"Okay," she said quietly.
"Thanks." I didn't know what else to say, so I added another "I'm sorry."
Then I took the skull and hurried back out into the night.
Once I was in the hearse again, I started driving. I had a silent and nearly invisible squadron of the Za Lord's Guard flying in a loose formation around the car, except for Toot, who perched on the back of the passenger seat. Bob's skull sat in the seat proper, its glowing eye sockets turned toward me.
"So, boss," Bob said brightly, "where we headed?"
"Nowhere yet," I said. "But I'm operating on the theory that a moving target is harder to hit."
"That's a little more paranoid than usual," Bob said. "I approve. But why?"
I grimaced. "Mab wants me to kill Maeve."
"What?" Bob squeaked.
Toot fell off the back of the passenger seat in a fit of shock.
"You heard me," I said. "You okay, Toot?"
"Just . . . checking for assassins, my lord," Toot said gamely. "All clear back here."
"That doesn't make any sense," Bob said. "Tell me everything."
So I did.
"And then she told me to kill Maeve," I finished, "and I decided to come looking for you."
"Wait, wait, wait," Bob said. "Let me get this straight. Mab gave you a whole girl, all to yourself, and you didn't even get to first base?"
I scowled. "Bob, can you focus, please? This isn't about the girl."
Bob snorted. "Making this the first time it hasn't been about the girl, I guess."
"Maeve, Bob," I said. "What I need to know is why Mab would want her dead."
"Maybe she's trying to flunk you intentionally," Bob said.
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you can't kill Maeve, Harry."
"I don't want to do it," I said. "I'm not even sure if I'm going to."
"You're too busy wrestling with your stupid conscience to listen to me, boss," Bob said. "You can't kill her. Not might, not shouldn't. Can't."
I blinked several times. "Uh. Why not?"
"Maeve's an immortal, Harry. One of the least of the immortals, maybe, but immortal all the same. Chop her up if you want to. Burn her. Scatter her ashes to the winds. But it won't kill her. She'll be back. Maybe in months, maybe years, but you can't just kill her. She's the Winter Lady."
I frowned. "Huh? I killed the Summer Lady just fine."
Bob made a frustrated sound. "Yeah, but that was because you were in the right place to do it."
"Mab and Titania created that place specifically to be a killing ground for immortals, a place where balances of power are supposed to change. They've got to have a location like that for the important fights-otherwise nothing really gets decided. It's a waste of everyone's time and cannon fodder."
I'd seen part of that place being created-with my Sight, no less-and it was burned indelibly into my memory. I saw the surging energy the two Queens of Faerie were pouring out, power on a level that defied description. And of course I had, in some sense, been in that place when I murdered Lloyd Slate and took his job as Mab's triggerman.
Memory. The ancient stone table, stained with blood. Stars wheeling above me, dizzying in their speed and clarity. Writhing, cold mist reaching up over the edges of the table, clutching at my bare skin, while Mab bestrode me, her naked beauty strangling me, raking my thoughts out through my eyes. Power surging through me, into me, from the blood in the swirling grooves of the table, from Mab's hungry will.
I shuddered and forced the memory away. My hands clenched the wheel.
"So I can't kill her," I said quietly.
"No," Bob said.
I glowered out at the road. "What is the point of telling me to do something she knows is impossible?" I wondered aloud. "You're sure about this, Bob? There's no way at all, without the stone table?"
"Not really," Bob said, his eyes flicking around the car. "And not in most of the Nevernever, either."
"Hey," I said. "What's with the shifty eyes?"
"What shifty eyes?" Bob asked.
"When you said 'Not really,' your eyes got all shifty."
"Uh, no, they didn't."
The skull sighed. "Do I have to tell you?"
"Dude," I said. "Since when has it been like that between us?"
"Since you started working for her," Bob said, and somehow managed to shudder.
I tilted my head, thinking as hard as I could. "Wait. This has to do with your feud with Mab?"
"Not a feud," Bob says. "In a feud, both sides fight. This is more like me screaming and running away before she rips me apart."
I shook my head. "Man, Bob. I know you can be an annoying git when you want to be one-but what did you do to make Mab mad at you?"
"It isn't what I do, Harry," Bob said in a very small voice. "It's what I know."
I lifted an eyebrow. It took a lot to make the skull flinch. "And what is that, exactly?"
The lights in the eye sockets dwindled to tiny pinpoints, and his voice came out in a whisper. "I know how to kill an immortal."
"Like Maeve?" I asked him.
"Maeve," Bob said. "Mab. Mother Winter. Any of them."
Now, that was a piece of information worth killing for.
If the skull knew how to subtract the im from immortal, then he could be a source of danger to beings of power throughout the universe. Hell, he was lucky that gods and demons and supernatural powers everywhere hadn't formed up in a safari and come gunning for him. And it meant that maybe I wasn't looking at an impossible mission after all.
"I'd like you to tell me," I said.
"No way," Bob said. "No way. The only reason I've been around this long is that I've kept my mouth shut. If I start shooting it off now, Mab and every other immortal with an interest in this stupid planet are going to smash my skull to powder and leave me out to fry in the sun." The eyelights bobbed toward the rear compartment. "And there are too many ears around here."
"Toot," I said, "get everybody out of the car. I need privacy. Make sure no one gets close enough to eavesdrop."
"Aw," Toot complained from the rear compartment. "Not even me?"
"You're the only one I can trust to keep those other mugs from doing it, Major General. No one overhears. Got it?"