Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Grave Peril, Page 17

Jim Butcher

Chapter Seventeen

  I don't remember how I managed to get home again. I have a vague image of all the cars around me going way too fast, and then of Mister's rumbling purr greeting me as I got into my apartment and locked the door behind me.

  The vampire's narcotic saliva had soaked in through my skin in a matter of a second or three, spreading into my system in short order after that. I felt numb, light, all over. The room wasn't quite whirling, but when I moved my eyes, things almost seemed to blur a little, then to settle when I focused on something. I throbbed. Every time my heart beat, my entire body pulsed with a slow, gentle pang of pleasant sensation.

  Something inside me couldn't help but love every second of it. Even counting the times I'd been juiced up in a hospital, it was the best drug I'd ever had.

  I stumbled to my narrow bed and dropped onto it. Mister came and prowled around my face, waiting for me to get up and feed him. "Go away," I heard myself mumble. "Stupid furball. Go on. " He put one paw on my throat, and touched the area of burned skin where the sunlight had struck the smear of Kelly Hamilton's saliva. Pain flared through me, and I groaned, forcing myself into the kitchen. I got some cold cuts out of the icebox and dropped them onto Mister's plate. Then I stumbled into the bathroom and flicked on the light.

  It hurt.

  I shielded my eyes and studied myself in the mirror. My pupils had dilated out nice and big. The skin on my throat, my cheek, was red and glowing, as though from falling asleep outside on a summer afternoon - painful, but not dangerous. I couldn't find any marks on my throat, so the vampire hadn't bitten me. I was pretty sure that was a good thing. Something about a bite being a link to a victim. If she'd bitten me, she could have gotten into my head. Usual mind-control enchantment. Breaking one of the Laws of Magic.

  I stumbled back to my bed and sank down onto it, trying to sort out my thoughts. My lovely, throbbing body made this fairly difficult. Mister came nosing around again, but I shoved him away with one hand and forced myself to ignore him.

  "Focus, Harry," I mumbled to myself. "Got to have focus. "

  I'd learned to block out pain, when necessary. Studying under Justin, it had been a practical necessity. My teacher hadn't believed in sparing the rod and spoiling the potential wizard. You learn very quickly not to make mistakes given the correct incentive to avoid them.

  Blocking out pleasure was a more difficult exercise, but I somehow managed. The first thing I had to do was separate my sense of enjoyment. It took me a while, but I slowly marked out the boundaries of the parts of me that liked all the wonderful, warm sensations, and walled them away. Then the actual pounding happiness itself. I found my heart rate and slowed it a bit, though it was already going too slowly, then started shutting down perception of my limbs, pushing them behind the walls with the rest of me that wasn't doing any good. Giddy delight went next, leaving only a dull fuzz across my thinking, chemically unavoidable.

  I closed my eyes and breathed, and tried to sort through things.

  Lydia had fled the shelter of the church, and Father Forthill's protection. Why? I thought back, over the details of everything I knew about her. Her sunken eyes. The tingle of touching her aura. Had her hands been shaking, just a little? I think they had, in retrospect. I thought of what I had seen of her in the van, of the bracelet on her wrist. Her beating pulse. Had it been slow? I'd thought so, at the time - but then my own had been racing. I focused on the moment I'd been touching her.

  Sixty, I thought. She'd been around sixty beats per minute. My own heart rate was about a sixth of that at the moment. Had been half that, before I'd slowed it down to quiet the song of the drug in my blood.

  (Song, pretty song, why the hell did I have it shut away, when I could just lower the walls, listen to the music, lay here all happy and quiet and just feel, just be . . . )

  I took a moment to prop the walls up again. Lydia's heart rate had been at human normal, nominally. But she'd been laying limp and still, much as I was, now. Kyle and Kelly had poisoned her, as they had me, I was sure of it. Then why had her heart been beating so quickly, in comparison?

  She left the church and had been taken, perhaps, by the Nightmare. Then gone to Malone's house under its guidance, and gotten an invitation in. But why go to Malone's house? What did he have to do with anything?

  Malone and Lydia. They'd both been attacked by the Nightmare. What was the connection? What linked them together?

  More questions. What did the vampires want with her? If Kyle and his sister had been after Lydia, that meant that Bianca wanted her. Why? Was Bianca in league with the Nightmare? If she was, why the hell would she need to use her most powerful goons to kidnap the girl, if she was possessed by Bianca's ally?

  And how the hell had the Nightmare gone through the threshold? An even better question, how had it gotten through the protection offered to Lydia by my Dead Man's talisman? No ghost should have been able to offer her any direct harm or contact through that thing. It didn't make any sense.

  (Why should it? Why should anything need to mean anything at all? Just sit back, Harry, lay back and feel good and relax and let your blood sing, let your heart beat, just ease down into the wonderful, warm, spinning dark and stop worrying, stop caring, drift and float and . . . )

  The walls started to crumble.

  I struggled, but sudden fear made my heartbeat quicken. I fought against the pull of the poison in my blood, but that struggle only made me more vulnerable, more susceptible. I couldn't fail, now. I couldn't. People were depending upon me. I had to fight -

  The walls fell, and my blood surged up with a roar.

  I drifted.

  And it was nice.

  Drifting turned into sleep. Gentle, dark sleep. And sleep, in time, turned into dreams.

  In my dream, I found myself back at the warehouse down by Burnham Harbor. It was night, beneath a full moon. I was wearing my duster, my black shirt and jeans, my black sneakers, which were better for . . . well. Sneaking. Michael stood beside me, his breath steaming in the winter air, dressed in his cloak, his full mail, his bloodred surcoat. Amoracchius rode his hip, a source of quiet, constant power. Murphy and the other members of Special Investigations all wore dark, loose clothing and their flack vests, and everyone had a gun in one hand and something else - like vials of holy water or silver crucifixes - in the other.

  Micky Malone glanced up at the moon and shifted the shotgun in both hands - he was the only person relying upon raw, shredding firepower. Hey, the guy had a point. "All right," he said. "We go in and then what?"

  "Here's the plan," Murphy said. "Harry thinks that the killer's followers will be drugged out and dozing. We round them up, cuff them up, and move on. " Murphy grimaced, her blue eyes sparkling in the silver light. "Tell them what's next, Harry. "

  I kept my voice quiet. "The guy we're after is a sorcerer. It's sort of like being a wizard, only he spends all his energy doing things that are mostly destructive. He isn't good at doing anything that doesn't fuck someone up. "

  "Which makes him a badass as far as we're concerned," Malone growled.

  "Pretty much," I confirmed. "The guy's got power, but no class. I'm going to go in and lock down his magic. We think he might have a demon on a string - that's what the murders have been for. They're part of his payment to get the demon to work for him. "

  "Demon," breathed Rudolph. "Jesus, can you believe this shit?"

  "Jesus did believe in demons," Michael said, his voice quiet. "If the creature is there, do not get close to it. Don't shoot at it. Leave it to me. If it gets past me, throw your holy water at the thing and run while it screams. "

  "That's pretty much the plan," I confirmed. "Keep any human flunkies with knives from giving them to me or Michael. I'll take Kravos's powers out, and you guys grab him as soon as we're sure the demon won't eat us. I deal with any other supernatural stuff. Questions?"

  Murphy shook her head. "Let's go. " She leaned out and pumped her
arm in the air, signaling the rest of the S. I. team, and we headed into the warehouse.

  Everything went according to plan. In the front of the warehouse, a dozen young people, all with that lost, lonely look to them, lay dozing amidst fumes that made me dizzy. The remnants of a serious party lay all over the place - beer cans, clothes, roaches, empty needles, you name it. The cops fell on the kids in a dark-clad swarm and had them cuffed and hauled out into a waiting wagon in under ninety seconds.

  Michael and I moved forward, toward the back of the warehouse, through stacks of boxes and shipping crates. Murphy, Rudy, and Malone followed hard on our heels. I cracked the door at the back wall and peered through it.

  I saw a circle of black, smoking candles, a red-lit figure dressed in feathers and blood kneeling beside it, and something dark and horrible crouching within.

  "Bingo," I whispered. I turned to Michael. "He's got the demon in there with him. "

  The Knight simply nodded, and loosened his sword in its sheath.

  I drew the doll out of my duster's pocket. It was a Ken doll, naked, and not anatomically correct, but it would work. The single hair that forensics had recovered from the last victim's crime scene had been carefully Scotch-taped to the doll's head, and I had attired Ken in the general garb of someone delving into black magic - reversed pentagrams, some feathers, and some blood (from a hapless mouse Mister had nabbed).

  "Murphy," I hissed. "Are you absolutely sure about this hair? That it belongs to Kravos?" If it didn't, the doll wouldn't do diddly to the sorcerer, unless I managed to throw it into his eye.

  "We're reasonably sure," she whispered, "yes. "

  "Reasonably sure. Great. " But I knelt down, and marked out the circle around me, then another around the Ken doll, and wrought my spell.

  The hair was Kravos's. He became aware of the spell taking effect a few seconds before it could close off his power altogether - and with those few seconds he had, he reached out and broke the circle around the demon with his will and his hand, then in a screaming rage compelled it to attack.

  The demon leapt toward us, all writhing darkness and shadows and glowing red eyes. Michael stepped into the doorway and drew Amoracchius, the sudden blaze of light and magical fury like a gale in that darkness.

  In real life, I had completed the spell and shut Kravos away from his powers. Michael had carved the demon into chutney. Kravos had made a run for it, but Malone, at fairly long range, had fired his shotgun at the ground and at Kravos's feet, and done it perfectly, sweeping the man's legs out from beneath him and leaving him writhing, bleeding, but alive. Murphy had wrestled the knife out of the sorcerer's hands, and the good guys had won the day.

  In my dream, it didn't happen that way.

  I felt the fabric of the spell closing around Kravos start to slip. One minute, he was there, in the weaving I was spinning around him - the next, he was simply gone, the spell collapsing of its own unsupported weight.

  Michael screamed. I looked up, to see him lifted high in the air, his sword sweeping through the shadows and darkness before him in impotent futility. Dark hands, fingers nightmarishly long, grabbed Michael's head, covering his face. There was a twist, a wet, crackling sound, and the Knight's neck broke cleanly. His body jerked, then went limp. Amoracchius's light died out. The demon screamed, a tinny, high-pitched sound, and let the body fall to the ground.

  Murphy shouted and hurled her jar of holy water at the demon. The liquid flared into silver light as it struck something in that writhing darkness that was the demon. The shape turned toward us. Claws flashed out, and Murphy stumbled back, her eyes wide with shock where the talons had carved through her kevlar jacket, her shirt, her skin, leaving her belly torn open. Blood and worse rushed out, and she let out a weak gasp, pressing both hands against her own ruined side.

  Malone started pumping rounds out of the shotgun. The demon-darkness turned toward him, a red-fanged leer spreading over it, and waited until the gun clicked empty. Then it simply laughed, grabbed the end of the shotgun, and slammed Malone against a wall, shoving the hardwood stock against the man's belly until he screamed, until the flesh began to rip, until ribs started crackling, and then shoved harder, until I could clearly hear, even above the sound of Malone's retching, the bones in his spine start to splinter and break. Malone, too, fell to the ground, dying.

  Rudolph screamed, pasty-faced and white, and ran away.

  Leaving me alone with the demon.

  My heart rushed with terror and I shook like a leaf before the creature. I was still inside of the circle. I still had the circle protecting me. I struggled to reach out for my power, to summon a strike that would annihilate this thing.

  And found something in my way. A wall. The same spell I'd meant to lay on Kravos.

  The demon stalked over to me and, as though my circle wasn't even there, reached out and backhanded me into the air. I landed with a thud upon the ground.

  "No," I stammered, and tried to struggle back from the thing. "No, this isn't happening. This isn't the way it happened!"

  The demon's red eyes glowed. I lifted my blasting rod toward it, pointed, and shouted, "Fuego!"

  There was no stirring of heat. No fitful crackling of energy. Nothing.

  The demon laughed again, reaching down toward me, and I felt myself lifted into the air.

  "This is a dream!" I shouted. With that awareness, I started struggling to reach out to the fabric of the dream, to alter it - but I'd made no preparations before I'd slept, and was already too panicked, too distracted to focus. "This is a dream! This isn't the way it happened!"

  "That was then," the demon purred, its voice silken. "This is now. " Then its maw opened up and closed over my belly, horrible fangs sinking in, worrying me, stretching my guts. It shook its head, and I exploded, shreds of meat flying out of me, into it, my blood rushing out while I strained and struggled helplessly, screaming.

  And then a grey tabby with a bobtail bounded out of nowhere and whipped one paw at me, lashing it across my nose, claws slashing like fire.

  I screamed again and found myself in the far corner of my bedroom, back in my apartment, curled into a fetal ball. I had been puking my guts out. Mister hovered over me and then, almost judiciously, delivered another scratch to my cheek. I heard myself cry out and flinch from the blow.

  Something rippled along my skin. Something cold and dark and nauseating. I sat up, blinking sleep from my eyes, struggling through the remnants of the vampire's poison and sleep to focus on the presence - but it was gone.

  I shook, violently. I was terrified. Not frightened, not apprehensive - viciously and unremittingly terrified. Mindless, brain-stem terror, the kind that quite simply bypasses rational thought and heads straight for your soul. I felt horribly violated, somehow, used. Helpless. Weak.

  I crawled down to my lab, fumbling in the dark. Dimly, I was aware of Mister coming along behind me. It was dark down here, dark and cold. I stumbled across the room, knocking things down left and right, to the summoning circle built into the floor. I threw myself into it, sobbing, fumbled with tingling fingers at the floor until I located the ring. Then I willed the circle closed. It struggled, resisted, and I pushed harder, forced myself on it harder, until finally I felt it snap shut around me in an invisible wall.

  I curled on my side, keeping every part of myself within that circle, and wept.

  Mister prowled around the circle, a rumbling, reassuring purr in his throat. Then I heard the big grey cat hop up onto the work table, and over to one of the shelves. His dim shadow curled up by the pale bone of the skull. Orange light began to glide out of his mouth, into the skull's eye sockets, until Bob's candleflame eyes blinked, and the skull turned to focus on me.

  "Harry," Bob said, his voice quiet, solemn. "Harry, can you hear me?"

  Shaking, I looked up, desperately grateful to hear a familiar voice.

  "Harry," Bob said gently. "I saw it, Harry. I th
ink I know what went after Malone and the others. I think I know how it did it. I tried to help you, but you wouldn't wake up. "

  My mind whirled, confused. "What?" I asked. My voice came out a whimper. "What are you talking about?"

  "I'm sorry, Harry. " The skull paused, and though its expression couldn't really change, it somehow looked troubled. "I think I know what just tried to eat you. "