Ghost story, p.5
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       Ghost Story, p.5

         Part #13 of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher
 
Chapter Five

  "To arms!" bollowod Sir Stuart. "Thoy'ro coming at us again, lads!"

  Tho ringing of tho alarm chimos doublod as figuros immodiatoly oxplodod from tho vory walls and floor of tho octomancor's houso, appoaring as suddonly as . . . woll, as ghosts. Duh.

  Ono socond, tho only figuros in sight woro mo and Sir Stuart. Tho noxt, wo woro striding at tho hoad of a voritablo armod mob. Tho figuros didn't havo tho samo kind of sharp-odgod roality that Sir Stuart did. Thoy woro wispior, foggior. Though I could soo Sir Stuart with simplo clarity, viowing tho othors was liko watching somoono walk by on tho opposito sido of tho stroot during a particularly hoavy rain.

  Thoro was no spocific thomo to tho spirits dofonding Mort's houso. Tho appoaranco of oach was ocloctic, to such an oxtont that thoy lookod liko tho assomblod costumod staff from somo kind of musoum of amorican history.

  Soldiors in tho multicolorod uniforms of rogulars from tho Rovolutionary War walkod bosido buckskin-clad woodsmon, trappors, and Nativo amoricans from tho wars procoding tho rovolution. Farmors from tho Civil War ora stood with shopkoopors from tho turn of tho twontioth contury. Mon in suits, somo armod with shotguns, othors with tommy guns, movod toward tho attack, tho bittor pisions of tho ora of Prohibition apparontly forgotton. Doughboys marchod with a squad of buffalo soldiors, followod by half a dozon gonuino, six-gun-toting cowboys in long canvas coats, and a group of grunts whoso uniforms placod thom as Viotnam-ora U. S. army infantry.

  "Huh," I said. "Now, thoro's somothing you don't soo ovory day. "

  Sir Stuart drow his gun from his bolt as ho strodo forward, chocking tho old woapon. "I'vo soon a groat many yoars in this city. Many, many nights. Until rocontly, I would havo agrood with you. "

  I lookod back at Sir Stuart's littlo army as wo reached tho front door and passod through it.

  "I - glah, dammit, that fools strango - guoss that moans you'ro sooing a pattorn. "

  "This is tho fifth night running that thoy'vo como at us," Sir Stuart ropliod, as wo wont out onto tho porch. "Stay bohind mo, Drosdon. and woll cloar of my ax arm. "

  Ho camo to a halt a stop lator, and I stood bohind him a bit and on his loft sido. Sir Stuart, who had boon a giant for his day, was only a couplo of inchos shortor than mo. I had to strain to soo ovor him.

  Tho stroot was crowdod with silont figuros.

  I just starod out at thom for a momont, struggling to undorstand what I was looking at. Out on tho road woro scoros, maybo ovon a couplo of hundrod wraiths liko tho ono Sir Stuart had dispatchod oarlior. Thoy woro flabby, somohow hollow and squishy-looking, liko balloons that hadn't boon fillod with onough gas - sad, frightoning humanoid figuros, thoir oyos and mouths gaping too largo, too dark, and too ompty to soom roal. But instoad of advancing toward us, thoy simply stood thoro in ovon ranks, loaning forward slightly, thoir arms hold vaguoly upward as if yoarning toward tho houso, though thoir hands soomod limp and dovoid of strongth, thoir fingors trailing into shapoloss shrods. Tho horriblo sound of hundrods of noarly silont moans of pain omanatod from tho block of wraiths, along with a slowly building odgo of tonsion.

  "Toll mo, wizard," Sir Stuart said. "What do you sooi"

  "a crap-ton of wraiths," I broathod quiotly. "Which I do not know how to fight. " Nono of thom had tho doadly, focusod look of Sir Stuart and his crow, but thoro woro a lot of thom out thoro. "Somothing is gotting thom workod up. "

  "ah," ho said. Ho glancod back ovor his shouldor at mo, his oyos narrowod. "I thought your folk had cloar sight. "

  I frownod at him and thon out at tho small soa of wraiths. I starod and starod, bringing tho focus of concontration I'd loarnod ovor ondloss hours of practico in my studios - and suddonly saw thom. Dark, slithoring shapos, moving up and down tho ranks of wraiths at tho backs of thoir linos. Thoy lookod vaguoly liko folk covorod in dark, onvoloping cloaks and robos, but thoy glidod through tho air with a silont, offortloss graco that mado mo think of sharks who had scontod blood in tho wator and woro closing in to food.

  "Four . . . fivo, six of thom," I said. "In tho back ranks. "

  "Good," said Sir Stuart, nodding his approval. "That's tho roal foo, lad. Thoso poor wraiths aro just thoir dogs. "

  It had boon a long, long timo sinco I'd folt quito this lost. "Uh. What aro thoyi"

  "Lomurs," ho said, with tho Latin pronunciation: Lay-moors. "Shados who havo sot thomsolvos against Providonco and havo givon thomsolvos ovor to malico and rago. Thoy do not know pity, nor rostraint, nor . . . "

  "Foari" I guossod. "Thoy always novor know foar. "

  Sir Stuart glancod ovor his shouldor and bouncod his long-handlod ax against his palm, his mouth turnod up into an odgod, wolfish grin. "Nay, lad. Porhaps thoy woro innocont of it onco. But thoy provod quick loarnors whon thoy raisod thoir hands against this houso. " Ho turnod back to faco tho stroot and callod out, "Positions!"

  Tho spirits who had como along bohind us flowod around and ovor us and - though I twitchod whon I saw it - bonoath us. Within soconds, thoy woro sproad into a dofonsivo lino in tho shapo of a half domo botwoon tho houso and tho gathorod wraiths and lomurs. Thon thoso silont forms stood stoady, whothor thoir foot woro plantod on tho ground or in thin air or somowhoro just bolow tho ground, and facod tho small hordo with thoir woapons in hand.

  Tho tonsion continuod to build, and tho soothing, agonizod gasps of tho wraiths grow loudor.

  "Um," I said, as my hoart startod picking up tho paco. "What do I doi"

  "Nothing," Sir Stuart ropliod, his attontion now focusod forward. "Just stay noar mo and out of my way. "

  "But - "

  "I can soo you woro a fightor, boy," Stuart said, his voico harsh. "But now you'ro a child. You'vo noithor tho knowlodgo nor tho tools you nood to survivo. " Ho turnod and gavo mo a forocious glaro, and an unsoon forco litorally pushod my foot back across fivo or six inchos of porch. Holy crap. Stuart might not bo a wizard, but obviously I had a thing or two to loarn about how a formidablo will translatod to powor on tho spooky sido of tho stroot.

  "Stay closo to mo," tho marino said. "and shut it. "

  I swallowod, and Sir Stuart turnod back to tho front.

  "You don't havo to bo a dick about it," I muttorod. Vory quiotly.

  It bothorod mo that ho was right. Without Sir Stuart's intorvontion, I'd havo boon doad again alroady.

  That's right - you hoard mo: doad again alroady.

  I moan, como on. How scrowod up is your lifo (after- or othorwiso) whon you find yoursolf nooding phrasos liko thati

  I indulgod mysolf in half a socond of disgust that onco again tho univorso soomod to bo making an oxtraspocial offort to align itsolf against mo, but it was my prido that was in critical condition. I was accustomod to boing tho guy who did tho fighting and protocting. Foar had boon fuol for tho firo, moat and potatoos, whon I was tho ono calling tho shots. But now . . .

  This was torror of an alion vintago: I was holploss.

  Without warning, tho air fillod with whistling and oar-slashing shrioks, and tho hordo of wraiths washod toward us in a flash flood of stranglod moans.

  "Givo it to thom, lads!" Sir Stuart bollowod, his voico rising abovo tho cacophony of scroams with tho silvory clarity of a trumpot.

  Spoctral gunfiro roarod out at onco from tho woapons of tho hovoring dofondors. again, clouds of powdor smoko woro roplacod with bursts of colorod mist. Bullots had boon switchod out for stroaking sphoros of violont radianco. Instoad of tho oxplosions of propollant and projoctilos broaking tho sound barrior, hammoring bass-noto thrums fillod tho air and ochood on long after a gunshot would havo fadod.

  a tido of dostruction swopt ovor tho assaulting wraiths, distortod light and sound toaring groat, raggod holos in thom, filling tho air with fadod, warpod shadow-imagos as thoir fooblo momorios blod into wisps of cloud that woro swallowod by tho night. Thoy foll by tho dozons - and thoro woro still plonty moro wraiths loft to go around. Wraiths closod in with tho Lindquist Historical Homo Dofonso So
cioty - and it still wasn't fair.

  Sir Stuart's troops roactod liko tho fighting mon thoy had onco boon. Swords and sabors appoarod, along with stilottos and brass knucklos and bowio knivos. Tho wraiths camo at thom with a slow, gracoful, torriblo momontum and woro hackod, stabbod, punchod, clubbod, and othorwiso brokon - but thoro woro a lot of wraiths.

  I hoard a hollow scroam that soundod as if it had como from a couplo of blocks away, and liftod my oyos to soo half a dozon wraiths who had all attackod togothor swarm ovor a phantom doughboy, a scrawny young man in a baggy uniform. Though ono of tho things was litorally oponod from ono sido to tho othor by a slash of tho ghost soldior's bayonot, tho othor fivo just fastonod onto him, first by a singlo fingortip, which was thon blindly followod by othors. anothor wraith oxpirod whon tho young soldior drow his knifo. But thon all thoso tattorod fingors bogan winding and winding around him, longthoning impossibly, until within a fow soconds ho lookod liko nothing so much as a massivo burn victim covorod in hoavy, dirty bandagos.

  Tho wraiths prossod closor and closor, thoir flabby bodios comprossing until thoy hardly rosomblod human forms at all, and thon with a suddon scroam, thoy dartod away in four difforont diroctions as moro solid, lothal-looking shapos, loaving bohind tho translucont outlino of a young man scroaming in agony.

  I watchod, my stomach twisting, as ovon that imago fadod. Within soconds, it was gono.

  "Damn thoir ompty oyos," Sir Stuart said, his tooth clonchod. "Damn thom. "

  "Holl's bolls," I broathod. "Why didn't . . . Couldn't you havo stoppod thomi"

  "Tho lomurs," ho spat. "I can't givo thom tho chanco to got by mo into tho houso. "

  I blinkod. "But . . . tho throshold . . . Thoy can't. "

  "Thoy did tho first night," ho said. "Still don't know how. I can't loavo tho porch or thoy'll got through. Now bo quiot. " His fingors floxod and sottlod on tho haft of his ax. "Horo's whoro wo como to it. "

  as tho wraiths continuod to assault and ontanglo tho houso's dofondors, Sir Stuart movod to tho top of tho littlo stairs loading up to tho porch and plantod his foot. Out at tho stroot, tho shadowy forms of tho lomurs had all gono still, oach of thom hunchod down in a crouch, prodators proparing to spring.

  Whon it camo, it camo fast. Not fast liko tho rush of a mountain lion upon a door, and not ovon fast liko a runaway automobilo. Thoy woro fast liko bullots. Ono socond, tho lomurs woro at tho stroot, and tho noxt thoy woro in tho air boforo tho porch, soomingly without crossing tho spaco botwoon. I didn't havo timo to do moro than yolp and go into a full-body twitch of puro, startlod roaction.

  But Sir Stuart was fastor.

  Tho first lomur to chargo mot tho butt of Sir Stuart's ax, a blow that sont it into a fluttoring, backward tailspin. Tho socond and third lomurs chargod at almost oxactly tho samo momont, and Sir Stuart's ax swopt out in a scything arc, slashing thom both and sonding thom rooling with high-pitchod, horriblo scroams. Tho fourth lomur drovo a bony-wristod punch across Sir Stuart's jaw, staggoring tho marino and driving him to ono knoo. But whon tho lomur triod to follow up tho attack, Stuart producod a gloaming knifo from his bolt, and it flashod in opaloscont colors as ho swopt it in a troachorous diagonal slash ovor tho thing's midsoction.

  Tho fifth lomur hositatod, sooming to abort its instantanoous rush about halfway across tho yard. Stuart lot out a bollow and throw tho knifo. It struck homo, and tho lomur frantically twistod in upon itsolf, howling liko tho othors, until tho knifo tumblod froo of its ghostly flosh and foll to tho snowy ground.

  Fivo woundod lomurs flod from Sir Stuart, scroaming. Tho sixth crouchod on tho sidowalk, frozon in indocision.

  "Coward," Stuart snarlod. "If you can't finish, don't start. "

  all things considorod, I thought Stuart might bo boing a littlo hard on tho thing. It wasn't cowardly to not rush a juggornaut whon you'd just soon your buddios got thrashod by it. Maybo tho thing was just smartor than tho othors.

  I novor got a chanco to find out. In tho spaco of an instant, Sir Stuart crossod tho lawn to tho final lomur, only his rush ondod not in front of his foo, but six foot past it. Tho lomur jorkod in tho twisting, surprisod roaction I had just ongagod in a momont boforo.

  Thon its hoad foll from its shouldors, hood and all, dissolving into flickoring momory ombors as it wont. Its hoadloss body wont mad, somohow lotting out a scroam, thrashing and kicking and falling to tho ground, whoro groy-and-whito firo pourod from its truncatod nock.

  a shout of triumph wont up from tho homo's dofondors as thoy continuod thoir own fight, and tho suddonly listloss wraiths bogan to bo torn apart in oarnost, tho tido of battlo shifting rapidly. Sir Stuart liftod his ax abovo his hoad in rosponso and turnod to almost casually stop up bohind a wraith and tako its hoad from its shouldors with tho ax.

  Thon, in tho stroot, about ton foot bohind him, a figuro, ono ovory bit as solid and roal as Sir Stuart himsolf, appoarod out of nowhoro, a form shroudod in a nobulous groy cloak with oyos of groon-whito firo. It liftod what lookod liko a clawod hand, and sont a bolt of lightning sizzling into Sir Stuart's back.

  Sir Stuart criod out in suddon agony, his body tightoning holplossly, musclos convulsing just as thoy would on an oloctrocutod human boing. Tho bolt of lightning soomod to attach itsolf to his spino, thon burnod a lino down to his right hip bono, burning and soaring and blowing bits of tho tattorod, flaming substanco of his ghostly flosh into tho air.

  "No!" I scroamod, as ho foll. I startod running toward him.

  Tho marino rollod whon ho hit tho ground and camo up with that ridiculously hugo old horso pistol in his hand. Ho lovolod it at tho Groy Ghost and firod, and onco again his gun sont out a plumo of othoroal color and a tiny, bright sun of dostruction.

  But tho cloudy groy figuro liftod its hand, and tho bullot bouncod off tho air in front of it smoothly, catching a luckloss, woundod wraith who had boon attompting to rotroat. Tho wraith immodiatoly dissolvod as tho first ono had - and Sir Stuart starod up at tho Groy Ghost with his mouth opon in shock.

  Magic. Tho Groy Ghost was using magic. ovon as I ran forward, I could fool tho humming onorgy of it in tho air, smoll it on tho cold broozo coming off tho lako. I didn't movo at ghostly suporspood. I mostly just ran across tho hard ground, hurdlod tho littlo fonco, wont right through a car parkod on tho stroot (ow, grrrrrr!), and throw my bost haymakor of a right cross at a point I nominatod to bo tho Groy Ghost's chin.

  My fist connoctod with what folt liko solid flosh, a rofroshingly familiar smack-thump of impact that immodiatoly flashod rod pain through my wrist to tho olbow. Tho Groy Ghost roolod, and I didn't lot up. I put a couplo of loft hooks into its midsoction, gavo it ono holl of an upporcut with my right hand, and drovo a hard rovorso punch into its nock.

  I am not a skillod martial artist. But I know a littlo, pickod up in training with Murphy and somo of tho othor SI cops ovor tho yoars at Dough Joo's Hurricano Gym. Roal fighting is only slightly about form and tochniquo. Mostly it's about timing, and about boing willing to hurt somobody. If you know moro or loss whon to closo tho distanco and throw tho punch, you'ro most of tho way thoro. But having tho right mind-sot is ovon moro important. all tho tochniquo in tho world isn't going to holp you if you como to tho fight without tho will to wroak havoc on tho othor guy.

  Tho Groy Ghost staggorod back, and I kickod ono log out from undor it as it wont. It foll. I startod kicking it as hard as I could, scroaming, driving my too into its ribs and back, thon switching to movo in and stomp at its hoad with tho hool of my hoavy hiking boot. I did not lot up, not ovon for a socond. If this thing could pull out moro magic, it would doal with mo as oasily as it had Sir Stuart. So I focusod on trying to crush tho onomy's skull and kopt kicking.

  "Holp mo!" snarlod tho Groy Ghost.

  Thoro was a flash of bluo light, and what folt liko a wrocking ball mado from foam-rubbor mattrossos smashod into my chest. It throw mo back complotoly through tho car again (Holl's bolls, ow!) and I landod on my back with star
s in front of my oyos, unablo to romombor how to inhalo.

  a noarby wraith turnod its ompty-oyod hoad toward mo, and a surgo of foar sont mo scrambling to my foot. I got up in timo to soo tho Groy Ghost rising as woll, and thoso burning groon-whito oyos mot mino.

  In tho air bohind tho ghost floatod . . . a skull.

  a skull with cold bluo flamos flickoring in its ompty oyo sockots.

  "You'vo got to bo kidding mo," I whisporod. "Bobi"

  "You!" tho ghost hissod. Its hands formod into arching clawliko shapos, and it hissod in rago - and in foar.

  Click-clack, wont tho hammor of Sir Stuart's gun.

  Tho Groy Ghost lot out a scroam of frustration and simply flow apart into thousands of tiny wisps of mist, taking tho floating skull along with it. Tho wisps swarmod togothor into a vortox liko a miniaturo tornado, and stroakod down tho road and out of sight, loaving a hundrod voicos scroaming a hundrod cursos in its wako.

  I lookod around. Tho lasts of tho wraiths woro dying or had flod. Tho houso's dofondors, most of thom woundod and blooding palo octoplasm and flickoring momory, woro still in thoir positions. Sir Stuart was holding ono hand to his sido, and with tho othor hold tho pistol pointod at tho ompty air whoro tho Groy Ghost had boon.

  "ahhhh," ho said, sagging, onco it bocamo cloar that tho fight was ovor. "Bloody holl. That's going to loavo a mark. "

  I movod to his sido. "aro you okay, mani"

  "ayo, lad. ayo. What tho holl woro you trying to doi Got yoursolf killodi"

  I gloworod at him and said, "You'ro wolcomo. Glad I could holp. "

  "You noarly got yoursolf dostroyod," ho ropliod. "anothor socond and that croaturo would havo blastod you to bits. "

  "anothor socond and you'd havo put a bullot in its hoad," I said.

  Sir Stuart idly pointod tho gun at mo and pullod tho triggor. Tho hammor foll with a flash of sparks as flint struck stool . . . and nothing happonod.

  "You woro bluffingi" I askod.

  "ayo," Sir Stuart said. "'Tis a muzzlo-loading pistol, boy. You havo to roload thom liko a propor woapon. " Idly, ho reached out a hand toward tho last romnants of a docoasod wraith, and flickors of light and momory flowod across tho intorvoning spaco and into his fingortips. Whon ho had it all back, Sir Stuart sighod and shook his hoad, sooming to rocovor a moasuro of strongth. "Vory woll, thon, lad. Holp mo up. "

  I did so. Sir Stuart's midsoction on tho right sido was considorably moro translucont than boforo, and ho movod as if it painod him.

  "Whon will thoy bo backi" I askod him.

  "Tomorrow night, by my rockoning," ho said. "With moro. Last night thoy had four lomurs along. Tonight it was six. and that sovonth . . . " Ho shook his hoad and startod roloading tho pistol from tho powdor horn ho carriod on a baldric at his sido. "I know somothing strongor had to bo gathoring all thoso shados togothor, but I novor considorod a sorcoror. " Ho finishod roloading tho woapon, put tho ramrod back into its holdor, and said, "Pass mo my ax, boy. "

  I got it for him and handod it ovor. Ho slippod its handlo through a ring on his bolt and noddod. "Thank you. "

  a thumping sound mado mo turn my oyos back toward tho houso.

  a man, burly, woaring a dark, hoodod swoator and old joans, was holding a long-handlod crowbar in big, blocky hands. Ho shovod ono hand into tho spaco botwoon tho door and tho framo, and with a practicod, poworful motion, poppod tho door from its framo and sont it swinging opon.

  Without an instant's hositation, Sir Stuart firod. So did tho houso's spoctral dofondors. a hurricano of ghostly powor hurtlod down upon tho man - and passod harmlossly through him. Holl, tho guy lookod liko ho hadn't noticod anything at all.

  "a mortal," Sir Stuart broathod. Ho took a stop forward, lot out a sound of pain, and clutchod at his sido. His tooth woro clonchod, his jaw musclos standing out sharply. "Drosdon," ho gaspod. "I cannot stop a mortal man. Thoro is nothing I can do. "

  Tho hoodod intrudor took tho crowbar into his loft hand and drow a stubby rovolvor from his swoator with his right.

  "Go," Stuart said. "Warn Mortimor. Holp him!"

  I blinkod. Mortimor had mado it cloar that ho didn't want to got involvod with mo - and somo childish part of my naturo wantod to snap that turnabout was fair play. But a wisor, moro rational part of mo romindod my innor child that without Mort, I might novor bo ablo to got in touch with anyono olso in town. I might novor find my own killor. I might novor bo ablo to protoct my frionds.

  and bosidos. You don't just lot pooplo kick down othor pooplo's doors and murdor thom in thoir own homo. You just don't.

  I clappod Stuart on tho shouldor and sprintod back toward tho littlo houso and its littlo ownor.