I struggled to get the Caddy clear, but there was nothing for the tires to grab onto.
End of the line.
I let out a heartfelt curse and slammed a fist against the steering wheel. Then I made myself close my eyes and think. Think, think, don't react in panic. Keep your head, Dresden.
"Major General," I said. "You okay?"
"It's not bad, my lord." He gasped. "I've had worse."
"We've got to move," I said.
"Run away!" Bob giggled. "Run away! Tiny faeries!"
I growled in frustration and popped the Redcap's hat down over Bob. "Stop being a jerk. This is serious."
Bob's voice was only barely muffled. It sounded like he couldn't breathe. "Serious! Tiny! Faeries! The m-m-mighty wizard Dresden!"
"You are not as funny as you think you are," I said severely. "Toot, you got any ideas?"
"Trap them all in a circle?" Toot suggested.
I sighed. Right. I'd just need to get them all to land in the same place at the same time, inside of a magic circle I had no means to create.
Toot's a great little guy. Just . . . not really adviser material.
Orange light began to bathe the broken windows, highlighting the webwork of cracks in them. A lot of orange light.
"Crap," I gasped. "I am not going to be known as the wizard who used his death curse thanks to a bunch of bitty nail guns."
Then there was a very sinister sound.
Toward the rear of the Caddy, someone opened the lid to the fuel tank.
It wasn't hard to work out what would happen next. Fire.
"Hell, no," I said. I recovered the ball cap, turned a still-giggling Bob upside down, and then popped Toot into the skull. He sprawled in it, arms and legs sticking out, but he didn't complain.
"Hey!" Bob protested.
"Serves you right, Giggles," I snapped. I tucked the skull under my arm like a football.
I knew I didn't have much of a chance of getting away from that swarm of fae piranha, but it was an infinitely larger chance than I would have if I stayed in the car and burned to death. Hell's bells, what I wouldn't give to have my shield bracelet. Or my old staff. I didn't even have an umbrella.
I wasn't sure how much more magic I had left in me, but I readied my shield spell, shaping it to surround me as I ran. I wouldn't be able to hold it in place for long-but maybe if I got very, very lucky, I would survive the swarm long enough to find another option.
I took several sharp and completely not-panicked breaths, then piled out of the Cadillac, bringing my shield up with a shout of "Defendarius!"
The Little Folk started hitting my shield almost instantly. I once rode out a hailstorm in a dome-shaped Quonset hut made of corrugated steel. It sounded like that, only closer and a hell of a lot more lethal.
I went into a sprint. Between the still-present dust, the shroud of mist my leaf-blower spell had billowed forth, and the swarm of hostile fae, I could barely see. I picked a direction and ran. Ten steps. Twenty steps. The enemy continued pounding against the shield, and as I kept pouring my will into it to keep it in place, my body began to feel heavier and heavier.
Thirty steps-and I stepped into a small pothole in the sidewalk, stumbled, and fell.
Falling in a fight is generally bad. You tend not to get up again. I mean, there's a reason that the phrase "He fell" was synonymous with death for a bunch of centuries.
And then I heard the most beautiful sound of my life. Somewhere nearby, a cat let out an angry, hissing scream.
The Little Folk live in mortal dread of Felis domesticus. Cats are observant, curious, and fast enough to catch the little fae. Hell, the domestic cat can stalk, kill, and subsist upon more species than any other land predator in the world. They are peerless hunters and the Little Folk know it.
The effect of the scream was instantaneous. My attackers recoiled on pure reflex, immediately darting about twenty feet into the air-even Hook. I got a chance to look up and saw a large brindle tomcat leap from the top of a trash can onto the sidewalk beside me.
"No!" shouted Hook from inside his helmet. "Slay the beast! Slay them all!"
"What? What did I ever do to you?" Bob protested, indignant. "I'm not even supposed to be here today!"
The fae all looked at Hook and seemed to begin gathering their courage again.
A second cat screamed nearby. And a third. And a fourth. Cats started prowling out of alleys and from beneath parked cars. Cats began pacing along building ledges twenty feet from the ground. Glowing eyes reflected light from the deep shadows between buildings.
Even Hook wasn't willing to put up with that action, I guess. The little fae champion let out a frustrated scream, then turned and darted up, up, and away, vanishing into the night. The others followed Hook, flowing away in a ribbon of emberlight.
I lay there for a second, exhausted and panting. Then I sat up and looked around.
The cats were gone, vanished as if they'd never been there.
I heard someone walk out of the alley behind me, and my body went tense and tight, despite my weariness. Then a young woman's voice said, in a passable British accent, "The Little Folk are easily startled, but they'll soon be back. And in greater numbers."
I sagged in sudden, exhausted relief. The bad guys hardly ever quote Star Wars.
"Molly," I breathed.
A tall young woman dressed in rather shabby secondhand clothing crouched down next to me and smiled. "Hey, boss. Welcome home."
"Grasshopper," I said, feeling myself smile. "Illusion. Very nice."
Molly gave me a little bow of her head. "It's what I do."
"Also good timing," I said. "Also, what the hell? How did you know I was . . . ?"
"Here, but sure. How did you know?"
"Priorities, boss. Can you walk?"
"I'm good," I said, and pushed myself to my feet. It wasn't as hard as it really should have been, and I could feel my endurance rebuilding itself already, the energy coming back into me. I was still tired-don't get me wrong-but I should have been falling-down dizzy and I wasn't.
"You don't look so good," Molly said. "Was that a tux?"
"Briefly," I said. I eyed the car. "Feel like driving?"
"Sure," she said. "But . . . that's pretty stuck, Harry, unless you brought a crane."
I grunted, faintly irritated by her tone. "Just get in, start it, and give it gas gently."
Molly looked like she wanted to argue, but then she looked down abruptly. A second later, I heard sirens. She frowned, shook her head, and got into the car. The motor rumbled to life a second later.