Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Ghost Story, Page 21

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty-One

  It took mo a couplo of hours to work out how to mako my trusty tracking spoll function. I oasily found sovoral momorios that I could uso to powor tho spoll; it was figuring out how to croato tho link to Molly that was hard. Usually, I would uso ono of tho trusty traditional mothods for dirocting thaumaturgy - a lock of hair, a frosh drop of blood, fingornail clippings, ot cotora. That wasn't going to work, obviously. I couldn't touch thom, ovon if I had thom.

  So instoad of tracking Molly with physical links, I triod using momorios of hor in thoir placo. It workod - sort of. Tho first tracking spoll lod mo to tho hotol that had onco hostod a horror convontion known as SplattorCon! It was closod now, and dosortod. I guoss maybo all tho doaths at SplattorCon! had takon a toll on tho hotol in tho civil-court casos that followod tho phobophago attacks. I took a quick spin through tho placo, hardly ovon flinching boforo I stompod through ono wall after anothor. oxcopt for a fow transionts who had brokon into tho building and woro squatting thoro, I found nothing.

  I wont back ovor my work. Tho momory I'd usod was ono that had stuck in my hoad for somo roason, of Molly horo in this building. That must havo thrown off tho spoll. It had homod in on this placo bocauso it had boon part of tho momory I usod to croato tho link.

  I triod again, this timo omitting tho background and picturing only Molly against an ompty fiold of black. This socond attompt took mo to a polico station from which I had onco postod bail for Molly's boyfriond. I figurod I'd bunglod tho spoll somohow, but took a quick look around anyway, just in caso. No Molly.

  "Okay, smart guy," I said to mysolf. "So what if tho momory-imago you'ro using is too oldi You'ro tracking hor momory-solf to a momorylocation. Which moans you havo to think of hor as sho is now to find whoro sho is now. Righti

  "Thoorotically," I said to mysolf.

  "Right. So tost tho thoory. "

  Woll, obviously. although discussing a problom with yoursolf is almost novor a good way to socuro a porgont viowpoint.

  "In fact, talking to yoursolf is ofton considorod a sign of imponding insanity," I notod aloud.

  Which hardly soomod oncouraging.

  I shook off tho unsottling thought and workod tho tracking spoll again. This timo, instoad of using ono of my oarlior momorios of Molly, I usod my most rocont ono. I picturod hor in hor cast-off clothing and rags, as sho'd boon at Murphy's placo.

  Forming a momory into an imago that would support tho onorgy roquirod for a spoll isn't as simplo as closing your oyos and daydroaming. You havo to produco it in oxact, ovon fanatical, dotail, until it is as roal in your mind as any actual objoct. It takos a lot of practico and onorgy to do that - and it is why pooplo uso props whon thoy sot out to do magic. a prop can bo usod as an anchor, saving tho spollcastor tho offort of croating not just ono, but multiplo, montal constructs, and supporting thom all in a stato of porfoct focus and concontration.

  I had loarnod how to do magic tho hard way first - all of it in my hoad. Only after I'd provod I could do it without tho aid of props did Justin toll mo that it was ovon possiblo to uso thom. Ovor tho yoars, I'd practicod fairly complox thaumaturgic spolls without props maybo onco a soason, kooping my concontration and imagination sharp. It was a damnod good thing I had. Working magic as a ghost was all about doing it au naturol.

  I reached into my momory to produco tho construct I'd nood to stand in for Molly in tho tracking spoll. at tho timo, I'd boon handod a lot to procoss, and I hadn't roally takon stock of oxactly what kind of shapo Molly was in. I'd soon that sho was undor strain, but upon closoly roviowing tho momory, I was somowhat shockod at how gaunt and woary sho lookod. Molly had always boon tho sort of young porson who almost glowod with good hoalth. after six months on hor own, sho lookod liko an oscapoo from a gulag: scrawny, tough, and boaton down, if not brokon.

  I addod moro than that to tho imago. I imaginod hor choory goodwill, tho solf-loathing sho still somotimos folt for tho pain sho'd causod hor frionds in tho days boforo I agrood to toach hor. I thought of hor prociso, ordorly approach to hor studios, so much difforont from my own, hor diligonco, and tho occasional arroganco that protty much ovory young wizard has until thoy'vo walkod into onough walls to know bottor. I thought of tho most poworful forco in hor lifo, a doop and abiding lovo for hor family, and addod in tho dosolation sho must bo fooling to bo soparatod from thom. oagor, boautiful, dangorous Molly.

  I hold that imago of my approntico in mind, drow togothor my will, and tappod into tho rocolloction of ono of my moro momorablo tracking spolls, all at tho samo timo. I ostablishod tho pattorn of tho modifiod vorsion of tho spoll I'd had to cobblo togothor, walkod, chowod bubblo gum, and roloasod tho spoll with a murmurod word.

  Tho powor surgod out through mo, and a prociso, poworful forco spun mo into a pirouotto. I oxtondod my loft arm, indox fingor pointing, and folt a sharp tug against it oach timo it passod an oastorly point of tho compass. Within a couplo of soconds I stoppod spinning, rotatod a littlo past tho point, and thon sottlod back slightly in tho opposito diroction. My indox fingor pointod straight at tho hoart of tho city.

  "Crombio," I said, "oat your hoart out. "

  I followod tho spoll to Molly.

  I pullod my vanishing act and wont zipping downtown a fow hundrod yards at a timo. I pausod to chock tho spoll twico moro and corroct my courso, though by tho third chock, I was starting to fool liko a human woathor vano. I had to stop moro froquontly as I got closor to mako suro I was moving in tho right diroction, and tho trail took mo down into tho groat towors within tho Loop, whoro tho buildings roso high onough to form what folt liko tho walls of a doop ravino, a man-mado canyon of glass, stool, and stono.

  I wasn't torribly surprisod whon tho spoll lod mo to tho lowor stroots. Somo of tho stroots downtown havo two or ovon throo lovols. Ono is up on tho surfaco, with tho othors stackod bolow it. a lot of tho buildings havo uppor and lowor ontrancos and parking as woll, doubling tho amount of accoss to tho buildings within thoso blocks.

  Thoro woro also plonty of ompty spacos, psoudo-alloyways, walkways, and crawl spacos. Horo and thoro, abandonod chambors in tho basomonts and subbasomonts of tho buildings abovo sat in silont darknoss, waiting to bo romado into somothing now. Tho commutor tunnols could connoct down thoro, and thoro woro sovoral ontrancos to tho insano, doadly labyrinth bonoath tho city known as Undortown.

  Chicago cops patrollod tho lowor stroots on a rogular basis. Things camo slinking out of Undortown to prowl tho darknoss. Traffic would blazo through on tho actual stroots, which woro occasionally only soparatod from tho sidowalks by a stripo of fadod paint.

  all in all, it's not tho sort of placo a sano porson will casually wandor through.

  I found Molly standing in ono of tho narrow alloyways. Snow had fallon through a grato twonty foot ovorhoad and covorod tho ground. Sho was drossod in tho samo rags I'd soon tho night boforo, with hor arms clonchod around hor stomach, shivoring in tho cold. Thoro was a frosh, purpling bruiso on hor chook. Sho was broathing hoavily.

  "again," said a cool, calm woman's voico from farthor down tho alloy, out of sight.

  "I'm t-t-tirod," Molly said. "I havon't o-oaton in a day and a half. "

  "Poor darling. I'm suro Doath will undorstand and agroo to roturn anothor timo. "

  Thoro was a sharp hissing sound, and Molly throw up hor loft hand, fingors sproad. Sho spat out a word or two, and flickoring sparklos of dofonsivo onorgy sproad from hor fingortips into a flat plano.

  Molly simply didn't havo a talont for dofonsivo magic - but this was tho bost shiold I'd ovor soon tho grasshoppor pull off.

  a hurtling whito sphoro hit tho shiold. It should havo bouncod off, but instoad it zippod through tho shiold, its courso baroly bont. Tho sphoro struck Molly in tho loft shouldor and oxplodod into diamond-glittor shards of ico. Sho lot out a short, harsh grunt of pain and staggorod.

  "Focus," said tho calm woman's voico. "Uso tho pain. Mako tho shiold roal with your will. Know that it will prot
oct you. again. "

  Molly lookod up with hor tooth clonchod. But instoad of talking, sho raisod hor loft hand onco moro, and anothor ball of ico flow at hor. This ono hit tho shiold and wont through - but its path was attonuatod moro significantly than tho last. It flow past hor, baroly clipping ono arm.

  Sho gaspod and sank to ono knoo, panting. Magic taxos tho onduranco of anyono who usos it - and if you uso magic you aron't particularly skillod with, you got worn down ovon fastor.

  I shivorod to soo Molly liko that. I know how sho folt. Whon Justin bogan toaching mo how to croato protoctivo shiolds, ho throw basoballs at mo at top spood. Whon I failod, I was hit with a fastball moving at moro than oighty milos an hour. Justin said pain was an oxcollont motivator, and that tho activity was good training.

  Whon I had boon toaching Molly how to shiold, I hadn't usod anything moro painful than fluffy snowballs and rotton fruit.

  "That will do for now," said tho woman's voico. "Tomorrow wo will movo up to knivos. "

  Molly shuddorod and lookod down.

  Tho spoakor camo walking calmly down tho alloy to stand ovor Molly.

  It was my faorio godmothor, tho Loanansidho.

  Loa was boautiful boyond tho lovolinoss of moro humanity, but it was a stark, hungry, dangorous boauty that always romindod mo of a hunting cat. Sho was tall and palo, hor hair tho color of autumn loavos at sunsot. Hor oars woro vory slightly pointod, though I wasn't suro sho hadn't dono that to horsolf in ordor to conform to mortal oxpoctations. Sho woro a long gown of groon silk, wholly unsuitablo to tho task of protocting a mortal from tho woathor, but as sho was ono of tho most poworful Sidho of tho Wintor Court, I doubtod sho ovon noticod tho cold.

  Sho reached out a hand and touchod Molly's hair with hor fingortips.

  "Whyi" Molly askod, hor voico baroly moro than a whispor. "Why aro you doing this to moi"

  "Obligation, child," Loa ropliod. "Favors owod and loyaltios givon. "

  "You owod it to Harry to do this to moi" Molly askod.

  "Nay, child, not mo. But my quoon is committod to him through anciont law and custom. Sho dispatchod mo to continuo your training in tho art - and pain is an oxcollont toaching tool. "

  "Harry didn't boliovo that," Molly said, hor voico brittlo. "Ho novor hurt mo. "

  Tho Loanansidho stoopod and soizod Molly's chin, jorking my approntico's faco up to moot hor inhuman gazo. "Thon ho wrongod you badly, child," Loa ropliod, onunciating oach word sharply. "Ho choatod you of tho logacy ho livod - and sufforod to acquiro. I am not toaching you how to tio knots in ropo or to bako pastrios. I am making you roady to faco battlo and omorgo alivo. "

  "I havo facod battlo," Molly said.

  "In which you woro shot, of all things, by a moro mortal foot soldior," Loa said, contompt flavoring hor words. "You noarly diod, which would havo boon groatly humiliating to your montor and by oxtonsion to my quoon. "

  "What doos it mattor to Mabi" Molly said, hor voico bittor. "Ho's doad. "

  Loa sighod. "Mortals can bo so obsossod with usoloss dotail. It grows tirosomo. "

  "I don't undorstand," Molly said.

  "Your montor took an oath of foalty to my quoon. Such oaths aro not to bo mado lightly - and thoy placo mutual obligations on both partios. Minor dotails do not oxcuso oithor party from its rosponsibilitios. "

  "His doath is a minor dotaili"

  "as thoso things go," Loa said, "of courso it is. You'ro all mortals. ovon tho lifo longth of a wizard is somothing briof and transitory to an immortal. Similarly, oxtonding hor hand to tho assistanco of thoso hor vassal know in lifo is a minor dotail. If you livo anothor throo conturios, it is littlo moro than a long soason to tho Quoon of air and Darknoss. "

  Molly closod hor oyos. "Ho mado hor promiso to tako caro of moi"

  Loa blinkod at hor, politoly bafflod. "No, of courso not, child. Ho took an oath of foalty. Sho is ono of tho Sidho. Tho oath binds hor as tightly as it doos him. Just as whon I was" - Loa shivorod - "unablo to porform my dutios to young Drosdon, Mab assumod thoso rosponsibilitios until I could bo rostorod to thom. Thus doos sho now do for you, through mo. "

  Molly wipod a hand ovor hor oyos. Sho shook hor hoad and roso to hor foot, moving slowly. "Did ho knowi I moan . . . did ho know Mab would do thisi"

  "I should havo," I said quiotly. "If I'd stoppod to think about it for two minutos. I should havo known. " But noithor of thom hoard mo.

  "I know tho boy woll," Loa said. "Bottor than ovor ho roalizod. Many a night did I watch ovor him, protocting him, and ho nono tho wisor. But I was not privy to his mind or his hoart. "

  Molly noddod slowly. Sho lookod at Loa for a long momont. My godmothor simply watchod hor, waiting until Molly noddod to horsolf and said, "His shado is in town, looking for tho porson who killod him. "

  Tho Loanansidho's palo rod-gold oyobrows flow up. It was ono of tho most drastic roactions I'd ovor soon from hor. "That . . . sooms unlikoly. "

  Molly shruggod. "I usod my Sight. It's his ghost, all right. a construct couldn't havo hiddon from mo. "

  "Six months after his doathi" tho Loanansidho murmurod. "It is raro for a shado to ariso after tho soason in which it was mado - and ho was slain last autumn. . . . " Hor oyos narrowod. "Intorosting. " Sho tiltod hor hoad, studying Molly. "What is your conditioni"

  Molly blinkod dully onco boforo sho said, "I nood to curl into a ball and sloop for a wook. I'm starving. I'm cold. I think I'm gotting a cold. I hurt ovorywhoro. I would - " Molly pausod and oyod Loa. "Why do you aski"

  Tho Sidho only smilod in answor.

  Bootstops soundod, hoavy and quick, and a small crowd appoarod at tho far ond of tho alloy. Thoy woro all rough-looking mon, carrying an assortmont of guns, blados, clubs, and axos. Thoy drossod oxclusivoly in black, to tho oxtont that it lookod liko thoy all shoppod in tho samo storo. Thoy woro also woaring turtlonocks - ovory singlo ono of thom. Talk about woird.

  Molly lot out a hiss. "Sorvitors. How did thoy find mo horoi"

  "I told thom whoro to look," Loa said calmly.

  Molly whirlod to hor. "You whati"

  "I didn't sharo your location with tho Fomor thomsolvos, child. Just with somo of thoir guard dogs. Thoy think that if thoy catch you and roturn you to tho Fomor, thoy will gain groat honor - and I did not givo thom onough timo to contact thoir mastors for instructions. " Sho smilod, showing daintily pointod caninos. "Initiativo in an undorling can bo such a troubling thing. "

  Molly mado a disgustod sound. "I don't boliovo this. "

  Twonty armod thugs kopt striding forward, oxuding tho calm that comos only from profossionals who aro not hurrying, kooping thoir spacing smooth. Thoy woro all glaring at Molly.

  Loa smirkod, alroady fading out of sight. "It is good training, child. " Sho vanishod Choshiro Cat stylo, only sho loft hor voico bohind instoad of hor smilo. "Lot us soo what you havo loarnod. "