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Fool Moon, Page 32

Jim Butcher

Chapter 33

  I circled into the trees and stepped over Harris's corpse. The kid's face had been smashed in by two bullets, though the semiautomatic was still in his dead hand. Murphy must have had Wilson's gun. Wilson lay not far from Harris, also dead. Wounds to the chest, massive bleeding. Benn lay next to him, naked but for a business skirt soaked in blood. There was a line of greenish goo around her waist, probably the remains of the wolf belt. Its magic must have died when she did. I tried not to look at the mangled meat on the back of her thighs, or the tears near her jugular. I tried not to smell her blood, or to notice the dark surge of contemptuous pride that went through me, leftovers from my experience with my own wolf belt.

  I shuddered and went past the bodies. The night was silent, but for wind, and the creaking of the ropes that supported the platform in the middle of the encircling evergreens. I could still see Marcone hog-tied up there. The position must have been excruciating - it isn't every day that you get crucified and hung up as dinner for a monster, and you can't really train your muscles for it. I couldn't see Marcone's expression, but I could almost feel his agony.

  I waved a hand as he spun gently toward me, and he nodded his head, silent. I pointed at my eyes, and then around at the shadowed trees, trying to ask him if he knew where the loup-garou was, but he shook his head. Either he didn't understand me or he couldn't see it, and either way it didn't do me any good.

  I grimaced and moved forward through the trees, skirting the edge of the pit. I looked for the rope that had been used to haul Marcone up to his current position. It had to have been tied off somewhere low. I peered through the near dark, followed the strand of rope back down to the tree it was tied to, and headed over toward it.

  Maybe I could get out of this. Maybe Murphy and I could escape with Marcone, join Susan and the others, and get out of here.

  No. That was a happy fantasy. Even if I did get everyone out, I knew I couldn't live with myself if I let the loup-garou go loose tonight, on another killing spree. I had to try to stop it.

  I was already going to have a hard enough time living with myself.

  The rope supporting Marcone had been secured with a hasty knot, easily undone. I started working it, rubbernecking all around, listening, trying to locate the loup-garou. It wouldn't have just run off and left us here alive. Would it?

  I took a turn around the tree with the rope to give me a little leverage, and then, very carefully because of my bum arm, started lowering Marcone. If I could get him low enough, I could have him swing over to me from the pit's center, catch him, balance him, and then go back and release the rope. It would have been easier if Murphy was there, but I hadn't seen her.

  A nasty thought hit me. What if Murphy had run across the loup-garou and it had killed her silently? What if it was, even now, trying to get to me?

  I secured the rope and moved back over to the pit. Marcone, no dummy, was already swinging back and forth as best he could, trying to get himself over to me. I went to the edge of the pit and crouched down, keeping my weight well away from the crumbling earth at the pit's lip.

  Marcone let out a sudden startled hiss and said, "Dresden! The pit!"

  I looked down and saw the loup-garou's eyes glowing, down in the darkness of the pit, only a heartbeat before they surged toward me with a howl of rage. It was coming up the wall of the pit, simply gouging its claws into the mud and hauling itself upward, toward me. I reeled back from the thing, threw out a hand and screamed, "Fuego!"

  Nothing happened, except a little puff of steam, like a breath exhaled on a cold night, and sudden, blinding pain in my head. The loup-garou hurtled toward me, and I threw myself down to the earth, rolling away from its claws as it came up over the edge of the pit. It raked at me, caught the edge of my leather duster, and pinned it to the earth.

  I liked the coat, but I didn't like it that much. I slipped out of it, as the loup-garou clawed with its rear legs, much as I had only moments before, and inched up out of the pit. I was already running by the time it got out, and I heard it snarl, get its bearings, and then come after me.

  I was dead. I was so dead. I had gotten the kids out, and Susan, and I had stopped Denton and his cronies, but I was about to pay the price. I slipped through the trees and out onto the grass again, panting, cold now that my jacket was off. My shoulder ached from the running, from all the motion, and my foot hurt abominably as well. I couldn't run any longer - physically couldn't. My steps slowed, despite the commands of my brain, and I wept with frustration, weaving around just to keep on my feet.

  I was at the end of my rope. It was over. I turned to face the trees, to watch the loup-garou coming. I wanted to see it coming, at least. If I was going to be killed, I wanted to face it on my feet, head on. Go down with a little dignity.

  I saw its red eyes back among the trees. It came forward, slow, low to the ground, wary of some trick. I had stung it before, if not actually hurt it. It didn't want to fall victim to another such attack, I thought. It wanted to make absolutely sure that I was dead.

  I drew in a breath and straightened my back. I lifted my chin, trying to prepare myself. If I was going to go down, I'd go down as a wizard should - proud and ready to face what was beyond. I could spill out my death curse, a potent working of magic, if I had time to speak it. Maybe I could counter MacFinn's curse with it, take the horrid transformation off of him that Saint Patrick had allegedly laid on him. Or maybe I could bring down Marcone's criminal empire with it.

  I debated these things, as I drew out the silver pentacle amulet I had inherited from my mother, so that it would lie bright on my chest.

  My mother's amulet.



  Inherited from my mother.

  Inherited silver.

  My eyes widened and my hands started to shake. A drowning man will reach for anything that floats. The idea floated - if only I could pull it off. If only my brainlessness hadn't kept me from realizing what I had until it was too late.

  I took the silver pentacle off of my neck, breaking the chain in my haste. I caught the broken ends in my fist as I fastened my eyes on the loup-garou, and started to whirl the amulet in a circle above my head with my good arm. The amulet described a circle in the night air as I spun it, and I invested that circle with a tiny spark of will, a tiny bit of power. My head pounded. I felt the circle close around me, containing magical energies, focusing them.

  I hurt. I was weary. I felt as though I had betrayed myself, given myself over to the darkness I'd tried so hard to resist by donning the evilly enchanted wolf belt - because let there be no mistaking, that is evil. Anything with that much power and that little control, that utter lack of concern for anything but self is evil in the most effective sense of the word. There was nothing left inside of me.

  But I had to find it. I had to find enough magic to stop this bloodletting, once and forever.

  I searched inside of me, where everything was numb and empty and tired. Magic comes from the heart, from your feelings, your deepest expressions of desire. That's why black magic is so easy - it comes from lust, from fear and anger, from things that are easy to feed and make grow. The sort I do is harder. It comes from something deeper than that, a truer and purer source - harder to tap, harder to keep, but ultimately more elegant, more powerful.

  My magic. That was at the heart of me. It was a manifestation of what I believed, what I lived. It came from my desire to see to it that someone stood between the darkness and the people it would devour. It came from my love of a good steak, from the way I would sometimes cry at a good movie or a moving symphony. From my life. From the hope that I could make things better for someone else, if not always for me.

  Somewhere, in all of that, I touched on something that wasn't tapped out, in spite of how horrible the past days had been, something that hadn't gone cold and numb inside of me. I grasped it, held it in my hand like a firefly, and willed its energy out, into
the circle I had created with the spinning amulet on the end of its chain.

  It began to glow, azure-blue like a candle flame. The light spread down the chain and to the amulet, and when it reached it the light became incandescent, the pentacle a brilliant light at the end of the chain, spinning a circle of light around me, trailing motes of dust that fell like starlight to the grass around me.

  "Vento," I whispered, and then called, more loudly, "Vento servitas. Ventas, vento servitas!" In the bushes, the loup-garou snarled quietly, and its eyes brightened, burned with scarlet fury. It started moving toward me.

  Without warning, Murphy stepped between me and the loup-garou, her gun held in both hands in a shooter's stance, though the cast made that awkward. She held her gun pointed directly at me. "Harry," she said in a very calm tone. "Get down on the ground. Right now. "

  My eyes widened. I could see over Murphy. I could see the loup-garou, moving rapidly toward her through the trees. I saw it focus on her, felt its malice and hunger spread toward her and envelop her.

  I couldn't speak. I couldn't break the chant, or stop whirling the amulet. To do so would have released the energy I'd gathered, the very last strength I had in me. My head hammered with pain that would have had me screaming on any other night. I kept the amulet whirling, spraying motes of light, the brilliant white pentacle at the end of a leash of blue light.

  "I mean it, Harry," Murphy said. "I don't know what you're doing, but get down. " Her eyes were intense, and she lifted the gun, thumbing back the hammer.

  Trust. Whatever trust she'd had in me was gone. She'd seen or thought of something that made her think I was trying to betray her. The loup-garou rushed closer, and I thought, with a sick feeling in my stomach, that Susan and the Alphas hadn't even had time to make it off the estate yet, much less all the way back to the van. If the loup-garou got through me, it would kill them, one by one, follow their trail like a hound and tear them apart.

  "Harry," Murphy said, her voice pleading. Her hand was shaking. "Please, Harry. Get down. "

  The loup-garou came through the woods in a sudden rush, and Murphy drew in a breath, ready to fire. I kept the amulet whirling and felt the power grow, my head splitting with agony. And made my choice. I just hoped that I could finish the job before Murphy gunned me down. Everything of the past few days came down to that single instant.

  It all slowed down, giving me time to view it in agonizing detail.

  The loup-garou rose up behind Murphy, leaping toward her through the air. It was still huge, still powerful, and more terrifying than ever. Its jaws were open wide, aimed for her blonde head, and could crush it with a single snap.

  Murphy narrowed her eyes, peering down the shaking barrel of her gun. Flame blossomed from the barrel, reaching out toward me. She wasn't twenty feet away from me. I didn't think there was any way she could miss, and I thought, with a pang of sadness, that I wanted a chance to apologize to her before the end. For everything.

  "Vento servitas!" I shouted and released the spell, the circle, and the amulet, as the sound of the shot hit me like a slap in the face. Power rushed out of me, everything I had left in me, focused and magnified by the circle and the time I had taken to refine it, flying forward at the leaping loup-garou. Something hot and painful hammered into my torso - almost like it had hit my back. I toppled forward, too weak and tired to care anymore. But I watched what happened to the amulet.

  The pentacle flew toward the loup-garou like a comet, incandescent white, and struck the creature's breast like lightning hammering into an ancient tree. There was a flash of light, too much power unleashed in a flaring of energy as the mystic substance shattered the loup-garou's invulnerability, carved into it, coursed through it in a blinding blue-white shower of sparks. Blue fire erupted from its chest, its black heart's blood ignited into blinding flame, and the creature screamed, arching backward in agony. There was the sound of thunder, flashes of more light, someone screaming. Maybe it was me.

  The loup-garou fell to earth. And changed. Muzzle melted back into human face. Fangs and claws faded. Warped muscles slithered away into globs of clear, preternatural ooze that would quickly vanish. Fur disappeared. Knotted limbs straightened into clean arms and legs - until Harley MacFinn lay before me, partly upon his side, one hand pressed to his heart.

  The silver of my amulet's chain spilled out between his fingers and dangled down his chest. He stared down at the wound for a moment, and then I saw him relax. MacFinn looked up, and in his face I saw all the grief and agony and impotent rage, everything he'd felt during all those years of being unable to control himself, cursed to cause death and destruction when all he wanted was to open a park for the wildlife. And then it all flooded out of him. His eyes cleared and warmed as he looked at me, and he gave me a small, quiet smile. It was an expression of forgiveness. Something to let me know that he understood.

  Then he laid down his head, and was gone.

  My own blackness followed soon after.