Jesus Christ, this story did not want to be written. Inspirations struck two days before the deadline after I had written around 2000 words in an attempt to write different scenarios. Extra special thanks go to my beta sulien77, who not only did an awesome job, but also super fast (because I was laaate) and basically all the love goes to her 33. Written for the dresdenficathon at livejournal as a gift for burningchaos
"So when you said a day of relaxation, you meant there is a possibility of death and dismemberment, I'll remember that in the future." Murphy said, hidden behind something that seemed to be a bizarre mix of shrubbery, upturned earth and parts of their picnic blanket.
I loved her, but there were situations were we didn't need the snark; one sarcastic bastard in each group was enough, and that position was already filled by a lanky wizard, thank you very much.
It wasn't even my fault this time. It was just that, after the last catastrophe had been averted, earth/friends/fabric of space or whatever saved, I had thought we all deserved to relax for a bit. Spend some time together to remember that we all actually liked each other. Sometimes it seemed as if the only reason I talked with my friends was to warn them about the newest supernatural threat.
I didn't want them to panic every time I knocked on anyone's door. Or drive them to drink. Much.
And because Chicago weather seemed to actually hold for a change, I thought a picnic would be the perfect way to connect with everyone.
When I actually managed to find a day that was OK for everyone, I should have just called it off, because clearly the universe would never be this gracious to me.
"Stop day dreaming over there and try to find a way to kill this!" Thomas screamed from my left while he fended off what seemed to be three thick vine-tentacles.
"This" was an 8 feet monstrosity comprised of vines, trees, tentacles and a solid centre made out of what seemed to be wood and clay, but generally too far away to make out clearly. It had suddenly appeared in the middle of the park not 20 minutes after everyone got settled. I hadn't even been able to get one of the sandwiches Charity had brought. Her cooking was crazy good, but she was always reluctant to feed me as if scared I wouldn't leave again. And the chances of evereating her cooking again were getting slimmer by the minute, judging by the look she had thrown me, when the first huge arms ripped through the earth right next to us.
"It's not even my fault and still everyone's all kill it, Harry! Find out what it is, Dresden!" I muttered under my breath.
"Is now really the time to be talking about whose fault this is? Just kill it with fire or something!" Butters was huddled next to the sad remains of our picnic.
"I'm trying! Nothing I throw at it seems to faze the thing, it just lets its outer branches, tentacles, whatever they are, take the hit and regrows new ones in a flash."
I looked over my impromptu cover, trying and failing to spot Molly and absent-mindedly brushing off one of the - dammit I am just going to call them ventacles – with a bit of well placed wind.
"Come on, Grasshopper I need you, where the hell are you?"
I needed to find Molly so I could get close to to plantzilla without it noticing and I needed her now.
"You bellowed?" Came a whisper from somewhere in front of me and I pointedly did not jump. Couldn't be seen getting shown up by my own apprentice, but it always gave me a little thrill when it became clear how damn good she had gotten at her veils. Clearly I am an awesome teacher.
"Yes. Well, huge monster over there doesn't seem to want me near and, frankly, it's hurting my feelings. Any chance you could help me get up close and personal without it noticing?"
Walking up to it under a veil proved to be harder than it sounded for more than one reason. Sure, it couldn't see us, but neither could anyone else. I don't think I appreciate the sheer destruction my merry band of misfits could wreak if they set their minds to it enough.
Murphy was shooting it with narrow eyed precision and every time she had to reload Michael and Charity were there to knock any wayward tentacles away from their little corner. Will and Georgia had shifted into their wolf forms and, together with Thomas, were making short work of any parts of the monster that got near them.
We slipped through a gap of the defences that my brother made by ripping one of the ventacles clear off, his eyes acquiring a silvery sheen as he did so.
Now that we were close enough, I could see that what I had thought was just a misshapen and frankly ugly kind of tree trunk was nothing of the sort.
Instead, it was a seething mass of weird brown faces, bodies and limbs wound up in each other, writhing across the surface. It wasn't human, but I hadn't seen an animal or even a Faerie creature that had looked remotely like it.
Figures that the one time we want to just relax, Chtulhu of the plant world comes out to play.
"Urgh, Harry, what is that?" Molly whispered next to me. I didn't want to attract the thing's attention, so I just gave her a silent "beats me" expression and gathered my magic. Whatever it was, it was clearly in some way connected to natural plant life, so fire was still the best bet, far as I figured. I just wanted it to be the most focused, hot and big fire I could manage, just in case. So concentrating.
"Alright, Grasshopper, on my mark you let the veil fall and get the hell away from me, because I'm going to let go one hell of a fireball and I don't want you near it if I can help it."
The last few years had clearly matured Molly, because she didn't even try to argue, just nodded her head. I could see a bit of sweat collecting on her forehead. She was tiring fast, so I should better get my act together, before it could see me again.
Breathing in deeply I focused my will.
Molly dropped to the floor and scrabbled backwards as fast as she could and all the others got behind the nearest cover they could find. The monster turned to me as I raised my arm.
A huge stream of fire erupted from me and slammed into the trunk. For a second it looked like it would not do much good, so I pushed even more magic into the spell. Then its surface started to blacken.
The next minute was just light, heat and noise as plantzilla seemed to suck all the fire in to then explode in a shower of burned plant, charred wood and a generous heaping of ectoplasm.
When I could get up again, I tried to look for the others, but I was still a bit blinded.
"Everyone still alive?" Various groans answered me. I tried to get my eyes working again, blinking back black spots.
"Harry, you have any idea what the hell that was?" Came from my brother, who I could now see walking up to me.
"No idea. Help me up." I reached out a hand and Thomas hauled me up.
"The better question would be where did it come from." Michael seemed to be trying to get up by propping himself against a tree that had miraculously survived the blast. He grimaced and grabbed his bad leg, but before I could go over, Charity had already reached under his arm and helped him up.
"And what it wanted here." Charity said giving me a dirty and suspicious look that was really insulting.
"Don't look at me like that, I had nothing to do with it," I said.
"This time. And I will look at you however I like," she turned away to search for Molly who was just then coming up from the overturned rock she had been hiding behind.
I kept my mouth shut. Hey, I can choose the better part of valour if I need to and if there was one person I didn't want to get on the bad side of, at least not more than normally, it was Charity Carpenter.
"Never mind all that, how the hell are we supposed to explain this? What are we going to do now?" Murphy said, sweeping her hands around her, indicating the carnage.
I winced. It was really very bad. What before had been a small, modest park with a well cared for lawn, nice trees and even an honest to god duck pond, now resembled a war zone. The ground was ripped open in several places, more than half of the tress were uprooted and smashed, branches, some still slightly smoking, littering the ground. And, well, the less said about the duck pond the better, but I hoped the ducks knew different places they could go to.
I looked around at our gathering. Everyone was dirty from head to toe; Murphy had ripped her trousers at one point, Butters had an assortment of leaves in his hair and Will and Georgia had gotten back from trying to find their clothes with one shirt, one coat and one pair of trousers between them.
I took a deep breath.
"Butters, what about the picnic baskets?"
"What?" he squeaked. All eyes had turned to me and the expressions in my friends faces ranged from amused (Thomas and Michael) over resigned (Murphy and Will) to disgusted (Charity).
Butters just looked like he was contemplating backing away from the crazy person, but after I gave him another look, he turned around, looking at our pile of luggage.
"Well, most of it looks still salvageable, except for most of Mrs. Carpenters sandwiches, they kind of got swallowed up by one of the earth ripples."
"Figures." I muttered, but then I turned to the rest and smiled brightly.
"See, most of our stuff is OK and I think I saw an abandoned hot-dog cart that way, which I'm sure we can pilfer; don't think anyone's gonna miss it."
"Harry, you can't think we will still sit down in this chaos and picnic." Thomas wrinkled up his nose.
"Yes, yes I do think that. No, hear me out," I looked at all of them.
"We, all of us, have a lot of shit happening all the time. Some of that is because of me and some of that isn't, but we have been through most of it together. And we got real close because of it, and I would trust you all with my life and have done so more than once."
"Sometimes it feels as if the only reason we even get together is because some crazy, bad thing is going down and we need to set it right again. But that is not how I think of you. So we are going to ignore this slight deviation from today's plan." Amused snorts all around; I'm such a good comedian.
"We are going to ignore it. We are going to sit down and we will have a picnic, just like everyday people, with hot-dogs, ants, stupid stories, getting too cold and all that jazz."
For a minute nobody said anything and I feared that I had made a total fool out of myself with that little speech. But then Murphy got this small smile on her face and walked up to me.
"I never knew you were this sentimental, Dresden. This little outing is already showing me things I never thought possible." Her tone was mocking, but her eyes sparkled warmly and she was walking past me to our things.
"I always told you I know how to make women weak in the knees," I said.
"I can still locate your kneecaps, even under all that filth, and then we can find out who can get who weaker," she shot back; but she was surveying our food, so I counted it as my win.
In the end, Michael and Murphy teamed up to tell embarrassing stories about me to Thomas and Molly, who both seemed equally fascinated – I was never going to live the one with the whipped cream and a drunkenly cast locator spell down. Butters got a beetle under his shirt, Will had a slightly spoiled Hot Dog and Charity and Georgia had a frankly terrifying conversation about weapons made out of every day items. When the first people from the landscape conversation society, who were responsible for the maintenance of this park arrived, we had to make a fast get away. Oh, and we all caught slight colds.
All in all, it was an awesome day.