"They are," Molly confirmed quietly. "Auntie Lea taught them to me a few months ago."
I looked up at her, eyed my battered fingers, and said, "Then why am I doing this?"
Molly rolled her eyes and took the pen. She started marking nodes rapidly and precisely on the map, including the Well on Demonreach (though the island didn't appear on the map).
"Whoever is going to attempt the spell on Demonreach has to do it from somewhere near the shore of the lake," I said. "They're almost certainly going to be at one of these nodes-the closer to the edge of the lake, the better." I pointed out several nodes near the shore. "So we need to send the guard out to check these six locations near the edge of the lake first. After that, they go after the next nearest and so on."
"Some of those are a good way off," Karrin noted. "How fast can these little guys move?"
"Fast," I said. "Faster than anyone gives them credit. They can fly and they can take shortcuts through the Nevernever. They can get to the sites and back before sundown."
Sundown. Which was when the big, bad immortals would come out to play.
"Any questions so far?" I asked, looking at Murphy.
She jerked her chin toward my brother and said, "Thomas filled me in."
"Good," I said. "Exposition gets repetitive fast. A spell like this takes time to set up, and they won't really be able to hide it if we can get eyes on the site. Once we know which of the sites shows signs of use, we can get to it and thwart whatever lunatic is using it."
"Do we know who it is yet?" Murphy asked.
"Answer unclear," I said.
"It's got to be those Outsiders, right?" Thomas asked.
"Stands to reason. But the real question is, who is helping them?"
I got a bunch of looks at that.
"Outsiders can't just show up in our reality," I said. "That's why they're called Outsiders in the first place. Someone has to open the door and let them in." I took a deep breath. "Which brings me to the next twist. I talked to Lily and Maeve, and they tell me that Mab is the one planning to tinker with the island."
Silence followed that.
"That's . . . a lie, right?" Butters asked.
"They can't lie," I said. "They physically can't. And, yes, I got them to speak directly about it. There's no confusion of signals, no room for obfuscation."
Thomas whistled quietly.
"Yeah," I said.
"Uh," Molly said. "We're up against Mab? Your boss?"
"Not necessarily," I said. "Lily and Maeve may not be lying but they could still be wrong. Lily has never been a cerebral titan. And Maeve is . . . maybe 'insane' is the only word that really describes it, but she's definitely firing on an odd number of cylinders. It's possible that they've been deceived."
"Or," Thomas said, "maybe they haven't."
"Or maybe they haven't," I said, nodding.
"What would that mean?" Molly asked.
"It would mean," Karrin said quietly, "that Mab sent Harry to kill Maeve because either she wanted Maeve out of the way or she wanted Harry out of the way. Which is good, because it means that she's worried that there's someone who could stop her."
"Right," I said. "Or maybe . . ." I frowned, studying a new thought.
"What?" Thomas asked.
I looked slowly around the room. If Mab had been taken by the contagion, which really needed a better name, that certainly meant that Lea had been taken as well-and Lea had been tutoring Molly. If it had spread into the White Court, my brother could have been exposed. Murphy was maybe the most vulnerable-she was isolated, and her behavior had changed radically over the past couple of years. Hell, Butters was the person in the room least likely to have been exposed or turned or whatever-which made him the most ideal candidate for being turned.
Paranoia-because why should the conspiracy theorists get to have all the fun?
I just couldn't see any of these people turning on me, no matter the influence. But if you could see treachery coming all that easily, Julius Caesar might have lived to a ripe old age. I'd always been slightly inclined to the paranoid. I had a sinking feeling I was going to start developing my latent potential.
I picked my words very carefully.
"Over the past several years," I said, "there have been several conflicts between two different interests. Several times, events have been driven by internal conflicts within one or both of those interests."
"Like what?" Butters asked.
"Dual interests inside the Red Court, for one," I said. "One of them trying to prevent conflict with the White Council, one of them trying to stir it up. Multiple Houses of the White Court rising up to vie for control of it. The Winter and Summer Courts posturing and interfering with each other when Winter's territory was violated by the Red Court." I didn't want to get any more specific than that. "Do you guys see what I'm getting at here?"
"Oh!" Butters said. "It's a phantom menace!"
"Ah!" Molly said.
Karrin glanced around at all of us and then said, "Translate that from nerd to English, please."
"Someone is out there," I said. "Someone who has been manipulating events. Playing puppet master, stirring the pot, stacking the deck-"
"Mixing metaphors?" Thomas suggested.
"Fuck off. I'm just saying that this situation has the same shape as the others. Mab and Maeve at each other's throats, with Summer standing by ready to get involved, and Outsiders starting to throw their weight around."
"The Black Council," Molly whispered.
"Exactly," I said, which it wasn't. Up until earlier today, I had known someone was covertly causing the world a lot of grief-and due to their connections with some grim events within the White Council I had assumed it was a group of wizards, which was both naturally arrogant and extremely nearsighted of me. But what if I'd been wrong? What if the Black Council was just one more offshoot of one enormous, intangible enemy? If what I'd gotten from Lily was accurate, the problem was a hell of a lot bigger than I had realized.
And I did not want that problem to know that I had spotted it.
"The Black Council," I said. "A group of practitioners using dark magic to influence various events around the world. They're powerful, they're bad news, and if I'm right, they're here. If they're here, I figure it's a good bet that Sharkface and his chums-"