It was not my job to save John Marcone. I didn’t know why the universe kept conspiring to make me his guardian wizard, but after a knockdown fight with the creature from the Black Lagoon, I was ready to lodge an official complaint with the powers that be.
“I see your penchant for demolishing buildings remains as robust as ever,” Gentleman John Marcone said, raising an eyebrow at the dust and debris floating up around us.
“Bite me,” I said as I staggered further away from the wreckage that had once been a small town mill.
Marcone looked alright for a man who had almost been sacrificed to the elder gods. He had one small cut at the corner of his temple and some bruising on his knuckles; his suit was barely even rumpled. Me? I looked like I just went three rounds with King Kong. There is no justice in the world.
An eldritch abomination, something that looked like it had walked right out of a Lovecraftian nightmare, had been trying to call over some majorly bad juju to the mortal realm. To do it, it had to sacrifice John Marcone, Chicago’s resident kingpin and royal pain in my ass, to some kind of dark god from the Nevernever. Apparently the standard virgin sacrifice wasn't cutting it nowadays.
It was tough, near immortal, and it had tentacles. The only way I could think to stop the demon was to drop the ceiling on it. Don’t look at me like that. You’d have done the same if you had found yourself facing off with a Cthulhu wannabe.
I stood off to the side of the wreckage, trying to catch my breath. I heard a rustling sound that didn't fit in with the settling of the roof. I looked over at Marcone, but he just raised his eyebrows. It hadn't been him.
The sound came again and I turned my head to the mountain of debris covering the demon I thought I had just KO’d.
The debris shifted again. I thought I could see a tentacle starting to wave at me.
“May I suggest we leave now, Mr. Dresden?”
“I think that’s the smartest thing you ever said,” I replied as we backed toward the door.
“Do you have a means of transportation out of here?”
I opened my mouth to answer when the rubble made a sudden and violent jerk, sending most of the debris clanging to the floor.
I caught Marcone’s eyes for a second, and then we were both running out the door of the ruined building.
We were in an abandoned town, not next to Chicago, but still surprisingly close by. The town was small, with only a handful of abandoned buildings left on mostly worthless and undeveloped land. It was tucked in between two rivers and only had one bridge leading into the town. The building I had just demolished was an old mill, set up in the crease between two small hills. The nearest sign of life was miles and miles away, with no other form of help in easy range.
We ran out of the mill as the sounds of a very angry monster floated behind us. I cut a left and headed toward my car, Marcone keeping up behind me as we sprinted to the Volkswagen Bug parked a little distance away.
I skidded to a halt beside the Blue Beetle and fumbled for my keys. That’s the problem with dusters – they’re a great fashion statement, but small metal objects tend to get lost in the huge pockets, which is kind of annoying when you have an oozing tentacle monster on your tail.
Marcone had stopped a few feet away as I excavated my pockets. He stared at the Blue Beetle. “You must be joking.”
Now he decided to be picky?!
I grabbed my keys and wrenched open the door. “Shut up and get in the damn car!”
The bastard paused as he looked at the multicolored patchwork, the nonexistent rear glass covered with plastic, and the slightly dropping bumper of the Beetle with an expression of incredulous distaste. I felt offended on my car’s behalf.
A high pitched screech cracked the air behind us.
The monster had already made its way out from under the high beams I had dropped on its head. The huge demon seemed to ooze as it dragged itself out into the open. It didn’t look too happy.
It was on the slow side, for a flesh eating demon, but it was gaining ground. The demon had managed to sprout three more tentacles from the stump Marcone had made of its left limb with a well placed broadaxe.
It sniffed the air. Then it’s huge, misshapen head turned and its eyes locked right on us. With a snarl, it lurched in our direction.
“Marcone! Get in the car, or I swear I am leaving your ass for Cthulhu!”
Apparently even mobsters followed the wisdom of Lovecraft. Marcone ducked in the car as I turned the key in the ignition.
I tried again, but the engine refused to turn.
A look in the review mirror showed the monster still lurching forward, eating up the ground between it and us.
“Get out,” Marcone said.
“What?” I snapped as I kept trying to get the engine to start. I knew I should have let Mechanic Mike give her another tune up last week.
“Get out and use that stick of yours to push start the car.”
We were parked at the base of a hill. As small as the car was, there was no way either of us would be able to push it fast enough to get the engine running again, unless I used magic to kick things along.
I hit my head on the steering wheel, letting out a loud, aggravated noise. Then I grabbed hold of my blasting rod and got out of the car.
The tentacle thing had made it half way across the parking lot. I was suddenly glad that I had parked far away from the old factory to keep the noise of my car pulling up at a minimum. Cthulhu still had some ground to cover before it could turn us into its next meal.
I hurried to the rear of the car and readied my blasting rod. This wouldn’t be easy. Usually I used my blasting rod to send deadly funnels of force at things that wanted to rip my head off, but that wouldn’t do here. I couldn’t just blast away at the car – I had to push at it semi-gently with a constant pressure to get the car going. My staff, a much more versatile tool than my blasting rod, would have been better suited for the job, but unfortunately all I had was my boom stick. I would have to exert more control than usual to get the same result as I would with the staff.
Through the plastic covering the back window of the Beetle, I could just barely see Marcone moving into the driver’s seat. “Ready?” I called out. He waved his hand in a signal I took for yes. I channeled my will, focused it, and yelled, “Forzare!”
A wave of force spilled out of the blasting rod. I stretched it out, not letting it continue in a focused line, but rather made it spread its impact out over a greater amount of space. The force hit the car, pushing the Bug forward. I kept feeding it power and the Beetle made its way up the incline, away from the old mill and the demon that was getting closer and closer to its next potential meal.
Finally, I could hear the rumble of the engine turning over. Marcone stepped on the gas and drove up the hill.
Leaving me behind with Cthulhu.
“Oh, you little –“ I started to yell, but I was drowned out by the demon letting out another high pitched screech. It had just cornered its prey.
I whirled around to face the monster. It was nearly on me, its newly grown tentacles waving at the air, reaching for me.
“Fuego!” A jet of flame hit Cthulhu right in the face, but it barely slowed down. Figures the thing would be immune to fire.
I was getting ready to throw another magical punch when I heard the Beetle’s engine roar up behind me.
On instinct I dove off to the side – just before Marcone ran over Cthulhu with my car.
Well. He didn’t exactly run the monster over. More like clipped it. But it was enough to send the demon reeling, giving Marcone space to cut a sharp turn back to me.
I ran alongside the car as Marcone slowed down, allowing me to open the passenger door and dive in. My long legs flailed wildly outside the door for a moment, skidding on the ground, before I was able to pull myself fully into the car.
This, I thought to myself once I was fully in the passenger seat, was all Marcone’s fault. I was never saving his criminal ass agin.
“Dresden,” Marcone said, slowly, his eyes on the rear view mirror as he drove. All of the antics from the last few minutes had blown the plastic tarp away, giving a clear view out the back window. I wanted to tell him to keep his eyes on the road. He could crash my car.
“What?” I gasped, trying to catch my breath. It had been a trying day.
“The creature is chasing us.”
“I doubt it can catch a car.” I rechecked the string around my wrist that my blasting rod was tied to. Wouldn’t want to leave that behind.
“If it grows wings, will it be able to catch us?”
I frowned. “What the hell are you…” I trailed off as I turned around to look out the back.
Amazingly, the creature was still in sight, despite having been very slow on the ground. This was probably because it was now shedding some of its heavy tentacles. Now huge, webbed appendages had sprouted from its back. The new growths (wings, why did this always happen to me) were beating already, lifting the creature off the ground, allowing its lighter form to chase after us surprisingly quickly as we rode down one of the hills.
“Drive faster,” I said. Marcone hit the gas.
“Now what?” Marcone asked as he raced through the old, deserted streets as fast as the Beetle could go.
“Keep driving. If we can cross the river, it may act as a boundary to keep it inside.”
“And if it catches us before we reach the river?”
I turned around in my seat to point my blasting rod out the back of the car. “Let me take care of that.”
Marcone drove at inadvisable speeds as we raced the demon to the river. The creature must have grown a rocket launcher in addition to the wings because it was getting faster. Pieces of its body kept falling off as it flew closer and closer to the speeding bug.
I thought about sending out force blasts, but I quickly realized that wouldn’t work – I couldn’t get a clear shot and I was more in danger of hitting the interior of the car than not. Using fire in such a confined space was not an option.
Just as the creature sidled up to the car, I was struck with an idea. I put my left hand out, the one with the shield bracelet dangling around my wrist. I concentrated on expanding my usual shield into a dome that covered not only me, but the racing car as well.
I put the shield up just in time – the demon reached out with one of its claws (since when did it have claws?!) to try and take a swipe at Marcone’s side of the car. Its blow glanced off my shield and it reeled away.
And then my will buckled. With it went my shield and I half collapsed on the chair. It had been a really long day.
“Almost there,” Marcone said. You gotta hand it to the man, he was good under pressure. The mob probably trained everyone in the art of get-away chases.
The creature was turning to make another pass. I brought my shield bracelet to block another blow, but I was a second too late.
The demon, smaller in mass than it was before, but still formidable, landed on the hood of the Beetle. With one great punch, it shattered the front glass. I felt pieces of glass glance off of the back of my reinforced duster. It reached a hand out for Marcone, who was busy swerving the car, trying to shake the thing off.
The swerving caught me off balance. I fought to twist around when the demon grabbed a hold of Marcone’s jacket and started pulling. Just as the creature shoved its ugly head through the shattered glass, I raised my fist and punched it in the face, letting loose the kinetic energy stored in the rings on my fingers.
The demon reeled back. Marcone jerked the car to the side, throwing the demon off the hood of the car just before Marcone made it to the bridge.
Another screech filled the air, filled with rage but growing fainter and fainter as the card sped away from the dark, abandoned town.
I settled back into the chair with a sigh.
“Are you sure it can’t follow us?” Marcone asked.
“Yeah. Things like that really don’t like crossing running water. That’s probably why it had to wait for you to enter the town before it tried to truss you up like a virgin sacrifice.”
The woods that had surrounded and hid the little town from view began to thin out. Though exhausted, I could see some scattered lights out of the cracked glass of the window, signs of life from the nearest town.
“And of course you had to play the hero,” Marcone said. I scowled. It wasn’t my fault that rescuing Marcone was the only way to stop Cthulhu from tearing the fabric of reality. Saving him was nothing personal. Nevermind that it seemed to happen a lot in the last few years. “Though I believe most heroes favor using a white horse, instead of death traps that should have seen the scrap heap sometime in the 1960’s.”
“Next time, I let the tentacle demon from beyond the veil eat your face.” I fought off a yawn. “And don’t even think you’re gonna drive my car all the way back to Chicago.”
Marcone made a vague noise in the back of his throat and drove us closer to the rising lights of civilization.