The Dresden Files is copyright Jim Butcher. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction. Thanks for letting us play, Jim!
"I'm warning you, Carlos, if anything happens to her..."
"I'm sorry, Ms. Murphy. They left me out of the loop. Captain Luccio, too, for that matter. I took a Way here as soon as I heard, but she was already gone."
"It's almost like they were waiting for a chance to catch their breath. This ... retreat ... by the Fomor. Wizards McCoy and Listens to Wind on an assault based on some information from Wizard Liberty from her contacts in the Fae, leaving three of Harry's supporters missing from the Senior Council. The Merlin never forgave Dresden for shaming him at her trial. He must've bypassed Captain Luccio, gone with Warden Peltonen, Morgan's replacement, to get some of the old guard to come here and snatch her."
"So we get her out." Murphy all but growled. "Take us to Edinburgh."
"She's one of mine, Ramirez. I take care of mine."
"Ms Murphy," Carlos repeated, "Karrin, please. It's suicide. The Wardens would eat you alive, let alone the Senior Council. You know this. Dresden would never want you to throw your life away."
"She. Is. One. Of. Mine." Murphy snarled, over-enunciating each word. "And Harry isn't here."
I turned to my apprentice and nodded, smiling. "See Grasshopper, sometimes you just have to wait for your entrance line."
Molly smiled back, a little wan from her ordeal, but happy. I opened the door. "Actually, Molly is one of hers, and hers alone, although I'm sure she appreciates the sentiment. And as a point of order," I waggled my eyebrows, "I am here."
Murphy's Sig was in her hand and Carlos had drawn his own Desert Eagle before I finished talking. I slid Molly behind me with one arm as I raised my left hand. "Heya, 'Los, long time. Hi, Murph, paranoid much?"
"Hands in the air, asshole," commanded Murphy, training the gun on me. "Both of you. I don't know what you are or how you got past the wards…"
Molly coughed, "Ms. Murphy, I- I helped put them up."
"Assuming you are Molly Carpenter – and I'm not yet ready to make that assumption – why the hell would you allow some thing wearing the face of your mentor into my house like this? Did you invite him in as well?"
I sighed. It was going to be one of those. "No, she didn't. I'm not working on a full tank of gas and if you'll allow me," I said, holding the needle I'd palmed before entering between two fingers, "I'll be happy to bleed for you."
She nodded. "Slowly."
I did, pricking my thumb. It stung a bit, and a bright red droplet formed on the pad. "Now are we going to have to play Twenty Questions again to verify my identity? And if so, can we do it at Mac's? I'm dying for a beer."
Her gaze went flat, and her thumb pulled back the hammer. "Bad choice of words."
"If nothing else, that should prove it's me." I turned my head to Ramirez, "Carlos, give me a hand here. Or an eye."
He glanced at Murphy, "It's your call, Ms. Murphy. I could probably see if they were on the level with the Sight, but-"
"If that's what they want you to do, it might incapacitate you, drive you insane, and leave me as easy pickings. No dice."
I rolled my eyes, "You always were a tough nut to crack. How 'bout this – have Ramirez call Luccio in Edinburgh. They should confirm that I reclaimed my apprentice an hour or so before. Took a while to get my bona fides squared out, but if they were satisfied, it should at least get me the benefit of the doubt."
She frowned, and her little button nose crinkled as she tried to see through my gambit. "Do it. Use the phone on the end table, don't take your eyes or your gun off them." Then she reached for a pair of what looked to be oddly colored reading glasses from her shirt pocket. With one hand, she flipped them open and put them on. "It doesn't appear like either of them are under a glamour. No immediate veils, at least based on Butters's eyewear."
"Wow," I muttered, impressed. Butters had become some sort of wizarding version of James Bond's Q. Probably took my own recipe and somehow solidified it into a lens.
"OK, here's what we're going to do while Ramirez contacts the Wardens. You both are going to turn around, slowly, and put your hands against the wall. I'm going to cuff you, and then maybe we can try to figure out why you thought it was a good idea to fuck with me tonight."
"Because I never got the chance a year and a half ago," my mouth said before I could stop it. Murphy glared at me, and her index finger tightened ever so slightly. I turned around, and motioned for Molly to do the same.
"I told you she'd be like this," my apprentice said, "but you just had to make a production out of it anyway."
"Yeah, kid, you did. But it was more fun this way, at least until they pointed guns at us." I stared at the wall, listening to Murphy handcuff my apprentice and wondered how long this was going to take.
"Give me your hand," I heard Murphy say, and I complied. I felt a prick as I felt her put the first cuff on. "Now the other." Again I lowered my arm at a measure pace, and again I felt the tiny stabs of something.
Shit, I hated these things. I glanced over Molly, and saw she'd gotten the standard issue cuffs, whereas I apparently warranted the damn Thorn Manacles.
"Where the hell did you get these, Murph?"
"Um," said Molly. "I got a pair from Lea, Harry. I gave them to Ms. Murphy as a sign of trust. To use on me in case – in case I really did go over to the dark side."
I was pulled around roughly – she still had the Sig aimed center mass, and her gun hand was way too tense. Things weren't quite going to plan, but I always prided myself on my extemporizing anyway. Murphy had been fighting a war against the Fomor for over a year since I died, and she'd taken a lot of measures to protect herself, not just physically, but emotionally. Even as the one story home she'd inherited from her grandmother had new iron bars over the windows and a steel security door, she had withdrawn in on herself, buzzing down her blond hair, removing any traces of femininity from her attire.
"Ramirez, any word?"
"Nada, Ms. Murphy. They put me on hold. Me, of all people!"
His usual bluster just wasn't there – Ramirez was totally off his game. My fault, probably. Most of this was. I gritted my teeth. "Where're we going, Murph? Going to take me to your bedroom and have your wicked way with me while I'm powerless?"
Her left hand flashed, one knuckle extended, scoring a direct hit on my solar plexus. My diaphragm spasmed and I fought to stay upright. "Shut the hell up," she said, her eyes flinty. "Step forward, out of the hall. Slowly."
"Sure thing, Murph." I said through clenched teeth, biting back a dozen comments. I wanted to tease her, to flirt with her, to let her know by sheer wise-assitude it was me, but she was just too high strung right now.
"Turn right, and walk towards the kitchen."
"As… you… wish…" I said in a bad, drawn out facsimile of Cary Elwes.
"Right again at the counter." She'd ignored the Princess Bride reference. Damn, maybe it would've been better to hold on to that one. "Open that door and walk down the stairs."
It was a bit tricky to open the door with my hands behind my back, but I managed. I didn't think I remembered ever being down in her basement. I think she kept some of her gun stuff there, made ammo and such for competitions. The stairs creaked a little under my weight, and were a little too small for my feet, so I trod carefully. She flicked the light on behind me and a bulb flared in front of me. I guess she didn't want me to fall and break my neck. That had to be a positive, right?
I got to the bottom of the stairs. There were some aluminum shelves with foodstuffs, cans of soup, other non-perishables. Several cases of water were stacked up next to that, and a couple cases of Diet Coke. There was a workbench in one corner, tools neatly lined up, and a washer and dryer in another corner. And there were circles. Magic circles. One was a dead ringer for the one that once held a loup-garou, another was a simple bronze ring. And the third was in the middle, waiting for me.
I had to step down into it, eight inches or so. There was a chair in the middle, bolted to the floor. "Sit, with your arms behind the chair." she commanded. I did, feeling my knees creak a bit. "I'm going to latch your manacles to the chair. If you twitch, I shoot. Do you understand me?"
I bit back a retort. It's not her fault, Harry. This is how she deals with the mess you left her. But it hurt. "Yeah."
"Jeez. I understand you, Murph."
She pulled the manacles down and I heard a click as she locked them to the chair. A couple seconds later I felt a wire tie wrapped around my left ankle and pulled tight. Then my right. I was trussed up like a Christmas turkey. "Ooh, kinky."
She didn't reply, but instead reached down by the engraved silver circle that surrounded the little tub. She pricked her finger and pushed it against the gleaming metal. I felt the circle come up. "Murph, listen to me, if I was the bad guy, I could probably spit far enough to break this circle."
"I told you to shut up." She reached up and grabbed a cord, giving a quick yank. I looked up to see a clear plastic shower curtain fall all around me. And in the middle, right above me, was a shower head.
Crap. She could have been an anti-magic Eagle Scout.
Running water grounds magical energy. The circle on the outside would cut me off as well. Throw in the Thorn Manacles, and there wasn't a helluva lot that could put up a fight. "Department of redundancy department, much?" I asked, thinking back to something Will had mentioned during an Arcanos game night.
She turned on the water. It was cold. I stifled a gasp and a curse. My fault. I kept telling myself that, because I was getting seriously pissed off. Best friend or no, this was beyond the pale. Hell, she could've had Will give me the sniff test, or had Butters bring Bob over, and I wouldn't have to put up with this shit, sitting on a piece of patio furniture under a stream of freezing water.
"Now who – or what – are you really?" she asked from behind the screen.
"Dammit, Murph, I am losing my patience here. It's me. Harry. Fucking. Dresden."
"Lie again, and circle or no, I'm going to shoot you in the knee. Harry Dresden is dead. I met his ghost."
"Yeah, I know. I was there. And then I wasn't. I got snookered by a freaking archangel and the Queen of Air and Darkness and now I'm back in the land of the living. It wasn't my idea."
"That's the best story you can come up with?"
"It's the goddamn truth, Murph. You know how bad I am at lying. I got shot. I fell in the lake. Mab claimed my body and kept it alive. Uriel hijacked my soul and sent it here. That's when I talked to you last." I spat some of the cold water out of my mouth. "After Molly and Mort took out the Corpsetaker, I was told I could move on to what comes next. And what came next was a year of getting my ass kicked to learn how to be the goddam Winter Knight."
"That's such bullshit…" I could see her lift the gun through the plastic.
"Dammit, Murph, I'm telling the truth!"
"He is, apparently," came Carlos's voice from the top of the stairs. "At least, Edinburgh checks out his story. And Wizard Liberty's contacts with the Fae confirm that the current Winter Knight is Harry."
"He's… alive? That's, I mean," Murphy's voice cracked with uncertainty. "I can't – not after all this time… I can't believe…" The blurred image of her head bowed on the other side of the curtain, and then straightened. "That doesn't mean this is Harry though, right?"
"Not definitively, Ms. Murphy. But this is Molly Carpenter. I took a chance on my Sight, and she checks out. Odds are good that this is Harry."
The blur that was Murphy slumped her shoulders. She reached back and turned off the shower. I shivered with the cold, but at least I was making progress.
"Harry?" Karrin asked in a quiet voice. "Is it – is it really you?"
"The one, the only, accept no substitutes." I said with relief. "Can I get out of this now?"
I could see her moving forward. "I… I want it to be you, Harry, I do. It's just… hard to believe." She paused, reaching up and pulling the shower curtain back. "Let me at least get the manacles off you."
I grinned at her, holding the now unlocked cuffs. "Way ahead of you."
"How?" she started to ask, and then her Sig was pointed at my face. "Molly said no wizard could get out of those things."
"They're faerie make, Murph. I'm the Winter Knight now. I've been hogtied by these a couple times, so I asked my boss…"
"I don't believe you." Her voice was flat. "So once again I ask you – what the hell are you?"
I just stared at her, not knowing how the hell I was going to get through to her. She stared back, and our eyes met.
And then the soulgaze began.
Murph and I had known each other for years, over a decade. We'd been associates, comrades in arms, friends, best friends. Almost lovers, a couple times. But we'd never held a gaze for more than a second or two. I try not to do it unless it's really necessary, and as I'd become closer to Karrin Murphy over the years, part of me was always ashamed of what she might see in me.
I already had an idea of what I'd see in her. I'd seen her before, with my Sight. It's not entirely the same thing as a soulgaze, but it's close. When I'd Seen her through that Third Eye before, she'd always appeared as an angel, and so she was in the mindscape of the soulgaze. But her once white robe was in tatters, bloodied and besmirched with mud and filth. Underneath the robe was plate armor that was never there before. It too was marred, scratched and dented and discolored. Her lifesblood seeped through holes in the metal. The white glow that had always surrounded her, which had once been almost blinding, was nearly gone.
I looked around and saw that she was a prisoner. Solid stone walls surrounded her, bars on the windows. It reminded me a bit of the keep for the Better Future Society, a castle built by "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone over the site where my old apartment had burned down. I couldn't tell if the walls were there to keep other people out, or to keep her in.
I felt a sob escape my lips. I'd known things were bad, I'd known when I'd been here as a ghost that she was in a very dark place. But this was too much for me.
"Karrin," I whispered, "I'm so sorry…"
Her face was haunted by whatever she'd seen inside me. I've had many different reactions to a soulgaze. Molly had said the she'd seen I was kind and gentle (ha!). Marcone had seen enough to make it impossible to bluff him. Susan had fainted. I wondered what Murph had seen, and I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
"My God, Harry…" she said, She came forward and hugged me, hard, ignoring my damp clothes. "I've missed you. We've missed you."
I held to her tightly. I didn't know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut. Go go gadget wisdom.
We just held one another for several minutes. When she finally pulled away, she looked up at me, no longer afraid to look me in the eyes. "What happened to you, Harry? When you were here – your ghost, that is – you said that you had to find your killer. Did you find who killed you?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Who?" There was an edge to her voice, a tension that I noticed immediately.
"Um," I said, trying to figure out how to break it to her. "Actually, it was me."
"What?" Her voice jumped an octave. "How the hell did you shoot yourself with a rifle from five hundred yards? Some sort of spell?"
I took a deep breath. And then I told her. Everything. The shadow. Molly. Kincaid. Calling up Mab. She stood across from me, arms crossed. At least she'd holstered her Sig.
"So, what you're saying is that you were influenced into asking my boyfriend to shoot you, then had your apprentice wipe your mind?"
She moved again in a blur, a punch right to my gut. I crumpled. "The fucking devil made you do it? Seriously?" she asked incredulously. "Harry Dresden, that is your lamest excuse yet."
And then she shocked me further, with a gentle kiss on my forehead. "Don't do it again, Harry. You know I love you, but if you kill yourself again, I will never forgive you."
"Love you too, Murph." I whispered, trying to catch my breath. Something struck me. "You knew?"
"Um…" came Molly's voice.
"It was driving her crazy, Harry. The guilt." Karrin said, "She had to talk about it. She finally talked to her dad, and he took her to Father Foothill. From there, they agreed to tell me and the rest of the alliance. I'd already known something was wrong for a while, anyway. I spoke with Jared about it – I hadn't wanted to believe he would've done it, but when Molly told me what you'd asked her to do, I realized why. We… broke up. I mean, I get why he did it, but I can't be with someone who'd do that to a friend."
"I'm … sorry to hear that, Murph."
"Liar," she smiled at me, lighting up her face. She pulled me to my feet.
I smiled back, "So… we OK?"
"Getting there, Harry," she answered.
I figured I could live with that.