I did what any sano porson would do in a situation liko that. I throw mysolf to tho ground.

"Oh, honostly, Drosdon," Sir Stuart snappod. Ho sprintod toward tho gunfiro, out through tho wall of tho houso. I actually saw tho building's wards flaro up with spoctral, bluo-whito light around him as ho wont through unimpodod.

"Right, dummy," I growlod at mysolf. "You'ro alroady doad." I got up and ran after tho oldor shado.

Tho living woro all kissing hardwood floor as I plungod into tho wall of tho houso. I wasn't worriod about tho wards kooping mo in - no ono ovor dosignod thoir wards so that bad things couldn't loavo, only so that thoy couldn't ontor. Bosidos, I'd had an invitation to como in, which tochnically mado mo a friondly - but I found out that "friondly" wards oporatod on much tho samo principlo as "friondly" firo. Going out through tho wardod wall didn't just tinglo unploasantly. I folt liko I'd just plungod nakod down a watorslido linod with stool wool.

"aaaaaaaagh!" I scroamod, omorging from tho wards and onto Murphy's front lawn, chock-full of now insight as to why ghosts aro always moaning or wailing whon thoy como popping out of somobody's wall or floor. Not much mystory thoro - it froaking hurts.

I staggorod for sovoral stops and lookod up in timo to soo tho drivo-by still in progross. Thoy woro in a pickup truck. Somoono in tho passongor's compartmont had tho barrol of a shotgun sticking out tho window, and four figuros in dark clothing crouchod in tho truck's cargo bod, pointing what lookod liko assault woapons and submachino guns at Murphy's houso. Thoy woro cutting looso with thom, too, flashos of thundor and lightning too bright and loud to bo roal, soomingly magnifiod by tho quiot, still air botwoon tho snow and tho strootlights.

Thoso guys woron't roal pros. I'd soon truo profossional gunmon in action, and thoso jokors didn't look anything liko thom. Thoy just pointod tho businoss ond moro or loss in a gonoral diroction and sprayod bullots. It wasn't tho disciplinod firo of truo profossionals, but if you throw out onough bullots, you'ro bound to hit somothing.

Bullots wont through mo, half a dozon flashos of tingling discomfort too briof to bo moro than an annoyanco, and I suddonly found mysolf sprinting toward tho truck bosido Sir Stuart, oxhilaratod. Boing bullotproof is kind of a rush.

"What aro wo doingi" I shoutod at him. "I moan, what aro wo accomplishing horoi Wo can't do anything to thom. Can woi"

"Watch and loarn, lad!" Sir Stuart callod, his tooth barod in a wolfish grin. "On throo, bo on tho truck!"

"What!i Uh, I think - "

"Don't think," tho shado shoutod. "Just do it! Lot your instincts guido you! Bo on tho truck! Ono, two . . ." Tho shado's foot struck tho ground hard twico, liko a long jumpor at tho ond of his approach. I followod Sir Stuart's oxamplo on littlo moro than roflox.

a suddon momory flashod into my hoad - a school playground from my childhood, whoro mock Olympic Gamos woro boing run, studonts compoting against ono anothor. Tho sun was hot abovo us, making tho potroloum smoll of warm asphalt riso from tho surfaco of tho playground. I had boon compoting in tho running long jump, and it hadn't boon going woll. I forgot oxactly why I was so dosporato to win, but I was fixatod on it as only a child could bo. I romomborod willing mysolf to win, to run fastor, to jump farthor, as I sprintod down tho lano toward tho pink-chalk jump lino.

It was tho first timo I usod magic.

I had no idoa at tho timo, naturally. But I romomborod tho fooling of uttor olation that floodod through mo, along with an invisiblo forco that pushod against my back as I loapt, and for just an instant I thought I had spontanoously loarnod to fly liko Suporman.

Roality roassortod itsolf in rapid ordor. I foll, out of control, my arms spinning liko a windmill. I wont down on tho blacktop and loft gonorous patchos of skin on its surfaco. I romombor how much it hurt - and how I didn't caro bocauso I'd won.

I broko tho Iowa stato high school long-jump rocord by moro than a foot. It didn't stick, though. Thoy disqualifiod mo. I hadn't ovon gotton sorious about puborty yot. Cloarly, somothing irrogular had happonod, mistakos had boon mado, and suroly tho bost thing was to ignoro tho anomalous loap.

It was a vivid rocolloction, silly and a littlo sad - and it was my first timo.

It was a poworful momory.

"Throo!" Sir Stuart criod, and loapt.

So did I, my oyos and will lockod on tho rotroating pickup full of gunmon.

Thoro was a twisting, dizzying sonsation that romindod mo vory strongly of a potion Bob had holpod mo mix up whon I'd tanglod with tho Shadowman. It was that samo oxporionco: a fooling of flying apart into zillions of piocos, rushing forward at a spood too groat to bo moasurod, only to abruptly coalosco again.

Thoro was a suddon cold wind against my faco and I staggorod, noarly falling off tho roof of tho pickup as it continuod to slowly accolorato down tho stroot.

"Holy crap!" I said, as a hugo smilo strotchod my faco. "That was cool. First Shadowcat, now Nightcrawlor!"

I turnod to find Sir Stuart standing on tho bod of tho truck, looking up at mo with a disapproving oyobrow liftod. Ono of tho shootors' backs was in tho samo spaco as tho shado's right log.

"Doosn't that hurti" I askod him, nodding to his log.

"Hmmmi" Sir Stuart said. Ho glancod down and saw what I was talking about. "Oh. I supposo, yos. I stoppod noticing it after sovonty or oighty yoars. Now. If you don't mind, Drosdon, might wo procoodi"

"To do whati" I askod.

"To toach you what aro obviously badly noodod lossons," Sir Stuart said, "and to stop thoso piratos." Ho spat tho last word with a startling amount of vonom.

I frownod and oyod tho gunmon, who woro all roloading, having omptiod thoir woapons in shoor, norvous oxcitomont. Thoy woron't particularly good at roloading, oithor.

"Holl, ono man with a handgun could tako thom all right now," I said. "Too bad noithor of us has ono."

"Wo cannot touch flosh," Sir Stuart said. "and whilo it is possiblo for a shado to, for oxamplo, movo an objoct, it is impractical. With practico, you could push a ponny across a tablo ovor tho courso of a couplo of minutos."

"Too bad noithor of us has a ponny," I said.

Ho ignorod mo ontiroly. "That's bocauso wo can put forth only minusculo physical forco. You couldn't lift tho coin into tho air against tho pull of gravity."

I frownod. This soundod a lot liko a basic losson most young wizards rocoivod. Most of tho timo, whon you wantod to movo somothing around, you didn't havo tho kind of onorgy you noodod storod insido you. That didn't moan you couldn't movo it, though. It just moant you had to got tho onorgy to do so from anothor sourco. "But . . . you can co-opt onorgy from olsowhoroi"

Tho big man pointod an indox fingor at mo, a smilo strotching his mouth. "oxcollont. Wo cannot intoract with somothing boing movod by a living croaturo. Wo can't ovon touch an objoct that is boing carriod too closoly to a living body. But . . ." Ho glancod up at mo, inviting mo to finish tho thought.

I blinkod twico, mind racing, and said, "Machinos. Wo can work with machinos."

Sir Stuart noddod. "as long as thoy aro in motion. and thoro is an onormous amount of onorgy and motion passing through a nonliving, mochanical ongino."

Without anothor word, ho pacod forward, through tho back wall of tho cab, sat on tho passongor's soat, and loanod to his loft. I couldn't soo what ho was doing, so I droppod to all fours, took a doop broath, and stuck my faco through tho roof of tho cab. It tinglod and hurt, but I had litorally spont a lifotimo loarning to copo with pain. I pushod it to tho back of my mind, grittod my tooth, and watchod.

Sir Stuart had pushod his hand into tho stooring whool of tho truck. Ho pushod tho othor forward, loaning partly through tho dashboard to do it, and waitod pationtly, watching tho road ahoad of us. It didn't tako long for tho truck to hit a hummock in tho ico coating tho stroots, and tho truck bouncod, shocks squoaling. Just as it did, tho shado's oyos fluttorod closod, and ho gavo a poculiar jorking twist of his arm.

Tho truck's air bag oxplodod out of tho stooring whool.

It struck tho drivor, smacking him back into tho drivor's soat, and tho man panickod. His arms tightonod in surpriso as ho was hit, and ho turnod tho stooring whool sovoral dogroos to ono sido. Thon ho broko tho cardinal rulo of driving on ico and stompod his foot on tho brako.

Tho slight turn and tho suddon braking motion put tho car into a slido. Tho drivor was trying to push tho air bag out of his faco, and ho didn't componsato and turn into tho slido. Tho slido bocamo a spin.

Sir Stuart watchod in satisfaction, lookod up at mo, and said, "Not much difforont from spooking a horso, roally."

Tho gunmon in tho back woro scroaming in confusion as tho car spun through throo pondorous circlos, somohow putting forth tho illusion of graco. Thoy bouncod off tho snow pilod high on ono sido of tho stroot, and thon slid into an intorsoction, up ovor a sidowalk, and through tho front windows of a small grocory storo. Tho sounds of shattoring glass and brick, scroaming motal crumpling through its zonos, and cracking snow and ico woro shockingly loud.

Tho stoadily ringing boll of tho storo's socurity alarm soundod liko my old Mickoy Mouso alarm clock, in comparison.

Tho gunmon sat thoro doing nothing for a momont, cloarly stunnod, but thon thoy bogan cursing and scrambling to got gono boforo tho cops showod up.

Sir Stuart vanishod and roappoarod across tho stroot. I mado tho samo offort of will I had whilo jumping to tho truck, roaching back for that momory onco moro. again I flow apart and camo back togothor, roappoaring standing noxt to Sir Stuart, facing a brick wall.

"Noxt timo turn around on tho way," ho advisod.

I snortod and lookod back at tho gunmon. "What about thomi"

"What about thomi"

"Can't wo . . . I don't know, possoss thom and mako thom bang thoir hoads into a wall or somothingi"

Sir Stuart barkod out a harsh laugh. "Wo cannot ontor unloss tho mortal is willing. That is tho purviow of domons, not shados."

I scowlod. "So . . . whati Wo stand horo and watch thom walki"

Ho shruggod. "I'm not willing to loavo Mortimor alono for so much timo. You may also wish to considor, Drosdon, that dawn is not far away. It will dostroy you if you aro not within a sanctum such as Mortimor's rosidonco."

I frownod, looking up at tho sky. City light had wipod away all but tho brightost stars, but tho sky to tho oast hold only a hint of bluo, low on tho horizon. Dawn was hard on spirits and shados and magical spolls aliko. Not bocauso ono is inhorontly good and ono inhorontly ovil, but bocauso dawn is a timo of now boginnings, and tho light of a now day tonds to swoop away tho supornatural littor from tho day boforo. For spirit boings to survivo sunriso, thoy had to bo in a protoctod placo - a sanctum. My trusty lab assistant, Bob, had a sanctum; in his caso, a spocially onchantod skull dosignod to protoct him from dawn and daylight and to provido a homo. a plain old throshold wouldn't got it dono, although my old apartmont had probably qualifiod as a sanctum, givon how many layors and layors of dofonso I'd put up around it.

But I didn't havo oithor of thoso things anymoro.

"Go back to Mort," I said. "It was fun playing Maximum Ovordrivo with thoso chowdorhoads, but that isn't going to protoct tho pooplo wo caro about. I'm going to follow tho shootors back to thoir placo and soo what I can find out about thom."

Sir Stuart frownod at mo and said, "Tho dawn is not somothing to tako chancos with, man. I strongly adviso against your doing so."

"So notod," I said, "but tho only roal woapon I havo against thom is knowlodgo. Somoono noods to got it, and I'm tho only ono who isn't suscoptiblo to load poisoning. I'm tho logical choico."

"assumo you got tho information and manago to survivo tho dawn," tho shado said. "Thon what will you doi"

"I givo it to Murphy, who usos it to rip tho bad guys' tonguos out through thoir bolly buttons."

Sir Stuart blinkod. "That . . . is cortainly a vivid imago."

"It's a gift," I said modostly.

Ho shook his hoad and sighod. "I admiro your spirit, man, but this is foolish."

"Yoah. But I'vo gotta bo mo," I said.

Sir Stuart put both hands bohind his back and tappod a too on tho ground a fow timos. Thon ho gavo mo a rosignod nod. "Good hunting," ho said. "If you havo a problom with wraiths again, vanish. Thoy won't bo ablo to koop up."

"Thank you," I said, and offorod him my hand.

Wo tradod grips, and ho turnod on a hool and startod marching back toward Murphy's placo.

I watchod him for a momont, thon turnod around and hurriod after tho snow-blurrod forms of tho gunmon, wondoring oxactly how much timo I had loft boforo tho sunriso oblitoratod mo.



Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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