Things were not off to a great start.

If not for the Pinkie Sense my brain would've been ventilated by a sniper. Then we got ambushed and had enough bullets and explosives thrown in our general direction to ruin anyone's day. We'd only gotten out of the whole mess in one piece by the skin of our teeth, and even then I hadn't done well enough to keep Fluttershy from taking a bullet. Thank whoever it is that's keeping an eye out for us that she didn't get hit badly enough to do any serious damage.

Not to mention that the only way we'd gotten out of the whole mess in one piece was because the ponies had crossed lines I would've preferred they didn't even know existed. Fluttershy and Pinkie for sure, and probably the others as well, had all killed while under the control of the Denarians, but there's a big difference between taking a life while you're under mind control and a demon is running co-pilot and killing of your own free will. Especially now that I'd gone and given the ponies souls.

Sure, if you looked at it one way, we'd come out of the fight pretty well. A couple close calls, but nobody died or was seriously injured. The problem was that we couldn't afford those kinds of close calls. If we lost one of the Element bearing ponies then we were completely up horseapple creek with a ponyfeather for a paddle. I know it's all about tapping into the magic of friendship and stuff, but it would've been nice to have a magical superweapon that didn't need six specific ponies all working together to do it's thing. The more people you need involved to get the job done, the greater the odds are that something's going to go wrong.

Then again, if you make a superweapon that's usable by a single person, it'll inevitably end up falling into the bad guy's hands and be turned against you. It's hard for me to imagine any six of the baddies I've had to deal with in the past being able to be in a room together longer than five minutes without trying to kill each other, much less use something like the Elements of Harmony. Especially when one of those baddies is Nicky 'Backstab' McGee.

The bottom line was that we had pretty much no margin for error. If even one of those close calls went bad on us and we lost a pony, then we would be utterly boned. Sure, we mightbe able to sub someone else in if one of ponies went down, but even Luna hadn't been one hundred percent sure that would work. Even if it did work, the Elements wouldn't be at full power–and from what I'd seen of Discord in action, hitting him with anything less than full power might not get the job done.

And just to top it all off, all the trouble so far was just from a little skirmish with some of Nicky's cannon fodder. None of the helldogs, 'tardbeasts, or any other nasty surprises he had working under his banner, just ordinary mortals. When he actually got around to breaking out the big guns...

For the moment we were still holed up in the cafe where we'd had our firefight with Nicky's cultists. It was as good a place as any to take a minute to lick our wounds and figure out our next move. Just continuing to walk on foot wasn't an option–we would just be setting ourselves up for a repeat attack. Unfortunately, of the two vehicles Nicky sent in with his cultists Derpy had effectively–if accidentally–blown one of them up, and Rarity had used a machinegun to carve the the other one into a steel-and-rubber swiss cheese sculpture It didn't look like her marksmanship had really gotten past the 'spray and pray' stage.

Yeah, we were gonna be in a bit of a tight spot.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, and looked up to find a pair of off-kilter eyes studying me. "You look worried, Harry. Want a muffin?" Derpy reached into her saddlebags and produced one of her never-ending supply of baked goods.

I sighed. "Derpy, we nearly got killed by a group of insane demon cultists, you and some of the other ponies had to use lethal force to save our bacon, we've got no transportation, we're about to go up against an evil god with a razor-thin margin of error when so far we've been struggling just to deal with expendable minions–and that's just everything that's gone wrong in the last fifteen minutes or so." I tried to rein in my frustration a bit as I asked. "Do you really think a muffin is going to help with any of that?"

Derpy thought that over for a second, then dropped the muffin in my hands with a bubbly smile. "Couldn't hurt."

I looked at the muffin for a couple seconds, and then shrugged and bit into it. "Thanks." That seemed to satisfy her, and Derpy flew off to go deliver muffins to everyone else.

I was just polishing off my muffin when another of the ponies approached me. "Excuse me, darling." I jumped in surprise–I hadn't heard Rarity walk up next to me. I guess I must have been a bit distracted thinking about the whole ... everything that was messed up about our situation. Last I'd seen of her, Rarity had gone off to the bathroom to 'powder her nose.' I didn't think it would be wise to point out how red and puffy her eyes were. Calling attention to the psychological toll the fight had taken on all the ponies would probably just make things worse.

The fashionista frowned for a moment, and then levitated her jammed assault rifle in front of my face. "Could you please explain why this horrid thing stopped working?"

I'm not an expert on guns that require much more than putting bullets into the cylinder and pointing them in the general direction of the baddie before I pull the trigger, but I knew enough to recognize a jam when I saw it. I turned to two guys who would probably know what to do. "Sanya, Jenkins, can either of you help Rarity fix her gun?"

"Da." Sanya walked up and gave the assault rifle a quick once-over. "It is jammed, this is not surprising when White Council casting so many spells. You see, fancy pony, this is why I love my Kalashnikov–not nationalism, but reliability. You drop Kalashnikov in mud, run over with tank, and then you can still pick it up and shoot."

"Not to mention a bit of rugged reliability is kind of a big deal when you're working with magic," Jenkins added as he looked up from cleaning one of his enchanted knives.. "The more ways there are for a gun to break, the more likely it is that something's gonna go wrong with it once the magic starts flying. S'why I love my 1911. That, and the fact that it shoots out nice big bullets; a nine millimeter might be enough for most humans, but sometimes I'm shooting at stuff a lot nastier than a human." He thought the matter over for a moment, then shrugged and added. "Of course, sometimes I'm shooting at things that find bullets of any size annoying instead of painful."

"If you want rugged and reliable, revolvers are still the best choice," I opined. "Any automatic has a chance of jamming when there's enough magic going around, so I like to play it safe. Plus you can get bigger bullets. Besides, revolvers are cool."

Rarity let out a haughty sniff and looked the three of us over with vague annoyance. "Yes, well sometimes we have to use what tools are at our disposal, not the ones we want. Now, can one of you please make this thing work again? I can't say I care for it, but if those ruffians intend to keep trying to hurt my friends..." For a second the unicorn started shaking, but with an effort of will she threw it off.

I shared a worried look with the other two–Rarity might be putting up a brave front, but it was pretty clear that she was hurting from her introduction to firearms and lethal force. I guess there was nothing for it but to hope she could hold it together through the end of the fight. We might be able to afford at best a few minutes to help the ponies work things out, but it's not like we could ask Discord and Nicky to put their evil plan on hold for a couple months while we put Rarity and all the other ponies into counseling for PTSD.

Sanya took the initiative and gave Rarity a friendly (though relatively gentle for him) slap on the back. "Da, this is true. Do not worry, I help you protect pony friends. When gun jams, you cycle the bolt like so." He gave the gun another evaluating once-over. "Fabrique Nationale? Fancy toys for demon warriors." The Russian gave a disapproving shrug. "I do not like these bullpup rifles. No bayonets, and no stock to hit someone with."

Rarity frowned at him. "I'm sure I will find some way to endure using a gun that cannot also be used to club and stab anypony as well. Now, I do not mean to be terse with you, but unless you have something better on hoof for me to carry around, I would like for you to show me how to use this device properly." Rarity grimaced at the assault rifle. "It might be a crude and uncivilized weapon, but it is undeniably ... effective." The unicorn gave another little shudder, but carried on. "I will be most distressed if it stops working again when one of those miscreants comes after my friends."

Sanya sighed and gave an understanding nod. "Da, da," He followed that up with a couple words of Russian that sounded like an apology, then switched back to English. "You know how to remove the clip, so once that is done, you cycle the bolt like so," Sanya demonstrated, "and then tip the barrel down for the jammed casing to exit the ejection port. F2000s are strange, they have theirs up front." The Russian looked the gun over. "Is pity we did not get one with grenade launcher. Then again, that would mean cultists shooting us with grenades, so I suppose that is okay too."

Rarity very carefully watched Sanya's demonstration and slowly nodded. "Da, da," Okay ... why did her voice suddenly sound different now? Then she did something that really surprised me and started speaking in Russian. I couldn't be sure if that was the case or not, but I had a sneaking suspicion that she now sounded exactly like whoever her Russian voice actress was. In any case, she swiftly followed Sanya's instructions to clear her gun, and shot him a triumphant little smile. "Da?"

Sanya looked about as surprised by Rarity's sudden burst of multilingualism as I was. "Very good–and impressive. I was not aware you knew Russian."

Rarity shot him a confused frown. "Know what now?"

Sanya scratched his head and shot Rarity a faintly bemused look. "The language you just spoke in–it is Russian, my mother tongue."

Rarity tilted to her head to the side, mulling that over. "Darling, I've been speaking Equestrian this entire time." The elegant unicorn frowned a rubbed a hoof along the bottom of her chin. "You know, I did think it was rather odd that everyone seemed to be speaking the same language despite the different ... well, what's the word? Dimensions? Worlds?"

Okay, that was just a little freaky. Every once in a while you get to thinking that ponies are pretty much like ordinary people, except for the fact that they're short cartoony equines. Then they pull something like that to remind you that for as human-like as they might be, they were still Outsiders that just don't operate according to our laws of physics, logic, and sanity.

Then again, multilingual tricks are probably small potatoes compared to some of the stunts Pinkie had pulled. Plenty of ordinary creatures from this level of reality like the Faeries could already pull that kind of thing off. Heck, back when she was still living in my brain Lash could basically allow me to do that by auto-translating whatever I was saying and hearing. Quite useful when you need to interrogate somebody who only speaks ancient Sumerian.

While Sanya occupied himself by giving Rarity a quick crash course on marksmanship, Lash seemed be thinking much the same thing. "A curious manifestation... I wonder if your universe allows you knowledge of languages into which your show is translated?"

From the way her eyes brightened and her ears perked up, the prospect of a new mystery to study seemed to catch Twilight's interest. I certainly wasn't going to complain about anything that might pull her out of the quiet and withdrawn state she'd been in ever since she accidentally killed a dozen cultists. "Now that's an interesting hypothesis. Shall we test to see how it works?

While Twilight slowly started working her way through every single language she could manage, Lash pulled me off to the side. "How long do you intend to tarry in this place before we move on?" She demanded. "Every moment we delay gives Nicodemus more time to marshal his forces and prepare another attack."

I sank down into one of the few chairs that had survived relatively intact the battle against Nicky's cultists. "I wasn't planning on staying much longer, but we need to give the ponies a few minutes to sort themselves out. That last fight was rough on them, and if they don't have things together mentally they might not be able to make with the magical friendship." I poked my head outside and looked up to make sure everything was still alright. "Besides, I've got Rainbow Dash flying lookout, so we'll have warning if anyone's coming."

"So at least we will have ample warning before Nicodemus and Discord initiate their plans to destroy us," Lash sniped. "How reassuring." She crossed her arms over her chest and hit me with a slightly annoyed glare. "If you are concerned for the mental well-being of the ponies, the best course of action is to continue forward. The longer we linger, the more time their worries will have become set in their minds. Better that we keep them in the thick of battle, where they will not have time to dwell on such things."

Any further discussion on the matter came to an abrupt end when Pinkie bounced in front of us and out the door. "Guys, I saw one of those chocolate rain clouds! Chocolately rainy cotton candy-y goodness!" Pinkie wasted no more time in rushing off to put herself underneath the nearest cloud.

I shot Lash a smirk that held just the tiniest little hint of smugness. "What was that about a little decompression time putting them in worse shape?"

Lash gave me one of those looks you never want to get from a woman. I'm not sure how she knew that one when she had no real mortal human female experience. Must just be a female thing–after all, even Rarity had hit me with one. "Regardless, we should not give Nicodemus and Discord any further time to prepare. It is likely the cultists who attacked us sent word to their master before they opened fire."

I let out a sharp little snort of laughter. "Kinda hard for them to do much communicating with each other when Nicky cuts out their tongues as part of the initiation." You'd think that kind of thing would really hurt his recruitment numbers, but apparently he offered a good enough dental plan to offset the tongue removal.

The corners of Lash's mouth tweaked up in a slightly mocking grin. "The loss of their tongues is no barrier to communication with sufficient ingenuity, especially if they can take advantage of modern technology. Besides, if they have no means of rapid communication, how were they able to launch such a coordinated assault upon us?"

That ... was actually a pretty good point. I'll admit I'm pretty behind the times on what people can do with modern technology–hard to keep up with the latest computer and cell phone tricks when my mere presence can fry them. Still, it's kinda hard not to pick up some things through cultural osmosis–Nicky's minions might not have tongues, but they could send out e-mails and texts just fine.

"Okay, start getting everypo–everybody together." I've been hanging out with ponies way too much, now their vocabulary is starting to rub off on me. Lash nodded and was about to start getting the human-pony alliance back on the move when Pinkie came zooming back towards us. Her face was tinged a sickly green, and there were a couple thick globs of brown clinging to her coat. A second later the smell hit me.

"He changed it," she moaned. "It's not chocolate rain anymore." A second later Pinkie gave a dry heave, and then bolted for the bathroom.

A second later, I could swear I heard a worryingly familiar-sounding chuckle drift in on the wind. I really hope that was just my imagination, because if Discord was free enough to play nasty little pranks like that on us, we might be in a lot of trouble.

Before I could spare the time to get too worried about the evil god of chaos that might watching us, a phone started ringing. A bit of confused searching revealed it to be the cafe's landline. I was somewhat amazed that a phone had actually survived, though I suppose if Discord really was watching and dicking around with us fixing a phone would be small potatoes for him. I certainly didn't think whoever was calling wanted to ask about the house special.

The others had all noticed the phone ringing too, though the ponies didn't quite know what to make of it. The humans in the group all seemed to have jumped to the same conclusions I had about who must be calling, but nobody seemed to inclined to pick up the phone for me. That's the one thing I hate about being the wizard who knows stuff–everyone keeps expecting me to lead, come up with brilliant plans, do stuff. Not that I minded any of that, but it would be nice if one day someone came up to me and said 'Hey Harry, there was an evil plot to destroy the world, but we took care of it on our own all without needing to bother you.'

After a moment of hesitation, I picked up the phone. "Roadkill cafe. You kill it, we grill it."

There was a low chuckle on the other end of the line, and then I heard Nicodemus' smooth, slightly accented voice. "Ah, Dresden, your insolence never fails to amuse me. Especially since we both know you use it as a feeble method of hiding your terror."

Yup, it was Nicky. I found a semi-intact chunk of counter to sit on, and very briefly lamented the fact that I left my chair on the other side of the room. "Sorry, I'm all out of witty banter for the day, and we both know that unless you can get Discord to mess around with my head again I'm not turning over to the Dark Side. I'm guessing this is the part where you try to offer me some kind of deal, even though we both know you'd stab me in the back as soon as you think you can get away with it."

Nicky let out another bit of dry laughter. "We understand each other so well, Harry. However, I think it would be very wise for you to put a hold on your insouciant inclinations for long enough to hear me out." Nicky gave a slight pause for what I'm sure he thought was dramatic effect, and then declared. "I would hate to have to order my men to shoot a certain dashing pegasus they have in their sights right now."

Dammit. I thought putting Rainbow up top on lookout duty was a smart move, and she was supposed to be staying mobile enough to make it just about impossible to get a bead on her. Please tell me she hadn't decided guard duty was boring and switched to taking a quick nap instead. That would be just my luck. Going out to check on her obviously wouldn't be a smart move–at best, it would push Nicky into taking the shot.

On the bright side, if he just wanted Rainbow Dash dead, he could take the shot right now and let that be the end of it. If he'd gone to all the trouble of contacting me instead, that meant he had some kind of deal in mind. It's kind of strange that a guy who breaks any deal he makes without a moment's hesitation will always be so quick to offer negotiations. I guess it must be a side effect of spending so much time dealing with opponents like the Knights of Cross–the types of enemies that would always negotiate in good faith because they're just all around decent people. That's not to say the Knights were suckers for every nasty trick Nicky could pull, but they couldn't backstab Nicky first–they had to wait for him to break the deal.

Of course, there was always the option of just not negotiating with Nicodemus at all. That would be the smart thing to do, really. That's probably why he always makes sure to open negotiations with a couple very plausible death threats. When the alternative to negotiating is him putting a bullet into Rainbow Dash, I'll talk.

Still, no way I was ever gonna let Nicky see me sweat. "Saying you'll snipe someone I care about unless I chat with you? You're slipping Nicky. Last time you tried that trick, you were gonna shoot Molly if I didn't make nice with you. I expected a little more variety."

"What can I say?" I could just imagine Nicky casually shrugging his shoulders on the other end of the line. "I have a fondness for using methods that have proven to be effective in previous encounters with you."

"You're bluffing." I'm not sure if I believed it myself, but I'd take any possible advantage I could get. "If you wanted one of the ponies tied to the Elements dead, you could've killed them off a long time ago. You've been keeping them alive for a reason, probably so you have an ace in the hole against Discord. You wouldn't kill one now just because I won't play your game."

"By all means," Nicodemus answered with a hint of challenge. "If you think I'm bluffing, feel free to call me on it."

Damn ... I couldn't risk it. if he wasn't bluffing and we lost Rainbow Dash, it was all over. "You might wanna change up your playbook against me," I growled at him. "The last two times we tangoed, it ended with your plans foiled. And you would've gotten away with them too, if it weren't for that meddling wizard."

"You may call those victories, if it pleases you to think of them as such," Nicky shot back smoothly. "Tell me, Dresden, how many Knights of the Cross do you have supporting you right now?"

I flinched at that. The first time I'd run up against Nicky, there had been three Knights of the Cross supporting me. One of them, Shiro, sacrificed himself to save me. The next time I got into a fight with the Denarians, it was my friend Michael that went down. He'd made it out of the fight alive, but his injuries were bad enough to force him into retirement.

For some reason, the Powers That Be had decided to put me in charge of finding replacements for the two Knights that had been taken out of action on my watch. I'd put a lot of work in, but so far the closest I'd come to getting a couple new active Knights was finding out that my friend Karin Murphy was qualified for the job, and she'd turned it down.

I couldn't help wondering if maybe that had been Nicky's plan all along. From what I'd seen of how the Nickleheads operated, a little bit of mass chaos, death, and destruction was the sort of thing they got up to on a regular basis. Sure, I might have foiled Nicky's plans in the past, but had I ever really managed to hurt him in the process? I'd killed a few of his minions, but he'd never shown any hesitation about treating them as utterly expendable. In return, he'd knocked out two of the three Knights of the Cross. Nicky had no trouble filling his minion roster back up, but holy warriors were a little bit harder to replace.

The thing about a guy like Nicodemus, he tends to do a lot of thinking in the long term. Living for a couple thousand years does kind of create that sort of perspective–and that was just Nicky, his demonic co-pilot was probably into the billions of years old. Me, I've kinda been stuck thinking in the short term for most of my life. It's not that I'm completely ignorant of the long term consequence of my actions, but it's kind of hard for me to worry about what might happen five years down the line when I'm not sure if I'll make it out of today alive.

I grit my teeth and tried to keep my cool. Bringing up what happened to Michael was a bit of a sore spot for me, and Nicky probably knew it. He'd tried tricks like this to get under my skin before–anger usually leads to some very bad decision-making. "Enough. If the Guy Upstairs wants your ass kicked, you know it'll happen." I just really, really hope that today was that day. We could certainly use all the help we could get right now.

In contrast to my barely-controlled fury, Nicodemus' voice came back infuriatingly calm. To him, this was just like chatting over the results of last week's baseball game over the water cooler. "He hasn't managed more than a minor inconvenience in two thousand years. A few temporary setbacks, but nothing of substance. I think I rather like my chances. Now, are we done posturing, or shall I deliver a villainous monologue?"

"Lasciel thought the same thing," I reminded him tightly. "You might wanna keep that in mind."

"Yes, we were all quite saddened by her loss." Nicky sounded anything but sad. From what I understood of the politics of Hell, they hadn't exactly been friends. For all I know, he might have come out ahead from her buying the farm. One of those rules the world seemed to run on was that Heaven and Hell had to balance each other out. If one of the coins went bye-bye...

Oh god, I really hope killing off Lasciel and destroying her coin hadn't ended up just making Nicky stronger to 're-balance' things. That would just be so unfair. Hell's bells, if he ever pieced together how I'd destroyed Lasciel's coin...

I tried very hard to put the latest bit of pants-crapping terror I'd encountered out of my mind. "Is there anything you want that you haven't asked for in the past, or are we just having the same not-a-negotiation again?"

"Well, I certainly wouldn't complain if you were in the mood to take up a coin," Nicodemus answered amicably, "though I suspect some of the Fallen might be hesitant about accepting such an opportunity after what you did to Lasciel." I was very grateful that Nicodemus probably couldn't see the shudder that went up my spine when he mentioned Lasciel. After my recent little revelation, the last thing I wanted to do was destroy another one of the coins. "However, I think you'll find my terms most agreeable. All I ask is that you remain in your current position for an hour, and then continue on your task."

Okay, that sounded way too simple and harmless for there to not be some sort of massive catch. I wonder if he was just planning on dropping a bomb on the whole building or something? "Is that all? No request for ritual suicide or throwing out our weapons and dressing in neon to make it easier for your snipers?"

"Oh, if I wanted you dead that would be well within my power as it stands." Nicky said it with such casual assurance that for a second I believed it too. "However," he continued, "We have a common interest to pursue, all I would ask of you is that we not get in each other's way."

"You mighthave considered making that proposition before sending in the Mute Mob," I growled at him. "It would have lent a bit more credibility to your offer." Then again, if my last couple run-ins with them were anything to judge by, the Denarians seemed to think that a bit of attempted murder was a fine way to open negotiations.

"I do apologize for that," Nicodemus assured me in a voice that dripped false sincerity. "If it is any consolation, the men who fired on you were not doing so under my orders."

Interesting. Maybe Derpiel hadn't been lying when she/it told me that there was some kind of internal conflict going on between the Denarians and Discord. "Okay, I know I'm going to hate the answer, but what's our common interest? Your civil war with the god of chaos and disharmony? 'Cause I gotta say, you really should have seen that one coming."

"Oh, I never expected our arrangement to be a permanent one." Guess that figures. Knowing how Nicodemus and the Denarians operate, they were probably planning on backstabbing Discord when ... wait, they were doing that now, weren't they? "I find that I am no longer entirely satisfied with my current arrangement with Discord. If you will allow me time to remove my assets from the area, I will provide you with a clear path to him. You and your equine companions attend to the matter, and then we both go our separate ways."

He throws his guys away like candy wrappers, what's important enough for him to not want me poking around? Either he's picked up something big out of all this, or ... maybe he was getting just a little scared of me. I was probably one of the only living mortals who knew the achilles' heel of his little necktie of invulnerability. It protected him against everything ... except itself. Between that and the fact that I've started building up a reputation for killing off some real heavy hitters, maybe he was just a bit wary of going for a third round against me. For the first time in a while, I started thinking that maybe I had an edge. "Not to split hairs, but I think there's a verse about reaping and sowing. You might have even been around when it was written."

"Your reach extends your grasp, Dresden." Nicodemus voice had gone cold, with none of the casual, almost friendly confidence he'd been displaying up to this point. "It would be wise to pick your battles more carefully. I'm offering to leave the field, all you need to do is choose not to stand in my way. A wiser man would jump at such an offer."

For a very brief moment, I wished that Lash had been close enough to overhear our talk, because she'd probably enjoy hearing this one. "Nicky, Nicky, Nicky. You should know by now that 'wisdom' and me are usually on separate ends of the scale." I shot a worried look out the window, and when I spoke my voice had lost a bit of it's smartassy tone "Usually."

Dammit Rainbow, feel free to come back in anytime now...

"So you truly think to face Discord and I at the same time?" Nicodemus asked archly. "Contending with either one of us would sorely test your strength, and against us both you are outmatched." His voice turned slightly mocking as he added. "That is assuming you can even get past my servants and his without taking unsustainable losses. I can afford the loss of a few hundred of my devotees far more easily than you can sacrifice even one of your own."

Sunuvabitch, he was right. Even if the ponies weren't the linchpin to setting off our magical superweapon, we just didn't have the numbers to go up against wave after wave of cultists. Sure, individually they weren't that tough, but all they needed was one or two lucky breaks to hurt us. Even if we did manage to get through all his minions in one piece, we'd use up a lot of resources doing it. I didn't like my odds of fighting Nicodemus when I was completely fresh, let alone when I was tired and worn out.

He wasn't kidding about the power scale, either–what I saw of Discord in the Outside put him at least on god-tier, and alone or not, Nicky had been pretty well inoculated against death. Trying to go up against both sides at the same time ... I was getting flashbacks to the Fae war. I sighed, and gave him the only answer I could, especially with Rainbow Dash sitting in his crosshairs. "So, one hour truce, then back to semi-indiscriminate slaughter as usual?"

"Indeed." I could just imagine the Cheshire smile on his face when I gave in. "I do so enjoy these conversations, Dresden. I don't suppose I could convince you to hand over the coins you've gathered as a gesture of goodwill? Or perhaps ask the Russian to take a walk outside?"

I gave pointless glance out the window-not that I could do a lot even if I spotted a sniper, but somehow knowing where they might be made me feel a bit better. Perhaps I'd know which direction to hurl my insults against their parentage. Given some of his previous antics, I couldn't exactly rule out that Nicodemus might have some way of seeing what I was up to. Probably not though–otherwise he would have used that knowledge to mock me by now. "Sorry, I need some bubblegum to chew while kicking ass, and I think there's a vending machine around here somewhere. Lemme check with Sanya, though." I turned to the world's only agnostic holy knight. "Feeling more nihilistic than usual? Even for a Russian?"

Sanya answered me with an amused, indifferent shrug.

I picked the phone back up and gave Nicky his answer. "Sorry, doesn't look like it."

"Pity." Nicodemus' voice turned idly musing. "If I might ask, Harry. Why did you leave the swords in Miss Murphy's care, yet leave her behind? Another Knight would be of use to you in your current situation, even an untrained one."

The bottom dropped out of stomach at the mention of Murphy. "Funny thing about humans and free will," I answered in a voice that I really hoped didn't sound as shaky to him as it did to me. "Even when something looks like it'd work out, we don't always go with it. No means no, don'tcha know, and Murph said no."

"And yet you left the swords in her care after your temporary case of death." I gave a sharp little hiss at that–how did he know I'd left the swords to her? "I find that ... curious. Surely there are better guardians than a single ordinary mortal woman."

I tried to cover up my fear with a bit of righteous indignation. "'Ordinary' mortals have been guarding and using the Swords for centuries, I don't see how this is any different." I gave that a second to sink in, and then followed it up with, "And don't call me Shirley."

Nicky stayed quiet for several seconds. I guess he's not used to dealing with incredibly lame puns. "I see." Guess he'd finally gotten it. "Your attempts at humor never fail to amuse me, though not for the reasons you hope, I'm sure."

"As long as it gets a laugh, it counts." I like breaking out the smartassery with Nicky–it's a lot safer than most of the other things I could do that involve him. "As long as we're swapping questions, why do you do the whole negotiating and bantering thing anyway? We both know it won't accomplish anything."

Nicodemus let out a world-weary groan. "Negotiating with the Knights of the Cross might get boring after a thousand years. Aside from their pious refusals, all I even hear is pleading." He gave a slightly annoyed sigh. "It is so dreadfully tiring when all you ever hear is 'No, no! Please, no! I have a family!' The Denarian scoffed. "As if I wouldn't kill their families too, I despise loose ends. Now then, to answer your question: I suppose it is simply that I find your attempts at wit and defiance both a refreshing change and amusing in and of themselves."

"You know Nicky, sometimes I wonder if the reason you really want me to pick up a coin is just so I can be around for eternity to entertain you with my witty sarcasm." I've heard stranger reasons for people to try to turn me to the dark side. "All the rampant hedonism and sadism must get boring after the first five or so centuries."

When Nicodemus answered me, I could could practically hear the smirk on his face over the phone line. "Thank you for confirming the location of the swords."

I'm pretty sure Nicky heard the sound of me applying face to palm. Stars and Stones, he'd been fishing, and I'd gone and spilled all the info to him. "Don't you have a civil war to fight, children's ribs to pick your teeth with, or a mustache to twirl?" I tried to ignore the way all the ponies were shooting me horrified and disgusted looks after the 'children's ribs' line.

"Oh, it's not really a civil war as such," Nicodemus answered smoothly. "More like a ... disagreement as to who should be the primary manager of our current joint venture. A disagreement you'll be settling for me quite handily."

"Ah, yes, 'settling disagreements.' I thought we had dismissed that claim." For some reason, saying that made Jenkins laugh and shoot me a thumbs up. That's what I get for stealing a line from one of my games with the Alphas. I swear, they must spend half of every game making internet references that just go right over my head. "Anything else, or shall we continue moving towards each others' downfall in the name of joint venture?"

"Oh, no, I'm quite satisfied with our current arrangement," Nicodemus answered easily. He let out a mocking little chuckle and tossed out one last barb. "You really are horribly predictable, Dresden."

This, coming from a guy who pretty much radiated pure Saturday morning cartoon evil? Hell, the ponies' cartoon had baddies with more complexity than Nicodemus' general 'I'm an evil bastard because it's fun' policy. "I'm in good company, then." I forced my voice to sound reasonably cordial. "See you in hell, Nicky."

"Not too soon, I hope," he answered smoothly.

I was just about to hang up on him when I actually got a bit of good luck for once. Rainbow Dash flew in through the blasted out front window, casually unaware of the danger she'd been in. "Hey guys, everything's clear."

I let out a relieved breath and gave her a casual little wave. then brought the phone back up to my ear. "Hey Nicky?"


"You suck at bluffing." The only reason I'd gone along with the whole arrangement was because Rainbow was in the line of fire, and now she was back in cover. "Deal's off."

"Such a pity." Uh-oh. Nicodemus didn't sound nearly upset enough about that. "I never bluff, Dresden. Do give her daughter my condolences, I'm sure she'll be devastated."

Wait, what? Rainbow doesn't have a daughter.

I was just putting it all together when I heard the gunshot. By the time I looked Derpy was already on the ground in a rapidly growing pool of blood.

Oh god.

Oh god.

I just got Derpy shot. I just couldn't resist trying to get one last little word in on Nicky, and now...

She has kids.

Fluttershy surprised me by being the first one to get over the shock of Derpy getting shot and do something. The vet rushed over to Derpy and snatched a tablecloth, then used it to apply pressure to Derpy's wound. The bullet had gotten her in the side, a little underneath the wing joint. That's not a good place to get shot. At least I'm pretty sure it's not–I knew a bit about horses from working on my grandfather's farm, but there's a big difference between horses and magical cartoon ponies with wings.

Then I felt a breeze as Rainbow Dash shot past me, shouting out a string of pony and human expletives as she went. It wasn't hard to guess where she was going, since it was exactly where I started heading half a second later. Some son of a bitch had just put a bullet into Derpy Hooves, and they were going to pay!

I didn't have much more than a vague general notion of which direction the shot must have come from, but Rainbow Dash was faster than me and had a much better perspective thanks to the whole being able to fly thing. It also gave her a bit of a speed advantage on me, but to my surprise I was actually managing to do a passable job of keeping up with her. It probably helped that she was searching all over the place in three dimensions, while I was just following along as fast as I could in her wake.

Just when I was beginning to worry that the baddies might get away, Rainbow smashed through a sixth-story window in fairly ordinary looking office building. I wasted no time kicking open the front door and looking for the closest set of stairs. Say what you will about Mab's generally nasty personality, but she'd done a good job of getting my body back into good shape after it spent half a year on magical life support.

I think I might have set some kind of personal record running up the stairs. A huge helping of righteous wrath make for one hell of a motivator to push my body as fast as it could go. Plus, apparently one of the side perks of being the Winter Knight was getting some boosts to my physical abilities–I hadn't established just how far the changes went yet, but back before the whole death thing had gone and distracted me I could easily keep pace with some of the supernaturally fast types. Going mono-a-mono with the Red King would have been a very bad idea for me back when I was a vanilla wizard.

So Nicodemus really thought that after everything he'd pulled he could get me to walk away because I might not be able to take him? No. Hell no. I should've dealt with him years ago. Hell's bells, my last run-in with him was almost a decade back. But what did I do after both my run-ins with him? Nothing. I just let him walk away.

Sure, I'd foiled the evil schemes he'd been hatching, but a guy like Nicky having a scheme foiled was small potatoes. He probably had a dozen evil plots up in the air at any given time. I'd let him waltz in, kill good men and innocent people, fucking torture a child, and what did I do at the end of it all? I just let him walk away with a stern warning not to do it again.

Okay, so I hadn't really been in the best of shape to try to go another round with Nicodemus after either of our fights. He was one hell of a tough bastard, and he had a lot of backup. Hell, the second time we tangled I had him on the ropes before his reinforcements saved his bacon. So maybe letting him slip away when I was in no shape to fight him was understandable.

But then I didn't try to do anything else to chase him. I just let him keep on running around, let him go about his business unmolested as long as he stayed out of my city. I never tried to hunt him down, never tried to bring him to justice.

I could tell myself that there were lots of good reasons for that. It's not my job to play Superman, running around fighting evil and righting wrongs all over the world. The White Council would probably get annoyed and start whining about me overstepping my authority and causing problems with another major power in the magical world. After all, the Denarians were technically signatories to the Unseelie Accords. Besides, the Knights of the Cross were running around, and a couple holy knights swinging around legendary swords were a lot better at dealing with Nicky and his goons than I was.

The problem was, I could be sure whether all those perfectly legitimate reasons I'd had for not chasing after Nicky were anything other than excuses. The simple, ugly truth was that back when the Red Court took my little girl, and I knew I was going to have to make a deal with the devil to get the power I needed to save her ... yeah. Nicky made no secret of the fact that he wanted me carrying one of those little coins of his, and my early run-ins with Lash back when she was still just occupying space in my brain made it pretty clear that the Denarians could offer me a big boost in power.

So maybe I'd been ignoring Nicky for other reasons. It wasn't me pragmatically realizing that I couldn't deal with every baddie in the world. I'd just wanted to keep him around for my rainy day insurance. So that if I ever got into a bad enough position, I could call him up and take that deal.

And now Derpy Hooves had a bullet hole in her chest because I'd wanted to keep my options open.

When I finally caught up with Rainbow Dash, she'd already found the sniper. If not for the fact that this was the bastard who'd shot Derpy, I might have felt sorry for him. When a pissed-off pegasus hits someone at a considerable fraction of the speed of sound, the end result isn't pretty.

From the looks of it, the place had been a fairly standard cubicle farm before Rainbow Dash hit. Now it looked ... well, like a cubicle farm where everything's been knocked over and blasted all over the place, and with a couple bits of demon-cultist sniper scattered around. Rainbow had pinned the largest chunk of sniper she could find against one of the fallen cube walls and pounded it further into the ground, cutting loose with a string of obscenities that was impressively creative given her fairly limited vocabulary.

I walked up to her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "He's dead, Rainbow."

"Not dead enough," she growled.

Before I could come up with anything else to say that might comfort her, one of the chunks of knocked over cubicle started shifting around. I instantly went on guard–I didn't think it was likely that there were innocent officers hanging around with the mute sniper. In fact, I seemed to vaguely recall something about how snipers usually worked in teams. Well, he could look forward to the same treatment as his partner got. The piece of cubicle wall shifted out of the way, and something climbed out. At first I didn't realize what I was up against, but a second later it all clicked. "Rainbow Dash, look out!"

Rainbow Dash looked at the creature, then back at me, then back at the beast. "It's a bunny."

The instant Rainbow Dash let her guard down, the cute little white bunny leapt for her throat, teeth bared, letting out a tiny little cry or rabbit-y fury.

"Forzare!" I managed to catch the beast in mid-air and send it flying before it could take Rainbow's head off.

"Celestia's flying feathers!" Rainbow stared at the little hellbeast. "It's like Angel's eviler cousin!

"I warned ya!" For reasons that need not be explained to anyone with sufficient nerd credit, there was a bit of very badly faked scottish brogue in my voice. "I warned ya, but you didn't listen. 'Oh, it's just a wee little harmless bunny, it can't hurt anyone!' Well now look at–whoa!"

I brought my shield up just in time to keep the bunny from separating my own head from it's shoulders. Perhaps I needed to remember to cut down a bit on the smartassery when I was in the middle of a life-and-death situation.

Just to make things worse, now the the bunny was just a couple inches away from my face, trying to chew its way past my shield, I could clearly see the trademark second set of glowing demonic eyes that marked a Denarian. Man, Nicky sure knew how to pick 'em.

Well, I guess it could be worse. At least we weren't up against the monster of the Castle of Aaaaugh.

"Forzare!" The bunnarian went flying away again, but somehow managed to spin around in mid air so it could jump off the wall and come right back at me. I brought my shield back up to block it, but that clearly wasn't a good long-term solution.

After I sent the demon-rabbit flying away with another blast of force, I followed up with my standard solution evil demonic beings that wanted to eat my face. I tried to kill it with copious amounts of fire.

Unfortunately, the bunnarian was a lot smaller and faster than most of the things I'm used to dealing with. Makes it a lot harder to land a solid hit on. Even more unfortunately, I was flinging fire around in an office building full of nicely flammable paper, cubicle parts, cheap carpeting, and other things that don't react well to being set on fire.

But even that didn't top the fact that the building had an automated sprinkler system. Just in case you didn't know, running water is one of those things that disrupts just about any kind of magic.

I tried to pull my shield back up but with all the running water grounding my magic out I couldn't manage anything better than a weak, flickering little barrier that the demonically empowered rabbit of doom had not trouble smashing through.

I instinctively brought an arm up to protect my face. That wasn't quite the futile gesture it might seem, since I did have a freshly enchanted duster. The old had shrugged off gunfire, claws, teeth, and a couple other things in the past, and this one had a little bit of extra Winter magic tossed in that should make it even more resilient.

All that defensive magic was the only reason the bunnarian didn't take my arm off when it hit. Its teeth still punched through the leather and took some of my flesh in the bargain, but at least it didn't hit bone.

Just to make things better, the demon-bunny was way too small and agile for me hold it at bay with my arm for long. Within a second of sinking its teeth into my arm, it was already scrambling over it an effort to get at my eyes or throat.

Working on pure instinct, I tried to smack the bunnarian away with my free arm. To my amazement, that actually worked–just punching the evil little beast sent it flying back. A second later I figured out what had just happened The bunny of doom might have all its unnatural strength and demon powers, but it still just had the mass of an ordinary little rabbit.

A pair of blue legs wrapped themselves around my chest, and then my feet left the floor. "That does it, we're getting out of here." Have to say, Rainbow had the right idea there. Getting out of all the running water would do wonders for my magic, not to mention we could link back up with the others. In hindsight, running far ahead of all our friends without any kind of plan might not have been our smartest move.

Between my added weight and the fact that both of us were soaking wet, Rainbow was having a bit of trouble getting airborne. At least being soaking didn't leave her completely grounded the way it would with some birds–I guess pegasus feathers must have some kind of protection against getting waterlogged. They would need that to pull off all the weather work they do. It would be kinda hard to mess around with rainclouds if a bit of water grounded them.

We were just getting off the ground when the bunnarian hit us again. I took another shot at hitting it, but I'm used to throwing a punch with both feet on the ground, not suspended in mid-air in the hooves of a cartoon pony. I only barely managed to clip the demon-bunny, and that wasn't enough to send it flying again. I did at least manage to alter its course a bit.

Instead of tearing out Rainbow's throat, it just hit her wing.

The two of us tumbled down to the floor–there was no way she could support the both us while waterlogged and dealing with an injured wing. I got back to my feet as fast as I could. There wasn't much I could do against the evil rabbit of doom while there was running water grounding out my magic, but I certainly planned to hit it with everything I could manage. If nothing else, I'd rather die standing than lying on the ground. Damn, I missed my .44 sometimes.

Granted, I really didn't want to buy the farm because of an evil rabbit. I've taken on warlocks, werewolves, vampires, demons, ghosts, just every nasty fairy tale and mythological critter out there, and even an insane Summer Lady. It would be pretty sorry to go through all of that, just to end up dying to a tiny little bunny, even if it did have huge, sharp, pointy teeth.

I guess it's a good thing I'd burned Bianca years ago. Otherwise she'd probably change the headstone she'd bought for my future grave from 'He died doing the Right Thing' to 'Killed by a Freaking Rabbit.'

The bunnarian came at me again, and I planted my feet and took a swing at it with my staff. The tiny little rabbit met my staff teeth first. On the bright side, the little hellbeast went flying back after I smacked it in the face. On the other hand, I needed a new staff now. Dammit, I'd just finished carving this one right before all this craziness with demons and ponies got started.

Just to follow that up with even more pain and humiliation, the demon-bunny circled around me, moving way too fast for me to have hope of keeping up, and sank its teeth into my hamstring. At least it was still biting through my duster, so I didn't lose the leg or anything. Still hurt like hell.

I dropped to one knee, and the bunny halted a few feet in front me, glaring at me malevolently with its two sets of mismatched eyes. I was running low on tricks I could pull against this thing, unless I felt like jumping out of the window and trying my luck at surviving a fifty-foot drop. Even if I did make it out of that fall in one piece, I probably wouldn't be in any condition to keep running, and it wouldn't take the bunnarian long to catch up with me.

I shot a look at the pegasus cradling her injured wing against her side. "I'll hold him off, Rainbow. You get out of here." Much as I generally dislike the idea of dying, heroically or not, Rainbow Dash was more important than me right now. The ponies could still nuke Discord with the magic of friendship even if I died.

"Yeah, we both know that's not happening, Harry." Instead of doing the smart thing and running for it, Rainbow placed herself protectively between me and the bunnarian. Stupid Element of Loyalty. I guess it was a little hypocritical of me to get upset with her over that choice though–if I'd been in her (horse)shoes, I'd probably be doing the exact same thing.

The bunnarian jumped for Rainbow's throat, and the pegasus reared up on her hind legs before lashing out with her forehooves. That kept the demon-rabbit from getting a good hit in, but she didn't do any real damage to it either. The rabbit started slowly circling the two of us, and I couldn't help remembering a similar situation where it had been Rainbow Dash defending a downed Pinkie Pie from Applegog. That fight ended with Rainbow coming perilously close to death.

The bunnarian came in a couple more times, and each time Rainbow managed to fight him off. It wasn't going well for her though–each time the bunnarian came in it left a couple fresh scratches on her forelegs, and Rainbow's wing was was still bleeding too. The bunnarian was just toying with her, slowly wearing her down until she was weak enough to give it a chance to go for the kill.

Rainbow was slowing down–I wasn't sure she'd be able to stop the demon-bunny the next time it came for her. I tried getting her to run for it instead, but it worked about as well as you would expect. I swear, Rainbow Dash was like a younger, less wise version of me. Well, she was like me if I'd been a magical female cartoon pegasus.

The killer rabbit made its move, and got halfway to Rainbow's throat before two things happened in very short order. First, the rabbit of doom suddenly jerked in mid-air and went flying away. Second, my brain processed the sound of a gunshot.

I looked up to find a very winded-looking Jenkins clutching a smoking pistol. "Be vewy, vewy quiet," he announced with a slight smirk. "I'm hunting wabbit." Gotta give the kid credit, that was a pretty good choice of one-liner.

Unfortunately, he'd forgotten one of the more important rules of dealing with Nickleheads ... shooting them just pisses them off. Well okay, Kincaid managed to do alright with shooting them, but despite his claims to the contrary he wasn't exactly a vanilla mortal, and his firearms tended to be the kinds of things a gun-nuts have wet dreams about.

The bunnarian reevaluated its target priorities and went for the biggest threat. Jenkins tried shooting it again, but hitting it once in mid-air had been lucky–pulling that off twice was more than he could manage. So instead, Jenkins did exactly what I'd trained all the kids back at Warden Training Camp to do if they were being attacked by something they couldn't dodge. He brought up a shield.

Jenkins was still in the stairwell instead of trapped under the sprinkler system like I was, so there wasn't nearly as much running water disrupting his spellcasting. However, Jenkins' shield wasn't nearly as good as mine to begin with. The bunnarian ripped right through and slammed into him.

I tried to get up to help him, but instant I put any weight on the leg the killer rabbit had chomped on pain flared through it, and I dropped back down. Not that I was going to let a little detail like a chomped leg stop me for long. I've learned a lot of ways to deal with pain over the years.

Now I say this next part with the greatest of admiration, because it really is awful: Jenkins put up a helluva fight against the killer bunny. Briefly. A short, sharp yelp of surprise turned into a bubbly scream of pain way faster than I care to think about as the bunnarian reenacted what up until this point had been my favorite part of "The Holy Grail" and cut a second smile into his throat. His 1911 barked several times and locked open as he tried to kill it, then fell away in favor of one of the nastier-looking knives on his belt.

Despite the blood gushing out of his throat, Jenkins managed just a little bit of a smile right before he stabbed the killer rabbit. The demon-bunny stiffened in surprise, and then started twitching madly. A second later I figured out why–about half of the bunnarian, pretty much anything that was close to the area Jenkins had stabbed, was simply ... gone. A single tarnished silver coin rested on Jenkins' chest.

For a moment, I considered doing something horrible. Jenkins was in bad shape, but the Fallen have patched their hosts up from some pretty serious injuries in the past. It's not like I was going to Denarian him up out of pure evilness or anything, it was just to save his life, and then I'd throw the coin back into my jacket with all the others. I could just...

No. Much as I hated to admit it, that just wasn't a realistic option. That's how the bad guys always get you. It's pretty rare for someone to go from semi-decent human being to full-on mustache-twirling evil in one fell swoop. No, the way the bad guys got you was by convincing you to make tiny little sacrifices and compromises like that. One minute you're telling yourself that you had to use a bit of demon power to save someone's life, and then next thing you know you're sacrificing thousands of innocents 'for the greater good.'

I'm not gonna say I'm happy about it, or even sure it was the right choice, but I wasn't going to Denarian Jenkins up to save his life. Especially not when I couldn't even get his okay before I did it.

That didn't mean I wasn't going to do my damndest to save him. My leg still hurt like hell, but I didn't have time for that anymore. I put one hand on his throat to try to stem the bleeding, and started carrying him back to our camp as best I could. At first I could barely get him moving, but then Rainbow trotted to help with his other side.

The arm and leg where that bastard demon-bunny bit me were bleeding, and still hurt like hell, but I grit my teeth and powered through the pain. I could worry about all that after I got Jenkins back. Fluttershy was good at medicine, and Rarity had been a passable field medic when I pressed her into service. Hell's bells, there was Lash's weird healing thing–sure, she'd said that it only worked on me, but there had to be some way she could...

"Hang in there, Jenkins!" He let out a weak, gurgling moan when I said his name. "Just hold on, we're almost through this thing!"

I wasn't gonna lose him. Those bastard Denarians had already killed too many people, and I'd lost too many others to all the other baddies out there. Jenkins was practically still a kid, Hell's bells, a couple years back I'd been putting him through the White Council's crash course for new Wardens. The same crash course where two of my students wound up getting eaten by ghouls.

No. I wasn't losing him too. Not happening. "Stay with me, Jenkins!" I shouted at the dying man. "You stay with me, goddammit!" He didn't answer me–that was probably a bad sign, but I wasn't giving up on him yet.

The three of us finally staggered back to our base camp. I quickly cleared the rubble off of a countertop, and set Jenkins down. "Fluttershy, Rarity, can you two patch him up?" The two ponies shared a worried look, and then took half a step back instead of moving up to help.

"Lash!" I turned to the next best source of help. "You can use that magic trick of yours to patch him up like you did with me, right?" Lash wasn't moving to help either. What was wrong with them? Couldn't they see that Jenkins was dying?

Finally, Applejack walked up to me and took her hat off. "Harry ... he's gone."

I looked back at Jenkins. His face was pale and still, and the gaping wound in his throat wasn't even bleeding anymore–just a slight trickle, the last ebb from his final heartbeat. He looked ... peaceful.

I sank down to the floor. "Derpy?" My voice sounded hollow. Tired and worn, out, which was pretty much exactly how I felt.

"Badly hurt, but stable," Lash informed me. "It is fortunate that you chose to give her a soul. I was able to use the connection that it created to help her sustain herself until we could contain the damage. She will live ... assuming no further ills befall her."

Yeah, because we had such a great track record so far.

I looked over to where Lash and Fluttershy were tending to Derpy. She was bandaged up, but the lack of painkillers had a pretty obvious effect on her-I could hear her grinding her teeth from across the room as Fluttershy secured the last bandage in place. God love her, she looked at Jenkins and bit back a whimper, as if what she was feeling was nothing in comparison.

God damn you, Nicodemus. God damn you and your entire horde to hell today.

I sighed, walked over to Derpy and put a hand on her forehead as I whispered one of the few words of comfort I knew for someone in this much pain.


Her breathing steadied as my spell took effect, and I briefly stroked her mane. Hopefully she wouldn't be able to feel her injuries in the deep sleep.

I walked up to Jenkins and closed his eyes. "I know I said I get frustrated with the White Council at times," I said to nobody in particular. Maybe I was just saying it to myself. "But there are reasons why I do think they are a force for good in the world. And it's because of guys like Jenkins. Good men and women trying to do the right thing, at the right time, with the power at their disposal."

"He–he saved us," Rainbow added shakily.

"Poor Jenkins," Pinkie whimpered. "He died saving you and Dashie after you ran ahead without a plan."

We all lapsed into mournful silence for a couple second, until the phone started ringing again. When I answered it, Nicodemus sounded just as casually calm as if we were discussing the weather. "In light of recent events, have you decided to reconsider my offer?"

Considering the circumstances, my reaction was pretty restrained. "You're dead, Nicky!" I screamed into the receiver. "Do you hear me? You're fucking dead!"

"I'll take that as a 'no.'" The smug bastard sounded almost amused.

"Hexus!" It was petty, but treating Nicky to an earful of feedback squeal was the best thing I could do hurt him right now. Then I ripped the phone off its cord and hurled it out the window.

I took a couple deep breaths, and tried to get my rage ... well, not completely under control because that would be impossible, but at least restrained enough that I wasn't going to storm out and burn down the city just to get to him. "Alright, here's the plan–Lash, you stay with Derpy. She's in no condition to come with us, and I'm not leaving her by herself. The rest of us are gonna go take those sons of bitches down."