Home > Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4)

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4)
Author: Jim Butcher

Chapter One

It rained toads the day the White Council came to town.

I got out of the Blue Beetle, my beat-up old Volkswagen bug, and squinted against the midsummer sunlight. Lake Meadow Park lies a bit south of Chicago's Loop, a long sprint from Lake Michigan's shores. Even in heat like we'd had lately, the park would normally be crowded with people. Today it was deserted but for an old lady with a shopping cart and a long coat, tottering around the park. It wasn't yet noon, and my sweats and T-shirt were too hot for the weather.

I squinted around the park for a moment, took a couple of steps onto the grass, and got hit on the head by something damp and squishy.

I flinched and slapped at my hair. Something small fell past my face and onto the ground at my feet. A toad. Not a big one, as toads go - it could easily have sat in the palm of my hand. It wobbled for a few moments upon hitting the ground, then let out a bleary croak and started hopping drunkenly away.

I looked around me and saw other toads on the ground. A lot of them. The sound of their croaking grew louder as I walked further into the park. Even as I watched, several more amphibians plopped out of the sky, as though the Almighty had dropped them down a laundry chute. Toads hopped around everywhere. They didn't carpet the ground, but you couldn't possibly miss them. Every moment or so, you would hear the thump of another one landing. Their croaking sounded vaguely like the speech-chatter of a crowded room.

"Weird, huh?" said an eager voice. I looked up to see a short young man with broad shoulders and a confident walk coming toward me. Billy the Werewolf wore sweatpants and a plain dark T-shirt. A year or two ago the outfit would have concealed the forty or fifty extra pounds he'd been carrying. Now they concealed all the muscle he'd traded it in for. He stuck out his hand, smiling. "What did I tell you, Harry?"

"Billy," I responded. He crunched down hard as I shook his hand. Or maybe he was just that much stronger. "How's the werewolf biz?"

"Getting interesting," he said. "We've run into a lot of odd things lately when we've been out patrolling. Like this." He gestured at the park. Another toad fell from the sky several feet away. "That's why we called the wizard."

Patrolling. Holy vigilantes, Batman. "Any of the normals been here?"

"No, except for some meteorological guys from the university. They said that they were having tornadoes in Louisiana or something, that the storms must have thrown the toads here."

I snorted. "You'd think 'it's magic' would be easier to swallow than that."

Billy grinned. "Don't worry. I'm sure someone will come along and declare it a hoax before long."

"Uh-huh." I turned back to the Beetle and popped the hood to rummage in the forward storage compartment. I came out with a nylon backpack and dragged a couple of small cloth sacks out of it. I threw one to Billy. "Grab a couple of toads and pitch them in there for me."

He caught the bag and frowned. "Why?"

"So I can make sure they're real."

Billy lifted his eyebrows. "You think they're not?"

I squinted at him. "Look, Billy, just do it. I haven't slept, I can't remember the last time I ate a hot meal, and I've got a lot to do before tonight."

"But why wouldn't they be real? They look real."

I blew out a breath and tried to keep my temper. It had been short lately. "They could look real and feel real, but it's possible that they're just constructs. Made out of the material of the Nevernever and animated by magic. I hope they are."

"Why?"

"Because all that would mean is that some faerie got bored and played a trick. They do that sometimes."

"Okay. But if they're real?"

"If they're real, then it means something is out of whack."

"What kind of out of whack?"

"The serious kind. Holes in the fabric of reality."

"And that would be bad?"

I eyed him. "Yeah, Billy. That would be bad. It would mean something big was going down."

"But what if - "

My temper flared. "I don't have the time or inclination to teach a class today. Shut the hell up."

He lifted a hand in a pacifying gesture. "Okay, man. Whatever." He fell into step beside me and started picking up toads as we walked across the park. "So, uh, it's good to see you, Harry. Me and the gang were wondering if you wanted to come by this weekend, do some socializing."

I scooped up a toad of my own and eyed him dubiously. "Doing what?"

He grinned at me. "Playing Arcanos, man. The campaign is getting really fun."

Role-playing games. I made a monosyllabic sound. The old lady with the shopping cart wandered past us, the wheels of the cart squeaking and wobbling.

"Seriously, it's great," he insisted. "We're storming the fortress of Lord Malocchio, except we have to do it in disguise in the dead of night, so that the Council of Truth won't know who the vigilantes who brought him down were. There's spells and demons and dragons and everything. Interested?"

"Sounds too much like work."

Billy let out a snort. "Harry, look, I know this whole vampire war thing has you jumpy. And grouchy. But you've been lurking in your basement way too much lately."

"What vampire war?"

Billy rolled his eyes. "Word gets around, Harry. I know that the Red Court of the vampires declared war on the wizards after you burned down Bianca's place last fall. I know that they've tried to kill you a couple of times since then. I even know that the wizards' White Council is coming to town sometime soon to figure out what to do."

I glowered at him. "What White Council?"

He sighed. "It's not a good time for you to be turning into a hermit, Harry. I mean, look at you. When was the last time you shaved? Had a shower? A haircut? Got out to do your laundry?"

I lifted a hand and scratched at the wiry growth of beard on my face. "I've been out. I've been out plenty of times."

Billy snagged another toad. "Like when?"

"I went to that football game with you and the Alphas."

He snorted. "Yeah. In January, Dresden. It's June." Billy glanced up at my face and frowned. "People are worried about you. I mean, I know you've been working on some project or something. But this whole unwashed wild man look just isn't you."

I stooped and grabbed a toad. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"I know better than you think," he said. "It's about Susan, right? Something happened to her last fall. Something you're trying to undo. Maybe something the vampires did. That's why she left town."

 

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