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Grave Peril, Page 18

Jim Butcher

Chapter Eighteen

  "Eat me," I whispered. "I don't . . . I don't understand. "

  "This thing you've been chasing, I think. The Nightmare. I think it was here. "

  "Nightmare," I said. I lowered my head and closed my eyes. "Bob, I can't . . . I can't think straight. What's going on?"

  "Well. You came in about five hours ago drugged to the gills on vampire spit, and muttering like a madman. I think you didn't realize that I was inside Mister. Do you remember that part?"

  "Yeah. Sort of. "

  "What happened?"

  I relayed my experience with Kyle and Kelly Hamilton to Bob. Speaking seemed to help things stop spinning, my guts to settle. My heartbeat slowly eased down to something less than that of a terrified rabbit.

  "Sounds weird," Bob said. "Got to be something important to make them risk going out in daylight like that. Even in a specially equipped van. "

  "I realize that, Bob," I said, and mopped at my face with one hand.

  "You any steadier?"

  "I . . . I guess. "

  "I think you got torn up pretty good, spirit-wise. It's lucky you started screaming. I came as quick as I could, but you didn't want to wake up. The poison, I think. "

  I sat up, cross-legged, staying inside the circle. "I remember that I had a dream. God, it was a terrible dream. " I felt my guts turn to water, and I started shaking again. "I tried to change it, but I wasn't ready. I couldn't. "

  "A dream," Bob said. "Yeah, that figures. "

  "Figures?" I asked.

  "Sure," Bob said.

  I shook my head, rested my elbows on my knees, and put my face in my hands. I did not want to be doing this. Someone else could do it. I should go, leave town. "It was a spirit that jumped me?"

  "Yeah. "

  I shook my head. "That doesn't make any sense. How did it get past the threshold?"

  "Your threshold isn't so hot to begin with, Bachelor Man. "

  I worked up enough courage to scowl at Bob. "The wards, then. I've got all the doors and windows warded. And I don't have any mirrors it could have used. "

  If Bob had any hands, he would have been rubbing them together. "Exactly," he said. "Yes, exactly. "

  My stomach quailed again, and a fresh burst of shuddering made me put my hands in my lap. I felt like sprawling somewhere, crying my eyes out, puking up whatever shreds of dignity remained in my stomach, and then crawling into a hole and pulling it in after me. I swallowed. "It . . . it never came in to me, then, is what you're saying. It never had to cross those boundaries. "

  Bob nodded, eyes burning brightly. "Exactly. You went out to it. "

  "When I was dreaming?"

  "Yes, yes, yes," Bob bubbled. "It makes sense now - don't you see?"

  "Not really. "

  "Dreams," the skull said. "When a mortal dreams, all kinds of strange things can happen. When a wizard dreams, it can be even weirder. Sometimes, dreams can be intense enough to create a little, temporary world of their own. Kind of a bubble in the Nevernever. Remember how you told me Agatha Hagglethorn was a strong enough ghost to have had her own demesne in the Nevernever?"

  "Yeah. It looked kind of like old Chicago. "

  "Well, people can do the same, at times. "

  "But I'm not a ghost, Bob. "

  "No," he said. "You're not. But you've got everything it takes to make a ghost inside you except for the right set of circumstances. Ghosts are only frozen images of people, Harry, last impressions made by a personality. " Bob paused, reflectively. "People are almost always more trouble than anything you run into on the Other Side. "

  "I hadn't noticed," I said. "All right. So you're saying that any time I dream, it creates my own little rent-by-the-hour demesne in the Nevernever. "

  "Not every time," Bob said. "In fact, not even most times. Only really intense dreams, I suspect, bring the necessary energy out of people. But, with the border being so turbulent and easy to get through . . . "

  "More people's dreams are making bubbles on the other side. That must have been how it got to poor Micky Malone, then. While he was sleeping. His wife said he'd had insomnia that night. So the thing hangs around outside his house waiting for him to fall asleep and starts killing fuzzy animals to fill up the time. "

  "Could be," Bob said. "Do you remember your dream?"

  I shuddered. "Yeah. I . . . I remember it. "

  "The Nightmare must have got inside with you. "

  "While my spirit was in the Nevernever?" I asked. "It should have ripped me to shreds. "

  "Not so," Bob beamed. "Your spirit's demesne, remember? Even if only a temporary one. Means you have the home field advantage. It didn't help, since it got the drop on you, but you had it. "

  "Oh. "

  "Do you remember anything in particular, any figure or character in the dream that wouldn't have been acting the way you thought it should have?"

  "Yeah," I said. My shaking hands went to my belly, feeling for tooth marks. "Hell's bells, yeah. I was dreaming of that bust a couple of months back. When we nailed Kravos. "

  "That sorcerer," Bob mused. "Okay. This could be important. What happened?"

  I swallowed, trying not to throw up. "Um. Everything went wrong. That demon he'd called. It was stronger than it had been in life. "

  "The demon was?"

  I blinked. "Bob. Is it possible for something like a demon to leave a ghost?"

  "Oh, uh," Bob said, "I don't think so - unless it had actually died there. Eternally perished, I mean, not just had its vessel dispersed. "

  "Michael killed it with Amoracchius," I said.

  Bob's skull shuddered. "Ow," he said. "Amoracchius. I'm not sure, then. I don't know. That sword might be able to kill a demon, even through a physical shell. That whole faith-magic thing is awfully strong. "

  "Okay, so. We could be dealing with the ghost of a demon, here," I said. "A demon that died while it was all fired up for a fight. Maybe that's what makes it so . . . so vicious. "

  "Could be," Bob agreed, cheerily.

  I shook my head. "But that doesn't explain the barbed-wire spells we've been finding on those ghosts and people. " I grabbed onto the problem, the tangled facts, with a silent kind of desperation, like a man about to drown who has no breath to waste on screaming. It helped to keep me moving.

  "Maybe the spells are someone else's work," Bob offered.

  "Bianca," I said, suddenly. "She and her lackeys are all messed up in this somehow - remember that they put the snatch on Lydia? And they were waiting for me, that first night, when I came back from being arrested. "

  "I didn't think she was that big time a practitioner," Bob said.

  I shrugged. "She's not, horribly. But she just got promoted, too. Maybe she's been studying up. She's always had a little more than her share of freaky vampire tricks - and if she was over in the Nevernever when she did it, it would have made her stronger. "

  Bob whistled through his teeth. "Yeah, that could work. Bianca stirs things up by torturing a bunch of spirits, gets all the turbulence going so that she can prod this Nightmare toward you. Then she lets it loose, sits back, and enjoys the fun. She got a motive?"

  "Regret," I said, remembering a note I'd read more than a year ago. "She blames me for the death of one of her people. Rachel. She wants to make me regret it. "

  "Neat," Bob said. "And she could have been everywhere in question?"

  "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, she could have been. "

  "Means, opportunity, motive. "

  "Damn shaky logic, though. Nothing I could justify to the Council in order to get their back-up, either. I don't have any proof. "

  "So?" Bob said. "Hat up, go kill her. Problem solved. "

  "Bob," I said. "You can't just go around killing people. "

  "I know. That's why you should do it. "

  "No, no. I can't go around killing people, either. "

  "Why not? You've done it before. And you've got a new
gun and everything. "

  "I can't arbitrarily end someone's life because of something they may have done. "

  "Bianca's a vampire," Bob pointed out cheerfully. "She's not alive in the classic sense. I'll get Mister and go fetch the bullets and you - "

  I sighed. "No, Bob. She's got lots of people around her, too. I'd probably have to kill some of them to get to her. "

  "Oh. Damn. This is one of those right and wrong issues again, isn't it. "

  "Yeah, one of those. "

  "I'm still confused about this whole morality thing, Harry. "

  "Join the club," I muttered. I took a shaking breath and leaned forward to put my hand over the circle, and will it broken. I almost cringed when its protective field faded from around me, but forced myself not to. I was as recovered as I was going to get. I needed to focus on work.

  I stood up and walked to my work table, my eyes by now adjusted to the dimness. I reached for the nearest candle, but there weren't any matches handy. So, I pointed my finger at it, frowned, and muttered the words, "Flickum bicus. "

  My spell, a tiny one I had used thousands of times, stuttered and coughed, the energy twitching instead of flowing. The candle's wick smoked, but did not flicker to life.

  I frowned, then closed my eyes, made a little bit of an effort, and repeated the spell. This time, I felt a little surge of dizziness, and the candle flickered to life. I braced one hand on the edge of the table.

  "Bob," I asked. "Were you watching that?"

  "Yeah," Bob said, a frown in his voice.

  "What happened?"

  "Um. You didn't put enough magic into the spell, the first time around. "

  "I put as much as I always do," I protested. "Come on, I've done that spell a million times. "

  "Seventeen hundred and fifty-six, that I've seen. "

  I gave him a pale version of my usual glower. "You know what I mean. "

  "Not enough power," Bob said. "I call 'em like I see 'em. "

  I stared at the candle for a second. Then muttered, to myself, "Why did I have to work to make that thing light up?"

  "Probably because the Nightmare took a big bite out of your powers, Harry. "

  I turned around, very slowly, to blink at Bob. "It . . . it did what?"

  "When it attacked you, in your dream, did it go after a specific place on your body?"

  I put my hand to the base of my stomach, pressing there, and felt my eyes go wide.

  Bob winced. "Oooooo, chakra point. That isn't good. Got you right in the chi. "

  "Bob," I whispered.

  "Good thing he didn't go after your mojo though, right? I mean, you have to look on the bright side of these - "

  "Bob," I said, louder. "Are you saying it . . . it ate my magic?"

  Bob got a defensive look on his face. "Not all of it. I woke you up as quick as I could. Harry, don't worry about it, you'll heal. Sure, you might be down for a couple of months. Or, um, years. Well, decades, possibly, but that's only a very outside chance - "

  I cut him off with a slash of my hand. "He ate part of my power," I said. "Does that mean that the Nightmare is stronger?"

  "Well, naturally, Harry. You are what you eat. "

  "Dammit," I snarled, pressing one hand against my forehead. "Okay, okay. We've really got to find this thing now. " I started pacing back and forth. "If it's using my power, it makes me responsible for what it does with it. "

  Bob scoffed. "Harry, that's irrational. "

  I shot him a look. "That doesn't make it any less true," I snapped.

  "Okay," Bob said, meekly. "We have now left Reason and Sanity Junction. Next stop, Looneyville. "

  "Grrrr," I said, still pacing. "We have to figure out where this thing is going to hit next. It's got all night to move. "

  "Six hours, thirteen minutes," Bob corrected me. "Shouldn't be hard. I've been reading those journals you got from the ectomancer, while you were sleeping. The thing can show up in nightmares, but there's going to be commonality between all of it. Ghosts can only have the kind of power this Nightmare has while they are acting within the parameters of their specific bailiwick. "

  "Baili-what?"

  "Look at it this way, Harry. A ghost can only affect something that relates directly to its death somehow. Agatha Hagglethorn couldn't have terrorized a Cubs game. That wasn't where her power was. She could mess with infants, with abusive husbands, maybe with abused wives - "

  "And meddling wizards," I mumbled.

  "You put yourself in the line of fire, sure," Bob said. "But Agatha couldn't just run somewhere willy-nilly and wreak havoc. "

  "The Nightmare's got to have a personal beef in this," I said. "That's what you're saying. "

  "Well. It has to be related to its demise, somehow. So, yeah. I guess that is what I'm saying. More specifically, it's what Mort Lindquist was saying, in his journals. "

  "Me," I said. "And Lydia. And Mickey Malone. How the hell do all of those relate? I never saw Lydia before in my life. " I frowned. "At least, I don't think I have. "

  "She's kind of an oddball," Bob agreed. "Leave her out of the equation for a minute?"

  I did, and it came to me as clearly as a beam of sunlight. "Dammit," I said. I turned and ran toward the stairs on my unsteady legs, started hauling myself up them and toward the phone.

  "What?" Bob called after me. "Harry, what?"

  "If that thing is the demon's ghost, I know what it wants. Payback. It's after the people that took it down. " I yelled back down the stairs, "I've got to find Murphy. "