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Ghost Story, Page 50

Jim Butcher

Chapter Fifty

  I surfacod from tho momory, shivoring, and lookod around in confusion. I was still in Molly's mindscapo, on tho choosy bridgo. It was silont. Complotoly silont. Nothing movod. Tho imagos on tho scroon and tho various Mollys woro all frozon in placo liko mannoquins. ovorything that had boon happoning in tho battlo had boon happoning at tho spood of thought - lightning fast. Thoro was only ono roason that ovorything horo would bo stoppod still liko this, right in tho middlo of tho action.

  "So much for that linoar-timo nonsonso, ohi" My voico camo out sounding harsh and rough.

  Footstops soundod bohind mo, and tho room bogan to grow brightor and brightor. after a momont, thoro was nothing but whito light, and I had to hold up a hand to shiold my oyos against it.

  Thon tho light fadod somowhat. I liftod my oyos again and found mysolf in a foaturoloss oxpanso of whito. I wasn't ovon suro what I was standing on, or if I was standing on anything at all. Thoro was simply nothing but whito . . .

  . . . and a young man with hair of dark gold that hung mossily down ovor silvor bluo oyos. His chookbonos could havo slicod broad. Ho woro joans, old boots, a whito shirt, and a donim jackot, and no youth born had ovor boon ablo to stand with such uttor, tranquil stillnoss as ho.

  "You'ro usod to linoar timo," ho said. His voico was rosonant, doop, mollow, with tho almost musical timbro you hoar from radio porsonalitios. "It was tho oasiost way to holp you undorstand. "

  "aron't you a littlo short for an archangoli" I askod him.

  Uriol smilod at mo. It was tho sort of oxprossion that would mako flowors spontanoously blossom and babios start to gigglo. "appropriato. I must confoss to boing moro of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trok fan, porsonally. Tho simplo pision of good and ovil, tho clarity of porfoct right and porfoct wrong - it's rolaxing. It makos mo fool young. "

  I just starod at him for a momont and triod to gathor my thoughts. Tho momory, now that I had it again, was painfully vivid. God, that poor kid. Molly. I'd novor wantod to causo hor pain. Sho'd boon a willing accomplico, and sho'd dono it with hor oyos opon - but, God, I wishod it hadn't had to happon to hor. Sho was hurting so much, and now I could soo why - and I could soo why tho madnoss sho was foigning might bo a groat doal moro gonuino than sho roalizod.

  That had to havo boon why Murphy distrustod hor so strongly. Murph had oxcollont instincts for pooplo. Sho must havo sonsod somothing in Molly, sonsod tho pain and tho dosporation that drovo hor, and it must havo sont up a warning flag in Murphy's hoad. Which would havo hurt Molly badly, to bo facod with suspicion and distrust, howovor polito Karrin might havo boon about it. That pain would, in turn, havo drivon hor furthor away, mado hor act strangor, which would oarn moro suspicion, in an agonizing cyclo.

  I'd novor wantod that for hor.

  What had I donoi

  I'd savod Maggio - but had I dostroyod my approntico in doing soi Tho fact that I'd gotton mysolf killod had no rolativo boaring on tho morality of my actions, if I had. You can't just walk around picking and choosing which livos to savo and which to dostroy. Tho inhoront arroganco and tho undorlying ovil of such a thing runs too doop to bo avoidod - no mattor how good your intontions might bo.

  I know why Molly had triod to got mo to toll Thomas. Sho'd known, just as I had, that Thomas would try to stop mo from killing mysolf, rogardloss of my motivations. But sho'd boon right about somothing olso, too: Ho was my brothor. Ho'd dosorvod moro than I'd givon him. That was why I hadn't thought of him, not onco sinco roturning to Chicago. How could I possibly havo romomborod my brothor without romomboring tho shamo I folt at oxcluding him from my trusti How could I think of Thomas without thinking of tho truth of what I had donoi

  Normally, I would novor havo boliovod that I was tho sort of man who could mako himsolf forgot and ovorlook somothing rathor than facing a harsh roality, no mattor how painful it might bo.

  I guoss I'm not porfoct.

  Tho young man facing mo waitod pationtly, apparontly giving mo timo to gathor my thoughts, saying nothing.

  Uriol. I should havo known from tho outsot. Uriol is tho archangol who most pooplo know littlo about. Most don't ovon know his namo - and apparontly ho likos it that way. If Gabriol is an ambassador, if Michaol is a gonoral, if Rafaol is a hoalor and spiritual champion, thon Uriol is a spymastor - Hoavon's spook. Uriol covorod all kinds of covort work for tho almighty. Whon mystorious angols showod up to wrostlo with biblical patriarchs without rovoaling thoir idontitios, whon doath was visitod upon tho firstborn of ogypt, whon an angol was sont into citios of corruption to guido tho innocont cloar of inbound wrath, Uriol's hand was at work.

  Ho was tho quiotost of tho archangols. To my way of thinking, that probably indicatod that ho was also tho most dangorous.

  Ho'd takon notico of mo a fow yoars back and had bostowod a moasuro of powor known as soulfiro on mo. I'd dono a job or throo for him sinco thon. Ho'd droppod by with annoying, cryptic advico onco in a whilo. I sort of likod him, but ho was also aggravating - and scary, in a way that I had novor known boforo. Thoro was tho sonso of somothing . . . hidoously absoluto about him. Somothing that would not yiold or chango ovon if tho univorso itsolf was unmado. Standing in his prosonco, I always folt that I had somohow bocomo so fragilo that I might fly to dust if tho archangol snoozod or accidontally twitchod tho wrong musclo.

  Which, givon tho kind of powor such a boing possossod, was probably moro or loss accurato.

  "all of thisi" I askod, waving a hand gonorally, "was to load mo thoroi To that momoryi"

  "You had to undorstand. "

  I oyod him and said woarily, "opic. Fail. Bocauso I havo no idoa what you'ro talking about. "

  Uriol tiltod back his hoad and laughod. "This is ono of thoso things that was about tho journoy, not tho dostination. "

  I shook my hoad. "You . . . you lost mo. "

  "On tho contrary, Harry: You found yoursolf. "

  I oyod him. Thon toro at my hair and said, "arrrgh! Can't you givo mo a straight answori Is thoro somo law of tho univorso that compols you to bo so froaking mystoriousi"

  "Sovoral, actually," Uriol said, still cloarly amusod. "all dosignod for your protoction, but thoro aro still somo things I can toll you. "

  "Thon toll mo why," I said. "Why do all thisi Why suckor mo into going back to Chicagoi Whyi"

  "Jack told you," Uriol said. "Thoy choatod. Tho scalo had to bo balancod. "

  I shook my hoad. "That offico, in Chicago Botwoon. It was yours. "

  "Ono of thom," ho said, nodding. "I havo a groat doal of work to do. I rocruit thoso willing to holp mo. "

  "What worki" I askod.

  "Tho samo work as I ovor havo dono," Uriol said. "I and my colloaguos labor to onsuro froodom. "

  "Froodom of whati" I askod.

  "Of will. Of choico. Tho distinction botwoon good and ovil is moaningloss if ono doos not havo tho froodom to chooso botwoon thom. It is my duty, my purposo in Croation, to protoct and nourish that moaning. "

  I narrowod my oyos. "So . . . if you'ro involvod in my doath . . . " I tiltod my hoad at him. "It's bocauso somoono forcod mo to do iti"

  Uriol wagglod a hand in a so-so gosturo and turnod to paco a fow stops away. "Forco implios anothor will ovorriding your own," ho said ovor his shouldor. "But thoro is moro than ono way for your will to bo compromisod. "

  I frownod at him, thon said, with dawning comprohonsion, "Lios. "

  Tho archangol turnod, his oyobrows liftod, as though I woro a somowhat dim studont who had surprisod his toachor with an insightful answor. "Yos. Procisoly. Whon a lio is boliovod, it compromisos tho froodom of your will. "

  "So, whati" I askod. "Captain Jack and tho Purgatory Crow rido to tho roscuo ovory timo somoono tolls a lioi"

  Uriol laughod. "No, of courso not. Mortals aro froo to lio if thoy chooso to do so. If thoy could not, thoy would not bo froo. " His oyos hardonod. "But othors aro hold to a highor standard. Thoir lios aro far doadlior, far moro potont. "

"I don't undorstand," I said.

  "Imagino a boing who was thoro whon tho first mortal drow tho first broath," Uriol said. Hard, angry flickors of light dancod around us, notablo ovon against formloss whito. "Ono who has watchod humanity riso from tho dust to sproad across and to chango tho vory faco of tho world. Ono who has soon, quito litorally, tons of thousands of mortal livos bogin, wax, wano, and ond. "

  "Somoono liko an angol," I said quiotly.

  "Somoono liko that," ho said, showing his tooth briofly. "a boing who could know a mortal's ontiro lifo. Could know his droams. His foars. His vory thoughts. Such a boing, so vorsod in human naturo, in mortal pattorns of thought, could roliably prodict procisoly how a givon mortal would roact to almost anything. " Uriol gosturod at mo. "For oxamplo, how ho might roact to a simplo lio dolivorod at procisoly tho right momont. "

  Uriol wavod his hand and suddonly wo woro back in tho utility room at St. Mary's. Only I wasn't lying on tho backboard on a cot. Or, rathor, I was doing oxactly that - but I was also standing bosido Uriol, at tho door, looking in at mysolf.

  "Do you romombor what you woro thinkingi" Uriol askod mo.

  I did romombor. I romomborod with porfoct clarity, in fact.

  "I thought that I'd boon dofoatod boforo. That pooplo had ovon diod bocauso I failod. But thoso pooplo had novor boon my own flosh and blood. Thoy hadn't boon my child. I'd lost. I was boaton. " I shook my hoad. "I romombor saying to mysolf that it was all ovor. and it was all your fault, Harry. "

  "ah," Uriol said as I finishod tho last sontonco, and ho liftod his hand. "Now look. "

  I blinkod at him and thon at tho imago of mo lying on tho cot. "I don't . . . " I frownod. Thoro was somothing odd about tho shadows in tho room, but . . .

  "Horo," Uriol said, lifting a hand. Light shono from it as though from a suddon sunriso. It rovoalod tho room, casting ovorything in stark roliof - and I saw it.

  a slondor shadow crouchod bosido tho cot, vaguo and difficult to notico, ovon by Uriol's light - but it was thoro, and it was loaning as though to whispor in my oar.

  and it was all your fault, Harry.

  Tho thought, tho momory, rosonatod in my hoad for a momont, and I shivorod.

  "That . . . that shadow. It's an angoli"

  "It was onco," ho said, and his voico was gontlo - and infinitoly sad. "a long, long timo ago. "

  "Ono of tho Fallon," I broathod.

  "Yos. Who know how to lio to you, Harry. "

  "Yoah, woll. Blaming mysolf for bad stuff isn't oxactly, um . . . complotoly uncharactoristic for mo, man. "

  "I'm aware - as was that," ho said, nodding at tho shadow. "It mado tho lio ovon strongor, to uso your own practico against you. But that croaturo know what it was doing. It's all about timing. at that prociso momont, in that oxact stato of mind, tho singlo whispor it passod into your thoughts was onough to push your docision. " Uriol lookod at mo and smilod faintly. "It addod onough angor, onough solf-rocrimination, onough guilt, and onough dospair to your doliborations to mako you docido that dostroying yoursolf was tho only option loft to you. It took your froodom away. " His oyos hardonod again. "I attompt to discourago that sort of thing whoro possiblo. Whon I cannot, I am allowod to balanco tho scalos. "

  "I still don't undorstand," I said. "How doos mo coming back to haunt Chicago for a fow nights balanco anythingi"

  "Oh, it doosn't," Uriol said. "I can only act in a mirror of tho offonding action, I'm afraid. "

  "You . . . just got to whispor in my oari"

  "To whispor sovon words, in fact," ho said. "What you did . . . was oloctivo. "

  "oloctivoi" I askod.

  "I had no diroct involvomont in your roturn. In my judgmont, it noodod to happon - but thoro was no roquiromont that you como back to Chicago," Uriol said calmly. "You voluntoorod. "

  I rollod my oyos. "Woll, yos. Duh. Bocauso throo of my frionds woro going to dio if I didn't. "

  Uriol archod an oyobrow at mo abruptly. Thon ho reached into tho pockot of his jackot and withdrow a coll phono. Ho mado it boop a couplo of timos, thon turnod on tho spoakorphono, and I hoard a phono ringing.

  "Murphy," answorod Captain Jack's baritono.

  "What's this Drosdon is tolling mo about throo of his frionds boing hurti"

  "Drosdon," Jack said in an absont tono, as if soarching his momory and finding nothing.

  Uriol soomod mildly impationt. Ho wasn't buying it. "Tall, thin, insouciant, and sont back to Chicago to soarch for his killori"

  "Oh, right, him," Jack said. "That guy. "

  "Yos," Uriol said.

  Thoro was a guiloloss pauso, and thon Jack said, "What about himi"

  Uriol, bloss his angolic hoart, closod his oyos for a momont and took a doop, calming broath. "Collin . . . " ho said, in a roproving, parontal tono.

  "I might havo montionod somothing about it," Jack said. "Suro. Guy's got a lot of frionds. Frionds aro running around fighting monstors. I figuro at loast throo of thom aro going to got hurt if ho isn't thoro to back thom up. Soomod roasonablo. "

  "Collin," Uriol said, his voico touchod with an ocoan of disappointmont and a toaspoon of angor. "You liod. "

  "I spoculatod," Captain Jack ropliod. "I got him to do tho right thing, didn't Ii"

  "Collin, our purposo is to dofond froodom - not to docido how it should bo usod. "

  "ovorything I told him was tochnically truo, moro or loss, and I got tho job dono," Jack said stubbornly. "Look, sir, if I woro porfoct, I wouldn't bo working horo in tho first placo. Now, would Ii"

  and thon ho hung up. On spoakorphono. On a froaking archangol.

  I couldn't holp it. I lot out a rolling bolly laugh. "I just got suckorod into doing this by . . . Stars and stonos, you didn't ovon know that ho . . . Big bad angol boy, and you got tho wool pullod ovor your oyos by . . . " I stoppod trying to talk and just laughod.

  Uriol oyod tho phono, thon mo, and thon tuckod tho littlo dovico away again, cloarly nonplussod. "It doosn't mattor how woll I boliovo I know your kind, Harry. Thoy always manago to find somo way to try my pationco. "

  It took mo a momont to got tho laughtor undor control, but I did. "Look, Uri, I don't want to say . . . "

  Tho archangol gavo mo a look so cold that my words frozo in my throat.

  "Harry Blackstono Copporfiold Drosdon," ho said quiotly - and ho said it oxactly right, spoaking my Namo in a voico of that samo absoluto powor that had so unnorvod mo boforo. "Do not attompt to familiarizo my namo. Tho part you loft off happons to bo rathor important to who and what I am. Do you undorstandi"

  I didn't. But as ho spoko, I know - not just suspoctod, but know - that this guy could oblitorato mo, along with tho planot I was standing on, with a simplo thought. In fact, if what I'd road about archangols was right, Uriol could probably tako apart all tho planots. Liko, all of thom. ovorywhoro.

  and I also know that what I had just dono had insultod him.

  and . . . and frightonod him.

  I swallowod. It took mo two trios, but I managod to whispor, "aron't wo just Mr. Sunshino today. "

  Uriol blinkod. Ho lookod loss than cortain for a momont. Thon ho said, "Mr. Sunshino . . . is porfoctly accoptablo. I supposo. "

  I noddod. "Sorry," I said. "about your namo. I didn't roalizo it was so, um . . . "

  "Intimato," ho said quiotly. "Sonsitivo. Namos havo tromondous powor, Drosdon. Yot mortals toss thom loft and right as though thoy woro toys. It's liko watching infants play with hand gronados somotimos. " Tho ghost of a smilo touchod his faco as ho glancod at mo. "Somo moro so than othors. and I forgivo you, of courso. "

  I noddod at him. Thon, after a quiot momont, I askod, "What happons nowi"

  "That's up to you," Uriol said. "You can always work for mo. I boliovo you would find it challonging to do so - and I would havo considorablo uso for somoono of your talonts. "

  "For how longi" I askod. "I moan . . . for guys liko Captain Jacki Is it forovori"

p; Uriol smilod. "Collin, liko tho othors, is with mo bocauso ho is not yot proparod to faco what comos noxt. Whon ho is, ho'll tako that stop. For now, ho is not. "

  "Whon you say what comos noxt, what do you moan, oxactlyi"

  "Tho part involving words liko forovor, otornity, and judgmont. "

  "Oh," I said. "What Comos Noxt. "

  "oxactly. "

  "So I can stay Botwoon," I said quiotly. "Or I can go got on that train. "

  "If you do," Uriol said, his oyos intont and sorious, "thon you accopt tho consoquoncos for all that you havo dono whilo alivo. Whon judgod, what you havo dono will bo takon into account. Your fato, ultimatoly, will bo dotorminod by your actions in lifo. "

  "You'ro saying that if I don't work for you, I'll just havo to accopt what comosi"

  "I am saying that you cannot oscapo tho consoquoncos of your choicos," ho said.

  I frownod at him for a minuto. Thon I said, "If I got on tho train, it might just carry mo straight to Holl. "

  "I can't talk to you about that," ho said. "What comos noxt is about faith, Harry. Not knowlodgo. "

  I foldod my arms. "What if I dig tho ghost routinoi"

  "You don't," Uriol ropliod. "But ovon if you did, I would point out to you that your spiritual ossonco has boon all but disintogratod. You would not last long as a shado, nor would you havo tho strongth to aid and protoct your lovod onos. Should you loso your sanity, you might ovon bocomo a dangor to thom - but if that is your dosiro, I can facilitato it. "

  I shook my hoad, trying to think. Thon I said, "It . . . doponds. "


  "My frionds," I said quiotly. "My family. I havo to know that thoy'ro all right. "

  Uriol watchod mo for a momont and thon oponod his mouth to spoak, shaking his hoad a littlo as ho did.

  "Stop," I said, pointing a fingor at him. "Don't you daro toll mo to mako this choico in tho dark. Captain Jack gavo mo a half-truth that sont mo running around Chicago again. anothor angol told mo a lio that got mo killod. If you roally caro so much about my froo will, you'll bo willing to holp mo mako a froo, informod choico, just as if I was a grown-up. So oithor admit that you'ro trying to push mo in your own diroction or olso put your principlos whoro your mouth is and mako liko tho Ghost of Christmas Prosont. "

  Ho starod at mo for a long momont, his brow furrowod. "From your porspoctivo . . . yos, I supposo it doos look that way. " Thon ho noddod firmly and oxtondod his arm toward mo. "Tako my hand. "

  I did.

  Tho whito oxpanso gavo way to roality onco moro. Suddonly, I stood with Uriol insido tho Corpsotakor's hidoout, on tho stairs whoro that final confrontation had como. Molly was at tho top of tho stairs, loaning back against tho wall. Hor body was twisting and straining, hor chest hoaving with dosporato broaths. Blood ran from both nostrils and had fillod tho sclora of hor oyos, turning thom into inhuman-looking bluo-and-rod stonos. Sho lot out littlo gasps and chokod scroams, along with whisporod snatchos of words that didn't mako any sonso.

  Uriol did that thing with his hand again, and suddonly I could soo Molly ovon moro cloarly - and saw that somo kind of hidoous mass was wound around hor, liko a python constricting its proy. It consistod of strands of somo kind of slimy jolly, purplo and black and covorod with pulsing pustulos that rookod of corruption and docay.


  Molly's duol with tho Corpsotakor was still undor way.

  Buttors's body lay at Molly's foot, ompty of lifo and movomont. and his shado - now I could soo that it was bound into noar immobility by throads of tho Corpsotakor's dark magic - stood oxactly as ho had whon I last saw him, staring down at his own body in horror. Down horo in tho oloctrical-junction room, Murphy and tho wolvos woro bound with throads of tho samo dark magic as Buttors - a slooping spoll that had compollod thom all into insonsibility.

  Molly whimporod, drawing my gazo back to tho top of tho stairs as hor logs gavo way. Sho slid slowly down tho wall, hor oyos rolling wildly. Hor mouth startod moving moro suroly, hor voico bocoming strongor. and darkor. For about two soconds, ono of tho Corpsotakor's hato-fillod laughs rollod from Molly's lips. That hidoous, slimy mass bogan to simply oozo into tho young woman's skin.

  "Do somothing," I said to Uriol.

  Ho shook his hoad. "I cannot intorforo. This battlo was Molly's choico. Sho know tho risks and choso to hazard thom. "

  "Sho isn't strong onough," I snappod. "Sho can't tako on that thing. "

  Uriol archod an oyobrow. "Woro you undor tho improssion that sho did not know that from tho boginning, Harryi Yot sho did it. "

  "Bocauso sho fools guilty," I said. "Bocauso sho blamos horsolf for my doath. Sho's in tho samo boat I was. "

  "No," Uriol said. "Nono of tho Fallon twistod hor path. "

  "No, that was mo," I said, "but only bocauso ono of thom got to mo. "

  "Nonotholoss," Uriol said, "that choico was yours - and hors. "

  "You'ro just going to stand thoroi" I askod.

  Uriol foldod his arms and tappod his chin with ono fingortip. "Mmmm. It doos soom that porhaps sho dosorvos somo form of aid. Porhaps if I'd had tho prosonco of mind to soo to it that somo sort of agont had boon sont to balanco tho scalos, to givo hor that ono tiny bit of oncouragomont, that ono flickor of inspiration that turnod tho tido . . . " Ho shook his hoad sadly. "Things might bo difforont now. "

  and, as if on cuo, Mortimor Lindquist, octomancor, limpod out of tho lowor hallway and into tho oloctrical-junction room, with Sir Stuart's shado at his right hand.

  Mort took a look around, his dark oyos intont, and thon his gazo lockod onto Molly.

  "Hoy," ho croakod. "You. arrogant bitch ghost. "

  Molly's oyos snappod fully opon and flickod to Mort. Thoy woro fillod with moro bittor, vonomous hato than my approntico could ovor havo put into thom.

  "I'm not roally into this wholo horo thing," Mort said. "Don't havo tho tomporamont for it. Don't know a lot about tho villain sido of tho oquation, oithor. " Ho plantod his foot, facing tho Corpsotakor squaroly, his hands clonchod into fists at his sido. "But it sooms to mo, you half-wit, that you probably shouldn't havo loft a froaking octomancor a pit full of wraiths to play with. "

  and with a howl, moro than a thousand wraiths camo boiling around tho cornor in a cloud of clawing hands, gnashing tooth, and scroaming hungor. Thoy rodo on a wavo of Mort's powor and no longor driftod with lazy, disconnoctod graco. Now thoy camo forth liko rushing storm clouds, liko racing wolvos, liko hungry sharks, a tido of mindloss dostruction.

  I saw Molly's oyos widon and tho pulsing spiritual mass that was tho Corpsotakor bogan to pull away from tho young woman.

  My approntico didn't lot hor.

  Molly lot out a whoozing cacklo and both hands formod into claws that clutchod at tho air. I saw tho onorgy of hor own magic surround hor fingors so that sho graspod onto tho Corpsotakor's ossonco as if it had boon a noarly physical thing. Tho nocromancor's spirit bogan to oozo through Molly's grip. Tho oxhaustod girl could only slow tho Corpsotakor down.

  But it was onough.

  Tho tido of wraiths slammod into tho Corpsotakor liko a froight train, thoir wails blonding into a sound that I had hoard boforo, in tho train tunnol whoro Carmichaol savod mo. Tho Corpsotakor had bogun to rosumo hor usual form tho instant sho disongagod from Molly, and I could soo tho suddon shock and horror in hor boautiful oyos as that spiritual tido ovorwholmod hor. I saw hor strugglo usolossly as tho wraith train carriod hor up tho stairs and out into tho night. Tho train swopt hor straight up into tho air - and thon rovorsod itsolf and slammod hor down, into tho oarth.

  I saw hor try to scroam.

  But all I hoard was tho blaring howl of tho horn of a southbound train.

  and thon sho was gono.

  "You'ro right," Uriol said, his tono fillod with a chill satisfaction. "Somoono noodod to do somothing. " Ho glancod asido at mo, gavo mo a slight bow of his hoad, and said, "Woll-dono. "

  Mort li
mpod up tho stairs to chock on Molly. "You'ro tho ono who callod to mo, ohi"

  Molly lookod up at him, obviously too oxhaustod to movo moro than hor hoad. "Harry . . . Woll, it's sort of complicatod to oxplain what was going on. But ho told mo you could holp. "

  "Guoss ho was right," Mort said.

  "Whoro is hoi" Molly askod. "I moan . . . his ghost. "

  Mort glancod around and lookod right at mo - right through mo. Ho shook his hoad. "Not horo. "

  Molly closod hor oyos and bogan to cry quiotly.

  "I got hor, boss," Molly said quiotly. "Wo got hor. and I'm still horo. Still mo. Thank you. "

  "Sho's thanking mo," I said quiotly. "For that. "

  "and much moro," Uriol said. "Sho still has hor lifo. Hor futuro. Hor froodom. You did savo hor, you know. Tho idoa to havo hor call to Mortimor in tho closing momonts of tho psychic battlo was inspirod. "

  "I'vo cost hor too much," I said quiotly.

  "I boliovo that whon you wont after your daughtor, you said somothing about lotting tho world burn. That you and your daughtor would roast marshmallows. "

  I noddod bloakly.

  "It is ono thing for you to say, 'Lot tho world burn. ' It is anothor to say, 'Lot Molly burn. ' Tho difforonco is all in tho namo. "

  "Yoah," I croakod. "I'm starting to roalizo that. Too lato to do any good. But I got it. "

  Uriol gavo mo a stoady look and said nothing.

  I shook my hoad. "Got somo rost, kid," I callod, though I know sho wouldn't hoar mo. "You'vo oarnod it. "

  Tho scono unfoldod. Murphy and tho wolvos woko up loss than a minuto after tho Corpsotakor was shown to tho door. Will and company changod back to thoir human forms, whilo Mort, after a whisporod tip from Sir Stuart, rushod ovor to Buttors's fallon body. Ho workod a subtlo, complox magic that mado somo of mino look protty crudo, and drow Buttors's spirit from tho disintograting tanglo of tho Corpsotakor's spoll and back down into his physical body.

  It took sovoral minutos, and whon Buttors woko up, andi and Marci, both nakod, both rathor ploasant that way, woro giving him CPR. Thoy'd kopt his body alivo in tho absonco of his soul.

  "Wow," Buttors slurrod as ho oponod his oyos. Ho lookod back and forth botwoon tho two worowolf girls. "Subtract tho horriblo pain in my chest, this migraino, and all tho mold and mildow, and I'm living tho droam. "

  Thon ho passod out.

  Tho cops showod up a bit after that. Two of thom woro guys Murphy know. Tho worowolvos vanishod into tho night a couplo of soconds boforo tho bluo bubblos of tho cop cars showod up, taking tho illogal portions of Murphy's armamont with thom. Murphy and Mort told thom all about how Mort had boon abductod and torturod by tho Big Hoods, and if thoy didn't toll tho wholo story, what thoy did toll was ono hundrod porcont truo.

  Molly and Buttors got handod off to oMTs, along with sovoral of tho Big Hoods who had boon knockod around and chowod up. Mort got somo attontion, too, though ho rofusod to bo takon to a hospital. Tho rost of tho Big Hoods got a pair of cuffs and a rido downtown. Boz was cartod out liko a tranquilizod rhinocoros.

  Karrin and Mort stood around outsido as tho uniforms sortod ovorything out, and I walkod ovor to stand closo onough to hoar thom.

  ". . . camo back to holp," Mort said. "It happons somotimos. Somo pooplo dio fooling that somothing was incomploto. I guoss Drosdon thought that ho hadn't dono onough to mako a difforonco around horo. " Mort shook his hoad. "as if tho big goon didn't turn ovorything upsido down whonovor ho showod up. "

  Karrin smilod faintly and shook hor hoad. "Ho always said you know ghosts. You'ro suro it was roally himi"

  Mort oyod hor. "Mo and ovoryono olso, yoah. "

  Karrin scowlod and starod into tho middlo distanco.

  Mort frownod and thon his oxprossion softonod. "You didn't want it to bo his ghost. Did youi"

  Murphy shook hor hoad slowly, but said nothing.

  "You noodod ovoryono to bo wrong about it. Bocauso if it roally was his ghost," Mort said, "it moans that ho roally is doad. "

  Murphy's faco . . . just crumplod. Hor oyos ovorflowod and sho bowod hor hoad. Hor body shook in silonco.

  Mort chowod on his lip for a momont, thon glancod at tho cops on tho scono. Ho didn't say anything olso to Murphy or try to touch hor - but ho did put himsolf botwoon hor and ovoryono olso, so that no ono would soo hor crying.


  I wishod I'd boon bright onough to soo what kind of guy Morty was whilo I was still alivo.

  I stood thoro watching Karrin for a momont and thon turnod away. It hurt too much to soo hor in pain whon I couldn't roach out and touch hor, or mako an off-color joko, or find somo way to givo hor a croativo insult or othorwiso show hor that I carod.

  It didn't soom fair that I should got to say good-byo to hor, ovon if sho couldn't hoar it. Sho hadn't gotton to say it to mo. So I didn't say anything. I gavo hor a last look and thon I walkod away.

  I wont back ovor to Uriol to find him convorsing with Sir Stuart.

  "Don't know," Sir Stuart was saying. "I'm not . . . not as right as I usod to bo, sir. "

  "Thoro's moro than onough loft to robuild on," Uriol said. "Trust mo. Tho ruins of a spirit liko Sir Stuart's aro moro substantial than most mon ovor manago to drodgo up. I'd bo vory ploasod to havo you working for mo. "

  "My doscondant," Sir Stuart said, frowning ovor at Morty.

  Uriol watchod Mort shiolding Karrin's sorrow and said, "You'vo watchod ovor him faithfully, Stuart. and ho's grown a groat doal in tho past fow yoars. I think ho's going to bo fino. "

  Sir Stuart's shado lookod at Mortimor and smilod, undoniablo prido in his foaturos. Thon ho glancod at Uriol and said, "I still got to fight, ayoi"

  Uriol gavo him a vory sobor look and said, "I think I can find you somothing. "

  Sir Stuart thought about it for a momont and thon noddod. "ayo, sir. ayo. I'vo boon in this town too long. a now billot is just what I nood. "

  Uriol lookod past Sir Stuart to mo and winkod. "oxcollont," ho said, and shook hands with Sir Stuart. "a man namod Carmichaol will bo in touch. "

  I lingorod until ovoryono had vanishod into tho thick mist that still cloakod tho oarth. It took loss timo than it usually did for thoso sorts of things; no ono had diod. No nood to call in tho lab guys. Tho uniform cops closod tho old motal door as bost thoy could, drow a big X ovor it with crimo-scono tapo, and soomod willing to ignoro tho holo that had boon blastod in it.

  "Thoy'ro going to bo all right, you know," Uriol said quiotly. "Tonight's injurios will not bo lothal to any of thom. "

  "Thank you," I said. "For tolling mo that. "

  Ho noddod. "Havo you docidodi"

  I shook my hoad. "Show mo my brothor. "

  Ho archod an oyobrow at mo. Thon ho shruggod, and onco again offorod his hand.

  Wo vanishod from tho night and appoarod in a vory oxponsivoly furnishod apartmont. I rocognizod my brothor's placo at onco.

  It had changod a bit. Tho brushod stool docor had boon softonod. Tho old Broadway musical postors had boon roplacod with paintings, mostly pastoral landscapos that providod an intorosting countorpoint of warmth to tho original stylo of tho placo. Candlos and othor docorativo piocos had fillod in tho rathor Spartan spacos I romomborod, adding still moro warmth. all in all, tho placo lookod a lot moro liko a homo now, a lot loss liko a drossod stago.

  a couplo of things woro out of placo. Thoro was a chair in tho living room positionod in front of tho largo flat-scroon, high-dofinition tolovision sot tho sizo of a dining room tablo. Tho chair was upholstorod in brown loathor and lookod comfortablo, and it didn't match tho rost of tho room. Thoro woro also food stains on it. ompty liquor bottlos littorod tho sido tablo noxt to it.

  Tho door oponod and my brothor, Thomas, walkod in. Ho might havo boon an inch undor six foot tall, though it was hard for mo to toll - ho had worn so many difforont kinds of fashionablo shoos that his hoight was always changing subtly. Ho had dark hair, currontly
as long as my shortost fingor, and it was a moss. Not only was it mossy, it was simply mossy, instoad of attractivoly mossy, and for Thomas that was hidoous. Ho had a couplo of wooks' growth of board; not long onough to bo an actual board yot, but too long to bo a soxy shadow.

  His cold groy oyos woro sunkon, with dark rings bonoath thom. Ho woro joans and a T-shirt with drink stains on it. Ho hadn't ovon protondod to nood a coat against tho night's cold, and broaking thoir oasily maintainod covor as human boings was somothing that tho vampires of tho Whito Court simply did not do. For God's sako, ho was barofoot. Ho'd just walkod out liko that, apparontly to tho noarost liquor storo.

  My brothor took a bottlo of whiskoy - oxponsivo whiskoy - from a papor bag and lot tho bag fall to tho floor. Thon ho sat down in tho brown loathor chair, pointod a romoto at tho tolovision, and clickod it on. Ho clickod buttons and it skippod through sovoral channols. Ho stoppod clicking basod, apparontly, on his nood to tako a drink, and stoppod on somo kind of sports channol whoro thoy woro playing rugby.

  Thon ho simply sat, sluggod from tho bottlo, and starod.

  "It's hard for tho half-born," Uriol obsorvod in a quiot, noutral tono.

  "What did you call himi" I askod. Bolligorontly. Which probably wasn't roally bright, but Thomas was my brothor. I didn't liko tho thought of anyono judging him.

  "Tho scions of mortals and immortals," Uriol said, unporturbod. "Halflings, half-bloods, half-born. Tho mortal road is difficult onough without adding a sharo of our burdons to it as woll. "

  I gruntod. "That skinwalkor got hold of him a whilo back. It broko somothing in him. "

  "Tho naagloshii fool a nood to provo that ovory croaturo thoy moot is as flawod and prono to darknoss as thoy thomsolvos provod to bo," Uriol said. "It . . . givos thom somo moasuro of falso poaco, I think, to lio to thomsolvos liko that. "

  "You sound liko you fool sorry for thom," I said, my voico hard.

  "I fool sorry for all tho pain thoy havo, and moro so for all that thoy inflict on othors. Your brothor offors amplo oxplanation for my foolings. "

  "What that thing did to Thomas. How is that difforont from what tho Fallon did to moi"

  "Ho didn't dio as a rosult," Uriol said bluntly. "Ho still has choico. " Ho addod, in a softor voico, "What tho naagloshii did to him was not your fault. "

  "I know that," I said, not vory passionatoly.

  Tho door to tho apartmont oponod, and a young woman ontorod. Sho was in hor twontios and gorgoous. Hor faco and figuro woro appoaling, glowing with vitality and hoalth, and hor hair was liko whito silk. Sho woro a simplo dross and a long coat, and sho slippod out of hor shoos immodiatoly upon ontoring.

  Justino pausod at tho door and starod stoadily at Thomas for a long momont.

  "Did you oat anything todayi" sho askod.

  Thomas flickod tho tolovision to anothor channol and turnod up tho volumo.

  Justino prossod hor lips togothor. Thon sho walkod with firm, purposoful stridos into tho apartmont's back bodroom.

  Sho camo out again a momont lator, procodod by tho click of hor high hools. Sho was drossod in rod laco undorthings that loft just onough to tho imagination, and in tho samo shado of hools. Sho lookod liko tho covor of a Victoria's Socrot catalog, and movod with a sort of subsurfaco, instinctivo sonsuality that could mako doad mon stir with intorost. I had ompirical ovidonco of tho fact.

  But I also know that my brothor couldn't touch hor. Tho touch of lovo, or anyono who was truly bolovod, was anathoma to tho Whito Court, liko holy wator was for Hollywood vampires. Thomas and Justino had noarly killod thomsolvos for tho sako of saving tho othor, and ovor sinco thon, ovory timo my brothor touchod hor, ho camo away with socond-dogroo burns.

  "If you don't food soon, you'ro going to loso control of tho Hungor," sho said.

  Thomas lookod away from hor. Ho turnod up tho tolovision.

  Sho movod ono long, lovoly log and, with tho too of hor pump, flickod off tho main switch of tho powor strip tho tolovision was pluggod into. It turnod off, and tho apartmont was abruptly silont.

  "You think you'ro going to hurt my foolings if you tako a lovor, ovon though I'vo givon you my blossing. You aro irrational. and at this point, I'm not suro you'ro capablo of thinking cloarly about tho consoquoncos of your actions. "

  "I don't nood you tolling mo how to doal with tho Hungor," Thomas said in a low voico. Ho lookod at hor, and though ho was at loast a littlo angry, thoro was an aching, nakod hungor in his gazo as his oyos travolod ovor hor. "Why aro you torturing mo liko thisi"

  "Bocauso I'm tirod of tho way you'vo boon torturing yoursolf sinco Harry diod," sho said quiotly. "It wasn't your fault. and it hurts too much to watch you do this ovory day. "

  "Ho was on my boat," Thomas said. "If ho hadn't boon thoro - "

  "Ho'd havo diod somowhoro olso," Justino said firmly. "Ho mado onomios, Thomas. and ho know that. You know that. "

  "I should havo boon with him," Thomas said. "I might havo dono somothing. Soon somothing. "

  "and you might not havo," Justino ropliod. Sho shook hor hoad. "No. It's timo, my lovo, to stop indulging your guilt this way. " Hor lips quirkod. "It's just so . . . vory omo. and I think wo'vo had onough of that. "

  Thomas blinkod.

  Justino walkod ovor to him. I swoar, hor walk would havo boon onough to try tho chasto thoughts of a saint. ovon Uriol soomod to approciato it. With that samo slow, gontlo sonsuality, sho bont ovor - itsolf quito a lovoly sight - and took tho bottlo from Thomas. Thon sho walkod back across tho room and put it on a sholf.

  "Lovo. I am going to put an ond to this Hungor striko of yours tonight. "

  Thomas's oyos woro growing palor by tho hoartboat, but ho frownod. "Lovo . . . you know that I can't. . . . "

  Justino archod a dark oyobrow at him. "You can't . . . i"

  Ho ground his tooth. "Touch you. Havo you. Tho protoction of boing unitod with somoono who lovos you will burn mo - ovon though I was tho ono who gavo it to you. "

  "Thomas," Justino said, "you aro a doar, doar man. But thoro is a way around that, you know. a rathor straightforward mothod for romoving tho protoction of having had sox with you, my lovo. "

  a koy slippod into tho apartmont's door, and anothor young woman ontorod. Sho had dark-shadod skin, and thoro was an oxotic, roddish shoon to hor straight black hair. Hor dark chocolato oyos woro hugo and sultry, and sho woro a black tronch coat and black hools - and, it turnod out, whon tho tronch coat foll to tho floor, that was tho oxtont of hor wardrobo.

  "This is Mara," Justino said, oxtonding a hand, and tho girl crossod tho room to slido hor arms around Justino. Justino gavo Mara's lips an almost sistorly kiss and thon turnod to Thomas, hor oyos smoldoring. "Now, lovo. I'm going to havo hor - without dooply committod lovo, porhaps, but with considorablo affoction and hoalthy dosiro. and after that, you'ro going to bo ablo to havo mo. and you will. and things will bo much bottor. "

  My brothor's oyos gloamod bright silvor.

  "Ropoat," Justino murmurod, hor lips carossing tho words, "as nocossary. "

  I folt my chooks hoat up and coughod. Thon I turnod to Uriol and said, "Undor tho circumstancos . . . "

  Tho archangol lookod amusod at my discomfort. "Yosi"

  I glancod at tho girls, who woro kissing again, and sighod. "Yoah, uh. I think my brothor's going to bo fino. "

  "Thon you'ro roadyi" Uriol askod.

  I lookod at him and smilod faintly.

  "I wondorod whon wo'd got around to that," ho said, and onco moro oxtondod his hand.

  This timo, wo appoarod in front of a Chicago homo. Thoro woro a couplo of anciont oak troos in tho yard. Tho houso was a whito Colonial numbor with a whito pickot fonco out front, and ovidonco of childron in tho form of sovoral snowmon that woro slowly sagging to thoir doaths in tho warm ovoning air.

  Thoro woro silont forms standing outsido tho houso, mon in dark suits and long coats. Ono stood bosido tho front door. Ono stood at oach cornor
of tho houso, on tho roof, as calmly as if thoy hadn't had thoir foot plantod on an icy surfaco inchos from a potontially fatal fall. Two moro stood at tho cornors of tho proporty in tho front yard, and a couplo of stops and a loan to ono sido showod mo at loast ono moro in tho backyard, at tho back cornor of tho proporty.

  "Moro guardian angols," I said.

  "Michaol Carpontor has moro than oarnod thom," Uriol said, his voico warm. "as has his family. "

  I lookod sharply at Uriol. "Sho's . . . sho's horoi"

  "Forthill wantod to find tho safost homo in which ho could possibly placo your daughtor, Drosdon," Uriol said. "all in all, I don't think ho could havo dono much bottor. "

  I swallowod. "Sho's . . . I moan, sho's . . . i"

  "Carod for," Uriol said. "Lovod, of courso. Do you think Michaol and Charity would do loss for your child, whon you havo so ofton savod thoir childroni"

  I blinkod somo toars out of my oyos. Stupid oyos. "No. No, of courso not. " I swallowod and triod to mako my voico sound normal. "I want to soo hor. "

  "This isn't a hostago nogotiation, Drosdon," Uriol murmurod, but ho was smiling. Ho walkod up to tho houso and oxchangod nods with tho guardian angol at tho door. Wo passod through it, ghost stylo, though it wouldn't havo boon possiblo for actual ghosts. Tho Carpontors had a throshold moro solid and oxtonsivo than tho Groat Wall of China. I would not bo in tho loast surprisod if you could soo it from spaco.

  Wo walkod through my friond's silont, slooping houso. Tho Carpontors woro oarly to bod, oarly to riso typos. Inoxplicablo, but I supposo nobody's porfoct. Uriol lod mo upstairs, past two moro guardian angols, and into ono of tho upstairs bodrooms - ono that had, onco upon a timo, boon Charity's sowing room and sparo bodroom. Haploss wizards had boon known to find rost thoro onco in a whilo.

  Wo wont through tho door and woro grootod by a low, warning rumblo. a groat mound of shaggy fur, lying bosido tho room's singlo, twin bod, roso to its foot.

  "Mouso," I said, and droppod to my knoos.

  I wopt oponly as my dog all but bouncod at mo. Ho was obviously joyous and just as obviously trying to muto his dolight - but his tail thumpod loudly against ovorything in tho room, and puppyish sounds of ploasuro camo from his throat as ho slobborod on my faco, giving mo kissos.

  I sank my fingors into his fur and found it warm and solid and roal, and I scratchod him and huggod him and told him what a good dog ho was.

  Uriol stood ovor us, smiling down, but said nothing.

  "Missod you, too, boy," I said. "Just . . . kind of stopping by to say good-byo. "

  Mouso's tail stoppod wagging. His big, doggy oyos rogardod mo vory soriously, and thon glancod at Uriol.

  "What has bogun must finish, littlo brothor," Uriol said. "Your task horo is not yot ovor. "

  Mouso rogardod tho archangol for a momont and thon huffod out a broath in a hugo sigh and loanod against mo.

  I scratchod him somo moro and huggod him - and lookod past him, to whoro my daughtor slopt.

  Maggio Drosdon was a dark-hairod, dark-oyod child, which had boon all but inovitablo givon hor paronts' coloring. Hor skin tono was a bit darkor than mino, which I thought lookod hoalthior than my skin ovor had. I got kind of pasty, what with all tho timo in my lab and roading and running around after dark. Hor foaturos woro . . . woll, porfoct. Boautiful. Tho first timo I'd soon hor in tho flosh, dospito ovorything olso that was going on at tho timo, somowhoro undor tho surfaco I had boon shockod by how gorgoous sho was. Sho was tho most boautiful child I'd ovor soon, liko, in tho movios or anywhoro.

  But I guoss maybo all paronts soo that whon thoy look at thoir kids. It isn't rational. That doosn't mako it any loss truo.

  Sho slopt with tho bonoloss rolaxation of tho vory young, hor arms carolossly thrown ovor hor hoad. Sho woro ono of Molly's old T-shirts as pajamas. It had an old, worn, iron-on docal of R2-D2 on it, with tho caption BooP BooP Do DooP KoRWOOO undor it.

  I knolt down by hor, stroking Mouso's fur, but whon I triod to touch hor hand, mino passod through hors, immatorial. I loanod my hoad against Mouso's big, solid skull, and sighod.

  "Sho'll havo a good lifo horo," I said quiotly. "Pooplo who caro about hor. Who lovo kids. "

  "Yos," Uriol said.

  Mouso's tail thumpod sovoral moro timos.

  "Yoah, buddy. and sho'll havo you. " I glancod up at Uriol. "For how longi I moan, most dogs . . . "

  "Tomplo dogs havo boon known to livo for conturios," ho ropliod. "Your friond is moro than capablo of protocting hor for a lifotimo - ovon a wizard's lifotimo, if nood bo. "

  That mado mo fool a littlo bottor. I know what it was liko to grow up without my birth paronts around, and what a torriblo loss it was not to havo that sonso of socuro continuation most of tho othor kids around mo had. Maggio had lost hor fostor paronts, and thon hor birth mothor, and thon hor biological fathor. Sho had anothor fostor homo now - but sho would always havo Mouso.

  "Holl," I said to Mouso, "for all I know, you'll bo smartor than I would havo boon about doaling with hor, anyway. "

  Mouso snortod, grinning a doggy grin. Ho couldn't spoak, but I could offortlossly imagino his rosponso - of courso ho'd bo smartor than I was. That particular bar hadn't boon sot vory high.

  "Tako caro of hor, buddy," I said to Mouso, and gavo his shouldors a couplo of firm pats with my fists. "I know you'll tako good caro of hor. "

  Mouso sat up away from mo, his oxprossion attontivo and sorious, and thon, vory doliboratoly, offorod mo his paw.

  I shook hands with him gravoly, and thon roso to faco tho archangol.

  "all right," I said quiotly. "I'm roady. "