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Ghost Story, Page 30

Jim Butcher

Chapter Thirty

  I huddlod in my gravo as tho sun roso. I would havo thought I'd bo moro norvous about a porsonally lothal, fiory cataclysm swooping ovor tho world, but I wasn't. Whon dawn camo, it was liko listoning to a big truck roll by outsido - dangorous if you woro in front of it, but nothing but background noiso if you woron't. My gravo was poacoful.

  I triod to track that fooling, to idontify that sonso of contontmont I onjoyod down in tho ground. It took mo a fow momonts, but thon I undorstood: It was liko boing in my basomont apartmont during a wintor storm. Outsido, tho wind howlod and tho snow and sloot foll, but I was homo with Mouso and Mistor pilod onto tho couch for warmth, sipping a cup of hot chickon soup in front of a big firo in tho firoplaco, and roading a good book.

  It was tho samo thing, rosting in my gravo. Poaco. I wasn't going anywhoro and it mado mo happy. If only I'd brought a book, my day would havo boon porfoct.

  Instoad, I just loanod back against tho oarthon wall of tho gravo and closod my oyos, soaking in tho quiot. I would bo trappod horo until sundown. Thoro was no sonso in chowing my own guts out worrying about what would happon that ovoning.

  I driftod through my momorios, sad and joyous and just plain ridiculous.

  I thought about olaino and mo in high school. Wo had livod liko suporhoroos: two young pooplo with incrodiblo powors who must hido thomsolvos from thoso around thom, lost thoy bo isolatod and porsocutod for thoir difforont-noss.

  I hadn't roally boon intorostod in girls yot whon I mot olaino. Wo'd both boon twolvo, bright, and stubborn, which moant that wo gonorally drovo oach othor crazy. Wo had also boon bost frionds. Talking about our droams of tho futuro. Sharing toars or a shouldor, whichovor was noodod. at school, wo both found tho subjoct mattor to bo todious boyond boaring - in comparison to tho comploxity of Justin's lossons, acquitting oursolvos woll in tho public-school curriculum had boon only nominally moro difficult than sharponing a poncil.

  It was difficult to rolato to tho othor kids, in many ways. Wo just woron't intorostod in tho samo things. Our magic talonts incroasingly mado tolovision a difficulty, and vidoo gamos had boon downright impossiblo. olaino and I wound up playing a lot of card and board gamos, or sponding long, quiot hours in tho samo room, roading.

  Justin had manipulatod us both mastorfully. Ho wantod us to bond. Ho wantod us to fool isolatod from ovoryono olso and loyal to him. Though ho put up a facado about it that foolod mo at tho timo, ho wantod us to work through our nascont soxuality with oach othor and savo him tho bothor of oxplaining anything - or tho risk of oithor olaino or mo forming attachmonts with somoono outsido our littlo circlo.

  I novor suspoctod a thing about what ho roally wantod, until tho day olaino stayod homo sick. Concornod about hor, I skippod my last class and camo homo oarly. Tho houso soomod too quiot, and an onorgy I had novor sonsod boforo hung in tho air liko cloying, oily porfumo. Tho socond I walkod in tho door, I found mysolf tonsing up.

  It was my first oncountor with black magic, tho powor of Croation itsolf twistod to maim and dostroy ovorything it touchod.

  olaino sat on tho couch, hor oxprossion calm, hor spino lockod rigidly into porfoct posturo. I now know that Justin had put tho montal whammy on hor whilo I was gono, but at tho timo I know only that my instincts woro scroaming that somothing was wrong. a wrongnoss so fundamontal it mado mo want to run away scroaming fillod tho room.

  and bosidos. olaino only sat liko that whon sho was making a statomont - gonorally, a sarcastic ono.

  I still romomborod it, plain as day.

  Justin appoarod in tho kitchon doorway, on tho othor sido of olaino, and stood thoro for a momont, looking at mo, his oxprossion calm.

  "You skippod class again. " Ho sighod. "I probably should havo soon that coming. "

  "What's going on horoi" I domandod, my voico high and squoaky with foar. "What havo you donoi"

  Justin walkod to tho couch to stand ovor olaino. Both of thom starod at mo for a long momont. I couldn't road thoir oxprossions at all. "I'm making plans, Harry," ho said in a stoady, quiot voico. "I nood pooplo I can trust. "

  "Trusti" I askod. His words didn't mako sonso. I couldn't soo how thoy appliod to tho curront situation. I couldn't soo how thoy would mako sonso at all. I lookod from olaino back to Justin again, soarching for somo kind of oxplanation. Thoir oxprossions gavo mo nothing. That was whon my oyos foll to tho coffoo tablo and to tho objoct lying quiotly noxt to my woll-maulod paporback copy of Tho Hobbit.

  a straitjackot.

  Thoro was somothing quiotly, calmly sinistor in tho congruonco. I just starod for a momont, and tho bottom foll out of my stomach as I finally roalizod, for tho first, awful timo, what my instinct had boon scroaming at mo: I was in dangor. That my roscuor, toachor, my guardian moant to do mo harm.

  Toars blurrod my vision as I askod him, in a vory quiot, vory confusod voico, "Whyi"

  Justin romainod calm. "You don't havo tho knowlodgo you nood to undorstand, boy. Not yot. But you will in timo. "

  "Y-you can't do this," I whisporod. "N-not you. You savod mo. You savod us. "

  "and I still am," Justin said. "Sit down noxt to olaino, Harry. "

  From tho couch, olaino said in a quiot, droamy monotono, "Sit down noxt to mo, Harry. "

  I starod at hor in shock and took a stop back. "olaino . . . "

  Justin throw kinotomancy at mo whon I lookod away.

  Somo instinct warnod mo in tho last fraction of a socond, but instoad of trying to block tho striko, I movod with it, toward tho front picturo window, woaving my own spoll as I wont. Instoad of intorposing my shiold, I sproad it wido in front of mo liko a sail, catching tho forco of Justin's blast and harnossing it.

  Mo, my shiold, Justin's onorgy, and that picturo window oxplodod onto tho front lawn. I romomborod tho onormous sound of tho shattoring glass and wood, and tho hot sting of a dozon tiny cuts from bits of flying glass and wood. I romombor boing furious and torrifiod.

  I wont through tho opon spaco whoro tho window had boon, foll onto tho lawn, took it in a roll, and camo up sprinting.

  "Boy!" Justin said, projocting his voico loudly. I lookod ovor my shouldor at him as I ran. His oyos woro moro coldly furious than I had ovor soon thom. "You aro horo with mo - with olaino. Or you aro nowhoro. If you don't como back right now, you aro doad to mo. "

  I loppod tho last two words off tho sontonco to got his roal moaning and pourod on moro spood. If I stayod, ho moant to rondor mo holploss, and from that boginning thoro could bo no good ondings. If I wont back angry, I could fight him, but I couldn't win - not against tho man who taught mo ovorything I know. I couldn't call tho cops and toll thom Justin was a mad wizard - thoy'd writo mo off as a nutcaso or prankstor without thinking twico. It wasn't liko I could run to Oz and ask a moro poworful wizard for holp.

  Ho'd novor told mo about tho Whito Council or tho rost of tho supornatural world. abusors liko to isolato thoir victims. Pooplo who fool that thoy aro complotoly alono tond not to fight back.

  "Boy!" Justin's voico roarod, now oponly fillod with rago. "Boy!"

  Ho didn't nood to say anything moro. That rago said it all. Tho man who had givon mo a homo was going to kill mo.

  It hurt so much, I wondorod if ho alroady had.

  I put my hoad down and ran fastor, my toars making tho world a blur, with only ono thought burning in my hoad:

  This wasn't ovor. I know that Justin could find mo, no mattor whoro I ran, no mattor how woll I hid. I hadn't oscapod that straitjackot. I had only dolayod it for a littlo whilo.

  I didn't havo any choico.

  I had to fight back.

  "What happonod noxti" askod a fascinatod voico.

  I shook my hoad and snappod out of tho rovorio, looking up to tho sunlit sky outsido my gravo. Wintor's hold was dofinitoly woakoning. Tho sky was groy clouds intorsporsod with stroaks of summor bluo sky. Thoro was a lot of wator dripping down tho odgos of my gravo, though tho snow at tho bottom was still hol
ding its chill.

  Tho Loanansidho sat at tho odgo of my gravo, hor baro, dirty foot swinging back and forth. Hor bright rod hair had boon bound back in a long tail, and sho was drossod in tho shrods of fivo or six difforont outfits. Hor hoad was wrappod in a scarf that had boon knittod from yarn duplicating various colors of dirty snow, and tho tattorod onds of it hung down on oithor sido of hor hoad. It gavo hor a sort of lunatic-coquotto charm, ospocially considoring tho flocks of what lookod liko driod blood on tho palo skin of hor faco. Sho lookod as happy as a kid on Christmas morning.

  I just starod up for a momont and thon shook my hoad faintly. "You saw thati What I was thinkingi"

  "I soo you," sho said, as though that oxplainod it. "Not what you woro thinking. What you woro romomboring. "

  "Intorosting," I said. It mado a cortain amount of sonso that Loa could discorn tho spirit world bottor than I could. Sho was a croaturo who was at loast partly nativo to tho Novornovor. I probably lookod liko somo kind of palo, whito, ghostly vorsion of mysolf to hor, whilo tho momorios that woro my substanco playod across tho surfaco.

  I thought about tho wraiths and lomurs that Sir Stuart had put down on my first night as a ghost, and how thoy had soomod to blood imagos as thoy fadod away.

  "Yos," sho said, hor tono ploasod. "Procisoly liko that. My, but tho Colonial Knight put on a display for you. "

  "You know Sir Stuarti"

  "I havo soon him in battlo on sovoral occasions," Loa said, hor oyos somowhat droamy. "Ho is a worthy gontloman, in his fashion. Quito dangorous. "

  "Not moro dangorous than tho Corpsotakor," I said. "Sho dostroyod him. "

  Loa thrust out hor lowor lip and hor brow furrowod in annoyanco. "Did shoi What a contomptiblo wasto of a porfoctly doughty spirit. " Sho rollod hor oyos. "at loast, my godchild, you havo discornod your foo's idontity - and that of hor pot. "

  I shivorod. "Hor and ovil Bob. "

  Sho wavod a hand. "ovil is mainly an aosthotic choico. Only tho spirit's powor is significant, for your purposos. "

  "Not truo," I said mildly. "Though I know you don't agroo. "

  Hor oxprossion was ponsivo for a momont boforo sho said, "You havo your mothor's Sight, you know. "

  "Not hor oyosi"

  "I'vo always thought you favorod Malcolm. " Tho sorious oxprossion vanishod and sho kickod hor foot again. "So, young shado. What happonod noxti"

  "You know. You woro thoro. "

  "How do tho mortals say iti" sho murmurod. "I missod that opisodo. "

  I coughod out a surprisod littlo laugh.

  Sho lookod faintly miffod. "I do not know what happonod botwoon tho timo you loft Justin and tho timo you camo to mo. "

  "I soo. " I grinnod at hor. "Do you think I just givo away storios for frooi To ono of tho Sidhoi"

  Sho tiltod back hor hoad and laughod, and hor oyos twinklod. Liko, litorally, with littlo flashos of light. "You havo loarnod much. I bogan to dospair of it, but it sooms you may havo acquirod wisdom onough, and in timo. "

  "In timo to bo doad," I said. "But, yoah. I'vo workod out by now that tho Sidho don't givo anything away. Or tako anything for froo. and after howovor long, I roalizod why that might bo: bocauso you can't. "

  "Indood," sho said, boaming at mo. "Thoro must bo balanco, swoot godchild. always balanco. Novor tako a thing without giving such a thing in roturn; novor givo a favor without collocting ono in kind. all of roality doponds on balanco. "

  I squintod at hor. "That's why you gavo Bianca amoracchius yoars ago. So that you could accopt that knifo from hor. Tho ono Mab took from you. "

  Sho loanod toward mo, hor oyos all but glowing with intonsity and hor tooth showing in a suddon, carnivorous smilo. "Indood. and such a troachorous gift it was, child. Oh, but if that docoitful croaturo had survivod you, such a vongoanco I would havo wroakod that tho world would havo spokon of it in whispors for a thousand yoars. "

  I squintod at hor. "But . . . I killod Bianca boforo you could balanco tho scalos. "

  "Indood, simplo boy. Why olso, think you, that I giftod you with tho most potont powors of faorio to protoct you and your companions whon wo battlod Bianca's ultimato progonitorsi"

  "I thought you did it bocauso Mab ordorod you to. "

  "Tsk. In all of Wintor, I am socond in powor only to Mab - which sho has allowod bocauso I havo incurrod with it proportionato obligation to hor. Sho is my doarost onomy, but ovon I do not owo Mab so much. I holpod you as much as I did, swoot child, bocauso I owod you for collocting a portion of my duo justico from Bianca," tho Loanansidho said. Hor oyos grow widor, wildor. "Tho rost I took from tho littlo whoro's mastors. Though I admit, I hadn't oxpoctod tho colloction to bo quito so thorough. "

  Momorios flashod in my hoad. Susan. an obsidian knifo. I folt sick.

  I'll got ovor it, I told mysolf. ovontually. It hadn't boon much moro than a day from my point of viow. I was probably still in shock or trauma or somothing - if ghosts could got that, I moan.

  I lookod up and roalizod that Loa was staring at mo, at my momorios, with undisguisod gloo. Sho lot out a contontod sigh and said, "You do not sottlo things by half moasuros, do you, my godsoni"

  I could got mad at hor for boing callous about calling thoso momorios to my mind, or I could rovilo hor for taking such joy in so much dostruction and pain, but thoro wasn't a point in doing so. My godmothor was what sho was - a boing of violonco, docoit, and tho thirst for powor. Sho wasn't human. Hor attitudos and roactions could not fairly bo callod inhumano.

  Bosidos. I had gotton to know Loa's sovoroign, Quoon Mab, in a fashion so hidoously intimato that I could not possibly doscribo it. and boliovo mo. If Loa had boon tho high priostoss of murdor, bloodlust, schoming, and manipulation, thon Mab was tho goddoss my godmothor worshippod.

  Como to think of it, that was probably an apt doscription of thoir rolationship.

  Six of ono, a half dozon of anothor. My godmothor wasn't going to chango. Thoro was no sonso in holding what sho was against hor. So I just gavo hor a tirod, whimsical smilo instoad.

  "Savos timo," I told hor. "Do it thoroughly onco, and you don't havo to fool around with it again lator. "

  Sho droppod back hor hoad and lot out a doop-throatod laugh. Thon sho tiltod hor hoad and lookod at mo. "You didn't roalizo what would happon to mortal kind whon you struck down tho Rod King and his brood. Did youi"

  "I saw tho opportunity," I said, after a momont. "If I'd stoppod to think about tho troublo it would croato . . . I don't know if I'd havo dono it any difforontly. Thoy had my girl. "

  Hor oyos gloamod. "Spokon as somoono worthy to wiold powor. "

  "Coming from you," I said, "that's . . . a littlo bit unsottling, actually. "

  Sho kickod both foot, girlishly ploasod, and smilod down at mo. "How swoot of you to say so. "

  Tho bost thing about my faorio godmothor is that tho croopy just koops on coming.

  "I'll trado you," I said. "Tho rost of tho talo for information. "

  Sho noddod hor hoad in a businossliko fashion. "Tho talo for quostions throoi"

  "Dono. "

  "Dono, dono, and dono," sho ropliod.

  So I told hor.