Fool Moon, Page 6Jim Butcher
I entered my apartment, tossed my blasting rod, which I had recovered from the abandoned department store, into the corner next to my wizard's staff and my sword cane, and locked the door behind me. It was one of those steel-frame doors, the antiburglar kind. I bought it after a demon had come stomping into my apartment six months ago and wrecked my place.
My apartment is in the basement of a huge old rooming house that somehow managed to survive all the Chicago fires. It's made almost entirely of wood, and it creaks and groans when the wind blows, which is all the time in this city, and makes gentle, soothing music. It's a place with a history, the neighbors are quiet, and my rent is cheap - though less so than it was before the demon trashed my place.
The apartment itself is devoid of electrical devices, for reasons that should be evident by now. There is a fireplace, and a kitchenette off the main room, a little bedroom adjacent to that, and a bathroom inside the bedroom. Sunken windows are high on each of the four walls, and one is on the wall of the bathroom.
I decorate in textures more than I do in colors; there were thick rugs all over the bare stone floors, layered on top of one another in most places. Demon acid had burned away most of my furniture, and I had been obliged to scavenge secondhand stores for replacements. I like furniture with a lot of old wood and soft cloth, and I had made my purchases accordingly. Tapestries hung from my walls, the oldest tapestries that I could find, covering the bare stone. In the ruddy firelight, the oranges and browns and reds that constituted the primary colors of the decor didn't look half bad.
I went over to the fireplace and built up the fire. October in Chicago is a cold, breezy month, and my dank little haven is usually chilly until I get a fire going. I dropped a few logs on the fire, and Mister made an appearance, rubbing up against my leg and purring fondly, staggering my balance off to one side.
"Been getting into the steaks again, eh, Mister?" I said, and rubbed the big, grey cat's ears. Mister is larger than a lot of dogs. Maybe one of his parents was part wildcat. I found him in a dumpster one day when he was a kitten and he promptly adopted me. Despite my struggles, Mister had been an understanding soul, and I eventually came to realize that I was a part of his little family, and by his gracious consent was allowed to remain in his apartment. Cats. Go figure.
I fired up the wood-burning stove and prepared a quick meal of Spaghettios, grilled chicken, and toast. Mister shared in my meal, and split a can of Coke with me, as usual, and I tossed the dishes in the sink to soak before I went to my bedroom and put on my robe.
Let the wizardry commence.
I went to a spot in the far corner and moved the rug there, then lifted up the door in the floor beneath it, revealing the steep stepladder that led down to the subbasement, where I kept my lab.
I teetered down the stairs, holding a lit candle that cast a golden glow on the cheerful havoc that is my laboratory. Tables lined the walls, and the longest table filled most of the center of the room, leaving a cramped walk space around it, except for an area at the far side of the lab that I kept completely clear for my summoning circle, a ring of bright copper set into the floor. Books, notebooks, defunct ballpoint pens, broken pencils, boxes, plastic containers, old butter bowls, empty jelly jars, and plastic Baggies lay next to other containers of every size and shape that held the spices, rare stones, bones, fur, blood, oddments, jewelry, and other ingredients useful to wizardly pursuits and studies.
I reached the bottom of the ladder, stepped over a precariously balanced stack of comic books (don't ask), and started lighting the other candles that lay on dishes around the chilly room, finally bending to light up the kerosene heater that I keep down in the lab in an effort to at least blunt the cold. "Bob," I said then. "Wake up, sleepyhead. "
Up on one of the shelves, huddled in the midst of a thick stack of hardbacks, was the bleached, smooth form of a human skull, its empty eye sockets gaping. Deep in those eye sockets, there was a flickering of orange light, which grew and solidified into twin points of lambent illumination. "Sleepyhead. Oh, that's rich, Harry. With a sense of humor like that, you could make a living as a garbage man anywhere in the country. " The skull's mouth gaped open in the parody of a yawn, though I knew the spirit within, Bob, didn't feel fatigue in the same way that living beings did. I put up with his lip, so to speak - Bob had worked for several wizards over the course of a dozen mortal lifetimes, and he knew more about the nuts and bolts of magic than I ever would.
"What are we doing, now?" Bob sniggered. "More weight-loss potions?"
"Look, Bob," I said. "That was only to get me through a rough month. Someone's got to pay the rent around here. "
"All right," Bob said smugly. "You going to get into breast enhancement, then? I'm telling you, that's where the money is. "
"That isn't what magic is for, Bob. How petty can you get?"
"Ah," Bob said, his eye lights flickering. "The question is, how pretty can you get them? You aren't a half-bad wizard, Dresden. You should think about how grateful all those beautiful women will be. "
I snorted and started cleaning off a space on the center table, stacking things up to one side. "You know, Bob, some of us aren't obsessed with sex. "
Bob snorted, no easy feat for a guy with no nose or lips. "Some of us don't take a real, working body and all five senses for granted, either, Harry. When's the last time you saw Susan?"
"I don't know," I responded. "Couple weeks ago. We're both pretty busy with work. "
Bob heaved a sigh. "A gorgeous woman like that, and here you are, down in your musty old lab, getting ready to do more ridiculous nonsense. "
"Precisely," I said. "Now, shut up and let's get to work. "
Bob grumbled something in Latin, but rattled a few times to shake the dust off of the skull. "Sure, what do I know? I'm just a pathetic little spirit, right?"
"With a photographic memory, three or four hundred years' worth of research experience, and more deduction capacity than a computer, Bob, yeah. "
Bob almost seemed to smile. "Just for that, you get my best effort tonight, Harry. Maybe you're not such an idiot after all. "
"Great," I said. "I want to work up a couple of potions, and I want to know everything you know about werewolves. "
"What kind of potions, and what kind of werewolves?" Bob said promptly.
I blinked. "There's more than one?"
"Hell, Harry. We've made at least three dozen different kinds of potions down here ourselves, and I don't see why you wouldn't - "
"No, no, no," I growled at Bob. "Werewolves. There's more than one kind of werewolf?"
"Eh? More than one kind of what?" Bob tilted his skull over to one side, as though cocking an invisible hand to his ear bones.
"Werewolf, werewolf. "
"There wolf," Bob replied solemnly, his voice seething with a hokey accent. "There castle. "
I blinked at him. "Uh. What the heck are you talking about?"
"It's a joke, Harry. Stars almighty, you never get out, do you?"
I eyed the grinning skull and growled in frustration. "Don't make me come up there. "
"Okay, okay. Sheesh. Aren't we grumpy tonight?" Bob's jaws stretched in a yawn again.
"I'm working another murder case, Bob, and I don't have time to goof around. "
"Murder. Mortal business is so complicated. You never hear about murder charges in the Nevernever. "
"That's because everything there is immortal. Bob, just shut up and tell me what you know about werewolves. If there's a bunch of different flavors, tell me what they are. " I got out a notebook and a fresh pencil, then a couple of clean beakers with alcohol-flame burners to heat whatever liquid I put in them.
"All right," Bob said. "How much do you know?"
"Exactly nothing about werewolves. My teacher never covered that with me. "
Bob barked out a harsh little laugh. "Old Justin had a lousy sense of just about everything. He got what w
as coming to him, Harry, and don't let anyone on the White Council tell you any different. "
I stopped for a moment. A sudden rush of mixed feelings, anger and fear and mostly regret, washed through me. I closed my eyes. I could still see him, my teacher, dying in flames born of my will and anger. "I don't want to talk about it. "
"Hell, the Council even suspended the sentence on you. You were vindicated. Say, I wonder what ever happened to Elaine. Now there was a sweet piece of - "
"Werewolves, Bob," I said, in a very quiet, very angry voice. One hand started to hurt, and I saw that my fingers had clenched into a fist, the knuckles turning white. I turned my eyes to him, glaring.
I heard the skull make a gulping sound. And then he said, "Right. Okay. Werewolves. And, uh, which potions did you want?"
"I want a pick-me-up potion. A night's rest in a bottle. And I want something that will make me imperceptible to a werewolf. " I reached for the notebook and my pencil.
"First one's tough to do. There's nothing quite like a decent night's sleep. But we can make some super-coffee, no problem. " He spouted out the formula to me, and I noted it down as he went, my handwriting too dark and angular. I was still angry from the mere mention of my old master's name. And the welter of emotions that rushed up with my memories of Elaine wouldn't subside for an hour.
We all have our demons.
"What about the second one?" I asked the skull.
"Can't really be done," Bob said. "Wolves have just got way too much on the ball to hide from every one of their senses without doing some major work. I'm talking, like, a greater Ring of Invisibility, not just a Shadowcape or something. "
"Do I look like I'm made of money? I can't afford that. What about a partial-hiding potion, then?"
"Oh, like a blending brew? Look like an unobtrusive part of the background, something like that? I would think that would be the most useful, really. Keep you from being noticed to begin with. "
"Sure," I said. "I'll take what I can get. "
"No problem," Bob assured me, and rattled off another formula, which I jotted down. I checked the ingredients list, and thought that I had them all in stock among the countless containers on my shelves.
"Fine. I can get started on these. How much do you know about werewolves, Bob?"
"Plenty. I was in France during the Inquisition. " Bob's voice was dry (but that is to be expected, considering).
I started on the first potion, the stimulant. Every potion has eight parts. One part is a base liquid to hold the others and provide a medium for mixing. Five parts are symbolically linked to each of the five senses. One is similarly linked to the mind, and another to the spirit. The basic ingredient to the stimulant potion was coffee, while the base for the scent-masking potion was water. I got them both to boiling. "Lot of werewolfery going on then?"
"Are you kidding?" Bob said. "It was werewolf central. We had every kind of werewolf you could think of. Hexenwolves, werewolves, lycanthropes, and loup-garou to boot. Every kind of lupine theriomorph you could think of. "
"Therro-what?" I said.
"Theriomorph," Bob said. "Anything that shape-shifts from a human being into an animal form. Werewolves are theriomorphs. So are werebears, weretigers, werebuffaloes . . . "
"Buffaloes?" I asked.
"Sure. Some Native American shamans could do a buffalo. But almost everyone does predators, and until pretty recently, wolves were the scariest predator anyone around Europe could think of. "
"Uh, okay," I said. "And there's a difference between types of werewolves?"
"Right," Bob confirmed. "Mostly it depends on how you go from human form to wolf form, and how much of your humanity you retain. Don't burn the coffee. "
I turned down the flame beneath the beaker of coffee, annoyed. "I know, I know. Okay, then. How do you get to be a wolf?"
"The classic werewolf," Bob said, "is simply a human being who uses magic to shift himself into a wolf. "
"Magic? Like a wizard?"
"No," Bob said. "Well. Sort of. He's like a wizard who only knows how to cast the one spell, the one to turn him into a wolf, and knows how to get back out of it again. Most people who learn to be werewolves aren't very good at it for a while, because they keep all of their own humanity. "
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Bob said, "they can reshape themselves into the form of a wolf, but it's pretty much just topology. They rearrange their physical body, but their mind remains the same. They can think and reason, and their personality doesn't change - but they don't have a wolf's instincts or reflexes. They're used to being sight-oriented bipeds, not smell-oriented quadrupeds. They would have to learn everything from scratch. "
"Why would someone do something like that?" I said. "Just learn to turn into a wolf, I mean. "
"You've never been a peasant in medieval France, Harry," Bob said. "Life was hard for those people. Never enough food, shelter, medicine. If you could give yourself a fur coat and the ability to go out and hunt your own meat, you would have jumped at the chance, too. "
"Okay, I think I've got it," I said. "Do you need silver bullets or anything? Do you turn into a werewolf if you get bitten?"
"Bah," Bob said. "No. Hollywood stole that from vampires. And the silver-bullet thing is only in special cases. Werewolves are just like regular wolves. You can hurt them with weapons just like you can a real wolf. "
"That's good news," I said, stirring the potion. "What other kinds are there?"
"There's another version of a werewolf - when someone else uses magic to change you into a wolf. "
I glanced up at him. "Transmogrification? That's illegal, Bob. It's one of the Laws of Magic. If you transform someone into an animal, it destroys their personality. You can't transform someone else without wiping out their mind. It's practically murder. "
"Yeah. Neat, huh? But actually, most personalities can survive the transformation. For a little while at least. Really strong wills might manage to keep their human memories and personality locked away for several years. But sooner or later, they're irretrievably gone, and you're left with nothing but a wolf. "
I turned from the potions to scribble in my notebook. "Okay. What else makes a werewolf?"
"The most common way, back in France, was to make a deal with a demon or a devil or a powerful sorcerer. You get a wolf-hide belt, put it on, say the magic words, and whammy, you're a wolf. A Hexenwolf. "
"Isn't that just like the first kind?"
"No, not at all. You don't use your own magic to become a wolf. You use someone else's. "
I frowned. "Isn't that the second kind, then?"
"Stop being obtuse," Bob chided me. "It's different because you're employing a talisman. Sometimes it's a ring or amulet, but usually it's a belt. The talisman provides an anchor for a spirit of bestial rage. Nasty thing from the bad side of the Nevernever. That spirit wraps around a human personality to keep it from being destroyed. "
"A kind of insulation," I said.
"Exactly. It leaves you with your own intellect and reason, but the spirit handles everything else. "
I frowned. "Sounds a little easy. "
"Oh, sure," Bob said. "It's really easy. And when you use a talisman to turn into a wolf, you lose all of your human inhibitions and so on, and just run on your unconscious desires, with the talisman-spirit in charge of the way the body moves. It's really efficient. A huge wolf with human-level intelligence and animal-level ferocity. "
I eyed Bob, and gathered up the other ingredients for the stimulant potion: a morning donut, for taste; a cock's crow, for hearing; fresh soap, for smell; bits of a washcloth, for touch; and a beam of dawn sunshine for sight; a to-do list, for the mind; and a bit of bright, cheerful music, for the spirit; and the potion was simmering along nicely.
Bob said nothing while I added the ingredients, and when I was finished I said, "Most people don't have the strength to control a spirit like that, I'd think
. It would influence their actions. Maybe even control them. Suppress their conscience. "
"So it sounds more like you'd be creating a monster. "
"It's effective," Bob said. "I don't know about the good or the evil of the thing. That's something that only you mortals worry about. "
"What did you call this flavor again?"
"Hexenwolf," Bob said, with a strong Germanic accent. "Spell wolf. The Church declared war on anyone who chose to become a Hexenwolf, and burned a huge number of people at the stake. "
"Silver bullets?" I asked. "Bitten and turn into a werewolf?"
"Would you get off this 'bitten and turn into a werewolf' kick, Harry?" Bob said. "It doesn't work that way. Not ever. Or you'd have werewolves overrunning the entire planet in a couple of years. "
"Fine, fine," I sighed. "What about the silver bullets?"
"Don't need them. "
"All right," I said, and continued jotting down information to put together for Murphy in a report. "Hexenwolf. Got it. What else?"
"Lycanthropes," Bob said.
"Isn't that a psychological condition?"
"It might also be a psychological condition," Bob said. "But it was a reality first. A lycanthrope is a natural channel for a spirit of rage. A lycanthrope turns into a beast, but only inside his head. The spirit takes over. It affects the way he acts and thinks, makes him more aggressive, stronger. They also tend to be very resistant to pain or injury, sickness; they heal rapidly - all sorts of things. "
"But they don't actually shapeshift into a wolf?"
"Give that boy a Kewpie," Bob said. "They're just people, too, but they're awfully fierce. Ever heard of the Norse berserkers? Those guys were lycanthropes, I think. And they're born, not made. "
I stirred the stimulant potion, and made sure it was at an even simmer. "And what was the last one? Loop what?"
"Loup-garou," Bob said. "Or that was the name Etienne the Enchanter used for them, before he got burned at the stake. The loup-garou are the major monsters, Harry. Someone has cursed them to become a wolflike demon, and usually at the full moon. That someone's got to be really powerful, too, like a major heavyweight sorcerer or a demon lord or one of the Faerie Queens. When the full moon comes, they transform into a monster, go on a killing spree, and slaughter everything they come across until the moon sets or the sun rises. "
A sudden little chill went over me, and I shivered. "What else?"
"Supernatural speed and power. Supernatural ferocity. They recover from injuries almost instantly, if they become hurt at all. They're immune to poison and to any kind of sorcery that goes for their brain. Killing machines. "
"Sounds great. I guess this hasn't happened all that often? I'd have heard something by now. "
"Right," Bob said. "Not often. Usually, the poor cursed bastard knows enough to shut himself away somewhere, or to head out into the wilderness. The last major loup-garou rampage happened around Gevaudan, France, back in the sixteenth century. More than two hundred people were killed in a little more than a year. "
"Holy shit," I said. "How did they stop it?"
"They killed it," Bob said. "Here's where the silver bullets finally come in, Harry. Only a silver weapon can hurt a loup-garou, and not only that, the silver has to be inherited from a family member. Inherited silver bullets. "
"Really? Why would that work and not regular silver?"
"I don't make the laws of magic, Harry. I just know what they are and have an idea of when they're changing. That one hasn't changed. I think maybe it has something to do with the element of sacrifice. "
"Inherited silver," I mumbled. "Well. We'll just have to hope that this wasn't a loup-garou, I guess. "
"If it was a louper, you'd know," Bob said wisely. "In the middle of this town, you'd have a dozen people dead every time the full moon came around. What's going on?"
"A dozen people are dying every time the full moon comes around. " I filled Bob in on the Lobo killings, giving him all the information Murphy had given to me, and started on the next potion. Into the water went the ingredients: plastic wrap for sight; a bit of plain white cotton, for touch; a little deodorant for smell; a rustle of wind for hearing; a leaf of plain old lettuce, for taste; and finally I threw in a blank piece of paper, for the mind, and some elevator music for the spirit. The ingredients were boring. The potion looked and smelled boring. Perfect.
"Lot of dead people," Bob commented. "I'll let you know if I think of anything good. I wish I knew something else. "
"I want you to learn more," I told him. "Go out and see what else you can round up on werewolves. "
Bob snorted. "Fat chance, Harry. I'm a spirit of intellect, not an errand boy. " But when I said the word "out," Bob's eyes glittered.
"I'll pick you up some new romance novels, Bob," I offered.
Bob's teeth clicked a couple of times. "Give me a twenty-four-hour pass," he said.
I shook my head. "Forget it. The last time I let you out, you invaded a party over at Loyola and set off an orgy. "
Bob sniffed. "I didn't do anything to anyone that a keg wouldn't have done. "
"But those people didn't ask for you to get into their systems, Bob. No way. You had your fun, and I'm not letting you out again for a while. "
"Oh, come on, Harry. "
"No," I said flatly.
"It would only be one little night o - "
"No," I said again.
Bob glowered at me and demanded, "New romances. None of those tatty used ones. I want something off the bestseller list. "
"I want you back by sunrise," I countered.
"Fine," Bob snapped. "I can't believe how ungrateful you are, after everything I've done for you. I'll see if I can get someone's name. There might be a spirit or two who could get you some juicy information. " The orange lights that were his eyes glittered and then flowed out of the skull in a misty cloud of lambent illumination. The cloud flowed up the ladder and out of my laboratory.
I sighed and set the second potion to simmering. It would take another hour or two to cook the potions, and then to shove the magic into them, so I sat down with my notebook and started writing up my report. I tried to ignore the headache that was creeping up the back of my neck toward the crown of my head, but it did little good.
I had to help Murphy nail the killer, whoever it was, while avoiding any trouble with the FBI. Otherwise, she was out of a job, and even if I didn't end up in jail, I would be out of a living myself. Johnny Marcone's man had been killed, and I would be a fool to think he would stand idly by and do nothing in response. I was sure the gangster would rear his head sooner or later.
Aside from all of that, there was a monster of one kind or another lurking in the dark, and the police and the FBI had been helpless to stop it. That left only me, Harry Dresden, your friendly neighborhood wizard, to step in and do something about it. And, if the killer figured out that I was getting involved, he would doubtless start gunning for me next. My troubles were multiplying.
Hexenwolves. Werewolves. Lycanthropes. Loup-garou.
What will they think of next?