Skin Game Page 73

The sensation abruptly vanished as the spell winked out of existence—but not before I’d found the spell’s focus—the thaumaturgic version of the bug that had been planted so that the eavesdropper could hear us.

“Binder,” Nicodemus said at once.

Binder had already produced a hoop of wire from his suit coat’s pocket. He moved to a clear space of floor, gave it a toss with a flick of his wrist, and the wire unreeled and unfolded into a circle almost three feet across. It landed on the floor even as Binder spoke a few words, and filled with amber light.

Binder was a chump sorcerer, but he had one trick that he could do really, really well—summoning a small army of creatures from the Nevernever that he had somehow bound to his will. It took him less than two seconds to whistle up the first of his suits—humanoid figures dressed in something that resembled a badly fitted suit, their proportions and features looking almost normal, until one looked at them a little more closely. The demonic servitor flung itself up out of the circle like an acrobat emerging from a trapdoor in the stage, and Binder tapped his foot down onto the circle of wire in perfect time, releasing the suit from the circle’s confinement as it tumbled clear. Then he lifted his foot and dropped it down again in metronomic time as a second suit emerged from the Nevernever, and a third, and a fourth, and so on.

“Spell’s gone,” Ascher reported. “He heard us. He’s running.”

“He’s heard too much,” Nicodemus said, and turned to Binder. “Can your associates track him?”

“Like bloodhounds,” Binder confirmed.

Nicodemus nodded. “Kill him.”

Binder let out a short whistle and cocked a finger in the direction Ascher had indicated. The suits needed no more indication than that. They bounded off in that direction with greater than human agility.

I jerked my head at Karrin and stalked away from the table.

“What?” she hissed.

In answer, I dug into the bandages over my arm until I found the object, hidden from me until I had finally focused my attention on it—a rounded, black Pente stone that had been worked into the bandages when they had been reapplied. There were a number of familiar runes painted over its dark surface in metallic gold. I’d used the exact same spell design myself more than once, back in the day, when I’d been learning how it worked.

“What’s that?” Karrin asked.

“The bug,” I hissed quietly. “The one the listener was using to hear us. It got put in the bandages over my arm when it was reset.”

Her eyes widened. “But . . .”

“Yeah,” I said, and watched as more of the suited servitors poured forth from the Nevernever to streak into the night in pursuit. “It’s Butters. They’re going to kill him.”

Twenty-seven

“Go,” Karrin said. “I’ll catch up.”

“How are you going to find me?”

She gave me a quick roll of her eyes. “Harry, please.”

Right. Karrin had been a Chicago cop for twenty years. She’d find me whether I wanted her to or not. I touched her shoulder, called upon Winter, and took off at a sprint, staff clenched in my right hand.

As I ran, I could feel the power of the Winter mantle infusing my body, my senses, and my thoughts. Binder’s suits were hounding after the prey in a pack, moving in instinctive coordination, their leaders slowing the pace slightly until a few of the ones with a later start could catch up, the better to bring down the prey together.

I caught up to the rearmost suits and passed them before I’d even exited the slaughterhouse, which sent a rush of elation through me. Slowpokes. But they were necessary. I couldn’t hunt Butters down by mys—

I faltered for a few steps, and forced multiplication tables to start running through my head. I wasn’t hunting down Butters. I was keeping them from hunting him down. And I had to figure out a way to do it without overtly turning on Nicodemus and company and shaming Mab.

That particular line of reason seemed to interfere mightily with the flow of energy from the Winter mantle, as if it simply didn’t understand why it was going to all this trouble for so incomprehensible a goal.

Butters is one of mine, I snarled at it, and we’re not letting these chumps kill him unless that’s what I decide should happen.

Territory and power—those were things that Winter could sink its teeth into. I regained my stride as we exploded from the exit of the slaughterhouse and into the near-silent mix of sleet, rain, and frozen, slippery cold that was a Midwest ice storm.

The ground outside the slaughterhouse was already freezing over; not in a uniform sheet, but in treacherous patches of various consistencies of nearly transparent slush, invisible ice, and wet concrete, with very few visible cues to differentiate between them. The streetlights gleamed off of all of them with benevolent cheer, and the suits started slipping at random, further slowing them. I adjusted my pace only enough to be sure of putting my feet on the least slippery option available at every stride, trusting the instincts of the mantle to guide me.

Butters was sprinting across the small gravel parking lot, maybe seventy yards ahead of his pursuers. I could recognize his build and his shock of dark hair from where I was, though he was wearing a long, billowing overcoat and a rather bulgy-looking backpack and moving more slowly than he should have been. In the lowering skies, the mixed rain and lumpy snow, the sounds seemed muffled and close, as if everything was happening indoors. I could hear Butters’s quick, clean breaths, his pants of effort as he slowed, nearing the street.

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