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Fool Moon, Page 18

Jim Butcher

Chapter 19

  From out in the hallway, there came a scream that no human throat could have made, a sound of such fury and insane anger that it made my stomach roil and my guts shake. Gunfire erupted, not in a rattling series of individual detonations, but in a roar of furious thunder. Bullets shot through the wall, somewhere near me, and smashed out a couple of windows in the special investigations office.

  I was on my last legs, exhausted, and terrified half crazy. I hurt, all over. There was no way I was going to have the focus, the strength I needed to go up against that monster. Easier to run, to plan something out, to come back when I was stronger. I could win a rematch. It's tough to beat a wizard who knows his enemy, who comes prepared to deal with it. It was the smart thing to do.

  But I've never been known for my rational snap judgment. I gripped the blasting rod and started sucking in all the power I could reach, scooping up my recent terror, reaching down into the giggling madness, scraping up all the courage I had left, and pouring it into the kettle with everything else. The power came rushing into me, purity of emotion, complex energies of will, and raw hardheadedness, all combining into a field, an aura of tingling, invisible energy that I could feel enveloping my skin. Shivers ran over me, overriding the pain of my injuries, the ecstasy of power gathering my sensations into its heady embrace. I was pumped. I was charged. I was more than human, and God help anyone who got in my way, because he would need it. I drew in a deep, steadying breath.

  And then I simply turned to the wall, pointed my rod at it, and snarled, "Fuego. "

  Power lanced out through the rod in a flood of scarlet light that charred a six-foot circle of wall into powder and ash and sent it flying. I stepped through it, wishing for my duster, for a second, just for the cool effect it would have.

  The hallway was a scene out of hell. Two officers were hauling a third down the hall toward me, while three more with shotguns fired wildly around the corner. I don't think the rescuers had taken the time to note that the body they were dragging away from the combat had no head attached to it.

  One of the cops screamed as the riot gun he held ran empty, and something I could not see jerked him forward, around the corner and out of my vision. There was a horrible shriek, a splash of blood, and the two remaining shooters panicked and fled up the hall and toward me.

  The loup-garou came around the corner after them, hauling one of the men down and ripping its claws across his spine with a simple, savage motion that left the man quivering on the bloody tiles and hardly made the beast miss a step. It set its eyes on the next man, one of the plainclothes SI detectives, and hamstrung him with a slash of its jaws. The beast left him howling on the tiles and hurtled toward the retreating pair, still frantically dragging their corpse away.

  I stepped forward, between the fleeing men and the beast, and lifted the blasting rod. "I don't think so, bub. "

  The loup-garou crouched down, its massive body moving with unholy grace, its head and forequarters soaked in blood. I saw its eyes widen, and its muscles bunch beneath its dark brown pelt. Power gathered at my fist, red and brilliant, and the length of my blasting rod turned an incandescent white. Energy seethed through me as I prepared to release hell on earth at the monster. My teeth ached and my hair stood on end. I tensed every muscle I had, holding it all back until I could put every scrap of strength I had into the strike.

  And then there was the bark-bark-bark of Murphy's little target pistol, and the loup-garou's rear flank twitched and threw out little bursts of blood. Its head whipped to one side, back down the short hallway, and its body followed suit, faster than a serpent. There was a surge of enormous muscles, a howl of rage, and then the thing was gone.

  I spat a curse and ran down the hall after it. The hamstrung officer lay on the floor screaming, and the other man, the one who'd had his spine ripped out, was choking and twitching, unable to draw in a breath. Red anger flooded me, rage that I realized with some dim part of my mind was as much a part of the beast and its blood-maddened frenzy as it was of me.

  I rounded the corner in time to see Murphy, standing in front of a litter of bodies, take a last shot at the loup-garou. And then it snarled and she vanished underneath its bulk.

  "No!" I screamed and ran forward.

  Carmichael beat me to it. His round belly had been ripped open. There was blood all over his cheap suit, though his food-stained tie had somehow remained untainted. His face was grave pale and set with the sort of intensity that only a dying man can have. He held a bent and twisted riot gun in his hands and he hurled himself onto the loup-garou's back as though he weren't sixty pounds overweight and long past his agile years. He wedged the riot gun between the loup-garou's jaws, but the beast turned and slammed Carmichael into the wall with a sickening crunch of bone and a gout of blood from the man's mouth.

  Murphy slithered out from between the beast's paws on her shoulder blades and buttocks, her cute little cheerleader's face set in a berserker's fury. She jammed the end of her little gun beneath the thing's chin. I saw her hands convulse on the trigger. But instead of a flash of light and a dead loup-garou, there was only the whooping of the alarm and a look of shocked surprise on Murphy's face. The gun had run empty.

  "Murphy!" I shouted. "Roll!"

  She saw me with the blasting rod and her eyes flew wide. The loup-garou shook its shoulders free of Carmichael's corpse and bit completely through the riot gun, thrashing its head left and right. Murphy scuttled sideways across the tiles and through the hole in the wall the beast had made earlier.

  It took one snap at her and then whipped its head around to snarl at me. I saw the crimson light reflected in its eyes as I focused every bit of fury in the world on the tip of my rod, and shouted, "Fuego!" I saw the reflected image in the beast's eyes brighten to nuclear-white in front of a tall, lean figure of black shadow, saw the flood of energy as big around as my hips rush down the hall like a lance of red lightning and hammer into the beast. Sound rushed along with it, a mountain's roar that made the gunshots and screams of the evening seem like a child's whispers in comparison.

  The power lifted the loup-garou, hurtling it over the wounded figures moaning on the floor, down the hall, into holding, through the security door, through the cell door immediately across from it, then through the brick exterior wall of the building and out into the Chicago night. But it wasn't over yet. The lance of power carried the loup-garou across the street, through the windows of the condemned building across from the station, and through a series of walls within, each one shattering with a redbrick roar. Before the red fire died away, I could see the far side of the building across the street, and the lights of the next block over through the hole the loup-garou had made.

  I stood in a blood-splattered hallway, filled with the moans of the wounded and the wail of the escape alarm. The sounds of emergency vehicles drifted into the building through the ragged hole in the wall. A slender young black man stood up from the floor of the cell the loup-garou had smashed through and gawked at the hole in the wall, then followed the destruction back down the hallway to where I stood. "Damn," he said, and it had the same hushed tone to it as a holy word.

  Murphy struggled out of the hole in the wall to pitch down on the floor of the hallway, gasping. I could see the bulge of bone warping out the skin of her lower arm where it had been snapped, somehow. She lay white faced and gasping, staring at Carmichael's crushed body.

  For a moment, I couldn't do anything but stand there gawking. There was another hole in the wall, where the loup-garou must have crashed back into the hall, putting itself between the two groups of policemen, where they couldn't risk shooting at it without hitting one another. Or maybe they had. Some of the men who were down looked as though they had bullet wounds.

  And from outside, over the sirens and the moans and the noise of a city night, I heard a long, furious howl.

  "You've got to be kidding me," I breathed. My limbs felt like bruised jelly, but I tu
rned to limp back around the corner and found Rudy there, staring, a paper cup in one hand and the Snoopy doll in the other. I took both from him, and stalked back into the hallway, to the second hole the loup-garou had made.

  I found what I was looking for at once - blood on the inside of the hole in the wall, where the beast had plowed through it. The loup-garou's blood was thicker, darker than human fluids, and I scooped it into the paper cup before going back into the hallway.

  I swept clean a place with my foot, set down my blasting rod, got out my chalk, and drew a circle on the ground. Rudolph approached me, his head jerking back and forth between grisly corpses and splashes of blood. "You. My God. What are you doing?"

  I slapped the Snoopy down in the middle of the circle, then smeared the beast's blood over its eyes and mouth, over its ears and nose. "Thaumaturgy," I said.

  "Wha - ?"

  "Magic," I clarified grimly. "Make a symbolic link between a little thing," I nodded at the Snoopy doll, "and a big thing. Make it happen on the smaller scale and it happens on the larger scale, too. "

  "Magic," Rudolph echoed.

  I glanced up at him. "Go downstairs. Send the emergency people up here, Rudy. Go on. Send them up here to help the wounded. "

  The kid twitched his eyes from the bloody Snoopy back to me and jerked his head in a nod. Then he turned and fled down the hallway.

  I turned my attention back to the spell I was working. I had to keep the rage and anger I felt away from the working of my magic. I couldn't afford to flood my spirit with grief, fury, and thoughts of vengeance for the dead men, for their deaths, for the pain that would be visited on their families. But God as my witness, I wanted nothing more than to try to set that thing on fire and hear it burn somewhere outside.

  I tried to remind myself that it wasn't MacFinn's fault. He was under a curse, and not to blame. Killing him wouldn't bring back any of the dead men in these bloody hallways. But I could keep any more men from dying tonight.

  And I could do that without killing him.

  In retrospect, it was just as well that I didn't try to murder MacFinn. Magic like that takes a lot of energy - certainly more than I had. I would probably have killed myself in the effort to finish off the loup-garou. Not to mention that the Council would get their feathers ruffled by the concept - even though technically, MacFinn wasn't a human being at the moment. Killing monsters isn't nearly as much of an issue with the Council. They don't hold with equal-opportunity mercy.

  Instead, as my vision started to fade, I began to chant nonsense syllables in a low, musical refrain, focusing the energy I would need inside the circle I had closed around me. It wasn't until later that I would realize that I was babbling a chant of "Ubriacha, ubrius, ubrium," to the Peanuts theme music. I tore off a strip of my own bloodied jumpsuit and bound it across the Snoopy's eyes, its ears. I bound up the ends of its fuzzy, cute little paws. Then its mouth, as though muzzling it.

  I felt the spell grow and prepare itself, and when it was ready, I released the power and broke the circle, feeling it flow out into the night, following the blood back to the loup-garou, winding itself about the creature, blinding its eyes, fouling its ears, lashing around its jaws and forcing them shut, crippling its taloned paws. The spell would hamper and confuse the beast, hopefully drive it to ground where no one could disturb it, keep it from venting its rage upon the people of the city. And it would last until dawn. The energy flowed out of me, left me feeling empty, exhausted, dizzy.

  And then people were all around me, emergency folk in uniforms, cops and paramedics and firemen, oh my. I stood up from my circle, grabbed my blasting rod, and shambled off blindly.

  I walked past Carmichael's corpse, stunned. Murphy was rocking back and forth over it, weeping, shaking, while a man tried to slide a blanket over her shoulders. She didn't notice me. Carmichael looked relaxed in death. I wondered for a minute if he had a family, a wife who would miss him. He'd died saving Murphy from the beast. He'd died a hero.

  It seemed so empty to me, at that moment. Meaningless to be a hero. I felt burned on the inside, as though the fire I had hurled at the creature had scoured away all the gentle feelings that had been there and left a fallow ground behind where only red emotions could flourish. I stumbled past Murphy and Carmichael and turned to walk out of the building, dimly realizing that in the confusion I might actually have fair odds of making it back outside where Tera and Susan would be waiting in the car. No one tried to stop me.

  The stairs were tough, and for a minute I thought I might just lie down and die on the first landing, but a helpful old fireman lent me a hand down to the first floor, asking me several times if I needed a doctor. I assured him that I was fine and prayed that he didn't notice the handcuffs still dangling from either wrist. He didn't. He was as wide around the eyes as everyone else, stunned.

  Outside was chaos. Police were struggling to establish some sort of order. I saw a couple of news vans rolling up the street, while other people crowded around, trying to see. I stood in the door, dismayed, trying to remember how to walk down the steps.

  And then someone warm and gentle was at my side, taking some of my weight. I let her have it, and closed my eyes. I smelled Susan's hair when I inhaled, and it made me want to wail and hold on to her, to try to explain what I had seen, to try to clean the stains from inside my head. All that came out was a little choking sound.

  I heard Susan speak to someone else, and another person got on the other side of me, helped me down the stairs. Tera, I thought. I dimly remember them guiding me through the hectic area in front of the police station, around ambulances and shouting men, around policemen who were trying to get the bystanders to move away. I heard Susan explain to someone that I was drunk.

  Finally there was quiet, and then we were moving among cars in a parking lot, cool light gleaming on cool metal shapes, cool rain coming down on my head, my hair. I tilted my face up to feel the rain, and everything swam crazily.

  "I've got you, Harry," Susan murmured against my ear. "Just relax. I've got you. Just relax. "

  And so I did.