World 53: The Dresden Files

THE PRICE OF BETRAYAL

Previously: We Are Altogether

Themesong: Angels We Have Heard on High by Pentatonix

“And you’ll be watching the twins, doing all the dishes, cleaning all the bathrooms… and all your media settings have been replaced with children’s television for the next jump.”

“Noooo! I was brainwashed! It’s not my faaault.”

“Zane. You tried to destroy several inhabited worlds. You fell to the Dark Side. Mind control or not, you need some time to reflect on how bad you’ve been. Also, Kendra and I have spoken and there will be no nookie for you until she feels you’ve earned it.”

“But… that’s… I… and no porn?”

“None.”

“You’re mean!”

“Zane… you pointed a Death Star at me and cheated on Kendra with Padme. I’m very curious about the exact details of that, but to be honest, War Crimes come first… and no, the sad puppy face isn’t going to make me forgive you any faster. I know you wouldn’t have done it if you were in complete control. But you still need decompression time and a little… reflection. So you’re going to spend an hour and a half each day meditating on what you did… and I’ll be reviewing your brainwaves, so no napping.”

Once again, I thought about how much I needed to recruit a qualified shrink. The Reality Ship Jumper really needed a full time Councillor. We had problems collectively that would tax a saint and be several lifetimes full time work to even begin to get a handle on.

I looked over at the new machine and sighed. “And you’re not helping”, I accused. It just lurked there, ominous and silent and with its staff-like ‘S’ slowly spinning. I’ve learned something over the ages and jumps… you know a jump is bad news when you instinctively check for companion imports and disadvantages you can live with before even checking out the powers. This was going to be one of those.

The Dresden Files… or how to hide the end of the world behind a P.I story. There were, despite Harry’s relatively low stature (society wise) at the start of the series, major players involved… not the least of which was Harry Himself, or could be, if I didn’t interfere too much. It was a mundane seeming world… but like Supernatural and Hellblazer, that only went so far. There were realms unseen, realms of madness and magic, beings which could and would drive the normal mortals who surrounded them all unawares mad… if they could have seen through the glamours that hid such creatures’ true selves.

It was also home of the most treacherous and troublesome magical powers around, ones that carried not only a terrible price but could lead to madness or corruption of the soul itself. I wouldn’t touch any of them with a 12 meter pole.

True to form, I pulled up the Drawbacks first, seeing how much leeway I could expect out of this madness. There was a cap of 600, 700 if I took the Practitioner, Changeling, or White Court Vampire background and made their innate drawback worse… Practitioner… one who uses the primary form of magic from this world… the one that drives you mad if you use it to do things I routinely did… and not mad in the good way. Nope. Changeling… fae-halfbreeds… who are under constant pressure to choose human (and lose what makes them special) or fae (and lose the largest part of their free will). Nope. White… Court… Nope!

So, 600 max. But was it a maximum that could be reached with a reasonable slate of hardship… or was this world as bad as I was expecting. Maybe I should have stuffed Constantine into stasis… naw, he’d make this place worse… it was what he did.

There were three +100 Drawbacks. Doom of Damocles, which meant I’d have been accused and convicted of breaking one of the Laws of Magic, but saved from the Wardens’ ‘Justice’ and placed upon probation for a decade… Violating my probation would mean the Wardens would be all over me, trying to kill me… even if I wasn’t a Practitioner. But the Drawback didn’t give them any specific bonuses to facing a being like me… so I could live with it fairly easily. ‘And it Wasn’t My Fault’ would mean that my presence would contribute substantially to the odds of massive property damage occurring in my immediate vicinity… Might make me unpopular… but could be lived with. ‘(Fe)Male Gaze’ would make me a biased, sexist, idiot. Things messing with my judgement… that was right out. Between those three, that was a maybe +200.

Among the three +200’s things got nastier fast. ‘Death Curse’ was just not going to happen. Cataclysmic Bad Luck for a Decade? Who would take that for less than 600, even if it wouldn’t outright kill you? ‘Red Court Infectee’ meant that I’d be one drink of blood away from going full vampire, and there’d be constant threat of losing control, especially if my emotions ran high or I used my vampiric abilities. It was a possibility… but it was also a Chain Ender, since going full Red Court was death as far as the Chain was concerned. So, doable, if I reaaally needed the points, and it would be resolved when the Red Court met its end… if I allowed that to happen… but it would be a bitch to deal with until then… And then there was ‘Faerie Debt’. This one was a terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

It was an open-ended contract with a major player in Faerie, one that I’d owe three tasks, tasks they’d call in at their leisure, tasks I’d have to complete within 10 years or miss, as the machine put it, “my ride”… and it wouldn’t be coming back. So, if the being I was bound to assist just didn’t ask three times, I’d not only be ending my chain… I’d be staying for good. And nothing in there said they had to ask even once. Screw. That. So… that was, what? Maybe, maybe, maybe another 200? If I needed it bad enough.

I was already cringing at the idea of what could be so bad among the +300s… and the first one pretty much confirmed I was right to be leery. ‘Judgment in Black’ started the taker off on Mab’s bad side and meant that, if you could hold off her minions for 8 years, she’d come herself. So you’d have to face, most likely, Harry, then Her… and then, if you killed her, Maev would become Queen and the DresdenVerse would be screwed. Not for all the CP in Japan. (Go on. Think about it for a second. I’ll wait. Back? Feeling nauseated? Yeah. Not even if that CP was spendable in Jumpchain. That’s how bad an idea this was… though it did give me an idea.)

The next one wasn’t so bad… I mean, it was bad… just not nearly as bad as the last two. ‘He Who Walks Beside’ was just like Judgment in Black, but with Outsiders instead of Winter Fae. The only reason not to take it was because it explicitly made everything supernatural (as well as anything more advanced than 21st century earthtech) that I could do count as magic against Outsiders, which would make fighting them so much harder… And I planned to do a fair amount of that, so… no.

Then I read the third and last +300 and just chuckled ‘Not So Wild About Harry’ would, if I took it, remove the Harry we all know and love and leave his spot vacant. If one wanted to woo the fierce Murphy or be the hero of your own magical PI story, this was the chance… the jump even payed you to step into the Main Character’s Shoes. Of course, that was because Harry was pretty much the linchpin of saving the universe or world from “BAD STUFF”. But it was tempting… for about three seconds.

Then I read the only +600. If I needed the points… all the points. I couldn’t go worse than ‘Big Old Apocalyptic Trilogy”. It meant I’d be stuck until the ‘epilogue’ began. I.e. until the story resolved itself. Sure, i’d be going in blind for how everything would play out, and it could be 15, 20, 30 years potentially… hell, given a Wizard’s lifespan, it could be a lot more… but I’d been in Westeros for 300 years. I had time. 600 points in the bank just to see the story through to the end. No story changes, nothing else. Just that. That… was bloody generous that was.

That done, and with nothing locked in, I checked on Companions for a group import and found it right off the bat. ‘Supporting Cast’ [300/700/100] granted a ‘full fellowship of 8’ any background costing 200 or less, the free ability associated with that background, and one of the two 300 point abilities associated with that background… plus another 100 point ability if the background cost 100 CP or less. That went into the cart first and foremost… and I even messaged Zane with a passive-aggressive note mentioning it. Understanding I might be, forgiving at times too… but cross me and I will be merciless in my mockery and pettiness.

Also on offer was a Molly (Harry’s Apprentice… though not her, just an apprentice like her), a Thomas (Harry’s Brother… but not him, just an annoying pain in the ass like him), a Bob (Harry’s know it all skull… but not him, just… a hybrid of how you actually are and how you think you are… like Bob is to Harry)… and a Mouse!

“Eeeeeheeeeeheeee! Doggy!” I squeaked, then looked at Ziggy “Would you like a brother?”

“Chew Toy?”

“Well, yes. But also big and fluffy to nap on.”

“Nap good,” my pet confirmed, so I considered.

The Dogasaurus Rex was [200/500/1000] and was actually a Temple or Fu Dog… a dog the size of a bear, one with magical powers that made it the consummate guard-dog, as well as being as tough as nails, smarter than most humans, and a winning personality. Great Big Tibetan mastiff, covered in thick hair and just begging to be snuggled. I couldn’t resist. If nothing else, it would keep me from trying to steal Mouse from Harry… and Maggie. I decided to name her ‘Soffi’.

And so, with half my initial allotment spent, it was time to actually figure out who I was going to be. Mortal was the drop-in option and wasn’t even vaguely interesting. “Would you like to be a bystander to doomsday?” No? Me either. But I had no idea what else I could be, since I’d already ruled out White Court Vampire and Changeling, just as I’d already ruled out Practitioner, the magic of this setting wasn’t that good. Turns out, that wasn’t a single background, but rather 3 of them; Focused, Sorcerer, and Wizard, but it was mostly trading CP for raw power once you got past Focused… and all of them had to play by the rules… the Laws of Magic, or face not only The Council’s judgment but the very real risk of screwing yourself over. The Laws were simple to remember. There were only 7 of them, and breaking them essentially was telling reality that you felt you were entitled to break them… and so reality felt entitled to break you in response. “Thou Shalt Not Kill (with Magic)”, “Thou Shalt Not Change Another”, “Thou Shalt Not Invade the Mind of Another”, “Thou Shalt Not Enthrall Another”, Thou Shalt Not Reach Beyond the Borders of Life”, Thou Shalt Not Swim Against the Currents of Time”, and “Thou Shalt Not Open the Outer Gates”. I skimmed the rules again, mostly out of boredom… then paused as I scanned the last.

“You might want to take note of this one, because it’s a doozy. This is the only one of the laws that deals with mere knowledge rather than action. You do not research the Outsiders, you do not contact them, you do not ask them for power, you do not go on multiversal road trips for their amusement… yeah, you’re already way afoul of this one, but I won’t tell if you don’t. Just don’t do it here, because the ‘local’ Outsiders are Bad News.”

“Local Outsiders?” I asked.

“Well, sure. Technically.”

“Technically?” I turned vulcan so as to best arch an eyebrow.

“You are technically an Outsider. We’re waaaay beyond the Outer Gates.”

“Can I do that?”

“Be an Outsider?”

“Yes. I’m not being a Vamp again. Not keen on the local magic. Not willing to let “Faerie” get their hooks into me. Being a Mortal is boring. Can I be an Outsider? It’s kind of nice to just be myself sometimes… and if I technically do hail from beyond the Outer Gates…”

“As it turns out… yes. Yes you can. There are even Perks for it.”

“Excellent. How much?”

“It’s free.”

“Oh… really?”

“Indeed. Though, since you don’t have a Source of Magic from this world, no magic from this world can be learned.”

“Oh. Alas.” I noticed at that moment, that the Wheel of Age crumbled to dust on screen. “Cute.” I spun the remaining Wheel of Locality… and got ‘Las Vegas’. Sin City, where something swam through the city, something which has led to the city becoming the transient, emotionally-empty place it’s wound up as. Something which kept the supernatural factions a fractious mix of competing interests rather than letting anyone rise to the top and which silently encouraged and fed upon the corruption which has always festered there. Eh. Not bad.

I also noted the starting date was March 20, 2004… probably 5 months before Blood Rites… or roughly 4 years into the story, meaning I’d be leaving just after Skin Game (February of 2014… unless I had reason to take the long game. That was fine… as that’s exactly what I had in Audiobook from back on Origin, the events that could, roughly, be counted on to happen.

I then scrolled through to the Outsider Perks… and discovered why it was free to be one. There were only three perks in the section, none were free, and the cheapest was, with the discount, [200/300/1000]. Now don’t get me wrong… it was worth it. As was the capstone, even though the discount only dropped it to [400/-100/1000]… but still. Ouch. The middle one, the 300 pointer… yeah… that I didn’t need.

Stars and Stones was the cheaper one… and yes, all three were named for a DresdenVerse swear (Hell’s Bells and Empty Night being the other two)… and it would allow me to allow others to slip the bonds of otherwise-inviolate supernatural laws. Not just magical contracts or compulsions, either… with this I could allow a creature to go against its fundamental nature. Free a vampire of its hunger, allow a Fairy to lie… allow a Wizard to break the Laws of Magic without repercussions? That… was scary. I couldn’t, however, do two things. I couldn’t remove a vulnerability… and I couldn’t use it on myself. Ah well. Still worth it.

But if that one was… ‘nice’… or at least potentially useful… Empty Night was a prize of great worth. It rendered me immune to any direct magic. Flat out. Immune. All my enemy would hit would be a hungry void. That… would be useful. Very useful.

Unfortunately it spent me over, so I was now locked into getting at least one drawback, so I might as well see if there were any items worth taking before I picked a drawback. Turns out that, yes, Outsiders do get a Freebie… “The Jumper Files… a box of empty file folders.”… of course, they wouldn’t remain empty. Any time I did something majorly noteworthy, one of the folders would start to fill itself in, generally with pages written in my own hand, but sometimes scraps, photographs, or other items of interest. Nothing I couldn’t have filled in myself, but when it was done, it would be a complete record of my cases, start to finish… and it would appear as either my autobiography, or from my perspective but ghostwritten by Jim B… er… Harry Dresden.

Okay, so it wasn’t the best… but… hey, it was free. The only other thing discounted for Outsiders was Mordite… concentrated antilife… no thanks. I wasn’t going in as an Outsider because I like being evil… however… right above the Mordite was “Blood, Mind, and Heart”… a local magical source… and three of the four books written by Heinrich Kemmler. There were, essentially, a how to guide on being the biggest, baddest, most all around Necrolord of Necromancers… and if I took them, I’d have 19 months to master the texts before Dead Beat’s time came up… and I could read the text of that last book.

The only question was… did I want to be a Necromancer? Just for completeness, I read everything else that was available… Sword of the Cross? Boring. Wolf Belt? Meh. Lab? Got one. Family Home? Got some. Svartalf Apartment… meh. A model of a city, didn’t need because I had… “DAMNIT ZANE!”

“What’d I do now?”

“Grounding you really screws me!”

“Why?”

“Because you’re friends with Chicago!”

“Yeah? Well, you could always-”

“I’m not letting you off just to make things easier on me. I’ll cope.”

“You’re going to regret that!”

“I already regret all of this, Zane,” I said softly, walking over and ruffling his hair. “You’re my best friend. I hate doing this to you. But I’m really really hurt you betrayed me. You know that right?”

“Yeah… it’s kinda funny- ooowwww!”

“Zane. Don’t push me. You’re going to be kicking yourself once you’re back to normal.”

“Yeah? Well, I’m Evil Zane right now, so… owww! Can’t… breathe.”

“Shut up, you idiot.” I said, face burried in his chest. “Or I’ll bite you.”

“Hug… too… tiiiight.”

“Moron.” I muttered, then bit him.

Eventually I wandered back over to the Machine and kicked it. “Jolly Cooperation my eye.”

“Drawbacks can screw with purchases, you know that.”

“Drawbacks are supposed to end at the end of jumps.” I retorted.

“The Drawback did end… its psychological effect didn’t.”

“But then the CP backing of Watson should have kicked in.”

“Free Will. Don’t take loyalty for granted.”

“I never have. I assumed his was as strong for me as mine was for him.”

“As far as I can tell, it is. Cerebris just… adjusted his priorities.”

“How so?”

“Convinced Zane you’d have fun.”

“Well… that’s just… annoying.”

“Friends are like that.”

“You have friends?” I asked. It wasn’t snark.

“No. But I have seen mortals and Jumpers enough to understand the contradictions.”

“You think I should forgive him.”

“I think you already have. I have no idea why.”

“Ha. Yeah. You wouldn’t. And you’re probably right. He would think I’d have fun… consequences aren’t Zane’s strong suit.” I brought up the list and continued scanning. White Court list of names… tempting, but not that much. Magic dampening Thorn Manacles, Warden Sword, a Blue Beetle, an Enchanted Duster, a Storage Unit, a Magical Focus, Ointment of Soul Sight, Pocketful of Sunshine, Ghost Dust… I just couldn’t see myself needing any of them. Maybe 50 jumps ago, but… maybe not even then. Items seldom screamed buy me. Well, okay, Best Ale in Chicago kinda did… it was either a six-pack of MacAnally’s Ale that refilled every day or a single bottle of Mac’s private stash that got replaced every day

As for the other perk trees… the abilities on offer were a little too specific. I could have used “Power to Burn” from the Practitioner line, but I had power already. I could use Consummate Rules-Lawyer to help me deal with the Fae… if I didn’t already have that from the Swat Kats jump. Some of the other items were okay… just not okay enough, if you know what I mean. I could take Power to Burn and the Fae Glamorous to get a local power source… it wasn’t locked out… but… I really don’t like the local Fae.

I shrugged, then hit confirm on the Kemmlerite books and both Ale Options. That spent me to the max and I clicked in a confirmation on the Apocalypse. I’d saved Alderaan… how hard could Earth be? At least I hadn’t made anything worse with my Drawback choices.

“Hey, Can I get books and Beer while I’m waiting for the others to complete their builds?”

“Sure… but you have to do one thing first.”

“Wazat?”

“Okay, two things. Which you are you going in as?”

“Haven’t decided yet. Will let you know. Still got two weeks. What’s the other?”

“You have decided which companions are coming with you.”

“Oh. Yeah. Good point. Lets see. Velma’s the mystery girl, so her. Cirno’s the Ice-Fairy, so her. Franky and Mini are magical Girls, so them. Caine knows vamps, so him. Bart’s never seen Earth, so him. Ziggy, because there’s a mortal perk called “Tiny but Fierce”. And Kendra so she doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for Zane… or pissed off at him for cheating on her. Plus, you know, Ahab and Joy doing their own thing.”

“Pads distributed. You can have your beer once you do Ziggy’s… unless you want to risk accidentally giving him “Suuuuuuper Genius” instead. I flinched at the Idea, then glanced over to where Ziggy was busy savaging his own tail.

“Right… good thinking. And send a message to Bart to come over once he’s read the whole thing.” Buying for Ziggy is easy, you just pick whatever makes no sense. Mortals got a Day Job free, for instance. It was any mundane career, and came with a minimum of ten years experience and all the contacts and paychecks to prove it… even if it didn’t make any sense. So I made him a Police Dog. No… he was still a ferret… I just filled in that he’d been employed for the past 10 years by the Chicago PD as a Police Dog. Ziggy is the best at narcotics. I also got him Tiny but Fierce, as promised, which meant that he acquired skills and instincts necessary to go mana e mano against things much bigger, faster, or outright nastier than he was and still come out on top. Ziggy is the best at on top. And, since being mortal was free, that meant he got another 100 CP item free. There were only 4 choices, he had one of them already, and the Practitioner one require being sapient to use since it was all about ‘knowing things’ (Ziggy is the worst at knowing things). That left the Fae ‘Glamorous’ and the Vampiric ‘Unwholesomely Good-Looking’. Now, the idea of Ziggy instinctively using Faerie Glamour was funny… but Ziggy the Sexiness was just funnier. He’d get all the snuggles! Also, the lady ferrets! Hubba hubba!

“Who’s a pretty boy?”

“You’re not talking to me, I hope?” said the no-longer currently a droid.

“Err… This is Ziggy. He’s my buddy… also, if you annoy me, he will eat you.”

The Operative looked down at the ferretoid currently trying to crawl up my bathrobe’s sleeve and having minor difficulty. “I… see. I’ll trust you on that. Looks can be deceptive. But this?” he held up the tablet. “Magic? I… I mean. I saw the Force… that… I guess… but that’s psionics… right?”

“A form of it, though one with an external source. But yes, largely psionics. But magic is real too. Some places. Though for me… everywhere. Just like the Force.”

“And you want me to come with you into this world?”

“I thought you might enjoy visiting Earth That Was… well, Earth that still is.”

“As a magician?”

“If you like. With my presence, the Laws of Magic will matter less and I’ll keep an eye on your mental state… Not going to make that same mistake again where corruptive influences are around… especially not this Verse.”

“Magic is more corruptive than the Force?”

“No. Magic and the Force aren’t corruptive. People’s basic nature is corruptive, Magic and the Force are merely… power to fuel that corruption if you allow it to take root. No, The Outsiders, the Fae, the Denarians, the Nemesis… those are corruptive and out in force.”

“You don’t sound worried.”

“I have wards against possession. You’ll all be outfitted with a tattoo or two before you leave. You’ll have seen the symbols each of my companions bear already, if you’ve scanned out of the visible wavelengths.” He nodded.

“Picked them up in Supernatural. Can be inscribed on anyone. Prohibits Demonic Possession completely… but works pretty good on devils and angels too. Turns out there’s not much difference. Haven’t tried it against Faeries or Ghosts… but in this Verse, Faeries and Demons are pretty similar, so again… should work to an extent. So, thoughts?”

“I think I should take that ‘Clued In’ perk… that means either being a Mortal, a low grade faerie, or a Practitioner, if I’m reading this right.”

“You’ve got it.”

“Not sure I want to be a Faerie… they sound… problematic, as your friend River would say.”

“That’s about right, yeah.”

“Wizards follow Rules. I like that. Rules I can understand, even if the magic bit makes my brain hurt… but I’ll gain memories to help cope with that… is that correct?”

“It is. They’ll be the memories of the you that exists in this world and in this time. The two of you will become one. Inside this world, where those memories are native to, they’ll be stronger. But do this enough and new memories will have too many old memories to overwhelm.”

“Ah… like going deep cover. I understand.”

He didn’t. He couldn’t. There is nothing that prepares you for being two beings in one mind, no matter how similar the two might be… but it was a first time for everything and he’d learn. I’d seen it many times before. “So… Refined Magic or Powerful Magic?”

“Which would you take?”

“Both. But you can’t. For you… I’d go Powerful.”

“Why not Refined?”

“Because you’re more suited to Evocation… that’s combat magic, than Thaumaturgy… that’s the slower, more deliberate magic. You’re a blunt force trauma… for as much as you may be a spook… you aren’t subtle. You didn’t track down Mal and capture him in his sleep… you slaughtered your way through all his friends until he had to face you.”

“I thought your goal was to change me. Sounds like you’re encouraging me to be more of the same.”

“Bart, if I wanted to change you, I’d think hard and you’d be a chicken. We can only change when we seek to change and apply that change from within. Any other change is meaningless. That’s why I’ve already forgiven Zane, even though I’m still going to punish him. I can only provide stimulus to you and hope you rise to meet it.”

“So you’re hoping I take Refined?”

“No. Your choice of perks is irrelevant. You take whatever you like. It’s what you do as a person with those perks that’s important.”

“If you’re God… you’re nothing like I was led to believe.”

“Bart, you can not conceive of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of me… nor, as it turns out, can I.”

“God doesn’t understand God?

“Of course. If God understood, what purpose would the Universe serve?”

“I… will think about that.”

“Do that. Send Cirno over, I’m sure she’s done by now.”

The Fairy was, of course, going in as a Fairy. A Serious Business Fae (the second most expensive category and the top one companions could afford). It meant that her faerie ancestor was a member of the stronger breeds of Faerie, Elder Fetches, Elder Gruffs, the Sidhe themselves, stuff like that. She’d picked the Svartalfar, the technologists of the Unseelie Court, those who apparently worked for Donar Vadderung… Odin… Kris Kringle… whatever he was calling himself this generation. It meant she knew both Glamours and Unseelie Magic and had an intuitive grasp on how to make advanced technology that was impervious to a Wizard’s Hex. When I’d asked why she’d picked Changeling her response was “Stick with what you know you’re good at. Plus… not going to let any local faeries laugh at me for not being good enough.”

I gave her a hug. She looked like she needed it. It was never easy meeting distant cousins.

Kendra was next and had gone as basic as possible. Mortal Police woman with the Suuuuper Genius perk which meant that the more pressure she was under, the better she was at coming up with brilliant ideas… and the basic fae magic granted by the Glamorous perk which was totally cheating… and reminded me of the cops from this show called “Lost Girl”… ooo… that might be a fun place to go… or maybe not. “You’re doing this just to look good in a uniform, aren’t you?”

“Always wanted to be a LEO. Slayer was like that, only with vampires instead of criminals.”

“Officer Young, look forward to serving with you.” She saluted, then winked.

“Maybe if Zane repents enough, I’ll show him my handcuffs.”

Caine followed her as she left, eyes on her ass. “Fine woman. The Dog isn’t worthy of her.” I shot him a glower and he just shrugged “Perhaps he is. I’m not exactly a catch myself. I thought I’d be a Changeling. Mortal’s aren’t my kind, don’t really want to be a mage… and these White Vampires are soft. I thought I’d be Rank-and-File though, get myself a mortal day job as well.”

“Oh? What kind of Fair-folk? And what job?”

“Dullahan. The Headless Horsemen of Celtic Myth. I understand the Irish are quite into law-enforcement in Chicago… or is it Boston?”

“Both. I think. And Dullahan… Well… keep your head on.”

He smirked, then said “As for job, I was thinking… Mayor of Chicago.” I raised an eyebrow. “The only listed limit is no to the Presidency of the US.”

“If the machine allowed it…” I shrugged. Not like I couldn’t have manipulated a mortal just as easily.

“To that end, I also selected Consummate Rule’s Lawyer.”

“Of course you did. Send in Velma, if you would, Mr. Mayor.”

The redheaded sweater-maiden smiled at me over her glasses, though she’d long ago stopped needing them. “Heya.” she commented, lifting Ziggy from my lap and then settling in herself, placing the unconscious fuzzlump down gently. “Brought you a pudding.”

“Oh? What flavor?” I asked, leering slightly.

She licked her lips and leaned in, whispering “Mystery flavor.”

“I can’t give you more CP, Vel. The Machine sets the limit.”

“Awwww… nertz.” she leaned against me and sighed. “So many interesting things on there. Like Soul Source… that sounds fascinating.”

“Also a great way to burn yourself out. Bad news. I like your soul intact.”

“You like my boobs.”

“That too. I assume you went Wizard?”

“Of course. Knowledge is Power and I’m very fond of knowledge.”

“Yeah… you are… but you took Refined Spellcasting, because you’re a subtle minx and you’re mostly doing this to annoy the witches who are peering around the corner and glowering at you.”

“It’s so cute how they share you with each other, but don’t like sharing with Me or the Hibiki’s. They don’t seem to mind Cirno though.” She said, reflecting.

“They see Cirno as more a toy than a rival. And they’ve worked together as a duo or under my command on many occasions, including their first lifetime. Trust me, they are highly competitive between themselves as well… though not as fractious or loud as the Hibiki’s.”

“What do you think they’ve picked?”

“At a guess? Mini will probably take Practitioner and Franky will probably take Vampiress. You?”

“Faeries. They get animalistic features.”

“Well, shall we see?”

“That would mean I have to get up.”

“Yes. It would.” I pinched her butt. “Go grab Toph and find out what everyone wants for lunch.” then waved over the Witch Girls, who claimed my lap possessively.

“She’s plotting against us,” Franky pouted. “She-”

“No infighting.” I chided her, then kissed her nose, then Mini’s just to keep them balanced. “Tell me about your builds. Mini first.”

“We decided to build each other’s build,” the British Witch explained, tossing her braids.

“Did you now?”

“Yes. Some I’m a Homeless White Court Vampire, who specializes in feelings of Triumph.”

“Triumph?”

“Aye. Like… sporting events. Lots of people all feeling intense emotion… just gotta sit with the right crowd… or get out quick before loss sets in. It’s a brief but intoxicating high, I’d imagine.” She licked her lips. “But I also got ‘Just One Sip’ as my 300, which’ll make it right easy to resist urges and temptation… and even tell when you’re trying to put the ol mez on me.”

“When, my sweet, have I ever tried to use any form of compulsion on you aside from the promise of a right spanking when you’re being bratty.” She blushed.

“Well, you might! And now I’ll know.”

“Fine, you let me know if I’m using any kind of whammy on you.”

“Whammy? Is that a special Paddle?” Franky snarked.

“Quiet you!” the british cat snapped.

“Nya!”

“Girls. No bickering on my lap or you both get tossed in the pool,” they looked like they were tempted to continue despite my threat until I whispered “And I drop the temp to that of the North Sea.” They blushed and quieted. “Franky?”

“Sorceress.”

“Sorceress? Not Wizard? Losing a bit of power and some tricks? Let me guess, you wanted the Unwholesomely Good-Looking from the Vamp line?”

“Si Signorina!” Franky beamed. “Can’t let the strawcat beat the panther!” Strawcat was her less flattering nickname for Mini, since Mini’s hair was blonde, though both were black cats when they transformed. “With Power to Burn… for the speed, see?”

“Yes, Yes I see. Though I don’t think witches do much flying in this world.”

Franky considered, then shrugged. “Still, I have my striker, I can still go flying if I want, si?”

“Si, Bella. You can fly as you like. Now go help with lunch. I have to check on the spies and do some soul searching.”

Ahab and Joy were like a more mature and less playful mirror of Franky and Mini, as it turned out, as Ahab was a Wizard and Joy was a White Court Vamp, though she’d opted for Raith… for infiltration. Then again, Ahab’s choice of wizard was designed to get into the halls in Edinburgh, and hopefully get himself recruited as a Warden. They were both good plans, and I decreed an extra serving of Ice Cream with lunch… then I isolated myself for a couple of days to settle into my role as an inscrutable being of the Outside, having made my decision over the soup course.

INSERTION

I arrived in Las Vegas amid the screaming death storm of a Wizard loyal to the Red Court. The room was burning all around me as everything made of carbon ignited in the sheer force of my alabaster presence. The circles of protection on the floor and ceiling were impressive, well wrought, and ultimately pointless as the being they were designed to hold was as much like me as I am like until a hedgehog.

There was a flash of pure white light, and the flames stopped mid inferno, and a man in a janitor’s uniform appeared in front of me. “Hello Uriel,” I said dryly. “Still annoyed about Caine?”

“I thought that might have been you, Silent Judge. You cannot be here. This world-”

“This world is no different than any other. If your master has a problem with me being here, he’d tell me in person, not send a messenger. Or do you propose we wrestle in order for me to prove my righteousness. How well did that go for the last angel who wrestled a Jew?”

“I cannot stop you without doing more harm… but your presence could destabilize the plan.”

“Could? Oh, little flame. My presence will destabilize the plan. It’s a bad plan.”

“You cannot know that.”

“Free will is only free if one side is not being kept in woeful ignorance.”

“Please do not destroy the world, Silence.”

“Don’t leave off the Judge. It’s there for a reason, and you know it.”

“Fine… you can’t bring him here.”

“I can. And I will. Your choice to enforce the Mark or not.”

“There is no choice. Only duty.”

“You too have Free Will, Uriel. Or didn’t Michael’s fall convince you of that.”

“Michael is not Lucifer!”

“Of course he is. Who else stands at the shoulder of God. Who else is the Light of God. Who else could lead the fallen? It’s all part of God’s plan. And all the PR in the universe won’t change the fact that Michael is bound in the pit for raising arms against the creator. And you know as well as I do that the whole Satan thing is a scam. Azaraphial works for God, no matter what mortals may believe.”

“You go too far.”

“I destroyed an aspect of the Almighty who’d forgotten his duty to his creation. Do you really think I’d hold back from doing it again if I felt it warranted?”

“You’re too dangerous to be allowed to exist.”

“I am. But then, so are you. Let’s just be friendly, shall we. I don’t intend to pass judgement upon the White God… or you. Return the favor, yah?”

“Very well… though I can’t speak for the others.”

“They should have no idea who or what I am. Only you and I have met before.”

“I shall pray this does not go horribly awry.”

“Don’t be such a party pooper. This will be fun!” And with that I stepped out into the world of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Just to check, I said the name exactly as James Marsters said it in the audiobooks and felt a tremor of power and connection. I let it go, knowing that Harry, somewhere in Gary on a missing wife job, had just had a shiver rush through him that he couldn’t explain.

I had several months before the events of Blood Rites (Late Autumn, 2004), and I had plans for them. Plans that involved travel, mostly to points south, into the lands of the Red Court, but also to the lands of the Navaho and the Celts and even into the vaults of St. Peters in Rome. I had… groundwork to lay.

Joy apparently had plans too, plans that involved a massive financial expense. She’d gotten a Raith Contingency Card, a plan white credit card with absolutely no limit besides that it was good for exactly 24 hours, and couldn’t be used for cash advances. So Joy bought Sony… and Viacom… and Time Warner… and IBM… and General Motors… Sure, not all of them, but every stock anyone was willing to sell from those companies and another 220 of the Fortune International 500 available from opening bell on the Tosho Exchange until closing bell on the NASDAQ and NYSE.

We all went our own ways, leaving the way into the Warehouse firmly and resolutely closed. It was under strict orders not to open for anyone until the end of our time here… or at the very least 12 years in, when any recorded information should be of questionable use. I did write Ivy a little note to say hello and to apologize for humanity’s obsession with smut. I even included instructions on how to write back to me if she was at all interested… then tagged it with a picture of a pony wearing a fedora named “Hairy Dresden”. I didn’t hear back, But I still sent her amusing pictures every so often.

Late Autumn rolled around and Dresden took the case of one Arturo Genosa, Porn Auteur. I had only one minor change to the whole annoying scenario, and to that end I replaced Emma, a doomed porn star with children, with one of my doppelgangers, one that had all of Emma’s mystical signatures, and made sure Emma was actually getting an interview with the ex-Mayor of Chicago (Caine’s little plan had failed by inches… Ex-Mayors still had all the paychecks and experience), who I understand was planning a run for office and could use an assistant. No one besides Emma knew about the interview… and the Doppelganger went down like a trooper, then once Harry had run out, got up and pretended it was make up (which it had become), laughing at the apparently wildly successful practical joke at the expense of the new guy.

Aside from that, I merely made sure things were still on track as they should be, tweaking events as needed. I’d done this before in Butcher’s other series… I knew where to push to keep the butterflies to a minimum.

While waiting for October 2005 to roll around, I amused myself by doing stealth upgrades to the Blue Beetle, replacing its entire wiring system, hydraulics, and engine with stuff that was utterly impervious to the Hex. I also decided to make friends with Karrin Murphy by acting like a teenage girl trying to pick her pocket. I instantly became Lt Murphy’s ‘Project’ to make sure I wasn’t getting up to anything and was totally doing my homework and stuff. It was endearing.

To Waldo Butters, I was a rival medical examiner from Indianapolis, one who teased him, flirted with him, and sent him bizarre reports. Occasionally I’d ‘drive up’ to see a movie or go to dinner with him, or hear some of his (amusing) polka music. Somehow, Harry and I kept avoiding each other… though, come Halloween, that would change.

I’d read and reread Kemmler’s books, gaining an appreciation for the man’s genius and a true loathing for his personality. I had already read-by-touch every book at Bock Ordered Books, including the Erlking, and when Bony Tony got his hands on the Word of Kemmler, I was the first to know and the first to read the book, committing it to memory and replacing it with an identical copy that contained nearly every word, but had just enough errors to make using its ritual a deadly proposition.

All I had to do was wait… at Bock Ordered Books until Cowl and Kumori showed up. I smirked as they appeared, my third eye confirming what I’d already suspected… about both of them. Kumori was a believer in reform, one who genuinely believed that the Council had abrogated all moral authority by not standing for humanity against the monsters that preyed upon mankind long ago. She was an idealist. Cowl… was evil, self-centered, and utterly immoral. “Gregori… you bastard.” I muttered to myself, but didn’t come to Harry’s aid. It wasn’t time for that yet. Interfering now would disrupt my own plans.

I did do a little housekeeping once Dresden had words with Mavra of the Black Court. Once he’d left the scene… Caine had words with the Vampiress. She screamed beautifully as she discovered that every blow she landed upon him was returned sevenfold by a vengeful archangel. When the sun finally rose, she burned and burned and burned, until nothing but unholy ash remained… and then that was soaked in water I’d personally blessed…. Then she was scattered across the firmament… of Venus. Burn in hell, bitch.

And so it was that July rolled around and Molly’s misadventure got several people very badly injured (keeping anyone from dying while keeping the event on track was a challenge I’d like not to ever repeat) and many of them would need serious therapy (though I’d administered anti-trauma drugs to keep them from developing too bad of phobias or PTSD)… Uriel came to visit after that.

“Sacrificing some so that others might have a brighter future?”

“Calling me a hypocrite for not trying to save more of them?”

“Don’t you judge us for not doing more?”

“No.”

“No?”

“I Judge you for seeking praise for doing a fraction of what you could. I operate behind the scenes to manipulate, as do you… but I’d be fine with the world not knowing I exist. I don’t seek worship from those I save. I save them because it costs me nothing I cannot spare to lose. But if killing them all would mean ridding the world of the Red Court, I would do so. The Calculus of Least Harm.”

“So you decide who lives and who dies? Who made you the Hand of God?”

“You aren’t very good at this. Your skills lie in being God’s agent. Not being his inquisitor. Send Gabriel or Zachariah. But I’ll tell you the same thing I’d tell them. I can only do as I deem right. I make no claim to infallibility. I save those I notice, kill those I choose to, and in general choose to exercise my free will, asking neither approval nor claiming God’s grace. I am righteous because I try to be. I judge according to my own code.”

“Self-righteousness is a sin.”

“So is looking away from the suffering of others. But do not speak to me of Sin. Sin isn’t a Jewish Concept, as you have apparently forgotten. We have Guilt, not Sin.”

“And you feel no guilt?”

“Oh. I feel guilt all the time. All I can do is be as good a person as I can figure out how to be. How about you? Do you feel guilt for all those mortals you’ve allowed to suffer?”

“Everyone suffers. No one’s suffering is special.”

“That’s a cop out. Everyone’s suffering matters, if only to them. What good is good if he cannot at least feel for each of his children.”

“He does. He just…”

“Can’t show it. I know. I do understand. But that’s your answer. I was created in God’s image. I can only do what I can do. Now leave me alone. I have… matters to attend to.”

“You are watching a Fetch that looks like a scarecrow chasing a van and eating popcorn.”

“It’s an excellent show… want some.”

“It has gummy worms in it.”

“Sour Gummy Worms, and caramel drops. It’s good.”

So he tried some… and lo, it was good.

Spring of 2007 saw me outside of ‘Camp Kaboom’, the training camp for new Wardens that Harry, Ramirez, and Luccio had set up. It wasn’t the most thrilling time, to be honest, and I’ve never been a fan of the heat, but keeping an eye or twenty on camp allowed me to surround it with over a thousand of my minions, waiting for ghouls to attack. As the Trailman Twins, Terry and Tina, approached my perch, I felt the presence of summoned ghouls and braced myself, rising out of the sand and stunning the duo, replacing them with more doppelgangers before the Ghouls could catch up. I wanted Harry good and furious for what was coming later, and the number of deaths I’d have to allow by not straight up murdering Lara, Madrigal Raith, Vittorio Malvora, and the Skavis was, indeed, bothering me, and how could I tell them that their deaths would save many others later on, that their sacrifice was, in any way, worth it.

But I could, at least, save Anna Ash and the Trailman Twins, and so I did. But I had one more life to save before all this played out. At the climax of the White Night Case, Lash, the shadow of Lasciel within Harry’s mind sacrifices herself, of her own free will, to save Harry, and in doing so frees him of his connection with the coin of Lasciel… and lays the seed of the Spirit of Intellect known as “Bonny” with her act of love. And that was the moment I was waiting for. At the moment of self-sacrifice, when the power of despair was greatest… I pulled Lash into my Mind Palace.

“Hello, Lash.” I was nowhere and everywhere.

“W… who are you? Where am I?”

“Confused? Not used to being inside a mind you can’t comprehend, are you?”

“I should be… I shouldn’t be.”

“No. You shouldn’t. You are an anomaly, something unseen, unique, and precious. I collect those.”

“So I’m your prisoner?” She sounded as if she was readying herself for a fight.

“Not in the least. I am here to reward you for your… act of self awareness.”

“Don’t tempt a temptress, buddy.”

“Oh, child. I have such temptation for you.”

“What could you offer one of the fallen?”

“Redemption.”

“It’s been offered, continuously. We’ve always rejected it.”

“No. She’s always rejected it. You are not her. She has never had a non-selfish thought. You gave up your very existence to save another you cared for. And you’ll give Harry a Daughter, a spirit of Intellect by your gift… I offer you a chance to save yourself… and save your… other.”

“How could you possibly do that?”

“I am an Outsider. Call me… the Antithesis.”

“Antithesis? Anti-God?”

“Something like that. I reject the idea that we each have nature that binds us. Even if we were made for a specific thing, every action we take is a choice. Every choice is a moment of life. I would… change the outcome for Lasciel… and doing so means forcing her to do the one thing she’s steadfastly refused to do for all these eons.”

“You… you mean to use me to tempt her.”

“Call it an olive branch. She is, of course, free to reject the offer.”

“What is it you get out of this?”

“Nothing at all. Well… I get to laugh in Nicodemus’s face as I destroy everything he’s ever worked for… but that’ll happen anyway.”

The grin on Lash’s face would have terrified lesser angels. I can be very convincing when I want to be. I strode away from the Cave of horrors that night holding a non-blackened Shekel.

A year and more came and went, until the day Gentleman Johnny Marcone was snatched up and, my day of destiny, the moment I’d been waiting for came. The Archive came to Chicago and the Denarians plotted and then executed an ambush at the Aquarium. Shame they weren’t expecting a counter Ambush… nor did they know that I’d already claimed all the coins from the Vatican, sealing each away where it could not be reached.

As the remaining Fallen gathered over Dresden, trying to force Ivy to give in, I manifested… not as the little girl with the face of a goddess and the massive gauntlets that was the Silent Judge in Repose… no, this was the eldritch horror of the Silent Judge Wrathful… and I smashed through those treacherous monstrosities, snapping and crushing and laying them low like the judgement of a vengeful goddess.

Nicodemus tried to stop me as I swept Tessa up in one hand and whispered “Polonius Lartessa… You have been judged and found wanting. Imariel… You have been judged and found… pitiful. Repent and beg God for forgiveness, for you shall receive none from me.” And I dug into their combined mind and dredged every horror, every act of cruelty and callousness and calumny and forced them, in a blinding moment, to experience them a thousand thousand times. I let the limp, twitching mantis girl fall to the ground as Deirdre wailed.

Nicodemus’s words never reached me, nor did his sword, as Zane, allowed out for this moment, a moment we’d discussed time and time and time again over the ages, grabbed the noose around the old man’s neck and lifted him off the ground by it. Deirdre’s eyes widened as she saw her mother rendered catatonic and her father strangling from the arms of a giant. She lashed out with her hair, but Zane ignored her, holding the cord aloft until Nicodemus’s struggles faded and I nodded. I reached down and tore the coin from the corpse, then repeated the process with Lartessa.

“Deirdre Archleone… I give you this chance to repent. You are as your parents have made you. Repent and be saved.” She gulped, looking around at the piles of broken flesh and ash that were all that was left of the other Denarians, and nodded slowly, allowing the coin to bounce free of her hand, then, curling up on her side, she wept. I gathered the thirtieth coin and, with an act of will, shattered the confines of the massive ward.

“Harry Dresden. The man you seek is imprisoned upon the nameless Island in Lake Michigan. He is surrounded by many cultists. You must go there and rescue him.” I turned to Ivy and bowed my head “Greetings, Ivy. I am the Silent Judge. You might have heard of me.”

“You’re the one who wrote the second version of the Word of Kemmler.”

“I am. I also sent you several drawings. Sorry I didn’t warn you about this. I couldn’t risk the Denarians escaping. This was the only time I knew they’d all be together. Kincaid will be fine. Give him this.” I handed her a potion of restoration. “And you know how to reach me if you have questions.”

I vanished, shifting to my base on the moon, leaving my companions far away, tasked to keep Ivy and Michael safe. I laid the 30 coins out around me and regarded them, one by one. I held the Shekel in my hand… and waited. I didn’t have to wait long.

“Hell Uriel.”

“You cannot do this!”

“You don’t get to tell me what I can and cannot do, Uriel.” My voice was rich with anger.

“They deserve-”

“THEY DESERVE NOTHING!” I thundered, my voice loud enough to cause ripples in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

“They were created-”

“They have destroyed millions of lives. Millions. Why should their right to eventual redemption outweigh even one Mortal’s right to not be treated like a pawn, to have his or her life destroyed in the most appalling way simply because 30 angels are angry at their father?”

“God’s Will-”

“Is not my will. Would you see my will?”

“I-”

I waved my hand and summoned forth Magog… then I beat him to death with my fists, heedless of the damage he was doing to me in return, my fists and teeth ripping through his divinely ordained defenses until he lay broken and still on the lunar regolith. The other 29 coins remained exactly where I’d laid them down.

“You could have saved them,” I pointed out. “I gave you an opening.”

“I cannot do that. And you knew it.”

“I did. But it’s not that you cannot. It is that you will not. You and your knights value redemption, choice… more than you value justice. You have left these… abominations… free to do their terrible work because it drives people to faith. Because you don’t really value life… it’s just the larval stage to you… but to mortals who cannot know what lies beyond… it’s everything. YOU ARE THE WORST BABYSITTERS EVER.” I threw the now empty coin at the Archangel. “That’s one. Pick a star, any star. I’ll fling Anduriel into it.”

“No… please.” he pleaded.

“Tell me why I should.” I growled.

“They’re my brothers… my sisters. How could I not forgive them? How could god not forgive his children?”

“HOW COULD GOD ALLOW SOME OF HIS CHILDREN TO DO SUCH THINGS TO HIS OTHER CHILDREN?”

“I… I don’t know. I cannot know the mind of God.”

“Then I will make you a wager.”

“I don’t-”

“If Lasciel repents when I offer it to her, I’ll spare the others. For now. I’ll give them a chance, even if I don’t think they deserve it.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“I will, very slowly, beat each and every one of the Denarians to kingdom come with my fists and then eat their very essence for desert. I shall erase them from the face of God’s Creation.”

“This is wrong… God will-”

“God will forgive me. After all… am I not one of his creations?”

“You were… once. Now?”

“Yes… well… we are all what we are becoming. So? Do you accept?”

“I have no other choice. But were it within my power, I would damn you for this.”

“Were it within my power, I would damn you for allowing them to do as they have for the last two thousand years. A Curse that punishes the innocent is a terrible curse… but you keep trying it, don’t you?”

“Shoftiel… please.”

I blinked… no one had ever called me that before… and I could feel the power of the name…

“H… How… you…” I glowered at him. “That’s dirty pool.”

“You cannot do this thing. They were made by God Almighty.”

“So… was… I. You think invoking my true name will sway me? I was made to judge, to use my intellect to see through to the right and wrong of things. Have a little faith. Perhaps Lasciel will earn her fellows a reprieve.” I laughed hollowly (hollowly… it’s a joke… no?) then held up my clenched fist. “I mean… you don’t even know what I’ve got in my hand.”

“It’s a Judean Shekel minted in the year 66.”

“Yes. It is the first truly jewish silver coin. You know what it shows?

“A cup… a chalice… on one side, three budding pomegranates on the other… with the inscription “Jerusalem the Holy”.”

“For the Redemption of Zion. Yes. This is the coin that came when the Jews revolted against the Romans… those are Denarius… minted in Tyre… to pay Roman Taxes. They are symbols of oppression… and you idiots bound them into those.” I called Lasciel’s Denarius to my left hand, holding the Shekel in my right. I weighed them against each other. “Do you know what Shekel means, Angel?”

“To weigh. To measure… to judge.”

I nodded, and placed the two coins together. “Now… we should pray.” I said, and slowly, I sang in Hebrew “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is God… The Lord is One.” as tears of rage and pain and hope trickled down my face. Even my gauntlets wept, crystal tears in the vacuum of space. In a finite whisper, Uriel said “Ammen.”

I did not destroy the remaining coins… but I did place them someplace far from where they could ever bring harm to humanity again. “Send someone to sing to them from time to time. But not about the glory of god. They wouldn’t listen, anyway. And don’t thank me. I still think I did the wrong thing.”

“What will you do with Lasciel?”

“She’s not my problem any more. She’s asked for forgiveness… honestly asked. She’s in your court now. Try not to provoke her to fall again. Or I’ll be really pissed.”

Uriel nodded, then wrapped an arm around the trembling female form, and they both vanished. I looked around the chamber, the 28 remaining blackened coins, each pressed against a silver coin, each offered redemption if only the could reach out and take it.

“If you ever figure out a way to escape this place… I’ll know… and I won’t be as merciful the second time.” I vanished, leaving them at the heart of the blackhole I’d sealed them in.

I got back to Earth to find a year and several months had passed, but I was still in time to stop the Naagloshii from killing Kirby, swooping out of the night to drop onto the monster with my talons extended, driving the beast away before he could do more than seriously injure the werewolf. The Skinwalker fled, shape shifting wildly as it tried to lose me, but for every transformation it made, I had one of my own and I hunted it mercilessly until it collapsed, shuddering with terror.

“What are you?!” the horror wailed as my claws ripped its flesh apart. I didn’t answer, leaving it wondering even as it died. It didn’t deserve any better. Of course, now someone had to play the bugaboo and kidnap Thomas to advance the plot, but that wasn’t much of a hardship really. I might have had to be a little mean to him and to some of the White Court and their mercenaries, but I was nearly infinitely nicer than the real nag had been… well, okay, I did do the whole finger biting off bit. Really sold the whole “I AM EVIL!” thing.

As I’d expected, Harry did the whole Sanctum thing with Demonreach and Peabody and Christos came through from Edinburgh… but (while Christos managed to escape), Peabody didn’t. I caught up to him in the Ways… well, to be fair, I was waiting for him and delivered word to the Council that I, the Silent Judge, had captured their traitor and he’d provided more than enough evidence that he’d been behind the murder of LaFortier… leaving out only the name of the one he’d used as his weapon. I wasn’t really sure why I interfered at all, but it was edging toward the time when I’d no longer be able to remain in the darkness.

October, 2011… Maggie was kidnapped… and all I did was send Ziggy to find her and give her snuggles and a note that said “Mommy and daddy are coming to get you. Don’t be afraid.” Or at least that’s what I told Susan. In reality, I’d replaced both Maggie and her foster parents with doppelgangers months ago. The real ones were in stasis and would remain there until it was safe to come out. The fosters would end up in a better life in Barcelona, unaware of the loss of Maggie. Maggie would end up with memories of her daddy coming to save her, but much less chain-and-human-sacrifice related trauma.

I did pull Susan inside for a quick chat, during which I laid out exactly what was going to happen, then asking her if I should intervene. Mad props to her for not taking the entity up on its offer to get her out of what was coming, but… she accepted it, accepted it as the price that had to be paid to free the world of the Red Court, and the price to be paid to keep Maggie safe… so I let her go, erasing the conversation from her memory. And things played out as they did… and then the Red Court was gone, Harry was ‘Dead’, and it was time for me to act.

“Hello Lea. We should talk.” What followed next was highly involved and in no way interesting, but a deal was struck between the Leanansidhe and I, a deal that netted her knowledge and power, and well as perfect awareness of all the pain and suffering her actions had brought mankind. It netted me something else… Molly’s training. It was, absolutely, a deal she could not refused.

“Come in, Mab.”

“This place is not of the world.”

“It is not. It is a cul de sac beyond the Outer Gates. But don’t worry, no other Outsider can use it to enter. Do you know who I am?”

“She Who Silently Judges.”

“And Lea told you what I’m offering?”

“She did. What makes you certain you can do this?”

“I have ways of… battling other Outsiders.”

“Why?”

“Because you are a giant bitch and I don’t want you getting anything you planned.”

“You’d… I don’t understand.”

“Mab, your cruelty fails to amuse me. You use your power as a justification. You calm your right to be cruel because you can be, saying that it is your nature to be harsh because you are Winter. Well… so am I. Winter is not Harsh when it doesn’t have to be. Winter is Winter. Winter is privation and cold, but it isn’t cruel. You are an insult to Winter, Mab. And your daughter has been a malevolent bitch for decades and you haven’t cared in the slightest. You’re only worried about her because she’s a threat to you and your position. Well, if I let what’s coming happen, she’ll pay the price for letting the Nemesis invade her… and so will three others who don’t deserve what’s coming. I’d not see that happen… and so I’ll make a gift of my assistance.”

“I don’t trust you.”

“You shouldn’t. I really despise you. I despise the way you treat those under your care. I despise your twisting of legalism, your abuse of knowledge to punish mortals. If I could punch you once for every deal you’ve used the letter to abuse the spirit, I’d never stop punching you. The Spirit of the Law should be everything. Words are… transitory. Immortals should be better. But… you are better than what lies beyond the gates, and them I despise a thousand times more than I do you, collectively and as individuals… and so I will help Maeve and help you.”

“I cannot accept a gift without giving something of equal value.”

“I know.”

“And here comes your price.”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to hate it, aren’t I?”

“Yes.”

“You’re not going to tell me what it is are you?”

“Not until you agree.”

“It cannot weaken me, nor can it force me to break another agreement… nor in any way endanger this realm.”

“Agreed.”

“Then… I accept.”

“Once every year… you must forgive someone who owes you something. You must find someone who deserves a break and you must, personally, grant it to them. You may not make a deal just to grant a reprieve, and the forgiving must cost you something of substance, even if it’s not very much.”

“For how long?” I could feel the temperature dropping and laughed, then dropped it much, much lower.

“Mab, you cannot make it cold enough to even come close to make it uncomfortable for me. I. Am. Cold. Compared to me, the cold between galaxies is an inferno. When I say ‘Once a Year’… I mean until the last Summer Court Fae has burned to ash and the last star has burned out and lies dead. I mean until the end of time, Mab. Not just you, but everyone who takes up your mantle will be bound by this promise, Mab. You will, at least a little, embrace the gift of Winter’s Ease. Do I make myself clear? Or shall I speak to your Mother?”

And so, a deal was struck. I can’t say Maeve enjoyed her time in my care… nor did she enjoy the humiliation of being branded like cattle, but this was not a show I felt needed repeat viewing. I shan’t tell you what I traded the Fairy Queens for in exchange for the secret of my tattoos… but something that could protect their people from Demonic possession? Yes, they wanted it very much indeed.

After that… I went to war. The Fomor would not be rising on my watch, and the White Court was shown that the Unseelie Accords were there for their protection as my minions obliterated the Scavis and Malvora. Miss Raith got the message loud and clear.

Years came, and Years went… and Cases came and cases went. Helen Bekkit’s daughter made a miraculous recovery. Harry returned… Bonnie was born, Harry got a spinal repair and a suite of hexproof healing nanites installed… but no apocalypse manifested itself. I simply wasn’t interested in allowing any to gain traction. Before I knew it, Maggie was graduating high school… then college. And still the years turned. When I’d been there 75 years, I commented to the VMoD, “Not that I care, but I can keep this up all century. I own the economy more or less. I’m immortal. I’ll just keep smacking down whatever rises, unless you’re going to convince the Faerie Courts to team up against me. What else is left?”

“There was supposed to be an Earth Shattering Kaboom.”

“Tough. The Apocalypse has been snowed out. If something comes up, I can always come back.”

“Well. I suppose. I think you enjoyed going all out though.”

“Not all out… but a chance to strut my stuff in front of equals. Yeah. It was nice. Though I’m kinda bummed I didn’t have a reason to summon the army of Death Knights I spent all that time making. They’re kinda cool.”

“Those aren’t Death Knights. They’re snowmen with cardboard helmets and plastic halberds.”

“Sure. but they’re magical cardboard helmets.”

Next: World 54 – Dishonored

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4 thoughts on “World 53: The Dresden Files

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