Fool Moon, Page 27Jim Butcher
The moon rose in silver splendor into an October sky strewn with pale clouds and brilliant stars. The clouds churned, a white-foam sea, and the moon was a vast, graceful clipper ship, its sails full of spectral light as it ran before the strength of the cold autumn winds. Pale light bleached each of the uncut stones on the nine-foot wall around Gentleman Johnny Marcone's estate, making edges sharper, shadows blacker, until it looked like a barrier made of gaping white skulls. Trees grew up thick on the other side of the wall, blocking the view of the interior, though no branches extended far enough to provide a way to climb over it.
"We've got to get over the wall," I said to the enormous, dark wolf beside me, keeping my voice low as we all crouched in the shadows of the bushes across the street from Marcone's estate. "There will be security on it. Maybe cameras, maybe infrared beams, maybe something else. I want you to find us a way past it. " The wolf flickered her amber eyes toward me and made a soft, assenting growl. Then she simply turned and faded into the darkness, leaving five more furry, crouching shapes grouped around me.
The Alphas didn't exactly inspire confidence, but they had all managed to master enough rudimentary magic to transform themselves into very, very close approximations of wolves, at least. It was something.
Susan had parked the van on a hill leading up to Marcone's estate, and remained with it, in case we needed a quick getaway. When we'd arrived, a nude Tera West and five young people, three female and two male, had leapt out of the van, the Alphas hurriedly tumbling out of their robes.
"Hell's bells," I'd complained, "we're on a public street. Can you be something besides naked, here, people?"
Tera had smirked and, in a liquid shimmer, become a gaunt, dark wolf, a beast fully as large as Denton and his cronies had been, but with a narrower muzzle and cleaner proportions. Like Denton and his crew of Hexenwulfen, she kept the exact same shade and color of her eyes, even in wolfish form.
"Well?" I'd demanded of the others. "Let's hurry it up. "
Georgia had slipped her lean body from her dark robe and melted in a few seconds into her wolf shape, then had quickly slipped past me to go to Tera. Billy had growled something under his breath as he shrugged out of his robe, catching one sleeve on his arm as he'd begun to change.
Billy-wolf had stumbled over the robe still hanging on to his forepaw, tripped, and tumbled onto the street with a whuff of expelled breath and a little whimper.
I'd rolled my eyes. Billy-the-wolf had snarled and struggled out of his robe, picked it up carefully in his teeth, like a large and particularly grumpy-looking Benji, and put it back in the van.
"Um," one of the other girls had said, a redheaded lass who filled out her robe a little too generously. "We're still a little new at this. " She'd covered herself with her arms awkwardly, letting her robe fall from her shoulders as she whispered a little chant, and had become a rather round, hefty-looking she-wolf with dark auburn fur. She'd moved daintily to the edge of the cargo van and had minced, despite her weight, down to the street. The other two young people, a lanky, dark-haired boy and a scrawny girl with mouse-brown hair, had made the change and loped up the hill after Tera, and then we all had moved as quietly as we could to the rear of Marcone's estate.
Surrounded by a high stone wall, the property occupied an entire block, bounded on all four sides by individual streets. None of us had known the layout to Marcone's place, so we'd chosen to approach from the rear, on general principles of sneakiness. I hadn't thought it would be wise to walk in the front door, so I had dispatched Tera to find us a way in, while I'd remained behind with the Alphas.
I found myself tapping my fingers on my thighs as I crouched, restless. I soon realized that if I was tense, the would-be werewolves were twice as keyed up. The darkest-furred one, Billy, I thought, rose to his paws and started away, in the opposite direction from which Tera had gone. Georgia growled at him, Billy growled back, and the other male rose to follow him.
Great, I thought. I couldn't afford to let the Alphas wander off now, no matter how restless they were.
"Hey," I said quietly. "You can't go haring off now. If there's a way inside, Tera will find it. "
The wolves all turned their heads, and their very human eyes, toward me.
Billy planted his paws stubbornly and growled.
"Oh, don't give me that," I snapped, glaring at him without meeting his eyes. "You promised you'd play this my way, Billy. This isn't a time to be messing around. "
Billy's stance became less certain, and I beckoned all of them toward me. If I could keep them listening until Tera got back, I could at least be sure that they'd be around when I needed them. "Huddle up, everyone," I said. "I want to go over some things before we go in. "
There was a brief silence, and then a crowding of furry, heavy bodies, and a snuffling of wet noses. Ten ears pricked up and rotated toward me, and ten bright, human eyes fastened upon me from lupine faces. I suppressed a sudden urge to say, "Good evening, class. I'm your teacher, Mr. Dresden," and instead put on my most serious expression.
"You all know what's at stake tonight," I said. "And that we could all get killed. We're going to be confronting a bunch of law-enforcement people who have gotten hold of some magic that's as black as anything I've ever seen, and are using it to turn themselves into wolves. They've lost control of the power they've grabbed. They're killing people, and if we don't stop them they're going kill a lot more. Especially me, because I know too much. I'm a danger to them.
"But I don't want that. I don't want anyone to get killed. Not us, and not them. Maybe they deserve it. Maybe not. The power they grabbed has turned into a drug for them, and they're not really in control of themselves anymore. I just don't think we'd be much different than them if we went in there planning to wipe them out. It isn't enough to stand up and fight darkness. You've got to stand apart from it, too. You've got to be different from it. "
I cleared my throat. "Hell. I'm not good at this. Go for their belts, if you can, just like I did in the alley. Once their belts are off, they're not going to be as crazy, and maybe we'll be able to talk to them. " I glanced up at the wall and back down. "Just don't get killed, guys. Do what you have to do to stay alive. That's your first priority. And if you've got to kill them to do it, then don't hesitate. "
There was a chorus of growls from around me, led by the wolf Billy, but that was the great thing about being the only human being there - I was the only one who could talk. There wouldn't have been any arguments, even had they disagreed. Their enthusiasm was a little intimidating.
"If you are any louder, wizard," Tera's soft voice came from behind me, "we might as well walk through the front gate. " I jumped and looked up to see Tera, naked and human, crouched down a few feet away.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," I hissed at her. "Did you find a way in?"
"Yes," she said. "A place where the wall has crumbled. But it is far for you to walk, around along the eastern wall, toward the front of the property. We must run if we are to get inside in time. "
I grimaced. "I'm not in any shape to run anywhere. "
"It would seem you have little choice. I also saw many streaks of light across the front gate. And there are black boxes with glass eyes every seventy or eighty paces. They do not see the crumbled place. It is a fortunate position. "
"Cameras," I muttered. "Hell. "
"Come, wizard," Tera said, crouching down on all fours. "We have no time to waste if you are to join us. The pack can cover the distance in moments, but you must hurry. "
"Tera. I've had a rough couple of days. I'd fall over in about two minutes if I tried to run somewhere. "
The woman blinked passionless amber eyes up at me. "Your point?"
"I'm going over the wall right here," I said.
Tera looked at the wall and shook her head. "I cannot bring the pack over that wall. They are not strong enough to keep changing back and forth, and they have no hands
in their wolf form. "
"Just me then. I guess you all can find me?"
Tera snorted. "Of course. But it is foolish for you to go over the wall alone. And what if the cameras see you?"
"Let me worry about the cameras," I said. "Help me up to the top. Then you and the Alphas circle around and rendezvous with me. "
Tera scowled, the expression dark. "I think this foolish, wizard. If you are too wounded to run, then you are too wounded to go in alone. "
"We don't have time," I said with a glance up at the moon, "to argue about this. Do you want my help or don't you?"
Tera let out a sound somewhere between a snort and a snarl, and for a moment tension in her muscles made them stand out hard against her skin. One of the Alphas let out a little whimper, and stepped away from us.
"Very well, wizard," Tera said. "I will show you the nearest camera and help you over the wall. Do not move from where you land. We do not know who is on the other side of the wall, or where. "
"Don't worry about me," I said. "Worry about yourself. If there's a good way through the wall, Denton might show up there, too, to go in. Or MacFinn might. "
"MacFinn," Tera said, traces of pride in her voice and fear in her eyes, "will not even notice that the wall got in his way. "
I grimaced. "Just show me the camera. "
Tera led me forward through the dark, silent and naked and looking as though she didn't mind the cold evening at all. The grass was damp, plush, and deep. Tera pointed out the small, silent square of the video camera settled onto the wall across the street, and almost entirely hidden by the shadows of the trees.
I licked my lips and leaned toward the camera, keeping my own form obscured by the bushes. I squinted my eyes and drew in my will, trying to focus. My head started to pound at once, and I felt sweat break out beneath my arms and across my forehead. Hexing up anything mechanical is usually fairly simple. The field of magic that surrounds practitioners of the Art plays havoc with the implements of technology. A passing thought, on the right kind of day, can blow out a cellular telephone or kill a photocopier.
This was the wrong kind of day. That field of energy around me was severely depleted from its usual levels, and the metaphysical «muscles» I would normally use to manipulate that energy were in screaming agony, reflected in pains throughout my body.
But I needed to get inside, and I really did think that I wouldn't be able to make it all the way around the property. I was running on empty already, and too much more would leave me gasping like a fish out of water and wishing I was at home in bed.
I forced calm on my thoughts and focused all the energy I had, and it hurt me, starting in my head and spreading into weary aches in my knees and elbows. But the energy built, and built, and with it the pain, until I could hold it together no longer.
"Malivaso," I whispered, and pushed my hand out at the square shape, like a grade-school girl throwing a baseball wrong handed. The power I'd gathered, though it felt like it was about to split me at the seams, rushed out in an almost impotent little hiccup of magic and swirled drunkenly toward the security camera.
For a long minute, nothing happened. And then there was a flash of light, and a tiny shower of sparks from the rear of the box. Smoke drizzled up from the camera in a quavering plume, and I felt a small surge of triumph. At least I had something left in me, even if it was aneurism-causing labor to perform the mildest of tasks.
"All right then," I said a second later, my voice somewhat thready. "Let's go. "
We looked around and made sure no cars were about, and then Tera, the Alphas, and I rushed across the road, through some decorative, leafy bushes, to the high stone wall. Tera laced her fingers together to form a stirrup. I put my good foot into it, and pushed up hard. She heaved me up, and half threw me over the wall. I caught myself at the top, saw a car's headlights coming, and swiftly rolled down the other side, falling heavily to damp, muddy earth.
It was dark. It was really dark. I was crouched at the base of the wall, underneath a spreading canopy of bare tree branches and stubborn sycamore leaves. Moonlight filtered through in random places, but it only served to make the dark spots all the more gloomy. My own black leather duster was utterly invisible, and I remembered reading somewhere that the gleam of my eyes and teeth would be the most likely to give me away - but since I didn't feel like sitting in the dark with my eyes closed, I didn't. Instead, I crouched and got my confiscated gun ready in one pocket, and took my ace in the hole out of the other, getting that ready as well.
I shivered, and worked hard to remind myself not to be afraid. Then I waited in the darkness for my allies. And waited. And waited. Time passed, and I knew that a minute would feel like an hour, so I began counting, one number for every deliberate breath.
The wind blew through the trees, brisk and cool. Leaves rustled, and droplets of rainwater fell from the trees around me, making little pattering sounds as they struck my new coat. They clung to the leather in tight beads and caught pieces of moonlight in them, brilliant against the black. The smell of rich earth and damp stone rose up with the wind, and for a moment it did almost feel as though I was in a forest rather than on a crime lord's private estate in the north end of Chicago. I took deep breaths, a little comforted by the illusion, and kept on counting.
Nothing happened. No wolves, no sounds.
It wasn't until I got to one hundred that I started to get really nervous, my stomach beginning a slow twist that made weak sensations lace out through my arms and legs like slivers of ice. Where was Tera? Where were the Alphas? It shouldn't have taken them nearly so long to get inside the wall and then to cover the distance back to me. Though the estate was huge, the distance surely meant little to the flashing speed of a wolf.
The evening had obviously been moving along entirely too smoothly, I thought.
Something had gone wrong. I was alone.