I stepped through the door into – a squad room?
Okay, maybe not but it sure looked a lot the office back home, battered desks and cubicle walls covered with notes, photos and snippets of newspaper. They even had a pair of beat up sofas and coffee machine in one corner just like my squad room. And a bulletin board for Pete's sake! Harry had compared the wardens to cops and judging by what I was seeing they were a lot more cop than wizard. There wasn't a cauldron, book or weird stuff of any description anywhere to be seen.
Another door opened and the normality abruptly stopped. I was in a short hall with a pointy arched ceiling, like a cathedral. And, at the far end, a pair of huge double doors all a-glow with the squiggly little signs and symbols wizards use in their spells. Slowly, majestically the doors swung open.
Great, I took a deep breath and stepped through. And there she was, Mai herself.
At least she was looking human today but she was wearing black. On the other hand it looked like it was Donna Karan and she wasn't cackling. She was, however, holding a very familiar looking skull.
"Bob!" I blurted. Then; "How did you get him?"
"With considerable difficulty," she answered dryly. The floor was laid out in concentric circles of colored tiles with more sigils in between. Mai put Bob's skull down on the black bulls-eye in the in center of the room. "Hrothbert of Bainbridge, come forth!" The usual trail of sparks and smoke streamed out of the skull's eyeholes to resolve into an extremely tense Bob.
"What happened to Harry?" I asked right off, fearing the worst.
Bob smiled thinly. "Nothing, he was out shopping for food."
"Good move," I told our evil wizardess. "You'd be a greasy spot on his floor if he'd been home." She snorted and even Bob looked dubious. "Hey, I saw what he did to last wizard."
"Constanza," Bob said, pained, "You are not helping Harry's case."
It was my turn to snort. "C'mon, Bob, you yourself said old Evil Eye here'd already made up her mind about him." I turned to her, "You're still my leading suspect, lady, and Morgan's too." At least she was until I saw the expression of her face at the sound of Morgan's name. I could imagine being on the other side of that face if Kirmani turned against me. "On the other hand, maybe Harry is right about you," I said aloud.
She blinked. "Dresden?"
"He thinks you're one of the good guys," I explained, "even if you are his own personal wicked witch. That's the only reason I'm here, Harry thought you should be given a chance, but stealing his mentor is probably going to change his mind big time."
Mai shook her head. "He's deceiving you, Lieutenant Murphy, and somehow he's suborned Morgan as well." She looked at Bob. "His teacher here will be able to tell me what he is up to."
Talk about your closed minds!
"Harry is doing everything in his power to discover and fight who or whatever is behind all this," Bob answered acidly.
"In other words he's doing exactly what you should be doing instead of conducting a witch hunt," I added. Both wizards looked at me. Okay, poor choice of words there. I forged on trying to keep old evil eye's attention off Bob. I apparently had some legal protections as a mere mortal. Bob on the other hand was totally at her mercy. God knows what she would do to him to get information he didn't have. "We – or rather Harry – have been under continual attack since your council went bye-bye but we've still got no clue as to who's behind the curtain. Harry thinks we could help you and vice-versa – that is if you have any interest in discovering the truth."
Looked like she didn't, "Hrothbert of Bainbridge," Ancient Mai intoned, "I command you speak. Tell me your master's plans!"
Bob actually rolled his eyes. "My dear, Mai, Harry never has a plan!"
I couldn't help it, I laughed. That was so true.
She frowned. Then she looked at me. Fear flashed over Bob's face for the first time. "Leftenant Murphy is a mortal, Mai. She is protected by the accords!"
"The accords are as dead as the High Council, ghost," Mai replied but she turned her attention back to him. "Dresden doesn't have a plan," she mused. "Yes, that would be like him. Very well then, Hrothbert of Bainbridge I claim thee." All the sigils carved on Bob's skull lit up as she spoke; "I cancel the power of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden over you and take it upon myself –"
"No!" Bob cried.
She ignored him. "I am your master, you will obey me. I bide thee return to thy former master, watch him and report to me –"
"NO!" this time Bob roared the word. "I will not spy on Harry – for you or anybody else!"
"Leave him alone!" I shouted. "Haven't you done enough to him?"
Neither wizard so much as looked at me, entirely intent upon each other. "Hrothbert of Bainbridge, obey me!" thundered Mai, her eyes beginning to glow.
"I. Will. Not!" Bob thundered right back, his skull burning blue-white at his feet.
Mai took a step backward, her eyes stopped glowing and her mouth dropped open slightly. "Hrothbert of Bainbridge," she said with an experimental note in her voice, "I banish you."
The sigils on the skull flared blindingly but Bob showed no sign of dissolving into smoke and lights. "I'm not going anywhere until Constanza is safely out of here," he gritted between clenched teeth. "Constanza, go!"
Ancient Mai stared at him, with wonder, fear and maybe a touch of awe. "Bob?" she said.
His face changed, startled and puzzled, "What?"
"Dresden," Mai breathed, "Dresden!" She took one step back, then another, shaking her head. "By all the powers I hope what you say of him is true, Bob, Constanza, for if it isn't we are all doomed." Then she raised her hand and pointed it at the skull.
I saw it begin to glow with power and threw myself forward – passing right through Bob – to cover his skull with my body. I heard his "No!" echo my own just before the world turned to flame.
"Constanza, Constanza!" somebody was holding me by the shoulders and shaking me. "Constanza, can you hear me?"
"Bob," I faltered, blinking afterimage out of my eyes. "Bob, are you all right?"
"Am I –" the hands on my shoulders tightened, shook me hard. "Am I all right? Constanza, you could have been killed!"
"Yeah, well I wasn't." I could see now. Ancient Mai had vanished and It was Bob who was holding onto me his face inches away, furious as a mother whose kid has just run in front of a car. "Stop shaking me, Bob," I said feebly, "my head's fit to burst –" then the obvious hit me like a cement truck. "Bob, you're touching me!"
He looked down at his gripping hands and the anger washed out of his face leaving it totally blank.
"Bob, you're solid!"
He pried his hands open finger by finger then held them in front of his eyes his face still totally blank.
"Bob, where's your skull?"
He looked down. "I believe we're sitting on it," and sure enough the ground under us was gritty with fragments of bone.
I gulped, "I thought destroying your skull would destroy you?"
"So did I," he answered a little faintly.
"Bob," I said. "What just happened?"
"Constanza," he said. "I haven't the least idea."
Just then the doors were blasted. Ten feet tall if they were an inch and at least four inches thick they were ripped right off their hinges and hurled across the room, to hit the opposite wall with a boom cracking into half a dozen pieces.
A figure stood in the tall, arched doorway. It was, of course, Harry Dresden in full wrath of God mode with sparks coursing over his hockey stick and eyes black with fury.
"Hey!" I snarled. "Watch the pyrotechnics, will you? You could have killed us."
Harry blinked taking in me and Bob as we climbed shakily to our feet hanging onto each other for support. "You're all right," he said as if making a note of the fact. "You're both all right."
"I dunno," I admitted honestly. "Are you, Bob?"
He smiled faintly. "I am not at all sure, Constanza."
"Bob?" Harry came towards us, the hand not holding his hockey stick uncertainly extended. Bob reached out and took it and for a moment the two of them just stared at their joined hands. "I don't understand," said Harry after a long moment.
"Join the club," I answered.
"Is it the arrow again?" Harry asked making no sense at all.
But Bob seemed to understand. "No, Harry." He frowned. "Ancient Mai destroyed my skull with the results you see."
"Huh?"said Harry intelligently.
"I though destroying his skull destroyed Bob," I said.
"It would destroy Hrothbert of Bainbridge," said Morgan from the empty doorway. He was holding his sword and looked about as stunned as the rest of us, "But apparently not Bob."
That seemed to mean something to our ancient sorcerer but Harry and I were still out of the loop. "What?" we said together.
Bob looked at Harry with some of the same wonder and fear and awe I'd seen on Ancient Mai's face. "Hrothbert of Bainbridge is no longer my Name. You changed my Name, Harry."
"I gave you a nickname!"
"You did much more than that, Harry." Morgan joined the rest of us in the middle of the floor, skull bits crunching under his highly polished shoes. "You re-Named him. I suspected, but I couldn't believe…. You altered his essence. This is no longer Hrothbert of Bainbridge, the sorcerer who terrorized the mid-lands. This is Bob."
"Well, like, duh," I said and all three wizards looked at me. "Hey, I know Bob here's got a past but he's no more evil than either of you."
"Now," Bob said hesitantly, like he didn't quite believe it.
"Now is what counts," I answered.