Sanya was guarding the door. He swung it open wide for us, and studied Susan with a grin of appreciation. "There are some days," he said, "when I just love this job."
"Come on," I said, walking past him. "We don't have much time."
Sanya literally clicked his heels together, took Susan's hand, and kissed the back of it gallantly, the big stupidhead. "You are beyond lovely, lady."
"Thank you," Susan said, smiling. "But we don't have much time."
I rolled my eyes and kept walking.
There was a quiet conversation going in the living room. It stopped as I came through the door. I paused there for a second, and looked around at everyone who was going to help me get my daughter back.
Molly was dressed in her battle coat, which consisted of a shirt of tightly woven metal links, fashioned by her mother out of titanium wire. The mail was then sandwiched between two long Kevlar vests. All of that was, in turn, fixed to one of several outer garments, and in this case she was wearing a medium-brown fireman's coat. Her hair was braided tightly against the back of her head - and back to its natural honey brown color - and a hockey helmet sat on a table near her. She had half a dozen little focus items I'd shown her how to create, none of which were precisely intended for a fight. Her face was a little pale, and her blue eyes were earnest.
Mouse sat next to her, huge and stolid, and rose to his feet and padded over to give me a subdued greeting as I came in. I knelt down and roughed up his ears for a moment. He wagged his tail, but made no more display than that, and his serious brown eyes told me that he knew the situation was grave.
Next came Martin, dressed in simple black BDU pants, a longsleeved black shirt, and a tactical vest, all of which could have been purchased from any military surplus or gun store. He was in the midst of cleaning and inspecting two sets of weapons: assault rifles, tactical shotguns, and heavy pistols. He wore a machete in a scabbard on his belt. A second such weapon rested in a nylon sheath on the table, next to a blade-sharpening tool kit. He never looked up at me, or stopped reassembling the pistol he'd finished cleaning.
A small chess set had been set up on the other end of the coffee table from Molly, next to Martin's war gear. My brother sat there, with Martin (and, once he had finished greeting me, Mouse) between himself and the girl. He was wearing expensive-looking silk pants and a leather vest, both white. A gun belt bearing a large-caliber handgun and a sword with an inward-curving blade, an old Spanish falcata, hung over the corner of the couch, casually discarded. He lay lazily back on the couch, his eyes mostly closed, watching the move of his opponent.
Murphy was decked out in black tactical gear much like Martin's, but more worn and better fitting. They don't generally make gear for people Murph's size, so she couldn't shop off the shelf very often. She did have her own vest of Kevlar and mail, which Charity had made for her for Christmas the previous year, in thanks for the occasions when Murphy had gone out on a limb for them, but Murph had just stuck the compound armor to her tac vest and been done. She wore her automatic on her hip, and her odd-looking, rectangular little submachine gun, the one that always made me think of a box of chocolates, was leaned against the wall nearby. Murph was hunched over the chessboard, her nose wrinkled as she thought, and moved one of her knights into a thicket of enemy pieces before she turned to me.
She took one look at me and burst out giggling.
That was enough to set off everyone in the room except Martin, who never seemed to realize that there were other people there. Molly's titters set off Thomas, and even Mouse dropped his jaws open in a doggy grin.
"Hah, hah, hah," I said, coming into the room, so that Susan and Sanya could join us. No one laughed at Susan's outfit. I felt that the injustice of that was somehow emblematic of the unfairness in my life, but I didn't have time to chase that thought down and feed it rhetoric until the lightbulb over my head lit up.
"Well," Murphy said, as the laughter died away. "I'm glad you got out all right. Went shopping after, did you?"
"Not so much," I said. "Okay, listen up, folks. Time is short. What else did we manage to find out about the site?"
Murphy told Thomas, "Mate in six," took a file folder from beneath her chair, and passed it to me.
"You wish," Thomas drawled lazily.
I eyed him and opened the folder. There were multiple pages inside, color aerial and satellite photos of the ruins.
"Good grief," I said. "How did you get these?"
"Internet," Murphy said calmly. "We've got an idea of where they're setting up and what security measures they'll need to take, but before we can talk about an approach, we need to know where we're going to arrive."
I stroked a thumb over my mother's gem and consulted the knowledge stored there. Then I went through the maps until I found one of the proper scale, picked up a pen from the table, and drew an X on the map. "Here. It's about five miles north of the pyramid."
Thomas whistled quietly.
"What?" I asked him. "You can't do five miles?"
"Five miles of sidewalk, sure," Thomas said. "Five miles of jungle is a bit different, Dresden."
"He's right," Martin said. "And at night, too."
Thomas spread his hands.
"Have done a little jungle," Sanya said, coming over to study the map. "How bad is the bush there?"
"Tougher than the lower Amazon, not as bad as Cambodia," Martin said calmly.
Sanya grunted. Thomas wrinkled his nose in distaste. I tried to pretend that Martin had given me some kind of tangible information, and idly wondered if Thomas and Sanya were doing the same thing as me.
"How long, Martin?" I asked him.
"Two hours, bare minimum. Could be more, depending."
I grunted. Then I said, "We'll see if Lea can't do something to help us along."
The room went still.
"Um," Murphy said. "Your psycho faerie godmother? That Lea?"
"Harry, you told me she was dangerous," Molly said.
"And I still have the scar to prove it," Thomas added.
"Yes," I said quietly. "She's powerful and by any reasonable standard she's insane and she's currently pointed in the direction of our enemy. So we're going to use her."
"We're using her, are we?" Sanya asked, grinning.
"He told us what Toot said about Mab, Harry," Molly said softly.
There was a long stretch of quiet.
"You made a deal," Murphy said.
"Yeah, I did. For Maggie, I did." I looked around the room. "I'm me until this is all over. That was part of the deal. But if there's anyone here who wants to bail on me and Susan, do it now. Otherwise, feel free to keep your mouth closed about the subject. My daughter doesn't have time for us to debate the ethics of a choice that isn't any of your goddamned business anyway."
I looked around the room and Sanya said, "I am going. Who else goes with us?"
"I figured that," I told him.
He wagged his tail.
"Me, obviously," Martin said.
Murphy nodded. Molly did, too. Then Thomas rolled his eyes.
"Good," I said. "Lea will probably have something to speed the trip," I said.
"She'd better," Thomas said. "Time's short."
"We will be there in time," Sanya said confidently.
I nodded. Then I said, "And I have a favor to ask two of you."
I put the bag down and pulled Fidelacchius from where I'd tied it. The ancient katana-style Sword had a smooth wooden handle that perfectly matched the wood of its sheath, so that when the weapon was sheathed it looked innocuous, appearing to be a slightly curved, sturdy stick of a good size to carry while walking. The blade was razor-sharp. I had dropped a plastic drinking straw across it as an experiment once. The rate of fall had been all the exquisite weapon had needed to slice the straw neatly in half.
"Karrin," I said, and held out the Sword.
Sanya's eyebrows climbed toward the roof.
"I've . . . been offered that Sword before, Harry," she said quietly. "Nothing's changed since then."
"I'm not asking you to take up the mantle of a Knight," I said quietly. "I want to entrust it to you for this night, for this purpose. This sword was made to fight darkness, and there's going to be plenty to go around. Take it up. Just until my girl is safe."
Murphy frowned. She looked at Sanya and said, "Can he do this?"
"Can you?" Sanya asked, looking at me.
"I was entrusted as the Sword's guardian," I said calmly. "Exactly what am I supposed to do with it if it is not my place to choose the Sword's bearer to the best of my ability?"
Sanya considered that for a moment, then shrugged. "Seems implicit to me. They gave you the power of choice when they entrusted you with the Swords. One of those things they seem to tell you without ever actually saying anything that sounds remotely related."
I nodded. "Murph. Used for the right reasons, in good faith, the Sword is in no danger. You're the only one who can know if you're doing it for the right reasons. But I'm begging you. Take it. Help me save my daughter, Karrin. Please."
Murphy sighed. "You don't play fair, Harry."
"Not for one second," I said. "Not for something like this."
Murphy was quiet for a moment more. Then she stood up and walked to me. She took the Sword from my hand. There was an old cloth strap fixed to the sheath, so that the weapon could be carried over one shoulder or diagonally across the back. Murphy slipped the weapon on and said, "I'll carry it. If it seems right to me, I'll use it."
"That's all I can ask for," I said.
Then I picked up Amoracchius, a European long Sword with a crusader-style hilt and a simple, wire-wrapped handle.
And I turned to Susan.
She stared at me and then shook her head slowly. "The last time I touched one of those things," she said, "it burned me so bad I could still feel it three months later."
"That was then," I said. "This is now. You're doing what you're doing because you love your daughter. If you stay focused on that, this Sword will never do you harm." I turned the hilt to her. "Put your hand on it."
Susan did so slowly, almost as if against her will. She hesitated at the last moment. Then her fingers closed on the blade's handle.
And that was all. Nothing happened.
"Swear to harm no innocents," I said quietly. "Swear to use it in good faith, to return your daughter safely home. Swear that you will safeguard the Sword and return it faithfully when that task is done. And I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be able to wield it."
She met my eyes and nodded. "I swear."
I nodded in reply and took my hands from the weapon. Susan drew it slightly from its sheath. Its edge gleamed, and its steel was polished as smooth and bright as a mirror. And when she moved to buckle it to her belt, the Sword fit there as if made for it.
My godmother was probably going to feel very smug about that.
"I hope that the Almighty will not feel slighted if I carry more, ah, innovative weaponry as well," Susan said. She crossed to the table, slid one of Martin's revolvers into her holster, and after a moment picked up the assault rifle.
Sanya stepped forward as well, and took the tactical shotgun with its collapsible shoulder stock. "If He exists, He has never given me any grief about it," he said cheerfully. "Da. This is going very well already."
Thomas barked out a laugh. "There are seven of us against the Red King and his thirteen most powerful nobles, and it's going well?"
"Eight," Thomas corrected himself. He rolled his eyes and said, "And the psycho death faerie makes it nine."
"It is like movie," Sanya said, nodding. "Dibs on Legolas."
"Are you kidding?" Thomas said. "I'm obviously Legolas. You're . . ." He squinted thoughtfully at Sanya and then at Martin. "Well. He's Boromir and you're clearly Aragorn."
"Martin is so dour, he is more like Gimli." Sanya pointed at Susan. "Her sword is much more like Aragorn's."
"Aragorn wishes he looked that good," countered Thomas.
"What about Karrin?" Sanya asked.
"What - for Gimli?" Thomas mused. "She is fairly - "
"Finish that sentence, Raith, and we throw down," said Murphy in a calm, level voice.
"Tough," Thomas said, his expression aggrieved. "I was going to say 'tough.' "
Martin had gotten up during the discussion. He came over to me and studied the map I'd marked. Then he nodded. As the discussion went on - with Molly's sponsorship, Mouse was lobbying to claim Gimli on the basis of being the shortest, the stoutest, and the hairiest - Martin explained what they knew of the security measures around the ruins.
"That's why we're going in here," he said, pointing to the eastern-most point of the ruins, where rows and rows and rows of great columns stood. Once, they had held up some kind of roof over a complex attached to the great temple. "Now," Martin continued, "the jungle has swallowed the eastern end of it. They're only using torchlight, so movement through the galleries should be possible. There will be considerable shadow to move through."
"Means they'll have guards there," I said.
"True. We'll have to silence them. It can be done. If we can move fully through the galleries, we'll be within two hundred feet of the base of the temple. That's where we think they'll be performing the ritual. In the temple."
"Plenty of temples got built on top of ley line confluences," I said, nodding. I studied the map. "A lot can happen in two hundred feet," I said. "Even moving fast."
Martin nodded. "Yes, it can. And, if our various intelligence sources are correct, there are more than a thousand individuals nearby."
"A thousand vampires?" I asked.
Martin shrugged. "Many. Many will be their personal guards. Others, the . . . highest-ranking servants, I suppose you would call them. They are like Susan and myself. There may also be mortal foot soldiers, there to keep the sacrifices in line."
Martin nodded. "The ceremonies of the Red Court of old could last for days, with blood sacrifices made every few minutes. There might be a hundred or two hundred others chosen to die before the ritual."
I didn't shudder, but only by sheer force of will. "Yeah. Priming the pump." I nodded. "Probably they're doing it right now."
"Yes," Martin said.
"What we need," I said.
"A diversion," Martin said.
I nodded. "Get everyone looking in one direction. Then Susan, Lea, and I will hit the temple, get the kid. Then we all run for Father Forthill's sanctuary on holy ground."
"They'll catch us long before we can cover that distance."
"You ever tried chasing a faerie through the woods at night?" I asked wryly. "Trust me. If we can break contact, we can make it a few miles."
"Why not retreat directly to the spirit world?" Martin asked.
I shook my head. "No way. Creatures this old and powerful know all the tricks there, and they'll be familiar with the terrain on the other side that close to their strong places. I won't fight them on that ground unless there's no other choice. We head for the church." I pointed to the location of the church, in a small town only about two and a half miles from Chich¨¦n Itz¨¢.
Martin smiled faintly. "Do you honestly think a parish chapel will withstand the might of the Red King?"
"I have to think that, Martin," I said. "Besides, I think a parish chapel with all three Swords defending it, along with two members of the White Council and an elder sorceress of the Winter Sidhe, will be a tough nut to crack. And all we have to do is make it until dawn. Then we're back in the jungle and gone."
Martin mused on that for a moment and said, "It might work."
"Yeah. It might," I said. "We need to move. Our ride is outside waiting."
Martin looked at Susan and nodded. Then he put his fingers to his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. The good-natured discussion came to a halt and he said, "The car's outside."
"Let's go, people," I said quietly. "It's the big green car."
Everyone grew serious rather rapidly, and began gathering up their various forms of gear.
Susan went out first, to make sure there weren't any problems with Lea, and everyone filed out after her, Sanya last.
"Sanya," I said. "Who did I get cast as?"
"Sam," Sanya said.
I blinked at him. "Not . . . Oh, for crying out loud, it was perfectly obvious who I should have been."
Sanya shrugged. "It was no contest. They gave Gandalf to your godmother. You got Sam." He started to leave and then paused. "Harry. You have read the books as well, yes?"
"Sure," I said.
"Then you know that Sam was the true hero of the tale," Sanya said. "That he faced far greater and more terrible foes than he ever should have had to face, and did so with courage. That he went alone into a black and terrible land, stormed a dark fortress, and resisted the most terrible temptation of his world for the sake of the friend he loved. That in the end, it was his actions and his actions alone that made it possible for light to overcome darkness."
I thought about that for a second. Then I said, "Oh."
He clapped me on the shoulder and left.
He didn't mention the other part of the book. That following the heroes when they set out was the tenth member of their party. A broken creature who went through all the same dangers and trials, who had made a single bad choice and taken up a power he didn't understand - and who had become a demented, miserable, living nightmare because of it. In the end, he had been just as necessary to the overthrow of the darkness.
But he sure as hell didn't enjoy his part.
I shook my head and berated myself sharply. Here I was wasting time talking about a damned book. About a world of blacks and whites with precious little in the way of grey, where you could tell the good guys from the bad guys with about two seconds of effort.
And right now, I didn't give a damn about good and bad. I just wanted a little girl home safe.
It didn't matter which of them I was. As long as I got Maggie home.
I picked up my bag, left St. Mary's behind me, and stalked out to my wicked godmother's limo, pulling the soft hood of my dark cape up over my head.
If I was on the road to Hell, at least I was going in style.