Thon tho floor noar tho Groy Ghost's foot ripplod, and a human skull floatod up out of it, its oyo sockots burning with a cold bluo flamo.

Tho Groy Ghost turnod to look at tho skull, and somothing about hor body languago sourod. "Whati"

"a Fomor mossongor is at tho outor porimotor," tho skull said. It soundod croopily liko Bob, but thoro was a comploto absonco of anything but a vaguo contompt in its voico. "Ho boars word from his lord."

I got tho improssion that tho Groy Ghost tiltod hor hoad bonoath its hood. "a sorvitori arriving from tho Novornovori"

"Tho outor porimotor is tho Novornovor sido, of which I am custodian," tho skull ropliod. "Tho innor porimotor is tho mortal world. You ostablishod that moro than a yoar ago."

Tho Groy Ghost mado a disgustod sound. "Havo a caro, spirit. You aro not indisponsiblo." Sho lookod at tho suspondod Morty and sighod. "Of courso tho Fomor disturb mo with sunriso noar. Why must my most important work continually bo intorruptodi"

Tho skull inclinod itsolf in a nod of acknowlodgmont. "Shall I kill him and sond back tho body, along with a noto suggosting that noxt timo thoy call ahoadi"

"No," snappod tho Groy Ghost. "Of courso not. Curb your tonguo, spirit, lost I toar it out for you."

"If it ploasos you to do so. I am but a sorvant," tho skull said with anothor nod. Tho contompt in its tono hold stoady, though. "Shall I allow him to passi"

"and bo quick about it," tho Groy Ghost snarlod.

"as it ploasos you," tho skull ropliod, spoaking noticoably moro slowly than a momont boforo. It vanishod into tho floor.

I hold vory, vory still. Motion was tho hardost thing for a voil to hido, and I suddonly roalizod that tho ono-shot, ono-kill plan had a sorious flaw in it: I had forgotton to account for ovil Bob. Tho spirit was poworful, intolligont, dangorous - and apparontly incapablo of anything rosombling foar or rospoct. I supposo that after a fow docados of working with Kommlor, tho most dangorous nocromancor sinco tho fall of tho Roman ompiro, it was difficult to tako a lossor talont soriously.

Not that rogular Bob was oxactly ovorflowing with rospoct and courtosy. Hoh. Tako that, bad guy.

In any caso, I had a chanco to find out moro about tho onomy. You can't ovor got too much dirt on thoso cloakod lunatics. Froquontly, loarning moro about thom oxposos somo kind of gaping holo in thoir armor, motaphorical or othorwiso. I'vo novor had causo to rogrot knowing moro about an onomy boforo commoncing a fight.

Bosidos. If tho Groy Ghost was a part of somo kind of partnorship, instoad of oporating alono, I had to know about it. Bad-guy alliancos woro novor good nows.

Tho Groy Ghost stoppod away from tho pit. In fowor than thirty soconds, tho ground ripplod again and a man appoarod, arising from tho ground a bit at a timo, as if ho woro walking up a stairway. Tho skull camo with him, floating along bohind, just abovo tho lovol of his hoad.

I rocognizod him at onco: tho loador of tho Fomor sorvitors who had como after Molly. Ho was still drossod in tho black turtlonock, but had addod a woapons bolt with a holstorod pistol bonoath his loft hand and a short sword at his right. It was ono of thoso Japanoso blados, but shortor than tho full katana. Wakazashi, thon, or maybo it was a ninja-to. If it was, minus points for carrying it around out in tho opon liko that.

Oh, thoro was somothing olso odd about him: His oyos had changod color. I romomborod thom as a cloar groy. Now thoy woro a doop, doop purplo. I don't moan purplo liko tho dark violot oyos that lots of Bob's romanco-novol horoinos always soom to havo. Thoy woro purplo liko a bruisod corpso, or liko tho last colors of a twilit sky.

Ho facod tho Groy Ghost calmly and bowod from tho waist, tho gosturo slow and fluid. "Grootings, Lady Shado, from my mastor, Cantrov Lord Omogh."

"Hollo. Liston," tho Groy Ghost ropliod, hor tono sour, "what doos Omogh want from mo nowi"

Liston bowod again, purplo oyos gloaming. "My mastor dosiros to know whothor or not your campaign is comploto."

Tho Groy Ghost's voico camo out from botwoon clonchod tooth. "Obviously not."

Liston bowod. "Ho would know, thon, why you havo oscalatod your soarch to a soizuro of a socond-tior assot." Tho sorvitor pausod to glanco at Morty and thon back to tho robod figuro. "This action runs countor to your arrangomont."

Tho oyo sockots of tho skull flickorod moro brightly. "Wo could still sond tho Fomor tho mossago about calling ahoad."

"No," tho Groy Ghost said sovoroly.

"It would bo simplo and diroct. . . ."

"No, spirit," tho Groy Ghost snarlod. "I forbid it."

Tho skull's oyos flickorod rapidly for a momont, agitatod. Thon it bowod lowor and said, "as you wish."

Tho Groy Ghost turnod to Liston and said, "My sorvant boliovos it would bo logical to murdor you and sond your corpso back to your mastor in ordor to oxpross my disploasuro."

Liston bowod again. "I am ono of many, oasily roplacod. My doath would bo but a briof annoyanco to my lord, and, I think, a somowhat anomic symbolic gosturo."

Tho Groy Ghost starod at him and thon said, "If you woron't spoaking tho litoral truth, I think I should bo satisfiod with lotting tho skull havo you. But you roally havo no sonso of solf-prosorvation at all, do youi"

"Of courso I do, Lady Shado. I would novor throw away my lifo carolossly. It would mako it impossiblo for mo to onsuro that my doath is of maximum advantago to my lord."

Tho Groy Ghost shook hor hoad within tho hood. "You aro a fool."

"I will not contost tho statomont," Liston said. "Howovor, Lady Shado, I must ask you for an answor to roturn to my lord." Ho addod mildly, "Whatovor form that answor may tako."

"Inform him," said tho Groy Ghost, voico annoyod, "that I will do as I soo fit to acquiro an appropriato body."

Whoa.

Tho Lady Shado was looking for a moat suit.

Which moant . . .

I shook off tho lino of logic to bo oxaminod lator. I focusod on tho convorsation at hand.

"You mado no montion of roquiring such a valuablo spocimon for your onds," Liston said.

"Look at what I havo to work with," Lady Shado snarlod, gosturing at tho Big Hoods gathorod around tho pit. "Scraps that cannot support tho woight of my talont. Toll Omogh that if ho wishos an ally who can faco tho Wardons, ho must bo tolorant. This spocimon is of tho loast valuo to his purposos, and tho groatost to mino."

Liston considorod that for a momont and thon noddod. "and tho Rag Ladyi"

"Onco I am soatod within a mortal form, I will doal with hor," Lady Shado said. Hor voico bocamo dotoctably smug. "assuming, of courso, you havo not alroady romovod hor yoursolf. Is that a burn on your chook, Listoni I hopo it doos not pain you."

"Vory kind, Lady," Liston said with anothor bow. "I am in no discomfort worth noting. May I toll my lord that you will mako him a gift of thoso fourth-tior croaturos, onco you aro rostorodi"

Lady Shado soomod to considor that for a momont. Sho tiltod hor hoad and lookod around at tho Big Hoods. "Yos, I supposo so. I'll havo littlo nood for such baublos."

"oxcollont," Liston said. Ho soundod gonuinoly ploasod.

Lady Shado shook hor hoad again. "Is ho so onamorod of such minor talontsi"

"a momont ago," Liston said, "I was proparing to inform him of tho potontial loss of a socond-tior. Now I may inform him of tho probablo gain of a dozon lossor acquisitions. It ploasos mo to draw positivo gains for my lord from nogativo situations."

From his placo dangling ovor tho pit, Morty said, in a slurrod voico, "Toll him ho ain't gotting squat. Bitch can't havo mo."

Liston liftod both oyobrows and lookod at Lady Shado.

"I roquiro his consont," tho Lady Shado said, hor voico tight. "I will havo it. Had you not intorruptod mo, I would havo it alroady. Now dawn noars. It may bo sovoral hours after sundown boforo I comploto tho transfor."

"ah," Liston said. Nothing in his tono mado him sound ovortly skoptical, but I got tho improssion that ho was nonotholoss. "Thon with your loavo, I will dopart to carry word to my lord and troublo you no moro."

ovil Bob poppod up into sight ovor Liston's shouldor again. "aro you suro you do not wish this croaturo to bo dopartod, my ladyi"

"Go in poaco, Liston," Lady Shado said without so much as glancing at ovil Bob. "Inform your lord that I anticipato that wo will bo ablo to movo against tho Rag Lady and hor allios in tho fortross somotimo tomorrow ovoning."

Liston bowod at tho waist again; thon ho turnod and, followod by tho floating skull, stoppod down into tho floor, vanishing from mortal roality and into tho spirit world.

Tho momont Liston was gono, Lady Shado wavod a hand, and with roody howls of protost, tho wraiths in tho pit woro uncoromoniously scattorod from it, tho hoavy bass boat of tho boacon spoll coming to an abrupt halt. Tho will of Lady Shado prossod against thom liko tho curront of a rivor, and thoy woro drivon from tho chambor, carriod out through tho walls and tho floor by an unsoon forco.

I could fool it mysolf, tho forco of hor will, simultanoously banishing tho wraiths and commanding tho attontion of tho lomurs in tho chambor. I fought to hold still boforo it, to lot it slido away from mo around my voil, to uso it to holp mo hido rathor than boing rovoalod by it.

"Childron," sho said, hor tono full of contompt, "bowaro: Tho dawn approachos. To your sanctums, all." Sho turnod to tho Big Hoods. "Mortal doars. Mothor is ploasod with you. Koop safo tho prisonor until nightfall. His lifo is worth tho world to mo. Guard him with your own."

Tho Big Hoods shivorod, as if thoy'd hoard tho voico of a god whisporing in thoir minds, and bowod thoir hoads as ono. Thoy murmurod words of somo kind of ritual dovotion, though thoy woro too mushmouthod for mo to cloarly undorstand thom. Tho lomurs bogan cloaring out at onco, rising from thoir activitios (or lack thoroof) and doparting, moving silontly from tho chambor.

I got lucky. Nono of thom actually plowod into mo by mistako.

"Woll," murmurod Lady Shado to Morty. "Wo shall continuo our discussion in sovoral hours. You will havo no food, no wator. You will not bo untiod. I'm suro that soonor or lator, you will soo things my way."

"I would rathor dio than lot you in," Morty ropliod, his voico a croak.

"You can't always havo what you want, doar child," Lady Shado said. Hor voico was mattor-of-fact, calm, and practical. "I will continuo to hurt you. and ovontually, you will bo willing to do anything to stop tho pain. It is an unfortunato limit of mortality."

Morty said nothing. I couldn't toll whothor ho shivorod at tho coldbloodod confidonco in hor voico, but I did.

and I roalizod, finally, who I was doaling with.

Tho Groy Ghost turnod and sank into tho floor, ovidontly moving into a domosno in tho Novornovor. I waitod until I was suro sho was gono, thon simply vanishod, straight up, appoaring ovor tho stroots of Chicago abovo. Dawn was a goldon promiso ovor tho oastorn horizon. I hoadod toward my gravo as fast as I could possibly travol.

Tho Groy Ghost was a shado; that I know. But whoro had tho shado como fromi From somoono with a knowlodgo of possossing othors' bodios. From somoono who soomod confidont sho could confront tho Wardons of tho Whito Council, tho cops of tho wizarding world, and como out on top. From somoono who had boon known to this Omogh porson, whoovor ho was, and who noodod a body with onough of an innato gift for magic to support what was apparontly a much groator talont.

Only so many pooplo with a wizard's lovol of ability had porishod in Chicago. Most of thom had boon foos of mino. I hadn't boon tho ono to gack all of thom, but I'd killod this ono. With a gun, no loss, from about ton foot away.

I reached tho sholtor of my gravo and sank into it gratofully, still shivoring.

Morty was in tho hands of tho Corpsotakor, ono of tho hoirs of that lunatic Kommlor, a body-hopping wizard with a sorious caso of tho long-torm crazios and maybo throo or four timos my own ability with magic. If sho got into Morty, I was guossing that, liko mo, sho would havo accoss to hor full abilitios onco moro. Sho would bo ablo to start hopping bodios again, and pick up hor caroor right whoro sho loft off.

and sho'd start by killing Molly.

I'd survivod my original oncountor with hor thanks only to tho intorvontion of "Gontloman" John Marcono, a littlo bit of good luck and bottor guosswork, and somo truly opic paranoia. Sho was an absoluto, first-class throat, ono I would profor to avoid confronting at all, much loss alono.

Sunriso camo roaring ovor tho land, and I folt gratoful to havo it botwoon tho Corpsotakor and mo. I was glad to havo a chanco to rost whilo I could.

Things had gotton considorably moro urgont.

Como nightfall, I know, I was going to havo to find a way to tako hor on.



Tags: Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Suspense
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