Lind drummed her fingers on the desk, her nails biting into the hard wood. She glared at the phone, as if daring it to ring. Or maybe begging it to ring.
She was a Goddess First Class, Special Duty, Unlimited License, which is to say a Valkyrie. A warrior of Heaven. Normally a Valkyrie would not be working the Goddess Helpline. But since the infamous 'K1' event, they had been short-handed. And Lind had volunteered for the duty. She found she preferred dealing with mortals to dealing with her fellow gods. Especially given her history in Heaven, and that the two divinities she considered her best friends now lived on Earth.
That happened to be both the reason the Helpline was short-handed, and the reason Lind had volunteered to fill the empty chair. She hadn't expected to enjoy it as much as she usually did.
Usually. That was the operative word.
An alarm was blaring. Yggdrasil's bullpen was in chaos. Lind knew the rest of the Valkyries were suiting up for battle, many of them on the verge of panicking. Because of the handful of alarms in Heaven, this one was the worst. Or perhaps the second worst, depending on the individual's personal inclinations.
This alarm signaled a Breach. A capital 'B' breach. Not an accidental rift from Heaven, nor an invasion portal from Hell. No, a Breach from the Outside. Not only that. The siren was not for a minor Outsider like a Shoggoth. It was the alert that a Walker of the Outsider now stood upon the Earth.
Thus the source of her annoyance. Normally she would be gearing up, donning her armor and sharpening her spear. Ready to lead the Valkyries against the greatest menace the universe could face. A threat that would cause Heaven and Hell to set aside their differences and work together. A threat, which, if dealt with incorrectly, could kill goddess and arch-demons alike.
A threat that would twist and snap the threads of mortal karma. As such, she was trapped at her desk, waiting for the inevitable barrage of phone calls from Humans whose lives had been ruined by a mere brush with the Outsider. People who would earn a wish from a Goddess in seconds, instead of suffering through years of unearned bad luck.
So as much as it was all-hands on deck for the Valkyries, it was equally urgent that the Goddess Helpline was staffed. And that was Lind's role at that moment.
Just as it looked like Lind's drumming might do critical damage to her desk, the alarm stopped. Gods and spirits alike froze, and looked up in surprise and confusion.
"What happened?" a music spirit broke the bewildered, fearful quiet. But no-one had an answer, so the bull-pen fell back into silence.
The phone on Lind's desk sang out, and all eyes fell on it. Normally the Goddess would have answered on the first ring.
The Valkyrie lifted it the handset off the base.
"Good Evening, God…" she said gently. But she was cut off before she could finish.
"You have to send trucks right away," a young, male voice babbled out in English, "The gas station on 6th Ave and Lee Street exploded, and the fire is getting close to the neighborhood houses!"
The Goddess's eyes widened briefly, then narrowed at the phone.
What was left of the building was on fire, and it was my fault.
I mean, okay, the monster… demon… thing…. whatever it was, hadn't given me much choice. And I had never cast a spell that powerful before. And my natural and negative effect on all things technology probably hadn't helped the gas station's safety valves and stuff. Not to mention my warlock guardian, who forced me to run and then sicced the demon on me…
But ultimately, it was my fault. The rest of it was just noise, excuses. I had blown up the gas pumps, trying to kill the monster. I would have failed if it hadn't exploded, and even then it seemed close for a few seconds. Regardless, I did it. In the end, this was on me.
I glared at the reason for my introspection. If it hadn't been there, I would have just run. Whether that was 'run away' or 'run back to get revenge', I wasn't completely sure. Instead, as I stood there, alone, still hungry, and now bleeding from bits of shrapnel, I saw it. Maybe the last one in the state. A phone booth. A chance to call for help, before the whole town burned down.
"It might not even be hooked up," I muttered as I limped quickly across the street.
"If I didn't already blow it out," I grimaced, the pain in my back flaring as I pulled the door open, "It probably won't work with me this close."
I picked up the handset, and put it to my ear. There was a dial tone. It hissed, and popped, but ultimately didn't stop or fade.
I tried to hit the first number, but I hit the eight instead. I tapped the lever a couple times to start over. My vision swimming, I managed to punch 9-1-1. At least I thought I did, because it started to ring. A female voice started speaking a few rings later, but I didn't even listen.
"You have to send trucks right away," I cut her off, more worried about time than manners, "The gas station on 6th Ave and Lee Street exploded, and the fire is getting close to the neighborhood houses!"
There was a pause, and then she said, "Hold on for a moment, I will be right there."
Now, I wasn't thinking the most clearly at that moment. But I was still sure that was a pretty odd thing to say. I supposed she could have been in the fire department…
A bright light hit the booth. I thought it was a car's headlights, and was annoyed at the driver for not stopping. Still, I stared at the phone like it was a life vest and I was Leo in that movie. Then there was a rap on the phone booth's door, and I turned to look.
She was tall. Maybe an inch or two shorter than me. Which was saying something, because at only fifteen I was still the tallest guy at school. Including all the teachers. She had silvery hair, a trim figure, and three circles in a triangle on her forehead. They didn't look like tattoos, or make-up, or anything else I could think of. They might have been birthmarks, if not for their vivid blue color and perfect roundness and the fact they formed a perfect, inverted, equilateral triangle.
Her outfit was odd, too. Though it was basically a light grey, long sleeved shirt and pants, she also had a sort of skinny, split cape snapped on at the shoulders. Also, the shirt had tails on each hip plus a high collar. There was blue piping down it, and other than the cape snaps, it didn't have any fasteners. It looked like it might zip down the front, but there was no zipper visible. Instead it looked like it had just merged together. And the material wasn't normal either. It didn't look like any sort of cloth, or even leather.
"You can hang up the phone now, Harry," she said softly. I was a little suspicious, but everything else overrode it. So I dropped the receiver back on the cradle, and stepped out of the booth.
(As she turned away from me, I saw both her cape and shirt had a large, diamond cut-out, showing her spine and a decent amount of shoulder blade. But I only registered that for a second.)
The woman raised one hand, and my jaw dropped. An honest to god magic circle appeared over her hand. She snapped her fingers, and in a rush of power and control that would have made Justin green with envy, the flames were covered by an inch of ice. Normally I would have thought the fire was too hot, but it went out instantly.
Now don't get me wrong, I had seen mandalas before. From a simple pentagram, up to elaborate setups of multiple circles filled with runes. The thing was, mandalas were something inscribed carefully on a solid surface. And then checked at least three times. A glowy circle that appeared in midair? That was the province of comic books, animation, and the occasional special effects heavy movie.
Or at least that's what everything I had learned and seen up to that point told me.
Satisfied by her work, she turned to me.
"Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden," she said, and I shook. Not just because it was getting cold, and I was losing blood. No, she had said my Name. And not my partial name, or my name like she heard it from someone else. No, it was my full True Name, as if she had heard it directly from me seconds before. There was no power or imperative in her words, but they still echoed through me.
"Born October 31st, 2000…" she continued.
(Yeah, I know the other Harrys you've read about were born in the 70s. So sue me.)
"To Margaret Dresden nee McCoy, also known as Margret LeFay, and Malcolm Dresden," she rattled off. Well, that's not really fair. Her voice was to steady and melodious to 'rattle'.
"Your mother died shortly after you were born… And the reason for her death has been redacted. Your father died January 14th, 2007 of a brain aneurysm. You were adopted by Justin DuMorne at age ten, and despite his upbringing, have remained generally a good and moral person…"
"Who are you?" I demanded, "And how do you know all that about me?"
"I am Lind, Goddess First Class, Special Duty, Unlimited License."
"A goddess?" I managed not to snort, but I'm sure my voice was still dubious, "And why are you here, oh my goddess?"
"The scales of your karma have become perilously unbalanced, Mr. Dresden," she didn't seem annoyed, "To right the unredressed wrongs that have happened in your life, I am here to grant you a wish."
"So what, you're my faerie godmother?" I asked sarcastically. And instantly regretted it.
Lind's eyes flashed with anger, and just for a moment I felt the depths of her power. If I was a Bic™ lighter, and Justin was a propane grill, this self-proclaimed Goddess was a nuclear weapon or erupting volcano. I gulped and unwittingly took a step back.
"Do not compare me with the Sidhe," she insisted sharply, "We are nothing like them!"
"Okay," I agreed quickly and penitently. Then I asked carefully, "Just so I know for the future, what's the difference?"
She relaxed, "I apologize, Mr. Dresden…"
"Please, call me Harry."
"Harry, then," she smiled slightly, and it felt like everything was right with the world, "We Goddesses are as different from the fae as they are from Humans. Completely separate and different, yet all the same."
I frowned as I considered that.
"Metaphysics aside," she added, "The Sidhe live primarily in the Nevernever, while Goddesses live primarily in Heaven. Or Asgard if you prefer to differentiate the portion of Heaven that is not the Human afterlife. And the Sidhe cannot lie, but do so nevertheless. Goddesses can lie, but those of us who are First Class do not."
"Why not?" I asked, "I mean, I'm not one for lying indiscriminately. But it does have its uses."
"It is a restriction placed on First Class Goddesses. In return for greater privileges and access to our powers, we cannot lie. If I were to lie, even once, I would be busted back down to Second Class. And if I were to lie like the fae do, using misleading words, stating opinions as fact, and the like… If I were to do so, I would be censured and face a tribunal. If the tribunal agreed that the deception was necessary, it would simply be a black mark on my record. If they ruled against me, I would be demoted, the same as if I actually said something that was untrue."
I nodded. I believed her. She could have been lying, but there was a weight to her words.
"And so, you are going to grant me a wish?" I prompted, "I can just make a wish? And what kind of wishes can you grant?"
"I am not here to bargain for your servitude or soul," she assured me, "The price has already been paid in your unwarranted suffering. Nor am I going to trick you or short change you. If you ask for something beyond my power, the Ultimate Force will act to grant your wish. Or, I will simply tell you that your wish has been rejected, and you will be allowed another chance."
"As for what," Lind smiled slightly, "You could ask for a treasure so great that, even allowing for taxes, inflation, and a wizard's extended lifespan, you could spend money like water for the rest of your life and not go through a third of it. I could grant you magic power and skill so great that you could challenge the entire Senior Council, seven on one, and win with ease."
"I don't know what that means," I admitted, "But it sounds impressive."
The Goddess frowned again, and this time I got the feeling her ire was not directed at me.
"It is," she agreed, forcing herself to relax, "You could wish that every woman you Soulgaze would fall hopelessly, helplessly, maddeningly in love with you. I could smite everyone who has ever wronged you, even if you don't know it, even if they don't know it…"
I thought about it, my eyes drifting away from her.
"Can you bring back the dead?" I asked softly, sadly.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said regretfully, "But your parents have been gone too long."
"I…" I wilted a bit more, "I feel like a jerk, I hadn't even thought of that."
"Stan," I pointed. She followed my finger, her eyes widening in understanding.
"He shouldn't be dead," I said, "If I hadn't come here, he'd still be alive…"
She started to protest, and I held up my hand.
"I get it," I told her, "He Who Walks Behind killed Stan. He wanted to threaten me, toy with me. But He also wanted to kill Stan. He enjoyed it. And of course neither the monster or I would have been here if it wasn't for Justin. But if it is 60 percent the monster's fault, and 30 percent Justin's, that still leaves 10 percent of the blame for me. And the other guys aren't going to do anything about it…"
"So can you do it?" I asked again, trying to contain my optimism.
"I'm sorry, Harry," Lind shook her head, "If his death had been mundane, it would be possible. If it had been normal magic, it would have complicated things, but there still would have been a chance. But Stan was killed by a Walker of the Outside. Even the Ultimate Force cannot restore a soul that has been destroyed."
I slumped. I lost energy as hope drained out of me. Not that I had much left in the tank as it was.
"And even if it were possible," she continued, "I doubt that wish would be accepted. This wish is for you, to help you and restore your balance. Using it to save another without any benefit would only put your karma further out of balance."
"So it has to be a selfish wish?" I looked at her carefully, not meeting her eyes.
"Not entirely," she reassured me, "You could wish for wealth, and use it to live comfortably while also helping others. You could wish for power, and act as a hero. Even if you wished for your gaze to enrapture women, you could use it to save women in bad situations and to guide the cruel to kindness."
I barked a weak laugh. My head was spinning, and I was barely standing.
"You know what I want?" I declared in mock humor, "No, you know what I need? I need a guardian, a mentor, a real teacher. Someone who will protect me when I need it. But also let me fall and help me back up. Who will really, honestly teach me, not try to shape me into what they want. A friend, a relative, a something… Someone who will never lie to me. Never betray me. Never leave me…."
I looked at her face, and only missed a 'Gaze because my left eye was closed and my right eye was so blurry I couldn't tell her nose from her chin.
"Can that wish give me that?" my voice was barely audible, "Can you be that for me, Goddess Lind?"
I blacked out, falling forward. With the last of my consciousness, I felt soft hands catch me. And a surge of power unlike anything I've felt before or since.
Lind felt her power link to Yggdrasil, even as she grabbed his shoulders to keep him from hitting the pavement. The marks on her forehead elongated from circles into ovals, and shone like a spotlight.
The war Goddess felt a bit of embarrassment, as she finally recognized the injuries dotting the boy's body, including a dangerously large piece of shrapnel in his side. Of course he had not come out of a fight with a Walker unharmed. She tapped into the extra power flowing through her. A dozen of mandalas appeared over Dresden's body, healing his injuries and even restoring his threadbare clothing.
Then she felt the connection close.
"Your wish has been acknowledged," she told the unconscious boy gently, "Our contract has been registered."
Bracing Harry with one hand, she fished the car keys out of her pocket. She hit the button to unlock it. Even though Harry probably weighed half again as much as her, she easily carried him over to the sedan, and loaded him into the back seat. She cast one more scanning spell, confirming that he was merely asleep; tired and hungry but not in danger. Only once she was satisfied he was safe and secure, did the Valkyrie check out the changes to herself.
The insignia on her forehead and the pair under her eyes, normally hidden by her hair, were gone. Or at least concealed, as she could still feel their power. Her silver hair, short except for the single braid on the right side, was unchanged, as were her features and build. Her normal uniform had been changed into a pair of blue jeans, and a black t-shirt with a deco style print of a certain boxy red robot in a certain iconic aiming pose with the phrase Optimus Shot First underneath. In the same pocket that had held the keys to her newly materialized car, she also had a smart phone of some type. Lind doubted the inclusion of the high-tech device was an oversight by Yggdrasil. More likely it was both something she would need, and a reminder of her new responsibility. In her left hip pocket she had a wallet, which she took out.
She had a Discover credit card, and a Visa debit card. As she looked at the second piece of plastic, she 'remembered' her bank account number and passwords. The wallet also held a health insurance card, a Sam's Club membership, and fifty seven dollars in assorted US currency. Finally she flipped up the last panel, and looked at her driver's license. Thankfully, it had a decent picture.
She was now Lindsey Dresden, born May fourth, 1991. With an address in Chicago, another prompt from the Ultimate Force. The details of her new life fell into place in her mind. Lind nodded to herself, and to the system, and then got into the car. There was an envelope on the passenger side seat, and she moved it to the sedan's large glovebox.
"Time to go home, kiddo," she whispered to her insensate nephew, "But a couple of stops, first."
Justin DuMorne was trying very hard not to panic.
Summoning He Who Walks Behind had drained the warlock. To the point he had not been able to remote view the Outsider on His hunt. Instead, a simpler bit of scrying thaumaturgy had let him feel the creature's energy, and to sense the boy's power as the Walker drew close. There was brief surge when HWWB had slaughtered a random person and fed on the mortal. Then, somewhat unexpectedly, the boy had finally shown a bit of backbone, and launched his own attack. Justin was moderately surprised and mildly worried when the Outsider's presence vanished. But that was not what he was struggling against. No, it was the surge of power a minute later that filled him with a dread that threatened to overwhelm his training and experience. The scent of the mana was like one he had encountered once in his duties as a Warden. Only this time it was much, much stronger.
"Valkyrie," he hissed, "Likely First Class this time."
"Master?" Elaine Mallory prompted. Despite the spells suppressing her self-determination, binding her to his will instead, the girl sounded curious and confused.
"We are leaving," Justin ordered, "You have five minutes, pack as much as you can in that time."
Even as he gave the instruction, DuMorne began to craft spells that he hoped would hide them from the vengeful war Goddess he expected to appear at any moment.
Lind drove, the radio off and the hum of the electric engine muffled by magic. The only noise was the seams in the highway, and the occasional snort or grumble by Harry. Until the moment she was not alone.
"What are you doing, Lind?" the car's new passenger asked carefully.
"And hello to you, too, Uriel," she said calmly.
"Answer me Lind," the archangel ignored being called out on his rudeness, and pressed her again in a gentle yet firm voice, "The Almighty has restricted contracts like this since the K1 incident. Why did you agree to this wish?"
"I didn't," she said softly, "Harry made his wish, the system registered it, and the Ultimate Force went to work. I guess whatever security measures the Almighty installed, he should have gotten Skuld's help, because Yggdrasil bypassed them without so much as a blip."
Lind recognized her speech patterns slipping into something less formal, more… American. But she didn't really care.
Uriel finally reacted, frowning thoughtfully, "Even so, you should still be able to cancel the wish."
"Maybe, with Belldandy's help," Lind qualified her agreement, "But I won't."
"Why not?" Uriel sounded interested, if a bit put out.
"The boy defeated a Walker," she explained, "Starborn or not, he is young and poorly trained. But he did it. And the system ignored the Almighty's locks to grant this wish; that makes me want to know why. But most importantly, it was a true, heartfelt wish. And so I want to grant it. Harry needs someone to be a real family to him. He deserves it."
"Do you have feelings for him?"
"Yes," Lind fixed him with a dark glare, "Those of an aunt or older sister. Those of a decent person who wants to help a young man in desperate need. I am not romantically interested in him. But it is not impossible that that may change."
Uriel shook his head, understanding that she was teasing him.
"Good bye, sister," the Seraphim told her, "And good luck. You will definitely need it."
"See you around, big brother," Lind said as Uriel vanished.
"Halfway home," Lind informed the sleeping Human, as they crossed the border into Illinois.
Author's Note: A plot bunny that has been begging to be born. As for where it might have gone, I am of two minds. The first is the DF route, where we move quickly through Harry's teenage years and Lind's training, to see what the DF books might have been like a few decades later, with stronger Harry and a Goddess as his partner. The other is the AMG route, a.k.a. the High School AU route. Harry living a safer, happier (though still not perfect) high school life with other DF characters as his classmates.