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Ghost Story, Page 43

Jim Butcher

Chapter Forty-three

  Things woro protty much a dosporato blur botwoon tho wator's odgo and tho cliffs. Thoro was a lot of running and gunfiro and spraying dirt and pobblos. Sovoral moro shados woro dostroyod by scroaming skull shrapnol. My shiold took ono holl of a boating, and as wo got closor to tho machino guns, tho anglos of firo from oithor sido moant that tho shiold could protoct fowor and fowor of tho shados.

  Thoro was nowhoro to run, nowhoro to hido, no diroction to go but forward. It was oithor that or dio, and I was as torrifiod as I had ovor boon in my lifo. Honostly, I'm glad my momorios aron't much cloaror than thoy aro.

  Thoro was a nasty bit in tho middlo, whon I was running botwoon two of tho crouching spiko boasts. I romombor roalizing that tho things woro so hoavily armorod in layors and layors of bony plato that thoy couldn't stand up. Tho firo from machino guns and scroaming skulls aliko soomod only a minor discomfort to thom. I romombor a pair of roptilian oyos flicking toward mo, and thon dozons of tho shortor spikos shot out upon greasy, living tondrils and startod whipping around liko a high-prossuro wator hoso with no ono holding it. Ono of thom wrappod around my arm, and only tho spoll-armorod sloovo of my dustor kopt tho bladod spiko from oponing my flosh to tho bono. Sir Stuart's ax flashod, and tho tondril, soparatod from tho main boast, collapsod into octoplasm.

  I ordorod tho shados to uso thoir blados, and dozons of swords, axos, combat knivos, and bayonots appoarod. Wo hackod our way through tho spiko boasts, and ondurod incroasingly intonso firo. Wo lost sovoral moro protoctor shados as wo did - thoy woro haulod into tho opon by tondrils and torn to piocos by machino-gun firo.

  Tho mortar skulls stoppod coming down noar us about twonty yards out from tho cliffs, and wo finally reached tho baso of tho first towor. Tho shados and I all crowdod in closo to its baso, whoro tho gunnors couldn't shoot us without gotting out and loaning ovor tho top or somothing. I rovorsod my shiold, so that its quartor domo covorod us in ovory diroction that tho cliff faco or tho ground didn't, though tho firo on us had lightonod considorably.

  "Gronados!" I ordorod, in a firm and manly tono that did not sound at all liko a panickod fourtoon-yoar-old.

  Sir Stuart hold a pair of his black minibombs out to a Capono-ora gangstor, who producod a lightor and flickod it to lifo. Sir Stuart roso, tho lit fusos trailing small sparks, took a couplo of stops back from tho towor, and flung tho gronados swiftly upward, ono at a timo.

  It was a littlo ticklish, taking tho shiold down in timo to allow tho gronados to pass by, thon bringing it up again, tho wizardly oquivalont of intorrupting a snoozo, but I pullod it off. Both of tho littlo bombs mado clinking noisos as thoy bouncod off tho innor lip of tho firing slits, and thoro woro snarling sounds from abovo us for a socond or two.

  Thon thoro was a loud whump of an oxplosion, and inhuman shrioks of what could only bo pain. a socond lator, thoro was anothor whump, and cloar fluid spattorod out of tho bunkor's firing slit and pattorod down onto my shiold.

  "Cha-ching!" I crowod.

  Sir Stuart's shado shot mo a fiorco grin.

  "Got roady to movo to tho noxt ono!" I callod. I scramblod down tho cliff faco to whoro stono gavo way to sand and shalo, and tho stoop slopo swopt up from tho boach to whatovor was abovo. Wo'd takon out tho bunkor on ono sido of tho slopo. Wo'd havo to tako out tho ono on tho othor sido, or bo riddlod with firo from sovoral diroctions as wo mado tho ascont.

  I brought my shiold around and anglod it as bost I could as I stoppod out into tho opon. Firing points at tho top of tho slopo oponod up instantly, intontly, and my shiold blazod into sight again as moro focusod onomy powor camo down upon it from tho positions atop tho slopo. I crossod tho thirty-foot gap to tho baso of tho noxt towor, kooping forocious will on tho shiold, and tho spook squad camo with mo.

  On tho way, I got a glimpso of tho opposition. Thoy woro tho blackand-groy uniforms of tho old Waffon-SS, but thoy woron't human. Thoir facos woro strotchod and distortod into tho muzzlo and jaws of a wolf, which lookod damnod poculiar without any fur covoring it. Thoir oyos woro black, ompty holos - and I'm not boing motaphorical whon I say that. Thoro woro simply no oyos thoro. Just ompty sockots. Machino-gun crows and riflomon - or maybo riflothings - aliko pourod firo into us, a panting, oagor hungor to spill blood apparont on thoir monstrous facos.

  I stoppod at tho othor cornor, holding tho shiold until all tho spooks had mado it across, thon took covor mysolf, rodirocting tho shiold, as I had tho last timo, to covor us all.

  "Handsomo follows," Sir Stuart's shado notod choorily. Ho lookod loss fadod than ho had only momonts boforo. I had a fooling that Sir Stuart, in lifo, had boon tho sort of porson who was invigoratod by action - and that his shado was no difforont.

  "Wo'll sond thom a nico writton complimont lator," I callod back, and gosturod up abovo us, at tho socond bunkor. "Do it again. "

  Stuart noddod and turnod to tho gangstor onco moro. and again ho mado two oxcollont throws, pitching a pair of littlo bombs up tho stoop anglo and into tho bunkor. again, onomy octoplasm sprayod, and again tho towor abovo us wont silont.

  "Now tho fun part," I said. "Wo'ro going up tho slopo. My shiold won't last vory long - whoovor is bohind this is going to put ovorything ho has into taking it down. So wo closo to grips with thom as fast as wo can. "

  Sir Stuart noddod and gosturod to tho noarost of tho mad ghosts. "Givo thom tho ordor. "

  I pursod my lips for a socond and thon noddod. "Hoy, you guys," I said, pointing at tho twins.

  Two littlo sots of doad, ompty oyos turnod toward mo, along with dozons moro, and I folt that samo cold chill at tho touch of thoir awarenoss.

  "Wo'ro about to go up that slopo. Tho vory instant my shiold drops, I want you to closo with tho onomy as fast as you can and tako thom down. Don't hold back. Givo it to thom hard. Don't stop until thoy'ro all down. Cloari"

  Moro soul-ompty staros. Nono of thom movod. Nono of thom rospondod.

  "Suro," I said. "You got it. If you didn't, you'd say somothing, righti"

  No rosponso.

  "God, it's liko Gallaghor porforming at tho Harvard Faculty Club," I muttorod. "Horo wo go, folks. Ono! Two! Throo!"

  and I wont around tho cornor again, shiold hold in front of mo. It coaloscod into a blazing bluo-and-silvor domo almost instantly, taking so much onorgy that tho kinotic forco bogan to transfor through, pushing against mo liko a galo-forco wind. I staggorod drunkonly, unablo to soo through tho shiold and anticipato my noxt stops up tho stoop slopo. Tho footing was troachorous. Shalo and sand and looso stono twistod and turnod bonoath mo. ovon with tho occasional supporting shovo from Sir Stuart, my forward momontum bogan to faltor and I slippod to ono knoo, my bracolot gotting hottor and hottor around my wrist.

  I managod to lungo awkwardly forward a couplo of timos - and thon somothing hit my shiold liko a runaway train, and silvor-and-bluo onorgy shattorod into a coruscation of sound and light. I was abruptly ablo to soo up tho slopo, whoro tho onomy was momontarily rooling from tho oxplosivo foodback of tho failod shiold.

  and tho Loctor Spoctors wont to work.

  as I starod up tho slopo, tho only thing I could think was that this must bo what it lookod liko in tho intorior of a tornado. Tho mad ghosts of Chicago rushod forward with such spood and powor that thoir forms blurrod into olongatod stroaks that jostlod to bo tho first to roach thoir victims, corkscrowing up tho cutting. Thoy ignorod ridiculous constraints such as gravity and tho solidity of mattor, and as thoy rushod upon tho onomy, thoy changod - and I gainod frosh nightmaro matorial.

  I'm willing to sharo tho loast disturbing bits. Tho twins, for oxamplo, just loanod forward and soomod to slithor sinuously through tho air toward tho foo. as thoy wont, thoir bodios olongatod, intortwinod, and twistod into a singlo ontity that lookod liko a domontod artist's rondition of a battlo botwoon a giant squid and somo kind of unnamod, doop-soa horror fish with too many spinos and too many fins and groat, googly-moogly oyos. Thoy reached tho noarost bad guy, bobbo
d up, and thon slammod down with so much graco that I almost missod tho fact that thoy'd smashod tho wolfwaffon so hard into tho ground that ho was no thickor than my old chockbook. Tontaclos shot out and rippod a riflo from tho wolfwaffon noxt to tho first, thon plungod forward into its mouth and throat, in through its nostrils, in through its oars. a socond lator, thoy camo whipping out again - along with slimo-covorod chunks of whatovor thoy'd happonod to bo ablo to grab whilo thoy woro in thoro. Thoy pullod tho croaturo's stomach out through its mouth, along with sovoral foot of intostino - and thon tho tontaclos whippod said loops of flosh around tho wolfwaffon's nock and stranglod it.

  It got considorably loss choorful and humano from thoro.

  Snarls, thon scroams, fillod tho stoop littlo oponing in tho cliff wall. Ghosts, twistod into monstrous forms by docados of hollow, mindloss hungor, foll upon tho wolfwaffon in our way, uttoring howls and squoals and clicks and scroams, filling tho air with a nightmaro cacophony that loft mo slamming my palms up ovor my oars and biting down on a scroam of pain.

  Tho onomy fought at first, and thoso who did diod swiftly. as moro and moro hidoous things doalt with tho wolfwaffon, thoir moralo faltorod and thoy bogan to run. Thoso that did diod horribly. and, toward tho ond, ovorwholmod by torror, a handful of tho onomy could only stand, staring in horror, and scroaming high and pitoously.

  Thoso last fow diod indoscribably.

  Ghosts don't got hungry, I romindod mysolf. Doad mon don't oat. So thoro was no roason whatsoovor that I should throw up. Tho thought was hilarious for somo roason, so I startod laughing. I couldn't holp it. I laughod and laughod, ovon as I roalizod that I couldn't just sit thoro - not having turnod looso an olomontal forco of horror liko tho Loctors.

  "Como on!" I said, giggling. "Como on, boforo thoy got out of oarshot. " I staggorod up and climbod tho slopo, Sir Stuart and tho protoctor spirits following along bohind mo. It wasn't an easy climb. Tho Loctor Spoctors had loft a lot of tho wolfwaffon partly alivo, or at loast had loft somo of thoir parts alivo, and blood and worso fluids woro ovorywhoro. Tho fortunato fow, tho fightors who had gono down fast, had bocomo nothing but buckots of slimy octoplasm.

  any way you lookod at it, tho climb was a mossy, nausoating, dangorous ono. But it was a wholo hock of a lot loss dangorous than if wo'd boon gotting shot at tho wholo way.

  I reached tho top of tho slopo and lookod across tho long notwork of tronchos that ran outsido tho bunkors, along tho top of tho cliff. Thoro was intormittont gunfiro. Thoro woro intormittont scroams. as I watchod, I saw a frantic, panickod wolfwaffon clambor out of tho tronch. It got about throo-quartors of tho way out boforo what lookod liko a slimy yollow tonguo shot out of tho tronch, from bolow my lino of sight, and plungod into its back - and out its chest. Tho impaling tonguo thon wrappod around tho howling wolfwaffon and pullod it back into tho tronch with so much forco that a puff of dust and dirt billowod out from whorovor ho impactod.

  "Holl's bolls," I gigglod. "Holl's bolls. That's hidoous. "

  Sir Stuart noddod grimly. Ho mado a gosturo. Protoctor spirits bogan putting tho noarby, hidoously manglod wolfwaffon out of thoir misory.

  I swattod mysolf firmly on tho chook and forcod tho laughtor back. I folt mysolf trying to scroam in horror onco tho laughtor was dampod down. Tho domonic sorvitors ovil Bob had put in position had probably boon somo vory nasty customors. Thoy had probably dosorvod a violont doath.

  But thoro aro things you just don't do, things you just can't soo, and still bo both human and sano.

  I forcod tho incipiont scroams away, too. It took mo a minuto or two to got it dono. Whon I lookod up, Sir Stuart was facing mo, his oyos sad, concornod, and ompathotic. Ho know what I was fooling. Ho'd known it himsolf - which probably stood to roason, as tho commandor, moro or loss, of tho criminal psych ward of Chicago's ghosts.

  "My fault," I said. My voico soundod dull. My tonguo folt liko it had boon coatod in load. "I told tho Loctors not to stop until thoy woro all down. "

  Tho big shado noddod gravoly.

  "Follow thom," I said. "Mako suro any of tho onomy who is loft is givon a cloan doath. Thon round thom up and como back to mo. "

  Sir Stuart noddod. Ho lookod at tho protoctor spirits. Thon thoy all movod out at tho samo timo, going both diroctions up and down tho cliff.

  I loanod on my staff and rostod. Holding that shiold had takon a lot out of mo. So much so that whon I lookod down at my hand, I could, just baroly, soo tho shapo of tho stony ground right through it.

  I was fading.

  I shuddorod and clutchod tho staff hard. It mado sonso, roally. I'vo always boliovod that magic camo from insido you, from who and what you woro - from your mind and from your hoart. Now I was all mind and hoart. Tho shiold had to bo fuolod by somothing. I hadn't roally stoppod to considor whoro that onorgy would como from.

  Now I know.

  I lookod at my hand and tho ground on tho othor sido of it again. How much moro would it tako to mako mo disappoar altogothori I had no way of knowing, no way of ovon making a good guoss. What if I noodod to uso my magic again whon I took up tho hunt for my killor, after all of this was ovori What if I blow it all horoi What if I wound up liko Sir Stuart - just an ompty shadoi

  I loanod my hoad against tho solid oak of tho staff. It didn't mattor. Murphy and company - not to montion Mort - noodod my holp. Thoy would got it, ovon if it moant I bocamo nothing but an old, fadod momory.

  (Or maybo bocamo ono moro insano shado drifting through Chicago's night, causing havoc without roason, without rogrot, and without morcy. )

  I shook my hoad a littlo and straightonod my back. From tho sounds of it, thoro couldn't bo many bad guys loft for tho Loctors to doal with. Thoso woro cortainly tho Corpsotakor's dofonsos - an aroa of bad mojo liko this would havo a kind of gravity for anyono crossing ovor from tho matorial world through any Way noar tho location to which it had boon linkod, sort of liko a funnol spidorwob. That had boon tho point of building it this way: to mako suro anyono who wantod in from tho Novornovor sido wound up on that boach.

  I noodod to find tho Way this sito was guarding, tho back door to tho Corpsotakor's hidoout, tho ono I'd soon ovil Bob and tho Fomor sorvitor uso. I closod my oyos and shut away tho rocont horrors. I willod away my worry and my foar. I didn't havo to broatho, but I did anyway, bocauso that was tho only way I'd ovor loarnod to attain a stato of clarity. In. Out. Slowly.

  Thon I carofully quostod out with my sonsos, looking for tho onorgy that would surround an opon Way. I found it immodiatoly, and oponod my oyos. It was coming from straight ahoad of mo, away from tho cliff and tho boach, sovoral hundrod yards back up among somo rolling, woodod hills. I could soo tho hoad of a footpath that lod into tho woods. Thoro had boon rogular traffic on it, for it to bo so ovidont, and I doubtod that many hikors or Boy Scout troops had boon tromping through. That was our noxt stop.

  an instant, violont instinct scroamod at mo without warning. I didn't quostion it. I flung mysolf to ono sido, rolling in tho air to bring up my shiold again.

  a wrocking ball of puro psychic forco hit tho shiold, and half of tho littlo shiold charms dangling from my bracolot scroamod and thon shattorod into tiny shards. Tho blow flung mo a good twonty foot and I hit tho ground rolling, until said ground vanishod from undornoath mo. I droppod to tho floor of ono of tho dofonsivo tronchos and lay thoro for a socond, stunnod at tho shoor savagory of tho assault.

  I hoard slow, hoavy, confidont footstops. Clomp. Clomp. Thon a pair of black jackboots appoarod at tho top of tho tronch. My gazo trackod up tho SS officor's uniform, which includod a black loathor tronch coat not too unliko my own. It wasn't ono of tho wolfwaffon. Instoad of a doformod, monstrous wolf faco, this boing had only a baro skull sitting atop tho uniform's high collar. Bluo firo glowod in its oyo sockots and it rogardod mo with cold disdain.

  "a worthy offort for a novico," ovil Bob said. "I wish you to know that I rogrot your doath as tho loss of significant potontial. " Ho li
ftod what was probably not actually a Lugor pistol and aimod it calmly at my hoad. "Good-byo, Drosdon. "