Author's Note: This entire story is a cheap shot. Basically, it's just a rewrite of the scene from Dead Beat where Harry asks Bob about The Word of Kemmler. Under normal circumstances I would say such an act is despicable in the extreme, but in this one instance I am willing to make an exception for myself. I like Hrothbert of Bainbridge a lot better than I like Bob the skull, and I wanted to see this scene with tv!Bob instead of book!Bob.
Disclaimer: The Dresden Files and all related characters, settings, and storylines belong to Jim Butcher. Hrothbert of Bainbridge belongs to Lionsgate Television. Although I'm using direct quotes from Dead Beat, those quotes most emphatically do not belong to me. I'm just borrowing them without any intent to make any money. Please don't sue, I'm just a college student.
And now, without further ado....
"Bob," I said as I pushed open the heavy door of the lab. "Wake up. We've got work to do."
The lab was filled with golden light from the complex equations that filled the back portion of the lab. Bob faced the equations, his back towards me and his arms crossed in a gesture of frustration.
"I do not sleep," he said testily, without looking at me. "And I hope it's something interesting. It's been weeks since you needed my help."
"'Tis the season," I said. "Most of the Halloween jobs start looking the same after a few years. No need to consult you when I already know the answers I need."
"If you were so smart," Bob muttered snidely, "you wouldn't need me now."
"That's right," I told him. I pulled a box of kitchen matches out of my jacket pocket and began lighting candles. "You are an ancient sorcerer with centuries of experience, whereas I am only mortal."
Bob glanced over his shoulder, frowning. "Right," he said, drawing out the word. "Are you feeling all right, Harry?"
"Why do you ask?" I said.
He turned away from his equations to follow my progress around the room. "Well," he said, his tone careful, "you are complimenting me, which is never good. And you are lighting all your candles with matches."
"So you can light all the candles at once with that little spell you created," Bob said. "And you keep dropping the box because of your burned hand. So it's taken seven matches so far to light all those candles."
I fumbled and dropped the matchbox again from stiff, gloved fingers.
"Eight," he said.
I suppressed a growl, struck a fresh match, and did it too forcefully, snapping it.
"Nine," Bob said.
"Shut up," I told him.
"As you wish," I lit the last few candles, and Bob said, "Have you come to ask my assistance in making your new blasting rod?"
"No," I said. "Bob, I've only got the one hand. I can't carve it with one hand."
"You could use a vise grip," he suggested.
"I'm not ready," I said. My maimed fingers burned and throbbed. "I'm just... not."
"Harry, you must be ready," Bob said earnestly. "It is only a matter of time before some nasty shows up and—"
I shot him a hard look.
"All right, all right." He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "In other words, you are still unwilling to use fire magic."
"Stars and stones," I sighed. "So I'm using matches instead of my candle spell and I'm too busy to get a new blasting rod done. It's not a big deal. There's just not much call for blowing anything up or burning it to cinders on my average day."
"Harry," Bob said gently, "it is clear that you are in denial. It is perfectly natural. After all, you suffered severe burns. It is only logical that you would associate—"
I threw the matchbook at him. It flew through his solid-looking chest and bounced off the skull sitting on the counter behind him. "Keep your inner psychoanalyst to your damned self," I growled. "We've got work to do."
"Of course," Bob said. "You are right, Harry. What do I know about anything?"
I glowered at Bob, and pulled my stool up to the worktable. I got out a notebook and a pencil. "The question of the hour is, what do you know about something known as the Word of Kemmler?"
Bob pursed his lips, his brow furrowed. "Can you give me some kind of reference point?"
"Not for certain," I said. "But I have a gut instinct that says it has something to do with necromancy."
His pale eyebrows rose. "I hope not."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because that Kemmler was... a nightmare. He was sick, Harry. Evil."
That got my attention. Bob was a good guy, but when he was alive he'd done some pretty dark magic—including the necromantic spell that had gotten him bound in his skull for eternity. If Bob thought Kemmler was evil, I was willing to bet he knew what he was talking about.
"What'd he do?" I asked. "What made him so evil?"
"He was best known for World War One," Bob said.
"The whole thing?" I demanded.
"Mostly, yes," Bob said. "There were a hundred and fifty or so years of engineering built into it, and he had his fingers in many different pies, as they say. He vanished at the end of the hostilities and didn't reappear until he began animating mass graves during World War Two. He went on rampages in Eastern Europe, where things were quite bad enough without his help. No one is sure how many people he killed."
"Stars and stones," I breathed. "Why would he do something like that?"
"Because he was insane," Bob said shortly. "Insane and evil."
"You say 'was'," I said. "Past tense?"
"Very. The White Council hunted him down in 1961."
"You mean the Wardens?"
"I mean the White Council," Bob said. "The Merlin, the whole Senior Council, the brute squad out of Archangel, the Wardens, and every wizard and ally the wizards could get their hands on."
I blinked. "For one man?"
"He was a nightmare," Bob repeated. "Kemmler was a necromancer, Harry. He had power over the dead. He consorted with demons, had friends in most of the vampire Courts, had contacts with every monster in Europe, and some of the darker Faeries, as well. He also had a cadre of apprentices and thugs of every description."
"Damn," I said.
"Doubtless he was," Bob said. "They killed him very thoroughly. Multiple times. He had returned after the Wardens killed him early in the nineteenth century, so they were very careful the second time." His mouth twisted. "Good riddance to the bastard."
I blinked again. "You knew him?"
"Didn't I tell you?" Bob asked. "He was the owner of my skull for almost forty years."
I stared. "You worked with this monster?"
"I had no choice, Harry," he said sharply. "You know that."
"Right, right," I said quickly. "Uh—how did Uncle Justin get you, then?"
"He was on the White Council, at Kemmler's last stand. He pulled my skull out of the smoldering ruins of Kemmler's lab—not unlike how you claimed my skull from Morningway's house after you killed him."
"Yeah, only I didn't burn down Uncle Justin's lab."
Despite my light tone, I felt more than a little cold. I chewed on my lip and laid my pencil down. I had a feeling the rest of this conversation was not going to be something I wanted to create a written record of. "So what is The Word of Kemmler, Bob?"
"I have no idea," he said simply.
I glowered. "What do you mean, no idea? I thought you were his skull Friday."
"Yes, well." Bob turned away slightly and began to walk restlessly around the lab. His face was tight with pain. "I remember very little of those forty years."
I snorted out a laugh. "Bob. You never forget anything."
"I can." His voice was very quiet, subdued.
I considered his choice of words. "You're saying you chose to forget things about Kemmler?"
"Or was compelled to," Bob said. "Harry, about your blasting rod—"
"Bob," I said. "We're talking about The Word of Kemmler."
"No, you are talking about The Word of Kemmler," Bob said. "I am talking about your blasting rod. You need to—"
"Would you stop changing the subject? Can you remember anything at all about Kemmler?"
Bob hesitated. He fiddled with the cuffs that hid his manacled wrists and refused to meet my eyes. "I can," he said finally.
"Then tell me what you know."
Bob looked up at me, his face unreadable. "Is that a command?"
I blinked. Sometimes, when Bob was being really annoying, I'd order him back to his skull, but I'd never had to force him to do something, and he'd never refused a command. "Do I have to make it one?"
"You don't want to command me to remember, Harry."
Bob's face was so grave that part of me wanted to stop right there. Forget the whole conversation so far. Talk about blasting rods instead. But the rest of me knew that I needed this information. "Why not?" I demanded.
"Because for six hundred years I have been a slave to one wizard after another," Bob said harshly. "Some of them were decent, most of them were bad, but none of them were like Kemmler. I served him, Harry. I helped him commit those atrocities, and I was helpless to stop myself from doing so. When he took away those memories... it was a blessing."
I thought I started to understand him. "It hurts."
He swallowed and looked away again. "It also hurts," he agreed. "But it is more than that."
"If it hurts," I said, "I'll stop, and you can forget it again when we're done talking."
"Harry—" Bob protested.
"It's a command, Bob. Tell me."
Bob shuddered. His face twitched, and for a moment he didn't look like Bob at all, as though someone else were looking through his eyes and arranging his familiar features in an unfamiliar way. The expression passed, and his eyes slid out of focus.
"Right," he said suddenly, his eyes snapping back into focus. "Kemmler." He clasped his hands behind his back and met my eyes, his face cool and distant. "What do you wish to know, wizard?"
I was startled by the sudden change. Bob had been pretty standoffish when we first met, back when I was eleven, but he'd warmed up to me pretty fast—as much as he ever warmed up, at least. This aloofness was unexpected and unnerving, but nothing actually seemed wrong with him. "Tell me what The Word of Kemmler is."
"Knowledge. Truth. Power." Bob's rich voice spoke each word like a stone dropped into deep water.
I shivered. "Uh, a little more specific?"
"The master wrote down his teachings, wizard, so that those who came after him could learn from him. So they could learn about the true power of magic."
"You mean," I said, "so that they could learn about necromancy."
Bob's thin lips twisted in a sneer. "What you call magic is nothing but a mound of parlor tricks, beside the power to master life and death itself."
"That's an opinion, I guess," I said.
"More than that," Bob said. "It is a truth. A truth that reveals itself to those who seek it out."
Bob was a good guy, but I was suddenly reminded that in order to do magic, especially powerful magic, you had to really believe in it. And some of the magic he'd done while he was alive.... "What do you mean?" I said slowly.
Bob took a step forward, and even though we had the length of the lab between us, I kinda wanted to take a step back. I stayed where I was, and told myself it was because I wasn't going to back down to a ghost, not because I was frozen like a rabbit in front of a fox. "Shall I show you the start of the path?" he said. He stalked slowly across the room, his pale eyes fixed unblinkingly on me. "Death, Dresden, is a part of you. It is woven into the fabric of your being. You are a collection of pieces, each of them dying and in turn being reborn and remade."
His voice was cold. Not mountain-spring cold, either. Graveyard-mist cold. It felt like the sound was crawling into my veins and filling up my head with a damp, clammy chill. I sort of wanted it to stop, but there was something fascinating about his eyes and the way he moved. Besides, there was no sense in interrupting him when he was finally spilling some information.
"Dead flesh adorns you, even now. Nails. Hair. You tend them and caress them. Women decorate them, entice with them. Death is not a thing to be feared, boy. She is a lover who waits to take you into her arms. You can feel her, if you know what her touch is like. Cold, slow, sweet."
He was right. A cold, tingling nonfeeling was glittering over my fingernails and my scalp. For a second I thought that it hurt, but then I realized that it was only a shivering sensation where that cold energy brushed close to the blood pulsing beneath my skin. It was where they met that it felt uncomfortable. Without the blood, the cold would be a pure, endless sweetness.
Bob was less than a foot away now. I was taller than him, but he tilted his head up to hold my eyes. "Take a little death inside, boy," he whispered. "It will lead you to more. Open your mouth."
I did. I was used to Bob giving me orders. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against mine. Of course, he wasn't solid, so our bodies overlapped a little, making my lips go numb. He slid his tongue into my mouth, and his spirit, or essence, or whatever, brushed my tongue like a thermonuclear peppermint, freezing hot, searingly bitter and sweet and—
—and wrong. I wrenched my head back and threw up my arms instinctively, trying to push him away. My hands just went through him. I fell to the floor, the numbness spreading.
"Too late!" Bob laughed. He stood over me, a gloating smirk on his face. "I don't know what you have done to my thoughts, wizard, but the master will not be pleased that you have meddled with his servant."
The cold started spreading, and it wasn't purely physical. There was an empty, heartless void to it, a starless, frozen quality that raked at me—not just my body, but me—with a mindless hunger. And I could feel it sending tendrils out through me, slowing my heartbeat, making it impossible to breathe.
Bob's shiny shoes paced soundlessly across the dusty floor. "Do you know how long I have been waiting for that?" he purred. I had never heard him purr before. "Sitting there locked behind my own thoughts? Waiting for the chance to fight free? Finally, you thick-witted ogre, I get to leave your stupidity behind."
"No, you don't." I choked. "Kemmler's dead, Bob. You're trapped in that skull for eternity, and I'm your master. Hrothbert of Bainbridge, I command you to forget everything I just made you remember."
"No!" Bob snarled. "You cannot—" he broke off and I heard him catch his breath. The terrible cold faltered a little, and I curled up, focusing my will and trying to push it away.
I flinched, but his voice was back to its normal, rich tones. I turned my head a little and saw him crouched next to me, his face concerned.
"Harry?" He repeated. "Are you all right?" He raised his hand as though to touch me, and I scrambled back until I was most of the way under the work table. His expression changed from concern to wariness and fear.
"Don't touch me!" I gasped.
"Harry, I am a ghost. I cannot touch you."
"Well, you sure did something to me thirty seconds ago."
Bob frowned. "I... did something to you? What? And how?"
His voice was full of hunger. I didn't blame him. He'd been dead for six hundred years, unable to affect the world around him. He was probably desperate for some idea on how to change that.
"I don't know what it was," I said. "And I don't know how you did it. I just know I never want it to happen again." Most of the cold was gone, but that hideous void-presence lingered against my fingernails, even after I could feel my fingers again, but after a while I was able to sit up—and promptly cracked my head against the underside of the table.
"Harry," Bob said cautiously.
"Shut up, Bob," I said. "Get in your skull."
He made a small sound of anger, but vanished into a smoking ember than disappeared into one of his skull's eye sockets. I crawled out from under the table and curled up my knees against my chest, shocked and scared half out of my mind. I'd known Bob since I was eleven. He'd taught me almost everything I knew about magic. Hell, he'd practically raised me. He'd kept his secrets—I hadn't known about Winifred until recently, and I was sure there were other things he wasn't telling me—but I'd always trusted him.
Now I had to wonder. All those years ago, when he'd cast that black magic, he'd believed in it. He had to have, or else it wouldn't have worked. And I had trouble seeing the man I trusted—the man who often warned me against black magic—believing in something like that. So I had to wonder: who was the real Hrothbert of Bainbridge? The man I trusted? Or the man who just tried to kill me?
"Bob," I said finally.
He appeared immediately, as if he'd been waiting anxiously for me to call him. Maybe he had. I twitched, but managed to keep myself from running out of the lab screaming. He glanced at me once, then bowed his head a little, his expression wary.
"Your lips are blue," he said, very quietly.
He waited for me to elaborate. I didn't, so he said, "What happened?"
"It got kind of cold in here."
He bowed his head further. "Me."
He sighed deeply. "I tried to warn you, Harry."
"I know," I said. "I had no idea."
"Kemmler was... horrible, Harry," Bob said. "He did things to me... changed me. Took my very soul and twisted it." He looked up at me, his mouth tight with pain. "For the past six hundred years I have had no control over my actions. But no matter what my masters ordered me to do, or tell them, my head was my own. I could think my own thought and feel my own emotions. Kemmler took even that much away from me. He destroyed me."
I looked away, unable to meet his eyes anymore. After a moment, he continued. "I destroyed what memories I could, and locked away the ones I couldn't. I didn't want to be like that. I couldn't be like that."
"Can I order you to forget?" I asked. "If I command you to never remember any of those things again, would it work?"
"I don't think so," Bob said quietly. "I must only obey commands I am capable of fulfilling. I have already done what I can to forget those years. There is nothing more you can order me to do. And ordering me to never remember again... well, the orders of an old master do not apply once I am in the possession of a new one."
"Is there anything I can do?" I said.
The corners of Bob's mouth twitched. "Well... perhaps you can help me figure what I just did and how I did it. Not to recreate it," he said hastily, seeing the look on my face, "but to perhaps find some way for me to do... similar things."
I returned his smile shakily. "Maybe later. Now, about The Word of Kemmler...."