Category Archives: Dresden

Dresden Writing: A New Start

This is a new piece, with some older characters…I wanted to play with Dini in a new setting, and Aaron’s an old friend that I wanted to bring in. I’ve got a bunch of backstory that I do want to put in, so I’m going to be interested to see where it goes!

 

“She’s been a bit depressed recently,” Lizzy said as she knocked on the apartment door.

“So what do you actually want me to do?” the young man stood behind her asked nervously.

“She just needs some company, really,” Lizzy said vaguely. “A cup of tea, someone to talk to. She used to be a reporter so tell her about some of the cases you’re helping with. That sort of thing.”

The door opened, but he couldn’t see the person on the other side. “You are welcome to enter as my guests,” a flat, tired voice said from the other side, fading as it moved off into the apartment.

“And maybe some cleaning,” Lizzy added quietly as they entered.

The flat wasn’t exactly that it was a mess, Aaron thought. Just that the few things that had been used from a once-neat home hadn’t been put away, and nothing had been swept, or cleaned, or put out in the bins for…he sniffed. Weeks, certainly.

“There’s tea somewhere, but I don’t have any milk.” It was a woman’s voice, coming from the bedroom, and it sounded uncaring.

“Well, there’s your first task, Aaron!” Lizzy said brightly. “Shop’s two minutes round the corner.”

He opened his mouth, nodded, and took the cash she was holding out.

The shop was only a thirty-second jog, and he got the milk easily. He wondered about biscuits, too; he’d have to check what food she had. Maybe someone else did the shopping…

The door was shut again, and he knocked politely. After a minute, it swung open again. “Please come in, guest.”

This time, he got a look at her. Slightly below his height, with grey eyes that were accentuated by deep, dark circles, and a rat’s-nest of tangled white hair. Her t-shirt hung from her shoulders, and the bones of her thin hand stood out as she held the door. She smelled of sweat and tiredness, and something that he couldn’t place; something acrid and unsettling.

She was giving him a thorough once-over as well, and he suddenly felt very exposed – and very bulky, compared to her thin frame. And then she shocked him out of his embarrassed thoughts. “Which pack?”

“What?”

“Which pack?” she repeated.

“How…”

A faint smile twitched the corner of her mouth, and he knew that he was going bright red. “You look like a cub.”

“I’ve been Changed since I was fifteen!”

“And you still act like a cub?” The faint smile was still there; he wondered if it was meant to be as cruel and mocking as it seemed.

“I’m here to train…”

“Stop baiting him, Beth,” Lizzy said from the kitchen. “He came from York.”

“And that explains everything.” The woman let go of the door, the animation fading from her face, and turned away. “He got milk.”

“He’s going to come round every few days. Just to have a chat.”

The woman sat down in one of the armchairs, ignoring the two books, pile of discarded clothing and a half-full coffee mug resting on the arm. “Sure.” It was said with a tired sigh.

“He wants to be a detective. He’s been helping ____ out with some of her cases.”

Beth took the mug of tea that Aaron held out and immediately put it next to the coffee on the arm of the chair. He wondered if she was planning on ignoring it, as she obviously had with the other. “Anything interesting?” she asked him.

“Uh, well, um, we had a case that-”

“They got to investigate… [something that went all wrong and messed up for Aaron].” Lizzy butted in. “Oh, and last week they-”

Aaron sat down and cringed.

 

“It sounded from Lizzy,” Beth said three days later, as they sat with mugs of tea, “ that you’ve rather made a mess of everything so far.”

Aaron felt his stomach shrink. He’d seriously considered not going to visit again, but Lizzy’s face kept intruding whenever he thought about it, and he knew he’d have to answer a lot of awkward questions if he didn’t. Besides, it looked like Beth could use having someone dropping in. “Um, well.”

Her grey eyes were watching him with more sympathy than he’d expected. “Why don’t you tell me how you landed up here, and what you’ve been doing?”

He looked anywhere but at Beth as he tried to give a few details about his pack in York, his move to Oxford, his training with ___. She’d obviously made some effort to clean, or at least put a few things away – the coffee mug had moved from the arm of the chair to the pile by the sink, although as he’d suspected, the tea mug had remained where it had been put when he last came.

“So you’re not part of the pack here?” her voice asked. She still sounded sympathetic.

“No.”

“So?”

He knew what she was asking, and he didn’t want to answer. “I prefer being on my own.”

Silence. He risked looking up, and found her watching him thoughtfully. She wasn’t judging. Wasn’t asking anything else. She was just considering it.

And then she said, “I know the feeling.”

“You’re not a werewolf?” he risked asking. She hadn’t smelled like one, but she’d clocked him as soon as she saw him…

“No. Grew up around them, though.” The smile wasn’t so faint now, and he felt obscurely pleased. “So what have you been up to this week?”

 

He started going over every few days, in between investigations for ___ and talks with Lizzy. Beth was always there – he still wasn’t sure who did her shopping – and he found that, as he started talking to her about the investigations, she seemed to know a lot about it all. But then, if she had been a journalist…

He risked asking her about that as he tried to collect some of the books scattered around her flat and get them back into the shelves. Beth was curled in the chair, not drinking yet another mug of tea.

“I…yes, I was a journalist.” She’d shut down again, arms curled around herself. “Then I had another job for a bit, and now…I’m here.”

“Where did you…journalist?” Usually his awkward turns of phrase would bring out that half-smile, but she just looked…blank, almost. Tired.

“It’s not something I want to talk about.”

“Ok. Um. How about your other job?”

She just shook her head.

“Um. Ok.” And he went back to sorting books. “So, um, I found out more about that robbery…”

 

The next time he went over, he was greeted at the door by a pale, exhausted Beth, but one who was draped in clean clothes and had wet hair – albeit still in a tangled mess. She was holding onto the doorframe, and managed a half-smile. “Please, come in, guest.”

“Hi.” He stepped in and shut the door, and automatically put out a hand as Beth turned, one hand on the wall. She was visibly shaky today, he thought. “Let me make tea?”

She went through to the kitchen anyway, but conceded to sit on the floor while he made tea. He handed the mug down to her, careful not to let it go until he was sure she’d got it, and then sat down opposite her with his own mug.

Beth put a hand up to her head. “So…can you help me shave my hair?”

He blinked. “Um. Sure. Why?”

The grey eyes looked into his for a moment, frustration and despair warring behind the uncaring mask. “Because I can’t wash it.”

“Um, yes. You might want to wait for it to dry, though. I’ve always shaved it dry…”

Something crossed her face; a flash of annoyance. And then she froze, and he saw pain – just for a moment – before she went to stand, shoving herself up from the wooden floor. Her arm gave way, sending her sprawling; her tea mug tipped, sending liquid across the floor, and Beth landed hard on the wood.

Aaron quickly put his own tea mug down and reached out. “Are you…”

Her shoulders were shaking and he saw her crumple, resting her forehead against the floor as the first sob broke free.

He rested a hand on her shoulder, ready to take it away if she didn’t want him there. “It’s ok. It’s just tea.”

He made out something akin to, “it’s not that,” amongst the sobs.

“Your hair? I’m sorry. I’ll help you. Of course I’ll help you.”

Nothing but sobs from the curled heap on the floor. The hot tea was soaking into her slacks, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m sorry.”

Still nothing.

“It won’t take long to do, and we could probably do it wet too. I’ve just never tried.”

“Please go away.”

He would have missed the words without his sensitive hearing. “No. Lizzy asked me to be here, and-”

“I’m asking you not to be.”

He shrank back. The words had enough snap and bite to have come from a pack leader; how had she learned to put that much command into them? “Ok. I’m sorry. I’ll see you soon.”

He left her sobbing on the floor, wondering how much more of a mess he could make of everything he touched.

 

He asked Lizzy about it, wondering if she could shed any light on Beth – either her hair, or her job, or why she lived alone in a small flat and didn’t go out. Lizzy just shrugged. “She left her last job, I think – it didn’t end well. I know her as a friend of a friend, they asked me to keep an eye on her, and they knew her as a journalist. That’s pretty much it. I don’t know why her hair would be such a problem. It’s a bit of a mess, isn’t it? She obviously hasn’t brushed it for weeks.”

He trailed back to Beth’s flat a few days later, wondering if she’d let him in. She did, with her usual greeting, and then followed him into the kitchen. She seemed a bit stronger today, he thought – and she’d made another effort at cleaning. The draining board was full of washed crockery.

“I…I’m sorry,” Beth said as he filled the kettle. “For last time.”

“It’s ok.”

She shook her head. “No. Ok. Look. I…I used to be able to do a lot of things, and now I can’t. And…I’m not ok with that yet. Thank you for…sticking around, I guess.”

“I brought my razor,” Aaron said. And he got the half-smile in answer, the one that was slowly spreading towards a full smile again.

The white hair came off in clumps; Beth wanted it down to the skin, with only a stubble left. The razor did a decent job, and when they’d finished, Beth gathered up all the hair into a plastic bag and then caught his hand. “Aaron…can you do me a favour? I’ll have to owe you. I don’t really have anything to repay them with at the moment.”

He blinked at her. “Are you kidding? You’ve been helping me with the investigations!”

Beth stared at him.

“Um. Everything you’ve said about the stuff I’ve been looking into has been…really helpful.” More helpful than ____. “If anything, I owe you…”

Beth was still staring at him. And then she ran a hand across her eyes, suddenly looking tired again. “Who suggested that you come here?”

“Lizzy.”

“Not ___? Do they know each other?”

“Well, yes, they meet at…”

“That….conniving bitch.” Beth turned away, fists clenching.

Aaron blinked. “I’m sorry…?”

“Not you!” Beth spun back, looking more alive – and more frustrated – than he’d seen her in the previous few weeks. “That was their plan? Send me some rookie wolfcub to get me interested in life and get me out of the house? For fuck’s sake!”

“I didn’t…”

She waved a hand at him. “I know you didn’t.” And then she seemed to catch his expression. “I’m not angry at you, Aaron. Or them, really. I just detest being manipulated!”

“How long have you been here?” Aaron asked quietly, following her into the living room.

Beth turned, and the anger was suddenly swept away to be replaced by a lost, frightened look. “I…don’t know. What…what month is it?”

“September.”

“Fall.” The word had a curious longing. “I…six months, I suppose. Thereabouts.”

“Then it sounds like you needed me.”

She looked at him, then, a proper look that took everything in; baggy sweatpants and t-shirt that skimmed his muscles; cropped hair and serious brown eyes; faint flinch and hasty apologies; quick smile and easy laugh. “Yes. Yes, I suppose I did.” She hesitated, then, and added, “Do.”

“What was the favour?” Aaron asked, wanting to push away the lost, frightened look.

“Oh.” Beth looked down at the plastic bag. “Can you burn this?”

“Um. Yes?”

“It’s important.”

He nodded, but Beth was giving him a frowning, worried look. “I will,” he said, trying to reassure her. “Don’t worry.”

“It’s not that. You don’t know why I’m asking?”

He shook his head.

“Oh, for…” She turned away, and then half-turned back. “Your alpha. The one who sent you away, told you that you were useless. He never told you any of…any of the important stuff?”

Aaron couldn’t help the flinch. You’re useless. “She.”

But Beth was already running a hand over her shaved head, looking frustrated. “But you wouldn’t know what was important until you knew it. You don’t know what you don’t know.” She made a noise of disgust and turned away again.

“I’m…sorry.” It came out as a whisper to her retreating back.

And Beth spun back again. “Don’t – you – dare! Don’t…” She shook her head. “Aaron, you are not to blame. You are not the one who failed. You’re not the one who didn’t teach a cub what they needed to know to fucking survive! Your alpha…” She was still shaking her head, and he wondered where the life, the vitality had come from. She suddenly seemed twice as alive. “Your pack failed you, and don’t you ever blame yourself for that.”

And then she seemed to shrink again, folding back into the too-thin, tired lines. “Come and have tea, and we need to talk.”

 

Fifteen minutes later, he had his hands wrapped around a mug of tea, and was feeling a little scared.

“You see why I was…I’m not angry at you, Aaron,” Beth said, running a hand across her shaved head again. “But you should know this stuff. It’s basic! Is Aaron your real name?”

“Yes?”

Beth made a noise of disgust. “Please tell me you’ve never told anyone else your full name.”

He tried to think. “I’m not sure.”

“Well, don’t. It’s currency to control you. Same as the hair. If anyone got hold of that and some of your name, you wouldn’t even realise you were being controlled.”

“That’s scary.”

“Yes. It is. And now you understand why I’m angry. Have they taught you about wizards?”

“I mean, I know they exist…don’t make them angry?”

“Soulgazes? Don’t look at a wizard’s eyes for more than a few seconds.” Beth sighed again. “I wanted to shave my hair so I could go out. But…” she looked down, into the tea. “I want to be interested again. I know I can’t live my life here, and I think ___ knows that too. She sent you to talk to me, get me interested…and it’s worked.”

“You want to help?”

Beth managed a smile. “If you’ll have me along, Aaron, I’d like to come and see what you’ve been up to.”

 

Crime-investigating duo to the fore! I just need something for them to investigate now…

Dresden Files: Solstice Fight

After a while of focusing my energy on game planning, I’ve had a kick to get back into writing – and this was the result! An odd piece but good action practice.

I’m dressed in my leather jerkin over my shirt and jeans, pirate boots on my feet and my hair flowing around my head. I don’t look anything like a Knight from the real world, but I don’t need to. The acorn around my neck, the silver-woven bracelet on my wrist, the knife at my belt; they are all the armour I need.

The huge field around me is littered with bodies, dead and alive. There’s things from the worst realms of Fairytale here; we’re in the middle of a nightmare of blood and fighting, worse than any human battle could ever be. It’s the Solstice, and the Summer and Winter Courts are battling it out for control of the Table. Luckily, I’m not having to be a general; Nemain’s directing Summer’s forces. My job is simpler. Distract the Winter Knight.

“He comes!” The Little Folk swoop down towards me, squealing excitedly. They love battles. It’s more fun than parties because they get to use their swords.

Apparently you get in trouble if you stab pizza.

The Fae on the battlefield around me scatter, and I smile at the ice-armoured figure stalking towards me. We’re left alone for these duels, which is exactly how I want it. “Sir Knight.”

“Lady Knight.” It’s a familiar voice, laced with excitement and malice. And then without ceremony he throws out a handful of razor-sharp icicles, intended to slice my chest open, leaving me bleeding and screaming on the ground.

I’m already moving, whirling away to one side and calling my sword into existence as I move. As the flaming blade roars into life I throw out my other hand, dissolving the Knight’s next ice shower into warm droplets. “You’re looking very dashing today,” I call lightly.

He snorts and goes for his own sword. “I’d say the same about you-” A clash and fizz as our swords meet, and then I’ve ducked away. I can’t match his sheer strength, so I have to be quick. “Except I’d use the word fuckable.”

“That sounds like an invitation to get you out of that armour.” I’m dancing across the ground, the flame whirling around my head and body as I spin. The life and laughter that I bring with me is one of the best weapons against Winter’s dark and death; the Knight can’t attack this much vitality, and he’s forced to rely on his ice. That I can work with. Plus, it means we battle to lilting snatches of old folk songs and the laughter of long summer days. It really disconcerts him, and I love it.

“You could ask – instead of trying to – carve it up with a bloody piece – of fire.”

“That sounds far too easy.” I whirl the flaming blade around my back and thrust it towards him. This time it does hit in; I’ve already withdrawn and moved to avoid his return blow, but there’s a singed and melted hole in the side of his armour.

“I’ve had easier fucks,” the Winter Knight growls at me.

“It’s more fun when they fight,” I throw back, feeling the chill from his blade across my neck as it slices a chunk of my hair away, leaving white strands across the battered ground.

“You take it to extremes.” I’m forced into a roll by his next blow and I know what’s coming next; he’s so predictable sometimes…

So I’m already letting my sword fade and calling up protection when the ice blasts out, freezing the ground beneath my feet and filling the air around me with freezing fog. It takes a large chunk of energy to resist the chill and I know the Knight is already charging across the ground towards me, using the fog as cover.

But instead of rolling aside as I would usually do, I lunge forward. My arms meet something solid and then I’m out of the fog and into the clear, actually slamming the Winter Knight backwards into the frozen ground. I use my momentum to tuck and roll up over his head before he can grab me-

His hand catches my ankle and I’m jerked to an abrupt halt, my ribs thumping awkwardly onto something. Fuck, that hurt. I kick his ear and then his wrist while he twists on the ground, trying to get a purchase while also not letting me go. We devolve into street brawling too often for my liking, but you can’t have everything.

He’s materialised an ice knife in his fist and is thrusting it towards my foot. I swing my weight and clout him on the side of the head, and get my foot free as he momentarily lets go. He snarls and rolls as I come to my feet and draw my knife, and then we’re both on our feet again. I’m covered in smudges and dirt, while his ice is still pristine. But hey, I’m prettier than he is even with my face covered in mud.

I see Winter’s familiar lust filling the periwinkle-blue eyes; my shirt’s torn at the shoulder and I know he’d love to take advantage of that. I did make the lust win one Solstice, which was amusing; he had actually got as far as dissolving his armour before Mab turned up behind him.

Ok, that wasn’t as fun as I make it sound. I really did think I was going to die when he slammed me into the ground, and being pinned to a muddy battlefield and raped is only slightly preferable to actually dying. I was surprised when Mab interrupted. Figured she’d enjoy watching Summer get humiliated.

But I’ve got other games to play today.

I attack. He’s forced to block, parry, block again as I dance around him, whirling faster than he can move, leaving melted slices across his armoured body. This is the problem with my attacks; I’m simply not strong or powerful enough to get in directly. I have to wear him down and create weaknesses before I can properly do any damage. If the Winter Knight could actually pin me down, he’d overcome me easily – which is why I rely on being fast.

And it’s working. 

The Knight’s on the defensive. He’s trying to attack but he’s using too much strength healing his armour and trying to keep up with my movements to focus more than a few brief showers of icicles. And before he knows it, between one attack and the next, I’ve slammed him backwards with both feet and then I’m on his chest, knife in my fist and blade pressed into his neck.

I lean forward, and I kiss his cold lips.

The sound from his throat is somewhere between agony and ecstasy. The blade’s digging in and he can’t tell how far I’ve pushed it, but my lips are warm and the life surrounding me is intoxicating. He doesn’t dare move but he desperately wants to take me. He’s too busy fighting with himself to focus on me.

I’ve won.

Around us, the battle is ebbing; it looks like Summer has won the Table back and the world’s back on track. I leave the Winter Knight on the ground, blood blossoming slowly at his throat and his eyes despairing as the armour melts from his limbs. Mab won’t be happy with him, because I let him live.

But hey. There’s always another Solstice.

Dresden Files: Black Court

A snippet from a WIP – the same as this one, actually.

“Right,” the Knight says. “The Blacks probably know we’re here, so we’re not going to be subtle. Let’s whack them as fast as possible.”

“At the cost of the victims?” Grey objects. “We cannot get every vampire at once. They will kill their prey as soon as we approach.”

“They haven’t yet. We can’t get all-”

I put my hand on his arm. “It’s my turn.”

The Winter Knight turns on me. “You can’t-”

“You had your fun.” My eyes are bright; I’m awake, alive, with Summer flaring through me in a golden river. “Black Court respond best to fire.”

He scowls at me.

I point at Marta. “Do you trust her?”

The Winter Knight, unexpectedly, responds immediately. “Yes.”

My smile deepens. “Then put your Mantle away. It’s my playtime.” I don’t wait for his response, and turn to Marta. “Shall we?”

She gives the first proper smile I’ve seen; a wolfish, feral one.

“And me?” Grey says.

I wink at him. “You’re always welcome.” The priest next to him is already re-wrapping the cross around his fist, so he’s in.

The Winter Knight is staring at me with something wistful crossing his face despite the crinkle of irritation around his eyes. And then he lets Winter fade, and Summer blossoms. I spin out, whirling in glee with my hair and bloody clothes flying as I let Summer fill me. The fire and life is mine to command, and I’ve got a scourge to destroy.

“Let’s go!”

I am in the cornfield, my Queen’s lips on mine, her voice in my head and life surging through my veins.

I am alive.

The cavern’s large, with a slippery floor and dripping walls. The river’s close to the surface here. There are humans here; battered and dull-faced people who don’t look up at the noise. It’s also full of Black Court, and they descend on us as soon as we enter the space.

I let my colleagues deal with the nearest ones, just focusing on getting as far out into the cavern as I can. I duck under a grasping hand, slam into three more, and then I’m spinning with the memory in my head and Summer flaring through me, my hands going out, laughter and sunlight following my movements. I light up the cavern with warmth and life.

It’s the equivalent of an atom bomb. The vampires die; the sunshine turns them to dust as it passes across them, their arms reaching and faces screaming soundlessly.

I feel a brief moment of pity for them. Were they human, once? But they’ve chosen their actions and their natures. Summer isn’t always kind, and my fire is burning through me.

Summer is here.

Dresden Files: Black Sea fight

“How far?”

I shrug. “Another couple of hours. We’ll transfer in Istanbul, and then…” I frown, trying to think of my geography and overlay that into the NeverNever. “Black Sea, from the way this is pointing. North side of the Black Sea. Do you want to do that path?”

The Winter Knight’s eyes are glinting. “Oh, yes.”

The Black Sea section of the Ways, as the Knight and I have both experienced, is not what anyone else would call fun. It’s the fastest route in this area, but it’s mountainous, lawless, and populated by wyldfae who didn’t want to declare for Winter despite their obvious talents in the area. In short, it’s a barrel of laughs.

Our resident Warden looks unimpressed as we step through the rock crevice someplace in the Istanbul area. “This path is not the best, Miss Dollface…”

“But it is the fastest,” I tell him pointedly. “And I’m under instructions from the boss.”

Grey laughs for the first time. “Then we will prepare for the danger, Warden.”

I see a pack of goblins lurking as we step onto a rocky path that threatens to crumble beneath our feet, and I’m aware of shadows flickering once or twice as we walk along it. It’s a pack of wolf-beasts that decide to go for us; I suspect their hunger has driven them into terrain they wouldn’t normally consider. I sense them ahead and slow as the Knight catches up, sensing the same thing I do. I shake my hands out, wishing I had my gun, and he’s readying a snowball; we both automatically turn, backs to the other, guarding our respective sides. For all my annoyance at him, we make a good team.

The first wolf to show itself gets a snowball straight into the muzzle, knocking it backwards with a yelp. I take two out on my side with tiny, well-placed balls of heat that act like bullets, and then turn to see what everyone else is doing. The Warden is just pulling his sword from the head of a wolf that’s slumped on the ground; Grey’s still strolling along, unconcerned, but Marta’s glaring ahead of us.

“Come on, get over here,” I call to them, dancing away from the wolf circling me.

“Incoming,” the Knight snaps, busy with a wolf that’s gone for his throat and instead met the icicle-claws, and I loose off two more shots. There’s a yelp.

“Missed one,” I say irritably, watching it break into a lope towards us.

“All the more for me!” my companion says gleefully, slamming a blast of something that looks like a condensed blizzard into the leaping wolf as I roll aside. The pack’s starting to back off now, whining, uncertain if this prey is worth it.

I let the Knight finish playing while everyone else catches up, stepping a little more quickly over the rocky ground, and then we’re moving again. The Warden keeps his sword out, acting as rear-guard, and I let our Winter psychopath lead with his icicle-claws. The pack shadows us for a little while, but I think their losses – and the occasional snowball that the Knight lobs in their direction – makes them give up. They fade off into the darkness as we transition out of the mountains to a rocky plain.

“How much further to the gate?” the Warden asks.

I consider it. There’s two Ways that intersect up ahead, but I don’t know which one is going to be most useful…or if neither will help. “Winter boy!”

“What?” he yells back from his position on a rocky lump, scanning the path ahead.

“Come and make a portal for me.”

“Why?”

“I need to check where we’re going.”

“After him.”

I stomp up to the Winter Knight and glare up at him. “You know spells change in the NeverNever. Get me back to the real world in a useful place, or I’ll step through and take my chances, and then you’ll be screwed.”

“Fine!” he snarls back at me and hops off the rock. “Aparatum.”

“Thanks, darling,” I coo at him.

“You’re pushing your luck again,” he mutters sourly, but does step through after me.

It’s mid-afternoon in the real world from what I can tell. The Knight folds his arms and glowers around at the beautiful view over the Black Sea that’s spread out in front of us as I wait for the tracking pendant to catch up with where I am.

“That way,” I say eventually, pointing.

The Winter Knight flips his phone out of his pocket and finds the map. “Hmm.” And a grin starts spreading across his face. “Sevastopol.”

Snippet: Snark and Spice

An argument from the Dresden Files piece I’m currently writing. I may have been grinning slightly while writing it…

“So, how long have you been with the Winter Court?” [Warden] asks me conversationally.

“Longer than I’d like,” I respond, leaning back in the diner’s padded booth. I can smell bacon and coffee, both tempting even though I only just ate. “What’s your area?”

“I’m based in Philadelphia. I knew the Knight anyway, so the Council volunteered me when he asked for someone to help.”

I’m grinning. “Wow, you pissed someone off real good to make you help him.”

“I’d say the same for you,” [Warden] responds with a smile in return.

“So how are you tracking the wizard?” Marta asks me. Well, it’s more of a demand.

I raise an eyebrow at her. If I was following my instincts, I’d be playing nice right now. But today, I’m being Winter – and there’s also no sodding way I’m admitting I somehow got hold of the wizard’s Name. It’d be opening a can of questions I’m not going to answer. “That’s a need-to-know basis.”

“We need to know.”

“No, you don’t.” I grin at her. “You just need to know that I can track him.”

“I don’t think you’re trustworthy,” she spits.

“That’s not your call, lady. It’s the Knight’s. And I have him,” I kiss my fingers and waggle them at her, “wrapped around my little finger.”

She scowls. I wonder how long it’s been since she had to deal with anyone quite as snarky and defiant as the Winter Court tend to be.

“So what did the Knight use to bribe you here, then?” I add. “What’s your stake in this?”

“I’m a hunter,” she snaps, but it looks like I’ve hit a nerve. She’s going to tell me things because she’s determined to prove her point. “I can kill anything.”

“Oh, so you’re just ghoul fodder.” I really should be getting her on-side, but this is too much fun.

“I’ll do better than you will, bitch,” she spits at me. “I’m your protection. I’ll leave you to the monsters on the Ways if you don’t respect my skills-”

“Not unless you want to be lacking a guide.”

“You wait.” She’s glowering. “When you’re screaming because a ghoul’s got your leg-”

“You wish! Winter ain’t weak.”

“You’re a weedy, powerless airhead without any idea of what you signed up to.”

Well, that’d hurt if I was the Changeling I look like. As it is, I grin. “Well, if we’re talking looks, let’s start with yours. Thuggish, stupid and prone to smashing things?”

She proves my point by grabbing [Warden]’s coffee mug, I assume aiming to throw it at me. [Warden] puts a firm hand on her arm and extends the other hand at me. “Enough! We are a team. We have a common goal, and this is not assisted by squabbles.”

Marta’s still glowering at me, and I give her a sweet smile. She looks like she wants to spit at me, but luckily the Winter Knight saunters back in from making his phone call at that point. “We’re all set. Ready to go?”

“Where are we going?” the quiet man at the end of the table asks. He’s been silent throughout the squabbles, although I did catch an amused smile lingering on his lips for most of it.

The Winter Knight grins broadly. “Where else? New York.”