Disclaimer: I do not own The Dresden Files. The Dresden Files TV series are based on the books by Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files TV series currently belongs to Lionsgate. The rights revert back to Jim Butcher in 2012. I own nothing. Part of this story makes reference to four Hebrew names that are carved into Bob's skull in the TV series. They're written in that circular symbol (the third pentacle of Saturn) and I figured I might play with that a little.
The horse was galloping through the trees. They had to duck low to try to avoid the hanging branches that reached out like gnarled, skeletal hands to grab them. Clawing for them like the claws of the demons of Hell wanting to stop their escape. The echoing stampede of their pursuers cut through the forest like a knife, breaking the silence of what would have been a serene wilderness.
The horses kicked up the dust of the beaten down forest trail that lead to the old castle, shaded in the forest's over growth.
Hrothbert tried to shield Winifred with his own body as they rode. She seemed so frail, so fragile… But the magick had worked. She was alive and that was all that mattered to him. The black velvet cloak was draped around them both as they came to the stop near the creek. They would leave the horses and try to get their pursuers to lose their scent in the water.
Hrothbert leapt down first. His white hair and pale skin was a stark contrast to the dark clothes he wore as he reached up to help the woman down from the horse. He could hear them coming. They did not have much time.
It was so good to hold her again- to feel her warmth- to see the life in her. The sunlight glittered in her soft, golden hair. He started for the creek but a fateful arrow came whizzing toward them. Hrothbert turned to stop it but it was too late. It pierced her heart.
He could not move. He could not speak. No! Not after all he had gone through to bring her back! No! He felt her slump down in his arms. She uttered something softly that might have been his name. He dropped to his knees, cradling her.
The cloaked members of the High Council swarmed in around them on horse back. He did not care. Why should he care? He had no reason to go on now. All was lost. He did not acknowledge them. They did not matter. All that mattered was Winifred, Winifred gone again. It wasn't fair; to have her back so briefly only to lose her like this. It wasn't fair.
He held her tenderly in his arms. She was all that mattered. He did not want to live if it was without her. He barely heard the one that dismounted and came up behind him with the axe…
If a ghost could wake up in a cold sweat…
Dresden was calling to him. He was sure of it.
He was aware. He had no eyes. He had no ears. He had no hands and he had no face to show his feeling but he was aware. He could see through all angles though it is not what one would call sight. He was aware of every noise and movement and every object and it's texture and substance, it's colour and form. He was aware. There's comfort and torment in this: He was aware. He was weightless. He was always a little frightened in this form. There was a sense, for him, of being helpless, of being somehow nothing.
He was not inside the skull. He was the skull. The eye sockets, where his eyes should have been he felt himself most of all behind that. The teeth that could not part to form words- there were no lips, no tongue, no muscle, no saliva- he felt that too or more precisely he was aware of it actually. He could take shape within it, molding himself within the skull, all through it, the physical and hollow of it.
His awareness was dim here. It was hard for him to focus in there. He could not think clearly. This was sleep for him. This is as close as he could get to sleep. And he had been dreaming or rather remembering. All he had were his memories. It's not pleasant though, to 'sleep' like this. Especially when he wanted to stay 'awake'. It's hard to think. It's hard to string thoughts together unless Harry called to him while he was there, then he could find his voice and manifest as light inside the skull and think clearly but right then he could not. He could be compelled to clear his thoughts and focus but the natural state of being for him in his skull was to be in a haze. It was so hard to focus. Sound and vision were dim. He was looking through the eye sockets, just barely aware. If he focused, if he tried very hard he could 'see' or rather he would know what was directly in front of the skull as if he still retained his own natural eyes and they weren't long, long gone. He could not call this vision.
It's a struggle to retain consciousness. He felt like he might slip into oblivion, which though impossible still frightened him somewhat. It was sort of like when you're laying in your bed early in the morning and someone might be talking in the next room. You're vaguely aware of it but you don't care. You want to care but you can't bring yourself to care. It's hard to concentrate on what you're hearing, to link to words together and remember the meanings to what is being said no matter the tone of the conversation. You struggle to hear because it might be important but you're still half in dream so your mind blurs fantasy with reality and everything becomes distorted by thought and dreaming and you're helplessly between dream and reality, neither here nor there.
It's not a dream for him. It's a void. A vast empty void in which all he had were his own thoughts, memories and most private dreams…
A cold dark space of his own creation within his own soul… It was better there usually, deep down inside, than the half-consciousness of struggling for coherency within the skull 'surface'. He was still 'hearing' dimly.
He knew Harry was calling to him. It was a good distraction.
Bob gathered himself, his components. He pushed himself up and out. He rose from the skull. He knew what he was. He was like a flame surrounded in smoking black, bits of sparks of him stretched out and spread. He was aware and he knew what was in front of him and around him and it felt so good to be out of there!
He was pushed from the eye sockets but a little of him was always behind. It was not just chains that hold him there. He felt like a projection of himself. Coming out of the eyes. he saw.
Bob concentrated. He needed to take form. What form though? Well, that's easy. His own form just contemporized. Shorten the hair to a modern style. And the clothes.... clothes of this sort never existed in his lifetime but it was fashionable and it was a style that had been fashionable for years and would remain fashionable for years. An ageless suit of fine material and style. Dark, that was like the clothes of his time, the colour. He liked clothes of good materials that were black. The suit was not entirely black. The vest was a dark cherry. And the illusion of a dark cranberry coloured handkerchief in his breast pocket.
The jacket was pinstriped black with dark gray thin stripes running vertically. He was an expert at detail to maintain his illusion. The trousers were black and also pinstriped in the same black with dark gray, thin, vertical stripes. The shoes were black and polished leather, or at least that's how they looked. His eyes, he willed to appear pale aqua. He knew his own face, his own skin pigment. Those were constant no matter what century. Him. Hrothbert of Bainbridge. Bob. Bob through eternity. The fashion and hair cut change but the essential look is easy, it remains the same and now, as he was used to doing it, only takes a few seconds to manifest. It's the change of suit and keeping his manifestation rapid that required skill. And he had skill at it. Bob did everything, even now, with style.
The rings on his ever nibble and eager fingers were the rings he had in life. Dark, heavy stones that he had been accustomed to wearing in life. He could not feel their weight now. They were not real. He could trick himself into thinking that he felt them and then he felt more alive. They were not real though. In fact the only thing he could feel were the very things he tried to be discrete about. The manacle bracelets around his wrists. He felt these as a weight on his very being. A weight that now seemed to manifest at his wrists, slight but present. The sigils on them spoke of his sentence.
The manacle bracelets at his wrists felt heavy. These were not real wrists. He was simply in the illusionary form of a man.
Though Bob could change his form these remained constantly when he took the form of how he, himself, would look if he was alive. Mercifully for him the chains that bound these heavy bracelets to his skull seemed invisible to mortal eyes though the manacles themselves were distinctly there. Bob could, to a certain extent, hide them with the edges of the sleeves he caused to appear on his arms but this just barely seemed to work. They were always noticeable, to him anyway: A constant reminder of his doom.
He looked down at them now and studied the sigils, the same set of symbols on each wrist.
There were six sigils on these manacle bracelets, on those slave bracers. Perhaps, with his execution included, there was one there for each of the seven laws of magick that he had broken in his mad desperation which descended into an addiction to the dark arts that he could not quell.
The message across the manacles was a simple one.
The first sigil was the alchemic symbol for Mercury or quicksilver. Bob understood what it meant. Mercury transcends both the solid and liquid states, both Earth and Heaven, both life and death. It symbolized Hermes himself; the guide to the Above and Below. It Symbolized his state of Limbo, suspended somewhere in a state between Life and Death but neither here nor there.
The second symbol was one for Saturn or Capricorn. Bob, himself, had been born under the sign of Capricorn and as such was governed by Saturn. This sigil seemed to act as a link to The Third Pentacle of Saturn (One of the keys of Solomon the King) which was one of the many symbols carved into his very skull to enforce the curse that held him. This served to manifest the chain which held him fast to his skull. And, rather painfully, it was this that compelled him to obey whomever would possess his skull. Capricorn is also the symbol for transformation. So this sigil could mockingly represent his finally learning his limitations... his boundless power now taken away and himself transformed into a bound prisoner... a slave.
'Once all powerful, now impotent…' Those were the worlds the skinwalker had used when taunting him.
Bob had little faith that this could mean transformation for oneself and thus redemption though he was keenly aware of the line of runes that ran down his skull leading toward the triangular shape of the axe blow that had killed him.
The Futhark runes going across the axe blow itself, above it. Runes are supposed to be read from right to left. So in order from bottom to top the symbols in his skull were: Nauthiz (Necessity / Pain) followed by a reversed Algiz which means be thoughtful of others, be selfless followed by Isa which means Withdrawal or to stand still followed by Berkana which means Rebirth. After that is Ehuvaz, and that one means progress. After that comes Wanjo which is Joy / Light. Followed by Teiwaz which is the rune of the spiritual warrior. It means spiritual transcendence. The implication was a maddening glimmer of hope that Bob didn't dare grant himself. 'A necessary pain followed by selflessness and reflection will lead to rebirth, progress, light and finally spiritual ascension.' This meant that he would have to regret what he had done. He could never regret it. He had to try to bring her back. He had to. The world was simply wrong without her. Some deity or another had been careless and made a terrible mistake and he had to rectify it. Nothing was right without her. Every event resulting after her death should never have been. She simply should not have died. He had pulled her back from what could easily have been a terrible Hell. How could he ever regret that?
Bob tried not to think of the pain he had seen in her eyes…
The third sigil on the bracelets was the alchemical symbol for lodestone... a natural magnet. It was yet another binding symbol, ensuring the manacles and his skull were more or less magnetically connected... This was a reassurance of the invisible chains that held him. They were very thorough in their efforts that he should never escape his doom.
The fourth sigil was the Monad symbol. This represented the unity of the sun, moon and the four elements: the material world and everything in it, which he was prohibited from interacting with. Combined with the symbol proceeding it, if read in western style (Left to right) it meant that he was bound from affecting the physical world.
The fifth sigil incorporated the sigil for Jupiter and Tin in it but it had some added characteristics similar to the sigil for Tutia which is crude zinc oxide... possibly a composite of the two sigils that even Bob was not entirely sure of.
Jupiter was the 'king' and most powerful of the Olympian Gods, yet his astrological / alchemical sign is also that of Tin... the weakest of the seven alchemical metals (Gold, Silver, Mercury, Copper, Lead, Iron and Tin). An appropriate symbol for one who was once all-powerful as he himself had been and was now so weak… Symbolic of the judgment passed upon one who tried to 'play God' by resurrecting the dead... the more powerful they are, the harder they fall…
Tutia or zinc oxide has some significance in the fact that zinc is often used to both serve as an alloy, melding with other metals and elements easily and as a galvanizer to prevent corrosion... so it's part might be to help meld together the elements of the spell into a cohesive unit and prevent the spell's corrosion over time... And it's seeming conjunction and overlapping of the sigil for Tin was quite appropriate since tin was a very important metal in alchemy because of it's ability to hold Mercury. Most metals will corrode with contact with Mercury, but Tin can safely contain it. Since Mercury symbolizes Bob's Limbo state that he had been damned to, this made sense.... The combination of the melding, non-corrosive Tutia with Tin creates an inescapable prison... the state of Limbo cannot be broken, there is no escape and it will not degrade over Time...
And finally the six sigil and the easiest to read was the glyph for the Hebrew character 'mem' or 'M'. This was the 'signature' and mark of the one who had seen to Bob's sentence.
Condemned, forced to obey, powerless, inescapable, sealed and signed like property that had been branded…
Bob lowered his wrists, growing weary of reading over his own condemnation.
Once Bob was certain that his form was solid and could pass for a real person (it made him feel real) he relaxed. He summoned his awareness to at least 'seem' like his life's senses, holding his whole being in this form. The fogginess of being inside the skull is gone now.
Bob walked to the wall and passed through it. He was, after all, in another plane of being, neither here nor there, bound to the physical world (via his skull) but not of it. The wall was not really there for him. He was in a dimension of his own personal Hell. He was used to this. He was detached. He passed through the wall though he would have rather passed through an open door like a real person (but he could not turn the door knob, much to his own frustration).
'How did it go?'
The wizard stood before him in an unwashed gray sweat shirt. The pentacle amulet was hidden under it. He wore blue jeans and sneakers. You would never think he was a wizard by the look of him. Around his right wrist was a shield bracelet with seven copper discs, each with a ward against negative thoughts and bad habits carved into it; an anti-addiction against black magick charm that had belonged to his mother and had been endowed also with protection magick against harm.
Harry Dresden was almost half a foot taller than Bob had been in life and in life Bob's own height had been considered impressive.
Dresden was reluctant to admit things had gone exactly the way Bob said it would. 'Ehh… Well, Ancient Mai seemed to be in a good mood. I actually got her to laugh.'
Bob refrained from Wincing. 'Harry, I told you this was a bad idea!' Bob scolded.
Dresden did not want to hear it. He raised his hand. 'Save it, Bob. I had to try. You died in my arms, remember?'
Of course. How could he forget? He was not talking of his first death...
A few weeks previous Bob had been given the chance to be mortal but at the price of Harry's life. He had deemed the price too high and destroyed the one who made the offer at the cost of his own brief second mortality. He had still been bound to the skull but at least he had been alive…
Bob sighed or rather seemed to sigh since he did not actually have any breath. He hadn't actually thought Dresden could achieve talking Mai into showing him mercy but for a second, for a split second, he actually thought Harry could do something… That Harry Dresden could do the impossible and perhaps talk the High Council into setting him free but it was a foolish notion he knew to be impossible.
Bob absently toyed with the manacle bracelet of his right wrist. He hid his disappointment well. How could he be foolish enough to allow himself to be disappointed? Hadn't he known this would happen? Perhaps he had hoped that maybe he would have gained… something for the sacrifice he made for Dresden.
'You tried to paint me as selfless.' Bob said wistfully. 'Everyone knows I was- and am- a self centred dead and damned sorcerer. No one would ever believe your interpretation of the events.'
Dresden did not reply but he was making a silent vow to himself that somehow, some way, he would get Bob free even if it meant standing up against the High Council itself and to Hell with the consequences.
Thursday morning Dresden groggily climbed out of his loft bed room and still barefoot trudged through the living room to the front door of his apartment / office. The word 'Wizard' was painted across the door. He had heard something outside. When he opened the door he saw a small cardboard box just laying on the door step.
Dresden looked around the street. It was quiet. Just the constant drone of city traffic. He didn't exactly expect anything big on a Thursday morning. People were at work. Kids were at school. And this wasn't exactly a touristy area of the city. Sure Chicago had it's daily supply of tourists but not in this neighbourhood.
Dresden picked up the box and carried it inside. He set it down on his desk and lifted the lid. He half expected to see a cake or maybe someone's disgusting prank. To his own puzzlement what he saw was a tattered looking leather bound book with a faded blue spine. The whole thing looked like it could fall apart at any moment. He gingerly lifted the book from the box and began to carefully leaf through the brittle pages. It was a grimoire. A strange grimoire full of spells he had never seen before, all with English translations scribbled next to the archaic hand writing. He paused when he spotted a particular spell.
'Bob!' He shouted. 'Bob!'
'And you expect me to believe someone just dropped this on your doorstep?' Bob was skeptical. He had good reason to be skeptical. Who would just abandon such a useful grimoire and so conveniently too?
The formulae Dresden had shown him seemed sound. But the idea that this could just randomly turn up on Dresden's door step did not seem right somehow. It seemed too easy. It was too convenient.
'Yeah. It's weird but you said it yourself. It's legit.' Dresden said. Bob's doubts did not seem to sway Harry Dresden's excitement. 'We could do it, Bob!' Dresden's eyes glittered with boyish hope. 'We could set you free!'
'I don't trust it.' Bob said. 'It's too convenient. Convenience and you don't mix. It's like oil and water or you and housekeeping. It just doesn't happen.'
'Come on, Bob. What's the worst that could happen?'
The ghost sighed in exasperation. Would Dresden ever listen to him?
There were three over lapping circles drawn in chalk on Dresden's lab floor. Candles encircled each circle with their flickering light. Most of the clutter had been moved out of the way in the little room for this experiment. Bob's skull rested near by.
Bob stood in the centre circle, feeling as if he was on display or examination. His skull was just outside of the circle on a desk, watching as Dresden was lighting the last of the candles.
'Are you ready?' Harry asked Bob.
'It seems too easy.' The ghost said quietly. 'After all this time… it seems too easy…'
'Have a little faith, Bob.' Dresden said. 'Have a little faith.'
The incantation was more of a vocal plea that sent a strange sensation down Bob's back as if he had a literal spine. An Aramaic beseechment that Harry poorly pronounced but it would suffice.
There was a wailing outside, like the wind across Scottish moors. Something rumbled like thunder. How fitting, Bob thought, that there should be such theatrics and atmosphere. For all his cynical thoughts though he could feel the strange electrical-like energy coursing through him. The spell was working! Bob looked down at his wrists as the metal bracelets seemed to vibrate and pulse. And then they slipped away. The ghostly restraints became solid, became tangible. He heard them clank as they hit the wood floor beneath him. Bob was about to say something about this strange happening when he felt a heavy pain in his chest. He gasped and it wasn't just the illusion of wiling himself to seem like his illusionary form had gasped. He really gasped. The pain in his chest seemed to spread out though his back and like webbing spread and seeped through his body. He could feel air passing into him and lingering there. There was a pain there expanding, stretching outward. A sudden throbbing, in and out, in and out. A beating heart!
For a moment it was excruciating. And then he was on his knees. Bob was mortal...
Dresden had run to him. And to his own astonishment Bob could feel him, physically feel Harry's hand upon his back. The burden of the invisible chains, the weight of the slave bracers- these things were gone. Could Harry hear the chains like real metal as they had fallen away?
Bob looked around in wonder as if he had never seen the lab before and technically he hadn't. A ghost's senses are more or less a sharp awareness of what is present around you, it's not like the literal five senses of being something of flesh and blood. Perhaps it was keener than actual senses but it was nothing quite as pleasant as this, to physically see the laboratory. He could feel his own heart beating, pounding in his chest. It was a curious thing, to simply feel again, to savour each sensation as it happened.
Old familiar aches and pains that had come with life. He had nearly forgotten that he had been near sighted…
'Harry, I-' Before Bob could finish his statement they were interrupted by a pounding at the door. How strange it was! How curious! To literally hear again. How foreign his own voice sounded to him in his newly created earlobes. Bob knew the laws of alchemy. You could not gain anything for nothing. Everything had a price. But he had seen no price in this. Not only had he been freed but he had been resurrected too. He had not quite anticipated that part of it. It had been a complex spell with vaguely described results and he had not known that life would be one of them. Freedom was one thing, freedom and mortality was another. He wanted to examine that grimoire. Dresden never had the power to raise the dead. There was something to that spell, something strange. There must have been something that Harry had over looked.
Harry Dresden was in a daze after what he had just taken part in. When he opened the door it did not help matters that the person waiting on the other side was a small Asian woman bearing a cold expression. She had dark hair and appeared to be in her late twenties. The innocent look was deceptive and Dresden knew it. This was not a little Asian girl. This was Ancient Mai, head of the Chicago branch of the High Council. Behind her stood Morgan holding his sword and five or so others wardens of the High Council that Dresden did not recognize. But he knew they meant business. They each carried a gleaming sword. They each wore dark sunglasses (all but Morgan and Mai).
The small Asian woman spoke first. 'Where is he?'
At first Dresden did not realize she was talking about Bob. Whenever she spoke about Bob she always used 'it' and 'the skull' when talking about him so when she asked 'Where is he?' Dresden did not immediately think she was talking about Bob.
Mai smacked him hard across the face because she knew he wouldn't be foolish enough to raise a hand against her. Dresden would never raise a hand against a woman, (and the term was being used very loosely in this regard) even Ancient Mai. Still her smack held more weight and force than a normal human's.
'Hrothbert!' She said angrily. 'Do you have any idea what you've done?!'
This was it. She was going to kill him. There was no way Dresden could defend himself. Harry knew he had broken the laws of magick… again. The first time Harry Dresden had broken the laws of magick had been when he had confronted his uncle, Justin Morningway, for having killed his, Harry Dresden's, father. He had killed Justin with the very voodoo doll he had used on his father. The case had been ruled self defense because Justin had been trying to kill Dresden after he had learned the truth. Dresden had never fully forgiven himself for that and he knew ever since then he still had darker desires, cravings for the use of black magick…
Black magick is very addictive. Once you have a taste of it you want to use it more and more. And the more you use it, the worse it gets until finally it devours your conscience.
And hadn't he just given into that desire again? Well, it was worth it. For Bob's sake it was worth it. Bob deserved a second chance and if the High Council wasn't going to give it to him than he would.
'Hold him.' Mai said.
This was it. Harry thought he was going to die. He was going to die because he thought it was right to give back to Bob what he sacrificed for him. Two of the wardens came up behind Dresden and grabbed either arm. He felt his wrists being forced into magical binding restraints not unlike handcuffs. He had hoped there would be more. He had not thought it would end like this.
Dresden was surprised to feel himself turned around and pushed further into the office. Perhaps they just meant to take his head where no prying eyes would see. Mai walked on ahead toward where the spell had been cast in the lab.
Bob was not there…
Mai picked up the remnants of where Bob had stood. The two fallen bracelets with the sigils carved into them. Strange that they should seem so solid now, like things made of real metal. Not the ghostly fashion accessories around Bob's spectral wrists.
Mai's expression was hard, vicious and all together furious. Her human-like face slipped to show something more reptilian under the guise. Eyes blazed briefly a bright red. She turned and walked back toward Dresden.
'You just released the most dangerous sorcerer who ever lived!'
'Bob's not like that anymore!' Harry protested. 'You need to give him a chance!'
'Oh, I'll give him a chance all right.' Ancient Mai said. 'He has one hour to surrender himself or YOU will be put to death for releasing him. I can be merciful, Dresden. You clearly didn't know this spell would resurrect him but you DID intend to free him. And for that you should be made to pay the price. You don't know what he's done. The things he's capable of. If he doesn't surrender himself you will be executed in an hour.'
Dresden looked horrified. He started to squirm against the restraints but the wardens held him fast. 'You can't do that! He's already died twice! Let him live his life!'
Ancient Mai glared coldly at Harry Dresden. 'And let him return to what he used to be? The inventor of the doom box, the sorcerer who could raise the dead on a whim, a sorcerer who summoned and compelled demons, whom killed and plotted world domination, the sorcerer who ensnared souls all just to lower a girl's inhibitions…'
Yeah, that sounded like Bob all right. 'But…'
'But what? You think just because he's been dead a thousand years he's changed? The ONLY thing that kept him from being Hrothbert of Bainbridge again was the fact that he was trapped! Once you go black, Dresden, you ALWAYS go back. And you just unleashed the most evil sorcerer who ever lived…'
She looked to Morgan and another of the wardens, one of the wardens that were not physically holding Dresden by his shoulders.
'Hunt for him. Comb the city. Don't let him escape you.'
As soon as Bob had heard the knock on the door he knew he had to make himself scarce. Newly restored powers put to the test he had fled out the window.
First he had raised his arms, concentrating more so than he would as a ghost when shifting form, summoning the magical energies toward him. And he felt himself descending down into himself. He felt his stomach plummet. It was curious to actually feel it. A falcon fluttered where he had once stood.
The falcon flew up and out of the lab window however he was perched near by on a window ledged.
He had watched it all, his presence and thoughts carefully obscured from Mai's powers. She did not see or hear him. Though he was near by she did not detect his presence. She did not feel his presence. She had no way of knowing how close he truly was to her.
He knew Mai wanted him to surrender. What did she want from him? To die at her hands… again? Or did she want to prove a point to Dresden before finally killing Dresden? Is that all this was? She had wanted to use him as an excuse to finally destroy Dresden- the wizard whom annoyed her- the wizard she never trusted?
On the other hand Bob could be free. He could escape. No. He could not do that. He had promised Harry that he would never betray him. However it could be his chance. She meant to kill Dresden anyway. How could he know she would actually let Dresden go if he surrendered himself? They could both end up dead.
Why should he surrender himself? Would he even be able to save Harry? How could he set this right? Oh, Harry, you fool. Why did you risk so much when it could only end like this? How could he think any other out come was possible? Why?
It was a terrible tease to finally know freedom after all this time. If he surrendered he was condemned and possibly Harry too. If he didn't… Than Harry died anyway? If he surrendered at least than Harry might have a chance, assuming Mai kept her word. And if she did spare Harry he would never see him again. He knew she would lock him away somewhere, no longer trusting Harry to look after his skull. The wretched thing that had once been his head, it now sat on Harry's desk, devoid of the pathetic spirit that had once been trapped inside of it. He loathed the idea of not just going back to that existence but to be dragged away from Harry… forever. But what could he do? If he did not surrender he knew Harry would die.
How would Harry function without him?
How could he abandon him now?
And that's when Bob realized through his own strange thoughts… Bob wasn't just a nickname some American child named Harry Dresden had bestowed upon him years ago. It was a sign, a sign that things had changed. This train of thought was not the thoughts he would have had as Hrothbert of Bainbridge. No. He had changed. The man he used to be… he realized, he would never be him again. And the love he felt toward the boy he had helped raise into the wizard Harry Dresden had worked this strange miracle.
Or maybe he was only convincing himself that he was not the man he was before…
Perhaps he just wanted to believe it but the fact that he cared enough to want to believe it was enough to make him feel it was true. He was no longer the dark sorcerer that had been condemned to eternal slavery. It seemed so cruel that he should have this chance at such a price.
The falcon looked down from his perch. He saw the deep brown eyes of his former master, the sad puppy-like expression on Dresden's face. He could not bear to look at his agonized expression. Despite what Harry had done for him with magick he was still an innocent compared to himself. He could not allow Harry to be judged for what he, Bob, had wanted. He could not let Harry face judgement in place of him.
What had Harry expected to happen in all of this? That he'd hide himself away forever from the High Council? No one could do that.
Harry had not thought this through. And why hadn't he tried harder to stop him? Well, the answer was simple. He had wanted this too and he had chosen not to think of what would come after it was all said and done. He should have known better. He should have talked Harry out of doing this. Why should Harry pay for his crimes?
He had never been one for doing the right thing. If you needed help you called the cops. If you needed a miracle you called Harry Dresden. Bob had no faith in miracles… He had faith in Harry though. And he knew Harry had faith in him. He had never wanted to go down in history as the worst evil to ever plague magical society. He had hoped to be remembered as a brilliant alchemist. The darkness had just snow balled on him. First it had been a little enchantment to loosen up a lady's inhibitions. He had compelled a demon or two, rid himself of a few 'annoyances' and before he knew it he had been all dressed in black, cackling madly and plotting world domination. He had been there. He had done that. And look at where it got him? And to think all of that darkness began with the desperation to bring Winifred back from the dead. He had experimented, sought all the forbidden ways of resurrection and used others as Gina pigs until finally…
It was like being a God. The wonders he could work.
The falcon spread his wings, climbing into the early evening Chicago sky. For all it had been through his soul was surprisingly resilient, despite the thousand years of enslavement. How strange it was that the higher he went he could see… the stars. The very same stars that had glittered in the sky on the night he died. The same cold, merciless witnesses that had been over head for every night of his long torment.
When they had bound him to his skull had they hoped to just make him suffer forever? Did someone want him to learn, to be humbled and to reform? Or had they wanted to destroy everything left of him that was human? Had they wanted to ruin his capacity to care, and feel for others? In Hell it's impossible to care about others…
Detachment was a necessity when you're helpless and unable to affect the physical world. It became a survival tactic to shut down his emotions. Is that what they wanted? To take away his humanity and make him just a sentient source of knowledge? Well, they had failed. In having him teach Harry Dresden that had restored that lost humanity. The coldness, the bitterness… it had started to chip away, revealing to Bob's own astonishment that yes, he did still have a heart after all...
How it ached to know that his own dreams- like dying embers- had been fanned at his first moment of freedom, when he felt those manacle bracelets fall away…
It hurt. It burned inside of him to know what he had just gained and was about to lose. Perhaps he was even a little frightened of it. Deep in his mind he could already feel them again, the invisible chains binding him. Though they seemed to be connected to his wrists at the manacles, when he had not been in his human-like form, in the form of glittering light he still felt the weight, the connection that held him fast to the skull.
He would miss this. Simply breathing. The possibility of actually sleeping. Sex, Food, the ability to feel. To touch and interact with the world as he never could as a ghost.
There was a time when he had been an all powerful sorcerer, his spells had been flawless and he, himself, had been cruel and thoughtless. But without Winifred he had been nothing… He felt lost without her and he had done everything in his power to have her back. He had sunk to depths of darkness that no one else of the wizard world would have gone.
There was no where he could run. Deep in his mind he could feel the chains holding him again, anticipating added punishment from the High Council for this escape attempt. Wasn't his fate bad enough? What more could they do to him? Seal him in a vault somewhere doomed to never see Harry again…
He would do what was necessary but first there was something else he had to do…
'Time's up.' Ancient Mai said cruelly.
Dresden was forced to his knees.
Where the Hell was Bob? Could he really blame him if he ran? Isn't this what he had wanted? For Bob to go free at any cost? What if Ancient Mai was right about Bob though? What if he hadn't changed? What if he, Harry Dresden, was wrong? If Bob had changed wouldn't he have come back? Well, just because he had changed did not mean he had to be stupid. This was not like last time. When Morningway-Lite had used Bob he gave him back his mortality but he had not broken his curse. Bob had still been bound to his skull. This was different. Bob was actually… Free.
Poor Harry Dresden… The High Council had never trusted him. Ancient Mai had never liked him. The High Council had felt deceived when they had learned of Justin Morningway's intentions to over throw the council and kill Ancient Mai. They had learned not to trust anyone of the Morningway Bloodline and that especially included Justin Morningway's killer, Harry Dresden. For all they know the fight was over who would be in charge after the council was destroyed.
And to top it all of Dresden had used black magick to kill his uncle on the very night he was to be accepted into The High Council as one of them. Not everyone is invited to join The High Council just because they happen to be wizards. The High Council, after all, was the governing body for the magical world. They thought of him as evil. A walking, talking ticking time bomb, much like how Morgan always had viewed Bob or as Morgan called him 'the skull'.
Harry Dresden was viewed as a disgrace to the wizard community. And it was an outrage that they had almost allowed him to be one of them when he was a killer, a killer who used black magick.
They were ashamed of Dresden. They never saw the good in him, the hero who used his powers to protect the helpless and always strove to do the right thing.
Maybe Harry Dresden had always been asking for trouble. From the very beginning he had been reckless with his powers despite his father's warnings to be careful and that he should view his powers to be a loaded gun and there would be those who would want to use him as a weapon… much like his Uncle Justin Morningway had wanted to do.
Dresden had always been an outsider. After he had killed Morningway it had only made matters worse. No one trusted him again after that. He had become the outcast wizard. The High Council used him as the example of what not to do and someone to keep an eye on because they feared he would go back to black magick at any time. And hadn't they been right about him?
When Harry Dresden was born his mother had been killed, murdered by the incubus, Lord Raith. He was born to that grief. And when his father had died (long before anyone realized Morningway had killed Dresden's father) it was Justin Morningway who took Harry Dresden in with the sole intention of using him and his powers against The High Council.
Many members of the High Council would have been happy if Harry Dresden were to disappear and just fall off the face of the Earth. They viewed him as an agitator, an instigator and an antagonist against The High Council.
Harry Dresden had been helpless to defy his fate. The murder of Justin Morningway had been ruled self defense (after the testimony of the ghost of Hrothbert of Bainbridge, whom had been Harry's tutor through the entire time Harry had been raised by Justin Morningway). They had allowed Harry Dresden to live and carry on as a wizard but they would not forget what they could not forgive. They felt betrayed by him and his use of black magick and betrayed by what his uncle had meant to do to The High Council and they could not help but felt that Harry Dresden would likely do the same thing.
Harry Dresden was not one of them. They would be happy to be rid of him. He was not a part of The High Council though he had to obey their laws. They would never accept or forgive him. More than once he had lied to them. Now they would not be so kind. They would never let themselves be blinded or tricked by his pleas again. Harry Dresden would never be one of them.
Ancient Mai felt that she had known that Harry Dresden would do the sort of thing he had done in releasing the power powerful and evil sorcerer of all time.
One could not help but pity a creature as doomed as Harry Dresden was. Everything had been against him from the moment of his birth. He had been doomed to end up like this. He had been helpless to defy his fate. This was bound to happen. He had never stood a chance to be anything better than this. It was in his blood… His mother had been a trouble maker and his uncle had been the wizardly equivalent of a terrorist.
What Ancient Mai never saw was how often Harry used his powers only for good, how many times Harry had risked his life to save others. She never knew what a hero Dresden was or how Dresden strove to always do what was right. The world needed more people like Harry Dresden.
For all of Bob's cynicism Harry had taught Bob how to care for others. He had taught Bob to care about other people again. Bob had learned through observing Harry that the world was still capable of producing good people, kind people, chivalrous people, people who would protect the innocent at any cost. Bob admired Harry. He was the best master… no, the best human being he had ever known before and after his death. Harry had treated him like a person. Harry Dresden was a good man. Despite the odds being stacked against him Harry Dresden was a hero. And the world needed more people like Harry Dresden.
Harry Dresden always did what he thought was right and Bob had always feared that would be Harry's down fall. Harry was naïve. He did not always think things through but that did not make him any less the good guy. Harry was your cliché hero. He would spit in the eyes of Gods if he thought it was necessary. The world needed Harry Dresden.
Ancient Mai raised the sword over her head. Dresden shut his eyes tight.
Dresden looked up toward where the voice had come from.
Bob stood in the doorway. He was dressed in the very suit of clothes that Bob had created in his usual illusionary form. But these were real clothes. Bob was real.
Ancient Mai looked a little startled. Maybe even a little frightened. She hid the fear quickly but it was there for a moment and Harry had seen it.
'Stay where you are!' She said, not wanting Bob to come any closer to her. She WAS afraid of him! 'On your knees, Hrothbert.'
At least she had him. She would have him safely restrained again soon.
Bob didn't say a word. He slowly dropped to his knees. He looked up at Mai with pale, aqua eyes.
Mai moved toward Bob. She raised to sword. And as she did she nodded for Morgan to do the same with Harry.
'No! Wait!' Bob protested. 'You said you would take his head if I didn't surrender myself! I've surrendered!'
'That's right. But I never said I wouldn't take his head if you did surrender yourself.'
Bob was furious. She had tricked him. 'Harry!' He had surrendered himself to eternity as a slave again and it was for nothing! He felt like a fool.
'It's okay, Bob. It's okay.' Dresden said. But he knew it was not okay. Morgan was about to take his head.
Men like Hrothbert of Bainbridge could never change. And soon he would be nothing again. Things had come full circle. Ancient Mai's duty was to The High Council and the greater good. She had to protect other magical beings and wizards and non-magical people from the likes of Hrothbert of Bainbridge and wizards who had the potential of becoming like him such as Harry Dresden. Ancient Mai would see them both dead for the safety of others.
The irony was if Bob had known she would do this, if he had known she would turn on them both and kill Harry too, if he had truly believed that is what she would do than he would have shown her the true extent of his power and destroyed her utterly. But now it was too late. He had suspected she might do something like this but maybe he had been naïve to hope she would really let Harry go if he surrendered.
'No!' In Bob's desperation he silently cried out for any force that would ever show someone like him mercy. He had never prayed… not since his death but he silently did so now. He looked at Harry. The boy he had raised. The child. The good man he had grown into. It couldn't end like this. Not for Harry. He did not care what happened to himself but someone save Harry!
For all his newly restored power Bob felt helpless. If he threw power at Mai Morgan would take Harry's head. He did not have enough time to stop them both. He bowed his head. Tears brimmed his eyes. And the tears fell. Not for himself but for Harry. Harry was a good man. He deserved better than this.
He heard the blades coming down together but they both stopped abruptly before reaching the back of their necks.
Bob looked up, it seemed both Ancient Mai and Morgan were both frozen in place. They were conscious but their arms seemed frozen in place. They both looked surprised. And there were four beings standing in the room that had not been there a moment before.
They only vaguely looked humanoid. They were made entirely of bright, intense light. Bob couldn't look at them for very long without turning his head toward the ground.
'Who are you?' Ancient Mai demanded.
'Don't you know us?' The voice wasn't a physical one. It was more a sense of what the being wished to convey. It seemed to echo in all the minds of those present much like thought, silent but clear and definitely not the creation of those detecting it. It was thought but not their own. A presence piercing each of their minds as keenly as a knife.
The beings were tall and elegant. They had similar shape and depth as shadows cast on a wall but standing in three dimensions. They were of white intense light but they did not seem to physically be there. They did not cast shadows, nor did their light illuminate the darkness around them. It seemed as if these entities were not really there.
One being of light glided toward the old skull that still remained in the room. 'We are the keepers of the soul of Hrothbert of Bainbridge.' The figure gestured to the skull, and more specifically to the third pentacle of Saturn carved in the back, to the left of the axe wound. Within the third pentacle of Saturn were four names written in Hebrew. Omeliel, Anachiel, Arauchiah and Anazachia.
Somehow they knew that Anazachia was the name of the one that spoke. 'We were called upon in 900 AD to see that Hrothbert of Bainbridge never escape his confinement.'
'Then why did you interrupt me?' Ancient Mai said.
'Because,' said one of the other beings. This one was Anachiel that had 'spoken'. 'This is no longer Hrothbert of Bainbridge.' This being also spoke in that strange, telepathic method.
The Being furthest to the right of the little group spoke next. This was Arauchiah. 'Did you not wonder who left the grimoire on Wizard Dresden's door step?'
'It was a test.' Said Anazachia. 'Not a test for Harry Dresden. We already knew what his intentions would be. We wanted to test the bound soul.
'It is no longer the soul we recognize to be of Hrothbert of Bainbridge.' Anazachia said.
Anachiel spoke next. 'He has changed so drastically since the day we were assigned to guard him. We were curious. We wanted to see what he would do if put to the test…'
'What test? I don't understand.' Harry said.
'We knew what you would do. And we knew what the one you call Ancient Mai would do.' Arauchiah said calmly. 'We had it planned quite precisely. 'We wanted to know if Hrothbert would choose you or his freedom.'
Dresden looked angry. 'Didn't you see what he did when my uncle had me?! Didn't you see him die in my arms?! He gave his life for me once before.'
'Yes,' Anazachia said calmly. 'But he was not free. This time he had everything restored. He had freedom and mortality as well as a chance to escape. It was different.'
'Did he pass?' Harry asked. He sounded strangely innocent to Bob as he asked that.
'Our obligation was to guard Hrothbert of Bainbridge. ' The one that hadn't said a word thus far finally spoke. This was Omeliel. 'But as we have established, this soul has changed enough so that we can safely say that he has evolved beyond Hrothbert of Bainbridge and into… something better than what he once was.'
'You should know, Mr. Dresden. You named the person he has grown into being. 'Isn't that right, "Bob"?'
Bob was at a loss for words. 'I…'
Arauchiah 'You are not to remain alive.' Arauchiah said to Bob in an almost apologetic tone. 'And you are not yet ready for release and ascension. It will happen. Just not at this present time. However you have earned some not unconsiderable mercy.'
Omeliel glided toward Bob.
'Don't fear, Bob.' Anachiel said. 'It will be painless.'
Omeliel glided very close to Bob and seemed to kneel down to be eye level with him as Bob was kneeling. The being brought Omeliel's head or where Omeliel's head would be (for these were like living shadows made of pure white light) and Bob shut his eyes against the light. It felt like warm lips were against his own. It was the first time he had felt a kiss in over a thousand years. It was sweet and loving. For one brief moment Bob felt …love. An intense and profound feeling of contentment and fulfillment. Everything was good. There was no guilt, no pain. His past was gone and forgiven, something to be let go of. It was… peaceful… And then it was gone.
He felt all sensation leave him very abruptly. It seemed to fade away. The burden of his past was back upon him. He wished he could have held on to that pleasant sensation but it was gone. It was not long at all. He was no longer a solid being. He was not breathing.
All sensation was gone save for the weight at his wrists. The manacle bracelets were back in place on his wrists.
He frowned and looked down at the familiar restraints. He was no longer a physical being and he was again bound to the skull.
The beings released their strange hold on Mai and Morgan. And one said in a command that was strangely soothing, directed at both Mai and Morgan. 'You will not harm the wizard Harry Dresden.'
The handcuffs holding Dresden seemed to dissolve. Falling away in a glittering dust. Dresden rubbed his chafing wrists.
The beings were gone.
Ancient Mai was rattled but she did not reveal that she was rattled. Ancient Mai left without another word, the other wardens following. Morgan was unusually quiet as well. No barbs. He did however give a small nod to Dresden that seemed to say he was actually glad he was still alive.
'Bob? Bob, are you all right?'
'Y- yes… I think so.' Bob said softly. 'Harry… Something's different…'
'Yeah?' Harry still seemed a little dazed.
Bob got up slowly. He stepped toward Harry. He had to put it to the test. He reached out for Harry's hand. He took it. Dresden did not resist.
It took a little bit of concentration to will Dresden's hand to move and make it look as if his hand was in his own as he did it. But it worked. It looked as if he was holding Harry's hand. Bob, himself, could not feel it. But Dresden could. To Dresden it was like a cool, icy mist was wrapped around his hand. And strangely the mist seemed as strong as a human grip. Able to raise Harry's hand.
Dresden looked surprised. 'They gave you the ability to interact with the world?'
Bob nodded. 'Yes.' The ghost smiled for the first time in a very, very long time. 'Yes, Harry.'
Harry ran a hand through his hair. 'Where did you go? I mean when they were going to take my head what kept you?'
'What?' Dresden blinked.
'I had never tried chocolate. I wanted to taste chocolate. Just once…'
Dresden laughed. 'I thought you would have bought a hooker or something with some stolen money from my wallet.'
Bob's eyes glittered mischievously. It seemed so wrong to discuss this after the divine visit but weren't they aware of everything already anyway?
'I meant to take one but there wasn't enough time left after I had eaten.' Bob said with a coy smile.
Harry shook his head and laughed. 'You're not "ascending' any time soon, are you?'
'No.' Bob said matter-of-factly.
'Good.' Harry said. 'I like you here.'
'I know you do.' Bob smiled slightly.