My godmother looked around at the inferno and smiled. "It reminds me of times gone by. Doesn't it remind you, my sweet?" She idly reached down and stroked the head of one of the hounds at her side.
"However did you find me so quickly, Godmother?" I asked.
She gave the hellhound a benign smile. "Mmmm. I have my little secrets, sweet. I only wanted to greet my long-estranged godson."
"All right. Hi, good to see you, have to do it again sometime," I said. Smoke curled up into my mouth and I started coughing. "We're kind of in a hurry here, so - "
Lea laughed, a sound like bells just a shade out of tune. "Always in such a rush, you mortals. But we haven't seen each other in ages, Harry." She walked closer, her body moving with a lithe, sensuous grace that might have been mesmerizing in other circumstances. The hounds spread out silently behind her. "We should spend some time together."
Michael lifted his sword again, and said, calmly, "Madame, step from our path, if you please."
"It does not please me," she spat, sudden and vicious. Those rich lips peeled back from dainty, sharp canines, and at the same time the three shadowy hounds let out bubbling growls. Her golden eyes swept past Michael and back to me. "He is mine, sir Knight, by blood right, by Law, and by his own broken word. He has made a compact with me. You have no power over that."
"Harry?" Michael shot me a quick look. "Is what she says true?"
I licked my lips, and gripped my staff. "I was a lot younger, then. And a lot more stupid."
"Harry, if you have made a covenant with her of your own free will then she is right - there is little I can do to stop her."
Another building fell with a roar. The fires gathered around us, and it got hot. Really, really hot. The rift wavered, growing smaller. We didn't have much time left.
"Come, Harry," Lea purred, her voice gone, pardon the pun, smoky again. "Let the good Knight of the White God pass on his way. And let me take you to waters that will soothe your hurts and balm your ills."
It sounded like a good idea. It sounded really good. Her own magic saw to that. I felt my feet moving toward her in a slow, leaden shuffling.
"Dresden," Michael said, sharply. "Good Lord, man! What are you doing?"
"Go home, Michael," I said. My voice came out thick, dull, as though I'd been drinking. I saw Lea's mouth, her soft, lovely mouth, curl upward in a triumphant smirk. I didn't try to fight the pull of the magic. I wouldn't have been able to stop my legs in any case. Lea'd had my number for years, and as far as I could tell she always would. I hadn't a prayer of taking control back for more than a few seconds. The air grew cooler as I got closer to her, and I could smell her - her body, her hair, like wildflowers and musky earth, intoxicating. "There isn't much time before the rift closes. Go home."
"Harry!" Michael shouted.
Lea placed one long-fingered, slender hand upon my cheek. A wash of tingling pleasure went through me. My body reacted to her, helpless and demanding at the same time, and I had to fight to keep thoughts of her beauty from preoccupying me altogether.
"Yes, my sweet man," Lea whispered, golden eyes bright with glee. "Sweet, sweet, sweet. Now, lay aside your rod and staff."
I watched dully, as my fingers released both. They clattered to the ground. The flames grew closer, but I didn't feel them. The rift glowed and shrank, almost closed. I narrowed my eyes, gathering my will.
"Will you complete your bargain now, sweet mortal child?" Lea murmured, sliding her hands over my chest and then over my shoulders.
"I will go with you," I answered, letting my voice come out thick, slow. Her eyes lit with malicious glee, and she threw her head back and laughed, revealing creamy, delicious expanses of throat and bosom.
"When Hell freezes over," I added, and drew out the little sack of ghost dust for the last time. I dumped it all over and down the previously mentioned bosom. There isn't much lore about faeries and depleted uranium, yet, but there's a ton about faeries and cold iron. They don't like it, and the iron content of the dust's formula was pretty high.
Lea's flawless complexion immediately split into fiery scarlet welts, the skin drying and cracking before my eyes. Lea's triumphant laugh turned into an agonized scream, and she released me, tearing her silken gown away from her chest in a panic, revealing more gorgeous flesh being riven by the cold iron.
"Michael," I shouted, "now!" I gave my godmother a stiff shove, scooped up my staff and rod, and dove for the rift. I heard a snarl, and something fastened around one of my boots, dragging me to the ground. I thrust my staff down at one of the hellhounds, and the wood struck it in one of its eyes. It roared in rage, and its two pack mates came rushing toward me.
Michael stepped in the way and swept his sword at one of them. The true iron struck the faerie beast, and blood and white fire erupted from the wound. The second one leapt upon Michael and fastened its fangs onto his thigh, ripping and jerking.
I brought my staff down hard on the beast's skull, driving it off Michael's leg, and started dragging my friend back toward the swiftly vanishing line of the rift. More hellhounds appeared, rushing from the burning ruins around us. "Come on!" I shouted. "There's no time!"
"Treacher!" spat my godmother. She rose up from the ground, blackened and burned, her fine dress in tatters about her waist, her body and limbs stretched, knobby, and inhuman. She clenched her hands into fists at her sides, and the fire from the building around us seemed to rush down, gathering in her grasp in a pair of blazing points of violet and emerald light. "Treasonous, poisonous child! You are mine as your mother swore unto me! As you swore!"
"You shouldn't make contracts with a minor!" I shouted back, and shoved Michael forward, into the rift. He wavered for a moment on the narrow opening, and then fell through and vanished back into the real world.
"If you will not give me your life, serpent child, then I will have your blood!" Lea took two huge strides toward me and hurled both hands forward. A thunderbolt of braided emerald and violet power rushed at my face.
I hurled myself backwards, at the rift, and prayed that it was still open enough to let me fall through. I extended my staff toward my godmother and threw up whatever weak shield I could. The faerie fire hammered into the shield, hurling me back into the rift like a straw before a tornado. I felt my staff smolder and burst into flames in my hand as I went sailing through.
I landed on the floor of the nursery back in Cook County Hospital, my leather duster trailing with it a shroud of smoke that swiftly converted itself to a thin, disgusting coating of residual ectoplasm, while my staff burned with weird green and purple fire. Babies, in their little glass cribs, screamed lustily all around me. Confused voices babbled from the next room.
Then the rift closed, and we were left back in the real world, surrounded by crying babies. The fluorescent lights all came back up, and we could hear more worried words from the nurses back at the duty station. I beat out the fires on my staff, and then sat there, panting and hurting. None of the matter of the Nevernever may have come back to the real world - but the injuries gained there were very real.
Michael got up, and looked around at the babies, making sure that they were all in satisfactory condition. Then he sat down next to me, wiped the patina of ectoplasm from his brow, and started pressing the material of his cloak against the oozing gashes in his leg, where the hellhound's fangs had sunk through his jeans. He gave me a pensive, frowning stare.
"What?" I asked him.
"Your godmother. You got away from her," he said.
I laughed, weakly. "This time, yeah. So what's bothering you?"
"You lied to her to do it."
"I tricked her," I countered. "Classic tactics with faeries."
He blinked, and then used another section of his cloak to clean the ecto-gook off of Amoracchius. "I just thought you were an honest man, Harry," he said, his expression injured. "I can't believe you lied to her."
I started to laugh, weakly, too exhausted to move. "You can't believe I lied to her."
"Well, no," he said, his voice defensive. "That's not the way we're supposed to win. We're the good guys, Harry."
I laughed some more, and wiped a trickle of blood off of my face.
"Well, we are!"
Some kind of alarm started going off. One of the nurses stepped into the observation room, took one look at the pair of us, and ran out screaming.
"You know what bothers me?" I asked.
I set my scorched staff and rod aside. "I'm wondering how in the world my godmother happened to be right at hand, when I stepped through into Nevernever. It isn't like the place is a small neighborhood. I wasn't there five minutes before she showed up."
Michael sheathed his sword and set it carefully aside, out of easy arm's reach. Then unfastened his cloak, wincing. "Yes. It seems an unlikely coincidence."
We both put our hands up on top of our heads, as a Chicago P.D. patrolman, his jacket and pants stained with spilled coffee, burst into the nursery, gun drawn. We both sat there with our hands on our head, and did our best to look friendly and non-threatening.
"Don't worry," Michael said, quietly. "Just let me do the talking."