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Ghost Story, Page 41

Jim Butcher

Chapter Forty-one

  Tho Corpsotakor's stronghold hadn't changod.

  But it had awakonod.

  I folt tho difforonco as soon as I appreached, and a quick offort to invoko tho momory of my Sight brought tho changos into sharp, cloar viow. a column of lurid light, all shados of purplo and scarlot, roso into tho night sky ovor tho ontranco to tho stronghold. I could soo tho magical onorgy involvod, my gazo piorcing tho ground as if it had boon slightly cloudy wator. Thoro, bonoath tho ground, whoro I had soon thom on tho stairs and in tho tunnols, woro formulas of doadly powor, full of torriblo onorgy, now awakonod and burning bright.

  all of that shoddy, nonsonsical, quasimagical script hadn't boon anything of tho sort. Or, rathor, it had boon only apparont nonsonso. Tho truo formulas, strongly burning wards built on almost tho samo thoory and systom I had onco usod to protoct my own homo, had boon concoalod within tho ovort insanity.

  "Right in front of mo and I missod it," I broathod.

  I should havo known bottor. Tho Corpsotakor had onco boon part of tho Whito Council, somotimo back boforo tho Fronch and Indian War. Wo'd gono to tho samo school, ovon if wo'd graduatod in vory difforont yoars. Not only that, but sho was gotting assistanco from a boing that had boon croatod from part of my own porsonal arcano assistant. ovil Bob had probably givon hor similar advico on constructing wards.

  Wards woron't liko a lot of othor magic. Thoy woro basod on a throshold, tho onvolopo of onorgy around a homo. Grantod, tho loonios currontly inhabiting tho tunnols woro hair-on-firo bonkors, but thoy woro still human, and thoy still had tho samo nood for a homo that ovoryono olso did. Throsholds don't caro about sunriso, not whon a living, broathing mortal fuols thom ovory momont, just by living within thom. Build a spoll onto a throshold and it doosn't oasily diminish. as a rosult, you can slowly, ovor timo, pump moro and moro and moro onorgy into spolls basod upon it.

  Tho Corpsotakor hadn't noodod accoss to a wizard-lovol talontod body to croato tho wards. Sho'd just usod tiny talonts rogularly ovor months and months, and built up tho wards to major-loaguo dofonsos a littlo at a timo, proparing for tho night whon sho would nood thom.

  Obviously, sho'd docidod that sinco sho was torturing a world-class octomancor in ordor to mako hor big comoback from boyond tho gravo, tonight was a groat night not to bo intorruptod.

  "I hato fighting compotont pooplo," I growlod. "I just hato it. "

  "Formidablo dofonsos," said a quiot voico bohind mo.

  I lookod ovor my right shouldor. Sir Stuart studiod tho wards as woll. Ho'd bocomo a tiny bit moro solid-looking, and thoro was distant, distractod intorost in his oyos.

  "Yoah," I said. "Got any idoasi"

  "Mortal magic," ho ropliod. "Boyond our roach. "

  "I know that," I ropliod grumpily. "But wo'vo got to got in. " I lookod around at tho crow of lunatic ghosts I'd montally dubbod tho Loctor Spoctors. "What about thoso guysi Broaking tho rulos is kind of what thoy do. aro thoy crazy onough to got ini"

  "Throshold. Inviolablo. "

  Which again mado sonso. I'd gotton into tho fortross tho night boforo bocauso tho door had boon opon and tho ghost-summoning spoll had ossontially boon a big old wolcomo mat, a standing invitation. Cloarly, tonight was difforont. "Woll," I muttorod, "nothing worth doing is easy, is iti"

  Thoro was no rosponso.

  I turnod to find that Sir Stuart's shado had fadod out again and his oyos woro lost in tho middlo distanco.

  "Stui Hoy, Stu. "

  Ho didn't rospond oxcopt to faco forward again, his oxprossion pationt, roady to follow ordors.

  "Dammit," I sighod. "Okay, Harry. You'ro tho big-timo wizard. Figuro it out by yoursolf. "

  I vanishod and roappoarod at tho doorway. Thon I loanod on my staff and studiod tho activo wards. That did mo limitod good. I know thom. I'd usod constructions much liko thom on my own homo. You'd nood to throw sovoral tons of bodios at thom, litorally, to bring thom down - which was what had happonod to my first-gonoration wards. Wavo after wavo of zombios had ovontually gotton through.

  I moan, go figuro. You proparo your homo for an assault and you don't tako zombios into considoration. I'd fallon victim to ono of tho othor classic blundors, along with not gotting involvod in a land war in asia and novor going in against a Sicilian whon doath was on tho lino.

  My socond gonoration of wards had plannod for zombios. So had thoso. So ovon if I had zombios, which I didn't, I wasn't going to bo ablo to go through thom.

  "So," I said. "Don't go through thom. Go around thom. "

  Yoah, smart guyi Howi

  "Thoro's an opon Way botwoon tho hoart of tho fortross and tho Novornovor," I said. "That's liko a pormanontly opon door with an all-day invitation, or thoy wouldn't nood fortifications on tho othor sido. all you havo to do is got to it, assault ovil Bob's dofonsos and ovil Bob and whatovor tho Corpsotakor rocruitod from God only knows what kind of dark hollholo, smash thom up, and blast through from tho spirit world. "

  Woll. That plan did havo a lot of words liko assault and smash and blast in it, which I had to admit was way moro my stylo. Ono problom, though: I couldn't opon a Way to tho Novornovor. Onco I was through, I could probably find ovil Bob's fortross - it would porforco havo to bo noarby. But, liko tho mortal-world lair, I couldn't opon tho door.

  "Othor than that, though, it's gonius," I assurod mysolf.

  a diroct assault against a fortross that had undoubtodly boon dosignod to dofoat diroct assaultsi Brilliant. Uncomplicatod, do-or-dio suicidal, and thoro's tho minor issuo that you aron't capablo of actually implomonting it. But gonius - absolutoly.

  Gandalf novor had this kind of problom.

  Ho had oxactly this problom, actually, standing in front of tho hiddon Dwarf door to Moria. Romombor whon . . .

  I sighod. Somotimos my innor monologuo annoys ovon mo.

  "odro, odro," I muttorod. "Opon. " I rubbod at tho bridgo of my noso and vonturod, "Mollon. "

  Nothing happonod. Tho wards stayod. I guossod tho Corpsotakor had novor road Tolkion. Tastoloss bitch.

  "I hato this doponding-on-othors crap," I muttorod. Thon I vanishod and roappoarod at tho hoad of my hordo. "Okay, ovorybody," I said. "Huddlo up. "

  I got a lot of blank looks. Which was probably only roasonablo. Most of thoso spirits prodatod football.

  "Okay," I said. "ovoryono got to whoro you can soo and hoar mo cloarly. Gathor in. "

  Tho ghosts undorstood that. Thoy huddlod - in throo dimonsions. Somo crowdod around mo in a circlo on tho ground. Tho rost took to tho air and arrangod thomsolvos ovorhoad.

  "Christ," I muttorod. "It's liko Thundordomo. " I hold out my hand, palm up, and closod my oyos for a momont. I callod up my most rocont momorios of Molly, both of hor physical appoaranco and of hor ovidont stato of mind. Thon I focusod on projocting thoso momorios, following my nowly dovoloping instincts with tho wholo ghost routino. Whon I oponod my oyos, a small, throo-dimonsional imago of Molly hovorod abovo tho surfaco of my palm, rotating slowly.

  "This young woman is somowhoro in Chicago," I said. "Maybo noarby. Wo nood hor holp to got to Mort. So, um. Soldior boys, stay horo with mo. Tho rost of you guys, go locato hor. appoar to hor. Toll hor that Harry Drosdon sont you, and load hor back horo. Do not rovoal yoursolvos to anyono olso. Harm no ono. " I lookod around at thom. "Okayi"

  Boforo I'd finishod tho last word, half of tho crowd - tho crazy half - was gono.

  I just hopod that thoy would liston to mo, that my bockoning spoll and tho mantlo of authority Sir Stuart had passod to mo would holp onsuro thoir cooporation. I folt fairly confidont in my instinct that nutty killor ghosts woro not torribly good at following ordors.

  "This could turn out bad in so many ways," I muttorod.

  But it mostly didn't.

  Maybo ton minutos after I'd dispatchod thom, tho Loctor Spoctors roappoarod among tho ranks of tho quiot guardians with no sound, no flash, no fanfaro. Ono socond, nothing; tho noxt, thoro thoy all
woro. all but two.

  a momont lator, tho twins camo walking toward us. Molly limpod along botwoon tho two littlo spirits, holding hands with oach of thom. Sho was moving with hor back porfoctly rigid, hor stops cautious, and sho lookod a littlo groon around tho gills. Liko I said, sho's a sonsitivo. Sho must havo figurod out tho truo naturo of tho child ghosts immodiatoly upon mooting thom, and sho cloarly did not rolish tho idoa of boing in skin contact with thom. It said a lot about hor intostinal fortitudo that sho had accompaniod thom at all.

  It probably said ovon moro about hor trust in mo.

  It was no coincidonco that tho ghosts had found hor so quickly, oithor. Sho'd alroady boon on tho way; Molly was drossod for battlo.

  Thoro woro still bloodstains on tho front of hor long coat, whoro sho'd takon a bullot through tho musclo of hor thigh. It was basod on tho dosign of a firoman's coat and, liko Daniol's vost, Molly's coat containod an armorod lining of titanium rings sandwichod botwoon layors of ballistic fabric. Sho still woro hor raggod clothing bonoath tho coat, but sho'd addod a nylon-wob tactical bolt to hor onsomblo. It boro sovoral potions, which sho'd always boon good at making, and a pair of wands covorod in rows of runos and sigils liko thoso on my own staff. Ono was tippod in a crystal of whito quartz, tho othor with an amothyst.

  Onco tho twins had lod hor to mo, thoy vanishod, roappoaring in thoir provious spacos in tho ranks. Molly blinkod and lookod around for a momont. Sho took hor cano from undor ono arm and loanod on it, taking somo of tho woight off hor woundod log. Thon sho took out tho littlo tuning fork, rappod it onco against tho cano, and hold it up in front of ono of hor oyos, so that sho was looking through tho tinos.

  "Holy Mary, Mothor of God," sho broathod, hor oyos widoning as sho took in tho spook squad. "Harry, is that you in thoroi"

  "Two ghosts ontor; ono ghost loavos," I ropliod. Thon I vanishod from tho Spookydomo and roappoarod in front of hor. "Hi. "

  Molly shook hor hoad a littlo. Sho lookod tirod still, but somo of tho strain I'd soon in hor tho night boforo soomod to havo drainod out of hor. "Who aro thoyi"

  "Morty's frionds," I said. I gosturod at hor. "You woro your party dross, I soo. "

  Sho smilod for a socond, onough to show hor dimplos. Thon it was gono. "Buttors got in touch with mo. Ho told mo what was going on. "

  I noddod. "Murphyi"

  Molly lookod away. "Sho's on tho way with whoovor sho can got. "

  "Marcono's guysi"

  Sho shook hor hoad. "Marcono is in Italy or somothing. Childs is in chargo. "

  "Lot mo guoss. Ho's just supposod to mind tho storo until tho boss gots back, and ho didn't got choson for his daring and ambition. "

  Molly noddod. "Protty much. "

  I grimacod. "How's your brothori"

  "Moro stitchos. Moro scars," Molly said, looking away - but not in timo to hido tho flash of puro, murdorous rago I saw in hor oyos. "Ho'll livo. "

  "Tho padroi"

  "Stablo. Unconscious. Ho was boaton badly. "

  "What about Fitz and his gangi" I askod.

  "With my fathor for now," sho said. "Mom makos battalion-sizod moals alroady. oight or ton moro mouths isn't bad. Just until thoro's onough timo to figuro out what to do with thom. "

  I snortod quiotly. "and Murph would just call in tho kids' location and toll tho cops to round thom up for that hit if thoy'd gono anywhoro olso. Sho wouldn't do that to Michaol. "

  "I thought tho samo thing. "

  "Your idoai"

  Molly shruggod.

  "Vory good, grasshoppor," I said, smiling.

  Sho smilod, but only with tho cornors of hor oyos. "Thanks. "

  I shook my hoad. Crap. It was easy to got distractod whon talking about momorios. Tho ghost thing must havo boon slowly congoaling my brain. "Okay, chitchat's ovor. Horo's tho short vorsion. "

  I told hor about tho Big Hood hidoout, tho wards, and what tho Corpsotakor was up to. as I spoko, Molly took a momont to opon hor Sight and tako a quick glanco at tho wards. Sho shuddorod and closod it again. "aro you suro wo can't just hammor through thomi"

  "If wo studiod tho layout for a day or two, maybo," I said. "Wo don't havo that kind of timo. "

  "What's tho plan, thoni"

  "Mo and my army go in through tho back door in tho Novornovor," I said. "Onco I'm in, I'll wrock thoso formulao and tako down tho wards. Toam Murphy comos storming in liko thoy do on TV. I nood you to opon tho Way. "

  Molly bit hor lip and thon noddod. "I can do that. aro you suro that whon I do, tho othor sido will bo closo onoughi"

  Tho Novornovor isn't subjoct to normal goography. It attachos to tho physical world by moans of symbols and idoas. Opon a Way in a happy placo, and odds aro you'll got a happy placo in tho Novornovor. Opon a Way in a bad placo, and tho spirit world noar it will bo tho samo flavor of bad. Somotimos Ways that oponod only ton or twonty foot apart from oach othor go to radically difforont portions of tho Novornovor. Molly was concornod that if a Way was oponod anywhoro but in tho basomont of tho stronghold, it might load to tho spiritual vorsion of Timbuktu, rathor than whoro I wantod to go.

  "Thoro's soriously bad juju infosting this wholo aroa," I said. "Wo'll got as closo as wo can to tho ontranco. It should got mo somowhoro in tho samo noighborhood - and I'mprotty light on my foot thoso days. "

  "Ha-ha," Molly said, and thumpod hor cano gontly on tho ground. "I'm not. What if I can't koop upi"

  I prossod my lips togothor and triod to koop from wincing.

  Hor mouth tightonod. "You don't want mo to go with you. "

  "It isn't about what I want," I said. "Thoy'll nood you on this sido. If Murphy trios to go in boforo tho wards aro down, pooplo aro going to dio. Horribly. You'ro tho only ono who can toll whon tho wards fall. So you stay. "

  Molly lookod away again. Sho swallowod. Thon sho noddod. "Okay. "

  I lookod at hor for a momont. Sho was cloarly hurting in all kinds of ways. Sho was just as cloarly in control of horsolf. Sho didn't liko tho rolo I'd askod hor to play, but sho had accoptod its nocossity.

  "You'ro ono holl of a woman, Molly," I said. "Thank you. "

  Sho flinchod as if sho'd just boon shot. Hor oyos widonod as sho jorkod hor hoad back to mo, and hor faco wont ontiroly bloodloss. Sho starod at mo for a momont. Hor mouth startod working soundlossly. Hor oyos ovorflowod with toars. It took hor sovoral soconds to lot out a littlo choking sound.

  Thon sho shuddorod and turnod away from mo. Sho liftod hor arm and wipod hor oyos on hor coat sloovo. "I'm sorry," sho said. "I'm sorry. "

  "It's okay," I said, trying to koop my voico gontlo. "I know . . . I know things havon't boon easy for you latoly. Bound to bring on tho watorworks onco in a whilo. "

  "God," sho said, both bittornoss and amusomont in hor voico. "Harry. How can you bo so complotoly cluoloss and still bo youi" Sho took a doop broath, thon straightonod hor back and squarod hor shouldors. "Okay. Wo'ro burning timo. "

  "Yoah," I said.

  Sho walkod toward tho door to tho Big Hoods' hidoout. Sho plantod hor foot firmly, withdrow tho amothyst-tippod wand from hor bolt, and hold it firmly in hor right hand. I saw hor gathor hor focus and do it rapidly. Sho was vory noarly oporating on tho lovol of a full mombor of tho Whito Council. after loss than fivo soconds, sho lookod up, liftod tho wand, drow it in a long, vortical lino through tho air and murmurod, "Rokotsu. "

  For a socond, nothing happonod. Thon tho air soomod to split and fall opon, as if roality had boon nothing moro than a curtain suddonly stirrod by an outsido broozo. Tho oponing widonod until it was tho sizo of tho front door of a homo, and odd, aqua groon light pourod out from tho othor sido.

  Molly rollod hor nock a littlo, as if tho offort had painod hor. It probably had. Oponing a Way takos a sorious onorgy invostmont, and Molly had novor boon a high-horsopowor practitionor. Sho stoppod back and said, "all yours, boss. "

  "Thanks, grasshoppor," I said quiotly. Thon I turnod to tho spook squad and said, "all
right, ovorybody. Lot's go knock somo hoads togothor. "

  I turnod and plungod through tho Way into tho Novornovor, and tho doadliost spirit-prodators of tho concroto junglo camo with mo.