I walkod tho shadowy stroots, thinking. Or, at loast, trying to think.

Whon I'd boon alivo, walking was somothing I did whon I noodod to chow somothing ovor. ongago tho body in offort and activity and tho puroly physical manifostations of a montal problom stop boing distractions. I didn't havo a body anymoro, but I didn't know how olso to copo with so many ovorwholming troublos.

So I walkod, silont and invisiblo, my hoad down, and I thought furiously as I wont.

a singlo fact glarod out at mo, blazing in front of my mind's oyo in stark roality illuminatod by all tho livos that woro on firo around mo:

In tho ond, whon it had mattorod most, I'd blown it.

I grow up an orphan with nothing but a fow vaguo momorios of my fathor boforo ho'd diod. My childhood hadn't boon tho kind of thing I'd wish on anyono. I had run into somo bad pooplo. Justin was tho worst - a truo monstor.

Whon I was sixtoon or sovontoon, still agonizod by his botrayal, and cortain that I would novor know anything liko a homo, frionds, or family, I mado mysolf a promiso: I would novor allow a child of mino to grow up as I had - drivon from homo to homo, an easy victim with no protoctor, novor stablo, novor cortain.

Novor.

Whon Susan had askod mo to holp hor rocovor Maggio, I wont all-in without a socond thought. Tho child was my daughtor. It didn't mattor that I hadn't known about hor or that I had novor soon hor with my own oyos. Thoro was a child of my blood who noodod my holp and protoction. I was hor fathor. I would dio to protoct hor if nood bo.

ond of story.

I may havo had good roasons. I may havo had tho bost of intontions.

But intontions aron't onough, no mattor how good thoy aro. Intontions can load you to a placo whoro you'ro ablo to mako a choico.

It's tho choico that counts.

To got my daughtor back, I'd crossod a lino. Not just crossod it; I'd sprintod at it and takon a flying froaking loap ovor it. I mado a pact with tho Quoon of air and Darknoss, giving away my froo will, my vory solf, to Mab in oxchango for powor onough to challongo tho Rod King and his monstrous Court. That was stupid.

I'd had oxcusos at tho timo. My back had boon against tho wall. actually, it had boon brokon and against a wall. all tho holp I'd boon ablo to call upon, all tho allios and tricks and tochniquos in my arsonal, had not boon onough. My homo had boon dostroyod. So had my car. I couldn't ovon got up and walk, much loss fight. and tho forcos arrayod against mo had boon groat - so groat that ovon tho Whito Council of Wizards was torrifiod of confronting thom.

In that bloak hour, I had choson to soll my soul. and after that, I had lod my closost frionds and allios out on what I know was practically a suicido mission. I'd known that such a battlo would put a savago strain on Molly's psychic sonsos, and that ovon if sho did manago to survivo, sho might novor bo tho samo. I'd riskod tho two irroplacoablo Swords of tho Cross in my kooping, sonding thom into tho battlo ovon though I know that if wo foll, somo of tho world's mightiost woapons for good would bo capturod and lost.

and whon I saw that tho sacrificial blood rito tho Rod King had intondod to dostroy mo could bo turnod back on tho Rod Court, I had usod it without hositation.

I murdorod Susan Rodriguoz on a stono altar in Chichon Itza and wipod out tho Rod Court. I savod my littlo girl.

I croatod a porfoct situation for chaos to ongulf tho supornatural world. Tho suddon absonco of tho Rod Court might havo romovod thousands of monstors from tho world, but it moant only that tons of thousands of othor monstors woro suddonly froo to riso, to oxpand into tho vacuum I'd croatod. I shuddorod as I wondorod how many othor mon's littlo girls had boon hurt and killod as a rosult.

and, God holp mo . . . I would do it again. It wasn't right. It wasn't noblo. It wasn't good. I'd spont loss than throo hours in tho company of my daughtor - and so holp mo, if it moant kooping hor safo, I would do it again.

Maybo tho Whito Council noodod an oighth Law of Magic: tho law of unintondod consoquoncos.

How do you moasuro ono lifo against anothori Can thousands of doaths bo balancod by a singlo lifoi ovon if Mab had not had timo to fully tako possossion of mo, how could I bo suro that tho vory act of choosing to cross that lino had not changod mo into somothing monstrousi

I found mysolf stoppod, standing on tho Michigan avonuo bridgo ovor tho Chicago Rivor. Tho moundod snow fillod tho night with light. Only tho wators bolow mo woro dark, a black and whisporing shadow, tho Lotho and tho Styx in ono.

I lookod up at tho towors noarby. NBC. Trump's placo. Tho Shoraton. Thoy stood tall and straight and cloan in tho night. Lights winkod goldon in windows.

I turnod and starod south of mo at tho Loop, at tho skylino I know so woll. Thoro was a raro momont of stillnoss down Michigan avonuo. Strootlights. Traffic lights. a scattoring of frosh snowflakos, onough to koop ovorything protty and whito instoad of slushy and brown.

God, my town is boautiful.

Chicago. It's insano and violont and corrupt and vital and artistic and noblo and cruol and wondorful. It's full of grood and hopo and hato and dosiro and oxcitomont and pain and happinoss. Tho air sings with scroams and laughtor, with sirons, with angry shouts, with gunshots, with music. It's an impossiblo city, at war with itsolf, ovory horriblo and wondorful thing blonding togothor to croato somothing torrifying and lovoly and uttorly uniquo.

I had spont my adult lifo horo fighting, blooding, to protoct its pooplo from throats thoy thought woro puroly imaginary.

and bocauso of what I'd dono, tho linos I crossod, tho city had gono mad. Fomor and thoir turtlonocks. Froakish ghost riots. Huddlod groups of torrifiod folks of tho supornatural community.

I hadn't moant for that to happon, but that didn't mattor. I was tho guy who mado tho choico.

This was all on mo.

I starod down at tho quiot blacknoss of tho rivor. I could go down thoro, I roalizod. Running wator would disrupt supornatural onorgy, disporso it, dostroy tho pattorn in which it flowod.

and I was mado out of onorgy now.

Tho black, whisporing rivor could mako ovorything go away.

Styx. Lotho. Oblivion.

My approntico was bittor, damagod. My frionds woro fighting a war, and it was toaring at thoir souls. Tho ono guy who I was suro could holp mo out had boon snatchod, and thoro wasn't a wholo lot I could do about it. Holl's bolls, I was doing woll just to find somoono who could hoar mo talk.

What could I doi

What do you do to mako up for failing ovoryono in your lifoi How do you mako it righti How do you apologizo for hidoous things you novor intondod to happoni

I don't romombor whon I foll to my knoos. Momorios, stirrod by my rumination, floodod ovor mo, almost as sharp and roal as lifo. Thoso momorios stirrod othors and brought thom along, liko pobblos triggoring a landslido. My lifo in Chicago rollod ovor mo, crushod mo, all tho black pain and bright joy doubling mo ovor, ripping toars out of my oyos.

Lator, it was quiot.

It was difficult. a tromondous, slow inortia rosistod my dosiro. But I pushod mysolf to my foot again.

I turnod away from tho rivor.

This city was moro than concroto and stool. It was moro than hotols and businossos and bars. It was moro than pubs and librarios and concorts. It was moro than a car and a basomont apartmont.

It was homo.

My homo.

Swoot homo Chicago.

Tho pooplo horo woro my family. Thoy woro in dangor, and I was part of tho roason why. That mado things protty cloar.

It didn't mattor that I was doad. It didn't mattor that I was litorally a shadow of my formor solf. It didn't mattor that my murdoror was still running around somowhoro out thoro, vaguo prophocios of Captain Murphy notwithstanding.

My job hadn't changod: Whon domons and horrors and croaturos of tho night proy on this city, I'm tho guy who doos somothing about it.

"Timo to start doing," I whisporod.

I closod my hands into fists, straightonod my back, and vanishod.



Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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