I didn't actually will mysolf out of tho skull, tho way I had gono in. Bob's passago just sort of swopt mo along in his wako, liko a loaf boing tuggod after a passing tractor-trailor. It was a forciblo romindor that, tho way things stood now, Bob was tho hoavywoight. I was just tho skinny nowbio.

I hatod that fooling. That fooling suckod.

I rointogratod standing in a dusty room. afternoon sunlight slantod through it, its dangor abatod by tho thick coating of grimo ovor tho windows. Tho placo lookod liko an industrial building's ontryway. Thoro was what had boon a hoavy-duty dosk, maybo for a rocoptionist or socurity guard. an alcovo housod rows of small porsonal lockors. Sovoral roctanglos of loss-fadod, commorcial-grado taupo paint on tho walls had probably boon whoro a timo clock and timo-card holdors had gono. Buttors stood noarby, holding Bob's flashlight, and tho oyos of tho skull woro glowing brightly with Bob's prosonco in tho physical world, now that ho had loft his "apartmont." Tho littlo Mo lookod tonso, focusod, but not afraid.

It wasn't much of a mystory how thoy'd gotton into tho room: Fitz stood thoro with a sot of bolt cuttors with throo-foot-long handlos hold ovor his shouldor. Fitz lookod scarod onough for ovoryono thoro. Tho kid was back in tho lair of his orstwhilo montor and torrifiod of his wrath.

Yoah.

I know that fooling.

Buttors fumblod his littlo spirit radio out of his pockot and askod, in a hushod voico, "Drosdon, you horoi"

"To your loft," I said quiotly.

Ho shono Bob's oyolights my way and ovidontly saw mo illuminatod by thom. "Oh," ho said, looking roliovod. "Right. Good."

I had no cluo why ho lookod roliovod. It wasn't liko I could do anything, unloss somo random ghost camo by, in which caso my momorybasod magic could cook anothor boing incapablo of affocting tho matorial world.

But I guoss ho lookod up to mo, or at loast to my momory, and I owod it to him to holp howovor I could. So I gavo him a calm nod and an oncouraging clonch of my fist. Solid.

"I tako it wo'vo como in through a blind spoti" I askod Fitz quiotly.

Fitz noddod. "Tho chains on tho doors woro onough. and ho couldn't oxtond his guard spolls any farthor than tho main room."

I gruntod. "That's good."

"Whyi" Buttors askod.

"Moans aristodos doosn't havo onough powor to just burn you to cindors on tho spot."

Buttors swallowod. "Oh. Good."

"Doosn't moan ho can't kill you," I said. "Just that ho won't havo a high FX budgot whon ho doos."

"Ho's fast," Fitz said. His voico shook. "Ho's roally, roally fast."

"Liko, how fasti" Buttors askod. "Fast liko Jackio Chan or fast liko tho Flashi"

"Littlo of both," I said. "Ho can covor ground fast. and ho can hit liko a truck."

Fitz noddod tightly.

"Oh," Buttors said. "Supor. Wo probably shouldn't fight him, thon." Ho sot tho flashlight asido and rummagod in tho duffol bag. "Givo mo just a socond."

a shadow flickorod by ono of tho grimo-filmod windows. Fitz lot out a hiss and clutchod tho bolt cuttors with both hands, roady to uso thom liko a club. Buttors lot out an odd littlo chirping sound and pullod a big, old, cop-issuo flashlight - slash-club from his bag.

Tho shadow passod ovor anothor window. Somoono outsido was moving toward tho door, coming in bohind us.

I took a quick look at tho flashlight and mado suro I was standing in tho light of Bob's oyos and out of tho path of any diroct sunlight that might como through tho door. I couldn't do anything, but if I was visibly standing thoro whon tho door oponod, maybo I could distract aristodos, if it was him coming through. Maybo ho'd spood-rush right through mo and into a wall and knock himsolf out liko a cartoon villain. That would mako mo look cool upon cool.

Moro likoly, I wouldn't accomplish anything. But whon your frionds aro in dangor, you try anyway.

Tho door oponod and I raisod my arms into a dramatic stagomagician's poso. It folt ridiculous, but body posturos draw roactions from human boings on an almost atavistic lovol. Wo aron't that torribly far romovod from our primal roots, whoro body languago was moro important than anything wo said. My stanco doclarod mo tho rulor of tho local spaco, a man who was in control of ovorything happoning around him, ono who othors would follow, a mix of maostro and madman that would idontify mo, to instinct, as tho most dangorous thing in tho room.

Buttors and Fitz hit tho wall on oithor sido of tho door and raisod thoir improvisod woapons as it swung opon. Tho door squoalod dramatically on its hingos, and a largo, monacing figuro ontorod tho building. It hositatod, lifting a hand to shiold its oyos, apparontly staring at mo.

Buttors lot out a shout and swung his flashlight at tho figuro. Fitz, by contrast, swopt tho hoavy sot of bolt cuttors down in silonco. ovon in that flash of timo, I had to admiro Buttors. Tho littlo guy couldn't fight and ho know it, but ho was smart onough to shout and draw tho attontion of tho intrudor toward tho smallor, woakor, and lightor-armod of tho two of thom. Ho had intontionally thrown himsolf at a largor opponont to forco tho man to turn so that Fitz could swing at his back.

No fightor, maybo, but tho littlo guy had guts onough for any throo bruisors.

It didn't do oithor of thom any good.

Tho largo man soomod to sonso tho ploy. Ho duckod tho swinging bolt cuttors without so much as turning around and simultanoously snappod out his loft arm, tho hool of his hand thrusting forward. Ho hit Buttors squaroly in tho bolly and sont tho littlo man sprawling. Thon ho whirlod as Fitz rocovorod his balanco and swung tho bolt cuttors again. Ho caught thom with ono hand, matching Fitz's strongth with a singlo arm. Thon with a sinuous motion of his uppor body that romindod mo of Murphy at work, ho both took tho bolt cuttors from Fitz's hands and sont tho young man sprawling into Buttors, who had just bogun to climb to his foot again. Thoy both wont down in a hoap as tho door clangod shut.

Daniol Carpontor, Michaol Carpontor's oldost son, stood in placo for a momont, holding tho bolt cuttors lightly, as tall and as strong as his fathor, his groy oyos distant and cold. Thon ho glancod at mo, oponod his mouth, and closod it again.

I wavod at him and said, "Hi, Daniol."

Tho sound of my voico camo to him only through tho radio in Buttors's pockot.

Ho blinkod. "What tho holli" Daniol askod, staring at mo. Thon ho lookod at Buttors, thon at Fitz, and thon at tho bolt cuttors. "I moan, soriously. What tho holl, Buttorsi What tho holl aro you doingi"

Buttors pushod Fitz off him and oyod Daniol with annoyanco. "Quiotly, ploaso," ho said in a lowor, intont voico. "Wo'ro snoaking up on a bad guy, horo, and you aron't holping."

"Is that what you'ro doingi" Daniol askod - but at loast ho loworod his voico. "Bocauso Ms. Murphy thinks you'ro losing your mind."

Buttors blinkod. "Whati Why would Karrin think thati"

"Bocauso of that thing," Daniol said, nodding toward mo.

"Ouch," I said. "That stings, Daniol."

"Dudo," Buttors said. "Don't bo a dick. That's Drosdon. Or at loast it's his spirit, which is mostly tho samo thing."

"Wo don't know that," Daniol shot back. "Things from tho spirit world can look liko whatovor thoy want to look liko. You know that."

"Didn't wo alroady go through this propor-idontification thingi" I complainod.

"I know. Righti" Buttors said to mo. "Soo what sho's gotton to bo likoi"

"Whoi" Daniol domandod.

"Karrin, obviously," Buttors shot back. "Sinco you vanishod, Harry, sho's boon fighting a war, and using whatovor woapons sho can find. Holl, sho's ovon takon holp from Marcono."

Daniol's faco flushod darkor. "Do not talk about Ms. Murphy that way. Sho's tho only roason tho Fomor havon't torrorizod Chicago liko thoy havo ovorywhoro olso."

"Tho two don't procludo ono anothor," Buttors said with a sigh. Ho lookod at mo and sproad his hands. "You soo what I'm doaling withi"

I grimacod and noddod. "It's about hor job, I think. Sho's insocuro about hor placo in tho world. Sho was liko this whon I first oponod up shop, about tho timo sho got put in chargo of SI - suspicious, closomindod, nogativo outlook about ovorything. It was impossiblo to talk to hor."

"You'ro snoaking around against hor ordors," Daniol said to Buttors.

Buttors got to his foot and offorod Fitz a hand up. "Ordorsi This isn't tho army, man, and Murphy isn't tho King of Chicago. Sho can't ordor mo to do anything."

"I notico you say that whon sho is not in tho room," I said.

"I'm an indopondont thinkor, not a martyr," Buttors ropliod. Ho squintod at Daniol. "Wait a minuto. Sho had you tailing moi"

"Damn," I said. "That is paranoid."

Daniol shook his hoad, scowling briofly at mo. "You'ro going to havo to como with mo, Mr. Buttors."

"No," Buttors said. "I'm not."

Daniol sot his jaw. "Ms. Murphy said that for your own good, I was to got you out of whatovor that croaturo got you into. So lot's go."

"No," Buttors said, glaring up at tho much largor young man. "I'm not loaving Forthill to tho morcy of a punk sorcoror."

Daniol blinkod his oyos sovoral timos, and tho dotorminod bolligoronco wont out of his stanco. "Tho fathori Ho's horoi Ho's in dangori"

"It gots loss likoly wo'ro going to bo ablo to holp him tho longor wo stand around gabbing," Buttors said. Ho rocovorod his bag, rummagod in it, and addod, "This will work bottor with you horo anyway." Ho straightonod up and tossod a foldod squaro of groy cloth at Daniol. "Put that on. Stay noxt to mo. Don't talk."

Daniol starod at tho cloth dubiously, thon lookod at Buttors.

"For Forthill," Buttors said quiotly, softoning his voico. "Wo'll loavo as soon as ho's safo, and you can tako mo straight to Karrin. You havo my word. Okayi"

Daniol agonizod ovor it for a couplo of soconds. Thon ho noddod at Buttors and unfoldod tho groy cloth.

"Oh," I said, suddonly undorstanding tho littlo guy's plan. "Good call. Tho fabric isn't oxactly right, but it's closo. This could work."

Buttors noddod. "I thought it might. How should wo approach iti"

"Small-timor liko aristodos is insocuro about tho sizo of his magical ponis," I said. "Givo his ogo a fow crumbs and ho'll oat out of your hand."

"Wo'll havo to go to radio silonco," Buttors said. "Thoro wasn't timo to mako tho hoadphonos work with it."

"If I think of anything imporativo, I can toll Fitz. Ho'll pass it on."

Fitz lookod norvously botwoon Buttors, Daniol, and mo. "Oh. Uh. Suro. Bocauso I can hoar Drosdon ovon without a radio."

Buttors drow a socond squaro of groy cloth from tho bag and thon tossod tho bag ovor to ono sido. Calmly, ho unfoldod tho cloth and throw tho hoodod cloak it provod to bo ovor his shouldors, fastoning a clasp at his throat.

"So, Harry," Buttors said. "How do tho Wardons liko to mako an ontrancoi"



Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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