"I am Harry . . ." I panted, and the pain redoubled.
And I laughed. As if some freak who had never loved enough to know loss could tell me about pain.
"I AM HARRY BLACKSTONE COPPERFIELD DRESDEN!" I roared.
Ice and wood shattered. Frozen stone cracked with a sound like a cannon's blast, a spiderweb of tiny crevices spreading out from me. The image of Mab flew away from me and blew into thousands of crystalline shards, like a shattering stained-glass window. The cold and the pain and the terror reeled away from me, like some vast and hungry beast suddenly struck on the nose.
The Outsiders loved their psychic assaults, and given that this one happened about two seconds after Sharkface came up out of the water, it was pretty clear who was behind it. But that was fine. Sharkface had chosen a battle of the mind. So be it. My head, my rules.
I lifted my right arm to the frozen sky and shouted, wordless and furious, and a bolt of scarlet lightning flashed from the seething skies. It smashed into my hand and then down into the earth. Frozen dirt sprayed everywhere, and when it had cleared, I stood holding an oaken quarterstaff carved with runes and sigils, as tall as my temple and as big around as my joined thumb and forefinger.
Then I stretched my left arm down to the earth and cried out again, sweeping it up in a single, beckoning gesture. I tore metals from the ground beneath me, and they swirled like mist up around my body, forming into a suit of armor covered in spikes and protruding blades.
"Okay, big guy," I snarled out at the dark will that even now gathered itself to attack again. "Now we know who I am. Let's see who you are." I took the staff and smote its end down on the ground. "Who are you!" I demanded. "You play in my head, you play by my rules! Identify yourself!"
In answer, there was only a vast roaring sound, like an angry arctic wind gathering into a gale.
"Oh, no, you don't," I muttered. "You started this, creep! You want to get up close and personal, let's play! Who are you?"
A vast sound, like something you'd hear in the deep ocean, moaned through the sky.
"Thrice I command thee!" I shouted, focusing my will, sending it coursing into my voice, which boomed out over the landscape. "Thrice I bid thee! By my name I command thee: Tell me who you are!"
And then an enormous swirling form emerged from the clouds overhead-a face, but only in the broadest, roughest terms, like something a child would make from clay. Lightning burned far back in its eyes, and it spoke in the voice of gale winds.
I AM GATEBREAKER, HARBINGER!
I AM FEARGIVER, HOPESLAYER!
I AM HE-WHO-WALKS-BEFORE!
For a second, I just stood there, staring up at the sky, shocked.
The thing spoke, and as it did, I knew, I knew what it was, as if I'd been given a snapshot of its core identity, its quintessential self.
For one second, no more than that, I understood it, what it was doing, what it wanted, what it planned and . . .
And then that moment was past, the knowledge vanished the way it had come-except for one thing. Somehow, I'd held on to a few crumbling fragments of insight.
I knew the thing trying to tear my head apart was a Walker. I didn't know much about them except that nobody else knew much about them either, and that they were extremely bad news.
And one of them had tried to kill me when I was sixteen years old. He-Who-Walks-Behind had nearly done it. Except . . . from where I stood now, I wasn't sure he'd really been trying to kill me. He'd been shaping me. I don't know for what, but he'd been trying to provoke me.
And this thing in my head, the thing I'd named Sharkface, was like him, a Walker, a peer. It was huge, powerful, and in a way utterly different from the kinds of power I had seen before. This thing wasn't bigger than Mab. But it was horribly, unbearably deeper than her, like a photograph of a sculpture compared to the sculpture itself. It had power at its command that was beyond anything I had seen, beyond measure, beyond comprehension-just plain beyond.
This thing was power from the Outside, and I was a grain of sand to its oncoming tide.
But you know what?
That grain of sand might be the last remnant of what had once been a mountain, but that which it is, it is. The tide comes and the tide goes. Let it hammer the grain of sand as it may. Let lofty mountains fear the slow, constant assault of the waters. Let the valleys shudder at the pitiless advance of ice. Let continents drown beneath the dark and rising tide.
But that grain of sand?
It isn't impressed.
Let the tide roll in. The sand will still be there after it rolls out again.
So I looked up at that face and I laughed. I laughed scorn and defiance at that vast, swirling power, and it didn't just feel good. It felt right.
"Go ahead!" I shouted. "Go ahead and eat me! And then we'll see if you've got the stomach to keep me down!" I lifted my staff and golden white fire began to pour from the carved runes as I gathered power into it. The air grew chill with Winter, and frost formed on the razor-edged blades in my armor. I ground my feet into place, setting them firmly, and the glow of soulfire began to emanate from the cracks in the earth around me. I bared my teeth at the hungry sky, flew the bird at it with my free hand, and screamed, "Bring it on!"
A furious voice filled the air, a sound that shook the earth and sky alike, that made the ground buckle and the swirling clouds recoil.
* * *
And then I was back on the Harley, clutching Karrin's waist in one hand and clinging to the Winchester with the other. The motorcycle was still in motion, but it wasn't accelerating. It felt like we were coasting.
Karrin let out a low, gurgling cry, and suddenly sagged forward, panting. I pulled her back against me, helping her to sit up, and after a few seconds she gave her head a few quick shakes and snarled, "I hate getting into a Vulcan mind meld."
"It hit you, too?" I asked.
"It . . ." She cast a look over her shoulder, up at me, and shuddered. "Yeah."
"You okay now?"
"I'm starting to get angry," she said.
A hideously mirthful sound spread over the air-the sound of the Erlking's laughter. His great steed swerved in close to the motorcycle, and he lifted his sword in a gesture of fierce defiance. Then his burning eyes turned to me and he spoke in a voice that was murderously merry. "Well-done, starborn!"
"Uh," I said. "Thank you?"
The lord of the goblins laughed again. It was the kind of sound that would stick with you-and wake you up in the middle of the night, wondering whether perhaps poisonous snakes had surrounded your bed and were about to start slithering in.