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The Matter of Chicago: A Dresden Files AU
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July 2013
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Luce [userpic]
BOOK TWO: putting out your fires with gasoline [6/?]

Table of Contents

Title: putting out your fires with gasoline, Book Two of The Matter of Chicago
Rating/Warnings: Back to PG, for violence.
Word Count: This chapter: 6,734. This book: 32,499.

Notes: Sorry this chapter is late. Was playing Portal 2 last week. Priorities.

Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five

I didn't stop to think about what I did to John. I didn't have time. It didn't matter that what started as a pleased flush of accomplishment at pulling one over on John Marcone faded into a sick, guilty feeling in the pit of my stomach. It didn't. Besides, John had betrayed me first. Turnabout was fair play. I shouldn't have felt...


I retreated back to the mezzanine area near the Gold Coast Room. I needed to find where Michael and the others had gone. By now, they could need my help.

There was some chalk in my pocket and I drew a circle around myself, the pale white line just visible on the shiny floor. I took the few hairs I'd yanked off Michael and set them at my feet. Next I got a vial of copper filings out of my pocket and tapped them onto the same spot. Finally, I rubbed at my eyes until I got a few eyelashes free. The three items ready, I broke the circle with my foot, casting one of my tracking spells. They were getting a lot of mileage today.

I blinked a few times as my vision went blurry. When it cleared, the spell had taken effect. A copper-colored haze was floating like inexplicable fog by the door. As I watched, it wound away, down a hallway and up some stairs.

Bingo. Michael had gone that way. I made a futile attempt to tug my now very loose pants up. Without the belt and cummerbund, they kept falling. I fisted one hand in the waistband and pulled my blasting rod out of the fold of the jacket. It was the only one of my focii that I could smuggle into the party. Which was fine. If any Denarians showed up, I was going to want to do some blasting.

I took the stairs two at a time until the post-coital lethargy caught up with me. Sex took it out of you sometimes. Luckily, the copper trail swerved away from the stairs and to the elevator. I jogged after it and followed it inside. I pressed the button that glowed with the fog and leaned back against the wall, trying to make a knot in my pants to keep them up. I had a little luck, but it looked like I was wearing the weirdest pair of hip-huggers ever.

The doors pinged open and I walked out into the copper fog. It led me to the left, down between the suite doors. It was eerie, all those closed doors. Sometimes I passed one with muffled television or conversation on the other side, but the majority of the place was quiet.

The fog started filling my vision, making it hard to see. I assumed that meant I was close so I cut the spell early, letting it dissipate. The hallway took a sharp left ahead. I inched along it, pressing my back against the wall. At the corner, I peeked around the corner.

Immediately, I was jumped. A sword alighted on my throat, making me recoil and press flat against the wall. "Don't, don't--"

Sanya dropped Esperacchius from my neck, letting out a loud breath. "Harry, you're here."

"Yeah. Was detaining John." So to speak. I surreptitiously yanked my pants back up. Sanya looked me up and down, taking in my disheveled attire, and gave me a befuddled stare. "Don't ask," I said before he could.

"All right." Sanya motioned me to follow and brought us around the corner to where the other Knights were kneeling behind an ornate fixture. "We received the message. The Churchmice are in that room," he whispered to me, pointing at a door halfway down the hall from us. "They are waiting for Marcone to come with the money."

"They're going to be waiting a long time," I muttered. "We have a plan?"

Shiro looked over his shoulder at me. "Not exactly. But their message mentioned a radio frequency they and Marcone agreed on earlier."

"So we can't just walk up and pretend to be John's reps. Okay." I nodded, thinking quickly. "We got to get them out of there some other way..."

"You have something in mind, Harry?" Michael was looking at me cautiously, like he could tell I was about to try something stupid. We'd known each other a long time. Maybe he could tell.

The fact that I took off my pants just then might've given away the fact I had a really dumb idea. I shucked them off, then frowned at them, wondering if... nah, no point in trying to bring them with me. I already lost the cummerbund. I wasn't getting the deposit back anyway.

"Yeah. You could say I'm dressed for the occasion." Tuxedo shirt, jacket, and yellow ducky boxers, the perfect uniform for the occasion. I tucked my blasting rod back into my jacket before starting off down the hall.

As I neared the Churchmice's door, I let my footfalls get heavy and irregular, stomping and stumbling erratically. I let my shoulder bump hard against the wall a few times and fakes a manic giggle. Once I got to the door, I slumped against it loudly and jiggled the handle. I put on a bit of drunken drawl and called, "Sh-shannon? Shaaaaaannon, Shannon, open th' door, I forgot mah caaaard." I knocked a few times. "Shannon, I know you're 'wake, honey. Come on, I, erm... I lost my pants. Shannon, you seen my pants?"

Pressed against the door, I could hear movement inside. I put my ear to it and Listened for a moment.

Inside, I heard someone with a thick French accent ask, "Why can't we just shoot the connard?"

A woman with an equally thick but mixed accent said, "We shoot people for being drunks now, Gaston? What, are you going native?"

I pulled out of my Listening and slapped my hand against the door. "Sha-aaaaaaaahn aaaaaaahn nooooon," I singsonged. "Honey, can you jus' hand me 'nother pair of pants?"

After another moment, I heard steps on the other side of the door. I put all my weight on it, so when it opened, it shoved open, catching on the chain. A face appeared in the gap, pretty with dark eyes and short hair that was blonde, but showing darker roots. She pursed her lips and said, "You have the wrong room, sir."

"Noooooo, lissen, lissen, jus' tell Shannon I'll leave her alone, I jus' need another pair of pants. See?" I wriggled my hips to draw her attention to my fashionable ducky boxers. "Gotta another in the suitcase, just get'em for me?" I whined at her, simpering and faux-tipsy.

The woman rolled her eyes and snapped, "There's no Shannon here. We're very busy and you have the wrong room."

I made a show of rocking back on my heels and looking at the number on the door. "No, dun think so. 225."

She said something venomous in another language under her breath. "522. This is 522!"

I did the whole rocking back, squinting at door routine again. "Oh. Oooooooh. Sorry, lady. I got, um. Number dyslexia."

"Dyscalculia," she said. "You should go back to your room, sir, we're busy."

"Riiiiight, right, right, right." I peered around. "Which way's the elevator?"

She sighed and pushed the door shut. I almost panicked and blasted the thing down, but she just took off the chain and opened it enough to step out. She pointed down one direction. "This way, then take the corner and keep going. Understand?"

"Oh, you are an angel, lady. Here, lemme give you something for your trouble." I stuck a hand in my jacket.

"That's not necessary."

"Nah, lemme just grab my wallet here," and I spun out my blasting rod and tossed a, "Forzare!" at her.

Not a big one. I mean, given the circumstances, she'd been really nice to me. I didn't want to hurt her.

The woman went tumbling down the hall. Inside the door, I heard the sound of a gun cocking and the man inside saying, "Salop! Anna!"

I threw up my shield in time to block a gunshot. The Knights moved in. Sanya and Michael were at my shoulder while Shiro went to Anna Valmont. She was getting to her feet and pulling a gun. Shiro's sword was still sheathed and he swung the walking stick disguise, hitting her hand and knocking the gun away.

Gaston fired off more shots at me, the bullets hitting my shield and stopping dead. I considered waiting until he ran out of bullets, but the woman (presumably Francisca, the last of the Churchmice) was behind Gaston and loading a pistol of her own. She grabbed a clip from a large duffel bag on the floor next to the bed. There could be more ammo stashed away. This could turn into a long showdown and we didn't have time for that. John wouldn't be delayed indefinitely. This was borrowed time.

I lifted my rod so it rested against the inside curve of my shield. "Contegus forzare!" A trick I picked up when dealing with Bianca's hit teams, I propelled my shield away, soaring across the open area between me and the two Churchmice in the hotel room. The solid force of my shield clipped Francisca and she spun, falling on the bed. Gaston took it right in the face and was slammed into the opposite wall. Ouch.

"Stay down! Don't make me take another swing at you!" I nodded to Sanya, who ducked under my outstretched arm and rod, heading into the room. He searched quickly, efficiently, and came up with a courier tube. He held it up.

Next to me, Michael said, "That's it."

"You sure?"

"I can feel its power. Yes." He drew out his sword and then I could feel it, the similar resonance of power in the items. Michael's sword-- all the swords-- were allegedly made from the nails of the True Cross. The holy artifact vibe was strong with them and with what was in the tube.

We had the Shroud. It was almost too easy.

Strike that 'almost.'

The hotel room window smashed inward with great force, glass shards flying everywhere. Silvery metallic tendrils wound inside, bracing against the walls and ceiling, then flexed. The form of Deirdre lifted up into view, the Denarian's face twisted into a mad smile. She shifted into the room, four eyes bright with delight. "Why, we've been looking for that! Thank you, fair Knights. Your aid in tracking the Shroud has been invaluable."

Gaston dragged himself onto his knees in front of her and got his pistol back up. She gave him a look of utter disdain, like he was no more than an annoying fly and she was holding a giant flyswatter. Deirdre wrapped one tendril around him and started to squeeze.

"No!" Sanya burst into motion, his sword flying out of its sheath. "Harry!" He took only a half second to throw the tube before bursting into action and striking, his blade slamming brutally down on the tendril, cutting it like a hot knife through butter. Deirdre screamed in fury, and I didn't see what happened next because Michael grabbed the tube out of the air and shoved it into my chest.

"Go, we will deal with Deirdre. Get the Shroud to safety."


"GO!" He pushed me down the hall and pulled out his sword, moving to join the fray. All the Knights versus a Denarian in close quarters with civilians (criminal ones, granted) on the line. I didn't like the odds, but I knew better than to think adding me into the equation would make things better. I was primarily a combat mage, and while months of honing my skills had made me more precise, I wasn't good enough quite yet to be able to throw fire and wind magic around without hitting my friends. So I ran, one hand wrapped tightly around the canister holding the Shroud.

My emotions were not quite steady, so I skipped the elevator, knowing it wouldn't hold out. Running down stairs wasn't a hardship, really. I practically flew down them, focusing on keeping my feet on the steps and avoiding overbalancing and sending myself rocketing down into a railing or something.

My sneakers left streaks of darkened rubber across the floor when I came to the ground level. I took three seconds to pant for air before bursting through the door. From there, it would be a short run to the lobby and out the door and I'd be able to vanish into the city, as safe as ever.

But something was waiting for me in the lobby. The room was torn apart, the carpet ripped up and ruined, the floral centerpiece and its table sideways, slipping onto the floor. There were screams, and some sort of siren from inside the building.

And between me and the glass doors was a bear on steroids. It was massive, its ram horned head grazing the ceiling, its six-legged body blocking the exit. It put out dark, revolting energy, like Deirdre had, emanating from its head. It, like Deirdre, had two sets of eyes and an ancient rune on its forehead.

It looked at me and seemed to grin, it's mouth filled with too many teeth. It spoke, the sound coming from no where in particular. "Wizard. Nicodemus wishes audience with you."

"Sorry, my schedule's a little booked right now. Maybe some other time." I dove sideways, figuring I could forget the main exit and find another.

The ursine Denarian roared ferociously and leaped forward, into my path. I stumbled back, lifting my rod at the same time. "Fuego!"

Fire erupted from my rod and hit the Denarian, which... didn't seem to notice. It growled, stepping closer to me, and I scrambled backward, onto my feet, mind whirling. My magic didn't even glance it. That... was not good. I hugged the Shroud to my chest and brought up my shield bracelet.

I made a game attempt to run for the door, but the Denarian followed too quickly and swung a paw at me. I put up my shield, almost screaming as my barrier was pounded by the monster. I went to my knees, focusing and pouring as much will as I could into my shield as the Denarian lifted its paw again, ready to hit me.

Behind me, I heard a bellow, "HARRY! DOWN, NOW!"

Before I even recognized John's voice, my body was responding to the urgent warning, dropping to my side with my arm pulled over my head and around the canister. I heard a metallic click, then the tell-tale rat-ta-tat-ah of an automatic rifle.

Of course John brought his Kalashnikov to the fancy formal party.

The Denarian roared again, staggering back in the hail of bullets. I twisted to look back at John, who was dressed again, looking immaculate in his tux with the rifle braced against his shoulder. The only sign of our earlier romp was on lock of hair loose against his forehead.

Hendricks stepped in beside him, leveling his own rifle and taking aim. Quite a few Outfit goons appeared from the ether and joined their boss in pinning the Denarian against the wall with cold lead. The thing didn't go down easy, but even in the supernatural world, few creature could shrug off that kind of onslaught. The goons weren't all packing Kalashnikovs like John, but everyone had a firearm that packed a punch. None of them were legal in Chicago.

"May I assume that's a Denarian?" John called over the gunfire.

"Astounding deduction, Holmes!" I replied.

"Move this way, we'll cover you!"

I almost did it instinctively, before remembering, right. I had a Shroud to rescue.

I propped myself up on my elbows and started to wiggle out of the way, across the floor to the door. I wasn't certain if John was protecting me or the Shroud, but at the moment I didn't care. I ignored the shout he gave when I started to get away. Once I was out from under the bullets, I pushed up to my feet, grabbed the Shroud, and legged it.

Chicago in February was brutal when you were missing your pants, but I didn't have much choice in the matter. If anything, the cold helped me run faster. I needed to get the Shroud to the Church, but I also needed to get my ass out of the freezing air.

I could only hope John would be okay dealing with the Denarian. I could only hope the Knights would keep Deirdre from julienning some not-quite-innocent bystanders. Neither of those were my concern then. I just had to get the Shroud away.

But I was worried. And tired. And aching physically and emotionally. The guilt I was putting aside kept threatening to take over. I just didn't have time. I could deal with what I did to John later. I needed to focus if I was going to survive this.

And yet... Christ. The easy warmth of him holding me against his chest. The raw betrayal in his tone when I manacled him.

I slowed, thinking of stashing the canister somewhere only I could find and going back to help. I wanted to make sure everyone was okay. Not knowing was killing me. Maybe I could--

"Good to finally meet you, Mr. Dresden," purred a voice close to my ear. I yelped and spun around, ready to fry whoever got the drop on me. I was met with shadows. Nothing was there.

It was too dark for a Chicago night, I realized. I backed away, gearing up to hex the unnatural blackness. Streetlights, passing cars, the glow of the buildings-- any and all should have been there. The city was never this dark.

I looked around and saw it was all around me, like someone had flicked off the light of the entire city. Before I could figure out what was doing it, the shadows reached for me. A curl of blackness caught my rod and tore it out of my grasp. Another got my ankle and yanked. I only barely kept my balance, but lost hold of the canister as I pinwheeled my arms.

A hand came out of the shadows and caught it before it hit the ground. Out of the black stepped a man in a suit with a strange tie around his neck. His hair was dark and his eyes were somehow peaceful and utterly deranged all at once. He looked at me and smiled, and my blood ran cold.

The darkness looped around me, around my neck and arms and legs. The oily wrongness of the power wrapping around me was familiar. I put the pieces together.

"I hear you wanted to speak to me," I said to Nicodemus.

Nicodemus grinned. "Oh, yes. We have something to discuss, you and I. But not here. Not with the Knights so near and your patron closing in." He tucked the courier tube under one arm and tugged a plain brown bottle out of his pocket. He poured a little out onto a handkerchief. "Let's steal away before he finds us, hm?"

John. John was nearby. I took a deep breath and started the yell his name as loud as I could. Nicodemus cut me off with one sound slap across the face. I gasped in pain and then the handkerchief was against my nose and mouth. I panicked, trying to jerk away, but the shadow held me still and Nicodemus followed my movements, holding the cloth in place.

Chloroform smells sweet, but chemical, like a more cloying rum or tequila. It only takes a few frantic breaths before it takes effect and you fall down, down, down...

I woke up in chains.

I could feel the metal around my wrists. In my first few seconds of consciousness, they were my entire existence, pain blazing furiously. I was hanging from them, and the cuffs bit into my wrists. I could feel blood down my arms, lukewarm against my cold skin. I was shivering uncontrollably, hard enough it made my teeth chatter and bones hurt. My clothes were all gone but for my boxers, and where I was, it was hardly shelter from the wintry air.

Eventually I gathered enough strength to open my eyes and look around. The room I was in was dark, the air smelling damp. It looked ruinous and unfit for habitation. There was some kind of light coming from behind me, probably a fire of some kind, given how it flickered and shifted over the walls. In the dim light, I could see windows, but beyond them was dirt and rock.

Undertown, I thought wearily.

My arms were pulled up while I sat on the ground, my legs tucked up beside me. Around me on the ground was chalk. I was too out of it to catch the specifics, but I recognized a magic circle that was heavily reinforced. Someone knew how to lock me in.

Above me, I could feel the manacles around my wrists weren't your run of the mill dungeon material. They were thorn manacles of some kind. The last I'd seen them, my Godmother had strung me up with them, back when I made our initial deal. When I reached for my power to try to get them off, the thorns dug cruelly into my skin, drawing blood. I stopped, whimpering, unable to handle the increased agony. So my magic was effectively muted. Great.

The manacles were connected with a long chain that ran up and tied off to a tall wooden post that I was leaning against.

I was pretty thoroughly captured.

It took a while, but I built up the strength to lift my heavy head and look past my little magical cell. The door of the room was behind me, and standing by it were two big guys who looked like they came from the same Goons R Us John must've shopped at. Except maybe these guys came from the discount bin. They had twin bland, unseeing expressions on their faces, standing stock still. Each was holding a lit torch. They looked like statues instead of people.

I wet my chapped lips. "He--" I coughed. "Hey, how's it going? Anyone got the time? I think I nodded off there for a bit. Did I miss Law & Order?"

The guards said nothing, though one left the room quietly.

I sagged back against the post. "Cold room. In more ways than one." I made an effort to get my hand out of one of the manacles, hissing in pain when one of the thorns dug hard into the ball of my thumb. I was good at getting out of handcuffs, one perk of having a magician father, but most of my tricks required me to be conscious when the cuffs are being put on.

I went through my gambit of escape artist skills with no success. It probably didn't matter anyway. I could see the ring of chalk around me and while I didn't recognize the symbols used, I could feel their power to contain. Trying to walk out of the circle would be like walking into a brick wall. Nicodemus knew what he was doing.

Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.

Nicodemus swept into the room, walking around the circle on the floor to face me. "Awake, I see, Mr. Dresden? Good, good. How is your head? I understand chloroform can leave you dazed afterward."

"Where's the Shroud?"

"Safe," Nicodemus said, though I imagined our definitions of the word weren't the same. "But let's discuss other things for now." He pulled a chair over and sat in front of me, hands folded neatly on his knee. "I have a deal to offer you."

I grinned. "Watch it. I think the last guy who said that to me regrets it now."

Nicodemus nodded patiently. "Yes, yes... John Marcone. You've been allied with him for some time now. Until recently, am I correct?" He leaned forward, giving me a kind, considering look. I averted my eyes. I didn't know if these Denarians had souls, but I did not want to find out. "I'm afraid I'm a bit sketchy on the details, though I daresay I can guess. A useless mortal trying to keep up with a being such as yourself... that can't be an easy relationship to navigate."

"John is not useless," I snapped. "I seem to remember him turning one of your pals into swiss cheese at the Drake."

Nicodemus tutted softly, shaking his head. "Harry... May I call you Harry? Harry, you should look at this objectively. Obviously you enjoy this man's company and his power, but let's have some perspective. He is a powerful human. All his resources and weaponry and people pale in comparison to the potential of Margaret LeFay's son."

I let out a breath like I'd been punched. My mother. She'd died giving birth to me, but I knew a little about her. A few spare photographs my dad had left me and his stories. He'd never hesitated to talk about her. I knew her moods and her liked and dislikes. The pendant around my neck had been hers.

But I didn't know her history. Everything was second-hand from my father. Who she had been before she met Dad was a mystery to me. I knew she was close to the Faerie Courts, enough to secure the Leanansidhe as my Godmother. I knew she was a wizard like me.

And now I knew she'd been acquainted with the Denarians.

If Nicodemus was telling the truth. Grain of salt, Harry. He was basically working for the devil.

I didn't let the name drop bother me. "Because you know so much about us."

"Oh, but I do. The fates are positively buzzing about you two and your city." His face grew grave. "I'm afraid that's why I'm here. The two of you are a little too popular in the precognitive society."

I made a show of rolling my eyes. "Destiny and fate and prophecy? You really going to trot that out? Come on."

"I understand the instinct to be dismissive of some things. But I took the liberty of questioning several prominent prescient magi around the world. Many had insight on you and your mortal lover and your city."

My stomach twisted. "And how many of these precogs survived your questioning?"

Nicodemus smiled. "It is dangerous to leave such... resources where your enemy can find them."

I shut my eyes. How many people did this asshole kill? And how had he gone about convincing them to tell him about the future? Maybe I didn't believe in God, but I definitely believed in an absolute evil. Nicodemus wore it like cologne.

"All right, Nick. How's about you make me that offer I can't refuse so I can tell you to go fuck yourself and we can finish this up early?"

A woman's voice said, "Mouthy, isn't he, father?

It was Deirdre. She wasn't all scaly and medusa-haired anymore, but I could recognize the shape of her face, pretty but too thin. She padded barefoot into the room, a kimono wrapped around her, belted loose around her hips. She didn't so much walk to Nicodemus as glide sensuously, tossing a smile at me like she wanted me to look. She stepped behind Nicodemus' chair and draped herself across his shoulders, her hands slung low around his chest. I felt my face grow hot with an uncomfortable flush. Something about them was wrong.

"Hm, I had noticed, Deirdre." He reached up, curled a hand around his daughter's neck and pulled her closer. "How are you feeling?"

"Better. Ursiel is still recovering, but he should be restored in time. Cassius is laying low." Her words made me give her another once-over. She looked drawn, a little too pale, like she was coming back from illness. There on her shoulder, not quite hidden by the fold of the kimono, were a few round scars. I recognized them as how a gunshot wound looked after months of recovery. Though, given she was a Denarian, maybe a few hours was a better estimate. Stars, they must have been virtually invincible.

"Good, good. Let me kiss it better?" Nicodemus asked and Deirdre smiled and shrugged so part of her robe fell aside. Nicodemus leaned in to kiss it better. With some unnecessary teeth and tongue.

Oh, gross.

Deirdre laughed brightly. "Father, later. Have you made him the offer yet?"

"No. No, you're right. Priorities." He gestured to the door and a goon stepped into the room and in front of me, just outside the circle. He was holding a little velvet jewelry box out to me and with a flick of his finger opened it to show me the contents.

It was a coin. A tarnished silver coin, old and covered in patina. In the center of it was sigil of one of the Fallen Angels.

I lifted my eyes from the coin being offered to Nicodemus and his daughter. "Really? You want me to join the Nickelheads? Are you serious?" I laughed, because it was just so... ridiculous.

"I know, but consider it a favor to your dearly departed mother." Nicodemus sighed. "To see her son killed in the crossfire when it could be prevented... You understand I must try. It's what she would've wanted."

My jaw set, teeth grinding as anger washed over me. "Shut up."

He held his hands up. "Now, now, Harry. I don't mean to upset you. I can see you don't have the privilege of knowing much about your mother." He gestured open-palmed to the coin. "Why not accept the coin for now and let me explain to you what we're trying to do. See if it appeals to you at all. If not, you'd be free to go." He put his hand back on Deirdre, running the back of his fingers over her skin. Ugh. "In the meantime, I could tell you a little about your mother. I was rather fond of her. We were similar, she and I."

"Shut up!" I snarled, jerking against my binding. "She was nothing like you!"

Nicodemus simply raised one eyebrow at me. "My dear boy, how would you know?" He got up, took the coin from his henchman, and knelt, holding the box out like a man proposing. "Give us a chance. I'll tell you all I know about Margaret of the Fae, and you can decide for yourself how dissimilar we are."

It'd be a lie to say I didn't think about it for a moment. I thought about my only photos of my mother, the few scraps of memory left to me by my father and the gaps between. I had no idea who she was before she met Dad. And I wanted to. What kind of wizard was she? Where did she come from? How'd she get tangled with the Fae and the Denarians?

I could say yes. Just until Nick told me about her. Then throw the coin aside and leave with more knowledge about my family.

But what if I couldn't? Michael and the Knights had warned me about the coins, that they were temptation and they twisted people into monsters. Looking on Nicodemus and Deirdre, I believed it. I didn't want to join their creepy, murderous, incestuous ranks.

Nicodemus stared hard at me. He snapped the box shut. "If you won't join us, we'll use you to send this city into chaos, Mr. Dresden. We need a powerful sacrifice. Someone so deeply entwined with the fate of Chicago will do nicely." He tried to catch my eyes. I didn't let him. "Are you sure this is how it's going to be?"

"Yeah," I said. "It is."

Deirdre sighed. "Well, we tried. Perhaps we can capture the other one?"

"No. I have the feeling he'd be just as stubborn. Chicago is in his blood, after all." Nicodemus sighed and drew a handgun out of his pocket. "What a shame."

He leveled the gun at my head and I-- I didn't want to die. I fought, pulling in my magic even as the thorns pressed into my skin, trying to get enough will under my command to make a shield or to strike back. Or to get my death curse ready. I'd make sure Nicodemus didn't get anywhere near my city and my friends.

"The bowl, Father," Deirdre said quietly, like she didn't want to interrupt.

Nicodemus blinked, then laughed. "Of course, what was I thinking? No good to waste a sacrifice." He clicked his fingers at one of the guards. "Fetch the bowl, it you would." He put the gun away and pulled out a nasty-looking curved knife instead. "We'll do this the old-fashioned way. The old ways are the best, I find."

I kept trying in vain to gather my magic to me. I didn't want to die like this. Not now. Not with Chicago in danger. Not with my friends-- my family, the people who'd welcomed me into their lives-- in danger. Not with... with John...


I struggled as Nicodemus watched me dispassionately. The thorns dug deeper and deeper into my skin, until I was biting down to stop screaming. I thought they couldn't possibly push further into me without hitting bone or something. I had to try, even as I bit into my lip and blood flavored my mouth.

"What a waste," Nicodemus murmured.

Fucking Nickelheads. I got myself ready to let out my death curse. Even with the manacles agonizing me, I had to give it a shot.

Behind me, there was a low smashing sound that almost startled me out of my concentration. Nicodemus and Deirdre both looked up in surprise. Deirdre slid out of view, eyes narrowed and suspicious.

She wasn't out of my view for more than a few seconds before she let out an inhuman screech. Nicodemus swore. "The Jap. Stop him, stop him!"

There was a flurry of motion. But it was behind me, and I couldn't twist far enough to get a good look with my hands bound above me. I saw the glint of light off a sword, heard the meaty thump of a body hitting the floor, and managed to see Deirdre yanked back against tiny Knight Shiro, Fidelacchius held against her throat. The entire fight took place in the span of about five seconds. What little I got to see of it was impressive.

I laughed. "The cavalry, finally!" I burst into a bit of song, "Here they come to save the day!"

Nicodemus broke the circle, walking forward to me. He put his knife at my throat, digging in just enough that he broke skin. A trickle of blood ran hotly down to my collarbone. "Let her go, Knight."

"A trade," Shiro said.

"It is a single Knight against two of the Order of Blackened Denarius. We will win."

A single Knight? Shiro came alone? That wasn't good. That was extremely not good. I liked Shiro, don't get me wrong, but this was a cavalry moment, not a lone rescuer moment.

"Let the boy go," Shiro said, his voice steady and confident.

Nicodemus chucked darkly. "And why would I do that?" I couldn't see what was going on with Shiro, but suddenly Nicodemus' eyes widened and his Grinchy smile grew. "Oh. Oh, clever Knight. You knew I couldn't resist an offer like that." I yelped as he dug the knife harder against me. "Swear to me on that sword of yours."

"I swear upon Fidelacchius, in return for the boy's safety, I will make no attempt to fight or escape you for a day's time."

"Are you insane?!" I snapped. Nicodemus grabbed me by my hair and slammed my head back into the post. I was dazed, my vision going blurry.

"It's all right, Harry. Have faith," Shiro said to me, then to Nicodemus: "Do you accept?"

"Certainly, Knight." The smile on Nick's face was about the fifth or sixth scariest thing I'd ever seen in my life. "Gentlemen, would you escort Mr. Dresden outside? I think it's time for him to go."

It sucked being shackled in place. I couldn't do anything as some goons stepped up behind me. A cloth gag was tied into place, muffling my screams, and a hood went over my head. I never liked hoods, as they reminded me too much of my trial back when I killed Justin. I fought back, trying to get free, thinking that with the circle broken, I just needed to get the manacles off and I could save Shiro and kill the hell out of Nicodemus and his demonic daughter/lover.

When I wouldn't settle, someone punched my in the face, hard. I kept at it and was hit again in the same place. A few swift smacks and I quieted, less because I wanted to and more because the pain was making me dizzy. I was dimly aware of being picked up and slung over someone's shoulder, and carried away.

It was a long, cold walk through Undertown. Every time I started to rouse, I got hit again. I kept still, waiting. Once they took the manacles off me, I could fry their asses and go help Shiro.

But when they threw me out of Undertown, they left the thorn manacles on. I rolled along the ground, surprised at being bodily tossed like that. Once I stopped, I struggled onto my knees. With my hands bound in front of me, I got to pull off the hood and yank the gag out of my mouth.

I turned back to Undertown to find... ice.

There was a thick sheet of ice over the archway back in. It was dense enough I couldn't see anything through it. It was too much. Nothing could freeze over that quick.

I got shakily to my feet and went to the ice. I touched it, hoping it was just an illusion. It didn't feel like one, freezing cold and wet and hard under my palm. I knocked on it and winced at the pain that flared in my knuckles.

I could feel magic in the ice, but not illusory. Nor did it feel like the tainted power of the Denarians. It was something else entirely.

Whatever put it there, it didn't matter. I couldn't get back to Shiro. I couldn't help.

If I didn't do something, Shiro was going to die.

I wracked my brain, trying to think of what I could do. Without my magic, I felt powerless. And this late at night, I couldn't figure out where I was, exactly. Undertown had so many entrances and exits into Chicago, I could be anywhere. I needed to get back to Michael and Sanya. They could help. Bob could tell me how to get these fucking cuffs off.

I stepped out into the dark street, looking around, trying to pick the right direction to go in. My ears were ringing and my eyes kept crossing from the beatings I'd taken. Thinking in a straight line was a conscious effort.

Before I could figure out where I was, a light fell over me. I turned, squinting into the headlights of a car, shielding my sore eyes.

A car door opened and a voice I recognized called out, "Mr. Dresden, sir? Is that you?"

My jaw dropped. "Franklin? Franklin-not-Frank?" He'd been the Outfit goon I met, god, a year and a half ago? Two years? Nice guy, maybe too nice to be a mobster.

"What happened to you, sir?" Franklin stepped into the light. "You look like you were hit by a truck. No offense."

"None... none taken." I reached out, grabbed his arm. He saw the manacles on my wrists and blinked, like he wasn't sure they were real. "Listen, I need your help. I need to get somewhere."

Franklin looked up at my face, frowning. "I... uh. Well, I'd love to help, but you're kind of persona non grata according to the Boss..."

"Except in dire, life-threatening circumstances, right?"

"How did you know that?"

"It doesn't matter. Look," I grabbed both his shoulders, partly for emphasis, partly because I was about to fall over on my ass without support. "I just need you to take me to Wrigleyville. I've got friends there. They need to look me over. I could have... I don't know, internal bleeding or something."

Franklin didn't look convinced. "I don't know..."

"Franklin, think about it. If I bleed out and die on your watch and you did nothing to help me, just how pissed is Marcone going to be?"

He bit his lip, looking around like John was about to jump out of the shadows at him. "I... guess I'm heading that way anyway?"

I smiled, relief flooding me. "Good man."

Chapter Seven

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Yes update! Never disappointed with the awesomeness of these. Really admire how you blend canon into your story and detail. It really works.

Oh. Also I snickered at the return of the yellow ducky boxers and fake!drunk Dresden <3

Look forward to more. :D


Also, DAMN I bet John's SO PISSED.

Ditto on the FRANKLIN!!! So doofy, so cute.

Yay! I was looking forward to this, and you did not disappoint.
Quick thoughts-
1) Ducky underwear! I bet John has wanted to "lose" them more than once.
2) Prophecies are never, ever good. But dammit, they are interesting. :D
3) I have a little soft spot for how much attention you've paid to the inter-Denarian interactions- they're eeeeevil, but they've got actual personalities and connections to each other.
4) As always, very good Harry voice.
5) Oh, John. Oh, Harry. You both need so much professional help.

1. Now I imagine Harry getting John Batman ones for Christmas or something and John trying to lose those.

5. I would never wish either of them on a psychiatrist. Too cruel.

Shiro! D:

Everybody's in conflict with their emotions now. At least, Harry and John is. Harry's probably feeling guilty for tricking John, losing the Shroud, and Shiro. I wonder if John realized that Harry was kidnapped?

And Harry's wanting to know anything about his mother but having to resist. D:
If only her life story can finally be revealed so we can understand why she had these kinds of "allies".

Looking forward to the next chapter!

At this point, John doesn't. He was handling something else at the time.

Indeed. If always sucks when Butcher hints at something awesome but hasn't gotten around to it yet.

I'm tired and lack coherency, but I love your Denarians. :D And must join the chorus of people who're happy to see Franklin!

Oh, Shiro. One of my very favorite short lived characters.

Cigar smoking Elvis loving Japanese Knight of the Cross. He's a bit of a Too Cool to Live character, I think.

Lovely chapter, as always. The Denarians are, as always, evil and skeevy, but you still managed to capture their personalities very well. Your take on canon, and the divergence from it, was excellent, and I love the ways the two stories weave together and then apart and then together again. It really solidifies the feel of a genuine alternate history of the series.

And I adore the return of Franklin. Because I was really hoping he'd show up in this book.

Aw, thank you. If I'm going to make readers sit through DM again, I figure I gotta try to make it as interesting as possible.

Enough people wanted to see Franklin and I needed a way to get Harry back to the others. He kind of just fit in here. 8GD

This is so goooood.

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

Hm. I have it in Hardback already... IDK who would want it. If you wanted, I could ask my FList? I think I got a lot of Dresden folk hanging around there.

It was almost too easy.

From there, it would be a short run to the lobby and out the door and I'd be able to vanish into the city, as safe as ever.

HARRY. REALLY? REALLY? There's optimistic, and then there's slapping Murphy's Law in the face and mooning its mom.

And as per canon, the horror never really ends for anyone, does it? I wonder what would be worse for Marcone's peace of mind--if his men don't find anything, or if they bring back the blasting rod and nothing else. Not to mention you save your lover from impending doom and he runs at the first opportunity. And you don't even get the satisfaction of killing his attacker.

And Nicodemus is sort of amazingly awesome. You know, in that horrific, really-shouldn't-like-him, Hannibal Lecter-type way.

Shirooo~ *grabby hands* The Judi Dench of Dresden-verse. Show up for eight minutes and steal the whole freaking show. Why must you be so excessively awesome? Don't you know that just means you cannot be allowed to live? *mopes*

On the other hand, your grasp of Harry's narration is as impressive as ever. His teetering emotions really color this chapter in all sorts of hurty and amazing ways, especially when Nicodemus punches him in the brain with the name-drop. Harry's hunger for family never really fades, does it?

Also, Harry and Marcone are impacting fate. :D Obviously, we all know they are, but it's nice to know that folks in-verse are figuring it out too.

Thanks for the new chapter!

John sadly has no idea what danger Harry's in. He was busy doing other plot-important things. But he's not going to be happy about it, nope.

srsly. Shiro and Sanya both smack had of Too Cool To Live. I'm shocked Sanya's still alive.

It really doesn't. Poor Harry. Even being Uncle Harry just isn't quite enough...

Hey, thanks for reading the new chapter!


Of course John brought his Kalashnikov to the fancy formal party.

For some reason, I am deeply in love with this line.

Franklin! And Nico being his scary self - is Fidelacchius still with Shiro? I wasn't sure.

Hi Franklin! Such a nice boy. Nic and Deidre are never not creepy.

Oooh, John will be so mad! *rubs hands*

And the ice - Winter? But why would Winter get involved? I don't know who else it could be, though...

Psst. You're on the right track with Winter. Saying more would be spoilers.


I don't think I've commented on any of the new chapters, for which I apologize, but I just have to say that so far Book II is EVEN MORE AWESOME than the first one. The plot is just so tightly woven and engaging, I have to hold my breath in while I'm reading.

I can't wait to find out what happens next!

Don't hold your breath for 5K word chapters! That can't be good. D8

But I'm glad you're liking it. 8D

You're okay! As far as the fact that I've just caught up yesterday this is a speedy update!

Am now probably going to spend the rest of the wip period by clinging to your trouser legs gibbering for an update. :coughs: I am a terrible wip reader, but I can't help myself! How could I not keep reading?

I'm just as bad. The only WIPs I read are on the kinkmeme. D8 The anticipation, it suuuuucks.

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