Disclaimer: I do not own Sailor Moon nor Dresden Files. If I did, Moon would not be so useless, and fans would burn me at the stake for destroying Harry's awesomeness
The Senshi Files: Red Eye
I've never been one to believe in fate, destiny, prophecy or what-not. The idea that some person or greater entity was guiding my actions always rubbed me the wrong way. I dealt with mortal authority poorly enough; I didn't want to be caught in a situation that would end with me flipping the bird to someone that could smite my very existence with less effort than it takes to blink.
As such, it's been more my shtick to take things as they come and hope I won't soon be screwed over in an epic fashion. So far, I've been downright successful. Maybe there were a few bumps and scrapes along the way, but it always came down to human error, hubris, or some other common mistake that led my enemies to failure. Nothing supernatural, nothing divine, nothing that couldn't be explained.
So I was feeling pretty good in that respect, and that I wouldn't have to worry about my life taking a sudden turn without my knowledge or say so.
I should've known my luck wouldn't last too long.
It started with a rude awakening. I was expelled from the land of dreams when something large, furry and very heavy pounced on my chest and butted me in the face. Upon opening my eyes, I found myself looking into large yellow eyes and a squashed feline face. I let out a manly shout of surprise, which is nothing at all like a girly shriek, and scrambled backwards before smacking the back of my head on the headboard of my bed.
Once I recovered from dizziness, I noticed that it was not a giant predator come to devour me in my boxers - quite a humiliating way to go - but rather my pet tomcat, Mister, which made my freak out a bit less humiliating. The reason being that Mister was not so much a cat as thirty pounds of tightly-corded muscle in a cat suit. I had found him when he was just a kitten, shivering in the cold, his tail removed near the base during what I assumed was a losing fight against a larger animal, and no bigger than two of my fists. Years later he was bigger than most lapdogs, treating me more as a tolerated houseguest than his savior, and terrorizing the neighborhood's dog population.
Satisfied that I'd been woken up, Mister padded up to me and butted my shoulder, causing me to smash against the headboard again, and strutted out of the room. Now why the heck had he done that? Usually he only deigned to be in my presence when I was awake, deciding I was more or less useless to him when asleep. My answer came as someone knocked on my door, and then again soon after.
Ah, guests. That made sense. Probably disturbed Mister from his own nap, and he decided that if he couldn't get any sleep then neither could I.
I grabbed a bathrobe hanging from my bedroom door and slung it on. It might be getting into summer and was already getting hot, especially in an urban environment like Chicago, but I think I could accept a little discomfort to avoid flashing whoever was at the door with my Star Wars-themed boxers.
I slowly picked my path through the cluttered and somewhat trashed area that was my living room, making my way towards the steel door that had replaced my original wooden one. Both of these oddities were thanks to a frog demon that had tried to kill me just a month prior.
I should probably explain that last bit. How you doing? The name's Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, wizard for hire. Conjure by it at your own risk.
I know that look. Most people think I'm short a roll when I mention my trade, but it's all true – the magic, mysticism, fairy-tale creatures, and more.
Except the magic can flame-broil a man alive, the mysticism can't really stand up to a good boot to the nads, and the fairy-tale creatures would rather chew off your face than make all your dreams come true. Things go bump in the night, and it's up to people like me to make sure that they stay there and not intrude on the vanilla mortals.
However, it's not as useful for gaining a paycheck as you'd think. You might be surprised to hear this, but being able to sling about the very forces of nature does not translate well to the general work environment. Not that it can't be useful, because believe me, it can make things so much easier at times, but having a basic education and social skills usually ends up being more pragmatic that burning down a house.
Speaking of which, the last house that burned down in my investigations was not my fault, it was caused by a mad sorcerer trying to kill me. Granted, the fires were a direct result of me following through with my self-preservation instincts…
Look, the house may have been on fire, but it wasn't my fault!
Magic is not restricted to fiery conflagrations. One particular branch of thaumaturgy – think less kaboom, more magic circles – that I'm particularly proficient at is divination. As a private investigator, being able to magically locate my targets along with classic gumshoe techniques makes it a breeze. Need to find a missing person, lost item, or general advice? I'm your guy.
As I reached the entrance, I wracked my brain to try and figure out who would be paying me a visit. It was still early in the morning, so I didn't expect any visitors. It couldn't have been my elderly landlady. Thanks to my latest job, I was up on my rent for a good while and it hadn't even required me to risk my life.
A woman had asked me to find her wayward husband, who was disappearing more and more often lately and was starting to make her suspicious. Although she seemed to think my practice was scrupulous at best, I was available and, more importantly, cheap. It hadn't taken more than a basic tracking spell to discover the man and his other loving wife on the other side of the greater Chicago area.
The man had balls. Not many brains considering that, if he was going to live a double-life, he could've at least tried to hide his significant others from each other in separate zipcodes, but he did have giant brass ones.
His wife was not as impressed. She had literally thrown the check for my services at me after looking at the photographs I had shown her of his 'infidelity' and stomped out of my office like a tempest, cursing and swearing that she would take the 'philandering rat bastard' for all he had.
I stopped by the door. Maybe there was someone who wanted to see me. I bent down and picked up the metal baseball bat by the door, keeping it loosely in my palms. I smiled winningly, even though no one could actually see me through the reinforced steel, and called out with my most charming tone, "Who is it?"
"Open up, Harry. What, have you forgotten about me already?"
That did not sound like an angry Casanova wanting to break my knees. I recognized the voice, and my smile became more heartfelt as I put the bat back down and opened the door.
The smell was the first thing to hit me, and there was a pleasant tightening deep inside my gut. My eyelids lowered into wanton desire. The wrapping was superb, but it was what was inside that tight cover that I really craved. Oh beautiful, where had you been all my life? I lowered my tone. "Well, hello there."
The young Hispanic woman attached to the egg sandwich snorted in exasperated bemusement. "My eyes are up here, Harry."
"I've made my decision." I continued to look at the sandwich, my stomach growling. I didn't realize how hungry I was up until the scent of egg and sausage assaulted me, but I now realized I was starving, and the bag that she was holding, which I hoped was full of other delectable goodies, was kept tantalizingly out of my grasp.
"I've got hashbrowns, too if you stop looking like you want to bite off my hand."
I whipped up to meet her gaze. "Deal. Come on in, Susan."
Susan smiled beatifically. Her dark hair was perfectly done, matching the smart light-blue pantsuit she was wearing. I noticed a small dab of perfume on her, but it was easily overwhelmed by the breakfast items she was bribing me with. Her dark eyes melted into her lightly tanned skin, which made quite the sight in the early morning light.
I was staring.
I stood up straight, nearly banging my head on the doorway, and moved aside so that she could come in. While the door was open, Mister barreled through, shoulder-checked my leg for good measure, and disappeared out of the stairwell to my basement apartment. Susan chuckled good-heartedly as I stumbled my way around the room, moving random things aside to make room at the small table.
"Not have enough time to clean up?"
"Well, you know, I've been busy," I shrugged, scooting a chair out for her. "Rescuing cats from trees, helping little old ladies across the street, stopping the forces of evil."
Susan slipped into the chair and dropped the fast-food bag onto the table. I ripped the wrapper from the sandwich and took a large bite. "Slipping unsuspecting woman love potions and then trapping them in a confined space."
I nearly choked, both from the sentence itself, and laughter in her voice as she said so.
A mix-up with a love potion had made one of our nights together much more...excitable than usual. Having a fairly attractive woman try to stick her hand down your pants was enjoyable. Having her do so while an acid-spitting hellspawn tried to melt your flesh off? Not so much. I'd resolved afterward to always label my potions.
Susan smiled at my flushed face and absently waved her hand. "Oh, don't worry. I know it was an accident. Besides, I'm always looking for a good scoop, and that was a pretty damn good one. However…" She leaned forward, crossing one leg over the other and resting her chin on her propped up hands. "I could be convinced to let it go completely if you helped me out."
I swallowed the chunk in the back of my throat. "Ah, so the food wasn't just an act of goodwill?"
"No such thing as a free breakfast, Mr. Wizard."
Susan Rodriguez was a reporter for The Midwestern Arcane, a tabloid newspaper that dealt with the supernatural. You know, the kind that had headlines like, 'I Dated Bigfoot!", "Fairies Seen in Millennium Park", or "The Loch Ness Monster: Vacationing in Lake Michigan." Of course, all of those were absolute rubbish – Bigfoot was happily married, Nessie preferred Lake Eerie, and the fairies…Actually, that one was probably true. I had to look more into that later.
Susan might have worked for a rather trashy newspaper, but she took her job seriously. Therefore, when she found someone advertising themselves as a wizard in the yellow pages, she figured, why the hell not? We've had a cordial working relationship ever since, with me giving her tidbits on the supernatural side of life as long as it wasn't too dangerous or personal.
"Talk while we eat," I muffled through a large bite of hashbrown.
Susan shrugged and sipped at her coffee. "Well, you know about that plane crash a few days ago?" I nodded, remembering the news clearly. A jumbo jet had gone down near the outskirts of the city, miraculously avoiding all populated centers and killing no innocent bystanders. The passengers hadn't been so lucky; as far as the news went, nearly every single one of the ninety-eight passengers and six staff died. I think only a lucky couple survived. Taking my gesture as a sign to continue, Susan did so. "Well, I wanted to ask you a few questions about it."
I raised an eyebrow. "You're asking me about an airplane?"
"There were a few suspect details about the whole thing."
"The fact that a giant metal tube can fly through the air despite half the natural laws telling it to get its ass back down is suspect." I leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially. "I call witchcraft."
Susan frowned. "Harry, you're a wizard."
I took another bite. "Exactly."
Magic and technology do not get along. We're not like peanut butter and chocolate; more like raisin bran and crude oil. Mortal spellcasters have a kind of techbane aura around them that messes something fierce with any tech that enters the radius. The more complex and advanced the tech, the more likely it's going to break, short out, or go boom. My room was a good example.
It's a mishmash of second-hand items; thick rugs with no particular style and half the time clashing with one another, furniture dragged from yard sales or used-shops, a wood-burning stove, and an icebox with actual ice. It's pretty much all I feel comfortable with. I still sometimes break my Mickey Mouse clock, simply because I'm annoyed at being woken up and my emotions lash out at the nearest electronic item.
So the idea of something supernatural happening on a plane, a construct that has god-knows how many moving parts, delicate electronics, and technology I can't even pronounce, are slim to none. Any spellcaster worth their salt wouldn't lock themselves in a box 10,000 feet in the air that they could then unintentionally send into a nosedive.
I said as much to Susan, and her frown deepened, no doubt thinking that I was treating her like a child, which, when it came to magical matters, she really was. She would not be swept aside so easily, though.
"Well, maybe not a magician." I bit my tongue at that grand generalization. "But what about something not human?" She pulled a notepad from her purse and flipped through a few pages before finding what she was looking for. Her brow drew together, her eyes narrowing in concentration, her whole stance one of deep study. It was actually kinda cute. "Ah, here we go. According to initial reports, there were great deal of lacerations on the victims' bodies, but the airplane was primarily intact. Even with a crash, they shouldn't have been as cut up as they were."
I opened my mouth to argue that plane crashes weren't exactly normal and didn't have a set standard of inflicted damage, but Susan forged on, ignoring me completely. "But besides that, there were other indicators that something else was on the plane." She was getting more excited now, flush with the victory that something 'odd' was afoot. "There were burned body parts that weren't human and didn't belong to any of the people on the passenger or staff list, and there was some kind of viscous green liquid splashed all over the plane's insides."
She stared at me, daring to prove her wrong. I stared back, not saying a thing as I chewed on my meal. While what Susan had discovered odd, it wasn't nearly enough evidence that something supernatural had gone down up in the sky. Odd things do happen, but not everything that can't be properly explained with 'science' can be with 'magic.' I was about to smash that into Susan's glee, and I was not relishing the idea.
"Few problems with that theory. One, why would they wait till mid-flight to attack? Monsters aren't well known for their patience or high intelligence. They would go after prey as soon as possible."
I took a swig of my coffee, wincing at the still-high temperature. "And even if they could wait to attack instead of just grabbing a loner off the street late at night, which is much more their M.O. anyway, how and why would they get on the plane in the first place?"
Susan looked like she took a blow to her pride, but she gathered herself back up and pushed forward. "Well, there has to be monsters that can disguise themselves. Couldn't one have made itself look human?"
I nodded reluctantly. "True, there are beings like that. But!" I shut down her triumphant expression. "The only kinds that can do that would never be stupid enough to sneak onto a plane only to kill everyone that can fly it. It seems counterproductive to get a meal just to turn into a fireball because you ate the pilot."
Susan looked disappointed at my deconstruction of her theory, but I didn't want her to go gallivanting off with the idea that the Boogie Man had downed a plane. I smiled reassuringly. "Even if it didn't work out the way you wanted, I'm sure you have other leads, right?"
Gathering herself back up, she rolled her shoulders and pushed her chair out. Getting up, Susan said, "Yeah, guess you're right. Thanks for the advice."
I never liked seeing a woman down. Call it a chauvinistic side to me, but witnessing Susan build herself up so much on this scoop only to for me to bring it crashing down left a sour taste in my mouth. I sighed internally, realizing what a sucker I was, but went ahead anyway. "Well, since I didn't really help out on the case, I suppose I still owe a favor."
Susan's lips quirked, and light danced back into her eyes. "For breakfast?"
"Err, among other things."
She laughed, one of the most beautiful sounds I'd ever heard. "I'll keep you to that promise." All signs of her dissatisfaction were wiped away as if they were never there. She brushed past me, but not before planting a quick one on my cheek. Now that breakfast was no longer scrambling my senses, her perfume was much more distinct - a spicy, tropical scent. "See ya."
I watched he leave, not moving from my chair for a few minutes. I put my hand to the spot where her lips had just been. It still felt warm and slightly moist, though I knew that was just me imagining it. Well damn, if that was how she played me, I wished it would happen more often.
In any event, I had to get to work. I started to get up and paused. First, a shower.
A cold one.
Today was already looking up. I'd gotten a 'free' breakfast, with a pretty server no less, and already had a case not even a couple hours after I'd gotten to my office.
As I waited in the lobby for the Northwestern Memorial hospital, I garnered a few odd and suspicious looks from the various visitors and staff members streaming through. Not like I could blame them. I might have been properly dressed since that morning, but it's hard to not stare at the nearly seven-foot man wearing a leather duster like he'd just stepped out of a John Wayne picture. Add in my dashingly scruffy looks, and I was quite the sight to behold.
They could stare all they wanted. I was waiting for my contact and would not leave until he came out. With my Finagle-like effect on technology, there was no way I was going anywhere that there was delicate medical equipment. One small misstep, and someone's pacemaker or a million-dollar scanner would go up in sparks. A few uncomfortable looks was much more pleasant in comparison.
Dr. Richard Jameson was a contact I'd made a few years ago while I was still recovering from a nasty period in my life. He wasn't clued into the other side of reality, and never really took my claims of being a wizard seriously, but he did think I was a damn fine detective. I'd helped him out of his own bad spot earlier on, and he'd been occasionally referring people my way since. It was probably because of him that I could afford food more luxurious than instant ramen.
When he walked into the lobby of the hospital, I stood up and made my way over to him, waving in greeting. "Jameson."
"Dresden." Jameson was short, pudgy man already over the hill, with thinning hair and a perpetual neutral look on his face. The man's bedside manner could probably use some polishing, but as far I knew, he was a respected doctor of internal medicine and well-liked by his patients. "I'm glad you could come. I already tried the police, but they're all tied up doing their own jobs and dealing with the fallout of the crash to put their attention on my request."
"No problem," I said. It was odd that he'd bring up the crash, but I had a feeling that it was directly connected. "So, what's the deal? Usually you just give me a call and mention that you're sending someone my way. It's rare you ask me to actually visit."
He nodded briefly. "My request is a bit different this time around, and I'd prefer a more personal touch on the matters." His eyes darted to the side before focusing back on me. "Also, things seemed a little...strange, so I thought you to be my best course."
I found his wording a little odd, but ignored it in favor of asking to continue. "So? What's the request?"
Jameson flipped through his clipboard and nodded again. "I need your help tracking down one of my patient's relatives. She was one of the survivors from the plane crash."
I put my hands into my duster's pockets and frowned. "You want me to track down her folks?" I rolled my shoulders uncomfortably. "She the lucky case?"
He lowered the clipboard, his expression not changing. The man would kill at any poker game he played. However, through my repeated meetings with him, I'd come to notice that while his face was almost always deadpan, his body language had some very expressive tics.
One such tell was when he started tapping clipboard on his leg, a motion that signaled he was frustrated with what he'd found. "The only other one. She's a foreigner, which means we don't have any of her medical records nor can we easily get them, but she seems to be about 8-9 years old, of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent, and can't speak a lick of English, or at least not enough for us to communicate properly."
Jameson opened up the clipboard again, his deadpan face not changing a smidge. I could tell it was bothering him, however. "She's not too badly injured, not nearly enough for the ICU, but she's having trouble moving. It's most likely the shock and trauma more than anything else, but we'd rather keep her still than risk any new wounds appearing from moving too much."
I scratched my head. "It's not my specialty, but I'll definitely take a crack at it. If it turns out that I'm coming up empty, I'll find someone else who's better at it and direct you to them. No charge." If there was one thing I liked less than seeing a woman in trouble, it was a child. Women and children should have no troubles in life, and heaven help me if I was going to let them.
I could have sworn that the corner of Jameson's lips quirked up ever so much, but it was probably my imagination. The stiff-lipped doctor cracking a smile, no matter how small, would destroy my entire worldview. "That's all I ask. Thank you, Dresden." He extended manila folder to me. "All the information that we managed to accumulate on her is here. It's not much, but it should be a good start."
"Isn't that a violation of patient-doctor confidentiality?" I asked wryly. Normally doing such a thing could result in loss of license. However, it was something I had come to expect from Jameson. The doctor took his job seriously, but he also took the mental and emotional well-being of his patients into careful consideration. This probably wasn't the first time he'd bent the rules to give that little, extra benefit to those under his care, and it would most likely not be the last.
Jameson's shoulder raised the tiniest bit, another tic that meant he was almost amused. "When you find her relatives, they can sue me for all I have. Until then, this can be our dirty little secret."
I smirked at that comment. The good doctor had a dry sense of humor. I opened the folder to see a copy of the child's chart, along with a couple small pictures of her. "Makoto Kino, huh?" I murmured softly. "She Japanese?"
"We think so." Jameson nodded. "We got her name from the flight passenger list. Supposedly her family made a stopover from Los Angeles and was shifted to the crashed flight. According to the travel log, they're not US citizens, so that makes it easier, or harder, depending on how you're going to go about your investigation."
"Uh-huh," I muttered. That could be a problem. It would be hard enough finding a family on the other side of the country. Finding one in a different nation was a difficulty of a completely new magnitude. However, I wasn't paying much attention to that so much as the notes jotted on the chart. Most of it was in medical shorthand, so I might as well have been reading Sanskrit, but the general injuries were noted in the margins, which I recognized as Jameson's handwriting.
A fractured arm, mild concussion, bruised ribs, and multiple lacerations, none of which were life threatening. Much better than they could have been, but still horrendous for such a young girl. The picture attached showed all of those details distinctly, bandages wrapped around half her head. She had her right arm in a sling along with more bandages around her torso.
There was another picture, which must have been her passport photo or something, because she had none of the injuries. Without all the bandages covering her face, she looked like a cute girl.
Her eyes had the natural Asian narrowness, an expressive and lively emerald, over a slightly pointed nose. Her hair was a light brown, pulled into a short, high ponytail. She was giving a joyous and childish smile, accentuated by the absence of her two front teeth and darling dimples on her cheeks.
Something tugged at me. After looking at that, there was no way I could do anything other than my best. I glanced back up at Jameson, and he lifted his chin slightly upward. Another tic. I restrained a grumble and closed the folder. Well played, doc, well played.
"I'll get back to you when I can. I'll see if some people I know can get any more info from the plane's manifesto."
He stared at me silently for a moment. "Dresden." His voice had grown somewhat serious yet inquisitive. "You're probably wondering just why I asked you on a case like this in the first place."
My mind wandered back to his wording at the beginning of the conversation. "You mentioned something was strange with the kid?"
"Yes, well..." The tapping on his leg increased in speed. "I've never quite taken your claims at being a magician seriously." Once again, I had to bite my tongue at the general stereotype over my trade. "But I figured, with something like this, if I could believe in that boast even a tiny bit, it might help."
I said nothing. My claims of a wizard were still being taken with a grain of salt, but obviously the doc thought that such a thing could help solve the case. If he was going to put his faith in me, even though he was still skeptical, I couldn't let him down.
"What is it?"
"The girl was babbling when we took her in. Before we sedated her, we got an orderly to translate for us. She speaks Japanese, we know that for sure, but her sentences were so broken that we have no idea if it was because of the shock, a dream, or what." He paused for a moment shaking his head like he was trying to dispel a headache, and continued. "She was talking about monsters on the plane."
That got my attention. Immediately, my mind tracked backwards to my conversation with Susan that morning. The little details she had been adamant on - the strange liquid, extra body parts, and unexplained interior damage - were forefront. It still wasn't enough to convince me that something else had occurred on the plane, but it'd piqued my interest, and I wanted to follow through just to make sure. I turned around and stared at the doctor. "Could you tell me more about that?"
He almost looked surprised, and flipped through his clipboard again, using it to cover his expression. "Well, I wasn't there before they sedated her, so I only have second-hand news at best, but she said that they were small and there were a lot of them." He returned the board to his leg and began tapping again. "Like I said, hardly conclusive, but it was just too strange not to mention."
I nodded. "Do you think you could tell me about the other crash survivor, too?"
"I suppose, but how come?"
"If there was someone else on the plane, maybe they could explain just why the girl was babbling about monsters. Even if it amounts to nothing, it might be some glimpse into her background or anything else."
"Well, the man's already been discharged and questioned by the police, so there shouldn't be any problem," Jameson said. "He's middle-aged, goes by the name of William Snow. He only had minor injuries, so he was discharged the night before. I couldn't tell you his whereabouts, however. He left no way to contact him to check on his injuries."
Well, I had a name to go by. That should make things easier. Thankfully I wasn't violating any more rules by getting the information. One time was enough, though I'd doubt he'd care that much. Still, I'd hate to put the good doctor out. "Got it. Thanks, doc."
"Good luck, Dresden."
With that, he disappeared back into the hospital. I stood there for a moment, my mind flashing through possibilities before settling on a course of action. It caused me to grimace, as it wasn't the most pleasant option I had in my arsenal, but it was the most expedient and effective one I could muster. If there was something supernatural going down, I needed to find out more about it, and the quicker the better.
Well, there was no time like the present. I stormed out of the hospital doors, intent on getting back to my office as soon as possible.
I had a phone call to make.
Why was I dreading this so much?
I was sitting at the desk of my small office, staring at the phone like it was going to come to life and attack me. Not that that would have been all that strange. With all the preternatural creatures running around Chicago, finding one that possessed objects to screw with people wouldn't even be a blip on my radar. No, it was the action associated with the device that was causing me to hesitate.
It wasn't like it'd be that hard. Just pick up the phone and dial. A few quick, simple steps. It wasn't like I was selling my soul to the devil - another activity that wasn't exclusive to fiction - but I still found it hard just get it done. Probably because I still wasn't on good terms with the person I had to call. We still kept in contact, but it was usually her calling me and not the other way around. Somehow, that small reversal made this much harder than it should've been.
I shook my head and smacked myself mentally. I was being silly. We were work associates. This wasn't a jilted girlfriend, this was someone who employed my services. There was no need for such awkward feelings. Agreeing with that logical course of thought, I put the receiver to my ear and dialed the number I knew from memory.
It rang a few times, each one causing the feeling of bad juju to grow, until finally the other end picked up. There was a breathy sigh of annoyance, and then a female voice answered. "This is Murphy."
"Murphy, it's Harry."
There was a pause, and then a definite change in the woman's tone. It lowered and grew slightly embittered. "Dresden."
I almost winced. Karrin Murphy was a detective that headed the Special Investigations department of the Chicago PD. The SI was a section of the police that dealt with strange happenings in the city of Chicago – mysterious fires, over-the-top murders, random destruction with no discernable cause – anything that couldn't be explained rationally. And when things couldn't be explained in a rational matter, looking for something that went bump in the night was a good place to start.
Of course, no one in the Chicago PD actually believed in such things, so SI was less a place to solve mysterious happenings and more an unofficial dumping ground. It was a way for the Chicago police to legally do away with troublesome officers – people who stuck their noses where they didn't belong, scandal makers, insubordination - the works. The transferred personnel couldn't solve the cases and they would be relieved of duty. Nice and clean and completely bureaucratic.
Murphy was originally shipped to SI because of one thing – she'd rubbed some of her superiors the wrong way. I'd heard a rumor she'd punched a rather obnoxious sergeant for making some sexist remarks. Don't know how accurate the info was, but knowing her, I wouldn't have been surprised. There in SI she would waste away, failing to solve case after case until her dossier was full of enough red to terminate her.
But if Murphy was one thing, it was stubborn. Regardless of how ridiculous or demeaning it may have been, she took her job with the same amount of care as any other police officer. Even if it was to hunt down a serial robber that targeted only pizza shops - I really had to give a talk to Toot Toot about that - she would accomplish her assigned tasks. So she hired me – a wizard. Hire a thief to catch a thief, in a manner of speaking. Sure, I was officially known as an independent consultant based in the field of the occult, as it was pretty difficult to rationalize payment to a 'wizard' on the expense report, but even then most people saw Murphy as having a few screws lose for even keeping on me the payroll in the first place.
She'd probably think so too, had she not witnessed firsthand a troll deflate upon itself while a million tiny versions of it scattered all over the place. Most people, when confronted with the supernatural, either blocked it from memory entirely, like the morning after a night of binge drinking, or adapted and rolled with the punches, like the friend of the person who had been on the night of binge drinking.
Murphy was the latter.
And that was the main source of the tension currently between us.
That evil I mentioned? The one that had sicced a literal demon on me? He was the perpetrator of some rather nasty murders that had happened in Chicago a few months back, and through some unlucky twists of fate, the evidence started leaning in my direction. Murphy's and mine relationship was temperamental at best, and with my unwillingness to reveal some of the more sensitive parts of the magical community that would explain why I kept ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time, our working relationship tumbled downhill fast.
I had my reasons. The White Council, the magical government that oversaw every mortal magic user in the world, preferred the masquerade to stay up as long as possible. I was already on their shit list thanks to a legacy of misspent youth, and laying out how normal humans existed on the bottom of the totem pole would have not garnered any brownie points with them. It was for her own good, you know?
...wow, now I know why Murphy always called me a chauvinistic pig.
In any case, we were not on good terms. I was loathe to even contact her, but I needed information. Susan was an alternative, but she would insist on going, and it was hard enough protecting myself from any big, bad, and uglies, let alone another person. Murphy could put a hole in a ghoul's head at fifty paces.
Yet another reason to be nervous around her.
Pushing my thoughts to the side, I stumbled forward in my usual charming way. "How you been, Murph? Still trying to be a woman in a man's club?"
There was a pause before she spoke again. Her voice had lost the bitter edge, instead gaining a sharp bite. "What do you want? It's my day off and I don't feel like spending it listening to your crap." There were muted pops going off in the background just barely making themselves be heard over her voice.
"What's going on? You at a party or something?"
"I'm at the shooting range testing a new firearm," she said. "The target's pretty familiar-looking. Real gangly bastard. Already scored a few headshots." There was a shifting noise and then the sound of a gun intentionally cocking. "It's a good stress reliever."
Message received. "I'll leave you to that then. I just have a favor to ask of you."
"…what?" She was getting tired, fast.
"I need help tracking down someone. It's part of my recent investigation. I need to find a kid's family, and he's one of the closest leads I have." Murphy may not have liked me that much at this point, but if there was thing she couldn't refuse, it was help concerning a kid. It was how we first, met, after all. I felt a little bad manipulating her like this, but I needed to find the guy as soon as possible, and I needed to use all the tools at my disposal.
Murphy wasn't one to disappoint. "Give me the guy's name."
I almost gave a sigh of relief I hadn't known I was holding back. "William Snow."
I didn't get an answer back. For a few seconds, all I could hear were the sounds of the shooting range, the repeated popping like someone was setting off a series of firecrackers. I began to grow concerned and called out to her. "Murphy, something wrong?"
"What was that name?" Her voice was quiet, and the lump in the pit of my stomach grew at the terse quality of her voice.
"William Snow," I repeated.
She didn't answer for a bit again. When she did, all the fury that'd been boiling under came rushing to the surface. "Why the hell are you looking for the survivor of the Flight 202 crash?" she whispered fiercely, and I could imagine her fingers involuntarily priming the gun into a shooting position.
I reigned in the surprise that must have been on my face, even though I knew she wouldn't be able to see it over the line. "You know about him?" I asked.
"SI was ordered to act as support for cleanup. They didn't have enough manpower to cordon off the site, so it was dropped on us," she said. "But that doesn't answer my question. Why are you looking for Snow?"
"It's nothing you have to be concerned about," I hastily said, attempting to placate her before she bodily reached through the phone and strangled me. "The kid I'm looking after is the other crash victim, so I figured I might be able to get some info off the guy."
"Don't try and bullshit me, Harry." The emphasis she put on my name signaled that she was not to be trifled with. I was afraid something like this would happen, but even so, being on the receiving end of Murphy's tongue lashing was hard even if I was expecting it. "You wouldn't go through the trouble of looking for this guy unless something happened. So you better tell me, or god help you I'll march over to your office right now and slap you with cuffs. I'll come up with a reason later."
There was no doubt in my mind she would follow through on that threat. Murphy was a cop and a damn good one. She may not have been one for the department politics, but when it came to protecting the citizens of Chicago, hell or high water wouldn't stop the women from performing her duties. If she thought I was hiding things from her that could cause trouble for the city, she would not hesitate to bring me in.
It had gotten to that point before. It probably would again.
I ran a hand through my hair and sighed deeply. There was no way around it. If I didn't give Murphy something, I wasn't going to get anything. I put the phone back to my ear. "Look, it may be nothing, but something feels fishy about the plane crash." I cut her off before she could ask any more questions. "Now I'm not saying Snow had anything to do with it, but the only other witness is a kid who can't speak English, can barely remember what happened, and is doped up to Dreamland and back. He's my best bet."
Again came nothing but the pops of guns firing. Something crinkled next to the mouthpiece, and Murphy spoke up again. "Fine, I'll tell you. But I'm coming with."
"What? Murph, no, you can't-"
"Don't tell me what I can and can't do, Dresden," she snapped. "I'm not some girl you can pat on the head and shoo away. I'm a police officer, and unless you want to get jack shit, you're gonna have me riding shotgun."
I knew it. I just knew it. Like I mentioned, tough as nails and stubborn to boot. "Okay, okay. You can come. I'll pick you up. Now, the info?"
A door closed. I assumed she was leaving the range. "I got better than a lead. I know where his current lodging is."
I blinked. "What? How did you…?"
I could feel the smug smile she was wearing at my surprise. "You may be a wizard, but cops have their own brand of magic. We keep track of everything. It's our job. Now, pick me up at the station in an hour. Then we'll go pay a visit to Snow." With that, she hung up, the buzzing tone of the ended call piercing into my ears.
I hung up the phone reluctantly, resisting the urge to call back and get the last word in. That was the second time today a woman had given me the runaround. Not exactly a great track record. What was it with my inability to professionally deal with individuals who had two X chromosomes? I don't think even using magic could help me answer that question.
I shrugged to myself and made my way out of the office, flipping the sign to 'closed,' and locking the door. Before I met up with Murphy, I had to grab a few things from home like my staff and blasting rod. I wasn't expecting much trouble, but I'd learned it was better to be able to blast someone through the wall and not need to, than to be blasted through the wall yourself.
I hoped the Blue Beetle could take all the extra travelling.
Now, the Blue Beetle wasn't exactly blue. Most of its outer parts had been replaced after coming into my possession. One door was replaced by a green spare, the other by a white one, and the hood had been exchanged for a red one. It was more a Checkerboard Beetle considering the various colors, but it had initially been a blue car, so I insisted it be the Blue Beetle.
Also, the clock had stopped working a month after I started driving it but that was a different story entirely.
It was an old model, with hardly any of the luxuries that most modern cars had. My version of A/C was to roll down the windows and drive fast enough to create a cross-breeze. However, it ran most of the time - largely thanks to my miracle-worker of a mechanic, Mike - and it was the easiest car in the world to fix.
When the hood in the back began to rumble and a clacking noise came from inside, it looked like it was due another trip into Mike's tender hands.
"I still don't know why you don't get another car," Murphy said, her baby-blue eyes belying a slight worry at the noises emanating from the engine's vicinity.
Murphy looked like everyone's kid sister, though saying so would earn you a quick trip to Painville. She had short, blonde hair that curled to her shoulders, a cute nose that belonged on a cheerleader, and rounded cheeks with no makeup. She also was only four feet and change, barely making it up to my chest. She was currently wearing sweats and a well-worn Bears sports jacket, and I could just make out her holster hanging loosely by her side.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, like she was afraid the engine would explode. "Even with your meager pittance, you could definitely afford a better model. Even just a newer one."
"Don't listen to her, girl," I crooned, petting the dashboard comfortingly like a dog. "You're fine just the way you are. I'd never abandon you."
Murphy snorted. I ignored her. I'd picked her up at the station as requested, and after only giving me an address and nothing else, we'd fallen into an awkward silence, the only sound the Beetle's rough puttering. It was hard dealing with the tension between us. Murphy was my friend, sort of, and though the reason I hadn't told her anything was to prevent her from getting further embroiled in the dangerous world of the supernatural, it wasn't like I'd enjoyed doing so. I wanted to tell her, but just telling her everything and then allowing her to run off to fulfill her sense of justice was a terrible idea waiting to happen.
I'd had a rough life - my mother died during childbirth, my father died from a brain aneurysm when I was still a child, my mentor in magic tried to brainwash me into a mindless pawn and forced me to kill him in self-defense, and the gruesome aftermath of it all. What followed until now was nothing I wanted to dwell on, but it'd strengthened my resolve to not bring people into the fold.
I hadn't had a choice when my magic manifested itself, not really. It was either learn from someone who knew what they were doing or…well, that's another story for another time. And really, what teenager could resist being taught to command the elements? It was a disaster in the making.
Murphy, however, Murphy was vanilla. She might've been privy to some of the secret life of magic, but not nearly enough to be considered a threat to those that wanted to keep their secrets hidden. She was ignored, glossed over for the most part, and would remain so until I did something stupid and told her everything.
But I couldn't and I didn't and I wouldn't. And here is where we were.
We finally reached our destination a little before nighfall, and I pulled the Beetle into the chintzy Motel 6 knock-off's parking lot. There were no other cars there, and the place seemed wholly abandoned, except for the flittering sound of a sports-cast coming from the motel office. Shutting off the engine, the clanking continued for a while before settling down and I held back a wince. I was gonna have to have Mike check that out soon. As I turned away from the hood, I saw Murphy pull out a small slip of paper.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Just making sure we're at the right spot." She looked at the paper then at the large sign declaring the motel's name and vacancy status, and finally back to the paper. She smiled slightly in approval. "This is the place. Snow should be lodged in apartment ten." She glanced at the numbering. "That's the second floor. Come on." Without waiting for me to answer, she marched over to the staircase and started to climb. I inhaled softly and followed after.
As we climbed, I took in the surroundings. The motel was a basic flat-box building, two stories with a metal banister that wrapped around the second floor. The cheap eggshell-colored stucco had seen better days, flaking off at places to reveal the concrete underneath that matched the walkway of both floors. There were small, bare bulbs above the door to each apartment, and small insects were gathered at each one's glow. The only one that wasn't on was the light that belonged to apartment ten. Though the bulb wasn't broken, it was turned off. Probably just needed a new one.
That was more of an absent thought, though. What really caught my attention was the pale sensation that splashed onto me like a bucket of cold water. I immediately knew something was wrong. My skin prickled with the presence of something Not Human, and there was a faint scent of blood in the air.
The fact that the door had a two-foot hole ripped through it helped, too. The door may have been made out of cheap wood, but anything that could plow through it like that instantly put me on edge.
In front of me, Murphy tensed. She smoothly drew a gun from her holster, the specialized .22 cal she used at her shooting competitions, and positioned herself to the side of the door. She gestured to me and I followed suite, crossing to the other side. She waited until I was ready then reached over and opened the door. It swung silently inward. The room was cast in shadows from the angle of the sunset, and Murphy flicked the light switch. Nothing happened. She gave it a few more tries but the light refused to turn on.
Biting her lower lip, she reached into her jacket and pulled out a penlight. It flickered on, bathing the room in a cool blue light. She swept the room, but we saw nothing of importance. The inside of the room was just as bland as the outside. The bed was a mess, but it looked more due to poor sleeping habits than any kind of struggle. There was a nightstand to the side, with a copy of the King James' Bible opened up midway through. Several beer cans were strewn across the place as well as an empty, grease stained pizza box that was propped haphazardly on a TV set that looked like it had been purchased in the early 80s.
No blood, no scuff marks, nothing broken, no sign of trouble anywhere. If it weren't for the giant hole in the door, it would have seemed like an ordinary motel room. However, that same feeling of Not Human was still prickling the back of my neck, so I refused to let my guard down until I discovered the source. I turned to Murphy.
"Notice anything?" I asked, my voice raised barely above a whisper.
"Nothing," she said in kind. Even though her face was relaxed, I noticed how she refused to lower her gun or move her trigger finger away from the well - the sign of someone prepared to fire at a moment's notice. "You?"
"Nada." I scanned the room again, but nothing popped out at me - figuratively or literally. "And that's the problem."
She nodded. "There should be some sign of what happened."
"Exactly, so what-"
The sign of soft scratching caught my ear, and I spun around towards the direction it had come from. Murphy followed my lead, pivoting on her rear foot and swinging the gun up to point in the direction I was facing. "What is it?"
I put a finger to my mouth. "Listen. Bathroom." While she did so, I Listened myself
Listening isn't so much a magic as it is a state of being. When Listening, I blocked out everything else to try and hear something that was either very soft or being muffled in some way. It had the downside of leaving me a bit vulnerable since I ignored everything else to focus, but in situations like this, it became very useful.
The soft scratching became more of a scrabbling, the sound a large dog makes when walking on linoleum tiles. Mixed with that was raspy breathing and a squelching noise that reminded me of someone biting into a very messy jelly doughnut. That last sound was what put me on edge, as I very much doubted anyone was enjoying a jelly doughnut on the toilet with a two-foot hole in their door.
I came back to the full working of my senses and motioned for Murphy to cover me. She nodded silently and we both snuck to the bathroom door. I reached over and tapped the door, pushing it open with a small swing. Murphy pointed the penlight into the room. It was then we both saw it.
A creature the size of a small child was perched over an older man, the late William Snow I presumed, buried face first into the man's entrails. The metallic scent of blood and sweet scent of decay filled the room and almost forced me to gag. Snow's body was split open horizontally at the waist, his intestines spilled out like some kind of gruesome piñata. He was half in the bathtub, his legs swung over the side and lying on the toilet. He was fully clothed except for his pants, which were gathered round his ankles, and the toilet seat was placed down. A folded-in-half newspaper was crinkled with moisture at the toilet's base. The poor bastard was literally ambushed at his most vulnerable moment.
The creature that had done Snow in was both comical and grotesque at the same time. It had large, Dumbo-like ears and a bulbous nose similar to an eggplant perched beneath watery egg-like eyes. Its limbs were elongated, with clown-sized feet and only four fingers on each hand. The thing was naked except for a modest loincloth wrapped around its nether regions, showing wrinkly, cracked skin that ranged up and down its body. To top it all off, twin horns poked out from its narrow skull.
When Murphy's flashlight rested on it, the creature paused in its feeding to see who had interrupted it. Effluvia dripped from its mouth, a small piece of intestines caught in its needlelike teeth, and upon seeing us, its eyes bulged out from their sockets. A gurgling sound erupted from its throat as it lost its attention on its meal and centered on us.
Suddenly, Murphy's penlight sputtered and died. Instinctively, I whipped the small collection of metal charms on my wrist, my shield bracelet, and channeled my will into it. A quarter-dome of blue transparent energy burst into being, bringing light back to the room. In the split second between the flashlight failing and my shield coming up, the creature had already launched itself across the bathroom at us.
The creature may have had a quick start, and I reacted with speeds born from experience, but Murphy trumped us both. She hadn't even needed the light to plug two into the creature's head while it was in mid-leap. With a wet splat, the now dead monster hit the shield and slid down to the floor in a boneless heap.
I overtly stared at Murphy. She caught me looking and shrugged. "Told you I wasn't a little girl to be patted on the head." See, this is why you don't mess with a women with multiple gold awards for shooting. She prodded the monster with her toe and, when it failed to react, Murphy holstered her gun. "Any idea what this thing is?"
I shook my head, bending over to further check the thing. "Not a clue. Never seen anything like it before. It's not turning into ectoplasm, though, so it's definitely not part of the Nevernever."
The Nevernever was an alternate reality next to our own where beings like the fae resided. To take shape in our reality, they gathered ectoplasm, their version of matter, and crafted a body for themselves to use. If a Nevernever creature died, the ectoplasm would lose its cohesion and simply melt away without the will and magical power needed to keep the temporary vessel together.
"Whatever this thing was, it's from our side."
Murphy grunted softly. "Great, so we got goblins running round the city now. Should be lots of fun trying to write this whole thing up." I thought to mention that, whatever these things were, they were far less of a danger than goblins, but chose to wisely keep my mouth zipped. Murphy sent an irate glance at me. "Thought you had better control over your magic than that. When you shorted my light, I nearly freaked."
I halted in my examination of the monster. "That wasn't me who messed with your penlight."
That earned me another stare. "That wasn't you?"
I shook my head slowly. "No, I would be able to sense if I was the one..." I trailed off as something occurred to me. Standing up, I walked over to the bathroom's light switch and flicked it on. Nothing happened. I could make out Murphy trying to get my attention but ignored her. If I was right about this...
I moved out of the bathroom and approached the TV. First I tried the remote and got no luck, then tried the unit directly and got the same result. I picked up the phone. Nothing, not even a dial tone. I stepped outside and looked down the row of apartments to the right. All of the lights were on. To the left, same thing. I looked up at the dead bulb and, using my freakish height, unscrewed the bulb and placed it next to my ear. Giving it a careful shake, I couldn't hear the tell-tale jingle of a broken filament.
"Stars and stones..." I muttered.
"What is it?" Murphy said, growing quiet at my actions.
I turned back around. "Nothing, just a thought. But if I'm right, our little friend might have the same kind of relationship with technology that I do."
"What, it's a technophobe?" she prodded.
"Haha," I said. An almost smile ghosted across Murphy's face at my sarcasm. "You know what I mean. It shorts out machinery, just like I do."
"Well, it's dead now, so I suppose it won't be blowing any more fuses for a while."
"I'm not so sure about that," I cautioned. Murphy looked at me skeptically but with an obvious interest in my warning. "Small creatures like that don't usually hunt alone. They're kinda like cockroaches – you see one, there are a dozen others you're not seeing. I'd be on the alert for a bunch of those things." Something occurred to me, a reminder of the conversations I'd had with others. "Say, Murph?"
"Did you happen to get a look at those 'strange' body parts on the plane?"
Her lips pursed together into a thin line. She glanced at me from the corner of her eyes warily and with deeper suspicion. "So you know about that too?" I nodded. Her lips dipped into a frown. "Yeah, they're almost a perfect match for that thing. Burned beyond belief, but the shape and proportions are too similar to ignore."
I laughed softly. "I'm gonna have to apologize to Susan for that. And here I thought that it'd be next to impossible for supernaturals to get on an airplane. Only question is how…"
While I sunk into my thoughts, Murphy trekked back into the bathroom, presumably to examine either the creature or Snow further. A few minutes passed before I heard her calling for me.
"What is it?"
"I want you to come take a look at this," she said. Her tone was firm and urgent, so I took it as a hint that she had found something interesting. When I arrived at her side, she held out three small travel-containers for shampoo, filled with a clear liquid. "What do you make of these?"
I took one of the bottles from her and popped the top. Immediately a whiff of ozone assaulted my senses, so I stretched my arm as far away from my face as possible. My eyes were watering and the back of throat felt scratchy. Whatever the concoction was, it was strong and I did not want to accidentally inhale anymore of it than I already had. "That is not shampoo," I choked out. "Where did you find this?"
"In a little travel bag stuffed under the sink," Murphy said. A small modicum of concern laced her eyes at my reaction, and she moved the two remaining bottles a little from her own body as a result. "That doesn't look like something any normal person would carry with their toiletries."
"It's not," I agreed. "Whatever Snow was into, it was not just an average day on the job. Do you have any info on him?"
Murphy placed the bottles back into the bag she'd left on the sink. "Not much. Man didn't have any credit cards, so we couldn't track him that way, and he hasn't held down a steady job for almost a year. According to the airlines, he had paid for his ticket with a money order, so we don't even have any leads on that. He did have a few misdemeanors, petty burglary and the like, but nothing that jumped out at us."
"So we have a non-descript man holding descript mysterious items and attacked by a very descript monster. Mr. Snow was hiding a lot, it seems." I studied the concoction for a moment before closing the cap. "Let me take one of the bottles. Maybe I can figure out what it is if your CSI guys can't."
Murphy thought for a moment before agreeing with me. "Fine, go do your voodoo. I'll stay here and wait until my colleagues from SI arrive. We should be able to write the whole incident off as a wild animal attack." She scoffed at her own words. I knew the feeling. 'Killed by a creature from your darkest nightmares' was hard to put down on a police report, so it was changed to 'rabid dog attack.' Sometimes I wondered how Murphy was able to juggle everything like she did. Girl would have balls of steel if it weren't for the whole gender thing.
"Sure you don't want me to wait?" It was shallow offer at best, but I felt the need to ask.
Murphy must have thought so as well. She scowled at me. "If you're here I have to worry about my phone going out, and then where'll I be? Besides…" She tapped where her gun was held in its holster and smirked softly when my eyes dashed to it and away. "I think I can take care of myself."
"Alright, alright," I said, putting my hands up in surrender. "I can take a hint when I hear one." Her smirk grew wider at that submission, obviously pleased she had beaten me. "There's only one last thing I need to ask."
"And what's that?" Damn, I wanted to wipe that smile off so bad.
"What was the cause of the plane crash in the first place?"
I got my wish. The smirk instantly disappeared. The corners of her mouth set into a neutral grimace, and her eyes hardened to the stony glint I was used to seeing when she was on duty. "The NTSB hasn't given out an official report yet, but they did release what was an initial cause of the plane's sudden dive." She closed her eyes.
"Mass electrical failure."
My workshop was located in the sub-basement of the apartment building I lived in. To get to it, you had to open a trapdoor that I hid underneath one of my mismatched rugs and climb down a ladder. Even with summer approaching, it was chilly in the room, so I made sure to grab my heavy flannel robe as extra insulation before climbing down.
With a snap of my fingertips and some pseudo-Latin words, I lit the array of candles located all about the room to spread some light. In the center of the room was my collection of beakers, Bunsen burners, and the like that I used to create my collection of potions. Next to it was a magical circle I'd been adding to and modifying bit by bit over the years. Along the walls of the room were shelves full of random objects, most of which were my potions' ingredients, but also included various research texts and scrolls I'd gathered over time. However, what I was searching for in particular was settled between an overstuffed taxidermy raven and a few harlot novels – a human skull.
Now don't think that I'm some kind of psychopath. There's a good reason I had an honest-to-goodness skeleton in my workshop. The skull might have been real, but it was actually a sort of hand-me-down from my accursed and former magic teacher, Justin DuMorne, and the real treasure was what resided inside.
"Bob, wake up, I've got a job for you."
At my words, orange light burst to life within the skull's eye sockets and then shrunk to pinpricks, focusing on me like normal human eyes would. The skull's jaw clacked noisily, creating quite the macabre sight.
"Yo, Harry, what request do you lay at the feet of this Lord Bob?" it said cheekily.
Bob was not actually a skull; he was a spirit of intellect that used the skull as a host to exist in the human world. Without it, he would be wiped from existence by sunlight thanks to its cleansing powers like many Nevernever creatures. As I mentioned, he used to belong to Justin, the man who tried to brainwash me into a magical soldier, and came into my possession after I dug him out of the charred remains of my destroyed home.
Bob obeyed whoever possessed his skull, so he was a valuable resource I was too paranoid to expose to anyone, lest I run the chance of someone getting greedy and trying to kidnap him. As a spirit of knowledge, he'd served many wizards over the years before coming to me, and functioned much like a magical encyclopedia, indexing thousands, if not millions, of potions, rituals, and the data on various supernatural creatures.
Thus why I was seeking his help.
"Bob, you don't have feet," I said. "And since when you have you been a lord?"
He huffed. "It's a figure of speech."
I cracked a grin. Bob screwed with me so often it was nice to get a shot in at him from time to time.
"Well then, oh great and mighty Bob," I said solemnly. I thought to give a sweeping bow but felt that was overdramatic. "This one needs some help identifying a creature and possible potion I came across today."
Bob seemed placated. He grumbled good-naturedly, his eye flames flaring slightly. "Ooh, from the same place? That's neat. Speaking of neat…" If he had the muscles and skin to make it, I'm sure I would've been receiving the most lascivious and lecherous grin possible. "When are you going to invite that hot mamacita of yours back down here? I was getting a great show last time before you whooshed out."
He was also a perverted imp who had way too much interest in sex than a pure spirit, lacking any form of sexual organs or desires, should have. I knew that Bob's core personality altered itself depending on who his current owner was, but I didn't recall being unable to keep it in my pants for more than a few minutes. Well, not since I was still a teen and my hormones wouldn't stop flying in the face of logic.
"Never, if I can help it," I grumbled heatedly. "Susan catches even the slightest sniff that you're more than a gruesome decoration and I'll never hear the end of it." Susan was a great gal, but much too inquisitive for her own good. I could definitely see her 'borrow' Bob to get a scoop and that had all kinds of messes attached to it. "Besides, didn't I just get you a new novel recently?"
"Bah, I already finished it. The storyline was good but there wasn't nearly enough smut. Next time, get me one that has less character development and more characters stripping."
I rolled my eyes. "I'll see what I can do." Frankly it was embarrassing as hell to have to look a young co-ed in the eye while buying Bob's written porn, but it was a small price to pay to keep on his good side. I could've just ordered him to do what I wanted, but the concept really rubbed me the wrong way. If I wasn't going to be pushed around by my superiors, there was no way I would do the same to someone else. "Now, the identification?"
"Bring it here. But since I'm doing you a twofer, you have to give me one, too. I'm feeling like Mexican this time." I could almost see him winking.
I resisted the urge to smack Bob and damage the skull for that double entendre, and proceeded to list all the characteristics of the creature I'd come across, as well as the details of the plane crash, and let him look at the liquid I had procured. Bob took in all my facts and was quiet while he processed the info. A few minutes later and he responded.
"Sounds like you've got yourself a gremlin infestation."
"Gremlins destroyed the plane?" I snorted. "Should I be keeping an eye out for Rod Serling?"
"I prefer Bugs Bunny," Bob said. "But really, from what you told me, these are all the tell-tale signs of gremlins. You know those tales of WWII fighter pilots having their planes develop sudden engine troubles and then blaming them on gremlins? Yeah, that part was actually not just an old wives' tale. Gremlins aren't very bright, but they're attracted to machinery of any kind, and know how to physically dismantle any kind of tech they come across. They often take out any lights or power sources to give themselves a better avenue of attack. There have even been reports of them affecting tech like magic users can, though the effect is greatly diminished in their case."
"So they're attracted to technology," I mused. "But why would they wreck a plane they were on? They're not dumb enough to crash something that they're knowledgeable about, right? Especially when it can kill them."
"Most gremlins, yeah," Bob continued. "But what about those that were stuck on the plane without realizing it?"
I perked up at that. "What do you mean?"
"That liquid you had? The one you found on the guy's body? It's a soporific, tailored for supernatural creatures. Think of it as chloroform for monsters. One whiff of that and anything would be knocked out for a long time."
"But why would Snow have brought them on the plane in the first place?"
"Thing is, gremlins have a whole lotta magical energy in their bodies. It's enmeshed in every part of them – their muscles, bones, skin, hair, and especially organs. Gremlin body parts are very good ingredients for potion making or ritual preparation. Pound for pound, the only thing that's more potent is dragons, and gremlins are less likely to fricassee and enjoy you with ketchup. The things are worth a fortune to the right buyer."
Something hot flared up in the back of my mind. "So, Snow was smuggling live gremlins to sell on the sorcerer black market, and he used the soporific to keep them docile during the plane flight?" There was a thriving magical underground in Chicago, so it wouldn't be too surprising to find these kinds of back-door dealings taking place.
"Yeah, the gremlins needed to be kept alive. No life, no magic. However, the guy must've been a rank amateur when it came to potion making. You need a precise amount to keep supernatural beings under, what-with their screwed up metabolism. This stuff wouldn't even knock out a baby gremlin for long, let alone a full-grown one."
So it all came clear. Snow had tried to use the plane to transport his illicit goods to Chicago to sell them. He must have been a minor talent with little-to-no power at best if he was comfortable enough to ride a plane. However, he hadn't taken the proper precautions, and the gremlins escaped, bringing down the plane as revenge or in confusion. Snow had killed almost a hundred people for petty greed, and had almost gotten away with it. Now he himself was dead at the hands of his own 'merchandise.' Sometimes karma really was a bitch.
Anger boiled inside of me. Magic was a gift, a form of life that grew inside everyone yet only a few could control or even manifest. It was something to be cherished, to be treasured, and Snow had used it to make a few quick bucks. If the man wasn't dead and bound for an autopsy slab, I would've liked to get a good slug in. I even would have taken the night in the tank for it.
Anyone who betrayed the beauty of magic like that deserved nothing less.
I pushed the rage that was percolating deep down and tried to calm myself. There was no point in getting angry. Snow was dead, and once I contacted Murphy and explained everything, I'm sure the whole deal would be wrapped up quickly. It was too bad about the little girl, though. To see your family killed before your eyes because of one man's ambition was something I could somewhat relate to. At least I could do my best to try and find her remaining folks for her.
"Thanks for the help, Bob. I'll get your novels next time I go shopping."
"Harry, before you leave!" Bob called. I stopped, one foot on the ladder, and glanced back at him. "You should know that by themselves, gremlins aren't that dangerous. That guy only got caught because he was found with his pants down." I had to resist the urge to smack him again. Really, Bob used my personality as a template for his, but was my sense of humor that corny? "You should expect a lot more of those things to be around. Probably got reinforcements from around Chicago as well. You find those suckers anywhere there's sophisticated-enough tech. Which made that dude a double-amateur 'cause he could've just grabbed them off the street instead of going through all the trouble of transporting them on the plane."
"I know, that's why I have Murphy on the lookout for them."
"Well, no, that's not the problem," Bob insisted. "Gremlins are really anal when it comes to people spotting them. If someone does, they'll do everything in their power to find and wipe them out. It's almost a form of OCD for them."
I did not like where this explanation was going. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Didn't you say there was a survivor who mentioned seeing them? If they're still alive, the remaining gremlins are gonna go after them with all they got." Bob's eye flames narrowed, as if in thought. "Yeah, probably looking at a good few dozen of the things crawling the streets looking for her."
I could feel the color draining from my cheeks. Gremlins were going to hunt down a small girl who was sedated into a helpless state in a hospital. The same hospital where there were lots of important, life-sustaining equipment. The same gremlins that actively sought equipment to destroy. I could barely hear Bob demanding I get his novels as I rushed up the stairs and to my phone.
Slamming the buttons, I waited frantically as the phone dialed. "C'mon, Murph, pick up…Pick up the phone…" A few excruciating seconds later, Murphy finally picked up, and I didn't even give her a chance to greet me before yelling. "Murphy, they're going after the girl!"
"What?" Her dazed reaction was not what I was looking for.
"The gremlins, the creatures! They're going after the other survivor of the plane crash! You have to get SI over to Northwestern Memorial now!"
"Dresden, what are you-"
I didn't give any more explanation before throwing the receiver down. I didn't have any more time to spare to tell her what was going on. Knowing Murphy, she would take my words at face value and bring the entire strength of SI to my aid. But until then, I had to run interference and damage control.
Luckily, my staff and blasting rod were propped right next to the door, so I didn't have to waste time looking for them before rushing out the front door, not even bothering to lock up. I jumped into the Blue Beetle, starting it up with a splutter of darkened smoke. Hopefully it would last me till the hospital. If not, I would just have to run the rest of the way.
I arrived at the hospital just as the lights went out.
I stomped on the brakes, skidding the Blue Beetle into the hospital's drop-off zone and leaving skid marks a mile long in the process. When I finally came to a stop, the Beetle lost its last leg and died with a whiny grind. The hood flung open and smoke started to pour out in thick plumes. I would have to get a tow-truck later, but now wasn't the time. Leaving the car in the middle of the driveway, I jumped out the door and ran to the entrance, nearly yanking the door of its hinges in the process.
The front desk receptionist looked up at me in shock from her call on the intercom. The main lights were out, but the backup generator had kicked into effect, illuminating the room with a dim glow. The receptionist's eyes widened, as I must've been quite the site to see with my staff in hand and duster billowing out behind me, but she kept her composure as I approached the desk.
"Can I help you, sir? We're in a bit of a-"
"Where's the children's ward?" I interrupted.
She looked at me funny, but pointed at the hallway to the right. "It's down the east wing on the second floor. But, sir, we're having electrical problems, so I can't allow you to go there right now."
I ignored her, rushing down the hallway to the stairs. Her shouted demands that I come back fell on deaf ears. She was probably going to call security on me, but I actually relished the thought. Men with guns sounded like a relief if I was to deal with dozens of gremlins in the next few minutes. With that many creatures, it didn't matter how well they tried to hide - they were going to be found out by someone.
I soon made it to the children's ward. There was an on-duty nurse scanning through the computer system, most likely making sure everything was backed up, so I altered my path to meet her. Upon hearing me come near, she looked up and gave a small 'eep' at my no doubt frightening visage.
"I need to know where Makoto Kino's room is now!" I shouted, scaring her further.
She took a step back at my harsh tone but forged forward. "Are you a relative? Visiting hours are discontinued until-"
"Look, I don't have time for this!" I cut her off again. "I need to see her right now!"
"Sir, I'm sorry, but I-"
She gave a small shriek of fear when I pounded on the desk with both hands. My face was twisted into a snarl, my eyebrows furrowed and teeth slightly shown. "Hell's bells, just tell me where she is!"
"S-sir, if you don't calm down and leave, I-I'll have to call security..."
"Great! Fine! Do that! I'd appreciate it! In fact, the front desk probably already did!"
The nurse blubbered, fear taking over her senses. "Please don't hurt me. I'll do whatever you want."
I took a deep breath to calm myself. This wasn't getting me anywhere. "Look, I've got a little girl in danger, and unless I can get to her, some mean people are going to hurt her. Now, are you going to help me, or am I going to have to run through the hospital like a headless chicken until I find her?"
The woman nodded shakily and tapped the keyboard. Within a few seconds, she found what I was looking for. "Room 255, in the A wing."
I gave a deep sigh of relief. "Thank you." With that, I ran off, my long legs making it easy to cover the distance. People jumped out of my way as I galloped down the hall, running past two more stations before reaching the A wing.
I'd rounded in the corridor before I heard the screaming begin. It was loud, high-pitched, and absolutely terrified. The lights and all electronic equipment in the vicinity flickered and died in either a cascade of sparks or noiseless whine. That same guttural gurgling noise the gremlin had made in the motel bathroom followed soon after and grew in volume and frequency. My pace picked up, and I dove into the new station. What awaited me was pure chaos.
Hospital staff was escorting whatever patients they could get out of the station as fast as they could. Those that weren't were wielding impromptu weapons against the gremlins wantonly attacking anybody in their reach. Several of the staff were injured, long gashes spread across their limbs, and a half-dozen others were knocked unconscious from the sudden blitzkrieg.
One perpetrator of the mayhem was a gremlin narrowing in on a young man in scrubs. The intern was pushing himself against the wall to try and escape, holding a messily torn arm wrapped awkwardly with a smock to staunch the flow of blood, in his other hand. The gremlin was grinning nastily in the way only a predator staring down its prey could do.
I would have none of that. Pulling my trusty Smith and Wesson .38 Chief's Special revolver out, I took aim. "Hey, ugly." The gremlin's ears perked up at my voice and turned around to face me. Saliva dripped from its mouth, its piggy eyes bulging out. I grinned, my mouth taking the same nasty form as its. "Visiting hours are over."
There was no fancy shot for me. I was not Murphy, so no headshots. Center mass, pull the switch. The gremlin went down with a loud squelch and gurgling screech. Its limbs thrashed around erratically and it tried to get back up, so I took the precaution of walking up and putting another bullet through its head.
The gunshot drew the attention of everyone and everything in the room. The hospital staff and patients glanced hopefully at me, saw I had taken down one of the monsters, and doubled their efforts to drag out the injured. The gremlins, on the other hand, had much less benign intents for me. They formed a rough hunting circle and launched themselves at me.
Two fell to my gun, but the next one dodged too far into my space to shoot accurately. So I did the next best thing.
I punched it.
Upon making contacted, I activated the ring on my middle finger and unleashed all the power it had stored up. It was a crafted item that slowly siphoned off the kinetic force I generated by swinging my arms as I walked. These things had pissed me off by attacking a hospital and harming the staff and patients, so I had no qualms about unleashing everything.
An impact akin to a semi-trailer going at 60 mph crashed into the gremlin. I could feel the creature's bones shattering under my strike as it was literally lifted off the ground to smash into the opposing wall.
Two more gremlins jumped at me from the ceiling. Wielding my staff like a bat, I gave a shout of, "Forazare!" and hit them with another, wider blast of kinetic force. The magic blast sent them back into the ceiling and straight through the cheap drywall tiles. Dust sprinkled down onto me.
Something shrieked behind me, and I turned around to see a gremlin had nearly clawed its way through my duster while I was distracted. Its sneak-attack was thwarted by the fireman's axe lodged in its chest. I smiled grimly at the shaking intern with the bleeding arm. He smiled nervously back at me before losing it and vomiting onto the still-twitching carcass.
I rubbed him on the back as he continued to empty his stomach. Kid must've been running on pure adrenaline if he was ignoring his injury like that. "You're okay. You're going to be fine," I assured him.
"They just came out of nowhere," he said, spitting a little. "Just a ton of them attacking us as soon as the lights went out."
"Where are the rest of them?"
"They..." He took a deep breath and shuddered, his eyelids fluttering open and shut. "They went down the hall, towards the patients' rooms."
I was afraid of that. "Everything's going to be okay. Security'll be here in a bit." He nodded, and relaxed backwards. Another staff member caught him and helped him up, using her shoulder as a crutch. Content with his present safety, I got up and went into the hallway to continue my trip.
My march through the wing continued, fending off gremlins that tried to sneak attack me or knocking them off targets. I could see the kid's room in the distance, outlined by flashes of light and the girl's horrified screams for help. A few doors down from room 255, I was disheartened to see Jameson slumped against the wall. He was holding a towel to his neck, where a large gash was already soaking through the material. Next to him was a gremlin with its head caved in, a wrench buried in its skull.
Jameson's lips formed into a thin neutral line, his version of a smile "Was wondering when you'd get here, Dresden."
"Doc!" I rushed to the man's side. "Are you alright?"
"I'll be fine," he waved me off. "Little bastard just missed nicking my carotid artery. Should be safe as long as I get a blood transfusion in time."
The gremlin might not have hit a major blood vessel, but Jameson was going to bleed out long before he could get someone to transfer blood into him. "You quack, you were trying to fight them off, weren't you? What were you thinking?"
"Was thinking I wouldn't let them near my patients," he grunted weakly. "Took an oath to protect them, and god willing, I will." He coughed, small flecks of blood catching on his lips. "You looking for the girl? She's in her room. Some of the monsters got by me, so you have to hurry."
I almost argued with him but the look he gave brooked no such thing. I bit my lip, and his lips formed into full-blown, yet still restrained, smile. "Good boy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm feeling tired." He slumped forward, falling unconscious. I nearly yelled at him to wake up, but saw that he was still breathing, if shallowly.
I could worry about Jameson later. I had a little girl that needed saving. Pulling myself together, I dashed to the door and made to open it when I was nearly flung backwards by the door itself. The door burst off its hinges and hurtled into the wall, a gremlin pinned to it by a lightning bolt.
I blinked at the sudden event. Craning my neck to look inside, I jumped and quickly brought up my shield to block another round of lightning bolts that struck out at me. I wasn't fried, though the shock numbed my hands and the burst of energy knocked me off my feet. As I struggled to keep my hand up to steady my shield, my eyes focused on the scene in front of me. I was shocked in more ways than one.
Makoto was curled into a ball, her broken arm being used as a desperate barrier to protect her from the gremlins that had made it to her room. However, there was no need for such a thing, useless as it was.
Arcs of lightning struck outward from her body, seeking out the monsters that jumped around her room, trying to escape the fate of electrocution. Her screams were shrill and unending, and each new pitch crafted another spark from nothing to chase down the gremlins that weren't already dead. From the looks of it, she'd already taken down the majority of them and was cleaning up the scant remainder.
Tears filled and ran from her brilliant green eyes, and as the lightning born from her magic lit up the room, she stared at me, pleading to be rescued from this nightmare. As if sensing her thoughts, several of the bolts coalesced into a single large one before battering against my shield. The electricity, regardless of how much my shield dampened it, coursed through hands and made them go completely numb. My shield dropped and I collided with the wall behind me.
Too stunned to react in a coherent manner, all I could do was stare ahead at the little mage that couldn't have been ten, when most others only came into their powers years later. Our eyes met.
I saw her.
People say that the eyes are the windows to a person's soul. If only they realized just how true that was, they wouldn't think of it as just romantic drivel.
Wizards have something called a soulgaze. When we lock eyes with someone with a soul, we're looking inside the person. I mean deep into the very core of their being. We see into their spirit, into their soul. We see their fears, their hopes, their desires. We see what they are and what they believe in. We see how they view themselves and how they view others. Past all defenses, all deceits, and all barriers – we see them, as they truly are.
And when we look into them, they also look into us. How Nietzsche.
This wasn't my first soulgaze, not by a long shot, but it was certainly the one that had the most impact on me. With a soulgaze you see everything, and you forget nothing. I'd never soulgazed a child before. Frankly, I never wanted to. No kid deserved to see something that had made Susan faint like when we'd first met.
But I saw her.
When I saw into a person's most secret self, I usually experience it as a sort of place, a metaphor for their life and personality. Makoto Kino was no different. Her soulspace was that of a quaint apartment, no doubt the one belonging to her family. The apartment was warm and friendly, with wide open spaces and tasteful furniture all around. The kitchen was stocked with an array of cooking utensils and ingredients, and everything was carefully organized and maintained.
Vases of flowers were placed at random intervals, the bursts of color only adding to the loving condition of the room, and I couldn't help but smell various fragrances overlapping each in a welcoming medley. There were plenty of framed pictures hung on the walls as well, various photos of the family at different outings or varying places, but every single one had the same thing in it - all three of the family members were smiling.
There was no other way to describe the place. This was a happy home. However, something dark lingered in the corners of the room, shadows that clung together. They formed into amorphous blobs of darkness, rising up to feast on the plants and other mementos of happier days. It was obvious what they represented - the monsters that had taken the lives of her parents.
As the shades continued their feast, static filled the air, growing until it made a single lightning bolt that cracked against the balcony door, flinging it open and revealing the dusk skyline to me. The light from outside vanquished the shadows, disintegrating them into dust.
What I saw wasn't the sun creeping over the horizon.
Jupiter filled the sky, looming over me like a guardian force. I could see the great red spot on the planet, the never ending thunderstorm that was the size of the earth. I could feel something calling to me, reaching for something deep within myself, but not quite touching. It was asking, pleading something of me, and if I could just listen, open myself up, I could...
I rocked back to reality. The soulgaze hadn't taken a second, and yet in that moment everything was over. The lightning that was crackling from the kid's body ceased, having killed all the gremlins that were in the room. She looked at me, his eyes wide with shock. She unsteadily crawled forward on the bed, ignoring her broken arm, until she was perched at its foot. She looked at me intensely, like she was weighing and measuring me.
For a moment she did nothing, but then she sat down. A small smile crawled its way across her face, inching bit by bit until it was all she was wearing. Her mouth moved, forming a word in a language I did not understand. But I understood the meaning. It would be hard not to.
I had not been found wanting.
Murphy walked into the room not even a half-hour later. Picking her way over the pile of dead gremlin bodies, she approached me carefully, keeping an eye on the sleeping form of Makoto. She looked at me and down at the way my hand was tenderly wrapped around the young girl's. Murphy raised an eye at that, but I could only shrug helplessly. The kid had refused to let go even after she finally fell asleep from exhaustion, and I wasn't mean enough to deprive her of that small comfort.
Murphy put a hand to her forehead. "I'm guessing everything's been resolved."
"Yeah," I said quietly so as not to wake up the kid. "All the gremlins are dead, or at least they should be. There might still be one or two lurking around, but the majority of them are long gone." I frowned, remembering. "How's doctor Jameson? I saw some of the security folk carry him off, but I don't know his status."
A small sardonic smile came to Murphy's face. "Ah, the guy who took out a gremlin with a metal rod? He should be fine. Medical emergency said he's in a stable condition, but he'll be bedridden for a long time to come after losing that much blood. He was this close to going into shock because of it." She crossed her arms and gained a pensive expression. "Would have been a real loss, too. A doctor that would risk his life for his patients is a damn miracle."
I let loose a sigh of relief. "That's great. Really, that's...great."
Murphy nodded and scanned the room. A scowl crossed her face and she asked into a mock-lecturing tone, "Did you have to go all out here? The amount of collateral damage is ridiculous. I thought you were always claiming you weren't the one that set the building on fire. Looks like you did a great job of that here."
I assumed she was talking about all the scorch marks and shattered pieces of plastic and metal that used to be vitals scanners and the like. I screwed my mouth to the side and snorted. "Actually, that wasn't me this time." Murphy gave me a disbelieving stare. Couldn't blame her, things did tend to immolate around me. However, I hadn't even used fire magic this time because of all the bystanders, so I wasn't going to be the one to take the blame.
I pointed my free hand at Makoto. "You can write her up for vandalism. I'm innocent."
Murphy's eyebrows raised at that. "Her? She was the one who did all this?"
"Yup," I said. "Pretty potent lightning magic, too. She'll be quite the electromancer when she grows up and learns how to use it."
"So, what are you going to do with her? Hand her off to her relatives?"
I didn't know how to answer that. If she had just been a normal girl, I would've shipped her off to her closest living relatives, no problem. But now that I knew she could wield magic, powerful magic, that was a something else altogether.
I'm considered a brute in the magical community, someone with all power and no finesse. Even so, I'm still one of the top tiers. But when I got hit by the kid's lightning, it cracked through my shield like it was an egg. Sure, it may have taken a few tries, but anyone with that kind of power was a force to be reckoned with.
I couldn't just drop her off with vanilla mortals and wash my hands of it. It was my responsibility to make sure she knew what her powers meant and what that held in store for her. But that also meant finding someone to act as her mentor, and I didn't feel comfortable shoving her into a situation that would cut her off from possible loved ones just because I was afraid of what she could do without guidance.
She was only a child. Forcing her into such a position would only cause her to grow resentment towards those that had stifled and stolen away her childhood. That could cause a chain of events that would be just as perilous as if I'd just left her alone to hammer out her magic for herself. I had to find someone willing to teach her and also willing to care for her in the same way a family would.
This was not going to be easy, so what was I going to do? I suppose it'd possible to...But no, that was just silly. I wasn't the ideal person to-
"Dresden, did you hear me?" Murphy asked, breaking me from my musings. "What are you going to do with her?"
I looked at Murphy, and then back at Makoto. Slowly but surely, an idea bubbled up in my mind. It was stupid. Stars and stones, it was stupid, but if the situation came down to it, it was my best bet.
And I wasn't one to go back on my decisions.
A small smile grew on my face. I squeezed Makoto's hands, and even in her sleep, she squeezed mine right back.
"What am I going to do indeed?"
A/N: First chapter/chapter zero/prologue get! Been a while since I last wrote, and I can't believe it took me this long to actually get in the groove of things again. As you've noticed, I've crept my way into the Dresden community, so here's hoping I don't screw it up too much. As for the concept for the crossover, it was basically a common bulltalk between me and Raithe about what could easily cross over with Dresden. One of us mentioned Sailor Moon, and the idea of Harry having to deal with pre-teen girls in sailor outfits and using every tiresome hero cliche in the book was too good to pass up.
We're both working on this project together. Me with the basic plot and writing, him with the chapter storyboards and editing. Also, he won't stop looming over me to make sure I lose interest after the third chapter. Which is ironic because-
*Irritus is dragged off with an ether rag over his mouth*