I wrote this for Nuhuh's(from DLP) birthday. It's a standalone piece that may or may not get a sequel. Enjoy
for Nuhuh Irrefutable's birthday.
Dresden Files #10.98
The Dresden Files/Codex Alera is copyright Jim Butcher. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.
With a solemn expression, I handed the keys to my office over.
A man in white, with a full-faced gas mask accepted them and summarily shut the door in my face. On a normal day, this would have probably offended me. However, today wasn't a normal day.
My building was being refurbished, and for once, it wasn't my fault. The increase in rent over the past few years had finally been put to use. A group of contractors had been hired for asbestos removal. It just so happened they decided to start at the ground floor, which left me without an office for the next week, which I was fine with.
No detective work meant a day off. There was no Warden work, or out of town trips. Molly was off with her siblings doing the things siblings do, and nothing out of the ordinary had occurred in the past week. The very thought of a day consisting a bottle of one of Mac's microbrew and a steak sandwich put a noticeable bounce in my step, for at least a few seconds at least.
My good mood ended as soon as I caught sight of a pair of soulful eyes staring up at me from the stairs in front of the office building. A young girl stood outside my office by the side of the building.
She was a lithe girl in jeans, the kind with cuts and tears along the legs, a peasant style blouse with curly flaxen coloured hair that fell to her shoulders. The lines of her face were soft and sweet, and her skin had a healthy pink hue to it. She held a notebook against her chest with a picture of a familiar looking man on the front of it, familiar in the sense that every time I look in a mirror I see the face staring back at me. Her pleasant features were marred with a nervous look that seemed to deepen as recognition flared in her eyes.
"Can I help you?" I asked.
She smiled weakly and fumbled with the notebook in her arms. She flipped through it and eventually tore out a page and handed it to me. I didn't need to read the note to know what she wanted.
'Help me,' her eyes all but screamed.
I'm sure the breaking sound I just heard had something to do with my day off evaporating before my eyes.
I resisted the urge to sigh and looked down at the note in my hand. I went over it twice to be certain that I had read it correctly.
"Someone stole your voice."
"And someone you know recommended me to you?"
She nodded again.
I ran a hand through my hair. There weren't many beings who could steal someone's voice. A wizard could do it, sure, but there would be little to no point in doing so. Few creatures from the Nevernever could steal someone's voice, and even fewer who would do something as strange as take a girl's voice.
A feeling of dread began to bubble up from my stomach and I couldn't help but voice my question. "Did you make a deal with them?"
She hesitated and bit down on her bottom lip before nodding.
A grimace coloured my features. "If you made a deal with one of the Sidhe I can't help you," I said to her. "If you've agreed to a bargain, there isn't anything I can do to help you."
Her eyes began to tear up and she clutched her notebook tighter against her chest.
A twinge of guilt ran through me, and this time I couldn't help but sigh. I'd almost gone an entire month without reducing a girl to tears, somethings are just not meant to be. "Tell me what happened, and I'll see if I can do anything to help you."
She smiled up at me with relief and pulled a pen out of the spine of the notebook, and opened it to an empty page. She seemed to struggle for a few moments trying to balance the notebook on one hand and writing in it.
"There's a café around here somewhere, do you want to continue this there?" I ask her.
She looked up at me from her notebook and blinked, before nodding and smiling thankfully.
I looked around the street and tried to remember where I had smelt coffee however long ago it was. In the end I decided to wing it and walked north towards the main drag.
The café turned out to be a few blocks over. Men and women were sitting around small tables with oversized umbrellas sticking out of them. The interior was decked out in varnished wood and steel chairs. There were two fans affixed to the ceiling, but they stood motionless. In their place a gigantic air condition unit at the back of the shop purred silently cooling the interior of the shop down.
There were relatively few people inside the establishment. I ended up taking a table near the front of the shop and sat down. Moments later a set of two menus were placed in front of my client and I. I picked the menu up and glanced at it briefly before discarding it back to the table.
I didn't feel like coffee.
"Alright, tell me everything." I said to the blonde girl sitting opposite of me. "For starters, how about your name?"
The girl's cheeks flushed in embarrassment and she quickly set her notepad onto the table and scribbled something at the top of a blank page, before flipping the book to face me.
Sorry. I'm Diane.
"Don't worry about it, Diane," I said to her, "Tell me what happened."
She turned the notebook back towards her and began to write furiously on the paper. I watched her as she wrote down her story. As she wrote, a waitress approached our table with a bright too-wide smile.
"So, what can I get you two?" The waitress asked in a perky voice.
"Nothing, thanks," I said to her.
She continued to smile and turned towards Diane. "And you, sweetie?"
Diane opened her mouth to response but no words came as her lips moved. A frustrated look appeared on her features.
"Do you want a coffee or something?" I asked her.
She shook her head in the negative.
"We're good, thanks," I informed the waitress.
Her plexiglass smile appeared strained. "Of course, if you need anything don't hesitate to call me over." She said before turning away and marching off back to the counter.
I met her at a club, and we talked. I told her I was an art student and she offered to help me become better at drawing. She joked about taking my voice in exchange, I didn't think she was serious but two days ago I woke up and I couldn't talk.
Help me please! I can't live without being able to talk, these past few days have been unbearable.
Diane reached across the table and clasped the top of my hand desperately.
"Right," I said uncomfortably and gently eased her hand off mine. "What did she look like?"
Diane took the notepad back and quickly flipped through it to the back. She thrust it back into my hands. I stared down at the notebook my lips parted in surprise.
On the paper, etched in charcoal, was a woman's profile … and it was drawn well, and of course, drawn naked, as expected from an art student. "You drew this?" I asked.
"After the deal?"
She nodded again.
I let out a low whistle. Say what you wanted about Sidhe when they made their deals they delivered. The drawing looked as though it was about to jump off the paper and come to life. I ran my eyes over it, taking in every detail I could gather. The woman drawn had short light hair, a steep contrast to the dim shade of her skin and a slim lithe figure. There were other details I took notice of, but none of them were relevant to the situation.
Naturally, it was at this point that the air con unit in the back of the café decided to die. There was a sputtering wheeze as the electronics fizzled out and went dead. The smell is freezer-ice started to fill the café.
"Alright." I said. "I'll see what I can do, do you mind if I keep this?" At her nod I tore it from the notebook, folded it in half and stuffed it into my duster.
She smiled and began to fumble with her jeans pocket, pulled an envelope from her pants and handed it to me.
I stared at it for a second before accepting it. I'd handled enough envelopes in my time to determine the contents. "I can't take money from a kid," I informed her and handed it back.
She shook her head vehemently and refused to accept it.
I grudgingly slid it into one of my dusters many pockets. "If I can't help then I'm giving it back to you." I inform her.
She nodded and pursed her lips.
"Give me your number so I can get in contact with you if I need any more information."
She gave me an incredulous look, but none the less wrote down her number on a sheet of paper, before tearing it out and handing it to me.
I accepted it and stood up. "One last thing," I said, "What did she call herself?"
Diane licked her lips nervously and wrote down the Sidhe's name on her notebook.
I've worked out a system. If I need information, there are generally a few places I like to go. If it's about supernatural creatures I go to Bob, the spirit in a skull. If it's about something to do with the dead I try Mortimer, the ectomancer, but if I just need to know something about the supernatural hitters in town there is McAnally's tavern, owned by one Mac. No last name, just Mac.
McAnally's was located behind one of the tall buildings in Chicago and surrounded by others. To get to it you had to go down an alley, but on the bright side it had its own parking lot, however small it was. As usual there was at least one free parking spot. I debated about retrieving my staff for the walk down the alley, but decided against it.
The doors to the tavern opened and I was hit with deafening silence. The tavern was old, lit by a dozen candles and kerosene lamps. The smell of wood smoke and the steaks that Mac cooked for his customers saturated the air.
Thirteen wooden pillars, each one depicting all manners of supernatural scenes and creatures, held up the low ceiling. Thirteen fans spread out between them, each whirling quietly. There were thirteen tables scattered out irregularly through the room. The bar itself was decked with thirteen bar stools spread out along it's length.
There was a method to the madness. The entire design of the place was used to disperse and divert hazardous or volatile energies that might accompany certain magical-types into the tavern. It was a masterpiece of feng shui which reduced potential magical accidents by an astonishing degree.
Aside the door a plaque hung and proclaimed that the tavern was Accorded Neutral Territory. What that meant was that any signatories of the Unseelie Accords would be honour bound to take any fight outside of the tavern. Of course, that kind of agreement is only as good as the honour of any of the parties involved.
The pub was practically empty. All but two tables were empty. A tired looking woman sat in the corner closest to the door. On the table, she had a few flowers spread out, each in different states of bloom. The only other patron was a scruffy looking man of middle age leaning against the bar.
Mac stood behind the bar in stereotypical barkeep style with a glass in one hand and a cleaning rag in the other. He was bald and wore a creaseless white shirt and an apron. He nodded to me as I entered and approached him.
"How's tricks, Mac?" I greeted him.
He's eloquent like that.
"One dark, one well done." My own little code for a bottle of liquid micro brewed heaven, and a slice of steak paradise. He nodded and set the glass and rag in his hands down on the counter. I slipped onto a bar stool and sat down.
I reached into my duster and pulled the drawing I had gotten from Diane out, opened it and placed it on the table. When Mac returned with one of the microbrew his eyebrows rose at the sight of it.
"You seen her?" I asked.
Mac picked the picture up off the bar top and stared at it for a few moments before dropping it again. He shrugged his shoulders. "Why?"
"A kid made a deal with her. I'm trying to track her down and convince her to return what she took."
Mac's eyebrows rose. "Can't."
I nodded. "I figured as much," I said and picked the bottle up off the bar top. I popped the cap and took a big gulp. The alcohol burned my throat on the way down. I slammed it back down against the bar top "How long do you suppose, before your regulars arrive?"
"Five," Mac grunted.
"And how long before it's five?" I asked.
"Five," Mac repeated.
A grubby hand palmed the drawing in front of my and dragged it out of my sight. I glanced to my left to find the scruffy looking man six seats closer than he had been when I had sat down.
"Oh, yeah, I saw her." He said. "Yesterday, I saw her."
I gave him an incredulous look. "You saw her?"
He gave me a yellow-toothed grin. "Yesterday, I did," he said.
I watched as he turned his gaze back down to the naked drawing in his hands. He stared at it with an unsettling intensity and brushed his fingers against the charcoal, smudging it.
I somehow managed to find it in myself to doubt him. Then again, better people have been wrong, and worst had been right in the past. "Where did you see her?" I asked him.
He looked up at me in surprise. "Give me a grand and I'll tell you."
"I'll buy you a dark." I make my counter offer.
"Half a grand." He retorted before snorting and leaning back on his chair. It was a stupid thing to do considering that he was sitting on a barstool. There was a crash and the man swore.
"I'll give you two darks and half a steak sandwich."
"Deal," the man grunted from the floor and pulled himself up. He cradled his ribs with one hand and with the other set his stool back up. I watched in vague amusement as he sat back down.
"How about you make it three dark," he said in pain and snatched my drank drunk bottle from the table and took a long sip before holding it against his ribs.
"How about you tell me where you saw her?" I countered flatly.
He gave me a hurt look. "My word's good man, I'm just a bit dry you know?" He took another sip. "You know the uh... that station, Randolph and Wash?"
The bottom of my stomach seemed to drop out. "Randolph and Wabash?"
The man nodded happily. "That's the one, yeah I saw her around there last night," he said before taking another swig of my stolen beer. "Was looking for a piece of tail, you know? Thought she was a looker, so I followed her for a bit and she disappeared."
I looked at Mac.
He shrugged and laid a steak sandwich in front of me.
The scruffy man's hand reached for it.
I slapped his hand away.
He frowned but none the less didn't try again.
A sigh escaped me. Randolph and Wabash meant Undertown. Which meant irradiated waste and unspeakable horrors, which were the least of my concerns as far as the matter went. Had he mentioned any other place I might have been inclined to doubt him, but experience told me that he was on the level.
"Hey Mac, can I get this to take away?" I glanced at the man besides me and said, "And two Dark and a Steak for him?" Mac frowned but none the less took the plated steak sandwich back.
A hand clapped me on the shoulder. "You're a good man, Dresden."
I blinked. "How do you know my name?" I asked suspiciously.
He laughed and waved my question off. "Harry Dresden, conjure it at your own risk right? You're a legend in Chicago. Don't know anyone in the know who wouldn't know, you know?"
I stared at him, stunned. "Right." I withdrew my wallet from my duster, and pulled out a small wad of bills. I dropped them on the counter. Mac's hand swept along the bar a moment later to claim the bills in the name of McAnally's. He dropped a brown paper bag in front of me.
I snatched it off the counter and stood up, after a moment of consideration I plucked the drawing out of the scruffy man's hand. He protested mildly but I paid it no attention.
"See you later Mac." I nodded at Mac.
I turned away and left the tavern.
I had one more stop to make before I went down to Undertown.
I don't know how, but Bob's leer, however immaterial it may have been was beginning to make me uncomfortable, and he wasn't even looking at me. "I say, Harry, I wouldn't mind tagging along for this case, you need my help right?" I somehow felt the need to worry for the crumbled drawing of Annabel's chastity.
"I can handle it myself, Bob," I said awkwardly. "I've never seen a dark skinned Sidhe before, what can you tell me?"
"How about the girl, was she hot, Harry?" Bob the Skull pressed me for details the moment I explained the situation to him. "Heroes can get the girl you know? Defeat the evil, return victorious and with a swagger take her in your arms and—"
"Bob," I said, and folded my arms across my chest. "Tell me."
I had the faintest sense that Bob was pouting at me. "She's a Svartalfar, they're Mab's harem of nightmare bunnies."
"They're Mab's wetwork team. If she wants an enemy dead, they're the group she sends." Bob explained. "They're like playboy bunnies, except with fangs and claws instead of g-strings and breast implants."
"So what's she doing taking a girl's voice?" I asked. "Doesn't seem like something Mab would send her out to do."
"Why do Sidhe ever do what they do?" Bob asked. "Maybe she's branching out with new career opportunities. Personally I think you should consider branching out as well, I mean from what you've told me—"
"Bob," I said, cutting the spirit of intellect off from finishing. "Where are the glow sticks?"
The skull went silent for a moment. "Those tube things you took from the kitten?" Bob asked, his eyes flickering with orange flames.
"Her name is Molly." I corrected him for the umpteenth time.
"Bottom shelf third from the left, back row," Bob recited offhandedly. "You know if the girl won't put out, maybe the Svartalfar will." The skull mused.
I crouched down beside a case full of knickknacks and random pieces of supernatural creatures. I pushed aside a bag of, if I recalled correctly, toenail clippings from a ghoul and located two packs of clear tubes filled with neon green liquid. One of the packets opened and was missing one of its number, there were three in total.
"Where is the night vision potion?" I asked as I stuffed the glow sticks into my duster.
"You mean the magical carrot juice?" Bob asked flatly.
"The night vision potion, yes." I said through gritted teeth.
"You drank it when you went huntin' for dire rats—what is it that makes a dire rat dire? I never understood what the difference between regular giant rats and the dire kind was."
Navigating through Undertown was going to be a hassle, navigating it without night vision was going to up that magnitude. I absently fingered the pentacle that I wore around my neck. I suppose I would be dusting off an old classic, one last time.
"The difference is location. If a rat is in somebody's house and is giant it's a giant rat. If it's in a sewer or a forest, then it's a dire rat." I explained to the skull as I stood back up and looked around the room. I don't think there was anything extra I could take that would make the trip any smoother.
"What do you intend to do if you do find the Svartalfar?" Bob asked after a moment of silence. "You haven't got a lawful quarrel with them, and the girl entered into the deal willing, if not ignorant." Bob's voice became smug. "You know Harry, I'm sure you could bargain with her yourself, A two for one! The girl gets her voice back, you get a bit of action—"
"Bob, I said exasperatedly. "Enough."
The skull's eyes flickered. "Just trying to be helpful boss, it's not like you have any brilliant ideas, right?"
I ignored the fact that he was right. I didn't have a plan to get the girls voice back. Well, I had a rudimentary one, but it consisted of four stages, only three of which I had worked out.
The smart thing to do would have been to look the other way, but that just wouldn't have sat well with me, I'm not that kind of guy.
I paused for a moment and scanned the surface of the benches that lined the walls. "Ah, there it is." I walked over to the opposite side of the room and snatched up a springy object that had been well hidden behind a stack of books. I stuffed it in my pocket.
"You're taking the Doom Slinky?" Bob said, aghast. "Why would you do that? What are you—Harry! Boss—!"
I made my way up from my basement laboratory and ignored Bob's incessant pleas. My apartment was looking sparkling fresh, which meant the brownies had been around last night. The scent of pinewood filled the house it was a relaxing scent.
A second later Mouse came bounding from beyond the lounge room, tail wagging. Mouse was a dog, and not just any dog. He was a veritable mountain of grey-black fur, and more importantly my dog. He stopped a few feet away and looked up at me, his tongue lolling about out of his mouth. I crouched down in front of him and ruffled his ears. "Feel like going for a walk?" I asked him with a smile. His tail stopped wagging and he stared at me.
"I mean," I backtracked. "Do you want to go into Undertown with me?"
He exhaled through his nose loudly and his tail started wagging again. He barked once and walked up to me. He nudged my duster and sniffed.
"That's my sandwich," I said firmly. "You already had your breakfast, this is mine."
I received the equivalent of a dog's cold shoulder. "If we get back before sundown we can stop at Mac's and get you one, alright?"
Mouse barked happily.
I smiled wryly and gestured for him to follow me. "Let's go and find Ursula."
I with my mighty hound at heel made my way out of my apartment and to my mighty stead, also known as the Blue Beetle, though over the last ten years it had progressively become the multi coloured beetle. But that name just doesn't sit well with the old girl.
I opened the back door and Mouse hopped in side. I shut the door and slid into the driver's seat. The engine sputtered to life and after five minutes of waiting for a gap in traffic, we were off.
The entrance to Undertown near Randolph and Wabash was located in a closed off section of Pedway. It had been a few years since I'd been there last, but there had been no development whatsoever. There was a perpetually unfinished building on top of it. The entire area had been forgotten by the city. One day, construction had simply stopped and no one seemed to have noticed.
I retrieved my staff from my trunk and stuck my blasting rod and .44 in my dusters pockets. They were getting pretty full. I lead Mouse down through the unlocked service access door into Pedway. There wasn't enough light to see the tip of my own nose, so I pulled the silver pentacle off my neck and lifted it up in my hand. I focused a small effort of will upon it and it burst into blue light that drove back the darkness in the quiet tunnels. Mouse trod ahead of me as we walked down the tunnel. We arrived at an intersection with the main tunnels of Pedway and after a brief walk down another tunnel we arrived at a familiar section that was shut behind a rusting metal gate with a rusty sign that read, DANGER KEEP OUT. I pushed the gate open and we entered. The smell of mildew and mold saturated the air.
The walls started to become rough and uneven after fifty or so feet and the shadows on the walls seemed to thicken and become heavy, in spite of the light from my pentacle. I searched the walls for a moment before finding a particularly dark section.
Beside me, Mouse sneezed.
"Bless you," I said quietly as I ran my hands over the wall. My finger slipped into a small groove, and with a little pressure something clicked. The wall in front of me spun and opened to reveal a new section. The smell of mold grew thicker.
I set my staff aside against the gate and retrieved the two packs of glow sticks from my duster. I pressed my silver pentacle against them and focused my will. The light of the pentacle slowly dimmed as I filtered my magic through it and into the rave favours. When I was done there was barely enough light to see, the shadows on the walls hungrily snatched up what little remained.
"Hold on you cry baby." I said to him and removed one of the glow sticks. I snapped the centre and shook it until it burst into a bright green glow. I frowned for a moment and with my free hand riffled through my pockets. My fingers scrapped across something rectangular and metal. I pulled it out and to my pleasant surprise I found myself holding a cigar clipper. How it got into my duster I didn't know. I threaded the glowing glow stick through it and cut off one of the ends. A bit of the glowing liquid spilled out and dribbled down my hand. I lifted my foot up and poured the contents of the tube over the soles of my shoes. The green goo dimmed as it soaked into the rubber.
I discarded the broken glow stick and returned the rest to my duster. I clutched my silver pentacle in my hand again and reaffirmed my will and faith. It erupted in splendid light and pushed the darkness back again. I held my pentacle up in front of me and stepped into the darkness. The glow from the silver charm beat back the darkness. We appeared in a patch worked tunnel. One of the walls seemed to be made of old mouldering brick, and the other seemed to be made of a combination of rotten wooden beams, loose earth, and winding roots. The tunnel stretched beyond the range of my wizard's light. As I walked down the length of the tunnel, the ground became uneven and moist. The tunnel eventually opened up to a low-roofed cavern supported by a combination of pillars, mounds of collapsed earth, and ramshackle supports that had been thrown up by the residents of Undertown.
Aside me, Mouse stopped and a low growl rumbled from his throat. The hairs on the back of my neck seemed to stand up. "Déjà vu," I muttered under my breath and clutched my staff in hand.
"Show yourself," I commanded and held the pentacle up. Light streamed into the cavern bouncing off buried and unearthed sheets of metal and trinkets. The sound of skittering echoed off the walls and my muscles tensed. The growl's from Mouse grew in intensity.
Suddenly Mouse spun around and barked. I clenched my fist and spun on the spot. I managed to catch sight of a gigantic hairy something moments before a fanged maw lunged towards my face.
"Forzare!" I shouted and slammed the base of my staff against the ground. A wall of condensed force manifested between the creature and my face and a second later erupted outwards. The creature impacted against it, and shot clear across the cavern with a shriek of pain. It slammed into one of the support beams and snapped it in half. I managed to catch sight of three frail hairy legs before the creature vanished into the darkness. The other support beams groaned and the immense empty space shuddered. Dirt rained down from the ceiling and I had to squint my eyes to keep from getting it in my eyes.
"W-w-izZ-ard!" a tortured voice snarled from the darkness. The sound of tiny pincer-like feet scuttling around the cavern drew my attention back to the ground.
A gigantic shape lunged towards me through the air. I brought my left arm up and willed into existence a shield of liquid silver light. My arm went numb as the creature crashed into my shield. The shield itself flashed and illuminated a humanoid face. I use the term humanoid in the loosest fashion. It was elongated and its eyes were too big, and too many. A dozen large glassy black eyes dotted it's face. It hissed in pain through a nightmarish fanged maw and flung itself off the shield, back into the darkness. Mouse barked from behind and I managed to turn around just in time to catch sight of another attacker. I clenched my fist and swung for its face. A moment before my fist connected with the ahrd chitin head, I activated two of the five brass bands that I wore on my fingers, coating my fist in a kinetically charged glove.
A fraction of a second later and with a satisfying crunch my fist made contact. If the previous spell had been cannon, then this was a rail gun. The sheer force of the kinetic energy imbedded the monster in a wall on the other side of the cavern in a blink of an eye. I imagined it would have screamed in pain had it been able to, but with its sudden lack of head, I couldn't see it doing that, or getting up again, for that matter.
More dust fell from the ceiling of the cavern. I ignored it and scanned the edges of the darkness for the a sign of the creatures. More dirt sprinkled the top of my head and something wet dripped onto my head. I grimaced and brought a hand up to my hair to shake it off. My fingers touched upon something warm and sticky. My eyes widened and I brought my arm above my head and focused my will. An enormous forced slammed onto the shield and drove my feet down into the loose earth. I looked up just in time to see the creature's maw open wide and spew a white substance onto the top of the shield. The shield crackled with energy as the gloop slid around it. With all the might in my arm I flung the creature and substance to the side and lunged out of the way.
It was at this point that Mouse decided to insert himself into the battle. With a roar, Mouse trounced onto the creature and tore into it with his fangs and claws. It shirked in agony, before abruptly being silenced as Mouse tore through it's throat. I looked at Mouse in surprise.
"You bit through its carapace?" I asked, impressed. "I guess Molly was right about those chew toys."
Mouse whined and trod off of the corpse of the creature. I could see green blood stain his muzzle.
"We'll get you a bath when we get home," I said to him and glanced around the cavern. I could no longer hear the scuttling sound from anywhere in the cavern.
"W-w-izZ-ard, soothe," a voice clacked from beyond the edge of my pentacles light. "We bring you to our M-m-isS-tress."
I searched for the source of the voice. "You attacked us," I said loudly.
"Was not told to bring alive or dead, we bring you," It said, it's voice out of tune. "Come with me W-w-izZ-ard. We take you to M-m-isS-tress."
"Where is she?" I demanded to know and focused my will, brightening the glow from my silver necklace. A shadow at the edge of the cavern shifted and hid behind a mound of dirty.
"We take you to M-m-isS-tress," it repeated.
"Will you show me the way to the Svartalfar, unharmed?" I asked.
"We will take you to M-m-isS-tress." It repeated.
"I ask again. Will you show me the way to the Svartalfar, unharmed?"
"We will take you to M-m-isS-tress." It's voice became tortured.
"Thrice I ask and done. Will you show me the way to the Svartalfar, unharmed?" I repeated the question for the third time.
"We take you to M-m-isS-tress unharmed." It shrieked and it's voice bounced off the cavern walls.
I let out a breath. "Alright Flotsam, take us to your leader." From the darkness a figure emerged. Compared to the others that attacked it was small, it barely stood four feet high. The light from the pentacle revealed a hairy body with eight spindly legs and a misshapen head with half a dozen eyes. It had two arms, which ended in small broken hands.
It kept smoothing the hairs on it's bloated chest and refused to look in my direction.
"W-w-izZ-ard follows us to M-m-isS-tress?" it said in its shifting tone.
"Lead," I commanded it. It's head bobbed and it began to scuttle further into the cave.
"Come on Mouse," I said to my faithful canine companion who was busy pawing his muzzle and trying to clean off the monster blood. Mouse whined but none the less stopped and stood at heel.
"Comes, yes come with us," the creature said as it continued to groom itself. "We take you, yes."
Maybe Gollum was a better name for the misshapen creature.
The creature now known as Flotsam lead Mouse and I one of the darker areas of the cavernous area and to a hidden door carved out of blackened bricks that looked like once upon a time they had been scorched by flame. The only sounds I could hear were the clicking of Flotsam's chitin clacking against its carapace as it walked ahead. The doorway opened up into yet another tunnel. The walls, ceiling and floor were coated in spider webs. There were lumps every now and then from the size of a rat to, unnervingly ones the size of small children. In the end I focused on the distance and ignored the unpleasant uneasy that rose up at the sights.
We walked in silence only broken by the click and clack of Flotsams movement and the occasional sneeze from Mouse. In the distance I could see a faint trace of light.
"We are close to M-m-isS-tress." Flotsam said quietly. "We no go that way, we stay here, we safe here." The creature scuttled back from the light and crouched down behind a lump of spider web covered something. I frowned at the creature but didn't force it on ahead. The tunnel opened up into a gigantic low-lit cavern of white. Pure white spider webs covered every surface. It was as if in a single stroke someone had painted the entire cave. Boulders and mounds of earth that lined the walls were all covered. Even the outcrops on the ceiling and walls weren't visible under the webbing.
There was a faint musical tune being played, the kind you'd hear from a young girl's music box. From where I was, it was barely audible, but it sounded so familiar. The notes seemed intimate to me, like a forgotten memory from childhood.
"Wait here, Mouse," I instructed the massive grey dog at my side. He gave me a flat look. "I need you to keep an eye on this exit," I said to him quietly and slid the silver pentacle necklace back onto my neck. "If anything comes this way, bark and come to me, do you understand?"
Mouse yawned and plopped down onto the ground.
In the centre of it all, a figure sat on a white throne. A figure every bit as beautiful and enchanting as the drawing Diane had drew. Heavy lidded white feline eyes followed my every step as I approached. The Svartalfar's skin was a dusty dark brown that seemed so at odds with the white world around her. Her hair however, matched it perfectly. The pure white strands cascaded down her cheeks and framed her face wonderfully. Full breasts with even darker nipples were displayed without shame, not that there was anything to be ashamed of. Her legs were folded over each other as she reclined on her throne of webs. Her smile widened in pleasure as she watched my gaze detail her.
Aside her on an arm rest a small box sat, from it the melody that filled the cavern played. In it's centre a bronze fairy twirled in time with the notes.
"Harry Dresden," she purred in a thick husky voice as I stopped in front of her. "How I've waited for this day."
"Said the spider to the wizard," I muttered under my breath before glaring at the figure before me. "You're Annabel?" I asked her.
"I take it you know why I'm here then?"
Her eyes flittered with affectionate amusement… what?
"Of course," she said. "I arranged for you to seek me out, did I not?" She dropped one of her wonderfully toned legs down to the ground, inadvertently flashing me, and leaned forwards. "Tell me, Harry, how are you?" She asked pleasantly.
I stared at her blankly. This isn't how I expected this to go down.
"Uhm, I'm good." I said before comprehension dawned on me. "What do you mean arranged?" I demanded to know and gripped my staff.
"The girl, Diane, I believe her name was, she came to you, did she not?" The Svartalfar asked. "I sent her to you so you would come to me." A laugh fell from her lips. "You came to retrieve her voice, did you not?"
I nodded silently.
"Be at peace wizard, your duty is complete, the moment you appeared in my domain her bargain was complete and her voice was returned."
Well, that was easy, much easier than I had expected. On the other hand, I'd been set up. The girl I had decided to help had handed me a silver platter and I had jumped right on board.
I smiled at the white haired Sidhe. "Well then," I said. "I'll just be on my way." I took a step backwards.
"You shall not leave just yet, Harry." Annabel said softly and stood up from her throne.
Without warning or reason I suddenly found myself incapable of looking away or moving. I had been prepared for any glamour's she could have thrown at me, or I had thought so. I couldn't tear my gaze away as Annabel approached. The sheer thought of doing so seem ludicrous. Annabel stopped a foot away and reached up to my face. She cupped my cheeks lightly and ran her gaze over my features. My eyes fluttered closed as she brushed her fingertips over a scar on my cheek. My mind was screaming in alarm, but my body had gone on strike.
"Sweet Harry," she murmured. "You seem so worn and tormented for one so young. Be at peace, I did not call you to me to harm you or do you ill will." Her hands slid down my face to my chest and lightly tugged against my duster, drawing me forwards. "I have a hard time believing that you are your mother's son," the dark skinned Sidhe mused.
That did the trick.
"You knew my mother?" I stopped and blurted out.
Annabel blinked in surprise, before a slow smile overtook her lips. "Yes, I did." She said. "I knew your mother very well. That is the reason why I sought you out and demeaned myself by dealing with that lowly girl." A look of distaste appeared.
She knew my mother. She went through the trouble of tricking me into meeting her, because she knew my mother. Everyone knew of my mother. But few people were ever willing to talk about her.
"I can tell you about her, if you wish, Harry," Annabel said to me as if reading my mind.
"How'd you know her?" I asked slowly.
The white eyed Sidhe sat back down on her chair. "I suppose I could tell you how I met your mother, if you're willing to listen."
"For what price?" I asked calmly, my mind racing.
"All I wish for in return is your time," Annabel said as an amused smile quirked her lips. "It is a fair trade, is it not? I shall tell you of your mother, and in return you shall listen to what I tell you."
"What's the catch?" I asked suspiciously.
Annabel laughed softly and smiled at me in what could have been genuine amusement. "There is wisdom in questioning all that I offer, however, I do suggest you accept good fortune, or I will find myself offended."
I fell silent and the Sidhe nodded in approval.
"I met your mother when she was younger. I made the error of assuming she was just another mortal." An affectionate smile and a faraway look appeared on the Svartalfar's features. "Margaret sought a bargain with I. It was to me a year of servitude from one's self, in return for your mother's memories."
"After a year of humiliation and servitude to a mortal I was prepared to collect my reward. When I appeared before her she smiled and handed me something I had not expected." The white haired Sidhe reached behind herself and revealed a leather bound book. "This is the collection of your mother's memories from her youth till the day we parted ways," Annabel said as she caressed the spine of the book. "This is Margaret's journal chronicling her thoughts and feelings. This is her life story."
An adoring sigh fell from the Sidhe's lips. "Really, she took such advantage of me. I'm still envious of that woman after all this time." Annabel's gaze focused on me again with an intensity I hadn't expected. "This was hers' as well," she trailed her fingers over the music box that rested on the armrest of her throne.
My heart thudded in my chest. The journal, and the music box had both belonged to my mother. The soothing melody continued to course over me and made my chest tighten
"Would you like to have them, Harry?" Annabel asked kindly, and held out the leather bound book to me.
I reached for the book but froze before my fingertips touched it. I stared at it, and after a moment of hesitation, I dropped my hand back down. "What do you want for it?" I asked calmly despite having had my resolve shaken.
Annabel smiled and nodded in approval, she placed the journal on one of the arms of the throne she sat on. "Good," she said. "I would have been disappointed in you if you had simply taken it," she informed me. She brought a hand up to her face and gently traced the curve of her lips with a finger. "I've been told that you possess a particular favour from Summer. I would have you to trade it for your mother's journal."
I stared at the Svartalfar in surprise. She was referring to the silver oak leaf I had received from Lily, the Summer lady after I had conducted a raid on Arctis Tor, Mab, the Winter Queen's stronghold. It had been a gorgeous piece of artisanship, it had also meant I was an Esquire of Summer. I had used it a few months back to buy myself enough time to not be crushed under heel of one of Elder Gruff, one of Summer's Champions.
However, it seemed that she wasn't aware of those events.
"Perhaps you believe it is an unfair trade?" she mused, her eyes flickered over my frame and her tongue slithered out and moistened her lips. "Perhaps you should request something more? Your mother and I indulged in carnal delight far more often than one could have imagined," she said to me.
"I don't have it anymore," I said to her, appalled at where she was going. "I used it a few months ago."
The emotion's that played on the Svartalfar's face dropped away leaving an inhuman mask void of anything. I started to become nervous as she continued to stare at me. Her feline eyes pierced mine unblinkingly, as if trying to determine my sincerity.
"How," she said softly. "Did you come to use it?" She asked and straightened up on her throne.
The hairs on the back of my neck were beginning to tingle unpleasantly and I realized that the music box had stopped playing its melody. I swallowed and tightened my grip on my staff. "I used it… to get a doughnut." I answered honestly.
Annabel's mouth parted, and her eyebrows rose. It was the as close to honest surprise as one could probably get from a Sidhe.
"You… what?" her voice was quiet and strained.
I licked my lips and smiled despite myself. "I used it to get a doughnut," I repeated, "and technically to not be stomped by one of Summer's champions, but mainly for the doughnut."
It had been a good doughnut too, say, what you would about the Sidhe, they knew good taste.
"Do you take me for a fool?" Annabel whispered softly. "Perhaps you do take after your mother after all." Her lips peeled back into a sneer. The white haired Sidhe stood up and faced me. The ends of her fingered lengthened and thickened into deadly looking talons.
I took a step back and slid my hand into my dusters pocket and gripped the handle of my .44. "I'm sorry, but it's the honest truth," I said to her. "Maybe I should come back later, and give you some time to powder your nose." I turned away.
"You will not leave!" Stark white feline eyes appeared inches away from my own.
I flung myself backwards and drew my .44 from my duster pocket. I pointed it at the Sidhe's head and held my finger on the trigger. The Sidhe smiled a wide inhuman smile and tilted its head slowly to the side. She took a step towards me with a liquid grace that defied the form she held. I stepped backwards and she followed every step with one of her own.
"Let us talk more, Harry," Annabel purred out and stroked her chest with one of her claws. "I wish to know about the spawn Margaret birthed, tell me more of you, dear, sweet, Harry. Stay and talk."
That sounded… like a very bad idea. As she spoke, a faint mist settled over my mind and I found it becoming more and more difficult to hold coherent thought. In fact, I'm certain it was directly proportionate to the hardness of the Svartalfar's nipples. I stumbled backwards onto the throne and steadied myself against the arm which began to bend under my weight.
"Stay back," I warned the Sidhe and took aim at her head.
She stopped moving forwards and observed me for a second. A soft laughter filled the cavern and echoed melodiously off the white walls. It took me a few moments to realize it was her laughing.
"A gun?" She laughed. "You threaten me with a metal tool of mortal design?"
I stiffened. "Well, yeah," I said awkwardly. "Usually that's what I do. At least until I get ready to do something like this." I slammed the end of my staff against the ground. "Ventas Servitas!"
Generally, when I work with wind I don't use my staff. There is a reason for that. The still wind in the cavern screamed in rage as a spiral of razor sharp winds erupted around me. The sheer intensity of them warped my vision as they expanded in a violent corona. Under the gale force winds the webbing that covered the surrounding area was torn away, and revealed worn and cracked marble floors from a century past. As the winds died away the remains of the spiders' webs floated in the air, in small pieces. Through the snowstorm of cobwebs, I saw the Svartalfar's figure, standing in the same spot with a placid look upon her face and unruffled.
"How brutish," she said in lament. "Dear, sweet, Harry. I do not wish you harm, but I cannot allow your actions to go without response. My final offer, give me the token, and I shall allow you leave here alive."
The blood in my veins ran cold as throughout the cave the sound of clicking and clacking echoed, and echoed, and echoed until it became deafening. At the edge of the room the boulders shuddered and pincer-like claws punctured the spider-web membrane. From the white, black figured emerged, covered in membranous fluids. Hideous monstrous shapes appeared from beneath the white, and before me, Annabel's naked form shuddered and shifted and the talons that ended her fingers became more pronounced and vicious looking. She wore a frightful Stepford smile that caused the skin on the back of my neck to crawl up over my head. On the other hand, it could have been the scores of nightmarish creatures.
"My counter offer," I said quietly. "You and yours head back to faerie, and I don't bury you all." I slid my .44 back into my dusters pocket and smiled.
"Impudence," Annabel purred thickly. "You reside in my domain, do not tempt my wrath, wizard."
The last of the silk web that fluttered in the air drifted to the ground. I drew my hand from my duster and clutched my fist. Annabel's body began to glow faintly and caught my eye. Literally, I found myself unable to look away. I gritted my teeth together. Her hips swayed as she approached and my libido agreed wholeheartedly with the action. Too bad little else did.
"Forzare!" I slammed the base of the staff against the ground again and sent a rolling wave of force along the ground towards Annabel. She leap away and put distance between us.
"Break his legs," she called out to the creatures stirring at the edges of the cavern.
The creatures gaze a collective screech and with unexpected agility flung themselves at me. "Forzare!" I shouted and swung my staff in an arc towards the nearest mob. An invisible blade of force congealed in the wake of my staff and intersected a gaggle of the spider-monsters and knocked them backwards into scores of their own. I flung my hand towards the bowled over group and focused my will. "Fuego!" I snarled. A red-gold javelin of flame erupted from my out stretched fingers and tore through the new-born creatures, setting hem a flame and scorching the white webbing that littered the floor.
"More!" A voice demanded from beside my ear thickly. I swung my staff and attempted to knock whatever it was away. My staff passed through thin air and hit the spider-queen's throne, shattering it. I slammed my staff against the ground and sent another wave of rolling force tearing through the legions of creatures, shattering weak thin legs and pulverising bloated bodies.
"More! More! More!" Annabel cowed from beyond my sight. I swung my staff and slew a group that had been sneaking up from behind. The creatures died with laughable ease. But that wasn't Annabel's game. For every one I killed two more took it's place from the edges of the cave. I gritted my teeth together.
"Fuego! Forzare!" Fire and force exploded with equal ferocity against the oncoming tide of creatures that seemed hell-bent on throwing their lives at me. She wasn't trying to beat me. She was trying to wear me down until I was too tired to fight back. I scowled and stuffed my hand into my pocket.
"You know, Annabel," I shouted out. "I was going to ask you out for Chinese, but you're pushing it!" I shoved my hand into my pocket and clutched the remaining contents, sans my .44.
"Is that so?" Annabel's voice mused from my right. I snapped my head towards the source and caught sight of the Svaltalfar. She stood behind her creatures, with eyes too wide and innocuous considering the company she kept.
I smiled and squeezed the contents in my pocket until it snapped.
"Ever looked into the sun?" I asked and flung the contents in my hand into the air."Avoco luminis!" I shouted and threw my will and magic along for the ride. In midflight, it intermingled with the glow sticks that I had thrown and the green goo that filled the plastic tubes exploded in an intense luminosity. I gripped my duster and threw it over my head, and shut my eyes tight,
and then, I was blinded by green light, and deafened by the sudden shrieks of agony that shook the very walls of the cavern.
"Get him!" Annabel's voice screamed in rage. "Break his legs! Break his arms! Leave his head!" She commanded her legion of mini-horrors.
I flung my head out from under my duster and blinked away the green stain on the back of my eyelids. I didn't wait to see what the situation was. I didn't wait until I could see where the enemy was. I drew my force together and slammed my staff against the ground with more force then necessary. The world exploded outwards in a ring of broken stone and bodies. I searched out he exit to the cave and ran. I ran as hard and fast as my legs could take me.
"Get him!" The Svartalfar snarled. "Get him or I'll flay you all to death!"
Blurred figures scuttled towards me from the edges of my vision as I fled the cave. "Mouse!" I shouted as I reached the tunnel exit. "We're leaving!" I tore the pentacle from my neck once again and gripped it in hand. With a fraction of concentration the pentacle blossomed into radiant blue light that flooded the tunnel I focused further and with some effort the light from the pentacle shifted from blue to green. As far as the light reached bright neon green footprints appeared beneath the altered light. The shrieks of rage reverberated from behind Mouse and I as we ran. The sound of pincers and claws scrapping against the tunnel as they scrambled after us grew closer and closer. The opening of the tunnel opened into the low ceiling cave of before. The moment we passed the threshold of the tunnel I spun and slammed my staff against the ground. The runes on it blazed into life.
"Forzare!" I snarled and drew my magic up into a metaphysical sucker punch. I slammed the end of my staff against the scorched ground and released all my will and energy into a wall of solid force directed right down the tunnel we had just ran. The green light from my pentacle illuminated horrendous misshapen faces and bodies bloated and skinny as they slammed into an invisible barrier of accelerating force. There was a sickening crunch and then a sudden whoosh as the wall of force surged down the tunnel and drew in the air from our side of the tunnel. My duster fluttered in the artificial wind and I stumbled forwards as I was drawn forward by the vacuum, aside me Mouse's paws scraped against the ground as he was dragged forwards. He whined.
I grinned as a sound akin to a wine cork being popped open echoed from the other end of the tunnel. My grin slipped away and I focused again. I reached up towards the top of the tunnel and focused my energy, and will. I clenched my fist and dragged it downwards, muttering "Geodas," under my breath. The roof of the tunnel before me collapsed and filled the tunnel, or rather, it sunk down and sealed the tunnel, trapping all of the creatures on the other side, and more importantly, the Svartalfar.
"That's why you don't make your lair in an underground cave," I told Mouse through long breathes as I observed my handiwork. I couldn't find it in me to be proud of my work. There was a sense of loss, which I hadn't expected to feel in my heart. Something wet nudged my hand and I looked down to see Mouse nudging my hand. It took me a few moments to realize he was knocking it aside and trying to smell my pocket.
"What?" I asked before reaching into the pocket and feeling around. My fingers touched upon a crumpled brown bag. I drew it out of my pocket. "Is this what you wanted?"
Mouse barked and his tongue lolled out of his mouth.
I frowned. My steak sandwich was in the bag.
"It's my sandwich," I told him plainly.
He whined again.
"I'll buy you one on the way back," I said to him. "I suddenly don't feel like returning that girl's money anymore."
The trek back out of Undertown was relatively quiet, if not tense. With the guiding light of the pentacle and the green footprints that lead all the way back to Pedway it was a simple matter to return to the surface.
I never did see 'Diane' again. I suppose she had run away as far as she could once she got her voice back. Whether she ran from the now buried Annabel, or the wizard who she had tricked into going into the spiders lair, I didn't know. Either way it seemed like a smart thing to do.
"Molly," I called out as I entered my apartment, Mouse's leash in hand and a can of soda in the other. "What's that smell?" I demanded to know. My nose crinkled as the smell of noxious chemicals permeated my lounge room. "Did you explode my lab again?" I demanded to know and let go of the leash. Mouse fled the room abruptly.
"It's fine," Molly's voice called from the bathroom. "Everything is fine, I made a… uh…" her voice trailed off. I sighed and massaged my temples. "Did you destroy anything?" I asked exasperatedly.
"I may have melted a box of nails," Molly admitted as she walked into the lounge room, towel in hand and drying her hair.
I stared at my apprentice with a blank expression.
She gave me a confused smile. "What?" she asked.
I sighed and pointed at her.
She blinked and looked down, and took note of her state of undress. She looked back up at me and smiled impishly, seemingly uncaring. "They're getting even bigger," she informed me proudly and pushed her chest out.
I pointed back to the bathroom. "Clothes," I stated. "Now."
Molly frowned and folded her arms across her chest. "It's not like you haven't seen any of it before," she said pointedly.
Molly threw her arms up into the air, which did interesting things, things that I couldn't help but notice.
"Fine!" Molly shouted back, a sudden grin appearing on her lips. She stomped out of the lounge room, and then burst into giggles when she was beyond my sight.
Despite myself, I found a smile sitting on my lips.
Which abruptly died as a soft, familiar melody began to play. I turned towards the source, the front door, and stared at it in disbelief.
There was no way… was there?