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Grave Peril, Page 23

Jim Butcher

Chapter Twenty-three

  Back in my lab, it felt a little creepy to be working by candlelight. Intellectually, I knew that it was still full daylight outside, but last night had brought out the instinctive fear of the dark that is a part of being human. I had been wounded. Everything, every shadow, every small sound made me twitch and jerk and look aside.

  "Steady, Harry," I told myself. "You have time before sundown. Just relax and get it over with. "

  Good advice. Michael and I had driven around most of the morning, collecting what I would need for the spell. I'd read through Kravos's journal while Michael drove. Sick stuff. He'd been careful about listing out every step of his rituals, complete with notes on the physical ecstasy he'd experienced during the killings - nine in all. Most of them had been women or children he'd killed with a cruelly curved knife. He'd roped a bunch of young people into his fold with drugs and blackmail, and then thrown orgies where he'd either participate or else channel the energy raised by all that lust into his magic. That seemed to be standard operating procedure for guys like Kravos. Win-win situation.

  A thorough man. Thorough in his efforts to kill and corrupt lives to acquire more power, thorough in the documentation of his sick pleasures - and thorough in the listing of his efforts to secure a familiar demon by the name of Azorthragal.

  The name had been carefully written, each syllable marked for specific emphasis.

  Magic is a lot like language: it's all about stringing things together, linking one thing with another, one idea with another. After you establish links, then you pour power into them and make something happen. That's what we call thaumaturgy in the business - creating links between small things and big things. Then, you make something happen on the small scale and it happens on the large scale, too. Voodoo dolls are the typical example for that one.

  But simulacra, like a voodoo doll, aren't the only way to create links. A wizard can use fingernail clippings, or hair, or blood, if it's fresh enough, or just about any other body part to create a link back to the original being.

  Or you can use its name. Or maybe I should say, its Name.

  Names have power. Everyone's Name says something about them, whether they're aware of it or not. A wizard can use that Name to forge a link to someone. It's difficult with people. People's self-concepts are always changing, evolving, so even if you get someone to tell you their full name, if you try to establish the link when they're in a radically different mood, or after some life-changing event that alters the way they see themselves, it might not work. A wizard can get a person's name only from their own lips, but if he doesn't use it fairly quickly, it's likely to get stale.

  Demons, however, are a different matter. Demons aren't people. They don't have the problem of having a soul, and they don't worry about silly things like good and evil, or right and wrong. Demons are. If a demon is going to be inclined to eat your face, it's going to eat your face then, and now, and a thousand years from now.

  It's almost comforting, in a way - and it makes them vulnerable. Once you know a demon's Name, you can get to it whenever you want to. I had Azorthragal's Name. Even though it was a ghost now, instead of a demon, it ought to respond to the memory of its Name, if nothing else.

  Time to get to it.

  Five white candles surrounded my summoning circle, the points of an invisible pentacle. White for protection. And because they're the cheapest color at Wal-Mart. Hey, being a wizard doesn't make money grow on trees.

  Between each candle was an object from someone the Nightmare had touched. My shield bracelet was there. Michael had given me his wedding ring, and Charity's. I'd gone by the station, and grabbed the hand-lettered nameplate Murphy had kept stubbornly on her office door until the publicity last year had driven the municipal politicians into getting her a real one. It lay on the floor beside them. A visit to a grateful Malone household had turned up Micky's retirement watch. It completed the circle, between the last pair of candles.

  I drew in a breath, and checked my props. You don't need all the candles and knives and whatnot to work magic. But they help. They make it easier to focus. In my weakened condition, I needed all the help I could get.

  So I lit the incense and paced around the outside of the summoning circle, leaving myself enough room to work with inside the circle of incense and outside the circle of copper. I put out a little willpower as I did, just enough to close the circle, and felt the energy levels rise as random magic coalesced.

  "Harry," Michael called down from the room above. "Are you finished?"

  I suppressed a flash of irritation. "Just getting started. "

  "Forty-five minutes until sundown," he said.

  I couldn't keep the annoyance out of my voice. "Gee, thanks. No pressure, Michael. "

  "Can you do it or not, Harry? Father Forthill is staying at my house with the children. If you can't stop this thing now, I've got to go back to Charity. "

  "I sure as hell can't do it with you breathing down my neck. Hell's bells, Michael, get out of the way and let me work. "

  He growled something to himself about patience or turning the other cheek or something. I heard his feet on the floor above as he retreated from the door leading down to my lab.

  Michael didn't come down into the lab with me because the whole concept of using magic without the Almighty behind it didn't sit well with him, regardless of what we'd been through together. He could tolerate it, but not approve of it.

  I got back to work, closing my eyes and forcing myself to clear my thoughts, to focus on the task at hand. I started to draw my concentration toward the copper circle. The incense smoke tickled at my senses, and swirled about inside the perimeter of the outer circle, not leaving it. The energy grew slowly, as I concentrated, and then I picked up the knife in my right hand, and a handful of water from a bowl on my left.

  Now for the three steps. "Enemy, mine enemy," I spoke, slipping power into the words, "I seek you. " I passed the knife over the copper circle, straight down. I couldn't see it, without opening my Sight, but could feel the silent tension as I cut a slit between the mortal world and the Nevernever.

  "Enemy, mine enemy," I spoke again. "I search for you. Show me your face. " I cast the water up, over the circle, where the energy of the spell atomized it into a fine, drifting mist, filled with rainbows from the surrounding candles, shifting shapes and colors.

  Now for the hard part. "Azorthragal!" I shouted, "Azorthragal, Azorthragal! Appare!" I used the knife to cut my finger, and smeared the blood onto the edge of the copper circle.

  Power surged out of me, into the circle, through the rent in the fabric of reality, and as it did, the circle sprang up like a wall around the band of copper in the floor. I felt the cut as an acute, vicious pain, enough to make me blink tears out of my eyes as the power quested out, fueled by the energy of the circle, guided by the articles spread around it.

  The spell quested about in the Nevernever, like the blind tentacle of the Kraken scouring the deck, looking for some hapless soul to grab. It shouldn't have happened like that. It should have zipped to the Nightmare like a lariat and brought it reeling in. I reached out and put more power into the spell, picturing the thing that I had been fighting, the results of its work, trying to give the spell more guidance. It wasn't until I hit upon the sense of the Nightmare, for lack of a better word, the terror it had inspired that the spell latched onto something. There was a moment of startled stillness, and then a wild, bucking energy, a resistance, that made my heart pound in my chest, the cut in my finger burn as though someone had poured salt over it.

  "Appare!" I shouted, forcing will into my voice, reeling back in on the spell. "I command thee to appear!" I slip into the archaic at dramatically appropriate moments. So sue me.

  The swirling mist of rainbows swayed and wavered, as though some kind of half-solid thing were stirring the air within the summoning circle. It struggled like a maddened bull, trying to tear away from my spell
. "Appare!"

  Upstairs, the telephone rang. I heard Michael walk across the floor while I struggled through several silent, furious seconds, the Nightmare trying to escape the web of my concentration.

  "Hello," Michael said. He'd left the door open and I heard him clearly.

  "Appare!" I grated again. I felt the thing slip, and I jerked it closer in vicious triumph. The mists and lights swirled, began to take on shape, vaguely humanoid.

  "Oh. Yes, but he's . . . a little busy," Michael said. "Uh-huh. No, not exactly. I think - Yes, but - " Michael sighed. "Just a minute. " I heard his feet cross to the trap door again.

  "Harry," Michael called. "Susan's on the phone. She says she needs to talk to you. "

  I all but screamed, struggling to hold onto the Nightmare. "I'll call her back," I managed to gasp.

  "She says it's really important. "

  "Michael!" I half-screamed. "I'm a little busy here!"

  "Harry," Michael said, his voice serious. "I don't know what you're doing down there, but she sounds very upset. Says she's been trying to get in touch with you for a while without any luck. "

  The Nightmare started slipping away from me. I gritted my teeth and hung on. "Not now!"

  "All right," Michael said. He retreated from the door down to the lab, and I heard him speaking quietly on the phone again.

  I blocked it out, blocked out everything but my spell, the circle, and the thing on the other end of it. I was tiring, but so was it. I had all the props, the power and focus of the circle - it was strong, but I had the leverage on it, and after another minute, minute and a half, I shouted, "Appare!" for the last time.

  The mist in the circle swirled and trembled, taking on a vaguely humanoid shape. The shape screamed, a faint and bubbly sound, still trying to escape.

  "You can't get away!" I shouted at it. "Who brought you over! Who sent you!"

  "Wizard," the thing screamed. "Release me!"

  "Yeah, right. Who sent you!" I forced more energy into my voice, compulsion.

  It screamed, a distorted sound, like a radio getting interference. The shape refused to clarify or solidify anymore. "No one!"

  "Who sent you!" I said, hammering on the spell and the Nightmare, with my will. "Who has compelled you to harm these people? Hell's bells, you will answer me!"

  "No one," the Nightmare snarled. Its struggling redoubled, but I grabbed on tightly.

  And then I felt it - a third party, intruding from the other side. I felt that cold, horrible power that had been behind the torment-spell on Micky Malone and on Agatha Hagglethorn's ghost. It poured into the Nightmare like nitrous into an engine, supercharging it. The Nightmare went from raging bull to frenzied elephant, and I felt it begin to tear free of my spell, to get loose.

  "Wizard!" it howled in triumph. "Wizard, the sun is sinking! I will tear out thy heart! I will hunt thy friends and their children! I will slay them all!"

  "It's thine heart," I muttered. "And no you won't. " I lifted my left hand and slashed it at the sparkling mist, sprinkling droplets of blood at it. "Bound, thou art," I snarled. I reached out toward the thing, and found the part of me that was still inside of it, a warm sensation, like coming home again after a long trip. I could only barely brush it, but it was enough for what I wanted to do. "No other souls wilt thou harm, no other blood wilt thou spill. Thy quarrel is now with me. Bound, I make thee! Bound!" And with the third repetition of the word, I felt the spell lock, felt it settle around the Nightmare like steel coils. I couldn't keep it from getting away, I couldn't forbid it from the mortal world altogether, but I could damn well make sure that the only person it could mess with would be me. "Now let's see how you do in a fair fight, asshole. "

  It screamed, all but bursting the bonds of my spell, the sound reverberating through the room. I lifted the knife in my other hand and ripped it at the air over the circle, releasing the holding spell, pouring everything I had left into the strike. I saw the magic lance out into the circle, even as the Nightmare faded. It split the rainbow mist like the sweep of some invisible woodsman's axe, and once more, the Nightmare screamed.

  Then the mist gathered together in a horrible rush, an implosion of space, and the creature was gone. A handful of water splattered the ground, and the candles went out.

  I collapsed forward, to my forearms, wheezing and gasping for breath, my muscles shaking. I'd hurt the bastard. It wasn't invincible. I'd hurt it. Maybe nothing much more inconvenient than the cut on my finger, or a slap in the face, but it hadn't expected that.

  I hadn't been able to get to the person behind it, but I'd felt something - I'd sensed their presence, gotten a clear whiff of their perfume, in a metaphysical sense. Maybe I could use that.

  "Take that, jerk," I mumbled. I lay there gasping for several minutes, my head spinning from the effort of the spell. Then I put my things away and shambled up out of my lab, into the room above.

  Michael helped me to a seat. He'd built up the fire, and I soaked in its warmth gratefully. He went to the kitchen and brought me a Coke, a sandwich. I drank and ate greedily. Only after I'd finished the last of the drink did he ask, "What happened?"

  "I called it up. The Nightmare. Someone helped it get away, but not before I laid a binding on it. "

  He frowned at me, grey eyes studying my face. "What kind of binding?"

  "I kept it from going after you. Or Murphy. Or your family. I couldn't keep it out, but I could limit its targets. "

  Michael blinked at me for a moment. Then said, slowly, "By making it come after you. "

  I grinned at him, a fierce show of teeth, and nodded. A touch of pride filled my voice. "I had to do it at the last second, on the fly. I hadn't really planned it, but it worked. So long as I'm alive, it can't mess with anyone else. "

  "So long as you're alive," Michael said. He frowned, and leaned his thick forearms on his knees, pressing his palms together. "Harry?"


  "Doesn't that mean it's certainly going to try to kill you? No torment, no sadistic tortures - just flat-out mayhem and death. "

  I nodded, sobering. "Yeah. "

  "And . . . whatever person is behind the Nightmare, whoever helped it escape - that means that you've just put yourself in their way. They can't use their weapon until they've removed you. "

  "Yeah. "

  "So . . . if they didn't need you dead before, they're going to stop at nothing else now. "

  I was quiet for a moment, thinking about that. "I made my choice, man," I said, finally. "But hell, I'm already in water so deep, it doesn't matter if it gets any deeper. Let the Nightmare and my godmother duke it out for who gets to be first in line. "

  His eyes flickered up at mine. "Oh, Harry. You shouldn't have done that. "

  I scowled at him. "Hey. It's better than anything else we've managed, so far. You'd have done the same thing, if you could. "

  "Yes," Michael said. "But my family is well provided for. " He paused, and then added, in a gentle voice, "And I'm sure of my soul's destination, when it's time for me to go. "

  "I'll worry about Hell later. Besides, I think I have a plan. "

  He grimaced. "You aren't concerned about your soul, but you have a plan. "

  "I don't intend to get killed just yet. We've got to take the offensive, Michael. If we just sit back and wait, it's going to be able to take us apart. "

  "Take you apart, you mean," he said. His expression grew more troubled. "Harry, without Amoracchius . . . I'm not sure how much help I'll be to you. "

  "You know what you're doing, Michael. And I don't think the Almighty is going to quit the team just because we fumbled the ball, right?"

  "Of course not, Harry. He is ever faithful. "

  I leaned toward him, put a hand on his shoulder, and looked him right in the eyes. I don't do that to people very often. There aren't many I can. "Michael. This thing is big, and it's bad, and it scares the hell out of me. But I might be the only
one who can stop it, now. I need you. I need your help. Hell, man. I need to know that you're at my back, that you believe in what I'm doing here. Are you with me or not?"

  He studied my face. "You've lost much of your power, you say. And I don't have the sword anymore. Our enemies know it. We could both be killed. Or worse. "

  "If we stay here doing nothing, we're going to get killed anyway. And maybe Murphy and Charity and your kids with us. "

  He bowed his head, and nodded. "You're right. There's not really any choice. " His hand covered mine for a moment, big and calloused and strong, and then he stood up again, his back straight and his shoulders squared. "We just have to have faith. The good Lord wouldn't give us more than we could bear. "

  "I hope you're right," I said.

  "So what's the plan, Harry? What are we going to do?"

  I got up and went to the mantel over the fire, but what I needed wasn't there. I frowned, looking around the room, and spied it on the coffee table. I bent down and plucked up the white envelope, taking the gold-lettered invitation Kyle and Kelly Hamilton had delivered.

  "We're going to a party. "