Letters from the Front
A/N: This story doesn't have Lash in it. I'm taking a break from that storyline to write this, which I've wanted to do for a little while. Many thanks to Grimelark, for his story ideas and beta reading. He keeps me honest. With that I hope you all enjoy this story.
** Disclaimer: The Dresden Files is copyright Jim Butcher. This story is licensed under the Creative Commons as derivative, noncommercial fiction.**
I'm not sure why I'm writing to you, except to let you know that I'm alive and okay. Please be sure to let your parents, Murphy, Thomas and the Alpha's know I'm alright.
I can't tell you where we are but I can tell you it's hotter than Hades here. I don't know where all the bugs come from but I stopped killing them and started naming them. I'm thinking if I can train them to gather dinner for me it would save me a lot of time and believe me they're big enough to hunt. I really miss dinners with your family, what passes for food here most of the insects won't eat.
We've been at this location for a few days and are trying to stay under cover as much as possible. Luckily we haven't run into any vampires, but the week's young. We're planning a raid soon and are just staging troops and equipment, scouting and doing recon in the area before we move on to the hot spot. It's the closest thing we've had to down time for the last month so I'm enjoying the relative peace and quiet.
Something interesting happened today while I was on patrol. It started out like any other patrol, we split into groups of two and were given our sectors to scout/patrol. We were going deeper into the jungle to get an idea what the landscape was like farther out and scout for any red court activity. I was paired with a young woman named Shilpa. She's a few years younger than you and is fresh out of warden school. We were out in the bush for maybe two hours when I felt something odd. It was a tingle up my spine but not a vampire tingle, it was different.
Shilpa hadn't noticed anything but I was sure I had…
My mind filled with the images and memories of the last few days as I tried to pick out the highlights and details that I would share with my apprentice. I wanted to let her know what was going on but still didn't want to add too much. I didn't want the grasshopper or my friends to worry and there are some things she just doesn't need to know about...
She stood next to me, her long dark hair pulled back into a sensible bun with her bangs hanging down almost to her eyebrows. The bun was held in place with what could have been chopsticks, but they were thicker. Her fatigues were loose on her as she is a slight thing, she's almost Murphy's height and I don't think combat gear comes in ladies extra small. The belt around her small waist was the only thing that hinted at her feminine figure as the side arm on her hip implied at the curves hidden by the overly large camouflage jacket.
"Just close your eyes breathe and reach out with your senses and tell me if you notice anything." I said calmly standing next to a large canopy tree in the dense under growth.
"I think I can." She said with a heavy Indian accent. "It's like a tickle or a flutter about a hundred meters to the North." She said quietly.
"Yeah, that's what I was picking up too. It doesn't feel like a vampire, it feels like magic. We should check it out." I told her reaching out with my wizard senses in other directions to make sure this wasn't a trap.
I didn't sense any vampires or other humans in the area but I did feel something subtle like old power or a weak lay line. Either way we had to check it out. Some vampires in the Red Court could use magic and if this was a ward or some sort of magical trip wire, we had to know about it.
"But Wizard Dresden, if we leave our patrol route and something happens they won't know where we have gone." She said in a properly logical voice. Newbies, you gotta love them, always wanting to do everything by the book. I helped write the book so I didn't feel bad ignoring it.
"Not a problem." I told her as I drew in magic and pointed my blasting rod at the tree I was just leaning against. Forzare, I whispered and a lance of force hit the tree, blowing bark loose as I pulled it across the tree and drew a fairly neat looking arrow, pointing towards the anomaly. "There, now they know where we went." I said holstering my blasting rod.
"You're the senior wizard, so after you Warden Dresden." Shilpa gave me a pretty grimace and folded her arms over her chest. Once again I noticed that her clothes really didn't do her justice.
"Call me Harry and trust me, everything is going to be just fine." I told her in my most agreeable tone.
We headed off through the undergrowth of the jungle, or actually I think it's properly called a rain forest. Either way it had bugs and snakes and a lot of things that could kill you as easily as a vampire, they were just a lot harder to spot.
The Machete gleamed and whistled as it spun from one side to the other, slicing a clean path through the dense vegetation. Every few whacks I'd stop and take notice to make sure I hadn't disturbed a snake or some spider and then we'd continue. In all it took about forty-five minutes to get to the area in question. We could have made better time but with a young and inexperienced warden with me, I wanted to make sure we went as safely as possible. That and she was really cute, not that I noticed her high cheek bones, full lips or glossy jet black hair and almond shaped brown eyes. Yeah, even in the jungles with no makeup she was striking, but I didn't notice.
I learned really fast that there's a difference between being tough and stupid down here. Not drinking and resting isn't macho it's a death sentence and you don't notice that you're exhausted until it's too late. We had a couple of the younger guys pass out on patrol a few months ago. One of the groups was jumped by a group of vampires while the senior Warden was trying to revive the younger one. If Carlos wasn't on his game that day, they'd both be dead now. So we now stop at least once an hour, Captain's orders.
As we got closer we stopped in a small clearing to rest and drink, you have to drink a lot down here because you can get dehydrated really quickly in this humidity. I checked the area for hazards and squished a spider and torched a rather large poisonous snake. Shilpa raised some wards to encourage any predators or reptiles to go the other way, and then we sat down and pulled out our canteens. As we sat and drank in silence I stretched out my senses again and could feel the faint thrum of power in the same spot we had felt it earlier. Now that we were closer I could sense that it wasn't a ward or alarm, but some sort of charm. It was hard to get a read on it as it was ancient and subtle but it was still active and strong.
I turned to Shilpa as she was pouring some water over the back of her neck. "I want you to reach out with your senses and tell me if you can feel that. I want you to examine it with your senses and tell me if you know what it is."
"I will be happy to try but I'm sure that you are much better at that sort of thing than I. You are the senior Warden, sir." She said respectfully, but I still heard older when she said senior, I'm not that old. As she spoke she didn't look and me and let her bangs hide her face as she looked into her cup of water, I wasn't sure but I thought I noted a hint of scarlet on her cheeks.
"True and I've got a lot more experience in a fight than you do, but I'm not good with subtle magic and I think you might get a better read on it than I do." I told her honestly.
This time she definitely blushed and gave me a timid smile at the miniscule compliment. Then she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing, sitting cross legged, her back went straight and her chin came up as she reached out with her senses. I could feel a cool breeze as she probed the area using just a tiny bit of power to reach out.
"It's not a ward…" She said curiously after a few minutes then paused again. "I don't believe it's any sort of an observation or alarm magic either." She continued as her brows began to draw together. "It's old. Very old. I believe that it's some sort of growth magic, making the area fertile and encouraging the plants to grow." She finished finally lowering her head and opening her eyes.
"Outstanding, that's very good." I said giving her a smile. "I knew you could do it."
At this the slight crimson in her cheeks darkened into a cherry red and she dropped her face.
"Thank you Warden Dre, I mean Harry. I recognized it because in my country we have similar magic near our fields to ensure a good harvest. They are usually accompanied by temples or small shrines. The prayers and offerings help to strengthen the magic and ensure continued success." She explained looking at her boots and flicking dried mud off the sides as she spoke.
"So you think that this was once an agricultural area? I wonder if there are any temples nearby. I've always wanted to see one. I've seen pictures of them and would love to see one up close." I told her remembering seeing pictures that Billy had printed out for props on game night and remembered thinking how cool it would be to walk through one.
"That may be the case as the magic is very strong. An active shrine in my town usually doesn't feel nearly as strong as this. We can assume that no offerings have been made in a few hundred years by the look of the area so it would have to have been a special place with a lot of power imbued in it." She said logically. Cute and smart, I had to be sure that Carlos stayed away from her.
"So do you think it's worth checking out?" I asked. "If it's in decent shape it might make for a good shelter or base of operations." I said thinking of the rebel base that they launched the attack on the Death Star from.
"The area is thick with vegetation and the charm is still active, I wonder why the people left this area?" Shilpa asked rhetorically.
"It could have been because of war or disease, who knows? There could be a million reasons why they left." I said quietly thinking through my inadequate knowledge of the local area's history.
"Harry, I have a bad feeling about this." She said worry clouding her face.
"It's an abandoned temple, we go take a look, make sure that there's nothing else there and head back to camp to report. What could go wrong?" I asked confidently, mentally drooling at the thought of being the first person in who knows how long to see the temple. The thought of turning back now was like fighting traffic all the way to Disney Land and not going on the rides. It was just wrong. Anyhow, they went to the trouble to build the thing, we may as well admire it.
"You are the senior Warden." She reminded me, again. By her tone she was making sure that I understood that if anything went wrong, she was going to blame me. Somehow the look of uncertainty and skepticism on her heart shaped face made her look adorable. Definitely have to keep her away from Carlos…
With that we gathered and stored our gear and hacked our way deeper into the jungle. Soon we were standing at the foot of a large stone structure. It looked like a very steep albeit somewhat small pyramid. Even overgrown in bushes, vines and small trees, the structure was impressive. It stood a good seventy feet tall and the stairway leading up the steep side to the top was still visible.
The stones that made up the sides were massive, at least four feet per side and they were made of gray granite. Even aged and untended the visible stone shone with a smooth polished finish. The steps were made of the same material but were built so that each step was maybe a foot tall and rested on the stone beneath it.
We slowly made our way up the side of the temple and as we started to rise above the under growth, looking around I could see other structures as well, some wide and squat others taller maybe two or three stories tall. The complex although old and overgrown seemed to be in fairly decent shape.
Having taken up jogging I was in pretty good shape but Shilpa didn't seem to be used to so much physical activity so we stopped once about two thirds of the way up the temple and from that vantage point we could see what must have been a moderate sized city in ancient days with dozens of buildings and wide streets, now filled with bushes and trees but in its day this must have been an impressive place. After a few minutes and a few more sips of water we continued to the top.
The top of the temple was a large rectangular terrace with a large rectangular room enclosed at the top. There were no windows and only one set of doors leading in. They were large ornate golden doors, carved with symbols and pictographs that must have been the language of the civilization that created the temple but meant nothing to me. As I came close I could feel a faint thrum of magic coming from the doors themselves. I reached out my senses and could feel wards and seals keeping the doors closed. I couldn't make out what the wards were intended to do besides keep the doors shut but I could had the sinking impression that anyone who tried to open these doors would get a particularly nasty surprise.
I was excited as I stood on the top of the ancient temple looking over the city and tried to imagine what it must have been like to live there when the city was alive with noise and people going about their daily business. I could feel the warm sun beating down on my back as I took in the view. I could feel that this was a peaceful and happy city. That many people had lived, worked, loved and died here in its time. A home or building can have a threshold, a barrier that keeps out thing that go bump in the night and can weaken or completely stop magic from entering it. It also holds echoes of the past and the history of the place and people who lived there in its walls and under its roof. A city can take on a similar energy, a culmination of the strength of the energies in the city. This one had what felt like a strong, wholesome energy about it. It was faint and worn but it was there. The more I took in I noticed that there was something more. Just barely discernable but it was definitely there. There was an undercurrent of pain, fear and regret. I couldn't exactly describe it but I had the impression that something drove the people from the city. Their homes taken from them, the city once great and prosperous had come to a sudden and bad ending.
Shilpa and I spent about an hour at the top of the temple trying to decipher the wards and writing on the doors with no luck. Finally agreeing that we had completed what we had set out to do, we descended down the temple. We stood at its base as the sun began to dip into the western sky.
"We should be getting back and let them know what we found here." I told Shilpa, who quickly agreed.
"Something about this place gives me the creeps." She said quietly as we turned and headed back the way we had come.
It took us about two hours but we finally made it back to the camp before dark. It was little more than a collection of large dark tarp tents around a central space where we cooked meals and had a large fire at night. The command tent was in the center near the supply tent and cooking area. It made it easier for our leaders to keep their coffee jugs filled and was a central location in the camp. The outer tents were mostly personal quarters for the troops. Because the tents were Korean War surplus, you could easily fit three people into each. Carlos and I shared a tent because we were senior wardens and nobody else could sleep through Carlos's snoring. Because one of us was usually picked for night guard duty or patrols we didn't see a lot of each other and it made sleeping a lot easier.
Since we had little to nothing in the way of entertainment, we usually gathered around the fire near the command tent to drink coffee and talk. The senior wardens usually planned our next moves or worked on schedules for patrols, chores and so on. Everyone else shared war stories, stories about home and their families and basically relaxed as time allowed.
"Dresden, can we have a word please." Anastasia said as we neared the command tent.
"Sure thing Captain Luccio." I said as I followed her voice into the tent.
"Where the hell have you been? You're an hour past check in time. I was about to send a search party after you." She said sternly turning to face me.
Mouse lifted his head from under the large table that took up the center of the room as I came in and gave a slight sneeze which I took as a greeting since his tail was gently wagging. The table was covered in papers and maps and a fine tea cup sat on its dainty saucer near one corner.
Anastasia's face was red and her voice was harsh but something in her eyes gave away the fact that she was actually worried about me. She was older than me but in an odd twist of fate ended up in a coed's body. She was beautiful before but with her confidence and determination in a twenty something body, she was irresistible. We have been 'dating' for a few months now, but especially in such close quarters are working hard to keep it quiet.
"Captain, I'm sorry but we found something interesting while on patrol." I told her.
"Really? What could be so interesting that you'd keep a young warden out till nearly night fall?" She said her voice hard and a little accusatory. "Although we haven't run into any vampires yet out here, doesn't mean they aren't here. Also do you know what kind of predators come out at night here?" She continued to scold.
"I know and we were back well before night fall." I said as the last rays of light touched the tops of the canopy trees and the clouds started to turn magenta and purple. "But I think this may have been worth it."
"What did you find that's so important Harry?"
"How does a lost city hit you?" I asked smugly.
Anastasia lifted one eyebrow and folded her arms across her chest. "A lost city? We have fifty people here and nobody noticed a city? Care to explain?"
"It's covered in bushes and vines, if you aren't standing right there, you wouldn't likely notice it. Hence the LOST part." I said a little snarky. "We climbed a temple and could see dozens of buildings that we could use for store houses. The other buildings we could use to sleep in and the place is a hell of a lot more defensible than this clearing." I finished
"So you're serious?" She said looking a little surprised.
"Yeah, granted they're a little run down and will take some digging out but we're wizards, a little magic and poof, rebel base." I said grinning like an idiot.
"Rebel base huh?" She said skeptical. "It would be easier to defend ourselves with actual stone walls between us and a group of red court mercenaries, or a red court hit squad." She seemed to actually be giving the idea some thought.
"What was inside the temple?" she asked pointedly.
"I'm not sure, there were huge golden doors covered in writing. I could sense a sealing magic and wards so I didn't push my luck." I said intelligently.
"That doesn't sound like you." She said with a smirk.
"I had a newbie with me and it was getting late. I figured we could go back in the morning and see what's what. Even if we don't get into the temple the other buildings should be easily accessible and give us someplace dry and out of the open to sleep and store our equipment until we are ready to move against the Red Court. We could even set up wards and have a secure perimeter." I said, having thought this conversation through all the way back to camp.
"You just want to play Indiana Jones." She said with a smirk. She waved her hand and the flaps to the tent closed as the covers for the windows also fell to cover the openings.
"He always gets the prettiest girls." I said with a wink stepping closer to my superior, sliding my arm around her waist.
"Hmmm, but I get to carry the whip." She said leaning into me and wrapping her arms around my neck.
"Whip you say?" I said looking deeply into her eyes as I moved forward and pressed my lips into hers.
So after my debriefing with Captain Luccio we decided to give the place a closer look in the morning. I'm not sure when I'll be able to send this but I wanted to at least drop you a note. I'll keep you posted on what happens.
Be sure to give my best to your family.
P.S. Thanks for taking care of Mister for me while I'm away!