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Fool Moon, Page 31

Jim Butcher

Chapter 32

  "Okay," I said, fear making my voice weak. "This is bad. This is very, very bad. "

  "Wish I had my pistol," Murphy said, her tone resolute. "I wish we'd had some more time to talk things out, Harry. "

  I glanced over at Tera. One of the Alphas, the mouse-haired girl in her wolf-shape, was leaning against her and whimpering. "Close your eyes," Tera said softly and covered the little wolf's eyes with her hand. Her amber eyes met mine, without hope, without any sparkle of life.

  They were going to die because of me. Dammit all, it wasn't fair. I hadn't done anything grossly stupid. It wasn't fair to have come so far, sacrificed so much, and to buy it down here in the mud, like some kind of burrowing bug. I searched the pit again desperately, but it was a fiendishly simple and complete trap. There were no options down here.

  My eyes went up. Straight up.

  "Marcone!" I shouted. "John Marcone! Can you hear me?"

  The limp figure suspended above me stirred weakly. "What do you want, Mr. Dresden?"

  "Can you move?" I asked. The loup-garou growled, low, and started pacing a circuit of the pit, glowing eyes flashing between us down at the bottom and Marcone, trying to decide who to rip apart first.

  "An arm," Marcone confirmed a few seconds later.

  "Do you still keep that knife on you? The one I saw at the garage?"

  "Denton and his associates searched me and found it, I am afraid," came Marcone's voice.

  "Dammit all. You're a miserable, stupid bastard for making a deal with Denton, Marcone. Now do you believe he wanted to kill you all along?"

  The figure above me wiggled and writhed, swinging from the ropes that held him trussed up there. "Yes, do tell me that you told me so with your last breath, Mr. Dresden. I was already rather acutely aware of that," Marcone said, his voice dry. "But perhaps I'll yet have a chance to make amends. "

  "What are you doing?" I asked. I kept my eyes on the loup-garou, as it circled the pit, and kept myself opposite the creature, where I could see it.

  "Reaching for the knife they didn't find," Marcone replied. He grunted, and then I saw a flicker of light on something shiny up above me.

  "Forget it," Murphy said quietly, stepping close to my side as she watched Marcone. "He's just going to cut himself loose and leave us to rot here. "

  "We won't get the chance to rot," I pointed out. But I thought she was right.

  Marcone started to spin slowly on his rope, wriggling around until his whole body was rotating on the end of it. He began to speak, his voice calm. "Ironic, isn't it? I'd planned to wait for the creature on the platform and tempt it into the pit. There are some nets ready to drop on it, after that. I would have held it until morning. "

  "You do know that it's right beneath you now, don't you, John?" I asked.

  "Mr. Dresden," Marcone said crossly. "I've asked you not to call me that. "

  "Whatever," I said, but I had to admire the raw courage of the man to banter while dangling up there like a ripe peach.

  "I use this place to conduct noisy business," Marcone said. "The trees muffle the sound, you see. You can barely hear even shotgun blasts on the other side of the wall. " He continued to spin on the rope, slow and lazy, a shadow against the moon and the stars.

  "Well. That's nice," I said, "and despicable. " The loup-garou looked down at me and snarled, and I took an involuntary step back from it. The mud wall of the pit stopped me.

  "Oh, quite," Marcone agreed. "But necessary. "

  "Is there anything you're not shameless about, Marcone?" I asked.

  "Of course. But you don't think I'm going to tell you, do you? Now, be quiet if you please. I don't need the distraction. " And then I saw Marcone's arm curl in and straighten outward. There was a flutter of metallic motion in the air, and a snapping sound from the base of one of the ropes that held the platform suspended, at its far end where it was secured to one of the pine trees.

  The rope abruptly sagged, and the platform - and Marcone with it - swayed drunkenly. Marcone grunted, and bounced against his ropes a few times, making the whole affair of ropes lurch about - and then the damaged line snapped and came entirely free. It whipped out toward Marcone, lost momentum, and then fell through the evening air.

  Straight down into the pit in front of me. One end was still attached to the platform above, now off center from the pit and listing to one side.

  I blinked at it for a moment, and Murphy said, "Holy shit. He did it. "

  "I don't recommend waiting about, Mr. Dresden," Marcone said. I saw him twist his head to look at the loup-garou, and tense up as the beast trotted around the edge of the pit to the side closest to him. If it had noticed the rope that had fallen down from above, it gave no sign.

  Hope lurched in my chest like sudden thunder. I grabbed on to the rope with both hands and started shinnying up it like a monkey, pushing with my legs and using mostly my good arm to hang on with while I lifted my legs up higher for another grip.

  I got up to even with the lip of the pit and started rocking the rope back and forth, getting a swinging momentum going so that I could leap off the rope and to the ground outside the pit. The ropes above creaked dangerously as I did, and Marcone swayed back and forth, still spinning about gently.

  "Dresden," he shouted. "Look out!"

  I had been intent on my escape, and given the loup-garou no thought. I turned my head around to see it flying through the air toward me. I could see its gleaming eyes and felt sure that I could have counted its teeth if I had waited around for it. I didn't. I let out a yelp and let go of the rope, dropping several feet straight down before clamping on to it again. The loup-garou sailed past me overhead like some huge, obscenely graceful bat, and landed on the far side of the pit with barely a sound.

  My fingers felt weak, I was so shocked and terrified, but I started hauling my way up again, swinging desperately as I went. The loup-garou turned and focused its eyes on me again, but Marcone let out a sharp whistle, and the thing turned toward him, pricking its misshapen ears forward in a weirdly doggy mannerism, before it snarled and leapt upward. I bounced on the rope, and Marcone bobbed down and then back up again. The loup-garou missed him by bare inches, I think, but I didn't hang around to watch. I let out a yell and threw myself at the edge of the pit as the rope reached the apex of its swing.

  I missed, my belly hitting the lip of the pit, but I started clawing at the earth and kept myself from falling. I strained and kicked, thrashing and whimpering in desperation, and managed to gain a few inches, slowly worming my way up onto the ground, until I got my feet underneath me. The loup-garou, on the far side of the pit, turned toward me and let out a sound that can best be described as a furious roar. Shouts erupted from elsewhere in the estate - Denton and his lackeys must have been watching the pit, I thought, but they were the second scariest bad guys on the field at the moment. I had bigger things on my mind.

  Said thing threw itself at me, and I had a few seconds to start running, trying to arrange things so that the pit would be between me and it when it landed. I was only partly successful. The loup-garou tore up the earth where I had been standing when it came down, and turned toward me again, facing me across a scant ten feet of space, from one side of the square pit to the side adjacent to it.

  The rope started bobbing again, and then with a motion full of grace and power, Tera swung up out of the pit and landed in a crouch on the ground beside me.

  "Go, wizard," she snarled. "Denton and the others will kill us all if they are not stopped. I will handle MacFinn. "

  "No way," I said. "You can't possibly take him on. "

  "I know him," she responded. And then there was, in her place, the huge she-wolf, dark fur peppered with grey. She snarled and bounded at the loup-garou and it reared up like a cat about to take a mouse, plunging toward her with abrupt speed.

  And that's when I saw the difference between Tera and the Alphas, Tera and Denton's Hexenwulfe
n, even Tera and the loup-garou. Where they were fast, Tera was fast and graceful. Where they were quick, Tera was quick and elegant. She made them look like amateurs. She was something more primal, more in tune with the wild than they would ever be.

  As the loup-garou threw itself at her, she slipped to one side like wind, threw her shoulder beneath the beast's planted forepaw, and shouldered it off-balance, making it stumble. It recovered and spun toward her, but she was already gone, farther away from the pit, growling defiance at the supernatural creature. It followed, impervious and snarling with rage.

  I heard a gunshot, and a bullet smacked into one of the trees behind me. Benn's voice repeated a low, frantic chant, and then I heard her words turn into an animal's snarls. Denton and the others were coming. It was time to play the last option I had, the one I hadn't wanted to be forced to use. I wasn't sure what would happen if I did, but there wasn't much choice.

  I slipped my hand beneath my shirt and touched the wolf belt I'd taken from Agent Harris in the alley behind the Full Moon Garage.

  It was vibrating beneath my fingers, warm to the touch, alive in its own fashion, and full of the power and strength that had been channeled into it. I closed my eyes and let that dark, wild power spill into me, mingle with all the fear and pain and weariness inside of me. It was easy. It was easier than any magic I'd ever done, leaping into me with a sort of hungry eagerness, seeping into me, making pain and fatigue and fear vanish and replacing it with nothing but strength, ferocity.


  "Lupus," I whispered. "Lupus, lupara, luperoso. "

  It took no more of a chant than that for the change to take me. It wasn't something that I noticed, really. But when I opened my eyes again, things were simply as they should be, right in a way so fundamentally profound that I wondered why I had never noticed its lack before.

  My vision was sharp and clear enough to count the hairs on the head of the she-wolf orienting on me a few feet away. I could hear the pounding of her heart, the restless motion of the wind, the heavy breaths of the other agents in the trees, moving toward me like great, clumsy cows. If the sun had suddenly risen into the sky, I could not have seen any more clearly than I did, all in glorious shades of blue and green and maroon and purple, as though God had dipped his brush into a late summer twilight and replaced all the darkness with those colors.

  I dropped open my mouth in a silent laugh and felt my tongue glide over the gleaming, sharp tips of my fangs. What a beautiful night. I could smell blood on the air, hear the eagerness of my enemies to kill, and I felt that same hunger rising from my own heart and surging through me. It was perfect.

  Benn came through the trees first, fast and powerful, but clumsy and impatient and stupid. I could smell her excitement, pitched to an almost sexual level. She was expecting an easy kill, a sudden rush over one of the slow, graceless two-legs and then the hot, spurting blood, the frenzied writhing. I did not oblige her. As she came through the trees, I leapt forward and was at her throat before she even realized I was there. A quick rip, hot blood, and she yelped in agony and fear, throwing herself to one side.

  Stupid bitch. I'd missed the heart's blood, but she was badly hurt. Two snaps severed her hamstrings as she tried to flee and left her writhing on the ground, helpless and terrified. I felt my body thrill with abrupt and vicious excitement. The bitch was mine now. She would live or die as I wished.

  The surge of power and elation that flew through me at that realization could have carried me off the earth and to the silver glory of the moon and stars themselves. To the victor go the spoils. Her blood, her life, was mine to take and that was exactly how it should be. I stalked forward to finish her, as was only proper.

  There was a puff of breath, and then Wilson, in his wolf-form, came hurtling from the woods. I slipped aside easily as he rushed by. The wounded Benn snarled and snapped blindly at him. Wilson turned on her, his fury out of control, and latched his jaws onto her throat. Blood was a black, rich, heady smell in the moonlight, and I swayed, drunk on the aroma of it. My mouth watered, jaws growing damp with saliva, as I smelled the bitch's blood, and I wanted to fling myself at her, tear her apart myself as she went screaming to her death.

  "Those wolves!" screamed Harris. "They got out! They got Benn!" He came plunging out of the trees, gun at the ready, his nearly useless eyes wide and staring and panicked. He started shooting at Wilson, who released the dead Benn's throat. The first bullet smashed his left front paw to pulp. The second and third slugs hammered into his chest, and Wilson-wolf staggered to one side, yelping in sudden agony. He twisted and strained as he went down, paws scrabbling at his own stomach, until there was abruptly a balding, overweight man lying on the earth beside the dead wolf, his jacket open, his shirt unbuttoned to show the unfastened wolf belt. There was blood all over Wilson, bubbling out of his mouth.

  "Holy . . . " Harris breathed, pacing closer, his gun held up, until he could see what he had done. "George? Oh, God. Oh, God, I thought you were one of them. What the hell . . . "

  Agent Wilson didn't answer the redheaded kid. He simply drew his gun from his jacket and started shooting.

  In their human forms, they couldn't see each other very well in the dark, I thought. They both started shooting at the muzzle flashes. More blood flooded the air, along with the sharp, acrid smell of burning gunpowder. Both men went down, bleeding out onto the earth, and I felt my jaws open in another smile, on another sense of warm satisfaction. Idiots. Who did they think they were dealing with here? They'd been making my life miserable, and the lives of others, and now they had gotten their just desserts. It would have been better had I torn out their throats myself, admittedly.

  But then, I thought, there was still Denton to deal with.

  That thought cheering me, I turned and made my way into the woods, hunting the last of them. My heart was pounding hard, and relaxed and steady with excitement as I melded in with the night and searched for prey.

  Denton and I met as I emerged from the circle of trees. He stood in the moonlight, in the right shape, the only real shape, the moon streaking his brown coat shades paler and making his eyes glow. He was powerfully built, as in his two-leg shape, and looked quick and strong. His eyes burned with the lust of the moon, the night, with blood need and raging, wild strength, just as mine did. We faced one another and there was a mad sort of joy in it. I would have giggled if I could have.

  A snarl bubbled up out of my chest like music, and I launched myself at him. We met in a tangle of scratching claws, snapping teeth, dark fur. He was the stronger, I the quicker. The fight was silent, with no breath wasted. It was a duel between us; our fangs were our swords, thick fur ruffs used as shield and armor.

  I tasted his blood in my mouth from a slash to an ear and it hit me like a drug, sent a fury and power coursing through me like I had never known. I threw myself at him again, and an instant later was rewarded for my overeagerness with a hot pain on my foreleg. Scarlet-black blood stained Denton's fangs in the moonlight.

  We separated and stalked one another in a slow circle, looking for weakness, our eyes never leaving one another. I laughed at him silently, and he answered me in much the same way. I understood him, then, and rejoiced with him in the power he had found. In that moment, I loved the man, felt him a brother, and longed to hold his throat in my jaws as the last of his blood flowed out of him. It was the most ancient of struggles, the deepest of conflicts: survival of the fittest. One of us would live to run again, to hunt, to kill, to taste the hot blood. And the other would be dead and cold on the grass.

  It was good.

  We came together again like partners in a dance, moving over the grass together. Dimly, of course, I was aware of Tera dancing with the loup-garou, but that didn't matter to me, really. They were far away, dozens of yards, and I took no notice of them. My joy was here.

  We danced under the moon - and he made the first misstep. I threw myself into the opening he'd le
ft me, knocked him to the ground with my shoulder, and as he rolled and twisted away, I took his back leg, right across the big tendon. He screamed his fury, but I heard the fear in it, too. He scrambled to his three good paws again and turned to face me, but there was terrible knowledge in his eyes, just as there was in mine. We both knew that it was all over but the bleeding.

  I shuddered. Yes. The bleeding.

  He could still face me, could still hurt me if I were foolish - but I wasn't. I began to wear him down, pressing him with short rushes and quick withdrawals that forced him to shift his weight awkwardly, stumble on his three working limbs, to wear him out. As his reactions became slower, I tested him with a few flashing passes of fangs. Once more, I tasted his blood.

  I gave him a dozen small wounds and each taste of him made my frenzy all the more satisfying. The night, the dance, the violence, the blood - all of it was overwhelming, more than any power I had ever felt, any medicine I'd ever tasted, even in my dreams or in the wild realms of the Nevernever. It was pure beauty, pure pleasure, pure power. Victory was mine.

  I grew contemptuous of him as he began to whimper, to seek escape. The fool. He should never have tested himself against me. Should never have tried his strength against mine. Had he yielded to me at once, I would have been content to lead him, to accept him as a follower, and taken him with me on the hunts. It was sad, in a way. But then, I could always find others. It would not be difficult to make the belts, I thought. To give them to a few people to try. Once they had, they'd never take them off again.

  I stalked Denton as he faltered, and I thought of running with Susan, of filling our mouths with hot, sweet blood, of taking her in the ecstasy of the night and the kill and it made me shake with anticipation. I threw myself at Denton, knocked him over, and went for his throat. The fool scrambled and took his belt off, melting into the ugly two-leg form, his suit covered in blood.

  "Please," he croaked. "Oh, God. Please. Don't kill me. Don't kill me. "

  I snarled in answer, and let my fangs tighten on his neck. I could feel his pulse against my tongue. Don't kill him. That he would beg at all was contemptuous. He should have known the law of the jungle before he started trying to rule it. Who did he think he was dealing with? Someone who would give him mercy, let him survive, crippled and pathetic, and feed him when he whined again? I wanted to laugh.

  My jaws tightened on his throat. I wanted to feel him die. Something told me that everything else I'd experienced since I discovered my true self was child's candy next to the passing of a life beneath me. I shook with eagerness. Denton continued to beg, and it made me hesitate. I snarled, annoyed. No. No weakness. No mercy. I wanted his blood. I wanted his life. He had tried me and failed. Kill him. Kill him and take my rightful place.

  Who did he think I was?

  "Harry?" whispered a terrified voice.

  Without releasing his throat, I looked up. Susan stood there in the moonlight, slender and graceful for a two-legs. Her camera was in one hand, dangling forgotten at her side. Her eyes were wide with desire, and she smelled of perfume and our mating and of fear. Something pressed at my awareness, and though part of me wanted to ignore her, to rip and rend, I focused on Susan, on her expression.

  On her eyes. They weren't wide with desire.

  They were terrified.

  She was terrified of me.

  "My God," Susan said. "Harry. " She fell to her knees, staring at me. At my eyes.

  I felt Denton's pulse beneath my tongue. Felt his whimpers vibrate into my mouth. So easy. One simple motion, and I would never have doubts, fears, questions. Never again.

  And, something inside of me said in a calm tone, you'll never be Harry Dresden again.

  Power. I could feel the belt's power in me, its magic, its strength. I recognized it now. That dark surety, that heady and careless delight. I recognized why there were parts of me that loved it so much.

  I released Denton's throat and backed away from him. I scrambled with my paws, my stomach twisting in sudden nausea, rebelling at the very idea of what I had been about to do. I sobbed and tore the belt from my waist, ripping my shirt in the process, feeling my body grow awkward and heavy and clumsy and pained again. Injuries that had been nothing to my tru - to the wolf form returned in vengeance to my human frailty. I threw the belt away from me, as far as it would go. I felt hot tears on my face, at the loss of that joy, that energy, that impervious strength.

  "You bastard," I said to Denton. "Damn you. You poor bastard. " He lay on his side now, whimpering from his injuries, bleeding from many wounds, one leg curled limp and useless beneath him. I crawled to him and took his belt away. Threw it after the other.

  Susan rushed over to me, but I caught her before she could embrace me. "Don't touch me," I told her, and I meant it with every cell in me. "Don't touch me now. "

  Susan flinched away from me as though the words had burned her. "Harry," she whispered. "Oh, God, Harry. We've got to get you away from all of this. "

  From the far side of the ring of trees, there was another furious bellow. There was motion in the trees, and then Murphy, leading a stumbling, clumsy string of naked Alphas, came out of the woods toward me, staying low. She had a gun, probably taken from one of the bodies, in her good hand.

  "All right," I said, as they approached, and turned a shoulder to Susan, pressing her away. I couldn't even look at her. "Murphy, you and Susan get these kids out of here, now. "

  "No," Murphy said. "I'm staying. " Her eyes flickered to Denton, narrowed in a flash of anger, and then dismissed him again as quickly. She made no move to examine his injuries. Maybe she didn't care if he bled to death, either.

  "You can't hurt MacFinn," I said.

  "And you can?" she asked. She leaned closer and peered at me. "Christ, Dresden. You've got blood all over your mouth. "

  I snarled. "Take the kids and go, Karrin. I'm handling things here. "

  Murphy, for answer, slipped the safety off of the gun. "I'm the cop here," she said. "Not you. This is a bust in progress. I'm staying until the end. " She smiled, tight. "When I can sort out who is a good guy and who isn't. "

  I spat out another curse. "I don't have time to argue this with you. Susan, get the kids back to the van. "

  "But Harry . . . " she began.

  Fury rose to the top of the rampant emotions coursing through me. "I've got enough blood on my hands," I screamed. "Get these kids out of here, damn you. "

  Susan's dark-toned face went pale, and she turned to the nearest of the naked, wet, shivering Alphas, Georgia as it happened. She took the young woman's hand, had the others line up in drug-hazed confusion and join hands, and then led them away. I watched them go and felt the seething anger and sorrow and fear in me twist around in confusion.

  From the far side of the woods, there was another bellow of rage, a shaking of one of the evergreens, and then a sharp, sudden yelp of purest anguish. Tera. The sound of the she-wolf's pain rose to a frantic gargling sound, and then went silent. Murphy and I stared at the trees. I thought I saw a flicker of red eyes somewhere behind them, and then it was gone.

  "It's coming around," Murphy said. "It will circle around to get to us. "

  "Yeah," I said. The loup-garou's blood was up, after the infuriating chase after Tera. It would go after whatever it saw next. My mouth twisted bitterly. I had a unique insight to its point of view now.

  "What do we do?" Murphy said. Her knuckles whitened on the gun.

  "We go after it and try to hold it long enough for Susan and the kids to get away," I said. "What about Marcone?"

  "What about him?"

  "He saved our lives," I said. Murphy's expression said she wasn't happy with that idea. "We owe him. "

  "You want to get him out of there?"

  "I don't want to leave anyone else to that thing," I said. "How about you?"

  She closed her eyes and let out a breath. "All right," she said. "But God, this
smells like you're trying to set me up, Dresden. If you get me killed, there's no one left who saw what happened here, is there?"

  "If you want to be safe, go after Susan," I said bluntly. "We split up. One of us attracts its attention, maybe the other one will get through. "

  "Fine," Murphy snarled. "Fuck you, Harry Dresden. "

  Famous last words, I thought, but I didn't waste any breath on voicing it.

  It was time to face the loup-garou.