Read Changes Online

Authors: Jim Butcher

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #General

Changes (42 page)

BOOK: Changes
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“Murph,” I said. “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.”

“I had to see you,” she said. “You . . . you just left.”

“Wanted to say good-bye?” I asked.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said. “I don’t
to say it.” She swallowed. “Harry . . . it’s just that . . . I was worried about you. I’ve never seen you like this.”

“I’ve never murdered my child’s mother before,” I said tonelessly. “That’s bound to take a little adjustment.”

She shivered and looked away. “I just . . . just came to make sure that you aren’t doing this to punish yourself. That you aren’t going to . . . do anything dramatic.”

“Sure,” I said. “Nothing dramatic. That’s me.”

“Dammit, Dresden.”

I spread my hands. “What do you want from me, Murphy? There’s nothing left.”

She came and sat down next to me, her eyes on my face, on my chest and shoulders, taking in all the scars. “I know how you feel,” she said. “After Maggie was settled, I called in to the office. There’s . . . been another investigation launched. That putz Rudolph.” She swallowed, and I could practically smell the pain on her. “The game’s rigged. Stallings thinks he can get me early retirement. Half pension.”

“Jesus, Murphy,” I said, quietly.

“I’m a cop, Harry,” she whispered. “But after this . . .” She spread her hands, to show me that nothing was in them.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I got you into this.”

“The fuck. You. Did.” She turned angry blue eyes to me. “Don’t try that bullshit with me. I knew what I was doing. I took the risks. I paid for it. And I’ll keep doing it for as long as I damned well please. Don’t try to take that from me.”

I looked away from her and felt a little bit ashamed. She was probably right. She could have backed off from me a long time ago. She’d chosen to be my friend, even though she’d known the danger. It didn’t exactly make me feel any better about myself, but it made me respect her a little more.

Is it wrong of me to admire a woman who can take a hit? Take it with as much fortitude as anyone alive, and stand up again with the fire still in her eyes?

If it is, I guess I can blame it on a screwed-up childhood.

“Do you want the Sword?” I asked.

She let out a quiet groan. “You sound like Sanya. That was the first thing he said.” She twisted her face into a stern mask wearing a big grin and mimicked his accent. “ ‘This is excellent! I have been doing too much of the work!’ ”

I almost laughed. “Well. I must say. It looks good on you.”

“Felt good,” she said. “Except for that pronouncement-of-doom thing. It was like someone else was using me as a sock puppet.” She shivered. “Ugh.”

“Yeah, archangels can be annoying.” I nodded toward the hidden compartment. “There’s a space behind that panel. You ever want the Sword, check there.”

“I’m not rushing into anything. I’ve had rebound boyfriends. Not interested in a rebound career.”

I grunted. “So. What are you going to do?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to make any more decisions. So . . . I think I’m going to go get really drunk. And then have mindless sex with the first reasonably healthy male who walks by. Then have a really awkward hangover. And after that, we’ll see.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” I said. And my mouth kept going without checking in with the rest of me. Again. “Do you want some company?”

There was a sharp, heavy silence. Murphy actually stopped breathing. My heart rate sped up a little.

I wanted to curse my mouth for being stupid, but . . .

Why the hell

Bad timing is for people who have

“I . . .” She swallowed, and I could see her forcing herself to speak casually. “I suppose you exercise. It would make things simpler.”

“Simple,” I said. “That’s me.”

Her hand went to her hair and she forced it back down. “I want to . . .” She took a breath. “I’ll pick you up in an hour?”

“Sure,” I said.

She stood up, her cheeks pink. Hell’s bells, it was an adorable look on her. “An hour, then,” she said.

Before she could leave, I caught her hand. Her hands were small and strong and just a little rough. She had bandages over a couple of burst blisters the sword had worn on her during half an hour or so of hard work. I bent over it and kissed the back of her fingers, one for each. I let her go reluctantly and said, my stomach muscles twitching with butterflies, “An hour.”

She left and I saw her walking very quickly toward her car. Her ragged ponytail bobbed left and right with her steps.

The only thing certain in life is change. Most of my changes, lately, hadn’t been good ones.

Maybe this one wouldn’t be good either . . . but it didn’t have that feel to it.

I took forty minutes shaving and putting on my nicest clothes, which amounted to jeans and a T-shirt and my old fleece-lined denim jacket. I didn’t have any cologne, so the deodorant and soap would have to do. I didn’t allow myself to think about what was going on. In a dream, if you ever start realizing it’s a dream, poof, it’s gone.

And I didn’t want that to happen.

After that I spent a few minutes just . . . breathing. Listening to the water around me. The ticking of the clock. The peaceful silence. Drinking in the comforting sense of solitude all around me.

Then I said out loud, “Screw this Zen crap. Maybe she’ll be early.” And I got up to leave.

I came out of the cabin and into the early-afternoon sun, quivering with pleasant tension and tired and haunted—and hopeful. I shielded my eyes against the sun and studied the city’s skyline.

My foot slipped a little, and I nearly lost my balance, just as something smacked into the wall of the cabin behind me, a sharp popping sound, like a rock thrown against a wooden fence. I turned, and it felt slow for some reason. I looked at the
Water Beetle
’s cabin wall, bulkhead, whatever, behind me and thought,
Who splattered red paint on my boat?

And then my left leg started to fold all by itself.

I looked down at a hole in my shirt, just to the left of my sternum.

I thought,
Why did I pick the shirt with a bullet hole in it?

Then I fell off the back of the boat, and into the icy water of Lake Michigan.

It hurt, but only for a second. After that, my whole body felt deliciously warm, monstrously tired, and the sleep that had evaded me seemed, finally, to be within reach.

It got dark

It got quiet.

And I realized that I was all by myself.

“Die alone,”
whispered a bitter, hateful old man’s voice.

“Hush, now,”
whispered a woman’s voice. It sounded familiar.

I never moved, but I saw a light ahead of me. With the light, I saw that I was moving down a tunnel, directly toward it. Or maybe it was moving toward me. The light looked like something warm and wonderful and I began to move toward it.

Right up until I heard a sound.

I thought.
Even when you’re dead, it doesn’t get any easier.

The light rushed closer, and I distinctly heard the horn and the engine of an oncoming train.

Author’s Note

When I was seven years old, I got a bad case of strep throat and was out of school for a whole week. During that time, my sisters bought me my first fantasy and sci-fi novels: the boxed set of
Lord of the Rings
and the boxed set of Han Solo adventure novels by Brian Daley. I devoured them all during that week.

From that point on, I was pretty much doomed to join SF&F fandom. From there, it was only one more step to decide I wanted to be a writer of my favorite fiction material, and here we are.

I blame my sisters.

My first love as a fan is swords-and-horses fantasy. After Tolkien I went after C. S. Lewis. After Lewis, It was Lloyd Alexander. After them came Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, Robert Howard, John Norman, Poul Anderson, David Eddings, Weis and Hickman, Terry Brooks, Elizabeth Moon, Glen Cook, and before I knew it I was a dual citizen of the United States and Lankhmar, Narnia, Gor, Cimmeria, Krynn, Amber—you get the picture.

When I set out to become a writer, I spent years writing swords-and-horses fantasy novels—and seemed to have little innate talent for it. But I worked at my writing, branching out into other areas as experiments, including SF, mystery, and contemporary fantasy. That’s how the Dresden Files initially came about—as a happy accident while trying to accomplish something else. Sort of like penicillin.

But I never forgot my first love, and to my immense delight and excitement, one day I got a call from my agent and found out that I was going to get to share my newest swords-and-horses fantasy novel with other fans.

The Codex Alera is a fantasy series set within the savage world of Carna, where spirits of the elements, known as furies, lurk in every facet of life, and where many intelligent races vie for security and survival. The realm of Alera is the monolithic civilization of humanity, and its unique ability to harness and command the furies is all that enables its survival in the face of the enormous, sometimes hostile elemental powers of Carna, and against savage creatures who would lay Alera to waste and ruin.

Yet even a realm as powerful as Alera is not immune to destruction from within, and the death of the heir apparent to the crown has triggered a frenzy of ambitious political maneuvering and infighting amongst the High Lords, those who wield the most powerful furies known to man. Plots are afoot, traitors and spies abound, and a civil war seems inevitable—all while the enemies of the realm watch, ready to strike at the first sign of weakness.

Tavi is a young man living on the frontier of Aleran civilization—because let’s face it, swords-and-horses fantasies start there. Born a freak, unable to utilize any powers of furycrafting whatsoever, Tavi has grown up relying up on his own wits, speed, and courage to survive. When an ambitious plot to discredit the Crown lays Tavi’s home, the Calderon Valley, naked and defenseless before a horde of the barbarian Marat, the boy and his family find themselves directly in harm’s way.

There are no titanic High Lords to protect them, no Legions, no Knights with their mighty furies to take the field. Tavi and the free frontiersmen of the Calderon Valley must find some way to uncover the plot and to defend their homes against the merciless horde of the Marat and their beasts.

It is a desperate hour, when the fate of all Alera hangs in the balance, when a handful of ordinary steadholders must find the courage and strength to defy an overwhelming foe, and when the courage and intelligence of one young man will save the realm—or destroy it.

Thank you, readers and fellow fans, for all of your support and kindness. I hope that you enjoy reading the books of the Codex Alera as much as I enjoyed creating them for you.


BOOK: Changes
7.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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