Title: Couched in Mumbo Jumbo
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.
Summary: My old friend Daniel Jackson hadn't been involved in the supernatural world when I'd known him, and by High Council law, those of us who are aren't allowed to talk about it. 3600 words.
Spoilers: General Season 1 of the TV version of the Dresden Files; mid-Season 10 for SG-1
Notes: 24 Days of Ficmas 2011, Day 19: for xiorlanth. Prompt: "Harry Dresden (tv-verse) + Daniel Jackson: 'lingual drift', in continuation of Special Delivery." Shrewd eyes may spot a few bookverse allusions. (And yes, this is the third or fourth time I've leveraged Daniel to hammer some part of the Ori plotline into submission. Can you blame me?)
I've been called many things in my life. The weird kid with the traveling magician dad. The precocious heir to the ancient Morningway line. A black-hearted, murderous warlock. The only wizard in the Chicago phone book. All are true enough, in their own way: part of the Harry Dresden package. One thing I've never been accused of, though, is being in any way an intellectual.
It's not that I'm unintelligent. I'm the first to admit I'm something of a geek when it comes to my chosen profession. Take a look in my lab sometime; magic isn't just my job, it's my life. I'm always experimenting, improvising, and otherwise learning about new ways to use my gift. Apart from that, though... I never did get my high school diploma. And you can forget about college. The closest I ever got to a traditional post-secondary education was that P.I. course I had to pass to keep consulting for the cops, or maybe that Latin correspondence thing, which Bob will be the first to tell you never really took.
Hey: if I can make Flickum Bicus work, what's the point in being all proper about it?
The point is, it took me a lot longer than it probably should've to realize just what I had in my hands after Lt. Colonel Carter brought me that notebook claiming to be Merlin's grimoire. Well, Moros'; but any student of magical history knows that's another name for the same guy. I knew by the time I'd turned the third page, though, that whatever most people though they knew? Was only a pale shadow of what the world's most legendary wizard had set down in his own hand. Call it one part awe, two parts shock, and a hefty helping of ego- I was so enthralled by the text itself that it took me weeks to starting seeing the forest for the maze of trees.
My old friend Daniel Jackson had left an inscription on the notebook hinting that its origins were somehow connected to both of our esoteric studies. He hadn't been involved in the supernatural world when I'd known him, and by High Council law, those of us who are aren't allowed to talk about it... but I'd got around that little clause by speaking in hypotheticals. So had he, I figured, if he was working for the Air Force these days; his little theory about more ancient peoples having built the pyramids obviously had some kind of present-day security implications. So really, it should have occurred to me sooner that the excerpts of ritual language that looked a lot like Latin, but weren't, just might have come from those 'ancient peoples' Daniel had been researching.
I don't just mean 'aliens'; that had been pretty well implied by his note. Though that's enough all on its own to give me the heebie jeebies. Aren't lycanthropes and hellions and Dracoforms enough? Not to mention the Sidhe and the vampires? Do we really gotta bring little green men into it?
Originally, I'd just assumed that Merlin had used one of the more obscure Latin dialects, one I hadn't encountered before. It's not like I could tell most of them apart. So the first time through, I read it for the content around the embedded spells and rituals. You really never think about legends like King Arthur the Knights of the Round Table as actual people, but Merlin wrote about them like they were- like I'd write about Murph and Bob, or even Morgan and Kirmani, if I ever took up a pen to try and record the crazy things I've lived through.
That took awhile. And when I was done, I let Bob have a crack at it. He was just as distracted by it as I was, rambling on about connections between things Moros said and hints of fragments of rumors embedded in later Western myth. He didn't recognize the dialect, either.
So for several weeks, that was as much thought as either of us spared for it. Business was booming for once, I had several cases going, and the notebook stayed atop a work table in my lab, collecting pixie dust and gossamer and twists of wrapper from my weekly delivery of all-natural ingredients. No one called about it; not my old friend, nor his Air Force handlers, nor anybody on my side of the fence. It nagged at me sometimes, but I kept putting it off for later.
But then one day in late February- during those chilly weeks when all the stores have their Valentine's merchandise on clearance, and shamrocks and yellow Peeps adorn the checkout aisles- I got called over to the Field Museum to advise Murphy about a theft from one of the tribal displays. When I was done, I succumbed to an urge to walk through the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit. I was usually more interested in Sue when I had spare time to explore- she and I have history- but the sign made me think of Daniel again, and I suppose I was curious to see if his name was on anything in there.
It wasn't. But I did see something scribbled in amongst the hieroglyphics in the three-story mastaba reproduction that just about froze the breath in my lungs: a line of blocky script that looked very much like the inscription on the cover of Merlin's journal.
I didn't say anything to Murphy about it, of course. But when I got back to my storefront slash apartment later that evening, I immediately went into the lab to unearth the journal, shaking the debris to the floor and summoning Bob out of his skull.
My ghostly assistant stared curiously at me as I unfolded the hasty sketch I'd made of the line from the wall of Unis-Ankh's chapel, compared it to the cover of the notebook, then flipped the journal open, hastily turning pages until I found a chunk of almost-Latin superscripted with a note in English about the Holy Grail. The original source wouldn't have been English, obviously; I'd been letting the fact that Daniel had translated the common tongue used for the main body but not the chunks of secondary material distract me from trying to more accurately date any of it. I'd just assumed. Which was a damned dangerous thing for a wizard to do at any time, never mind when subjects of this magnitude were involved.
I traced a finger over the blocky, almost digital-looking letter shapes, then over Daniel's spiky writing; it didn't take much imagination to transpose them, matching the Romanized forms to what must have been the original script. It wasn't some obscure or mutated latter-day form of Latin in use in Britain in the fifth or sixth century AD; if I was right, it was at least two or three millennia older than that. Older than Latin itself. It was pre-Latin: and it abruptly struck me as hysterically funny that the first language to be 'Romanized' with the Latin alphabet was, in fact, the language of Rome itself.
"You see what I'm seeing here, Bob?" I asked him, jaw agape.
"You found another sample of the language?" he ventured, following my gaze.
"Yeah. In a replica of a five thousand year old mastaba," I said. "You ever hear of a civilization that old, with a script that looks like this?"
He frowned at me, wearing that faintly disapproving air he often adopted when he thought I was going off on a tangent. "You say it was a replica? Are you certain that this line wasn't added later, perhaps as a form of graffiti- either on the original walls, or by the museum employees themselves?"
"Even if it was?" I shrugged at him, convinced I was right. "Look, I'm no expert on lingual drift, but you're the one who pointed out to me that a lot of the words in the excerpts seem more closely related to Latin rootforms than the classical version you used in your day. What if it is older? As in, a lot older?"
Bob raised his eyebrows. "My primary expertise is in Western European forms of magic, as you well know, developed over the last thousand years. I don't recall anything like this... well, except perhaps in the High Council's completed copy of Plato's Critias; there are a few lines of patterned drawing at the end that perhaps could be some form of this text..." His frown deepened into a scowl as he trailed off, staring down at the open notebook again.
"Plato... he was Greek, wasn't he? Something hundred BC?" That was long enough before Moros' time to lend some slender proof to my supposition.
"Yes," Bob drawled, his nose even further in the air. "Only an incomplete copy of that dialogue exists in the outside world; but the fragment that remains, in addition to his earlier Timaeus, are the first officially known references to the isle of Atlantis. As your friend must have known... I'm afraid he's playing you for a fool, Harry; there's no possible way that a mundane has suddenly discovered the lost language of a people that even the High Council believes to be a myth."
"Atlantis," I repeated. Bob's scorn washed over me with the ease of long practice- his morality and mine seldom marched in line, especially since my uncle's death- but that kernel of information stuck out. It was hardly a subject Daniel would joke about. "You're saying- Merlin was from Atlantis?"
"No, I'm saying your friend wants you to believe that. Or perhaps actually believes it himself, poor fool. But it's not possible, Harry." He shook his head at me, spitting his next words out with slow deliberation. "Atlantis doesn't exist."
"Then I suppose you'll have no objection to helping me translate all this, and prove him wrong?" I waved the notebook at him, temptingly.
Bob narrowed his eyes at me, then sighed. "Oh, very well; I can see I'll get no peace on the subject until you've put this mystery to rest." Then he reached a hand out, and turned into his orange and black sparkly form, sinking down into the text.
It took another few hours of pageflipping on his part, and brain-breaking attempts to apply a Latin dictionary on mine, before we came up with a rough translation. Bob was a lot paler- and I was a whole lot more gleeful, glancing between such varied nuggets as the ingredients for a Sangreal (the aforementioned Holy Grail, only... not quite how the legends all pictured it); a process by which men 'of civilized blood' (by which he seemed to mean wizards) might shed their earthly forms and become beings of energy; the true Name of Morgana herself (which didn't actually start with an M) inscribed into the back cover to bar said sorceress from reading it; and a wide collection of other bizarre and incomprehensible tidbits of information.
On the bright side, my world had just been rocked in a very profound way, and I could already tell it was going to have a serious impact on my magical practice. I'd never think of it the same way again, now that I had a better idea of where the gift came from, and the way it bridged the gap between spiritual development and physical reality. But there were darker implications, too... including a pretty fair clue as to what the Air Force might want from it.
The Atlanteans had, in fact, been extra-terrestrials, if you read between the lines of Moros' notes. And they'd had a great Enemy: one they'd fled rather than fight. One mere humanity could be no match for.
"Daniel, Daniel. Stars and stones; what have you gotten yourself into?" I sighed, shaking my head. Then I picked up my landline and dialed the number Colonel Carter had left with me.
Dr. Jackson showed up on my doorstep two days later, hair shorter and body far more muscled than I remembered. I felt like a scrawny scarecrow looking at him, never mind that I was several inches taller; his biceps were practically as big around as my head. He looked more like a soldier than the hungry scholar I'd befriended. He had the same piercing blue eyes, though, and the same active, eccentric mind looking out from behind them; it was a struggle to keep from staring long enough to trigger a soul gaze.
"Hey, Daniel. Long time no see," I said, stepping back to wave him into my storefront.
"Harry." He nodded, smiling slightly. "I'd say it's good to see you, but..." He took a step forward as he spoke- then paused suddenly, one foot on the threshold, as the protective wards hanging to either side of the main doors fluttered as though in a sudden breeze.
Well, that was unexpected. Maybe he really had died one of those times Carter had mentioned, and come back not entirely himself; that was an alarming thought, considering what he'd come to discuss. But after a second, he shook his head and took another step- right through the wards, which fell quiescent as he passed them. He'd felt the warning, but it wasn't enough to stop him. So he wasn't mundane anymore... but wasn't evil, either? Well, there was only one way to be sure.
"Yeah, I could say the same. Or- well, you know what I mean." I gave him a lopsided smile, then gave into the urge to look him in the eye, staring until he started to wrinkle his brow with discomfort- and then the boundaries between us fell away, and we were seeing each other for what we really were.
...At least, I assume that's what happened. I woke up some undetermined amount of time later, sprawled on my back on the floor of my office, with the after-impression of an intense, inquisitive brightness bearing down on me. It felt like I'd tried to look at one of the Sidhe Queens again- only from an arm's length away, instead of across half a battlefield.
"Hells bells," I groaned, reaching up to press the heel of my shield hand to my forehead. "What hit me?"
"Ah, I guess that would be me," an apologetic voice replied, right beside me.
I squinted up to see Daniel kneeling next to me, a lopsided smile curving his mouth. "I guess so," I snorted. "You aren't really Daniel Jackson, are you."
He tilted his head at me. "Depends on your point of view," he shrugged. "Is this the same physical form you knew back in '94? Not exactly. I've been, ah, shall we say, discorporated a couple of times since then. I've also run afoul of any number of powerful beings along the way. But am I the same person underneath it all? I'd sure like to think so."
"I guess I could probably say the same," I sighed, shoving myself up to a sitting position. "The powerful beings thing, I mean, not the discorporation- one hundred percent original Harry Dresden, right here." I thumped a hand over my chest. "How on earth does that work, anyway? Was it that- Ascension thing, like the book says?"
He glanced over to the table where the notebook lay out in plain sight. "So you could read it? I hoped you'd be able to make some sense out of it."
"Yeah, and sicced the Air Force on me while you were at it. How long did it take your friend's surveillance equipment to short out on her?" I smirked at him, then lifted a hand and casually summoned my staff to my hand.
He lifted his eyebrows as the hockey stick slapped against my palm. "Oh, a few days. The GPS lasted a little longer, but not by much. I told her she shouldn't have bothered. But when you didn't call back right away, certain other parties that had taken an interest lost patience, too. Did you have any burglars recently?"
"Oh, is that what that little break-in was about?" I chuckled. Mundanes never did manage to find my lab, even with a set of blueprints in hand and clear evidence that the internal dimensions didn't match up with the visible square footage.
"I think they decided you must've thrown it away." He shrugged, nonchalantly, then held out a hand.
I accepted it, and let him pull me to my feet as he stood. He really was impressively muscled. But for all that- and all the bright, fettered power he was carrying around in his head now- he was magically neutral. All that strength was trapped inside the limits of his form.
"Well, good thing for you I didn't," I said. "You ran into the Enemy, didn't you? The ones Merlin called the Ori?"
"Yep," he nodded. "Beat them, too; we managed to build a Sangreal. Problem is, they already had an army in our galaxy- and an avatar, a human vessel capable of wielding their full power, called the Orici. She's still out there. We picked out a few references in the journal about how to contain beings of that level, but they were all couched in what Jack- General O'Neill- calls 'mumbo jumbo'."
"So of course, you thought of me." I shook my head at him, then limped over to scoop up the notebook and flipped it open to a page displaying a block of the Atlantean text paired with an illustration of a being wearing glowing bonds. "This the page you were talking about?"
He nodded, jaw tensing, something like hope- or the kind of anticipation experienced by racers a starting line- in the clench of his fists and the set of his shoulders. "Is it possible?"
I looked him up and down again as a few more of the details I'd seen in that knock-out glow filtered back to me. "You're one to ask, considering," I snorted. Did he really not realize? "Yeah, I could. If she was right in front of me. It might just be easier to undo it on you and let the pair of you duke it out, though. That would sure be something to watch. Preferably far, far away from Chicago."
"Excuse me... what? Undo it on me?" He gaped at me.
I bared my teeth in a shark's grin. "You can't tell me you never wielded any of that extra power; I could tell you have. Maybe one of those times you went to pieces? But somebody sure went to a lot of trouble to pen you back up in your skin. You really want to stay that way?"
He hesitated at that, looking back toward the door. "Jack would throttle me for even accepting your word on all this," he said. "He'd tell me that whole..." he gestured between his eyes and mine, "...thing was a hallucination. And most of my team would back him up."
"What do you feel you should do?" I asked him. "You're the only one with the knowledge to make that decision." I knew it might be risky, pressuring him. But it felt like we were on the cusp of a significant moment, and I've learned to pay attention to those feelings over the years. If he turned me down, he would never darken my door again... and that might or might not be a bad thing.
He took a deep breath, then let it out and turned to me with a nod. "Someone asked me once if I ever gave up. I told him- not until I'm dead. And sometimes not even then."
I smirked at him. "Man after my own heart." Then I raised my hockey stick and let my eyes flutter shut. For a regular working, I'd have marked out a circle on the floor, or had him stand in the ring of brass in my lab- but this particular unbinding ran better with the natural flow, not parted from it. Which was another reason why it was lucky matters had fallen as they did, rather than requiring me to meet his Orici. It would be much easier to turn the key on him rather than try to strap anyone up in a mental corset, and a whole lot likelier to last.
I took a deep breath, channeling power up through me and out of the staff, enveloping the form of the man standing in front of me.
Daniel gasped in response... and then things went weird. Again.
You'd think I'd have learned from my first experience with his other form, but I'd been too fascinated to so much as put a pillow down. I woke up on the floor again who knew how many minutes later, my head aching violently, blinking up at the runes carved into my ceiling.
I sat up slowly, glancing over to the table where a scribbled note lay in place of the notebook, then glanced over at the knowing gaze of my sneaky spirit of intellect. "He left?"
"In a flash of light," Bob confirmed. "By mechanical, not magical means; I've never seen anything like it."
"He'll be back," I shrugged. I knew that without even reading the note. Saving the universe probably came before catching up with a friend; I got that. But in the meantime... "You got a good look at every page, right?"
"Of course, Harry," he sniffed. "It won't take long to create a fair copy."
"Good," I sighed. Then- for the second time that day- I picked myself up off the floor.
Used, abused, and strung along with hopes for more: just another Sunday in my world.