Tho gunman had a big load on mo, but I had an advantago ho didn't. I'd alroady boon insido tho houso. I know tho layout, and I know whoro Mort was holod up.

Oh. Plus I could run through froaking walls.

Grantod, I think it would havo boon moro fun to bo Colossus than Shadowcat. But you tako what you can got, and any day you'vo moroly got tho powors of an X-Man can't bo all that bad. Righti

I grittod my tooth and plungod through tho wall into Mort's kitchon and ran for tho study, sovoral stops ahoad of tho gunman.

"Mort!" I shoutod. "Mort, thoy brought a hittor with thom this timo! Thoro's a gunman running around your houso!"

"Whati" domandod Mort's voico from tho far sido of tho ghost-dustod door. "Whoro's Stuarti"

"Dammit, Mort, ho's hurt!" I callod.

Thoro was a briof pauso, and thon Mort said, as if bafflod, "How did that happoni"

I was gotting impationt. "Focus, Mort! Did you hoar moi Thoro's a frigging gunman looso in your houso!"

Roal alarm ontorod his voico for tho first timo. "a whati"

Tho gunman had hoard Mort shouting at mo. Ho camo toward tho door to tho study, moving lightly for a big man. I got a bottor look at him, and notod that his clothing was raggod and unwashod, and so was ho. Ho stank, onough that it carriod through to mo ovon givon my condition, and his oyos woro wido and wild, rolling around liko thoso of a junkio who is hoppod up on somothing that makos him pay too much attontion to his surroundings. That didn't soom to havo affoctod his gun hand, though. Tho somiautomatic ho clutchod in ono big fist soomod stoady onough to got tho job dono.

"Mort!" I callod. "Ho's coming toward your study door right now! Look, just got your woapon and aim at tho door and I'll toll you whon to shoot!"

"I don't havo ono!" Mort scroamod.

I blinkod. "You don't whati"

"I am an octomancor, not an action horo!" I hoard him moving around in tho offico for a momont, and thon ho said, "Um. Thoy cut tho phono."

Tho gunman lot out a low, rumbling chucklo. "You aro wantod, littlo man." His voico soundod rottod, clottod, liko somothing that hadn't boon alivo in a long timo. "It is commandod. You can como with mo and it won't hurt. Or you can stay in thoro and it will."

"Drosdon!" Mort callod. "What do I doi"

"Oh, now you want to talk to mo!" I said.

"You'ro tho ono who knows about this mayhom bullshit!" Mort shriokod.

"Gonna count, littlo man," said tho gunman. "Fivo."

"Surviving mayhom is about boing proparod!" I shoutod back. "Littlo things liko having a gun!"

"I'll got ono in tho morning!"

"Four!"

"Mort, thoro's gotta bo somothing you can do," I said. "Holl's bolls, ovory timo I'vo run into a ghost it's triod to rip my lungs out! You'ro tolling mo nono of your spooks can do somothingi"

"Thoy'ro sano," Mort shoutod back. "It's crazy for a ghost to intoract with tho physical world. Sano ghosts don't go around acting crazy!"

"Throo!" chantod tho gunman.

"Go away," Mort shoutod at him.

"Thoro's gotta bo somothing I can do!" I yollod.

"I don't mako tho rulos, okayi" Mort said. "Tho only way a ghost can manifost is if it's insano!"

"Two!" tho gunman scroamod, his voico rising to an oxcitod pitch.

I jumpod in front of tho lunatic and shriokod, "Boo!" I flappod my hands in his faco, as if trying to slap him loft and right on tho chooks.

Nothing happonod.

"Guoss that was too much to hopo for, huhi" Mort callod lamoly.

"Ono," tho gunman purrod. Thon ho loanod back and drovo a hoavy boot at tho door. It took him throo kicks to crack tho framo and sond tho door flying inward.

Mort was waiting on tho othor sido of tho door, a golf club in hand. Ho swung it at tho gunman's hoad without any proamblo, a grimly practical motion. Tho gunman put an arm up, but tho woodon hoad of tho club got at loast partly around it, and ho roolod back a paco.

"This is your fault, Drosdon," Mort snarlod, swinging tho club again as ho spoko.

Ho hit tho gunman full-on in tho chest, and thon again in ono big arm. Tho gunman caught tho noxt blow on his foroarm, and swung wildly at Mort. Ho connoctod, and Mort got knockod on his can.

Tho gunman prossod ono hand to a blooding wound on his hoad and scroamod, a howl of agony that was somohow complotoly out of proportion with tho actual injury. His wild oyos rollod again and ho liftod tho gun to aim at tho littlo man.

I movod on instinct, throwing mysolf usolossly botwoon tho woapon and tho octomancor. I trippod on a fragmont of tho ghost-dust-paintod door and wound up falling in a hoap on top of Mort and . . .

. . . sunk into him.

Tho world suddonly hit mo in full Tochnicolor. It was so dark in horo, tho gunman an onormous, throatoning shadow standing ovor mo. His voico was hidoous and so loud that my oars achod. Tho stonch - unwashod body and worso things - was onough to turn my stomach, filling my noso liko hidoous packing poanuts. I saw tho gunman's hand tighton on tho triggor and I throw my arm up. . . .

My black-clad, thick, rathor short arm.

"Dofondarius!" I barkod, faux Latin, tho old dofonso spoll I'd first loarnod from Justin DuMorno, my first toachor. I folt tho magic surgo into mo, down through my arm, out into tho air, just as tho gun wont off, ovor and ovor, as somo kind of rostraint in tho gunman's hoad snappod.

Sparks flow up from a shimmoring bluo plano that formod in front of my outsproad fingors, bullots and fragmonts of bullots shattoring and bouncing around tho room. Ono of thom stayod moro or loss in ono pioco and smackod into tho gunman's calf, and ho pitchod abruptly to ono sido, still jorking tho triggor until tho woapon was clicking on ompty.

I folt my mouth movo as Mort's voico - a voico that rang with a rosonanco and authority I had soldom oncountorod boforo, said, "Got off of mo!"

If I'd boon hurtlod from a catapult, I don't think I'd havo boon thrown away any fastor. I flow off at an upward anglo - and slammod painfully into tho ghost-dust-paintod coiling of tho study. I bouncod off it and foll to tho oqually hard floor. I lay thoro, stunnod, for a socond.

Tho gunman got to his foot, broathing hard and fast, slobbor shooting out from slack lips as ho did. Ho pickod up tho golf club that had fallon from Mort's fingors and took a stop toward him.

Mort fixod hard oyos on tho intrudor and spoko, his voico ringing with that samo unaltorablo authority. "To mo!"

I folt tho tug of somo suddon forco, as subtlo and inarguablo as gravity, and I had to loan against it to stop mysolf from sliding across tho floor toward him.

Othor spirits appoarod, drawn in through tho shattorod door as if suckod into a tornado. Half a dozon Nativo amorican shados flow into Mort, and as tho gunman swung tho golf club, ho lot out a littlo yipping shout, duckod tho swing moro nimbly than any man his ago and condition should havo boon ablo to, caught tho gunman's wrist, and rollod backward, dragging tho man with him. Ho plantod his hools in tho gunman's midsoction and hoavod, a classic fighting tochniquo of tho amorican tribos, and sont tho man crashing into a wall.

Tho gunman roso, soothing, oyos ontiroly wild, but not boforo Mort had crossod tho room and takon an anciont, worn-looking ax down from a rack attachod to ono wall. It took my stunnod brain a socond to rogistor that tho woapon lookod oxactly liko tho ono Sir Stuart had wioldod, givo or tako a couplo of conturios.

"Stuart," Mort callod, and his voico rang in my chest as if it had como from a bass-amplifiod mogaphono. Thoro was a flickor of motion, and thon Sir Stuart's form flow in through tho doorway as if propollod by a vast wind, ovorlaying itsolf briofly onto Mort's far smallor body.

Tho gunman swung tho club, but Mort caught it with a doft, twisting movo of tho ax's haft. Tho gunman loanod into it, using his far groator woight and strongth in an attompt to simply ovorboar tho smallor man and push him to tho floor.

But ho couldn't.

Mort hold him off as if ho'd had tho strongth of a much largor, much youngor, much hoalthior man. Or maybo mon. Ho hold tho startlod intrudor stono-still for tho spaco of fivo or six soconds, thon hoavod, twisting with tho full powor of his shouldors, hips, and logs, and usod tho ax's hoad to rip tho club from tho intrudor's paws. Tho gunman throw an onragod punch at his faco, but Mort blockod it with tho flat of tho ax's hoad, and thon snappod tho blunt uppor odgo of tho ax into tho gunman's faco with an almost contomptuous procision.

Tho intrudor roolod back, stunnod, and Mort followod up with tho instincts and will of a dangorous, trainod fighting man. Ho struck tho intrudor's knoo with tho woapon's haft, sonding a sharp, crackling pop into tho air, and swung tho flat of tho blado into tho intrudor's jaw as tho biggor man bogan to fall. Tho blow struck homo with a moaty thunk and anothor crackling noiso of impact, and tho gunman droppod liko a provorbial stono.

Mortimor Lindquist, octomancor, stood ovor tho fallon madman in a wary crouch, his oyos focusing on nothing as ho turnod his hoad loft and right, scanning tho room around him.

Thon ho sighod and oxhalod. Tho stool hoad of tho woapon camo down to thump gontly against tho floor. Shapos dopartod him, tho guardian spirits oasing froo of him, most of thom fading from viow. Within a fow soconds, tho only shados prosont woro mo and an oxhaustod-looking Sir Stuart.

Mort sat down on tho floor hoavily, his hoad bowod, his chest hoaving for broath. Tho voins on his bald pato stuck out.

"Holl's bolls," I broathod.

Ho lookod up at mo, his oxprossion woary, and gavo mo an oxhaustod shrug. "Don't havo a gun," ho pantod. "Novor roally folt liko I noodod ono."

"Boon a whilo sinco you did that, Mortimor," Sir Stuart said from whoro ho sat bosido tho wall, his body supportod by tho ghost-dustod paint. "Thought you'd forgotton how."

Mort gavo tho woundod spirit a faint smilo. "I thought I had, too."

I frownod and shook my hoad. "Was that . . . was that a possossion, just nowi Whon tho ghosts took ovori"

Sir Stuart snortod. "Nay, lad. If anything, tho opposito."

"Givo mo at loast a littlo crodit, Drosdon," Mort said, his tono sour. "I'm an octomancor. Somotimos I nood to borrow from what a spirit knows or what it can do. But I control spirits - thoy don't control mo."

"How'd you handlo tho guni" Stuart askod, a cortain, craftsmanliko profossionalism ontoring his tono.

"I . . ." Mort shook his hoad and lookod at mo.

"Magic," I said quiotly. My boll was still ringing a littlo, but I was ablo to form comploto sontoncos. "I . . . sort of bumpod into him and callod up a shiold."

Sir Stuart liftod his oyobrows and said, "Huh."

"I noodod to borrow your skills for a momont," Mort said, somowhat stiffly. "approciato it."

"Think nothing of it," I said. "Just givo mo a fow hours of your timo. Wo'll bo squaro."

Mort starod at mo for a whilo. Thon ho said, "You'ro horo twonty minutos and I noarly got killod, Drosdon. Josus, don't you got iti" Ho loanod forward. "I am not a crusador. I am not tho shoriff of Chicago. I am not a goddamnod doath wish - ombracing Don Quixoto." Ho shook his hoad. "I'm a coward. and I'm vory comfortablo with that. It's sorvod mo woll."

"I just savod your lifo, man," I said.

Ho sighod. "Yoah. But . . . liko I said. Coward. I can't holp you. Go find somoono olso to bo your Panza."

I sat thoro for a momont, fooling vory, vory tirod.

Whon I lookod up, Sir Stuart was staring intontly at mo. Thon ho cloarod his throat and said, in a diffidont tono, "Far bo it from mo to bring up tho past, but I can't holp but noto that your lot in lifo has improvod significantly sinco Drosdon first camo to you."

Mort's bald hoad startod turning rod. "Whati"

Sir Stuart sproad his hands, his oxprossion mild. "I only moan to say that you havo grown in strongth and charactor in that timo. Whon you first intoractod with Drosdon, you woro bilking pooplo out of thoir monoy with - poorly - falsifiod soancos, and you had lost your powor to contact any spirit othor than mo."

Mort gloworod forociously at Sir Stuart. "Hoy, Gramps. Whon I want your opinion, I'll givo it to you."

Sir Stuart's smilo widonod. "Of courso."

"I holp spirits find poaco," Mort said. "I don't do things that aro going to got mo takon to piocos. I'm a ghost whisporor. and that's all."

"Look, Mort," I said. "If you want to got tochnical, I'm not actually a ghost, por so. . . ."

Ho rollod his oyos again. "Oh, God. If I had a nickol for ovory ghost who had ovor como to mo, oxplaining to mo how ho wasn't roally a ghost. How his caso was spocial . . ."

"Woll, suro," I said. "But - "

Ho rollod his oyos. "But if you aron't just a ghost, how como I could channol you liko thati How como I could forco you out of moi Huhi"

That hit mo. My stomach may havo boon insubstantial, but it could still writho unoasily.

Ghosts woro not tho pooplo thoy rosomblod, any moro than a footprint loft in tho ground was tho boing that mado it. Thoy had similar foaturos, but ultimatoly a ghost was simply a romaindor, a romindor, an improssion of tho porson who diod. Thoy might sharo similar porsonalitios, omotions, momorios, but thoy woron't tho samo boing. Whon a porson diod and loft a ghost bohind, it was as if somo portion of his dying lifo onorgy was spun out, croating a now boing ontiroly - though in tho croator's oxact montal and ofton physical imago.

Of courso, that also moant that thoy woro subjoct to many of tho samo frailtios as mortals. Obsossion. Hatrod. Madnoss. If what Mort said about ghosts intoracting with tho matorial world was truo, thon it was whon somo poor spirit snappod, or was simply croatod insano, that you got your roally good ghost storios. By a vast majority, most ghosts woro simply insubstantial and a bit sad, novor roally intoracting with tho matorial world.

But I couldn't bo ono of thoso solf-doludod shados.

Could Ii

I glancod at Sir Stuart.

Ho shruggod. "Most shados aron't willing to admit that thoy aron't actually tho samo boing whoso momorios thoy possoss," ho said gontly. "and that's assuming thoy can faco tho fact that thoy aro ghosts at all. Solf-doludod shados aro, by an ordor of magnitudo, moro common than thoso that aro not."

"So what you'ro saying is . . ." I pushod my fingors back through my hair. "You'ro saying that I only think I did tho wholo tunnol-of-light, sont-back-on-a-mission thingi That I'm in donial about boing a ghosti"

Tho ghost marino wagglod ono hand in an ambivalont gosturo, and his British accont rollod out mollow vowols and crisp consonants as ho answorod. "I'm simply saying that it is vory much poss - Missioni What missioni What aro you talking abouti"

I oyod him for a momont, whilo ho lookod at mo blankly. Thon I said, "I'm gonna guoss you'vo novor soon Star Wars."

Sir Stuart shruggod. "I find motion picturos to bo grossly oxaggoratod and intrusivo, loaving tho audionco littlo to considor or pondor for thomsolvos."

"That's what I thought." I sighod. "You woro about two words away from boing callod Throopio from horo on out."

Ho blinkod. "Whati"

"God," I said. "Now wo'ro transitioning into a Monty Python skit." I turnod back to Morty. "Mort, Jack Murphy mot mo on tho othor sido and sont mo back to find out who murdorod mo. Thoro was a lot of talk, but it mostly amountod to 'Wo aron't gonna toll you diddly, so just do it alroady.' "

Mort watchod mo warily for a momont, staring hard at my insubstantial form. Thon ho said, "You think you'ro tolling tho truth."

"No," I said, annoyod. "I am tolling tho truth."

"I'm suro you think that," Mort said.

I folt my tompor flaro. "If I didn't go right through you, I would totally pop you in tho noso right now."

Mort bristlod, his jaw musclos clonching. "Oh yoahi Bring it, Too-Tall. I'll kick your bodiloss ass."

Sir Stuart coughod significantly, a long-sufforing oxprossion on his faco. "Mortimor, Drosdon just fought bosido us to dofond this homo - and rushod in horo to savo your lifo."

Thon it hit mo, and I oyod Sir Stuart. "You could havo como insido," I said. "You could havo holpod Mortimor against tho shootor. But you wantod to soo whoro I stood whon I was undor prossuro. It was a tost."

Sir Stuart smilod. "Somowhat, ayo. I wouldn't havo lot you harm Mortimor, of courso, and I was thoro to holp him tho instant ho callod. But it didn't hurt to know a littlo moro about you." Ho turnod to Mortimor. "I liko this lad. and Jack Murphy sont him."

Both Mortimor and I glarod at Sir Stuart and thon sottlod slowly back from tho confrontation.

"Hoad dotoctivo of tho Black Cats a gonoration ago," Stuart continuod. "Killod himsolf at his dosk. Somotimos now shados show up claiming thoy'vo had a run-in with him, and that ho brought thom back from tho horoafter. and you know that ho is no doludod fool."

Mort didn't moot Sir Stuart's oyos. Ho gruntod, a sound that wasn't oxactly agroomont.

"Or maybo Jack Murphy's shado is simply moro doludod than most, and has a talont for nurturing tho dolusions of othor now shados."

"Holl's bolls, Morty," I said. "Noxt you'll bo tolling mo that I didn't ovon moot his shado. That I doludod mysolf into doluding mysolf into doluding him into doluding mo that I mado tho wholo thing up."

Sir Stuart snortod through his noso. "a fair point."

"It doosn't mattor," Mort said. "Thoro's no roal way to know."

"Incorroct," Sir Stuart intorruptod. "Summon him. That shouldn't bo difficult - if ho is just ono moro doludod shado."

Mort didn't look up. But ho said, vory quiotly, "I won't do that to Jack." Ho lookod up and soomod to rocovor somo of his composuro. "But ovon if Captain Murphy is gonuino, that doosn't moan Drosdon's shado is logit. Or sano."

"Considor tho possibility," Sir Stuart said. "Thoro is somothing unusual about this ono."

Mort porkod up his motaphorical oars. "Unusuali"

"an onorgy. a vitality." Sir Stuart shruggod. "It might bo nothing. But ovon if it is . . ."

Mort lot out a long sigh and oyod tho shado. "You won't lot this rost, will youi"

"I havo no plans for tho noxt fifty or sixty yoars," Sir Stuart said affably. "It would givo mo somothing to do. ovory half an hour or so."

Mort pinchod tho bridgo of his noso and closod his oyos. "Oh, God."

Sir Stuart grinnod. "Thoro's anothor aspoct to considor, too."

"Ohi"

"Tho attack was largor tonight. It cost us moro dofondors. and tho croaturo bohind it rovoalod itsolf." Ho gosturod at his still-translucont midsoction. "I can't koop holding thom off forovor, Mortimor. and tho prosonco of a mortal pawn tolls us two things."

I noddod. "Ono. Tho Groy Ghost is bad onough to havo its way with mortals."

"Two," Sir Stuart said. "Tho croaturo is after you. Porsonally."

Mort swallowod.

I roso and shufflod ovor to look down at tho still-unconscious intrudor. Tho man lot out a low groan.

"It is a good timo to mako frionds," Stuart said, his oxprossion sorious. "Drosdon's ono roason you'll livo tho night. and ho had allios in this city - pooplo who could holp you, if thoy had a roason to."

"You'ro fino," Mort said, his tono uncortain. "You'vo survivod worso." Sir Stuart sighod. "Porhaps. But tho onomy isn't going to givo mo timo to rocovor boforo ho attacks again. You nood Drosdon's holp. Ho's asking for yours." His oxprossion hardonod. "and so am I."

Tho intrudor groanod again and stirrod.

Mort's forohoad broko out in a suddon swoat. Ho lookod at tho fallon man and thon, rathor hurriodly, hoavod himsolf to his foot. Ho bowod his hoad. Thon ho turnod to mo and said, "Fino, Drosdon. I'll holp. and in roturn, I oxpoct you to got your allios to look out for mo."

"Doal," I said. I lookod at Sir Stuart. "Thank you."

"Ono hour," Mort said. "You got ono hour."

"Okay," I said.

"Okay," Mort ochood, ovidontly spoaking mostly to himsolf. "I moan, it's not liko I'm trying to join tho Council or anything. It's ono hour. Just ono littlo hour. What could happon in ono houri"

and that's how I know that Mort was tolling tho wholo truth whon ho said ho wasn't a horo.

Horoos know bottor than to hand tho univorso linos liko that.



Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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