A / N : This story starts at the end of Dead Beat, and progresses from that point onwards.
Taken from chapter forty two of Dead Beat
Cowl kept on chanting, and I saw his body arch with tension. Over the next minute or so, he actually, physically rose above the ground, until his boots were three or four inches in the air.
His voice had become part of the wild storm, part of the dark energy, and it rolled and boomed and echoed all around us. I began to understand the kind of power we were dealing with. It was power as deep as an ocean, and as broad as the sky.
It was dark and lethal and horrible and beautiful, and Cowl was about to take it all in. The strength it would give him would not make him a match for the entire White Council. It would put him in a league so far beyond them that their strength would mean virtually nothing.
It was power enough to change the world. To reshape it after one's own liking.
The tip of the vortex spun down, danced lightly upon Cowl's lips, and then slipped gently between them. Cowl howled out the last repetition of his chant, his mouth opening wide. I ground my teeth.
Bob hadn't been able to help me, and I couldn't let Cowl complete the spell. Even if it killed me. I drew in my magic for the last spell I would ever throw, a blast to slam into Cowl, disrupt the spell, let that vast energy tear him to bits. Kumori sensed it and I heard her let out a short cry. The knife burned hot on my throat.
And then the dinosaur I'd summoned plunged through the clouds of wild spirits and headed directly for Kumori, her eyes blazing with brilliant orange flames. Tyrannosaur Bob let out a bellow and swiped one enormous talon at Kumori. Cowl's apprentice was tough and competent, but no amount of training or forethought can prepare you for the sight of an angry dinosaur coming to eat your ass.
She froze for the briefest second, and I turned, shoving away from her. The knife whipped against my throat, I felt a hot sting. I wondered if that was what Grevane had felt.
There was no more time. I flung myself across the grass, gripped my staff in both hands, and swung it like a baseball bat at Cowl's head.
The blow connected, right on what felt like the tip of his upturned jaw, snapping his mouth shut and knocking him to the ground. The vortex abruptly screamed and filled with a furious red light. I choked out a cry and fell down on my right side to the ground, bringing up my shield bracelet and holding it over me in an effort to protect myself from the vast forces now flying free from the botched spell.
There was more sound, so loud that no word could accurately describe it, incandescent lightning, screaming faces, and forms of spirits and ghosts, and trembling earth beneath me.
And blackness fell.
When I came to my senses there was no vortex of dark magic, no lightning, no storm, no rain. No signs that there had been a battle between necromancers at all. There was also no field and no signs that I was anywhere remotely in Chicago.
I lay there for a moment, the aching throb of my ribs competing with the swirling pains in my head. I slowly gathered my wits, assessing my surroundings. The dark quiet sounds of night echoed around me, tiny chirps and soft cries of night-time creatures murmuring passively in the shadowy forrest around me.
Something furry and rodent like sniffed my face inquisitively before scuttling away in fear, monkeyish in its gait. I looked down and saw that I had fallen around Bob the skull and curled my body around him as I had shielded myself.
Orange flame flickered to life in the eye sockets. "Some show, huh?" Bob said. He sounded exhausted.
"You had to go get the dinosaur, eh?" I said. "I figured you'd just grab a handy zombie."
"Why settle for wieners when you can have steak?" the skull said brightly. "Pretty good idea, Harry, talking to me once Cowl sat me on the ground. I didn't want to work for him anyway, but as long as he had the skull…well. You know how it is."
I grunted. "Yeah. What happened?"
"The spell backlashed when you slugged Cowl," Bob said. "Did a bit of property damage."
I coughed out a little laugh, looking around me. "Yeah. Cowl?"
"Most likely there are little pieces of him still filtering down," Bob said brightly. "And his little dog, too."
"You see them die?" I asked.
"Well. No. Once that backlash came down, it tore apart every enchantment within a hundred miles. Your dinosaur sort of fell apart." He blinked in surprise as he realized where we were.
"Oh," Bob said, "Uh... Harry we aren't where we're supposed to be."
I grunted, "I noticed Bob."
"That's not supposed to happen boss," The flickering flames in the skull's eyes narrowed in annoyance, "I mean, sure it should have killed you or well made you into a god but not just moved you..."
"Don't sound so disappointed," I shook my head frustratedly, "It figures, I never follow any of the rules with any other thing in my life. Why should this happen logically?"
Bob snorted impressively for someone without lungs, "It doesn't work like that, the laws of physics have to operate in a certain way. Murphy's law doesn't apply to magic."
I lifted myself to my feet gingerly, stretching my legs and trying to massage the stiffness out of my body, "Well apparently there are a couple of laws of physics we didn't take into account because this isn't Kansas Dorthy."
Bob didn't really have much to say to that.
I lifted the silver pentacle my mother gave me, a representation of the five elements bound by a circle of control, and put a small effort of will into it. The forrest came into view bathed in the dull bluish white luminescence of my magic. The interweaved branches of the tightly packed trees spread dark and spidery patterns of light in the distance, only hinting at the path beyond.
"Any guesses at where we are Bob?"
"Not a clue boss," Bob's voice became pensive, "Could you give me a better look at those trees?"
"Uh, yeah sure," I lifted the skull and put its face nearly up to the bark.
"Oh no," Bob coughed, "Er... Boss... these trees are tropical. As in not in America."
"Ok," I sighed, "So where are we then?"
"Laos, Cambodia, Brazil, Australia, how should I know? Trees aren't really my thing," Bob said scathingly, "Just open a portal to the Nevernever so we can go back home."
I gave Bob an inquisitive look. Opening a way wasn't the same as just opening a door. Opening an unmapped way into the Nevernever could easily drop me in the middle of some big nasty faeries or the center of a cloud of poison. As a creature of the Nevernever Bob knew this better than I did. "You sure about that Bob?"
"There are a lot of nasty creatures in the rainforest Sahib, without knowing what you're doing it's probably less dangerous for you to deal with the Fairies. Between poisonous snakes, crocodiles, piranhas and armed rebels you're probably better off there."
I didn't really have a counter argument to that. I waved my staff across the air in front of me and whispered, "Aparturum." A shimmering hole of air appeared in front of me, a small portal into the world between ours and what lay beyond. I tucked Bob's skull back into the makeshift pouch tied to my waist and walked through.
The thin skin of magic between spaces felt different than it usually did, some how more greasy than the sensation I usually associated with crossing over. A tingling sensation of menace, I was not somewhere nice.
The light of my pendant shone out into the pitch black space of the Nevernever, illuminating jagged spikes and spires of stone. I winced as I turned and one of the razor sharp spines cut the back of my hand, spreading a narrow spray of blood.
It dripped down my fingers and to the ground before I had even realized my hand was cut, sticky wet redness dropping the the ground. Nothing good ever comes from blood in the Nevernever.
"Uh oh... I take back what I said about the snakes," Bob said, the single eye light peeking out of the makeshift skull carrier I'd made from an old T-shirt tentatively, "Uh Harry... we should leave..."
"Where are we Bob?"
"Don't worry about that Harry. Just go, now." Bob was worried. Bob was never worried. Annoyed, angry, frustrated but never afraid. As a spirit of intellect he generally felt such mortal concerns were beneath his interests.
"Where Bob!" I hissed under my breath, wrapping my hand in a strip of my shirt.
"The outside. We're on the border of the outside."
"Oh, god no."
The Nevernever was the space between our world, the real world, and what lay beyond. Demons and Faeries came from the Nevernever and while they weren't nice by anyone's standards they obeyed certain physical laws, followed certain metaphysical constants. The Outside was different, outsiders weren't bound by the sorts of magics and physics the rest of us had to deal with, the servants of the Old Gods they had unimaginable powers of nightmare and corruption.
Though shalt not open the outer gates was a law of magic so profound the White Council would consign someone to death for committing, a crime on par with murder or necromancy. Anything that chose to live on the edge of Nevernever wasn't something I wanted to meet. The creatures of the outside were so evil that even speaking of them risked death. Demons and faeries were callous and evil, outsiders were something else entirely. Unnatural and wrong.
Not something I wanted to tangle with at the best of times, especially not when every fibre of my being was screaming to just lie down for a week and sleep. I was barely standing on my own two feet, in no shape to be battling the creatures who chose to sleep in the shadow of the outer realms.
It was time to leave.
I turned to re-enter my portal and discovered, much to my horror, that it was no longer there, "Bob what happened?"
"It's the border to the outside Harry, ways to the real world don't last long here. You're going to have to open another one." Bob whined, "And you'd better do it quick."
I waved my staff and chanted the spell to open a door. Nothing happened, "Bob it's not working."
"That's not good." Bob looked out into the distance with his glowing eye in the direction of a distorted howl echoing out in the darkness where some nightmare creature smelled blood, "Because it sounds like the natives are restless."
There's no shame in avoiding something you can't handle taking on directly, not when your life is on the line. It may not have been the most manly thing for me to do but I stand by my decision. I fled, stumbling in the near blinding darkness scrambling over the razor sharp outcroppings of rock. They cut into my shoes and my duster, the magically enhanced leather of my coat weathering the treatment far better than the rubber of my Nikes.
Engineered for the most perfect running experience my ass. They have yet to make a pair of shoes that can survive more that a couple weeks of my lifestyle before reverting to a sneaker like mass of torn fabric and laces barely fit to cover a foot.
I caught a glimpse of something lithe and cloying launched itself at me from above, howling bloody murder as it leapt towards me with outstretched claws. The burned flesh of my arm puckered as I raised my own mangled paw skywards, spreading my fingers and shoving a barrier of force between myself and the screaming thing. With a fleshy crack the creature bounced off my shield and into the razor sharp spines of stone, slicing its chest into a mess of gore and forcing me to my knees with a starling impact.
I rolled to the left as Bob screamed, "Behind you boss!"
A second fanged mess of matted fur wriggled past me, serpentine and slithering. Six glowing red pits shone in the darkness, undulating in a way eyes had no right to move. It sprung forwards, jaw dislocating wide enough to swallow me whole. I shoved forward with my staff, channeling momentum in the opposite direction of the creature. The wood collided with the inside of the creature's jaw like a cannon shot, the exploding viscera of the creatures head punctuated by my scream of, "Forzare."
Creatures jabbered, chittered and howled in the distance, promising further violence to come. My staff, still covered in the thick ichor of the creature's blood, crackled with the unsightly power of the outer realms. Playing a hunch I splashed my staff down into the pooling blood beneath the creature and yelled "Apartum," all too aware that the screaming voices were less and less distant with every second.
A narrow tear in the fabric of the Nevernever punched through the air, ephemeral and feeble by powered by the unnatural energies of the creature's blood. I dived through it and into a wide desert, stopping abruptly as a clawed hand shot out through the portal to the Nevernever and grabbed me by the ankle, talons sinking into the soft meat of my leg.
I screamed in pain and smashed my staff across the oblong face that jutted out of my way to the Nevernever, bursting a bulbous mass that might have been an eye. With a blunt screech of annoyance and a snuffling whoop the creature dragged me towards its fanged proboscis.
I reached out with my hand and punched forward, releasing the small reserve of energy left in them. The creature's hand buckled and twisted, breaking from it's arm at the wrist, severing tendons and ichor from the chitinous bundles of flesh. The creature's snarl of fury turned to a yelp of fear as the force of my attack disrupted the delicate magical energies of the doorway to the Nevernever, breaking the connection and collapsing the gateway with an immediate sucking gust.
Its distorted face fell to the dune, dissolving into ectoplasm. The viscous fluid quickly evaporated in the heat of the desert sand. That was one of the good things about creatures from the Nevernever, they tended not to leave a mess.
I sat on the dune massaging my leg waiting for the pain to subside, surveying my surroundings. I'd gone from Tarzan to a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia. The desert was surprisingly hospitable by comparison to the part of the Nevernever it opened up on. White tufts of sand billowed with the gentle breeze, sending shimmering patterns along the haze of heat on the horizon.
My coat, enchanted to never be too hot or too cold, was blissfully cool in the baking sun. Sometimes it's really cool to be a wizard, what can I say.
Falling back on my survival skills I pulled the pocket compass I keep in my duster pocket out and held it in the palm of my hand, watching the red and white needles as they spun backwards and forwards. The little red arrow finally came to a halt, shivering unhelpfully in the direction of my shadow. I tapped the compass to be sure but be damned, that little red arrow kept pointing to my shadow.
There was something in these dunes messing with the magnetic fields of the area I supposed, there are places like that in the Rocky Mountains. They screw with all sorts of things like cell phones and GPS's, or so I hear. I've never really gotten the chance to use a cell phone or a GPS. Anything more complex than a toaster oven has a bad habit of going wonky around a Wizard, even my old rotary telephone has to be repaired ever year or so due to the buildup of magical feedback.
Lucky for me I wasn't looking for north.
For all intents and purposes I was stranded in the desert till I could nurse my wounds and find a safe way into the Nevernever. I sure as hell wasn't going to risk opening up another way so close to the outside. Hell's bells, I might open up a door inside of it.
Staying in the desert meant finding water, and finding it fast. Even with my climate controlled coat, I would sweat out a dangerous amount of water in this heat. Magic can't make something from nothing and even a Wizard was only human. I would get dehydrated.
I hawked a lugie onto the back of the compass and whispered, "Agua dondé." Admittedly not the most impressive somatic component to a spell but I'd not been particularly poetic in my high school days. Casting is mostly about intent, if you believe that a certain set of words will invoke a certain power then it will. The more you believe it and the more you practice it the more it becomes part of your magic.
My spanish may have been downright awful, but my spell worked like a charm. The little red arrow spun in the opposite direction, eagerly pointing me to the nearest source of drinkable water. Humming the theme to Aladdin I trudged out across the desert.
Walking in sand isn't fun. Not the sort of packed and prepared sand you have on most beaches, that stuff is pretty much groomed to make it as nice for tourists as it can be, the real stuff. Sand dunes are more difficult to walk through than some of the worst backwoods trails. The deceptively smooth skin of the dunes conceals its shifting and treacherous nature.
The ground is uneven and unsteady, putting your foot in the wrong spot can just as easily agitate something venomous underground as cause an avalanche and bury you alive. There's a reason desert nomads tend to be no-nonsense types, when walking ten feet over open ground can kill you it tends to weed out optimism.
I hobbled forwards through the dunes, testing my path with my staff to make sure that no snakes or scorpions were in my way. I didn't think I was in America, I've been in the American Southwest enough to be able to recognize that sort of rocky, flat desert terrain. And I'd have remembered the blue and green striped lizards if I'd seen them.
They looked a bit like an iguana, but the nose was wrong. It was scrunched and angled upwards like some sort of deep sea fish. They lay in the dunes with their mouth's open in imitation of a flowering shrub. They waited for flies and small birds to try to harvest nectar before snapping shut, swallowing their prey whole.
Either venomous or unaccustomed to predators they observed me with disinterested casual aplomb, mildly aware of my existence. They weren't going to allow something so obviously unimportant to interrupt their meal. The regal disdain in their upturned noses reminded me of my own cat, Mister.
I'd been adopted by the Tomcat after I found him on the streets. We'd come to the arrangement that in exchange for caring for all of his needs and desires I would be allowed to continue cohabiting with his august personage. With time I'd come to realize that I'd been accepted into his apartment and was a member of his family. He'd been a fixture in my daily life for years, a 30lb ball of fluff and muscle eager for a scratch behind the ears and whatever food was available.
I could trust Thomas to feed him while I was gone. Thomas would make sure Mister and Mouse, my dog, were cared for in my absence. After all, what was family for? He may have been an Vampire of the White Court, an Incubus, but Thomas was my brother. I trusted him.
We'd both grown up lonely, he and I. Both of us desperately wanting a family, a real family. The sort that loves you and is there for holidays and the like. Our mother died giving birth to me. My father died when I was young and my foster parent, Justin DuMorne, was the closest thing to Darth Vader you'll find this side of Tatooine. I killed him with magic to save my own life when he tried to enslave my mind. Thomas' father and his twisted excuse for a family still lived, but when I compare my childhood and his I'm not sure who had it worse.
And more than likely he currently believed I was dead. I had to get home, had to let him know that I was alive and well. Thomas was a good man but if he didn't have my support any more he might well fall to his darker urges. For a vampire of the White Court that could easily get someone killed.
Too preoccupied with my own worries about Thomas' safety to worry about my own I stumbled over my own feet, rolling down a large dune uncomfortably clutching my body in a protective ball around Bob's skull. If it shattered and exposed Bob to sunlight it would burn the magic that made up his body to cinders, killing him. It was worth a few extra bruises to avoid that.
I landed at the base of the dune upside down in a substantially less than graceful pose. My staff thumped down into my kneecap, bouncing off it and onto the ground next to me. I swore angrily, cursing the dune, the staff, my knee, and the disciples of Kemmler for sending me to this godforsaken scrap of nowhere.
The sound of giggling shook me from my furious self pity. A muscular teenage boy sat on a rock not ten feet from me, juggling stones and apparently enjoying my discomfort greatly. The course wool and linen of his tunic and turban mirrored the browns and whites of the desert sand and stones, unpretentious and utilitarian. A long knife, almost a sword, hung from a loop on the boy's belt next to what looked tantalizingly like a waterskin.
I righted myself, brushing the sand from my front and held my hands up placatingly palms forward hands open in the most non-threatening gesture I could think of. I smiled and tried to speak to him, "Do you speak English?"
He yammered on unhelpfully in his native language, shaking his head in confusion. What did I expect, it's not like everyone learns English.
I'm terrible with languages, just ask anyone who's heard me speak latin if you don't believe me. You need a spell I'm your guy. You need a translation look elsewhere. Hey, just because I'm a wizard doesn't mean I know everything. Not that I'll ever admit it out loud but it's true.
Lucky for me I don't have speak the language to understand it. I'm a wizard. I cheat. I closed my eyes and focused on a walled off section of my thoughts, sending a question into my own mind, "Do you understand what he's saying."
A warm feeling of satisfaction that was decidedly not my own echoed in the recesses of my consciousness. They were the feelings of the creature residing within my own mind, the fallen angel Lasciel.
Well, that's not exactly true. She isn't really Lasciel.
She was a psychic construct who's abilities and mindset mirrored that of the real Lasciel. The fallen angel's coin was buried and warded underneath my apartment, but her shadow persisted offering me temptations. She would offer help and power all with the intention of getting me to take up the mantle of the Denarians. She was a dangerous and untrustworthy ally, only to be enlisted sparingly.
Lash's cheerful voice replied in a chipper glee titter that mirrored song as I felt the distinct sensation of a phantom hand, warm and friendly, on my shoulder, "Yes my host, of course I can."
"You know I hate it when you do that," I brushed my hand across my shoulder, dismissing the phantom hand. A subtle pang of regret for the loss of closeness and I clenched my teeth in annoyance. I would not allow Lash to manipulate me.
"Just speak my host, and the words will come out as you need them to be."
Lash's smile rang in the back of my head as the boy's words twisted into English, incongruous with the natural movements of his lips like a dubbed Kung Fu flick. He'd apparently taken my silence for anger.
"Not that it couldn't have happened to anyone," he looked me up and down, taking in the substantial mass of my tall lanky frame, "I mean... you're big and have a lot of... not that you're fat... just... Talk damn you!"
"I'm looking for water," I interrupted his ranting, startling him into silence, "Where is it?"
"Oh," he sighed in relief, "Thank the gods, I feared the sea of sand had left your mind addled. The Eye of Ra often leaves men with little in the way of sanity."
"The eyes of Ra?" I repeated in confusion.
The boy pointed up to the sky, gesturing to the sun the way one might to for a child who was a bit slow. His smile was a bit too placating and friendly, in an unnecessarily convivial way, "Ra looks down on us always."
He ran a hand across his head, scratching at a mess of curly hair under his turban and exposing a tattoo in the center of his forehead. An elaborate design of raised arms around a twisted pair of snakes stood out glaringly on the dark skin of his face.
"If you say so," I waved vaguely in the direction he'd apparently come from dismissively ignoring his comment about gods, "So about this water."
"You haven't run away from one of the camps have you?" The boy's hand strayed to his dagger, "A deserter."
I glared at him in annoyance, "Kid I don't even know what country I'm in. So how about we skip ahead in this conversation to the point where we get me to that water."
"I am not just some mere child I am a Jaffa warrior," He balked at my insult, "Chosen by the gods, you will show me respect!"
"Uh huh," I leaned on my staff and shook my head, "Nope I don't think so."
"You challenge my honor?"
"No, I defy a petulant teenager too caught up in himself to realize that he's bullying a man lost in the desert," I gave him my most ominous wizardly glare, the one I reserve for fairy queens and members of the DMV, "Now I'm going to ask one more time before I stop being nice. Which way is water?"
"Enough Dera," A stern voice echoed across the dunes, "That will do."
A man in thick skirted chain-mail armor strode across the dunes surveying me over the lip of his high-necked armor. He held a heavy metal mace longer than my own wizard's staff tipped with a bulbous protrusion at each end covered in nicks and dents, a well used weapon. His broad mass and barely controlled muscles paired with a serene self confidence marked him as a uniquely dangerous individual.
The boy blushed and sheathed his sword, taking care not to look into the armored man's eyes, "Master Ul'tak, he challenged my honor."
"No Dera, you challenge your own honor. He only challenges his thirst," The older man reached over and slapped the boy across the back of the head, "The gods have no use for a foolish warrior who pulls out his blade when he could simply point to the road."
"Master I tried," The boy protested vehemently.
"Do not question me Dera, you are not so far past your prim'ta that you can claim to know more than I. You will go back to the village and see Ferun for additional training today. As you seem determined to use your blade you will do so against someone who can be expected to fight back," His dismissive appraisal of me was closer to the truth than I would have liked. I wasn't sure if I could fight off a cocker spaniel at the moment.
"Yes master," the boy bowed and ran up the dune, leaving me alone with the armored man.
"Uh, hi," I greeted him somewhat lamely.
He turned to me and eyed me the same way one might look at a disobedient hound. He tilted his head one way, then the other, memorizing my features. After a few minutes of close examination he finally spoke, "Who are you and how did you get here."
"The name's Harry Dresden. I got lost and ended up here," I flashed my most dazzling smile, "It was an accident."
"No," He shook his head, "It was not. People do not come here by accident. They are here by the will of the gods." His hand caressed the club in subtle menace, "They leave at their pleasure. You do not belong."
"No disagreement there," I slapped a particularly large insect off my neck that was so big it probably should have registered it's flight plan with the FAA, "I'll be out of your hair as soon as I can, I'm not here to cause trouble. Just give me some water and point me in the direction of America."
"Perhaps Dera was correct," he glared imperiously into my eyes, "You have altogether too much arrogance for a Tau'ri."
"Try it," I held my staff in both hands, taking up an offensive posture and standing my ground, "I'll give you one hell of a fight if I have to."
The man started laughing heartily, "You truly have no idea who I am do you?"
"Not a clue," I shrugged apologetically, "But if it makes you feel any better I'd probably do the same if I did."
"I can't tell if you're fearless, ignorant, or a skilled liar," the man shook his head, "But it is not for me to decide."
"Who does decide?" I licked my chapped lips, "And do they have water?"
"Come with me Harry of Dresden and we will see to your needs for now," The man held out his hand in a gesture of friendship, "The great god Heka will decide what to do with you when he arrives through the Eye of the Gods."
I took his hand into my own and shook firmly, going with it when he moved his arm to a hold further down my forearm and imitating in kind. His face broke into a genuine smile, "I think I like you Tau'ri. Do not make me regret this decision."
I followed the man's loping pace as he turned at waded across the dunes, ignoring the hissing chirp of Lasciels stifled gales of laughter. Somehow I got the distinct sense that the joke was on me.