Skin Game Page 118

“You’d hardly think so from the television,” Hades said mildly.

“TV rarely does the original stories justice,” I said. “But the stories bear out that you might not be such an awful person. I mean, your brothers got up to all kinds of shenanigans. Like, utterly dysfunctional shenanigans. Turning into a bull and seducing a virgin? How jaded do you have to be for that to sound like fun?”

“Careful,” Hades said, very, very gently. “I do not deny anything you say—but they are, after all, family.”

“Yeah, uh, right,” I said. “Well. My point is that they each had a sphere of responsibility of their own, and yet they seemed to spend a lot of time maybe neglecting that responsibility—which is not my place to judge, sure, but such a judgment might not be without supporting evidence.”

Hades flicked a few fingers in acknowledgment of my statement.

“But the thing is, there’s no stories about you doing that. The others could sometimes show capricious temper and did some pretty painful things to people. You didn’t. You had a reputation for justice, and never for cruelty. Except for that . . . that thing with your wife, maybe.”

Fire reflected very brightly in his dark eyes. “How I stole Persephone, you mean?”

“Did you?” I asked.

And regretted it almost immediately. For a second, I wanted very badly to know a spell that would let me melt through the floor in a quivering puddle of please-don’t-kill-me.

Hades stared at me for a long, intense period of silence and then breathed out something that might have been an extremely refined snort from his nose and sipped more wine. “She came of her own will. Her mother failed to cope. Empty-nest syndrome.”

I leaned forward, fascinated despite myself. “Seriously? And . . . the pomegranate seeds thing?”

“Something of a political fiction,” Hades said. “Hecate’s idea, and my brother ran with it. As a compromise, no one came away from it happy.”

“That’s supposedly the mark of a good compromise,” I said.

Hades grimaced and said, “It was necessary at the time.”

“The stories don’t record it quite that way,” I said. “I seem to recall Hecate leading Demeter in search of Persephone.”

That comment won a flash of white, white teeth. “That much is certainly true. Hecate led Demeter around. And around and around. It was her wedding present to us.”

I blinked slowly at that notion. “A honeymoon free of your mother-in-law.”

“Worth more than gold or jewels,” Hades said. “But as I said, I’ve never been the most social of my family. I never asked the muses to inspire tales of me, or visited my worshipers with revelations of the truth—what few I had, anyway. Honestly, I rarely saw the point of mortals worshiping me. They were going to come to my realm sooner or later, regardless of what they did.Did they think it would win them leniency in judging their shades?” He shook his head. “That isn’t how I operate.”

I regarded him seriously for a moment, frowning, thinking. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“Words are not my strong suit,” he said. “Did you ask the best question?”

I sat back in the chair, swirling the wine a little.

Hades had known we were coming, and we’d gotten in anyway. He’d known who I was. And there was, quite obviously, some kind of connection between Hades and the Queens of Faerie. I sipped at the wine. Add all that together and . . .

I nearly choked on the mouthful as I swallowed.

That won a brief but genuine smile from my host. “Ah,” he said. “Dawn.”

“You let Nicodemus find out about this place,” I said.

“And?”

“Mab. This is Mab’s play, isn’t it?”

“Why would she do such a thing?” Hades asked me, mock reproof in his voice.

“Weapons,” I said. “The war with the Outsiders. Mab wants more weapons. Why just get revenge when she can throw in a shopping trip at the same time?”

Hades sipped wine, his eyes glittering.

I stared at him, suddenly feeling horrified. “Wait. Are you telling me that I’m supposed to take those things out of here?”

“A much better question,” Hades noted. “My armory exists to contain weapons of terrible power during times when they are not needed. I collect them and keep them to prevent their power from being abused in quieter times.”

“But why lock them away where anyone with enough resources can get them?” I asked.

“To prevent anyone without the skill or the commitment to use them well from having them,” he said. “It is not my task to keep them from all of mortal kind—only from the incompetents.”

Then I got it, and understanding made the bottom of my stomach drop out. “This hasn’t been a heist at all,” I said. “This whole mess . . . it was an audition?”

“Another good question. But not the most relevant one.”

I pursed my lips, and tried to cudgel my brain into working. It seemed too simple, but hell, why not take the direct route? “What is the most relevant question, then?”

Hades settled back into his chair. “Why would I, Hades, take such a personal interest in you, Harry Dresden?”

Hell’s bells. I was pretty sure I didn’t like the way that sounded, at all. “Okay,” I said. “Why would you?”

He reached out a hand to the middle head of the dog and scratched it beneath the chin. One of the beast’s rear legs began to thump rapidly against the floor. It sounded like something you’d hear coming from inside a machine shop. “Do you know my dog’s name?”

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