wont work. „I have to try something.“ she says.

Thomas doesn’t answer. When she looks over to him his eyes are still closed but she can see his chest lifting. So still alive. He‘s probably in some trance to control his hunger.

She has to do this fast.

Karrin shoves a desk under the spot of the ceiling she wants to access and grabs the shower head from the floor she dropped earlier. It‘s difficult to climb onto the desk with just one arm so she pulls a chair over and uses it as a latter. Fortunately the ceiling isn’t too high.

First she turns to the ceiling lamps. They are white round overhead lights. She takes the casing off and screws the lightbulb from its bracket.

This is the first thing she is gonna try and it is a long shot. She has another plan in case this doesn’t work.

This building is old and that means the lightbulbs are also old. They hadn’t LEDs yet when they built in the lamps and that’s her advantage.

She climbs down, puts the lightbulb on the desk and smashes the shower head on top of it. It breaks with a clash, glass shards flying everywhere.

She picks up the cap with the aluminum base and looks at the contact wires. She knows that they are made of an iron-nickel material. The two wires are exactly what she needs. They’re pliable and thin.

She just hopes that she can use them to pick the lock without breaking them. There are two other lamps at the ceiling and just to be sure she gets the bulbs from these too. It’s never bad to have a backup.

She grabs the wires and pulls a chair in front of the door.

“What on earth are you doing?” Thomas asks from behind her and his voice is incredulous. He must have seen her get down from the desk.

“Picking the lock. There are no paperclips around and unless you have another option these will have to do.” She holds up the thin metal wires from the lightbulb. He shakes his head but a small smile spreads over his face.

“Karrin, you’re a genius. How do you even get these ideas?”

Her smile is a little bit strained. “Say that again, when it actually worked.”

He gets silent again. She knows he really tries to not show his inner conflict, but he is not very good at it. It’s clear that he is constantly fighting against the urge to jump up.

Karrin gets to work. First she has to bend them into the right shape. It’s extremely difficult, the wires are pliable, but just to a certain degree. If she isn’t careful they’ll break. She already made three of them useless.

After the forth wire breaks between her fingers she curses. “They’re too thin…It’s not working.” she says. “Plan B.”

“What is plan B?” Thomas asks slightly breathless.

She looks at the ceiling lamps again. “You’ll see.” She says, grabs one of the lightbulb shards and gets onto the table again. Now she looks at the electrical connection wires, that are used to connect the lamp to the power. This is plan B because it will be more difficult to get these.

“Are you insane?” Thomas gasps when she takes the lightbulb shard in her right hand and begins slicing the wire with it.

She doesn’t answer him. She’s too busy. It’s a tedious work with just one arm and it takes just a few seconds before her hand starts bleeding, where the glass shard cuts into her skin. She’s not even sure she will get through the electrical copper wire.

When she managed to scratch a tiny indentation into the wire she starts bending it at the same spot in every direction she can. It takes a lot of rotation and pulling before the wire finally comes loose. She sits down on the table to take a short breather. Her left shoulder hurts like hell. The pain shoots through it with every breath she takes. Her shirt is soaked with sweat. “One more to go.” She finally brings out and gets up again.

The second wire takes even more time to get loose. She has to cut and bend it for ten whole minutes before she holds it in her hand and sinks down on the table top again. Now she has two wires that are thicker than the ones from the lightbulb.

She begins peeling the isolation material away with the help of the glass shards and the few fingernails she has left after this ordeal. When she is finished two plain copper wires lie on the desk.

Hopefully its going to work now.

She returns to the chair in front of the door, ignoring the throbbing pain in her shoulder.

It’s time to get out of here.

It takes her ten more minutes to bend the wires into the shape she needs, which is equally difficult with just one usable hand.

After that she realizes she’ll never manage to pick the lock with just one arm. It’s simply not possible. She has to hold both of the wires, and her left arm is completely useless as long as its dislocated from her shoulder. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” She curses. Why didn’t she think sooner of this?

She turns to Harrys brother. “Thomas I need your help with this.”

His silver gaze meets her eyes and a shudder runs down her spine. She feels like prey, when he looks at her like this. “Snap out of it!” her tone is sharp.

He blinks at her, but surprisingly the silver in his eyes dims a bit. “Told you that’s not a good idea…” he mutters.

“It doesn’t matter. You have to help me pop my shoulder back in. If I can’t use two arms, I can’t pick the lock. And if I can’t pick the lock we’re not getting out of here and we’ll both be dead, so get your shit together and try to help me for a second, would you?”

His face morphs into a grimace. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to do this.” He says.

“It’s the only option.”

He hesitates a few more seconds before taking a deep breath. “Okay. Tell me what to do.”

She immediately takes one of the desks and pulls it with her right arm until it stands next to him. She knows more than one method to pop a joint back in. She could do it herself, but that’s usually more dangerous and if there is a second person, there are much safer options. She is also sure he can’t move around a lot with his wounds so she chooses the sort of treatment where he has to do the least.

“I’m going to lie down on this desk and let my left arm hang down here. All you have to do is holding my wrist and applying constantly downward pressure for at least fifteen minutes. Do you think you can manage that?” she explains to him. There are faster methods, but he has a limited range of motion and she has to use her arm after this, and if its just for a few minutes. So she has to choose the most careful approach.

He’s even paler, now that she is closer but he nods. “I’ll try.”

She doesn’t hesitate any longer and lies down on her stomach, which is painful but necessary. She lets her left arm hang over the edge of the table right next to where he sits.

“Go one. We don’t have all day.” She says through clenched teeth.

He shifts a few inches to his right and lets go of the blood soaked jacket so he can hold her wrist with both hands. He grinds his teeth against the pain when the movement pulls at his wounds.

Thomas looks at her. “Ready?” He has a tight grip around her wrist. His hands are coated in his own blood. The wounds are still bleeding and as far as she knows they won’t stop on their own.

She forces her body to relax onto the table top. This wont work if her muscles are tensed. She imagines to be a drop of water which just sinks into the wood beneath her.

“Ready.” She says and he starts putting downward pressure on her arm.

She gasps when the pain immediately shoots through her whole body. He freezes. “Keep going!” she gasps. “Constant pressure. I tell you when to stop.”

He complies without arguing. His body is like a statue now. No muscle moves except his hands which keep pulling her arm with a constant gentle force in the direction of the ground. She closes her eyes and begins to count to 900 in her head.

She’s at 754 when his grip starts to loosen. She feels the joint slowly popping back in place. She needs just a few more minutes. “Almost done. Keep pulling.” She says and opens her eyes.

What she sees is not good. He blinks fast as if trying to stay awake. His face is contorted into a grimace and his hands begin to tremble. “Thomas.” She says. “You can do this. Control it.”

He shakes his head. “It’s…not the hunger…” he gets out and she doesn’t like how weak his voice sounds. She knows what he means. One look down to the floor around him is enough. He’s sitting in a puddle of blood and she didn’t even think about it. He wont be able to stay awake much longer.

“Please, try to stay awake. Two more minutes, then we can get out of here.” She says and it takes all of her strength to keep her muscles relaxed. His grip tightens again around her wrist until its almost painful. She starts counting again.

When she’s at 188 she finally feels the joint pop back into place. It’s a terrible sound and a even more terrible feeling but she breathes out relived nonetheless. “Okay, you can let go. Thank you.” She says.

His hands fall off immediately. “No…problem.” he says and that seems to be the end of his strength because his eyes close and he collapses sideways onto the floor, as soon as the last word left his mouth.

She’s not fast enough to catch him and when she scrambled of the table he’s already lying unconscious in his own blood.

“Shit.” She breaths when she picks up her jacket and presses it on his wounds again. She has to get him to Harry, now.

She wraps the blood soaked fabric as tight around his chest as she can and stumbles to her feet.

The two copper wires are still on the chair in front of the door. She grabs them, forces her still hurting left arm in an awkward position between her chest and the door, so she can stabilize it enough to hold one of the wires in place, and gets to work with the other wire in her right hand. The following minutes are the most exhausting of her life. Every time she moves a muscle the pain shoots through her, and she has to keep her hands from trembling.

When she finally hears the click of the lock snapping open she could’ve cried, if she wasn’t in such a hurry. She pulls the door open and breathes out relived.

Now she can get them out of here. She looks back at Thomas. There is no way, she can leave him. The wizards could come back any moment now. She tries to wake him, but he seems completely out of it now. No chance.

Well she just has to get him out of the building. Then she can steal a car or find a phone to get them out of here. She clenches her teeth, and pulls his arm with her right hand over her shoulder. He is heavy and she is glad for all the hours she spend lifting weights in the gym. Otherwise she wouldn’t be able to even lift him.

Karrin doesn’t know how she managed to drag him down the three stairs to the first floor. Her mind stopped comprehending what she was doing after the first few steps. She just kept going without even thinking about it. That’s probably a good thing or she would’ve said it was impossible.

When she finally steps out of the front door of the school she doesn’t stop. She has to get them into hiding before she can take a breather. They are still in danger here. She rearranges Thomas’ arm around her shoulder and keeps hauling him down the street.

She doesn’t recognize the area they’re in but it’s definitely a bad neighborhood. According to the sky it’s still daytime, so they probably were gone for not longer than a few hours.

The street in front of her is deserted. To her disappointment there is not a single car in sight. There are also no payphones.

She thinks about knocking at doors to find someone with a phone, but she doubts anyone would open. They are both covered in blood and humans tend to give everyone covered in blood a wide berth these days. Especially in an area like this.

“You. Give me your money.” The voice is rough and comes from behind her.

She freezes. Could she be any more unlucky?

When she turns around slowly there is a skinny man with a knife standing ten feet away. His face and hands are dirty and he looks like a junkie. He seems to have come from an alley to her right. She is so tired, she can’t do more than lift a brow at him.

His gaze sweeps over her first, then over Thomas’ unconscious form and he makes a face that would’ve been pretty funny, if she wasn’t so exhausted.

“Do we look like we have money?” she asks him and lowers Thomas carefully to the ground.

He lifts the knife when she takes a step in his direction. “Don’t get closer!” he shouts. “Did you kill this guy?” It takes her a second to realize he meant Thomas with that.

She rolls her eyes. “I don’t have time for this.”

And with that she jumps to the left when he thrusts his arm with the knife in her direction and disarms him with a controlled hit against his wrist. She punches him in the jaw right after that. He collapses to the ground groaning. She doesn’t waste any time and searches his jacket.

Jackpot. A phone. Fortunately he’s still conscious. She takes the knife and presses it against his throat.

“Code.” She says and holds up the phone. “Please.”


 

The cab driver doesn’t comment on the blood. He takes one look at her face and decides its best not to tangle with her, which is a good decision. For the first time in her life, Murphy is grateful for the ‘Who-cares?’-attitude of cab drivers. They just try to earn their money and don’t care who they earn it from.

“Hospital?” he asks simply, when she practically throws the unconscious vampire onto the back seat.

She shakes her head and tells him the address of the Chicago Alliance instead.

“Are you sure, Ma’am?” he asks and she knows that’s all the arguing she’ll hear from him about this.

She nods. “I’m sure. And could you please hurry?”

He shrugs. “Cost’s extra.”

“Money is no problem.” She says.

He grunts and hits the gas.

She sighs inwardly and begins to apply pressure on Thomas’ wounds again.

She has no option to reach Harry, because he has no phone, and its hours after the time they should meet at her house, so she is pretty sure he isn’t there anymore. The biggest chance to find him or another wizard is to go to the Castle. If she is lucky he is already there. If she was him she would’ve gone there first after the location spell failed.

The cab runs over a red light and she has to bite back a comment. She’s not with the police anymore, and as long as he doesn’t crash she is fine with bending the traffic rules a little bit in a situation like this. She has no other choice. Thomas’ breath gets more shallow every second.

Ten minutes later the car screeches to a stop in front of the Castle. “I send someone out to pay you.” She says while she already jumps out of the car. She pulls Thomas’ arm over her shoulder and drags him through the entrance doors. When the two guards recognize her, they immediately drop their jaws and just stare at them.

“You.” She snaps at the first. She has no nerve to argue with anyone right now. “Go pay the cab driver, out there. Make sure he doesn’t talk.” He blinks, but nods and hurries outside. They know who she is. They wouldn’t argue with her. “And, you. Did you see Harry Dresden?” she asks the second one who still just stands there.

He nods. “He arrived an hour ago with the boss.”

Oh thank god, she thinks. “Where?”

“Third floor. Conference room.” He replies. “Ma’am. Do you need help-“

She is already past him. He stares after her as she drags Thomas to the elevator, which is fortunately already on the first floor. In the cabin she punches the button for the third floor and waits impatiently until the doors close.

The elevator announces the third floor with a faint ping and she doesn’t wait until the doors have finished to open.

Karrin practically kicks the door of the conference room open, without hesitating a second.

The door slams against the wall with a loud crash.

All gazes turn to her. It must be quiet the sight. Both she and Thomas drenched in blood, he with cruel wounds all over his torso and completely unconscious, she with a murderous look on her face, a swollen shoulder and gasping for breath.

There are around fifteen people in the room and every single one of them stares at her as if she just stumbled out of an horror movie. John Marcone is standing next to Billy, Butters and Harry on the other side of the table. Mouse lets out a dangerous growl. Some of the others she knows from the Alliance, many of them she doesn’t know at all. Probably Marcones people.

“Move.” She snaps at some unfortunate man standing in her way. He jumps aside, when she swipes everything from the conference table with a wide gesture of her arm and without even looking at what crashed to the floor, hauls the vampire on the table with her last remaining energy.

When she stands there panting, her gaze lands on Harry who seems to be speechless for a change. His eyes are wide and he stares at her lost for words. “What are you waiting for? Heal him! Now!” she shouts and cant believe she even has to say it out loud.

And just like that, everyone snaps into action. Harry is around the table within a second and his whole concentration is on Thomas when he places his hands over the wounds.

“Everyone out!” Marcone barks and everyone except his bodyguards, Butters and Billy hurries from the room, as if it is suddenly on fire. The door slams shut behind them.

Harry shoots her an frantic look. “He’s barely breathing!” he says and she can see the panic in his eyes.

“I know.” She says and squeezes his shoulder. “He lost so much blood. But you can do this. You already did it once.”

“It wasn’t this bad back then.” He says and his voice is trembling.

“Harry, focus.” She just says and he shoots her one last look before he nods and concentrates on his brother again.

For the first time in an hour she allows herself to breath. She sinks down into on of the chairs when her legs give in from the exhaustion. The world starts spinning and she has to put her head between her knees.

She flinches when a small hand lands on her shoulder but its just Butters who looks down at her concerned. “Karrin, are you hurt?”

She manages to shrug. “It’s not too bad.” She says and a little hysterical laugh bubbles out of her when she realizes how that sounds. “I mean, It’s not my blood.” She adds, shooting a look at the unconscious vampire.

Butters follows her gaze and frowns. “Did he hurt you? Are you okay?”

She rolls her eyes. “No he didn’t hurt me. He’s the one who almost died.”

He doesn’t seem too concerned about that. Instead he begins to examine her with a critical gaze. “Your shoulder was dislocated?” he says finally. It’s pretty obvious by now, she can feel how swollen it is and its incredible painful.

She sighs. “Yes, I guess I need a sling. Thomas helped me to pop the joint back in but I strained it a bit too much by dragging an unconscious vampire around.”

Butters gets to his feet immediately. “I get the first-aid kid and some ice for the swelling. Wait here.”

“I didn’t plan on going anywhere.” She mutters but he’s already gone.

Harry looks like he has fallen into some trance. His eyes are closed, his face contorted into a concentrated grimace. Mouse sits next to him on high alert, ready to attack anyone who dares to disturb the process.

Marcone steps into her field of view. “Did anyone follow you?” he asks and gets right to the point.

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so. They brought us to an abandoned school building. We have to send someone there to scout, in case they get back. I got us out and managed to find a phone to call a cab. The wizards left maybe two hours ago.”

He nods. “I’ll see to it, that a team investigates the building immediately. If we are lucky we get them there.”

She gives him the address and he steps out into the hall to make a call.

That leaves just Billy and he’s looking at her as if she might break every second. He’s not wrong with that assumption. She really just wants to lie down and not get up until the next morning but it seems they have a situation at hand, that is far worse than expected. First things first.

“We were abducted from a White Court club. There was a barkeeper with a personal vendetta involved. Do you know if they found him?” she asks.

He nods. “He is missing, as far as I know. But I believe they found your gun.”

She smiles strained. “Okay, looking for him isn’t the first priority, but we can’t let him get away. First we have to find the wizards.”

Billy looks slightly nervous. “Harry met one of them, and got us a composite sketch.” He begins.

“That’s good.” She says. “Did anything come up with the databases?”

He frowns. “That’s the strange thing, we just found out when you showed up. He’s in no database, Marcones people couldn’t find him, but Butters took one look at the picture and declared him some guy from a fifties movie. We couldn’t really discuss that, because that was when you barged in with him.” He nods in Thomas direction.

Murphy stares at him. “What? A guy from a fifties movie? He recognized a man fifty years later?”

“No.” Butters steps into the room with the first-aid box and  an ice pack that he hands her. He pulls a chair next to hers and sits down. “It’s the guy. You know, one of these old black-and-white movies. There is this detective in his forties who tries to solve a murder, and the man on the composite sketch? He looks exactly like the man in the movie. He even has the same hat. But there is obviously no way it’s the same man, or he wouldn’t have aged a day since then.”

“The actor you’re referring to is dead.” Marcone interrupts and returns from the hallway his bodyguards on his heels. “He died in 1976. Lung cancer. Too much cigarettes these days, if you ask me.”

“How do you know that?” Butters asks frowning.

“I told my people to slightly change the search parameters.” He shrugs. “You were right, the resemblance is undeniable.”

“This cannot be the same man…” Karrin mutters while Butters puts her arm into a sling and examines her for other injuries. He takes her hands in his and turns them around with an arched brow.

“Karrin, what in the world happened here?” he asks. She looks down. She lost nearly all her fingernails, there is blood everywhere, hers and Thomas’. She has also many small cuts where she cut herself with the lightbulb shards.

“I got us out. It wasn’t easy.” She says simple. He shakes his head incredulous.

“Remind me to never anger you. There seems no way to keep you from doing what you want.” He says.

She can’t hide the little smile that creeps over her face. He is right of course. She knows when she wants something and she wont stop until she tried everything to reach her goal. She could’ve given up at various points today, but she kept fighting and she saved both their lives. It’s a pity she can’t rest now. There is to much to do. She has to catch these bastards.

That’s the moment Harry snaps with a gasp from his trance and stumbles sideways.

Billy catches his arm and steadies him. Karrin pulls her bandaged hands from Butters grip and gets up. Her legs are already a little bit steadier than a few minutes ago.

She grabs Harrys shoulder. “Did it work?”

He takes a shuddering breath but nods. “He’s weak and has to feed soon but I managed to stop the bleeding.”

When Karrin looks down at Thomas she sees, that he is right. The wounds are closed, there are a few superficial scratches left but nothing too serious. Despite that Thomas didn’t wake up. He’s also still very pale.

“Should we call Justine?” Karrin whispers but Harry shakes his head.

“He wouldn’t want that, he told me he doesn’t want to get her involved.”

She frowns at him. “Do you think it’s the right moment to respect his wishes? He’s still not fully recovered as long as he doesn’t feed.”

“We have to wait for him to wake up anyway.” Harry argues. “There’s nothing else we can do before that.”

That’s when Marcone clears his throat. “I suggest bringing him to Lara Raith. Obviously she can take care of his recovery better than anyone here.”

“Absolutely not.” Harry says curtly.

Marcone seems surprised. “Why not, Dresden?” he lifts an eyebrow. “Is there anything you are not telling us?”

“Because I say so.” Harry snaps back at him without an explanation. Its cute how protective he sounds, but its also not very subtle.

“Because she would find out about the attacks.” Karrin hurries to interject and shoots Harry an annoyed look. Christ, could he be any more suspicious? “If we involve Lara everything gets worse.”

“Oh, is that so?” Lara Raith says and steps into the room.

 

Chapter Text

“Seriously?” Is the first thing I say when Lara Raith announces her presence from the door. “Can’t we have one minute to collect our thoughts?”

She is standing there in her usual glory: white blouse, white skirt that is a little bit too short to count as business attire and red high heels.

Her smile is predatory. “I am sorry to interrupt your little gathering Dresden, but I think there is something you kept from me.”

“You should go Lara.” Is all I say to that. I'm tired and I have really no idea how to deal with her at the moment. But of course I know Lara Raith is the last person to ‘just go’ if I ask her politely.

As predicted she just laughs in my face. “I have every right to be in this building, Dresden. I cooperate with the Chicago Alliance.” Her gaze drifts to Marcone. “I don’t like what I see here, John.”

Uh-uh. It’s not the greatest time to divide the Chicago Alliance on top of everything that has already happened.

Marcone surprises me by showing at least some sort of diplomacy. “I think you will see that Dresden has your best interests at heart, for a change. If you listen to him you will probably realize that there is a situation.”

“Oh I realized that much already, John.” Lara snaps at him before turning to me. “When exactly did you plan to tell me that four of my people were killed by wizards?”

“Four?!” I sputter taken aback.

She lifts a perfectly trimmed eyebrow. “Yes, Dresden. Four. Two of them just this morning.”

I close my eyes for a moment. How could it be, I hadn’t heard about that already?

I look at Murphy who just shrugs. “Don’t look at me. I just got here. Also my phone is broken.”

“There weren’t any reports of two more bodies.” Marcone says and frowns.

“There were. They reported to me. Maybe you just didn’t realize because you were too busy conspiring behind my back.” Laras voice is bittersweet now.

I feel a shudder running down my spine. I guess it’s time to come clear.

I take a step forward, which brings me automatically in the space between Thomas and her. She narrows her eyes at me so I guess she noticed, but she doesn’t say anything about it.

I realize she hasn’t asked once about her brother since she stepped into the room. One more reason to not trust her with him at the moment.

“Lara, listen. Someone tries to play off the White Council against the White Court. I went to the White Council to tell them about this and they don’t know anything about these attacks. It looks like they acted on their own. Additionally somebody tries to tell the Council that the White Court is conspiring against them. The information about the artifact that was leaked to you, came from probably the same person. They want to start a war, and use the mistrust both sides already have. You have to see that this is staged. I didn’t tell you earlier because I wanted to find the people responsible, before going to you.”

She stares at me for a few seconds, before she decides to make the most ridiculous response to what I just told her.

“Do you know where this artifact is?”

I blink at her. “That’s what you want to know?” I ask incredulous. Is she serious right now? “I thought you already have it. The White Council told me you stole it from the Field Museum.”

She snorts. “And again, the wizard has no clue about what is going on. I guess that’s no surprise.” It’s really difficult to not feel insulted. I have a clue about many things. It’s not my fault that people keep telling me lies. “I may have intended to bring this scroll into my possession but only because it belonged to my family since the 11th century. My people tried to recover it from the museum, but the White Council was obviously faster. It’s beyond my understanding why they should be interested in it. It has only sentimental value to us.”

Oh stars and stones, this is getting more crazy every second. The White Council told me it was  written by a wizard. Lara tells me it’s an old family heirloom. Someone must be wrong. “See? This is another attempt to fool both sides! This confirms what I just told you. The question is who has the damn scroll, and is it important at all?”

“Dresden.” Marcone says and when I look over he is a little bit paler than usual. I see doubt in his eyes. The few times I saw him show any sign that he wasn’t in control anymore, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. “I believe it would be helpful to tell you, that I had the scroll you are probably talking about.”

I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore. At this point basically anything could happen. “Okay.” I say resigned. “Care to elaborate on that?”

He makes a casual hand gesture. “You know one of my many business concepts is it to sell rare art objects?”

“Oh, that’s a nice way of putting it.” Murphy mutters under her breath. She’s right of course. Marcones slightly illegal auctions are no secret. I have the suspicion that most of the stuff he sells is stolen.

Marcone ignores Murphys interjection. “There are often customers, who approach me, because they have interest in a specific artifact. That was the case a few days ago. I acquired said object and sold it to the customer. As far as I know it was indeed a scroll, but of no interest to either the vampires or the wizards. It simply described the events of the Battle of Tafalla, one of many conflicts happening in Spain in the 11th century.”

Oh, that’s great. Another useless fact that leads me nowhere.

“Well, that explains why this scroll is nowhere to find.” I say and look at Marcone. “It’s probably best if you look up the details on this customer of yours.”

“I wouldn’t have thought of that, if it wasn’t for you.” He says sarcastically and steps into the hallway, his phone already in his hand. His bodyguards follow him and the door closes behind them. Since Murphy kicked it down, it’s slightly askew.

I turn to Lara again. “Do you see now what is happening here?”

She presses her lips together. “I see that there are wizards attacking my people, Dresden. I want the responsible ones, and I want to know for sure that the White Council wasn’t involved.”

“Wait, who told you about the scroll?” I remember another one of the impossible tasks is to find the mole inside the White Council.

She smiles at me. “I have contacts.” 

“Yes, I know. But your contact is obviously trying to stab you in the back. So do you mind telling me his or her name? He probably is the one cooperating with the wizards that killed your people or at least he’s working for whoever orchestrated this whole thing.”

I see her hesitation, but there is just one way to go from here and she knows it. “It’s some young Warden, nobody I would choose to infiltrate the White Council. He doesn’t know much about how things should work. Completely incompetent when it comes to doing anything without extremely specific orders.”

“Name?” I ask.

She shrugs. “Honestly, Dresden. You don’t think I concern myself with these things, do you? I have to make a call to find out the name.” She pulls her phone from her pocket before looking around the room for the first time and shooting me an annoyed look. “Is there anybody you didn’t drag into this mess?”

“Just make the call.” I say through gritted teeth. She snorts but also steps out of the room. I can hear her heels click as she walks away. Probably to look for some other hallway, because Marcone and his bodyguards occupy the one in front of the room.

“That’s not looking good Harry.” Billy says and I turn around and sigh.

“I know. But at least the problems begin to merge. If I find the wizards, I also find the mole and this scroll and also the other way around. Not that anyone should care about the damn scroll, but I guess, the White Council has to see it for themselves to believe how useless it is.”

“Who could be behind all of this?” Murphy asks. “Who could benefit from it?”

I frown. “Honestly I thought it was Marcone first, but he seems to despise a war as much as we do. If the White Council wasn’t so clueless I would think they are involved, but why should they engineer the whole thing with the scroll, if they were behind it the whole time. You would also think they wouldn’t act so openly with these wizards running around and killing vampires. If they wanted to start a war they would do it so nobody suspects them. If it isn’t someone entirely new, there is really just one option left.”

“Who?” Butters asks.

“Mab.”

That surprises them all. Butters and Billy stare at me speechless. They both look as if they would like to say something, but don’t know how to do it, given I‘m currently the Winter Knight.

Murphy hasn’t the same inhibitions. „Why would she do something like this? What’s her motive?“

„Well, for a start: It‘s Mab.“ I say.

„Good point.“ Billy mutters.

I thought about this since I realized Marcone couldn’t be behind all of this. I also suddenly knew, what I had ignored subconsciously since Thomas pounded at my door last night.

All the little clues I hadn’t seen.

I remembered when I opened the door in the middle of the night and felt the gust of cold wind, even though it should have been still at least 80 degrees outside.

I remembered the cold temperature of Thomas‘ skin, that I wrote off as a side effect of his hunger.

The freezing feeling that came over me when I touched the pentacle necklace.

The ice left behind by the disappearing wizard.

How restless the Winter Knight had been since all of this started. It would have been pretty obvious to anyone except me.

There is a constant feeling of cold lurking in my mind. I‘m so used to it, that it‘s rather difficult to spot an unusual amount of it around me.

„I‘m pretty sure there are a lot of reasons why she would do something like this.“ I say curtly.

„What do you want to do now?“ Butters asks. „You can’t just confront her, can you? I mean, you are the Winter Knight.“ the last words are not more than a whisper. I hear his fear behind them and it makes me incredible angry.

I‘m so tired of this crap. Mab permanently tries to stab me in the back. Everything she does or says has some hidden agenda behind it and I‘m sick of being a pawn in her game. I can‘t even know whether it‘s coincidence I got dragged into this, or if she is aiming for something entirely different.

All I know is that I will do something about it right now.

„I have to talk to her.“ I say.

Murphy frowns. „Are you sure this is a good idea?“

„Its definitely not a good idea.“ I say. „But I have to do it anyway. There is no way around it if she is behind this.“

They don’t look happy. „Where do you want to do it?“ Butters asks. „You can’t call her here.“

„I know.“ I say slightly annoyed. I‘m not that irresponsible.

Even if I would try to call her here. The Castle has protection against beings like Mab. She couldn’t just walk in. At least I hope so.

Marcone and Lara choose this moment to come back. He holds open the slightly damaged door for her and she stalks inside with a look that could have cut steel.

„So?“ I ask nonchalantly as if I hadn’t just realized that my employer probably was behind this the whole time.

Marcone begins to say something but Lara interrupts him. „This is over.“ she says curtly.

Her hands are clenched into fists. „What?“ I ask, not as eloquent as ever.

„What happened?“ asks Murphy.

„The situation escalated. That happened.“ Lara snaps back at her. Her eyes turn silver. „The time for diplomacy is over, Dresden.“

I blink at her. „What in the world happened in the five minutes you were out there?“

In the blink of an eye she is inches from my face. „You have no right to ask this question Dresden! Not when your people just attacked us again based on some stupid accusations!“

„Tell me what happened!“ I snap at her not caring about the fact that her whole posture has the aggressiveness of a furious white shark.

„The Malvoras were attacked. They killed two of the most important family members without even asking questions and vanished right after that. I got the call just now. The attackers where Wardens and there were definitely more than three. I don’t care what you think about this or who your stupid mole is, but I‘m done believing that the White Council has no part in this!“

„Lara listen to me! This is exactly what they were planning! They want you to react and start a fight with-“

„Start a fight?!“ she shouts. „We didn’t start this. They did! I’m done with this. It was a mistake believing wizards could be our allies. They just waited for a reason to attack us the whole time. The Malvoras will seek revenge and I will support them. We are done with you, so I suggest you step out of the way, so I can take my brother back to where he belongs and plan a counter attack!“

My whole body gets rigid. „Don‘t pretend you care about what happens to him.“ I growl. „You didn’t ask a single time about him, since you stepped into this room. You care about nothing but how it would look if he wouldn‘t stand behind you and your family at one of your formal events.“

„Get. Out. Of. The. Way.“ Lara spits out and every word sounds like venom.

„No.“

Many things happen at once.

Lara makes a move to attack me.

Marcones bodyguards draw their weapons but seem at a loss who to shoot.

Marcone appears equally indecisive.

Butters ducks behind the table.

Billy looks like he wants to transform but Murphy grabs his arm and pulls him back. Clever of her. She knows it would probably end deadly for him.

Mouse jumps at Lara so fast he is not more than a furry grey blur in the air, but Lara is faster and back-hands him across the room without even looking.

I‘m already building a spell in my mind to hit her, before she can rip my throat out, but I have not even time to raise my staff when Thomas is already off the table and lunges for Lara in a flash.

They both crash through the already damaged door, which is flattened to the ground, when the two vampires topple into the hallway.

„Don’t you dare!“ I hear Thomas snarl, before there is a low thump and the glass in the windows rattles, when Lara is thrown into the opposite wall.

She hisses at him but doesn’t fight back for the moment. He has surprised her, but I know she is stronger and she knows it too. She could get rid of him easily. He has a hand around her throat and pins her against the wall behind her.

„You have to choose a side, Thomas.“ she says and her voice is suddenly completely calm. „There is no running from it anymore.“

His grip seems to loosen a little bit. „Don‘t ask that of me.“ he whispers and even though I can‘t see his eyes, I hear the pain in his voice.

„I should‘ve asked that of you ages ago. This whole affair has gone too far already. You can‘t even think clearly. We are your family.“ It‘s disgusting how sickeningly sweet her voice gets suddenly. Is she seriously trying to seduce him right now? It tells a lot about her that I’m not surprised by that. „I am your family.“

Her skin is glowing. His hand falls off her throat, like he burned himself. I can see him shiver from where I stand. She runs a hand down his arm and with anyone else it would‘ve appeared caring. With her it‘s just possessive.

Enough of this. I can‘t stand it any longer. „Back off.“ I snarl and raise my staff at her. I can’t blast her into the wall or set her on fire as long as Thomas is in the way, but I hope she understands the gesture behind it.

Her silver gaze is now directed at me and her eyes narrow. Her hand is still on his arm. „Stay out of this, Dresden.“

„Back. Off.“ I reply and again I can feel the cold seeping from my skin.

Lara seems to weigh the odds for a few more seconds before she pulls her hand away from Thomas and steps back.

„I won’t let this go.“ she says to him. „If you decide to stand on your families side you have until tonight to do so. If you‘re not there I know where you stand. If I were you I would remember where my place is. Especially when I still have your girlfriend.“ Thomas draws in a sharp breath and I have to hold back my ire again, because of course that’s Laras leverage.

She looks at me again. „Dresden, I give you time until nightfall to bring me the heads of the wizards who did this. If you don’t manage that, there will be a counter strike and I assure you, we won’t hold back.”

She turns to Marcone. „If I were you I would choose wisely where to stand John. It seems at the end of the night there will be just one side left.“

And with that she turns swiftly and stalks down the hallway.

It feels as if she took all the air from the room with her.


 

Marcone is the first to break the silence. „I see what is happening here, Dresden.“ he says and gestures between Thomas and me. I stare at him and dread comes over me. Did he finally understand it?

„He is your boyfriend.“

Butters and Billy look at him with big eyes.

Murphy bursts into a fit of laugher that sounds slightly hysterical.

I could‘ve strangled him. „I have no nerves to deal with this right now.“ I grunt and roll my eyes at Marcone.

So instead of answering him I step over to Thomas who wavers slightly on his feet. I grab his arm and pull him over to a chair, on which he sinks down immediately.

„I don‘t know what to do, Harry.“ he whispers and lets his head sink into his hands. I squeeze his shoulder.

I have no clue what to say to that. „We figure it out.“ It sounds ridiculous even in my own ears.

„Do you two need a minute or can we discuss how to stop this madness?” Marcone asks smugly.

I turn to him surprised. “What? You still want to stop this?”

He crosses his arms in front of his chest. “Do you think I will just stand around when this whole Alliance crumbles to the ground?”

I frown. “No. I thought you would choose a side and try to destroy the other one.”

His answer comes without hesitation. “What would be the benefit of that? No one can predict who wins and both sides are strong. Additionally it’s pointless to stand on either of them, when there is no reason to fight. As long as there is a chance to prevent this, I’m going to try it.”

I blink at him stunned. I wouldn’t have thought that he would act this way, but of course he is right, when he says this whole fight is pointless. On top of that he never was one to fight other people’s battles.

“Harry, Marcone is right.” Butters interjects. “You heard Lara. We don’t have much time and I don’t doubt for a second that her people will be ready to attack at nightfall.”

I clench my teeth. “So we have to find these wizards even faster.”

“What does it even mean, that this one looks like an actor from the fifties?” asks Billy and holds up the composite sketch which I have already totally forgotten.

“It means someone has a sense of humor…” I mutter because I lack a real answer.

“There were two other younger wizards.” Murphy says. “I saw them. Maybe we can find them in the databases.”

“That’s a good idea.” Marcone says. “Especially since the details I got from the customer who wanted the scroll, didn’t lead anywhere. We need another lead. You can go downstairs to meet the sketch artist. It’s going to go a lot faster if he can use the computer to make the composite sketch, and doesn’t has to settle for pencil and paper.”

Murphy nods. “I’ll do that.” She looks at me. “Are you going now?”

I’m about to reply something but Thomas gets up from his chair with a determined look on his face. “I’ll go now.” He says.

I stare at him. “Where?”

His still silver eyes turn to me. “What do you think, Harry?”

“Oh.” I say. Of course, he needs to feed. This is probably long overdue with the amount of blood he lost. “Yeah okay. I’m coming with you. I have to deal with something anyway.” There is no way I will let him go anywhere right now. Hell’s Bells, my hands are still coated with his blood.

He frowns at me but I interrupt him before he can say anything. “We have no time for that.”

He doesn’t look happy but relents after a second. “Okay, then lets go.”

I signal Mouse to follow.

“Dresden!” Marcone snaps at me and I turn around annoyed. “You can’t just go now. This is important!”

“I know, believe me.” I reply sourly. “It won’t take long. An hour tops. I have to speak with someone and if we are lucky I know more after that. I’m no use here anyway. If you get something about the two younger wizards while I’m gone all the better.”

“Who the hell, do you want to talk to now?” he asks angrily.

“That’s my business. Now excuse me. Like I said, we’ve got no time to argue.”

I shoot Murphy an questioning look, and she nods, as if to signal me that she will deal with Marcone. I smile at her before I turn around to Thomas, who looks tensed.

“Can we go now or do you want to invite someone else to the trip?” he says with clenched teeth. I frown at him but nod and we begin to make our way downstairs.

I really hope that Mab will have answers. Otherwise I wouldn’t know where to look next.


 

The drive is silent. I decided to just go to a nearby park, because the possibility that I find a spot with no people is higher there, and I obviously don’t want to talk to Mab when bystanders could be hurt. It’s also dinner time now and hopefully most people are at home.

Thomas gets behind the wheel without commenting on the windshield washer system that is still wiping frantically. That’s very strange because usually he would be the first to complain about me breaking his new car.

The only time he says something is to ask me where I want to go.

After five minutes of constant silence I can’t take it anymore. “Talk to me.”

His hands grip the wheel so tight, that his knuckles turn white. “What do you want to hear Harry?” he says harshly.

“Well for a start you could tell me what is going on in your head right now. You look like you want to murder someone.” It’s true. The vibes I get from him are not good at all.

“Maybe that’s because I haven’t eaten since last night, was attacked and almost died twice because of some wizards and now my crazy sister gives me an ultimatum to decide whether I want to join my family or probably get murdered by them.” His voice is strained and he drives now at least twenty miles over the speed limit.

“Thomas, slow down.” I say calmingly.

He isn’t listening. His hands tremble. He runs a red light. I hadn’t realized he is this upset.

“Stop the car.” I tell him and my hand cramps into the seat when he misses a man on a bike by a few inches. Honks sound behind us. Mouse lets out a low whine.

Thomas still doesn’t seem to hear me, so I place my hand onto the dashboard and let a slight magical surge flow into it. The engine turns off immediately. Thomas has no other choice then to bring it to a stop at the side of the road.

He keeps his hands at the wheel and looks like he didn’t even realized the car stopped. For a moment the only sound comes from the still activated windshield wipers.

I touch his arm to get his attention but he flinches back so violently, I let my hand drop immediately. He still stares out of the windshield without seeing anything.

“Look at me.” I say urgently. He reluctantly turns his head in my direction. There is a pain in his eyes that doesn’t help eliminate the anger I feel. “She is not your family. No one who treats you like that should be considered family.”

“I basically know her since I was born.” He finally says and his voice sounds raw from emotion.

“Yes, I know.” I reply. “But that is no reason to let her do anything she wants. How many times did she try to manipulate you the way she tried earlier?”

He doesn’t reply to that, but it’s also not necessary. I know it wasn’t the first time. House Raith has a very awful notion of family.

Due to their way of living they are used to getting what they want through manipulating and seducing others.

It doesn’t make any difference to them, whether it is someone blood related, they are treating this way or someone from the outside of the family. Lord Raith was a real monster and it looks like Lara isn’t any better. It’s truly awful that Thomas didn’t even know how wrong it was until he met me.

“Lara is using you, don’t you see? She doesn’t care what you think or feel as long as you stand behind her to protect the family name. Stars and stones, she is basically keeping Justine hostage, and you still think of her as family?” I ask incredulous.

I don’t know much about family, because I never really had one before I met my brother. But I know the signs of someone using a person for his own benefit. My old mentor Justin did the same.

“I can’t just stop feeling like that, Harry…” he whispers. “For years, when my father was still there, she was the only one to protect me. She stepped forward when he was furious and took the consequences. I feel like I owe it to her.”

I close my eyes briefly. “We find a solution.”

“What would you do, when it comes to war?” he asks after a second. “When it comes to choosing me or your own people?”

I don’t hesitate and look directly into his eyes. “I would choose my family. The real one, not the people who just claim to be it.” A little smile creeps over my face. “Besides: The White Council gets dumber every day. I can’t just defend them when they accuse me of some crap I didn’t do, every time I meet them.”

He snorts. “Sorry to tell you this, but they never were the brightest.”

I laugh. “Yes I know. It's almost sad how they come to the wrong conclusions every single time.”

A few seconds nobody says a thing. Then Thomas looks at me and frowns as if he just realized something. “Did you just break my car, Harry?”

I look at the dashboard clock. “Oh look, its late. We should get going!”

And with that I open the door, signal Mouse to get out and jump onto the street. My brother follows cursing under his breath about technology-damaging-wizards.

“Relax.” I say. “It was probably just the battery. It’s not to expensive to get a new one.”

“Good to know, because you can pay for that.” He says and I groan.


 

We reach the park ten minutes later. “Let’s meet again in half an hour.” Thomas says.

I open my mouth to protest but he holds up a hand. “Seriously, Harry. I don’t think you want to watch when I feed and I definitely don’t want to be here when the Queen of Air and Darkness arrives, so there really is no other option than splitting up.”

I sigh. I know he is right, but it does not feel good to let him go alone. “Okay. Half an hour. Not a minute longer. And you take Mouse with you.”

He rolls his eyes. “I can take care of myself, Harry.”

“Yeah, we saw how well that worked.” I reply sarcastically before I get serious again. “Just take the dog with you, Thomas. If something goes wrong you have someone to watch your back.”

“What about you?” He asks.

I let out a humorless laugh. “Even a Foo dog couldn’t protect me if Mab really tried to do something.”

“You know that isn’t reassuring…” he mutters.

I turn around before he decides to not let me go at all. “30 minutes.” I call over my shoulder and Mouse answers with a bark, that assures me that at least one of them will watch the time.

I walk with fast steps through the park, that is fortunately deserted. It’s still to hot to stay outside for longer than it takes to reach the nearest air-conditioned room.

I find a secluded spot next to a small pond. Except for a few lazy ducks no one is in sight.

I look around one last time before I take a deep breath and call Mab three times.

As usual the first sign that she heard my call is the sudden temperature drop and the uneasy feeling that something dangerous is coming.

It’s not as strong as it would’ve been in winter, but it’s still the Queen of Air and Darkness we are talking about. Even though theoretically her powers should be weaker in the summer months, she appears with an overwhelming surge of cold energy.

The water in the pond cracks when it suddenly freezes over and the ducks fly up high into the air, probably asking themselves what the heck is going on here.

Mab wears something that looks like a dark grey shadow cloud that constantly swirls around her. It covers her whole body and somehow it still shows more skin than any other article of clothing would have. I try to keep my eyes on her pale face.

Her long white hair falls down her back in waves and her bare feet hover a few inches over the grass, without touching it.

“My Winter Knight. What a surprise.” She says. Her voice is drenched in power and I can’t suppress the shiver, that runs through my whole body.

“I doubt there is anything that could surprise you.” I reply dryly.

She just keeps looking at me with this endless eyes. Someone could fall into them and probably plunge down forever.

I blink a few times to focus. No time for plunging now. “There is something I have to ask you about.” I say determined. It’s probably the best if I don’t beat around the bush. I don’t have much time for this.

“I want to know, whether you know something about the conflict between the White Court and the White Council. I’m sure you know what I mean.”

She just looks at me for a few seconds before she speaks. “Why have you decided to ask me this?”

I frown. She wants to know why? Is that a catch question? I decide to turn the tables. “There were several breaches of the Unseelie Accords in the past days. Someone is trying to provoke a war between the two parties. I’m sure it wouldn’t be in your interest to cause something like this. Not when the peace is so fragile.”

Her smile is barely visible. “You suspect me, don’t you?”

“Let’s say it came to mind.”

She surveys me for a few long seconds and I already prepare myself for her ire when she surprises me.

“I will grand you a favor.” She says.

I blink at her. I’m speechless. She’ll do what?

“You are allowed to ask me one question and I will answer it truthfully.”

“Everything has a price with you.” I reply suspiciously.

She tilts her head to one side. “You don’t believe I would grand my Winter Knight a favor without asking for something in return?”

I can’t hold back an incredulous laugh. “Not for one second.”

“Very well. My price is a certain artifact. I believe you know what I am referring to.”

“The scroll.” I say and of course the whole thing has to get even more complicated. “What in the world is so important about this scroll, that everyone wants to have it?” I mutter under my breath.

Mab smiles secretively in a way that tells me she heard the question but decided to ignore it.

First the White Council tells me they want it, but Lara stole it.

Then Lara tells me she wants it, but the White Council stole it.

Then Marcone tells me he had it the whole time, because someone else wanted to have it.

And now Mab tells me to steal it from the unknown someone who just orchestrated the whole thing to anger the wizards and the vampires.

Why should Mab tell me to get her something, that she should already have in her possession if she was behind all of this?

I sigh resigned. “I get you this scroll.” I don’t know what she wants with it, but I guess it’s a small price. I need to know what she knows about this.

“Then you may ask a question which I will answer truthfully.”

I have to think about that for a few seconds. It’s obviously vital to ask the right question.

I have just one chance. I can’t ask her something too vague or she could tell me some stuff I already know.

I also can’t be too specific or she could find a way to leave something out.

Additionally I can’t ask her if she knows who did it, because she could just answer with yes and I won’t be any wiser and If I ask her who did it and she says she doesn’t know, there is also a lot of room for wrong interpretations.

Mind games. I really hate them, but I guess that’s her thing.

“Have you or one of your subordinates done anything that lead to the killing of the White Court vampires that where found last night here in Chicago? Anything, in this case includes, manipulating others into doing it, arranging time and place for it to happen or knowingly keeping someone from preventing it.”

She looks at me and there is this little smile again that always feels like I’m really stupid compared to her. It makes me nervous.

I wait for her answer without breathing.

“No.” she finally says and I feel the urge to hit myself with my own staff. Did I forget something? I don’t think so, but I couldn’t have possibly thought of everything, could I?

“To repeat your words: Neither have I nor any of my subordinates done anything that lead to the killing of the White Court vampires that where found last night in Chicago. Anything, in this case includes, manipulating others into doing it, arranging time and place for it to happen or knowingly keeping someone from preventing it.”

For good measure she repeats it two more times and I know I’m screwed. She has to tell the truth, the only problem is I don’t know if there is something I missed.

“I answered your question.” She says finally. “I will await your call, when you are ready to deliver the artifact. Until then tread carefully, my Winter Knight. The summer sun burns bright these days.”

I don’t even have time to say something in return when she already vanished before my eyes.

As soon as she’s gone the temperature gets higher, the ice on the pond starts melting and the ducks return, slightly confused but happy to have their water back.

They don’t know that one of the most dangerous beings on the planet just showed up in their park.

They don’t have to care about things like Winter Queens, dead vampires and angry wizards. They just live one day after the other not knowing it could be their last. The one thing that really distinguishes us from them is simple and at the same time tremendously important.

The knowledge of death. If I think about it I envy them very much.

A stereotypical branch cracks behind me and rips me from my thoughts. Maybe some oblivious human wandering around the park in the early evening. Oh come on, this is my life. Its probably something that wants to kill me.

I turn around ready to fight the latest threat but the spell gets stuck in my throat when I come face to face with Ebenezar McCoy stomping through some bushes. If the situation wasn’t so dire I’m sure I would laugh.

“We have to talk.” He says. “Something happened.”

Oh how I love these words.


 

I shoot him an angry look and stalk past him, back to the path that leads to the park entrance. “I have nothing to say to you.” I reply.

He follows me. “Hoss, listen. I have to tell you-“

“No!” I snap at him and whirl around. “I decided to not listen to you anymore after the crap you said this morning and then completely ignoring me at the Council meeting. You seem to have lost your mind, and I haven’t time for this right now. There is enough I have to get done and you are not helping with any of it!”

He grabs my shoulder and I have to restrain myself to not hit him in the jaw. He is still my grandfather and also a very powerful wizard. It would be no use to start a fight with him right now.

“I was wrong. I am sorry.” He says and I blink at him. “There is something shady going on here. I talked to Gregori Cristos and he told me some excuses why the usual Senior Council members can’t be bothered at the moment. He managed to somehow get them out of the country and replace them with his people. He just reorganized the entire Council without telling anyone in just a few days. Additionally I talked to multiple Wardens and heard about movements in several training camps and cities. It’s as if they prepare for something. There is something happening and I think you are right. This has to do with the White Court. They are gathering forces around Chicago, Hoss, and there wasn’t even an attack.”

Oh no. How far has this gone already? Did someone in the White Council get wind of Laras revenge plans? She said she wants to attack somehow, but until now I didn’t have a clue what exactly she is planning. Now I have the suspicion she could attack the Wardens directly.

“It’s definitely about the White Court.” I say. “There was another attack and two important members of the Malvora family were killed.” I take a deep breath. “Lara says the assailants where Wardens.”

Ebenezars eyes widen. “This can’t be real…” he says.

“It is.” I say curtly. “It happened. Lara almost ripped my throat out when she heard about it. She wants to take revenge at nightfall. Do you believe me now?”

He stares at me for a moment before nodding. “It has to be Cristos, who is behind this. He waited for the right moment, when the Senior Council left, infiltrated the Wardens and attacked the vampires, to provoke them into attacking the White Council.”

I shake my head. “I don’t think it was him. I think there is someone else orchestrating the whole thing.”

“Who?” he asks and of course that is the million dollar question.

“It wasn’t Marcone or the Chicago Alliance and Mab denies that she has anything to do with this so-”

“You asked Mab?” Ebenezar interrupts.

“Yes. And she gave me her word on it.” I just hope I asked the right questions.

“How do we prevent this?”

“That depends.” I say. “Where do you think they will attack each other?”

“I could find out, where they gathered their forces, but so far it seems to be rather uncoordinated.” He frowns. “Though I suspect it won’t be far from here.”

Of course not. If things go south they usually do it in my neighborhood. Nothing new there.

“You think someone told them, that Lara plans an attack?” I ask him.

Ebenezar shrugs. “It’s a possibility. Why else should they prepare to fight right now?”

“Why are you suddenly so eager to prevent this?” I ask him and I know that my voice sounds suspicious. I can’t shake the feeling that his mood change came a little bit to sudden. Not even hours ago he was completely unconcerned by a possible war between the White Council and the White Court.

“I realized that a fight would be pointless, Hoss. The odds are, that many die on both sides and there is nothing but a lot of bloodshed.”

“Oh and you realize that just now?” My voice is humorless. What did he think would happen during a war? Peace talks?

“Do we have time for this?” he asks frowning.

I clench my teeth. I don’t like it but I can really use his help right now. “No we haven’t. Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” he asks while following me down the path in the direction of the entrance.

“Hopefully the Chicago Alliance was more successful than my attempt to get something from Mab.” I remember something else when we reach the end of the path and step onto the street.

There are still five minutes left until Thomas should show up. “I should probably warn you about the vampire, who will join us in a few minutes. I would really appreciate it if you wouldn’t attack him.”

Ebenezar sighs deeply. “Your friend again?”

A grin spreads across my face. “Exactly.”

“Someday you have to tell me what this thing between you two is.” He mutters.

I cringe. “Whatever it is you are thinking right now, it’s most definitely wrong.”

He grunts annoyed. “Don’t tell me. I love to be kept in the dark.”

Thomas chooses this moment to show up with Mouse on his heels. He changed into something less bloody and his eyes are not silver anymore. I let out a relived breath. He looks better.

His eyes narrow when he sees Ebenezar and he looks questioningly at me.

“He will join us.” I say instead of an explanation. “I explain it on the way.”

That’s when I realize that we don’t have a car because I intentionally managed to break the BMW.

I look at Ebenezar. “What are the odds, that you arrived in your pick-up truck?”

He winks at me. “Pretty good, actually. It’s right around the corner.”

Finally some good news.

Chapter Text

“Where is your car? You said you arrived in your pick-up truck.” I ask frowning and stare at the car, that’s not Ebenezars usual ’37 Ford pickup but instead a dark green Chevy with an additional backseat and a ginormous hood.

“Oh, I did.” Ebenezar says. “I got a new one. Custom-build. I had them replace all electronical parts with the oldest version possible, or take them out completely. The disadvantage is, it got no great gadgets, like Air Conditioning or GPS, but it also won’t die on me to soon.”

“What happened to your old car?” I reply because I can’t remember a time where he hadn’t had it. Somehow he always managed to keep it together. I can’t say the same about the blue beetle.

“It gave up the ghost when I drove to St.Louis two months ago. Some roads are not made for a car that is more or less 80 years old.” He sounds a little bit sad and I can sympathize. I miss my old car too. I have so many good (and bad) memories with it.

We stand there for a few seconds longer before Mouse barks and reminds us that there is no time for nostalgic thoughts right now.

“Yes, I know.” I say to him. “We should go.”

Ebenezar gets behind the wheel, I ride shotgun and Thomas and Mouse sit in the back that is surprisingly spacious considering my dog isn’t the smallest.

Ebenezar frowns while he stares out of the windshield. I use the first five minutes to explain to Thomas and Mouse what happened.

„Tell me the exact words of what you asked her.“ Thomas says.

I repeat the words as good as I can and my brother looks impressed. „I guess with what you asked, she at least couldn‘t have a direct part in it.“

Ebenezar snorts. „Faeries have many ways of lying without actually doing it. To believe a Faerie can‘t lie is as foolish as believing White Court vampires can be trusted.“ He shoots me a side look, that suggests I should take the hint.

Did he seriously just say that in front of Thomas?

I open my mouth but Thomas is faster.

„And you think all wizards can be trusted?“ he asks coldly.

„I‘m not discussing something like that with you, vampire.“ Ebenezars voice is scornful.

„Oh, so you think you are better than me? Because you are a wizard? You should be so proud. Your people just started another war.“

„At least they fight with honor. Everything your kind does is seducing and manipulating others.“

„Stop it!“ I shout, before Thomas can reply something to that.

He shoots me a hurtful glance, but all I do is turning to Ebenezar. „Stop talking like that. What you just said, is based entirely on prejudices and they help no one. You know he is my friend and I won’t accept you treating him this way.“

Ebenezar stares at me, as if he couldn’t believe what I was saying there. „You can’t possibly be on his side with this. I knew you were irresponsible, but when did you become completely reckless?“

I snort. „You are the one who acts irresponsible. This whole problem just started because the White Court and the White Council couldn’t get over their prejudices. Do you think this conflict came from nothing? This unjustified anger is exactly what the one who provoked all of this used. We have to work together to stop this and it’s not helping at all if you keep insulting Thomas. He is part of this if you want it or not. We need to know where to go next, so if you really want to help, you find out where the Wardens are gathering their forces.“

He stares at me for a few seconds before letting out an annoyed grunt. „Alright, I‘ll try.“

„That’s all I asked for.“


We arrive at the Castle with far less racket than Murphy and Thomas a little more than an hour ago.

Ebenezar parks his pick-up in front of the building and is the first to jump out. Mouse is even more nervous now. He seems to practically vibrate from restlessness.

„Stay calm.“ I mutter in his direction. „We deal with this.“

Before I can open my car door Thomas grabs my arm. „Do you really think it’s a good idea to invite the Black Staff to this?“

I sigh. „This is the only possibility to end this, Thomas. I know he is wrong the way he talks about the White Court, but we have to see past this. He can find out where the Wardens plan to gather and Lara will attack. With his help we can prevent this.“

His gaze is uncomfortable. „Yes, theoretically I know all this, but he doesn‘t look at you like he wants to kill you every few seconds.“

„I won’t let it come this far.“ I say grimly. „He has issues with the White Court. He never trusted them.“

Thomas sighs. „Okay, but I refuse to stay alone with him.  He could get ideas if you‘re not there to keep him in check.“

„You know he is your grandfather too, don’t you?“ I say quietly.

He blinks at me as if he had completely forgotten that. „Well,“ he finally says. „Let’s hope he never finds out.“

And with that he opens the van door and jumps onto the street. I change a wary look with Mouse who like so often seems to be the only reasonable one here.

Ebenezar and Thomas used the thirty seconds I needed to get out of the car to start arguing again. My life just likes to keep me busy.

„You should be the first to know where Lara wants to attack! You are her brother. I don’t see why I should even bother talking to the Wardens, when you are on our side or at least pretend to be, vampire.“ Ebenezar says and his voice is a deep rumbling.

„I am on no one’s side here, wizard. And I definitely don’t know where she plans to attack. She stopped telling me battle plans years ago.“ Thomas snaps back.

Ebenezar takes a step forward and they are just inches apart from each other. And probably seconds from jumping at each other’s throat.

„Guys.“ I say and step between them with an annoyed look. „Can it! Let’s get inside before someone gets suspicious.“

I grab Thomas‘ arm and drag him with me in the direction of the entrance. He reluctantly moves. I guess, I have to hope that Ebenezar follows behind.

Mouse already sits in front of the guards who stare at the gigantic dog with uneasy looks until they see me and reluctantly step aside.

„Marcone waits for us.“ I say as an explanation and they let us pass.

In the building Thomas and Mouse step into the elevator. Ebenezar and I direct our steps to the stairwell. As soon as we are alone Ebenezar stops and looks at me.

„We have to talk, Hoss.“ he says.

„Not now.“ I groan.

„Yes now,“ he replies. „As long as the vampire isn‘t within earshot.“

I sigh. „I will not tell him to leave, if you hope for that. He is part of this. He stays.“

„I didn’t say you should tell him to leave. On the contrary, you should keep him from leaving entirely.“ he says urgently.

What is he talking about? „Moments ago you didn’t want anything to do with him.“

„Yes, because I think he is a spy for Lara. But we can make that an advantage. He is her brother. We can use him as leverage against her. She will do everything we want, if we threaten to kill him.“

A few seconds I just stare at him. That‘s too much. I can‘t deal with this crap anymore.

I don’t think about it for long, because if I had I would‘ve come to the conclusion that its madness. I just take a wide swing and punch my grandfather directly in the jaw.

He stumbles back surprised and his hand grips his staff tighter. I mentally prepare for a counter attack but he just stares at me with wide eyes. He seems lost for words.

„Thomas is under my protection.“ I say. „We won’t use him for anything.“

„Why not? We are at war Hoss. You have to see that this is too important to let personal matters influence our actions. We have to do what is best for our people. Lara is the threat here.“

He is looking at me as if I am too stupid to understand this.

„Lara is a threat, mind you not the only one, but it appears you don’t know her at all. She would give up her brother without hesitating if it was necessary to support her cause.“

Ebenezar frowns. „I don’t think she would act this way. Remember when the Naagloshii had him? It was her who pushed for saving him.“

„No.“ I say calmly. „It was me. She was there because Madeline was a threat to her. Getting her brother back was a nice side effect for her.”

He looks like he doesn’t believe me. “You’re telling me you called the White Council because of one single vampire?”

“There were many reasons at the time, not all of them concerned Thomas. It doesn’t change anything now. And I say it just one more time: You leave him alone or you can go.” I mean it. If he can’t control himself I will find another way to solve this, but I won’t risk my brother.

“I don’t like it, Hoss and I hope you will see reason before this is over, but I will respect your wish for now.” He says. “And if he tries to stab you in the back, remember that I warned you.”

“I won’t need to remember, because it won’t happen.” I say stubbornly. “Now let’s go before they send out a search party.”

He grunts unhappy but follows me the stairs up to the third floor.

“I have to call a few people when we arrive. Do you think there is a landline here somewhere?” Ebenezar asks while we step into the hallway.

I shrug. “Ask Marcone. He had a lot to do with wizards in the past. The Paranet is basically living here. They should have old technology somewhere.”

Thomas waits for us in front of the conference room. “What took you so long?”

“Not important right now.” I reply and gesture to the room. Someone was productive and installed a new door during the one hour we were gone. There is also no sign of the previous wreckage in the hallway. “Let’s find out if they had more luck.”

“Harry. Thank god your back.” Murphy says relived when we step into the room and I have the suspicion that she just says that because she doesn’t want to deal alone with Marcone anymore. I know he can be a bit of a handful.

“Any good news?” she asks. I let my gaze wander through the room. Marcone and his bodyguards are not there. Murphy and Butters sit at the table and Billy is pacing nervously up and down.

“Mab says she wasn’t involved. “ I reply. “She had to say the truth but it could be that I missed something.”

Murphy groans. “So we still don’t know, who is behind it.”

“Did the database come up with anything?” I ask her.

“Marcone checks it right now. I tried to remember the two younger wizards as good as I could, but it wasn’t easy because I just saw them for a few minutes.” She replies.

“What does it change if we find something about them? It doesn’t tell us where the attack will happen.” asks Billy. He stopped pacing at the other side of the table.

“Well it would tell us who not to trust, for a start.” I say. “And I also need to know their names to show the White Council that there are Wardens who have gone rogue.”

Butters looks at Ebenezar. “What is he doing here?” he asks.

“He is here to help.” I reply and emphasize the last word with a meaningful look in my old mentors direction. “Ebenezar has contacts within the Wardens and can find out where the attack is going to happen.”

That’s when Marcone marches into the room. “Dresden. You’re back. Good. And you brought another wizard. Not so good.”

I open my mouth to reply something but he cuts me off. “Doesn’t matter right now. There is someone who wants to talk to you.”

I realize that there is someone else who followed behind Marcone and his bodyguards. It’s a girl, not older than 18 years, with dirty blond hair and tired eyes. Her skin has an unhealthy ashy tone and she walks like she is in a trance. I never saw her before.

“Sit down and tell him why you are here, when you are ready.” Marcone says surprisingly sensitive for a change.

The girl sinks into one of the chairs and I see how her gaze drifts over to Thomas for a short moment before she looks at me again. “You are Harry Dresden.” She says after a moment.

I nod even though it wasn’t a question. “The one and only. Why are you here?”

“Justine sent me.” She says. I hear Thomas gasp and he takes a step forward.

“Justine sent you? What did she say? Is she okay? What did she tell you?” he snaps at her and his voice urges her to talk.

The girls reaction is violent. She flinches back from him and holds up her hands as if to ward off an attack. “Please don’t hurt me!” she shouts.

Thomas blinks and takes a step back. “I wasn’t going to hurt you.” He says a little stunned.

I touch his shoulder. “Thomas, let me handle this. She is obviously traumatized.” I whisper.

He looks for a moment like he wants to argue but finally he sighs. “Okay.”

I nod, crouch down in front of the girl and show her my hands in a non-threatening way. “It’s okay. Nobody will hurt you here.”

Her gaze drifts to Thomas. “He is one of them…” she whispers.

“Yes and he is a friend. He is Justine’s friend too. You know her, don’t you?” That seems to calm her a bit.

She nods. “She helped me to get out.”

“What’s your name?” I ask.

She hesitates. “Louisa.” She says after a few seconds.

“Okay, Louisa, I’m Harry. Nice to meet you.” I smile at her. “You said Justine sent you?”

Louisa nods. “She helped me to get out and told me I should bring you a message.”

“I’m all ears.”

“She said to tell you: A hiking trip to the woods in the southwest is a great idea, but beware of the wolves which roam freely between bullfrogs and maples.” It sounds like she is reciting something she memorized precisely before.

Now my smile is even brighter. “Thank you very much Louisa. You helped a lot.”

She frowns. “My family is dead. I don’t know where to go now…”

Butters stands up. “I’ll show you a place where you can stay for now. Did you hear of the Chicago Alliance before?”

She shakes her head.

“Well, we help people like you.” Butters explains and holds out his hand to her. “We will protect you. Nothing can happen to you anymore.”

She hesitates a moment and looks at me. “He is a good friend.” I say. “You can trust him.”

Louisa takes Butters hand and gets up from her chair with wobbling knees. She then looks at Thomas. “Justine had a message for you too.” She says and her voice trembles a bit. It looks like she struggles to even look at him.

Thomas seems rattled. “What did she say?” he asks with a voice that is not more than a whisper.

“She said: If you make a choice, don’t make it because of me. Make it because it’s the best for you. She said you would know what it means.”

Thomas’ breathing hitches. And again he makes use of the White Courts typical statue imitation.

“Thank you.” I say to the girl because Thomas doesn’t say anything.

She nods and Butters leads her from the room.

Marcone snorts. “Wolves roam between maples and bullfrogs? Hiking trips? Dresden, any idea what this nonsense means? It’s obviously a code made for you.”

“She didn’t mean Werewolves, did she?” Billy asks.

“No she didn’t.” I reply. “Justine told us where Lara plans to attack.”

“And do you understand it?” Ebenezar asks.

“Yes.” I say grinning, because finally something good happened. “I know where we have to go next.”


 

One of the main advantages of being a Private Investigator and a wizard is that you get around.

There is basically no place in Chicago and the metropolitan area around it I haven’t seen or got dragged to by some coincidence in my many adventures.

I met a yeti in the woods once and even though this was one of the strangest clients, you can’t even imagine where people like to spend their time on a daily basis.

Whether it is in downtown Chicago, in the suburbs or near the numerous lakes and woods around it, someone always finds my ad in the phone book.

Additionally it’s good to know your city if you are a wizard and travel through the Nevernever from time to time. It can be pretty lethal to not know where you can get in and out of it. That’s why I prefer to know my neighborhood like the back of my hand.

I guess it was also helpful that I excessively researched nearly every camping side in a forty mile radius just a month ago, when Michael told me they planned a trip to the woods with Maggie and asked me for advice where to go. I don’t know why he came to me but I have the suspicion Charity had something to do with that. I’m pretty familiar with risks so I can determine really good where not to go.

It took me a week until I found a place without any reports about child abusers, bears, food poisoning or safety violations in the camp.

That’s why I knew exactly what Justine meant when she said: Wolves roam between maples and bullfrogs in a wood in the southwest.

Part of a very large Nature Preserve are the Wolf Road Woods in southwest of Chicago. They have this name because of the main road, which leads through them and is called the Wolf Road.

Coincidentally there is one spot where it runs between two lakes, which are called Maple Lake and Bullfrog Lake (Bullfrog Lake has a camp, but I quickly refrained from telling Michael about it due to an suspicious amount of complaints about poison ivy in the area).

And that is all the math I had to do, to know where the Wardens have their little gathering and where Lara will attack. I could seriously kiss Justine right now.

Billy and Butters decided to stay behind and keep an eye on the Castle and Chicago in general. It’s entirely possible that something goes down in the city while almost everyone is focused on this pointless conflict between the White Court and the White Council.

Murphy got her gun back and is now eager to use it on one of the wizards that abducted her a few hours ago.

I tried to convince Marcone to stay in Chicago but he is very good at ignoring opinions he doesn’t share, so we now wait in front of one of his cars. He refused to be left behind when his allies jump at each other’s throats.

He also insisted to take his two bodyguards with him, after I denied him a small personal army, because it wouldn’t contribute at all, to the plan of solving the conflict in a peaceful way. He instead has them on standby to protect the people in Chicago in case things escalate.

I know the way, so I’ll ride shotgun to give Ebenezar directions. Thomas sits in the back with Mouse again, because I don’t trust Marcone with my brother and the arguing between him and Ebenezar is the lesser evil. That’s why Murphy will drive in the car with Marcone and his bodyguards.

The mob boss steps out of the building. “Nothing yet on the two wizards, but my people call me as soon as they find their names. Someone tinkered with the databases.”

“Great.” I say sarcastically. “Is there anyone at all your people can find?”

He ignores the comment entirely. “Shouldn’t we get going, Dresden? We have a little bit over an hour until nightfall and you said it would be 30 minutes on a good day. 50 during the rush hour.”

I grimace. “How can it be, that suddenly you are the responsible one here?” I mutter.

“Just get in the car, Harry.” Murphy says from behind me and immediately sets a good example by climbing into Marcones black SUV.

I shake my head but do what she said. “Just follow behind us.” I say to Marcone.

He doesn’t dignify that with an answer.

When I get into the passenger seat Ebenezar is already behind the wheel.

“I’m just waiting for you, Hoss.” He says.

I turn around and look at Thomas who hasn’t said a word since Louisa told him Justine’s message. I can’t talk to him right now but I can guess, what is going on in his head. “Ready to go?” I ask.

He grimaces but nods.

I turn around again. “Okay, just follow the road for now.”

Ebenezar starts the engine.


 

It takes us 30 minutes to even get out of the city center. The roads are full and Ebenezar curses every few minutes.

“We’ll never get there in time with this speed.” He says when he has to do another full breaking after a van in front of us decided to go back into our lane with the speed of an elderly snail.

Fortunately the road gets emptier only five minutes later, when we drive through the suburbs. Finally we cross the Des Plains River and continue onto the IL-171 until we reach the Paw Paw Woods Nature Preserve and the Wolf Road.

“Justine didn’t mention a specific spot, so I guess we just drive down this road until we see something.” I say when Ebenezar gives me a questioning look.

I see Thomas flinch from the corner of my eye, when I say Justine's name. I know he is struggling but unfortunately we don’t have time for this now.

I turn around and look at him. Mouse rests his head against his thigh as if he tries to comfort my brother. This dog is way more clever than most people I know. Myself probably included.

“Do you want to stay in the car?” I ask him.

He laughs humorless. “What would be the benefit of that?”

“Well for a start you wouldn’t have to deal with Lara.” I reply frowning.

“I avoided to deal with her my entire life. I think now is the time to end this for good.” His voice is bare of any emotion.

I don’t like the way he is behaving right know. It worries me. And not because I think he would turn against me, but rather because I’m afraid he could do something stupid, like attacking Lara on his own or trading himself for Justine. Love makes you do stupid things, that’s nothing new.

“Will you stay in the background, if I ask you?”

“I can’t promise it.”

What did I expect? I’m the reasonable one here.

Before I can argue further with Thomas his eyes widen and he stares at something on the road in front of us. “Watch out!” he shouts.

My head whirls around and I catch a glimpse of a man in an old-fashioned suit with a hat standing in the middle of the road, before Ebenezar yanks the wheel to the left and the world turns upside down.

For five whole seconds everything is a blur of green grass, blue sky and the grey of the road. Mouse lets out a painful whimper. Ebenezars head collides with the airbag that surprisingly still works and I have the feeling as if someone punched me in the stomach when my staff is jammed between me and my own airbag.

There is a loud crash when the car lands on its roof and an even louder crash when Marcones car follows us into the roadside ditch and rams the pick-up a few feet further down the slope.

A few moments long I can’t move. Everything hurts. Thomas lets out a groan behind me. I’m pretty sure I can smell blood somewhere.

Get up. I think. I have to get up or we’re all dead. I recognized the man on the road, even if I only saw him for a second. It was the wizard. The one looking like a fictional detective out of a fifties movie. The one with no real identity.

It takes a few seconds of struggling with my airbag but finally I manage to get my staff between me and the windshield. “Forzare!” I grunt and the glass bursts. I manage to open my seatbelt and tumble down onto the car roof which is now the floor.

I risk one look at Thomas, Ebenezar and Mouse. My brother is breathing and has a shallow cut on his forehead, that is oozing blood, but already closes on its own again. He blinks and shakes his head confused but he doesn’t appear to be badly injured. Ebenezar seems unconscious but I don’t see an obvious injury at him. Mouse stares at me with anger in his dog eyes and growls. “Stay with them.” I say to him before I grab my staff tighter and begin to climb out of the windshield.

I have to deal with this wizard before he deals with me.

The grass outside the car is still wet from the last rain. Marcones car in surprisingly still on its wheels but crashed into the rear of Ebenezars. I can’t see more than the airbags that were activated. I have no time to check on them.

The slope up to the road is slippery but I manage to climb it with a little a help of my staff. Sometimes it comes in handy to drag around a long wooden stick. Its rare because most of the time it is in the way and brings strange looks from the people around me, but today I’m very grateful for it.

When I finally stand on the road the wizard awaits me. “You took your time.” He says and sounds bored.

He is standing 30 feet from me and looks exactly the same like last time I saw him. Old-fashioned suit. Old-fashioned hat. Featureless face. There is really not much to work with if you have to describe him to a sketch artist. I know. I did it a few hours ago. It was the most boring experience of my life.

“You know, you pop up in the worst possible moments?” I say to him. In secret I’m relieved he is here even if it involved a car crash.

If he hadn’t shown up in this moment I wouldn’t have known what to tell the White Council even if we found them with the Wardens. They want proof of the rogue wizards and this proof is standing right in front of me and smiles in a typical movie villain manner.

“You know I wondered when you would show up here, Harry Dresden. The only thing I knew was that it would happen. I didn’t expect you to bring so many friends but the more the better.”

He is stalling. Why is he stalling right now? Is he waiting for someone.

As soon as I finish this thought I hear a steps behind me. I don’t hesitate. I whirl around with the spell already forming in my mind. “Forzare!

I’m very careful these days how much lethal force I use. That’s why I usually resort to kinetic energy whenever I can, because its strong and it wont kill the assailant right away. Its more difficult to heal a burn from a uncontrolled fire blast, than a broken arm because you were thrown into a wall.

There isn’t a wall at the moment but my assailant is thrown twenty feet back onto the tarmac which must also bring a considerable amount of pain.

I jump backwards as soon as I hit him and immediately create a shield spell around me. A spell hits it seconds later but its not a strong one. It barely vibrates. The wizard in front of me is down for the moment so I have time to turn around.

There is another younger one ten feet from the old wizard who just stands there and smiles.

I curse inwardly when I recognize him. “Are you Rutherford or Delano?” I ask matter-of-factly as if I wasn’t concerned at all. These are definitely the two I met in Edinburgh. Now I regret that I didn’t take a look at the composite sketches Murphy did. That would’ve saved me a lot of trouble.

He frowns at me. “None of that. Do you think we told you our real names back then?” He throws another spell which my shield deflects as if it was nothing.

“Oh come on!” I say. “You have to try harder than that.” Now I am the one stalling. I need time to think. If these two have gone rogue who is the older wizard? He still hasn’t attacked me yet. He is just standing there looking bored.

I throw a spell at him for good measure, which he casually deflects with a hand gesture.

“What do you want?” I ask him. “What is it you try to accomplish with this?”

“Oh I’m just here to keep you from interfering.” He says.

The younger wizard attacks me with another spell and my shield is obviously still working, because it deflects it once again. Oh this is pointless.

“Okay, I have no time for this stuff.” I say and blast Delano or Rutherford, or however he is called backwards with a spell. He tumbles down the slope and I hear him hitting his head somewhere with a low thump.

One look over my shoulder shows me the other one didn’t even manage to get to his feet again. He still lies there in a crumbled heap.

“Amateurs.” I mutter under my breath before turning to the older wizard.

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t care. Get out of my way. Now.” I say through gritted teeth. I have really no nerves to deal with him right now.

“Harry Dresden. You don’t know what you are dealing with here. This isn’t your battle. You should turn around and let the right people deal with it.”

Why is he sounding like the typical movie villain? Who is this guy?

Forzare!” I shout, and again he just waves his hand and the spell misses. “Fuego!” Another try. This time the flames don’t even touch him.

Before I can try something else a shot sounds through the air and my head whirls around. Murphy climbed up the slope, holding her gun in her right hand, her left arm is still in a sling. She shoots again, three times.

The bullets vanish as soon as they reach the wizard. Wood splinters behind him when a tree is hit in the distance.

He smiles and then he vanishes. Just like that. One moment there, the next one gone. He leaves nothing behind but a cold gust of wind and a thin ice layer on the road, where he stood seconds ago.

“Where did he go?” Murphy asks and looks around with her weapon still drawn.

In the blink of an eye everything falls into place. The wizard without an identity who looks like an actor from the fifties. How he vanishes and can’t be hurt. The way he talks like a stereotypical movie villain. This damn movie that I just remembered seeing before, together with one specific person.  The cold air and the ice around him. The general presence of both and how I suspected Mab behind this. It wasn’t Mab.

It was Molly.

“It’s an illusion!” I shout and that’s when the world seems to explode around me.

Colorful, blinding lights flash everywhere and an earsplitting noise cuts through the woods and hits me like a sledgehammer.

Murphy groans and drops her weapon to cover her ears. Somewhere I can hear Mouse bark.

It seems to go on forever but it could only be a few seconds, when I come to my senses again.

I dropped my staff and cower on the ground covering my ears with both hands. So that’s what the poor people who get hit by Mollys One-Woman-Rave feel. I guess it got amplified by her new powers. It seemed even stronger than the last times I saw it.

“You should have listened to the man.” A voice sounds behind me and it is muffled because my ears are still ringing.

I look up in the exact moment she drops her veil. There she is.

Molly Carpenter.

Living, breathing and cold like ice.

“Molly…” Murphy whispers.

Her hair is dyed light-blue, her skin paler than ever and she wears a grey miniskirt, a shirt of some metal band and a black leather jacket. There are dozens of tiny metallic bracelets at her arms which clink together with every move she makes.

She would look entirely like the Molly I know, if it wasn’t for the look in her eyes. She stares at me and I see nothing but disregard.

“I really didn’t see this one coming.” I mutter and come to my feet groaning.

She laughs bell-like. “Oh you really didn’t, did you Harry? And it was so obviously clear. You even suspected Mab. You were so close and didn’t make the final connection.”

“So she sent you? This can’t be what you really want, Grasshopper.”

I see the slight shift in her eyes when I call her by her old nickname, but its only a second before its gone again and she lets out a humorless laugh.

“What?” she spits. “You think I’m not capable to think of something like this on my own? Not capable of planning in advance?”

“No.” I say. “I think you are not capable of killing. Someone killed these vampires. I don’t think it was you. I refuse to believe you are that far gone already.”

“These stupid fools killed them, alright? I just told them to and they gladly did what I asked for. They just needed a little push. Oh, and an old white man they could follow around of course.”

“The movie from the fifties.” I say and nod.

She smiles. “At least one thing you figured out.”

“Ouch.” I say sarcastically. “You know it doesn’t have to end bad. You can still go back. We can solve this together.”

“No we can’t. Don’t you see? You are the Winter Knight Harry. Things like this shouldn’t even concern you anymore.” Now she sounds arrogant. “Vampires, Wizards, the White Court, the White Council. These are all just names for people who try to categorize stuff into other stuff. Diplomacy and peace and truce are just pretty excuses to prolong the next war. Pretenses they keep even though they would attack each other after the tiniest provocation.”

She pulls something from her pocket and throws it onto the road. “They are not happy if they don’t have something to fight about.”

It’s an ancient looking scroll. Probably the one everyone was so eager to have. It looks pretty normal from where I stand, but I know its important. The White Council has to see it to believe me this.

“You know I can still see you behind this façade?” I try to reason with her. Somewhere in there must still be the Molly I know.

The girl that stood trembling in front of the White Council to await a death sentence. The girl who became my apprentice and tried to seduce me. The girl I used to keep the secret of my death. The girl I destroyed with that. The girl that became the Winter Lady. Again basically because of me.

“You are still in there, Grasshopper. Think of your parents. Of your siblings. Of Maggie. I know you care for them.”

She snorts. “What do you know? You were never there. You left them all and decided to die just because you became the Winter Knight. And now you are back and you still refuse to acknowledge that you are a father.”

I flinch backwards. Her words are hard but they are also true. I don’t have time to feel guilt.

I try to concentrate on her again. “You sent them out of the city, didn’t you? You knew something would happen, so you sent them away to a camping trip. Michael told me you gave him the idea.”

She bites her lip for a moment and I think I got through to her, when she makes a gesture and a gust of cold shoots past me and hits Murphy who just decided to aim her weapon at Molly’s leg.

Murphy manages to fire a shot but the bullet goes into the sky when she is thrown backwards onto the road. “Karrin!” I shout when she lands with a painful grunt. I hear her groan so she is still alive.

“I’m okay…” her voice is strained. “Don’t bother.”

I turn to Molly again. My gaze is furious. “What are you doing?! She did nothing to you!”

She lifts an eyebrow. “She just tried to shoot me.”

“Yes and before that?” I say. “You abducted her. What did she do to you? What did Thomas do to you? He almost died twice!” I realize I’m shouting now and I don’t care. Why is she acting this way? What is happening right now? That can’t be Mab's influence alone, can it?

She narrows her eyes. “Oh she did something to me, okay? She killed Maeve. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be what I am now. And I can’t count the times he could’ve killed me, but I know that there was at least one were he was pretty close. But those are not the reasons why they had to vanish. They get in the way Harry. Every single time. You are the Winter Knight, and everything you do is running around saving these unimportant people when you should do so much more.”

“Do what?” I say bitterly. “Do Mab’s bidding? Provoking a war between allies and killing innocent people? Getting a mole into the White Council to feed them and Lara lies? Killing nearly everyone who matters to me? Everything you did benefits Mab. Don’t you see it?”

“I just used the anger that was there. Then I stood aside and watched them destroying each other. There was so much anger. It was laughable easy with these two idiots.” Molly gestures in the direction of the two younger wizards. “The new Senior Council was also not difficult to manipulate. I didn’t do a thing to influence Lara and the vampires, they heard of the dead vampires and decided to attack. But you know who was the most difficult? I don’t think you realized it, but everyone has anger. You just have to push the right buttons and it surfaces.”

That’s when I registered what didn’t add up in this. Rutherford and Delano where in Edinburgh but this weren’t their real names. They were wrong all along. No one in the White Council should have trusted them.

I also realize that they are just two young Wardens who were to low in the command chain to really be the only mole. They may have talked to Lara but there had to be someone in a higher position who knew about the proceedings in the White Council and the plans with that scroll.

Someone nobody would question. Someone who covered the two young Wardens when I showed up in Edinburgh and told me they were alright. Someone who behaved strangely the last few days…

Mouse begins to growl and a second later he is thrown from the car and crashes into a nearby tree. My dog falls to the ground and doesn’t move.

The backdoor bursts open, Ebenezar jumps onto the grass and drags Thomas out behind him. His staff digs into Thomas’ neck and I’m pretty sure my brother knows Ebenezar will be faster with a spell than he can attack. Everyone knows the reputation of the Black Staff.

My grandfather stands in front of the car and looks up at me. “I suggest you come down here.” He says.

I look at Molly but she just smiles. “Another thing you didn’t see coming? You get old, Harry.”

“I’m not done with you. This isn’t over.”

“Finally something we can agree on.” She says.

I can’t kill her. I know I won’t do it. I’m not even capable of hurting her and I probably couldn’t, given that she is the Winter Lady and I am the Winter Knight. So I really can’t do anything at the moment except focusing on the things I can influence.

“I guess, I see you soon, Harry. Don’t mess all of this up. It was a lot of work.”

I smile sadly at her. “I know you don’t mean it, Grasshopper. Subconsciously you are still the little girl I once knew.”

“Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.“ She just says before she vanishes into thin air. I know she just activated a veil but it’s still very impressive. Also she said something in Latin. It’s unbelievable this is the same girl I met a few years ago. So much power. I really hope I can bring her back but this is not the time. I’ve got a war to prevent.

The first thing is keeping Ebenezar from killing one of his grandsons. I don’t know what she told or how she manipulated him but I know he is still in there. And I can reason with him.

“Don’t hurt him, I’ll come to you.” I say and start climbing down from the slope again.

“Leave your staff up there.” He says. “The shield bracelet too.”

I reluctantly drop my things onto the road before I continue getting into the roadside ditch. I wonder briefly what happened to Marcone and his bodyguards. Maybe they are dead? Maybe they climbed out and ran. I would’ve probably done the same if I were them.

As soon as I stand at the bottom of the slope Ebenezar nods. “Good. You don’t have to make this worse than it already is.”

“You don’t want to do this.” I reply. “That’s Molly, or Mab, or whoever is influencing you.”

He laughs. “Nobody influenced me, Hoss. I’m fully capable of acting on my own. I told you my opinion about the White Court. I think I don’t have to repeat myself again.”

“Harry, just go. Stop wasting time here.” Thomas snaps and Ebenezars grip on his arm tightens. I see how the tip of the staff begins to glow a little bit where it touches Thomas’ neck and my brother hisses when it burns his skin.

“Silence, vampire.” Ebenezar growls.

I hold up my hands. “Tell me what you want.”

“Justice.” He spits. “For my daughter.”

I look at him stunned. “You know about Lord Raith?” I say with wide eyes.

“Do you think she could’ve disappeared for five years and I wouldn’t have gone looking for her? I couldn’t do anything about it but I knew she stayed with this monster. Then she came back, marrying your father, giving birth to you and right after, she died. I found out about the entropy curse and how this creature killed her! This is all Lord Raiths fault. Your mother was killed by him, Hoss and you are running around protecting his son.” His voice is bitter. To my utter surprise I can see tears in his eyes.

He is Ebenezar McCoy. My old mentor. The Black Staff. Member of the Senior Council, an experienced fighter and feared enemy. He doesn’t cry. That’s just wrong on so many levels.

“She was my blood and he killed her. My only child.” His voice trembles. “You are everything that is left of my family. I can’t lose you to one of this monsters too.”

I take a step forward and raise my hand. Not to throw a spell at him or to punch him. I touch his arm in a comforting gesture. He stares at me.

When I look into his eyes I see that he is desperate. He would do everything to protect me. He is part of my family.

“I’m not the only one left of your family.” I say and my own voice is trembling now.

Thomas looks at me and seems to see something in my eyes that keeps him from saying what he thinks right now. I have to do this. It was a secret far too long.

“What are you talking about?” Ebenezar whispers.

“My mother stayed with Lord Raith for five years and left after that. You were right with that. But you don’t know what she left behind. Or better, who.”

He blinks at me trying to follow and failing miserably at it. I know I have to say it out loud.

“She had another child.” I continue and my voice is firm now. “Thomas is my half-brother. He is your grandson too. Your blood is his blood.”

All color drains from Ebenezars face. His hand goes slack, he loses his grip around the staff and stumbles back. The staff drops to the ground and my grandfather’s shoulder collides with the car door behind him.

I grab Thomas and pull him out of the way. He looks at Ebenezar as if he expects the Black Staff could attack him again every second or throw a punch at me instead. Ebenezar doesn’t seem capable of any of that.

“That can’t be…” he mutters.

“It’s true.” I say, pull the pentacle necklace out of my duster pocket, that apparently returned back to normal and signal Thomas to do the same. He pulls his pendant out of his shirt. “Do you recognize it?” I ask Ebenezar. “She gave these to us. They are connected. I can track his with mine.”

He stares at the necklaces. “It could be a trick from Lord Raith.” He says weakly. “A trick to infiltrate the White Council.“

I shake my head. “I thought the same when Thomas told me, but we Soulgazed and I saw that it was true.”

“Lets do that.” Thomas says to me as if he is talking about a weekend trip. “He can Soulgaze me and see that I’m telling the truth. And we can finally go.”

I frown at him. “You don’t have to do this.” I know what a Soulgaze can do to a person. It can be mentally painful to see other peoples true being. I don’t know what Ebenezar has done exactly as the Black Staff but I’m pretty sure his past isn’t just sunshine and roses.

Thomas shrugs. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen worse.”

Ebenezar blinks at him. “You want to voluntarily Soulgaze?”

It’s rare. Of course all creatures know about the Soulgaze thing with wizards, that’s also why they avoid looking us into the eyes pretty much all the time. Who wants to spill his hidden secrets and just get a bunch of tangled pictures as a reward, that are impossible to interpret even for a wizard? I’m sure of all the Soulgazes happening across the globe very few happen voluntarily and most of them accidentally.

“I want you to believe us so we can get going and prevent Lara and your people from doing something stupid. Do you want to do it or not?” Thomas replies impatiently.

Ebenezar stares at him for a few more moments before nodding.

“Sit down.” I recommend which is completely ignored by both of them.

Ebenezar makes a step forward and Thomas meets him so they are just three feet apart. I can see the exact moment when the Soulgaze starts. Its like looking at a video which in one moment shows a motion and in the other pauses. They just stop doing anything except breathing. Its really fascinating.

It’s also taking not as long as it feels when you are part of this. A few seconds later its over and they both collapse to the ground when their knees buckle.

“Told you to sit down.” I mutter under my breath. As usual nobody listens to me.

Ebenezar is the first to speak. He still stares at Thomas breathing heavily. “It’s true…”

Thomas’ eyes are closed and I see his hands trembling. I squeeze his shoulder. “You are here. It’s okay.”

He blinks up at me and has to wipe a tear from the corner of his eye. “This was no fun.”

“A Soulgaze is never fun.” I reply and look at Ebenezar who shakes his head as if still trying to grasp the consequences of what he saw.

He looks like he wants to say something but keeps himself from it in the last moment. I know what he saw in Thomas’ eyes also couldn’t have been pretty.

“You believe us now?” I ask him and help Thomas to his feet.

Ebenezar nods and rubs his neck. “She didn’t tell anyone about you. She kept it from the world.” He stares at Thomas. “How did it stay a secret so long?”

“I told it nobody until I met Harry a few years ago. We tried to keep it this way since then. Lara knows but we have leverage against her, so there is that.” He replies.

Ebenezar gets to his feet too and takes his staff from the ground.

Thomas takes a step back as if he expects an attack.

I make a step in front of him.

Ebenezar freezes.

I guess we all grew a little skittish after everything that happened.

“I wont hurt you.” Ebenezar says.

“That was different a few moments ago.” Thomas replies and I have to agree, even though I don’t think my grandfather would try something now that he knows the truth.

“You know, I loved my daughter.” He says slowly. “I was devastated when she was killed by your father. Because she was my daughter and because she was the mother of a child that wouldn’t have any family left soon. I’m very glad you could give him at least a small part of this back. You were there when I couldn’t and I am grateful for that. I know our people may never overcome the differences but I also know that my daughter loved and accepted you the way you are, even if you must’ve reminded her of your father. When she could do that, I can do it too. She wouldn’t have wanted this war, and she definitely wouldn’t have wanted for you two to choose between sides.”

He takes another step forward and holds out a hand. “What do you say? Do you want to stop it with me?”

Thomas hesitates a few more seconds before stepping around me and grabbing the offered hand. “Yes.” He says and flashes his brightest smile. “Let’s do this.”

Chapter Text

“Dresden! Get up here!” Marcones voice sounds from the street.

I exchange a look with Thomas. “Hells Bells, he is still alive.” I groan. “I hoped he at least broke a leg in the crash.”

“It’s always the worst people with the most luck.” My brother says and shrugs.

Mouse picks himself up from the floor and looks at Ebenezar, while growling deep from his throat.

Ebenezar crouches down in front of him. “I’m sorry. I was not myself.” He offers to my dog.

Mouse keeps staring at him for a few more seconds, just to intimidate him, before he looks at me with a knowing look.

I sigh. “I know, I was an idiot to not notice it was Molly the whole time.”

“None of us would have thought that.” Thomas says reassuringly.

“Dresden!” Marcone shouts again.

I roll my eyes. “Coming, coming. Stars and Stones, hold your horses!" I shout back.

We begin to climb the slope again. On the way I cast a quick glance into Marcone's SUV. It’s empty.

As soon as we reach the road I see what the matter is.

Marcone and his bodyguard stand next to one of the two younger wizards I fought. Well, you can’t call it a fight. The first spell I threw at them knocked them out.

Murphy is on her feet again and has her weapon trained on the other one.

“Care to explain what happened?” Marcone asks.

“We got attacked.” I state the obvious.

He rolls his eyes at me. “Who was it?” He asks impatiently and I hesitate.

I know I probably shouldn't tell him but the way things look at the moment it will come to light anyway. If I want to convince all parties that a war is pointless I have to tell them, that Molly was the mastermind behind this.

There is no way they are going to believe these two crappy wizards are capable of doing something like that without orders.

"We don't know yet." Thomas interjects before I can say anything else. "I'm sure you heard the turmoil a few minutes ago. It was hard to see a thing."

Marcone doesn't look happy. "So you didn't see the attacker at all?" he asks suspiciously.

“Harry, we have the scroll.” Murphy interjects helpfully and points to said artifact, that is still lying innocently on the tarmac.

I stroll over and pick it up. I guess it’s pretty pointless to read it, especially since all information about it until now turned out to be total bullshit. But I’m curious.

The scroll looks old, that is clear from the second I look at it, but now that I know Molly is behind this I recognize her form of illusion immediately. It’s a pretty good one, as usual.

The tiny scribbles on it are in a language I don’t know. I can even feel the nearly transparent paper in my hand. And still, its a fake.

As soon as I concentrate enough to look through the illusion I burst into a fit of laugher.

“Are you okay, Harry?” asks Thomas as if I turned crazy, and I guess it must really look that way.

I wipe the tears from the corner of my eye.

“Yes. Yes. Sure. Irony.”

“What’s ironic?” Murphy asks.

I look down at the scroll again. “Whoever is behind this, they managed fool the White Council, the White Court and Marcone, and they didn't know they were chasing after a library receipt for two borrowed cook books.”

“You know I am standing right here, Dresden?” Marcone says sourly and I decide to ignore him.

“Anyway, this thing, no matter how useless it looks, is important to show them what was going on here.” I say.

“What do we do with these two?” Murphy asks and gestures to the still unconscious wizards.

“We take them with us.” I say. “They are exactly what we need to convince both the White Council and the White Court.”

“Harry.” Thomas voice sounds behind me. He stands ten feet from me and looks down the road. “I hear something.”

I turn to him. “What is it?”

“Fighting.”

I curse and begin to collect myself. I tug the scroll into one of the pockets of my duster and grab my staff and shield bracelet where I left it.

“How far is it?” Murphy asks my brother and he frowns.

“Not far. Just down the road.” He replies. One of his hands absently scratches his forehead where he had an open wound moments ago. There is still blood but the cut closed itself already. I can see, that he is nervous because of the way his hand is trembling. “Harry, we have to stop them.”

I return his gaze seriously. “Yes I know. That’s the plan.”

“They are already fighting. It might get messy.” He says and shifts from one foot to the other.

Five seconds we just stare at each other while simultaneously contemplating what that means. It wont be easy to separate the parties. We could end up on different sides if we aren't careful.

I close my eyes for a second before turning to Marcone. “Do you think your car is still working?”

He arches an eyebrow at me but seems to bite back a sarcastic comment at the last second. “I guess we can try.” He says and nods at his bodyguard who immediately climbs down the slope again, to put this plan into action.

I turn to Ebenezar. “Can you secure these idiots and get them in the car?” I ask him and gesture to the two unconscious wizards on the ground.

My old mentor nods and immediately gets to work with a binding spell that will keep them from using their hands for magic, even if they would wake up.

Murphy tugs two pairs of handcuffs from her belt and goes to help Ebenezar with his task.

Mouse appears to Marcone's left side and barks at him two times.

Marcone looks at my dog as if he doesn’t know what to do and would be really grateful if someone would tell him. He still doesn’t seem to be a great fan of Mouse and I suspect there is more behind it than a ridiculous fear of ruining his perfect suits.

Mouse keeps barking at him. Two barks and silence. And again two barks.

He keeps barking like this until Marcone looks at me a little helplessly. “Dresden, what exactly is possessing your dog right now?”

I crouch next to Mouse and scratch him behind the ears. “What is it, Mouse? Do you like Marcone's new suit?” I have to try very hard not to laugh.

Mouse doesn’t even seem to hear me. He just shakes his head annoyed, looks down the slope to the crashed cars and back to Marcone before he barks two more times.

Then he growls in the direction of the woods.

And suddenly I realize what he means.

“Where is your second bodyguard?” I ask Marcone with a bad feeling in my gut.

From the way he looks at me he is surprised by that question. “He was still unconscious. We left him in the car.”

“The car is empty.” I reply and let my gaze wander over the woods around me.

“Where would he go?” Thomas asks frowning.

That’s the moment the bodyguard who just climbed down the slope appears breathlessly on the street again. “Boss, O’Neal is gone!” he pants. “I found this in the car on the driver’s side. It probably fell from his pocket in the crash.”

Marcone holds out his hand to examine the white Smartphone with the cracked display. Even though it was damaged in the crash the display lights up under his touch.

“That’s not his usual phone.” The bodyguard says. “I never saw him using it.”

“Encrypted.” Marcone snorts. “But its definitely not the one I gave to him.”

Thomas takes one step forward. “I recognize the model.” He says and of course this could get even more complicated. “Its standard for the White Court. Justine has one of these things.”

“Of course.” Marcone says dangerously low and his grip tightens around the phone until it lets out a protesting crack. He turns to me. “Dresden, get your shit together. We have to beat some sense into a few people. Lara Raith did not just infiltrate my fucking personal security without consequences.”

I have no time for this. Another argument between these people? This is not the time to act rash because of another stupid accusation. Who even knows if this isn’t Mollys doing again, just to rile up Marcone? Time to focus.

“Cut the crap. This whole thing is going to end now and I will end this my way. Either you are with me or you can leave for all I care.” I stare at Marcone and I know the look in my eyes leaves no room for discussions. “Lara will answer for this, if she had a hand in it but that’s not priority right now. We are here to keep them from fighting and that’s exactly what we are going to do now. Keep your personal bullshit to yourself until this isn’t turning into a full-blown war anymore.”

Five seconds nobody says a thing while Marcone decides what to do. I fully expect him to just turn around and join the fight on one of the sides, but he surprises me again.

“What’s your plan, Dresden?”


 

The car comes to an abrupt stop at the end of the road. Dust and gravel fly in every direction when Thomas hits the break hard.

On the left side is another one of the many lakes in the area. The water surface is undisturbed. The few ducks that were probably living here decided to look for another habitat.

The woods around it are green and peaceful. The sun is sinking behind the horizon and throws the last rays onto the fresh grass around the lake.

The shore has descended into utter chaos.

You can barely recognize what is left of a hastily built camp side. The tents are trampled down, smoke from the fires and flashes of light from the wizards spells make it hard to see and the sounds of fighting tear through the peaceful silence like a sledgehammer.

The vampires apparently started their surprise attack from the woods around the lake and every now and then I see a few more appear from behind the trees to join the fight.

I realize immediately why the wizards decided to gather at this specific spot. There is a guarded portal to the Nevernever at the shore and that seems to be the focal point of the fight. It probably leads to some strategic spot.

The vampires haven’t reached it yet and one look through it shows me that the White Court is not the only one here with reinforcements. Every few seconds the portal glows and more people stumble through to throw themselves into the battle. Even though many of the wizards have grey cloaks, I notice not all of them are Wardens. It seems like the White Council decided the time for Diplomacy is over.

Its difficult to see from the distance but if the murderous looks on their faces are any indication the vampires have run out of patience too.

“This is madness!” Thomas shouts when we jump out of the car.

“No one said it would be easy!” I shout back and we duck behind the SUV just before a fire spell hits the hood.

I activate my shield bracelet in the last moment and Thomas tackles me to the grass when the car explodes with a spectacular boom in a ball of fire. I don’t even want to know what a spell like this would have done to a human.

I come to my feet as soon as we hit the ground. This will be difficult if we don’t take cover. Thomas seems to have had the same thought because he grabs my arm and drags me behind a tree before another spell can hit us.

I lean against the tree trunk and gasp for breath. I didn’t think it would already be this bad.

Thomas tries to assess the situation from our vantage point without stepping into the line of fire. “I can't see Lara. She probably won't show up until the end. It's not her style to be cannon fodder. Tell me again why we didn’t just sneak up on them?”

I snort. “Oh you know me, I like to make a great entrance.”

He looks at me as if I lost my mind and I know he tries very hard not to laugh. “What, and you thought they suddenly stop fighting when they see you?”

I clench my teeth but don’t answer. Maybe I was a little bit to confident with this.

“Well, I guess it’s good this wasn’t the only plan.” I say and look over to the edge of the woods were Ebenezar McCoy just materialized out of thin air.

STOP FIGHTING!” He roars and his voice rips through the noise like a thunderclap, amplified a dozen times by a spell he used. “EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU IS VIOLATING THE TRUCE BETWEEN THE WHITE COUNCIL AND THE WHITE COURT! LISTEN TO ME!”

I can’t believe it but it’s like someone snapped his fingers and every motion at the shore screeches to a shuddering stop.

Every head turns into his direction, vampires and wizards alike halt in their actions. I guess until now they were in some kind of trance and didn’t even think about what they were doing.

Besides everyone knows my grandfather’s reputation. A murmur spreads through the masses. All around the lake the name Black Staff is repeated, awe-struck and fearful but also suspicious and hateful.

“Now!” I hiss and while everyone has their eyes on Ebenezar's imposing figure Thomas and I make our way through the crowd in the direction of the still opened portal. If I can just get close enough I may be able to close it and we have one problem less. Maybe Ebenezar can even get them to listen until I can show them proof that there is no real reason to fight.

I realize this isn’t going to work, when I hear the first vampire hiss a curse behind me. At the same time they shift like one person. The motion goes through them like a wave. They basically vibrate from anticipation. They are like a predator short before the lethal leap at their prey.

“This isn’t the time to fight!” Ebenezar continues with his thundering voice. “Someone fooled you all. The reasons you believe you have for fighting each other are not what you think. No one benefits from a war!”

The knowledge about the Black Staff may keep the Wizards at bay for now, but the vampires aren’t so easily frightened. They realize without any doubt, that this is the perfect time to attack.

I’m still too far away from the portal.

“Keep going! I distract them.” Thomas whispers and pushes me forward.

“What-“ I can’t get out more than that when he already jumped onto a rock.

“My name is Thomas Raith and I have a message from Lord Raith for you!he shouts.

When I look over to Ebenezar he seems as surprised as I due to this development. I don’t have time to argue, though. I continue to push through the crowd to get to the portal. Who knows how much troops the White Council gathered in the Nevernever. I have to end this now.

All heads are now turned in Thomas direction, what means they don’t notice me.

“This whole chaos was caused by someone who wanted this war! We don’t have to fight each other!” Thomas continues.

“They killed our people!” someone shouts.

“Rough wizards killed them. And there will be justice for that, but this is not the way. The White Council had nothing to do with it.” Thomas replies.

I’m thirty feet from the portal. Almost there. For some reason there hasn't come anyone through it in the last couple of minutes. The two wizards that are guarding it stare at Ebenezar with open mouths as if they don’t know what to do next.

“We don’t listen to a filthy vampire! You are not speaking for us!” shouts some young Warden who I really would like to punch in the face.

“But I am speaking for you and this vampire is right.” Says Ebenezar and now everyone stares at him again. “I am a Senior Council member and I tell you there was no involvement from the White Council in any of this. There was also no reason for the White Council to attack the White Court.”

A murmur of general confusion spreads through the crowd.

“The vampires attacked us first! We are just defending ourselves!” Another Warden shouts.

“Because your people violated the accords and killed several of ours in cold blood!” A furious vampire snaps back.

I hear affirmative voices from all directions.

The whole situation is entirely surreal. Two groups of people who fought each other to death minutes ago are standing on a smoky patch of lawn between blood and corpses and quarrel which side started the fight. If the situation hadn’t been so dire I would’ve laughed.

“If the Senior Council orders us to stop we should stop!” One wizards interjects.

A second one snorts. “You seriously think we should just talk to this monsters?!”

“Who do you call a monster?!” snaps a blond vampire and takes a threatening step forward.

A woman with long red hair and silver glowing eyes grabs his arm. “It’s Lord Raiths son! We should listen to him!”

“THIS HAS TO END NOW!” Ebenezar interrupts everyone. “Wardens, I order you to step down!”

“He is right.” Thomas agrees. “Lord Raith doesn’t want a war. The White Court houses managed to build a truce with the White Council that will last centuries. You don’t want to throw that away because of a few rough wizards! Lord Raith commands you to step down.”

Now I’m directly next to the portal. The two Wardens who guard it finally notice me when I club my staff over their heads. “Sorry guys, I need this one to close.”

I prepare the spell in my mind to close the portal. Its going to take a moment due to the fact that they made this thing as resistant as they could. On any other day I would have took a moment to appreciate the exquisite spellwork but not today.

I step in front of it and concentrate.

Behind me I can still hear the wizards and the vampires argue with each other. Time is running out. I close my eyes and try to block out the furious voices.

I’m entirely alone with my thoughts.

That’s probably why I only realize someone has stepped out of the portal when something taps me on the shoulder. “Warden Dresden.” A voice sounds. “I should be surprised, but I was told you like to show up at the worst possible moments to meddle with things that don’t concern you.”

I open my eyes and am immediately faced with Gregory Cristos’ entire replacement Senior Council (Obviously sans Gregory Cristos, the coward) and Bombur the red nosed butterball leading the way probably to uttermost damnation.

“Step aside.” He says and I have a snarky comment already on my tongue, when fate decides to hit me in the face with a nice hard bat. “Ebenezar McCoy has no authority to decide anything here!” Bombur shouts to the crowd and spittle flies from his mouth.

“You don’t understand! This isn’t what you think it is!” my old mentor snaps at the retirees when the wizards turn from him to face the new arrivals.

It’s pointless. I know they won’t listen to him anymore.

The wizards get restless when Bombur speaks again. “We won’t just ignore this unbelievable impertinent attack on the Wardens, the White Court and the entire wizard population!”

Now the vampires shift again. There is a tension in the crowd as if a bomb could explode every second.

“Keep calm!” Thomas shouts and he can’t keep the hint of panic out of his voice now. “Lord Raith doesn’t want a war. You have to follow his orders!”

“And who exactly allowed you to speak for Lord Raith, little brother?” I turn around and of all people who could walk up to the discussion and put their oar in, of course it has to be Lara Raith.

Behind her follows at least another dozen of White Court vampires who all seem eager to fight.

I vaguely recognize the man to her left as Marcone's missing bodyguard. Great. He must have called her here. This gets better and better every second.

She arrives like always, in style.

Her high heels would’ve probably been more impressive if she was walking on solid ground but she manages to pull it of anyway.

Her business costume is spotless and there is a predatory smile plastered on her face.

Her cold eyes shift to me before they return to Thomas. She walks up to the crowd with a posture that tells everyone who wants to keep their entrails inside, to get the heck out of her way.

“Lord Raith decided to speak through me, because I am more capable of executing his will then my weakly indecisive brother. In house Raith and also the other houses of the White Court we know many rules, but one is more important than anything else to us. Family is everything. Someone takes our family, we will take revenge. That’s what we are going to do. Our brothers and sisters were killed and that screams for blood. Blood was shed and now we will shed yours.” And with that her eyes flash silver and she rips out the throat of some unfortunate wizard who is standing to close to her at the moment.

Blood paints the grass where it pours from the wound and together with the lifeless body my last shred of hope to find a peaceful solution crumbles to the ground.


 

I’m in the middle of pure chaos.

Imagine the most crowded concert you have ever been to, with the smoke machines at full blast, blinding lights everywhere and the band smashing even the most soundproofed wall to pieces.

And if you think that is something you have seen before, try to picture every single person there, on a killing spree, armed with inhuman strength, knives and lethal magical weapons, punching, ripping, beating and kicking one another to death.

The vampires and the wizards crash against each other like furious waves in a stormy ocean. Everywhere I look I see body parts flying through the air and spells scorching and cutting into white flesh. Every now and then I see a silver gaze flash through the smoke and the blood.

Its grotesque that not even a few seconds ago the same people just stood here and debated about whose fault this mess is.

Now it’s turned into a carnage.

Lara threw herself into the fight as soon as she dropped her first victim and now I see her tearing limbs from a Warden at the other end of the former camp side.

The Senior Council members retreated to the tree line on top of a small hill and created a shield spell around themselves from where they survey the events. They don’t look like they intent to sully their hands. Cowards.

A bloody staff soars by just inches next to my right ear and in the next moment Murphy is beside me and drags me to the ground so I’m not hit be some other piece of flying debris. A ripped out foot falls down in front of me with a wet thud and leaves a red streak across the gravel.

“What are you doing here?” I shout at Murphy. To my left a White Court vampire is hit by a fire spell and runs screaming in the direction of the lake where he leaps into the water. I don’t see him surface again.

“You said, I should wait until things head south to show up. Well, it looked like things headed south to me, Harry.” She says sarcastically and shoots a vampire in the knee when he tries to grab her around the upper arm.

He stumbles back, collides with a wizard who tries to throw a spell and both of them go to the ground in a heap. Before one of them can collect their thoughts enough to attack the other, a misguided blast from the rod of another wizard hits them and they fly backwards into the lake with a big splash. I wonder how many bodies will float in the lake at the end of the day. Its not a pretty thought.

“Where are Thomas and Ebenezar?” I get out and manage to create a shield spell around Murphy and me, when an especially stupid young Warden lets loose a spell that causes a big rock just a few feet from us to explode in a bright green hail of sharp splinters.

A women to our left, who is busy feeding on another woman in a grey cloak isn’t so lucky and gets hit by the debris. A big chunk of rock buries itself in her head and she and her breathless victim sink to the ground.

“I have no idea!” Murphy shouts and ducks when another spell sizzles by. “I lost sight of them in this chaos! We have to stop this Harry!”

“These stupid idiots won't listen!” I shout back and throw a spell to separate a vampire and a wizard who try to strangle each other, probably already tired of all the conventional killing methods.

“They lost their fucking minds!” Murphy screams.

We stumble backwards when an entwined pair, their mouths pressed together and hands basically everywhere, almost knocks us over trying to get into a horizontal position as soon as possible. Probably a young Raith vampire who hasn’t got the hang of it yet. There is a very thin line between pleasure and pain when it comes to the feeding ritual of the White Court.

Forzare!” I snap and a definitely more experienced Malvora vampire is ripped away from a wizard who continues to scream horrified and stares down at his forearms as if he is imagining thousands of ants crawling under his skin.

“What is the plan now, Harry?!” Murphy coughs through a lung full of smoke. I send another blast of wind, this time into the air, to at least get a clear sight. With all the smoke it's impossible to see anything.

Unfortunately it doesn’t help me to find Thomas or Ebenezar. The chaos around me is still to confusing.

Murphy asked what the plan is. Well, that seems to be the million dollar question. The plan is pretty useless now. Everything depended on them stopping for a moment and listening to what I have to say. And all of it turned to shit when Lara and the Senior Council showed up. I can't convince them when they are already on each other’s throats. I need time and I need reinforcements. I look around and my gaze falls onto the Senior Council members that are still a safe distance from the fight, observing everything. Something comes to my mind.

“Murph, you need to do something for me, but it’s not going to be easy!” I shout.

She uses her gun to batter a vampire over the head who appears behind me out of thin air. I turn around and send him backwards with another spell.

“Stop stalling, Harry! We don’t have time for this!” Murphy kicks a Warden in the ribs who is about to aim his blasting rod at the back of another vampire. He lands face down in the mud.

I club my staff over the head of said vampire who is already looking for the next victim.

Without hesitating I grab Murphys good arm and drag her behind a rock at the edge of the lake. “Okay, listen. Its very important you do exactly what I say. It may be our last chance to end this.”

And whether it is the sight of a hundred people slaughtering each other not even a few feet away or the thought that the only other option is probably to bury our heads in the sand and hope we will get out of here alive, she doesn’t protest.

She just nods and I can see the moment the determination eliminates the panic in her eyes. Blood splatters decorate her face, her hair is a mess, the sling at her arm is almost ripped to shreds and her cloths are coated in mud, but her gaze is fierce.

“Don’t be so dramatic and just tell me what to do, you fool!”


 

In the end I don’t have to go looking for Thomas after I sent Murphy away, even though it would’ve definitely been on my to-do-list.

In one second I’m getting up from behind the rock, preparing myself for another pointless round of interfering in a fight no one should participate in; in the next one I’m shoved out of the way and Thomas tackles the vampire to the ground who tried to attack me from the side.

I have barely time to think about which house he may be from when Thomas already threw him twenty feet away where he lands with a defining crash in one of the trees.

“Thanks.” I say when he comes to his feet a little breathlessly.

“You have to keep attention to your surroundings.” He says chiding. “I may not always be there.”

“Oh don’t get cheesy.” I say sarcastically and aim my staff at the wizard that would’ve thrown a spell at my brothers back a second later. “Now we’re even.”

He looks over his shoulder and arches a brow. Not a second later we’re both hit from different sides.

Two almost identical women with short black hair and equally shining silver gazes throw me to the ground and jump onto my chest immediately. “Hey, sweetheart!” they snarl. “Do you want to play?”

I manage to get out a laugh. “Not interested if it’s not Monopoly. I’m a little bit picky with games.”

I'm distracted when Thomas is hit in the back by a violet gust of wind, which knocks the breath out of him and sends him a few yards across the ground. He lands in the dust and rolls onto his back groaning quietly. I can't see him clearly with all the lights and smoke but I’m pretty sure I heard a bone crack.

The two ladies on top on me decide, that I’m not worth the trouble of feeding and get out two long knives from their pockets. I really don’t want to know what they plan to do with them.

Thomas is still on the ground and I can see the Warden, who hit him in the back approaching slowly.

One of the twins tries to bury her knife in my chest and is surprised when its stopped by a thick ice layer. Her fingers turn stiff around the hilt of the knife and I can practically see the frost bite creep up her forearm. Without thinking about it I let loose a little bit of the Winter Knight and they stumble to the ground, with clattering teeth and blue lips. The knives break in half as if they were made of ice. A moment later some spell from the smoke hits them both in the face and they are gone for good.

“You die today vampire!” My head whirls around but I’m not fast enough. The Warden, that I don’t recognize, has his foot pressed onto Thomas’ throat and moves his lips to say a spell.

Before the first syllable can leave his mouth his throat is slit open by an invisible knife.

For a moment he doesn’t seem to realize what happened until the blood begins to stream down his chest. He makes gurgling sounds and collapses next to my brother on the ground. Ebenezar steps out of the smoke, his staff still tight in his hand.

His face and hands are coated in blood and the look in his eyes is murderous. “Hands off my grandson.” He says to no one specific and extends one hand to help Thomas to his feet who stares at him with wide eyes before taking the offer.

I hurry to get to their side and look at Thomas’ forearm, which seems to be broken. “How bad is it?”

“I will live.” He says absently, grabs his wrist unceremoniously and tugs at it until it pops back in the right direction with a nauseating crack and heals immediately. After that he looks up at Ebenezar. “Thank you.”

It’s the first time I see Ebenezar really smile since I met him in that coffee shop. “You’re welcome.”

He then directs his gaze at me and turns serious again. “It almost worked.”

I clench my teeth and we have to duck to avoid a light blue spell that shoots over our heads. “Murphy is already on it. But we still need them to stop fighting somehow.”

A fist connects with the air in front of Ebenezar as if there was an invisible force field and my grandfather just arches an eyebrow at the unfortunate vampire who clutches his broken hand and tries to determine whether it would be clever to try it again. He seems to decide against it because he turns around after an especially deadly stare from Ebenezar and goes looking for an easier target.

Thomas has gotten his hands on a sharp broadsword somehow and slices it across the shoulders of an attacking wizard. “Fuego!” I shout, his coat catches fire and he runs in the direction of the lake like the others before him.

“We need something to pull them out of their killing spree.” My brother pants and whacks a passing vampire in the legs with the hilt of the swoard.

“Well, they basically just follow orders. They may listen to their leaders.” Ebenezar interjects and a dark blue lightning bolt hits the floor where two vampires have cornered a Wizard against a rock.

“Oh come on!” I shout at another one who tries to rip my throat out. “Can’t we have at least a moment of quiet here?!” He doesn’t seem too concerned with my problem and I have to use my staff to knock him out.

After finishing that project I turn to Ebenezar panting slightly. “What was that again?”

He rolls his eyes at me. “Its not that difficult! Take out the leaders and you may take out the troops, Hoss.”

Thomas and I exchange looks. “Its worth a try.” He says and shrugs after kicking a woman who already raised her staff at him in the gut. A few seconds later she begins to tremble from cold and has no other concerns than to close her coat to shield herself from the freezing air.

I look around the battle field. “I also still have to close the portal, this isn’t any use if more and more of them decide to join the fight.”

“I can close the portal.” Ebenezar interjects and ducks when a piece of wood soars by inches from his shoulder. “You have to focus on stopping them.”

“I’ll take Lara and you get this clowns up there.” Thomas suggest and gestures to the Senior Council.

“Are you sure?” I ask him slightly wary.

He grimaces. “I think it’s the only way.”

That’s not really an answer but I guess he is right. We have no other choice.

I exchange a look with Thomas and Ebenezar turns around and pushes through the fighters in the direction of the portal.

“Be careful.” My brother says.

I snort. “You know me. Caution is my middle name.”

When I turn around to look for the Senior Council members, they are still standing near the tree line on top of a small hill, huddled together like a group of frightened chickens.

I sigh inwardly and begin to fight my way through the crowd in their direction.  It’s not easy to look for the shortest way in this chaos of noise and light and simultaneously duck every few seconds to avoid punches and ricocheting spells.

Finally I manage to climb up a small hill and reach the spot where the retirees that call themselves Senior Council already wait for me.

“Dresden.” Bombur says sourly. “Are you here because you want to change our minds again?”

I cross my arms in front of my chest. “Sorry, but I never got your name.”

Bombur looks at me like he has no nerve to deal with me right now. I can totally relate. That’s my feeling every time I look at his wrinkled face. Unfortunately we are not here for fun.

“I am Senior Council member Augustine Farrell. Not that it matters to you at the moment. I asked you a question Warden Dresden.”

“Well I guess I stick with Bombur.” I reply and roll my eyes. Augustine. Really?

“Excuse me?” he asks and blinks at me as if I was crazy.

“Apology accepted.” I say and before he can say something else I continue. “I come right to the point, if you don’t mind?”

He opens his mouth outraged but I interrupt again. I’m done with this people. “I got your stupid scroll. It’s total useless by the way. I got you the two rouge wizards who started this mess and found the ones who were responsible for this. I even found out who was the mole! I want you to stop this madness right now. There was enough blood spilled in the last two days. Order them to stop fighting!”

I take a step in his direction until I am directly in front of the shield spell they created. I can feel it in the air in front of me. It’s a strong spell and it will probably take a lot of force to break it. On top of that it reeks of bad eggs. No wonder nobody even thought to get close to these guys.

Bombur looks at me with narrowed eyes and before he even opens his mouth I already now what he wants to say will be stupid. “The situation changed Warden Dresden. The vampires attacked our people. We can’t let that outrageous assault unanswered. Someone has to pay.”

“The vampires paid with blood.” I snap at him. “The wizards also paid with blood. Its over. Don’t you see that the only thing standing in the way of peace is the ignorance of both sides?”

He shakes his head and his face is red as a tomato now. “At the moment the only one standing in the way is you, Warden Dresden. I give you one final chance to show your loyalty to your people here and now. If you refuse, we have no other choice than to charge you with treason.”

Of course this is what it came to. I can’t believe it. I did everything he asked from me and he still wont listen. “What do you want?” I ask between clenched teeth.

He turns away from me and lets his gaze wander over the battlefield.

I don’t know how there can still be anyone left standing with the permanent violence in the air but there is no end in sight.

Both parties are too strong. If they go down, they do it for a few seconds before they’re back on their feet again. That’s the catch if you deal with wizards and vampires. Both are pretty resistant to a lot of things.

I see a vampire who manages to knock out a Warden even though he has lost a leg and half of his face is burned away.

Slowly the leader of the Senior Council lifts his arm and points to a specific spot at the foot of the hill not even twenty yards from where we stand.

“Kill these two and we will think about calling back our people.”

I stare at the spot he points to and close my eyes for a moment. My breath comes fast and ragged. I can already feel the anger boiling up inside of me.

He doesn’t seem to notice my mood. His eyes are still trained on Thomas and Lara. “Lord Raith’s children have to die and if you don’t do it, we will leave no stone unturned before they are not rotting in the ground for all the lives their father took today.”

I clench my hands to fists. Lara is covered in blood from head to toe and grins. Thomas’s stands in front of her and his posture is stiff. He looks like he is fighting a battle in his head and is short before losing it.

I watch horrified as Lara steps forward until she is just inches from Thomas. He doesn’t move. What is he doing? How could I have thought he would be able to deal with Lara? She manipulated him before. Of course she can do it again.

“Look at them. It’s disgusting. This family has enjoyed their abnormal behavior long enough.” Says Bombur next to me. “No wonder they got insane with the monster that raised them.”

My patience snaps. The whole damn day I ran around trying to keep people from killing each other, expecting logic and sanity where I found just craziness and prejudices.

I suppressed the urge to release my anger and kept myself from using violence because I looked for peace not for war.

I reduced my snarky comments to a minimum and tried to act responsible. As if diplomacy could still save these ignorant people.

But enough is enough. I’m done. This is the end of the line and I can practically see the ground of common sense crumble beneath my feet.

Ebenezar reached the portal. I see how he concentrates to close it. I don’t care.

Lara is directly in front of Thomas and he doesn’t step back. I don’t care.

Bombur makes another comment about deranged vampires and what an abomination they all are. I don’t care.

The fight at the bottom of the hill is still raging. A spell hits the ground a few inches from my feet. I don’t care.

With a loud crack I punch my fist through the shield spell right in front of Bombur, grab him by the throat and pull him out to me where I hold him inches from my nose and stare into his eyes until his mouth snaps shut. The shield spell shatters into a million little pieces.

The other Senior Council members scramble back, shouting surprised but within the blink of an eye a surge of energy from my staff knocks them back into the trees behind them.

Down the hill, the whole lake freezes over until a smooth layer of thick ice sparkles in the last sun rays of the day.

A wave of cold rips through the air and crashes into the still fighting crowd down the hill.

“STOP!” I roar from the top of my lungs and my voice thunders down the slope where it knocks everyone standing to the ground with the force of a full-blown hurricane.

Lara, Marcones bodyguard, Thomas and Ebenezar are the only ones that had the common sense to throw themselves to the floor, when the wind rushes in their direction.

The ground under my feet cracks. Ice crystals spread from where I stand.

Silence sinks down onto the landscape. Nobody dares to move.

Bombur whimpers in my grip and I tighten my hand around his throat. I know that my eyes are full of hate when I finally turn to him.

I will do nothing for you.” I say quietly. “I am done with you. You can keep your damn grey cloak. This is over.”

“You…can’t do this…they are…the…enemy.” Bombur gets out panting heavily.

I arch an eyebrow at him. “Oh you think I can’t? Well, watch closely.” And with that I let him drop to the floor like a sack of potatoes and begin to climb down the hill.

Nobody moves when I stomp through the frozen grass and let my anger flow in cold merciless waves from my body.

I walk through the crowd without regarding anybody around me except my destination.

Thomas, Lara and Marcones rouge bodyguard got to their feet and watch me as I approach them.

Lara’s hand closes around the wrist of my brother like a vise. I don’t know if its out of threat or an attempt to protect him and I honestly don’t care.

“Ebenezar, close the portal.” I say calmly in my grandfathers direction without looking at him. I don’t even have to raise my voice. All gazes are on me and you could hear a pin drop.

I see from the corner of my eye that he nods.

Ten yards from Lara I stop and take a deep breath. “Take your manicured hands of my brother, you manipulative bitch.” I say loud and clearly and a gasp goes through the crowd.

There you have it. Its out. I really don’t care.

Her eyes widen in shock and her hand falls from Thomas’ wrist as if she burned herself. My brother stares at me open-mouthed.

I turn around and look at the vampires and wizards who haltered their motions all in different states of fighting. It looks like someone pressed pause on an especially bloody movie battle.

“Yes you heard me. He is my brother!” I shout angrily. “I don’t fucking care what you think about me or what dumb reasons you have to rip each other’s throats out but I want you to know that there is no reason good enough to be this stupid!

“Wizards killed vampires and vampires killed wizards today. I know you pretend to have reasons and you all believe there is some great revenge that you have to get or you are just defending yourselves, but the truth is: These are all just excuses.

“You want to hate and fight each other. You did it for centuries and you never trusted each other. Is there a single one of you who didn’t jump right into this without even asking about the why? I don’t think so. I wont kill another single person. Not for the White Council and not for the White Court.”

I direct my gaze up the hill where the Senior Council members stand and look down at me shocked.

“And I will certainly not kill my own brother for you.

Behind me someone begins to clap slowly.

When I turn around, John Marcone steps out from behind a tree. “Dresden, I guess you fooled us all, this time. Well done.”

I frown at him. “What are you doing here? I told you to wait.”

He shrugs. “I was never good at doing what I was told. We have that in common. Besides it looked like the fighting stopped and I was tired of waiting.” His gaze turns to the Senior Council members. “I have something you probably want back.”

And with that his remaining bodyguard kicks the two rouge wizards we caught onto the grass. They regained consciousness and Mouse jumps beside them and growls at them when they try to come to their feet. They immediately sink to the ground again.

Marcone makes a wide gesture with both arms like a show master in a tv show. “These men killed the White Court vampires. You probably know them as Delano and Rutherford but they have other names. They also were the moles that talked to the White Court.”

He turns to Lara with narrowed eyes and talks directly to her now. “You and I will have a long discussion after all of this and I know that you know what I’m referring to.” His gaze drifts to his former bodyguard for a second before refocusing on Lara. “That’s if you’re still alive, of course. If I were you, I would take a step away from that vampire there. Dresden seems a little on edge right now.” He obviously means Thomas who is still right next to Lara.

He is wrong of course. I would never downright kill Lara. She is too important. But that doesn’t mean I would let her do anything stupid.

I look at Lara pointedly.

She grimaces. “You can’t tell me what to do, Dresden!” her voice vibrates from suppressed anger.

“Oh can’t I?” I reply ironically. “You know how it is with secrets, don’t you? They stay hidden until some stupid guy has a big mouth, and before you know it your whole world turns upside down…”

When I look at her face I see that she knows what I mean. Now that Thomas and my secret is out she has no leverage anymore. But we still have something against her. I see how her hands clench to fists.

Before she can say something else we are interrupted.

“This is outrages!” shouts Bombur and stumbles down the hill his face redder than ever. “Warden Dresden you are arrested for treason! You will answer for all of this in front of the White Council! I will not stand by while you protect this filthy creatures! It's time we ignore these damn accords and fight for our people! Peace is useless no matter what the Merlin says! They are the enemy and you are defending them! This ends now!”

I watch amused when he stumbles over a small rock at the foot of the hill and almost falls into a patch of poison ivy that I just noticed there. I knew this area wasn’t good for camping! Unfortunately he catches himself in the last second and stands there panting heavily.

The other Senior Council members observe the events from a safe distance with wary looks.

I ignore his tirade and turn to Ebenezar who stopped closing the portal, is leaning on his staff and watches mildly amused what is happening in front of him.

“What do you think?” I ask and try to suppress a smirk.

My grandfather loses the battle and smiles at me. “Oh I think that was plenty.”

Right next to him Murphy gives me a thumbs up.

A second later the real Senior Council members let their veils drop.

One after the other the Merlin, Ancient May, Injun Joe and Rashid appear from thin air. Their faces are grim and they wear the traditional stoles of Senior Council members.

“Yes.” The Merlin says seriously. “To use your words, McCoy. That was plenty.”

Chapter Text

As soon as the members of the real Senior Council appear a murmur spreads all over the crowd. The wizards exchange wary looks while the vampires shift restlessly as if they don’t know what to do now.

Injun Joe is the first one to move. He steps away from the other Senior Council members and starts towards one of the wounded wizards, who he begins to heal. It will take him a long time if I see how much wounded are in the crowd.

“Oh I am so glad you finally arrived.” Bombur says with a submissive little bow. “I would’ve called you myself but I didn’t want to bother you with this problem. It’s my duty to report Warden Dresden to you. There was a serious breach of the accords.”

I try to suppress a snort and fail miserably. Bombur shoots me a sour look.

The Merlin steps forward and addresses Lara first while completely ignoring everything the ass kissing imbecile in front of him said.

“Ms.Raith I feel like a diplomatic discussion is exactly what we need right now. There were several misunderstandings and mistakes in the last few days and I’m afraid the Senior Council was informed about this just minutes ago by this young lady.” His gaze drifts to Murphy who is doing her best not to roll her eyes at him. Well, the Merlin can’t know it, but he probably came within a whisker of a punch there.

Lara crosses her arms in front of her chest and narrows her eyes. “You want to talk? Now?”

Her gaze wanders over all the bodies and the blood around us. I see what she means.

The Merlin inclines his head calmly. “I believe the best time for a peace offering is after a fight. Don’t you agree?”

Lara snorts. “Peace offering? Do you even know what your people did to mine?”

“I see the consequences of it right now. And here I am, offering peace.” It's as if he just can’t get angry. His voice is completely bare of any emotion.

Lara is silent for a few seconds. “I demand an explanation.” She says finally. “And I want the one behind it.”

“Well,” the Merlin says and for the first time I see the hint of a smile from him. “It seems we both want the same, then.”

He turns around and his gaze falls onto the unfortunate Bombur who begins to stutter immediately. “Merlin, please forgive me the bluntness but Dresden is behind this mess! It’s all a plot to divide us! He and this vampire planned to destroy the peace we tried to keep!”

The Merlin arches a brow. “We all heard your words not even minutes ago, Farrell. I know you don’t want peace and I also know you kept me and the actual Senior Council out of this on purpose and took our position without being elected into it. What do you have to say to defend yourself?”

Bombur's eyes widen. He is sweating now more than ever. “No, no, no! It was Dresden! It was Dresden the whole time!” he shouts and a moment later he tries to raise his staff at me.

I’m about to prepare a counter attack when the Merlin already did a complicated gesture with his hand and Augustine Farrell vanishes into thin air. Everyone looks around too stunned to comprehend what happened.

The Merlin lets his hand fall back onto his staff as if he just scratched his nose. The staff is white and has no markings. “Well, that was not informative at all.” He says and I notice that he sounds actually bored.

He turns to me and I have to keep myself from running away. Its not fun to be the focus of someones attention, who can let people vanish with a casual hand gesture.

“Warden Dresden. I believe you have answers in this matter? And if you don’t mind, be brief. I have a long travel behind me.”

I stare at him. I didn’t expect the Merlin to be this calm about the whole thing. Not when we are basically standing in the guts of vampires and wizards alike. The smoke is still burning in my eyes and behind me I can hear somebody groaning from pain. The scene is pretty surreal.

I blink but manage to collect my thoughts. “Yeah, sure. Ah…I got answers.” I say lame before pointing at the two young wizards who were part of this mess.

“These two pretended to be the Wardens Delano and Rutherford. They were moles and delivered information to the White Court to anger the White Council. At the same time they killed White Court vampires to infuriate the White Court and start a war between both parties.

"The latest attack on the Malvora family, during which two important members were killed, let to an attack by the White Court on the Wardens, who were gathered here for reasons I don’t know.”

I stop and try to think about what I missed. When it comes to me, I begin to rummage through my duster until I find the scroll and pull it out. “This is an artifact which the White Council and the White Court tried to obtain without knowing that it was just another ploy to cause trouble between them.”

Laras snatches the scroll from my hand and stares at it. “What is this?” she asks.

“Like I said.” I reply nonchalantly. “It was a ploy. Somebody put a illusion on it to make you all believe different things. In reality it’s just a receipt from a library.”

She stares at it a few more seconds before ripping the document apart. “Who did this?” her voice is full of suppressed fury.

I arch an eyebrow at her. “I told you. These two wizards have gone rogue and they-“

“Warden Dresden.” The Merlin says with a hint of disapproval in his voice and I press my lips together. I hoped to keep Molly out of this. I really hoped to safe her someway but I know they would never believe this.

Not when the responsible ones behind this master plan, who I try to sell them, are two spineless idiots that cower in front of a dog. Well, a Foo-dog, but nonetheless. Its not very likely they did this on their own. Of course Lara and the Senior Council are not stupid enough to believe that.

I sigh and exchange a look with Ebenezar. His gaze is sad but he nods at me. There is really no other way.

“It was M-“ I choke on the last word. Hells Bells I forgot the rules of the Winter. I probably can’t even accuse Molly of this. It’s against the oath. I am the Winter Knight and I should protect her. I try again but its as if my throat isn’t able to form the words.

“It was Mab.” Thomas interjects and I stare at him with wide eyes.

A few moments nobody says a thing. The Merlin turns to my brother slowly. I really wish Thomas hadn’t even opened his mouth but it’s too late.

“You are Thomas Raith.” The Merlin says. “Lord Raiths only son.”

Thomas closes his eyes briefly and nods but doesn’t say anything in response. I know he doesn’t like it when someone refers to him as his father's son. He suffered his whole childhood under this man. It must be painful to be reminded of that every time someone recognizes him.

“Tell me, what is your role in this?” the Merlin asks matter-of-factly. “Why are you here telling me the Queen of Air and Darkness is involved in this?”

“Yes little brother.” Lara coos and steps closer again until she is just inches behind him. “Tell him why you are here. I know you want to support your family. You can say it out loud and everything will be fine. There is nothing to worry about.” She is so close her breath probably tingles the skin at his neck. He can’t see her but I’m pretty sure he can feel her. His breathing speeds up.

I suppress the urge to intervene because I know he has to do this himself. I can’t help him here. It’s time for him to choose where he wants to stand even though I know Lara plays with unfair methods.

I can see the indecisiveness in his eyes. He is probably thinking about the consequences.

Maybe I can help him after all.

“Thomas.” I say and his panicked gaze drifts to me. “It’s okay. Tell them what you think is right.”

I know its too late to keep the secret of our blood relation anyway. I honestly don’t care anymore.

His gaze is darting around like he looks for a way out. When his eyes meet mine I feat the worst. He will go back to Lara. I’m sure of it. She was there his whole life, and even though she hurt him she also protected him more times than he can probably count. What can I do against that?

“You have to make the decision that’s the best for you.” I say and repeat Justines message for him.

He closes his eyes and takes a deep shuddering breath before he makes a step away from Lara.

“I’m here because of my brother not because of you Lara.” He says and opens his eyes to look at his sister.

Her gaze turns furious. “What did you say?” she snaps at him.

Thomas makes another step back and a smile spreads slowly over his face. “I couldn’t see it.” He whispers and stares at Lara. “Maybe I saw it and just ignored it because I thought I owed you something but now I see it. You used me. I was never just a brother to you. I was a toy you could put were you wanted so it was to your advantage.”

Lara opens her mouth to say something but Thomas interrupts her and points at me. “I know him not nearly as long as I know you and he already showed me what family really means in a way you never could.”

Now he is grinning at me and I can’t suppress my own smile. “I guess I’m here for my family after all. It’s just not the one everyone would expect.”

Lara takes a furious step forward. “You know Justine is still with me!” she brings in the big guns. I know this could be the thing that changes Thomas’ mind.

I won’t let that happen. I turn to Lara and my smile gets devious. “You know what I said about secrets Lara?” I say slowly. “It’s very difficult to keep them. Maybe we should talk about this later. This doesn’t seem to be the right moment to discuss your love life.”

It’s one of the few times I see her entirely speechless. Her eyes turn silver but she doesn’t attack. She just stands there and stares at me. “This isn’t over Dresden.” She says finally after much consideration.

“It is.” Thomas replies with a voice that could’ve cut steel. “Get over it.”

It’s then that I realize we still have an audience. Shit.

The Merlin still stands there with his hands on his staff, seeming entirely undisturbed by everything that just happened, while the expressions of the other Senior Council members reach from disapproving over impervious to downright amused.

I slowly turn to the Merlin. “There you have it. He is my brother. You can charge me with treason if you want to but that won’t change a thing. I never intended to be caught between the stools. If I’m honest I didn’t even think about it until a few days ago. He is my family but that doesn’t make me less wizard or him less vampire. I still am who I was before. So do what you have to do.”

The Merlin looks at me for a few long moments before speaking again. “You said the Queen of Air and Darkness was behind this?”

I blink at him.

“What?” I stammer after a few seconds. I can’t believe he just ignores everything that happened a few seconds ago. Didn’t he understand that Thomas is my brother?

“That complicates the whole matter on many levels.” The Merlin says and turns to the other Senior Council members. “I believe a formal meeting concerning the accords is in order. It is crucial that we clarify the matter as soon as possible.”

He looks at Lara. “Do you agree on behalf of your father to attend a meeting concerning the events of the past days? Know that, the White Council wishes no war with your people, but we will not tolerate another attack.”

Lara thinks about it for a moment. I can tell she is still furious. “Under the condition that we get these two.” She says and points to the two rogue wizards. “The Malvora family demands revenge. This is the only way.”

The Merlin seems to think about it for a moment. I almost expect him to decline. Usually the traitors would get a nice little trial before they would be killed for their crimes. I’m sure the same awaits Bombur.

But the Merlin surprises me and nods. “This is a peace offering. I look forward to discuss this affair further in a formal meeting with you.”

Lara doesn’t look happy but she knows how high the stakes are.

I signal Mouse to step back, which he reluctantly does and two of Lara’s people grab the struggling wizards around the collar and drag them away.

Marcone’s former bodyguard turns around too and I see the cold anger in the mob bosses eyes when he follows the man with his gaze. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the end of this story even though Marcone seems to hold back for the moment.

Lara turns to Thomas one last time.

“This is your last chance little brother. After that we are on different sides.”

Thomas doesn’t even flinch. “I decided. You can tell father the good news. That’s if he listens to you for a change.” His voice is bare of any emotion.

Laras eyes narrow and she directs her murderous gaze at me before turning around and signaling her remaining people to leave.

They retreat between the trees and take their wounded and dead with them. No one says a word until the last of them vanished from the scene.

The Merlin turns to me again. “Warden Dresden. Concerning your relation to the vampire I believe there are additional discussions necessary.”

I arch an eyebrow. “What is there to discuss? I think I made pretty clear where I stand.”

“It is not that easy.” Ancient May interrupts sourly and it’s the first time she opens her mouth. “We cannot allow any flaws in the White Council. The political situation is to unstable to risk anything.”

I open my mouth to reply something but Thomas hand on my arm holds me back. “What are you saying?” he asks.

“We are saying that we don’t trust you.” Replies Ancient May with a disapproving look at him.

The Merlin holds up a hand and everyone looks at him. “What happens next is our responsibility and we can’t endanger the peace because of you Warden Dresden.”

I don’t even hesitate. “Then don’t.” I say and there is no anger in my voice. I know what I have to do. “I resign from my position as Warden. I don’t meddle with your affairs anymore. I won’t even attend your White Council meetings if you don’t want me to. Honestly I planned to do this for a long time, the thought came me every time I was accused of something by you. I don’t want to be a part of this anymore. You don’t have to come to me, if you need something in the future.”

They all stare at me.

“Is this your final decision?” the Merlin asks and I see for the first time something that looks like surprise in his eyes. “You want to choose a vampire over your own people?”

I cant suppress my laugh anymore. “I heard that one before and you know what? I don’t think you are my people anymore. So yeah, I choose my people over the people that were my people once.”

Ebenezar clears his throat. “If I could interject.” He says and the Merlin turns to him. “I have to confess something too.” I stare at him stunned. What the heck is he doing? I purposely left his involvement out of my story. He can’t tell them that he had a hand in this.

“Harry Dresden came to me this morning and told me about the conflict between the White Court and the White Council and that he believed someone else was behind it. I didn’t listen to him. He had the best interests of all people, vampires and wizards, at heart. When I didn’t listen he looked for help somewhere else but he didn’t give up. I believe it would be wrong to not grant him his wish and let him go. He did everything he could to prevent a war.”

The Merlin looks at him silently.

“I am with the old wizard.” Marcone throws in and it would’ve surprised me less if a pink elephant jumped out of the lake and invited everyone to Christmas right this second.

Marcone openly supports me? What is happening?

“Dresden came to me to prevent this from happening. He tried to proof there was someone else behind it and as annoying as he usually is, he is experienced enough to know when something is at risk. He did the right thing here.”

The Merlins gaze wanders from my grandfather over Marcone and back to me. “You have many supporters Dresden.” He says. “But be careful. We will not tolerate you interfering with any of the White Councils business. If you decide to leave you are on your own.”

I smirk. “That’s okay with me. Its like a retirement for me.”

The Merlin frowns disapprovingly before shaking his head and looking at Injun Joe who used the time to heal most of the wounded wizards on the ground. Of course he couldn’t do much for the dead.

“It’s time to leave for the headquarters. We have much to clarify.”

His gaze drifts to the remaining members of the fake Senior Council who still stand on the hill. They weren’t even clever enough to bolt. “There are still some questions left.” He looks at me one more time. “I am confident that we don’t see each other again, Dresden. For your sake I hope I am right.”

And with that he opens another way to the Nevernever that probably leads to Edinburgh. “I trust you to handle the rest.” He adds with a look over his shoulder to Ebenezar who just nods and the Merlin steps through the portal.

One after another Ancient May, Rashid, Injun Joe and the still living wizards follow. Ebenezar stays behind to take care of the dead.

The portal closes behind them until the only ones still standing around the lake are Murphy, Thomas, Ebenezar, Mouse, Marcone, his bodyguard and myself.

I sigh and take a deep breath. I didn’t even noticed how tensed I was the whole time. I still can’t believe it's over. I did it. I really quit. When I look at Thomas I have a pretty good idea how he felt when he told Lara what he thought.

Ebenezar squeezes my shoulder. “I have to go, Hoss. There are many things to do. But we talk tomorrow. I find you.”

I look around the lake and have to suppress a shudder. If I had figured this out just a little faster so much could have been prevented. When I look up at my grandfather I am sure that he knows what is going on in my head. “What happened has happened.” He says. “We can’t change it now.”

I press my lip together. “Yes I know.” I say.

Ebenezar nods and steps away. “Tomorrow.” he says.

And with that he turns around and opens another portal to the Nevernever, probably to get some reinforcements to deal with the bodies.

When he is gone Marcone lets out a sharp laugh. “You know Dresden, you really surprised me with this. I didn’t think you had it in you to quit.”

I look at him and frown. “Don’t you have other places to be?”

His gaze turns sour. “You could at least thank me for saving your ass.”

He is unbelievable. I roll my eyes at him. “I guess I could, but I’m afraid my patience has run out for today.”

Marcone shrugs and turns to Thomas. “I don’t envy you. Dresden can be a handful, but I’m sure you know that already.”

Thomas snorts. “I lived with him for months. Believe me, I know.”

I elbow my brother in the side and proof my maturity by giving Marcone the finger.

The mob boss just laughs. “Okay, I’m out of here. Don’t call me if something else comes up, Dresden. Learn to deal with your own problems.”

He turns around and signals his bodyguard to go.

“What will you do with your rogue bodyguard?” I call after him and ignore his last comment.

Marcone looks over his shoulder and arches a brow. “I don’t see why this should concern you, Dresden.”

I snort but don’t expect him to listen to me. Its Marcone after all. “Maybe don’t kill him?”

He doesn’t dignify this with an answer, instead he just turns to his bodyguard. “Do you think we have cell reception out here? I’m not in the mood to walk back to the city and Dresden blew up my car.”

“That was not my fault.” I mutter.

Murphy appears next to Thomas and me and together we watch the lake for a few minutes. The layer of ice already melted and the ducks returned to their natural habitat. Its almost peaceful if you ignore all the blood and the bodies.

“Do you think you did the right thing?” Murphy finally asks.

“I don’t know.” Thomas and I say like one person.

One second later we all burst into a fit of hysterical laughter. It takes us at least three minutes to calm down.

I am the first to break the silence, still slightly breathless. “Stars and Stones, it’s been a crazy day…”

Mouse barks affirmative.

“What do you think is happening now?” Thomas asks and his voice is serious again. “With the White Court and the White Council I mean.”

I frown but before I can answer Murphy interrupts me. “You are both lucky that doesn’t concern you anymore.” She says.

“Yes, I know that, but what do you think?  How will they get over this?” Thomas continues and gestures around the lake where you can still see the wreckage the fight left behind.

Murphy rolls her eyes. “Oh you know how it is. They scream a little at each other until they find someone else they can blame for all of this and then before you know it: Peace Talks.”

I sigh tiredly. “I guess I can only hope they are done blaming me.”

Chapter Text

The library is pretty much what I expected it to be. Bookshelves with lots of books, quiet corners where people can sit down to read, and several strict looking librarians, who no one in his right mind would dare to cross and who keep staring with disapproving looks at my dirty coat and the big dog I brought.

It’s late in the afternoon and there are few people in the building.

After the fight Thomas and I slept at Murphy’s house because she thought our current flats wouldn’t be safe anymore. His because of Lara and mine because of Molly.

I didn’t tell her, that her house wasn’t the best hiding spot if someone really tried to find us. It’s not a secret that she is a friend. Of course I realized after waking up a few hours ago, that she probably already thought of that, when I walked into Billy and the Alphas as soon as I stepped into the kitchen.

She must have called them last night to watch the neighborhood and I was so out of it I didn’t even notice.

Thomas and Murphy decided to drive to our flats to bring our stuff to Murphys until we found somewhere else to stay.

So I followed a hunch, took Mouse for a walk and ended up at the library.

I see now that it was maybe more than a hunch.

She is sitting at one of the smaller tables in the back, where almost no one ever goes because it’s the section where the DVDs are stored. I may not be the best to ask for technical advice but even I can tell you that the whole streaming trend brought the death of nearly every visual medium on the market.

Today Molly’s blue hair is done in a messy bun, her black boots are on the chair next to her and she seems to be immersed in a big book.

If I ignored everything I know about her I could almost believe she is still the same girl from a few years ago. Of course I wouldn’t have for all the world caught her with a book back then. Especially not in a library.

Mouse begins to growl deep from his throat and I scratch him behind his ears to calm him down, a move I can manage by now without even crouching down next to him. My dog is rather big.

“Grasshopper.” I say as a greeting and let myself fall onto the chair next to her. I don’t take my hand of my staff and Mouse doesn’t relax either. I guess we are still a little on edge after all, what happened.

I know she probably won’t do anything in such a public place, but I also know that I maybe should stop to compare her to the girl I once knew. That’s a thing that she made painfully clear yesterday.

She puts her finger between the pages of the her book before shutting it and looking at the clock which hangs on the wall behind me.

“It took you long enough.” She says and lifts a brow at me.

“Well,” I say and try to read the title of the book upside down. It’s something in Latin and how the heck can it be, that she is better with this language than I? I probably shouldn’t be surprised. My Latin is the worst. “I needed my beauty sleep. It takes a lot to uphold perfection.”

She snorts. “Your jokes didn’t get better since you died, Harry.”

I try not to be insulted. “Why did you tell me where to find you?” I ask and decide to be the adult for once.

When I woke up at noon I pulled the torn pieces of the scroll, I picked up last night after the fight, out of my duster and stared at them for at least two minutes before I decided that Molly was far too clever to leave anything to coincidence.

If there was a hint to this library, that’s where I could find her.

“I wanted to talk to you.” She says slowly as if I was dull.

Now its me who has to snort. “Oh come on. Did you think your plan would work and you could gloat right now? I hate to tell you, that it failed. The real Senior Council showed up and played the diplomacy card. Lara agreed to talk. It’s over. All you did was causing the death of many people for basically nothing.”

“I know all of that already. I’m not stupid, Harry.” She says. “And I also know, that you didn’t tell them it was me who was behind it.”

I stare at her speechless.

She takes her boots from the chair next to her and lets them fall to the floor with a dumb thud. Then she leans forward until her eyes meet mine. I see a little hint of amusement in hers.

“Why didn’t you tell them it was me?”

I still don’t say anything. I won’t give her the satisfaction and admit that I physically couldn’t accuse her, even though I know that is what she’s getting at. She obviously knows about the rules of the Winter.

“You couldn’t, Harry. That’s why. You are the Winter Knight. Act like it. I told you yesterday and I will tell you again. I know you want to use the power you have. There is no reason to resist. I saw what you did at the lake yesterday.”

I stare at her. “You were there? Why didn’t you intervene?” She could’ve kept me from sending Murphy to get the Senior Council. She could’ve killed Lara and the vampires would’ve never stopped fighting. But instead she just watched?

“I didn’t have to. I stated my case. You couldn’t solve the problem without the powers of the Winter Knight. It’s just a matter of time until you won’t be able to suppress them anymore. I would have done you a favor, if you had let me cut you off from your friends. Sooner or later you will lose control.”

“You mean like you?” I reply and my voice is bitter.

She smiles. “No, not like me. There is a difference between losing control over your power and embracing it.”

“You may be right, when you say I can’t control it.” I say. “But at least I haven’t lost myself yet.”

I stand up from my chair and look down at her. She still smiles at me. “I will find a way to help you, if you want it or not. I owe this to your family and to you. I was the one who dragged you into this mess and I will also be the one who gets you out of it.”

“You can probably try.” She says and shrugs nonchalantly. “But until then it would be good for you to remember that you are still the Winter Knight, and I am the Lady. You answer to me, Harry.”

I feel a cold shudder creep down my spine when she gets up from her chair too and puts the book into her messenger bag. “I see you soon, Harry.”

She turns to leave but I grab her arm before she can walk past me. “What should I tell your family?” I ask.

I feel how her skin grows colder beneath my touch but I don’t let go. She is not able to hurt me with frost bite. We are both servants of the Winter now.

Her head turns around slowly and I think I imagined the spark of longing in her eyes, even though I wish I hadn’t.

“It is probably best if you tell them I’m dead.” She says and her voice is bare of any emotion.

I stare after her when she walks past the bookshelves to the exit.

Next to me Mouse leans his head against my leg as if he is trying to comfort me.

I scratch him behind the ears again and let out a long sigh. “I know.” I mutter to him. “I miss her too.”


 

When I arrive back at Murphy's house, Ebenezar is there and waits in the kitchen for me with a hot cup of tea in his hands and a grim look on his face.

The Alphas are nowhere in sight so I guess Murphy sent them away.

She, Thomas and my old mentor occupy the stools around the kitchen island and look up when I enter the room.

Thomas and Murphy nurse their beers while Ebenezar’s mug can’t fool me for a second. I can smell the Whiskey the tea is spiked with from the doorway.

“What is the occasion?” I ask when I step inside and take the remaining stool next to Murphy.

I notice that Thomas is especially pale and his grip around his beer is tight.

Murphy frowns at him and answers when he doesn’t say a word. “We ran into Lara Raith at his flat.”

Immediately the anger boils up inside me. “What, did she try to change your mind already? She couldn’t even wait a day to show up again?”

Thomas snorts. “Of course she tried. Don’t worry, I said no. It will take more than a few tricks to convince me otherwise, now that I finally managed to see behind her façade. Took me long enough if you ask me.”

To my surprise it’s Ebenezar who answers first. “It is more difficult than anything else to accept that the people we love have failed us. It must’ve took a great amount of strength to finally cut ties with her.”

Thomas laughs bitterly. “She still has Justine. As long as that is the case I will never cut all ties with her.”

I squeeze his shoulder. “Then we get her back. That shouldn’t be so difficult now that we have leverage against her but she has nothing against us.”

I know that it is difficult for him to accept help but he takes a deep breath after a moment. “Okay.”

A few seconds we just sit there lost in our thoughts.

Then Murphy seems to remember something. “Where were you?” she asks and frowns at me.

Mouse manages somehow to jump onto one of the normal kitchen chairs which wiggles alarmingly under his weight but doesn’t break.

“I went for a walk with Mouse.” I say. “And met Molly.”

Three humans and one dog stare at me. The humans shocked, the dog bored.

“You did what?” asks Thomas and I roll my eyes at him.

“Don’t worry. She won’t kill me. But she also won’t let me help her. I guess I just have to keep trying.” I reply.

Ebenezar sips at his tea. “I don’t know if there is anything to help, Hoss.” He says quietly.

I know that the anger must show in my face. “There is. If you think like this about her, you can also think like this about me. There is always some way to help.”

“You know I have the urge to punch you right now, Harry.” Says my brother and I see surprised that there is an angry grimace on his face.

I blink at him. “What do you mean?”

He takes a big gulp from his beer before setting it down a little bit to hard on the counter which earns him a stern look from Murphy. Then she sees his face and refrains from saying anything about potentially damaging her kitchen.

Thomas looks at me again. “Do you remember that you killed yourself because you thought no one could help you with the Winter Mantle? Do you remember you would’ve rather died than dealing with a power you had no control over? I already told you my opinion about this.”

I close my eyes for a second. Of course I remember.

It was hard for Thomas too, because he had to deal with his demon for most of his life and my actions must have implied that a fight like this was not worth fighting. That someone with this sort of raw power should be eliminated just on the off chance that there is no control about it.

I know I made a mistake with that and I will regret it for the rest of my life. I hurt many people with this decision. Thomas is one of the few that told me to my face why.

Maybe it’s time to apologize.

“I’m sorry.” I say. “I can’t take back what I said or did back then but maybe it helps when I tell you that I never thought about you this way. I never thought you couldn’t be saved. I guess I just didn’t expect to be strong enough to deal with something like the Winter Mantle the way you managed to deal with your demon for years. But I realized it’s possible and that there are things you have to hold onto to keep yourself together. Things like family and friends. Maybe Molly can be saved. I think there is still hope.”

The last sentence I direct at Ebenezar who followed the whole exchange with a frown. I don’t know if he realizes what we were talking about, but he probably guessed a few things.

Murphy looks relived. “It was about time you realize that, you big idiot.” She says and her smile is bright. “We won’t go anywhere.”

I look at Thomas, who nods after a moment. “Apology accepted.” He says. “And never think again you are not strong enough to handle what is thrown at you. I saw you fight and win too many battles to believe that.”

A few seconds there is nothing but silence before Ebenezar speaks again.

“I came here for another reason.” He says and sets down his mug. “The White Council charged Augustine Farrell and the rest of his Senior Council with treason. There definitely will be a trial.”

“Good.” I say and walk to the fridge to get a beer for myself. When I opened it I take a sip and close my eyes with a sigh. It’s not Mac’s, but nonetheless delicious.

Ebenezar shrugs. “It is certainly what was expected after this ordeal but I have bad news too. Gregory Cristos managed to somehow keep his name out of the whole mess.”

I look at him stunned. “What? But he was the one who ordered them to replace the real Senior Council! He waited for the right opportunity when all of them were out of the country. Farrell basically told me Cristos gave him permission! You were there!”

Ebenezar doesn’t look happy. “Yes, we know that, and his people probably know it too, but there is no proof he is behind it. He stayed in the background the whole time. He never openly stood at Farrells side and he didn’t sit in the false Senior Council himself. Even if Farrell would accuse him, no one would listen to a traitor who tries to save his own neck.”

“There has to be a way to convince the Merlin. If Cristos didn’t reach his goal this time he will try again!” My voice is full of anger. This is proof that Gregori Cristos has evil intentions. He just waits for the right moment to overthrow the Senior Council. “We can’t let him get away with this!”

“You can’t do anything, Hoss.” Ebenezar sighs. “It’s too risky for you to meddle with the White Council affairs after you decided to leave yesterday. You heard the Merlin. There is nothing you can do.”

I think about that for a moment. He is right of course. I don’t regret quitting but it is pretty inconvenient for any further investigations against the Black Council and it’s suspected leader Gregori Cristos.

“I can’t, but you are still there.” I say after a minute. “You can observe them and you can tell me what you saw and maybe we can stop them somehow.”

“Harry, are you sure you want something to do with this?” Murphy asks. “You stepped away from them for a reason.”

“Maybe something like this was Gregori’s intention the whole time.” I say and dread comes over me. “Maybe they wanted to get rid of me, because they suspected I could get behind this? At this meeting they accused me of treason without any proof before giving me an impossible task to solve. I knew they didn’t trust me. And now I did exactly what they wanted. I am out of their way.” I have to take a deep gulp from my beer again to calm myself.

“There is something good to it.” Thomas says slowly and I turn to him with a questioning look.

He shrugs. “Look at it this way: Now you are no longer with them, you are no longer bound to their rules. You can investigate them without fearing to be accused of treason. You have an unique position where you know how their system works because you were a part of it, but don’t have to answer to them anymore except for regular crimes of course. You can bring them down.”

He looks at Ebenezar. “You even have an inside man. And if you manage to find proof for this Black Council you talked about, you are an outside party. They may believe you more than someone from the inside who could’ve been involved in this.”

Ebenezar looks at my brother and a smile slowly spreads over his face. “You seem to be rather familiar with this kind of reasoning.”

Thomas smiles a little sadly. “I grew up in a house where you have to be well informed to stay alive. I learned what you need to do to give a person the dirt on somebody else.”

“So this is basically like a case.” Murphy interjects with a smile. “I know my way around these. Suspect pool should be first.”

“Well we have Gregori Cristos and his allies.” My grandfather says. “It shouldn’t be hard to get the names now that we know for sure he is part of this.”

Murphy pulls a notebook from her jacket pocket. “Great, let’s start with them.”

I look at the three of them, how they sip at their drinks and lean over Murphys notebook which begins to fill with notes and I can’t suppress the smile that spreads over my face.

I didn’t even realize how good it feels to have this people at my side until I was short before losing them. But here they are. Two of them trying to solve a problem that shouldn’t concern them at all and all three of them endangering their lives with it. I can’t even begin to think what I would do without them.

“Harry?” Murphy asks quietly and I realize she must have said my name already a few times.

“Yes.” I say and blink at her. “Yes, sorry. I’m here.” I step over to them and look down at the notebook on the counter. The first page is already filled with names and theories.

“I could use my consultant with this.” Murphy says and her smile is warm.

I grin in response. “Oh I really missed this. Let’s catch these bastards.”


 

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Thomas asks me for the fifteenth time in the last hour since I told him where we would go.

I roll my eyes. “My answer to that didn’t change in the last two minutes, you know?” I reply a little annoyed.

He shifts in his seat and his hands cramp around the wheel like he needs something to hold onto or he would fall out of his seat.

Murphy gave her car to us after letting us promise that it would be returned to her in the same state in which we received it. She also told me I would pay the bill if I should break something and I can understand her suspicion, given my track record in the last few days.

Mouse barks from the back seat and it sounds like Get a move on already! I’m pretty good at understanding him by now.

“Even my dog says, it’s okay.” I say to Thomas and my brother sighs and closes his eyes for a moment before letting his hands fall from the wheel.

“Alright.” He says. “Let’s do this.”

He doesn’t even wait for an answer from me before he is out of the car without pulling the key from the ignition. He is probably afraid he will change his mind if he waits too long.

I exchange a knowing glance with Mouse before I take the car keys and get out of the passenger seat.

Mouse jumps out behind me and trots over to the door of the house we parked in front of. Thomas stands on the sidewalk and steps from one foot to the other.

“I should probably go…” he mutters to himself and he already turns around but I grab his arm and drag him behind me across the lawn and to the front door.

“Nope.” I say. “No excuses. We are doing this.”

I don’t let go of his wrist while I knock at the door in case he could decide to bolt in the last second. I hear steps from inside of the house and a moment later the door opens and Michael Carpenter grins at me.

He leans heavily onto his walking cane but his smile is wide. “Harry! Finally, we already waited for you!” I decide not to mention that we sat in a car in front of his house for the last twenty minutes.

He opens his arms and I let go of Thomas’ wrist, trusting my dog to keep watch for a minute while I step into a one armed embrace with my old friend.

“It’s good to see you.” I grin at him. “You look sunburned old man.”

Michael laughs. “Oh you know, camping trips. Not used to all the fresh air. Though the campsite you recommended was a good choice. Charity would’ve probably killed me if I didn’t listen to your risk assessment first before choosing a place.”

“I’m glad I could help.” I say.

That’s the moment Michael spots Thomas behind me and his smile turns into a frown.

I step in before he can say something. “Michael. I believe you met Thomas Raith before?”

He looks at me again a little bit suspicious. “Harry, what is this about?”

Thomas‘ gaze is anxious. “Maybe I should go…”

I shake my head. “No, you shouldn’t.” My eyes meet Michael’s. “I should probably introduce you again. Michael: This is Thomas, my half-brother. Thomas: Michael, a very old friend.”

Michael stares at me as if I had grown a second head right in front of his eyes. “B-brother?” he stammers shocked.

Thomas takes a step back. “I don’t want to intrude. I really should go now.”

I am about to tell him he will go nowhere when Charity’s voice sounds through the hallway behind Michael and a second later the woman of the house appears next to her husband. She wears a dotted apron, the sleeves of her blouse are rolled up and there is flour at her hands as if she was in the middle of backing something. Somewhere in the house I can hear voices.

“Michael?” she asks and frowns at him. “What is taking so long? Why haven’t you invited him in?”

Then her gaze drifts to Thomas and she lifts a brow. “Oh you brought a guest?” she asks politely and I have to give her credit for not losing her composure because she knows who Thomas is the same way Michael did until seconds ago.

“Harry says, this is his half-brother.” Michael finally gets out and his voice is still stunned as if he isn’t sure he pronounced the word right.

A few moments there is just silence. Then Charity snorts loudly. “And that’s the reason you are all standing around in the doorway staring at each other?”

We don’t answer. We probably don’t have to. It was rhetorical.

Charity exchanges an annoyed look with my dog as if to say, Men, and if that’s not unfair I don’t know. Then she drags her husband to the side so the doorway is open for us. “Well, stop with that nonsense and get inside, already. I have a cake in the oven and no time for this.”

I blink at her but step into the house and Mouse follows me.

Thomas hesitates at the threshold until Charity rolls her eyes one more time, grabs his arm and practically drags my brother inside. “You are lucky it isn’t cold outside yet.” She grumbles when she finally closes the door.

Michael turns to her and points to Thomas. “Charity, he is-“

She interrupts him. “Yes I know who he is. Harrys brother. Nice of you to finally tell us by the way.” She says and wrinkles her nose in my direction.

“You knew?” I ask stunned.

“Oh I certainly suspected something. Maybe not this but there had to be a reason for you to trust someone like that, I know that much.”

She smiles at me. “Maggie is upstairs. I want you all out of my way. I’m in the middle of preparations for three birthdays and two charity bake sales and did you know the washing machine is still broken, Michael? Can you please look at that already? And if someone could think about dinner I could maybe finish my cakes before midnight. Thomas, Harry leave your coats over there, Michael didn’t assemble the new wardrobe yet. It came in a thousand pieces with a manual in Chinese.”

And with that she hurries down the hall and back into the kitchen where the blender starts a few seconds later.

Thomas exchanges a helpless look with me. “Is she always like this?” he asks.

I smile at him. “Always.”

Michael snorts. “There are quiet days. But they are rare. It’s when the children are in the house that she tries to fix everything at the same time. I think it makes her happy. She never was one to sit still.” His face turns a little bit sad and I know he must have thought about Molly.

I squeeze his shoulder. “Are you alright?”

His eyes meet mine and the expression in his is almost pleading. “Did you hear something from her?”

I sigh. “I talked to her, yes. She looks well.”

I see tears in his eyes. “Did she say something about coming back?”

It’s clear he hasn’t much hope. It is difficult to see him this way. Lost. He doesn’t even know for sure what is happening to his daughter.

“I will bring her back.” I promise instead of answering his question.

Michael takes a deep shuddering breath and nods. “Thank you, Harry.”

After that he looks at Thomas who pretends as if he hadn’t listened and clears his throat. “I’m sorry. I forgot my manners for a moment.” He holds his hand out to my brother. “If Harry trusts you I can do that too. Welcome.”

Thomas stares at him and seems a little lost but finally takes the offered hand. “Nice to meet you.” He says and smiles tentatively.

I let out a long relieved breath and Michael gestures to the stairs. “You heard Charity. Maggie is upstairs. I should probably look at that washing machine. It’s not good if you come back from a weekend trip in the country side and the thing is broken.”

I laugh. “I can imagine. Should I order something for dinner?”

He looks at me as if I was a hero. “Yes, that would be great. Tell Maggie it’s her turn to choose what she wants.”

I nod, clap him onto the shoulder and he leaves into the direction of the kitchen.

Thomas looks after him frowning.

“Are you okay?” I ask him.

“I hadn’t suspected them to take it so well.” He says slowly.

I smile. “Yes, they are remarkable people.”

Mouse barks affirmative from the bottom of the stairs and wiggles his tail to tell me to get a move on.

“Ready to meet her?” I ask my brother.

He looks a little bit nervous but nods. “As ready as I will ever be, I guess.” He replies and together we climb the stairs.

I knock at the door to her room while Mouse waits impatiently. After a moment my daughter opens and is immediately knocked down to the floor by a big excited Foo-dog.

“Mouse!” she shouts happily and laughs while he licks her face and she scratches him behind his ears. “I missed you too!”

She has grown quiet a bit since I saw her the last time and that’s something that always makes me happy and sad at the same time. I really try to be here more often but its not easy if you have a job that keeps surprising you with live threatening situations.

But like I said, I really try to make time for her and be a better father. Maybe today I can make another step in this direction.

Mouse gets five full minutes of kindness and affection before he jumps off my daughter and she can get to her feet again.

Her gaze falls immediately on me and a smile spreads over her face. A moment later she has thrown herself into my arms. I could hold her like this forever.

“You are back!” she laughs.

“Nice of you to notice.” I grin down at her. “For a moment I thought you didn’t even see me.”

She takes a step back from me and smirks. “Thank you for bringing Mouse back. Did he help you? He always helps me.”

I crouch down in front of her and nod. “He was a very good dog. He kept me save but I know you need him more. He belongs to you now.”

She nods seriously. “I know. I even taught him tricks. Do you want to see?”

The smile won’t disappear from my face anymore. Its just so good to see her. “Maybe later. I want you to meet someone first, Maggie.”

I stand up and step aside so Thomas, who hung back in the hallway, can step forward.

“This is Thomas. He is my brother and also your uncle.” I introduce him.

He smiles tentatively at Maggie who inspects him with the look of a child who knows a little bit too good that you shouldn’t trust a stranger right away.

“Hey Maggie.” My brother says and my daughter frowns at me.

“Why didn’t you tell me about him before?” she asks matter-of-factly.

I crouch down in front of her again. “Because until yesterday nobody knew about it. It had to stay a secret and it would’ve been too dangerous for you to know. That’s why I couldn’t tell you before.”

She frowns and thinks about my answer. “Why was it a secret?” she asks after a few seconds.

I exchange an anxious look with Thomas.

He sighs. “Because I am no wizard.” Thomas says and surprises me with it. “I am different, and some people wouldn’t have liked it if they found out we are brothers.”

Maggie now looks at him more curious than before. She turns from me and I stand up again to observe what will happen next. I know my daughter won’t let go of this so easily. I can’t suppress a little smile. Thomas will probably have to answer a lot of questions, now that he started with it.

“How are you different?” my daughter asks with a calm voice.

She takes another step in his direction and he shoots me a helpless look. I shrug and smile to signal that he is on his own with this one.

“I-“ he begins before closing his eyes briefly and taking a deep breath.

“Its okay.” Maggie says comforting. “I won’t laugh.”

Thomas opens his eyes and stares at her stunned. “Why would you laugh?”

She shrugs. “When someone tells you a secret, that’s what you have to promise. It’s not nice to laugh about a secret.”

“That is a very good advice.” Thomas replies and smiles tentatively at her.

She crosses her arms in front of her chest. “So you have to tell me now. I promised I won’t laugh.”

He hesitates a few seconds and I know this is probably more difficult for him than any fight he ever fought. He is not used to talking to people about himself. The people who are interested in him mostly already built themselves an opinion and don’t care for more information.

“I am a White Court vampire.” He says finally and I see that he braces himself for rejection.

A few seconds Maggie just stares at him. Then a smile spreads over her face. “Cool!” she shouts and turns around to me. “I read about vampires and they are my favorite monsters!”

“Maggie!” I hiss and her eyes widen when she realizes what she said.

She turns back to my brother whose expression is blank again. Shit. Maybe I should have thought less about how my daughter would react to this and more about my brother.

“I didn’t mean you are a monster!” she is fast to explain. “I just meant vampires are really cool and I read a lot about them and I have sooo many questions because they are strong and they can fight and they know what they want and don’t care if people call them bad names! Did you know they don’t like garlic? I also read they burn in the sun.” her brow furrows at the thought. “Do you burn in the sun? If so, that’s okay. I can borrow you a black umbrella and Charity doesn’t cook with garlic anymore since Michael said he doesn’t like it. Do you drink blood?”

All of that bubbles out of her in less than a few seconds and after she finally stopped bombarding Thomas with questions, she is practically jumping up and down waiting for answers. I’m sure she hasn’t even scratched the surface of her curiosity with all of that. Well, I should know. I am her father after all.

Thomas seems pretty overwhelmed and speechless.

“Do you want to sit down?” Maggie asks softly and a little bit sheepish as if she just realized she may have gone to far with her questions.

Thomas blinks at her before looking at me.

I respond with an encouraging nod and he doesn’t resist when Maggie takes his hand and drags him to one of the bean bags in the corner where he sinks down with a deep breath.

She takes the other bean bag and Mouse settles at her feet. “Can you answer one of my questions now?” she asks cautiously after a few seconds and I know she has to hold herself back to not ask them all over again.

He blinks at her but nods after a moment and looks down at his hands. “Sure. Ah, I don’t burn in the sun.”

Maggie frowns. “You really can go into the sun and you don’t burn?” she clarifies as if she is in the middle of an interrogation.

The hint of a smile creeps over my brothers face. “I am pretty sure I would’ve noticed by now.”

She pouts. “That’s dumb. All the books say vampires burn in the sun.”

He shrugs. “The people who wrote these books weren’t vampires. How should they know?”

Maggie thinks about this for a moment before nodding seriously and crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Tell me more.”


 

It’s half an hour later and Maggie still has questions.

I settled onto the floor with my back against the wall and closed my eyes. I’m still pretty tired from the events of the past days but the conversation is too interesting to sleep through it, so I just sit there and listen while pretending to be asleep to give them a little bit space.

Thomas answers every question my daughter asks without hesitating. She is disappointed that most of the stories she read about vampires aren’t true but that doesn’t stop her from coming up with more questions than I could ever imagine.

“Can you control people’s minds?” she asks.

My brother hesitates for a moment. “Let’s say I am pretty good at getting what I want.”

“Oh, it would be so great if I could do that too. My teacher is pretty mean sometimes.”

I can practically feel the cold that suddenly comes from Thomas and my whole body goes rigid too.

“What did he do?” he asks and his voice is dangerously low.

“It’s a woman. Mrs.Scott. She is nice most of the time but she gives us additional homework when we were too loud in class and I think that is really unfair.” Maggie says and her voice is cheerful.

I relax and can feel the cold vanish from the air when Thomas lets out a relived breath too. I guess we were both a bit paranoid for a second. Besides, Mouse is with Maggie at school. He would never let anything happen to her there.

A moment later my daughter gasps. “Your eyes were silver!”

I open my eyes in the same moment Thomas closes his and turns his head away. “I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have seen that.” He says.

Maggie frowns. “Why? They look total cool! Can I please see again?”

I stare at my daughter stunned. What have I done to deserve such a great child?

Thomas looks back at her and seems completely speechless. He is so confused that he probably doesn’t even notice how his eyes are still a little bit silver and turn back slowly to their normal color.

“Wow!” Maggie exclaims. “I want to see again!”

Thomas blinks a few times. “Maybe later.” He says and a smirk appears on his face. “But you can tell me about this teacher of yours. Perhaps I can convince her to not give you so much homework? I can be very persuasive.”

I snort but don’t comment on that. He kept his answers entirely child friendly during the whole conversation and I am very grateful for that.

A second later I realize, I forgot to pretend to be asleep when Maggie taps me on the shoulder. “Are you awake?”

I sigh and open my eyes. It’s pointless anyway.

My daughter grins at me. “You missed all the good answers.”

Next to her Thomas rolls his eyes. “He wasn’t asleep. Believe me, I know.” He says.

“Because you are a vampire?” Maggie asks in a conspiratorial whisper.

Thomas laughs. “No, because his snoring is loud as a buzz saw.”

Maggie bursts into a fit of giggles and I whack my brother in the shoulder.

He lets out a feigned yelp of pain before he joins Maggie’s laugher.

I stand up from the floor muttering under my breath. As soon as I am on my feet again my stomach lets out a low rumble.

“What do you want for dinner? Michael said we can order something and you should decide.” I say to Maggie and wait a full minute for her to calm down enough to answer the question.

She thinks about it for a while, and it looks like it is a very tricky question for her.

“I like pizza.” she finally says.

I smile at her. “What a coincidence. My brother likes pizza too.”

Thomas snorts. “Who doesn’t like pizza?” he looks at Maggie. “Your dad should probably order a salad. Sometimes I think he runs entirely on burgers and steak sandwiches from Mac’s. Can’t be healthy if you ask me.”

“What is Mac’s?” Maggie replies curiously and Thomas arches an eyebrow.

“Okay, girl you missed a lot with this one. Let me explain to you…”

He launches into a long explanation about McAnallys, lemonade, neutral territories and the best steaks in the city and I am about to go looking for a phone to order pizza when I suddenly feel something strange.

It’s like an icy shudder running down my spine. I turn to the window and look outside into the garden. Something is there, I’m sure of it, even though I can’t see it.

“I’m right back.” I say to Thomas and Maggie, who are so absorbed in their conversation that they don’t hear me. Maggie is pestering my brother with questions about the faeries now and he gladly tells her everything she wants to know.

I throw one last look at the two and with surprise I realize that I trust Thomas to look out for her.

I close the door behind me.

When I step out of the house and onto the lawn, there is this feeling again. It’s a cold seeping from the air into the plants. I can see snowflakes in the breeze even though it must be still 80 degrees outside.

I know who arrives like this.

“So it was you all the time.” I say and turn to the Winter Queen. She’s standing ten feet from me on the street in front of the Carpenter house. Her look is beautiful as ever. She wears a flowing dress that looks like someone sewed thousands of icicles together. The ice spreading beneath her bare feet is sending glowing light beams around.

Mab’s smile is mysterious, seductive and frightening at the same time. She is good at that.

“I told you it wasn’t me.” She says and her beautiful voice sounds like the first snowflakes of winter in my head.

“Yeah, and as usual you lied without lying. It was Molly, but you made her do this. It was your plan all along. You couldn’t stand to share me, could you?”

She still smiles even though it is colder now. I have the feeling that I’m playing with fire, uh ice I mean…

“I told you before, you are far too clever for your own good, my Winter Knight. Be careful so you don’t burn yourself again.”

I snort. “You are funny. This isn’t a game. You can’t just provoke people into fighting a war, just because you’re jealous. That’s not how anything works.”

She arches a perfectly trimmed black eyebrow. “But it did almost work, didn’t it? Your White Council on the brink of breaking down, furious about something no one should care about, accusing someone who didn’t do it. The vampire leader, seeking revenge for a crime nobody in the White Council even knew of. Your brother nearly wiped out of existence, and your human friend with him. Your grandfather and you, divided by your different world views. The anger was already there. They held up this façade of diplomacy while waiting for a good reason to destroy each other. I just gave them a reason. It would’ve took just a few more hours and there would’ve been no single connection left to anyone in your life. You would’ve been entirely mine.”

I smile grimly at her. “But it didn’t work. You forgot something.”

She looks at me questioningly. “And what would that be?”

“Nothing is predictable, not the people nor their actions or thoughts. You could’ve tried this whole thing under other circumstances and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are too many unpredictable errors in your plan.  That’s the problem. People come with errors. That’s probably why I stopped planning too far ahead a long time ago.”

Her face stays motionless but I can see the cold anger in her eyes.

“You know what was the biggest error of all?” I ask and smirk at her. “Underestimating the power of family. It’s a foreign concept for you, that’s why you don’t understand it. I almost pity you for that. I know the feeling because for a long time I also didn’t know what family meant.”

“There will be other possibilities in the future.” She says. “You can’t run forever from me. Your human friends will die, your family will turn away from you. You will be alone and from this moment on you will be mine. Nothing will keep you from fulfilling your duty. I can plan, and I can wait.”

My smile spreads even wider until it’s a predatory grin. “You can try, sure. But if I learned one thing in my entire life, it’s that nobody can predict what’s going to happen next. I could lose all of it. I could be alone, but it could be also you who loses everything. I learned to take what’s coming, because you can’t plan for every situation. It just happens and when it’s there you have to deal with it.”

She looks at me and now I can feel and see her anger spreading like an icy blanket over every object around us. “I will bring you down to your knees. It happens all the time. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later, but each Winter Knight before you crumbled down in the end. There is always order behind things.”

“No.” I say and with a sudden certainty that everything is going to be okay:

“It’s just constant chaos.”

 

THE END