I speared him into place with my most ferocious, dark-eyed smile and said, between teeth clenched
on the leather sack, “Hi. Could you tell us where the nursery is?”
We took the fire stairs.
Yup. We did just completely skip over how they managed to convince anyone to let them through after charging in like they were LARPers who’d finally lost the last vestiges of sanity.
But hey, it’s magic time! Let’s find out what Harry’s bringing to the table today.
fumbled a white candle from my duster pocket, along with a box of matches. I had to set my rod and staff aside to light the candle.
So as we’ve discussed before – Harry wrecks lightbulbs, but those are actually relatively old. They’re actually developed in parallel with the safety match and before the paraffin wax candle, which suggests that either Harry has to use half that box to light the candle and it could go out again any second or he’s somehow got his hands on white phosphorous matches and a white-ish tallow candle. Same issue for the elevator he’s not taking right now – the safety brake on elevators was invented in 1852, with elevators in general existing back far longer.
And really, what a missed opportunity it is to not have him fucking about with tallow and reeds for his lighting, or forced to rely on his partner for all the physical components of whatever ritual.
One of the points of tension in urban fantasy is how modern advancement changes our toolkit. Using candles for magic was a much bigger deal when they were expensive pieces of sputtery crap. It could be quite interesting if, although the average muggle can’t put power into spells, they can do anything with components better than a wizard because they can take advantage of all our modern innovations. Maybe the ideal ghost-hunting team is actually a bunch of ordinary humans, but since they don’t have magic cheaty defenses, they’re squishier than a wizard would be so there’s not many experienced groups around. They’re practically defenseless on their own, but with fast reaction times they can lock down any ghost, fairy, or demon – good luck getting two layers of trick candles to go out!
Candle in one hand, rod and staff in the other
…so if you could just do that, why were you putting your mouth on your sack this whole time?
The long, luminescent tubes flickered feebly, as though they had all gone stale at once, and the hall was only dimly lit. Long shadows stretched out from a wheelchair parked to the side of one door and gathered beneath a row of uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs at an intersection of hallways. The fourth floor was a graveyard, bottom-of-the-well silent. There wasn’t a flicker of sound from a television or radio. No intercoms buzzed. No air conditioning whirred. Nothing.
Given this all sounds like exactly what Harry usually does to tech by walking by, how does he even know what non-stale lighting looks like? Why isn’t he familiar with there being no sound from all the electronic equipment, especially when he also spends most of his time at his home or office where there’s naturally none at all?
We walked down a long hall, our steps sounding out clearly despite an effort to remain quiet.
It’s…it’s not that hard, you guys. Okay, Mr. Steel-Toed Boots there, but even he should be able to walk more on his heel. You can cut most of the sound by angling your foot to the side so that you aren’t getting that slapping sound of trapping air under your feet. I would think when being able to sneak up on things became life or death, you’d have put a little more effort into learning how to walk properly!
They see a sign pointing to the maternity ward, suggesting they may not have actually got directions but are just running in the general direction Harry saw on the map after throwing down a smoke bomb or something to distract that guy they asked.
The lights weren’t just flickering here—they were altogether gone. It was entirely dark. Shadows and uncertain shapes loomed everywhere. I took a step forward, past Michael, and as I did the flame of my candle burned down to a cold, clear pinpoint of blue light.
Really can’t overemphasize how this is Harry’s natural effect on technology. Even the candle, that’s probably just him fucking up the chemical makeup of the wax or wick. Don’t be such a cheap bastard and spring for beeswax next time, Harry.
Harry desperately tries to insist I take the candle thing seriously and that flames dying means ghost and the more dramatic the more powerful.
He shows it to his sword buddy, who responds by pulling his sword out and the air fairly thrummed with its power—Michael’s own faith, amplified a thousandfold. You know, Harry, maybe just like get married or whatever, you don’t want his faith shaken by seeing you happy outside of holy matrimony.
Michael also asks where the nurses are.
“Spooked off, maybe,” I answered, as quietly. “Or maybe some sort of glamour. At least they’re out of the way.” he says, not bothering to actually check if they’re gone or lying on the floor dying just out of sight. Whatever, right? BABIES NEED SAVING!
I glanced at the sword, and at the long, slender spike of metal set into its cross guard. Perhaps it was
only my imagination, but I thought I could see flecks of red still upon it. Probably rust, I reasoned.
This is such a beautifully gentle hint it’s a nail from the true cross that I almost feel bad about mocking the fact Harry doesn’t know that blood doesn’t stay red for two millennia.
Though conversely, I’m not sure how they kept a nail around if they’ve done nothing to protect it from rust all this time.
Anyway, they’re here for the ghost of Agatha Hagglethorn and really people, you name your kid Agatha Hagglethorn and you’re just asking for something like this to happen.
Harry says he should go first, Michael points out he’s the dude with the sword, Harry says yes exactly, the ghost will feel you coming with your ghost-killing weapon, let me try to sneak up and…somehow oneshot it myself through pure magical force because I’m a sue who has enough power that’s a possible turn of events.
So he heads into the dark room.
I couldn’t see—but I’m not a wizard for nothing. I thought of the pentacle upon my breast, over my heart, the silver amulet that I had inherited from my mother. It was a battered piece of jewelry, scarred and dented from uses for which it was never intended, but I wore it still. The five-sided star within the circle was the symbol of my magic, of what I believed in, embodying the five forces of the universe working in harmony, contained inside of human control.
I focused on it, and slid a little of my will into it, and the amulet began to glow with a gentle, bluesilver light
Yes. Wizard Harry considers his various options and decides “incidental side effect light from activating a faith powered charm that incidentally is Satanic and may shake the faith of the guy whose only fucking thing is his faith” is how he should deal with the problem of darkness.
Also how the FUCK does he still have that. He supercharged it and sent it flying through a werewolf who then lit on fire and got shot a bunch more times and then transformed back with it still in the center of his chest. I thought it was something where he had to give up a precious object because he needed it in that moment, but no, apparently despite the fact silver would’ve been destroyed just by step one of getting smashed through somebody, it made it out “dented”. I guess he’s still fine for the next dozen werewolves!
Anyway, in this light (powered by faith that will be totally irrelevant in the upcoming battle despite Harry being able to weaponize it fine in the first book) he sees that nope, nurses are actually totally still there, but no worries, they’re still breathing. Harry’s sure of it despite how hard it is to tell that at a distance and despite his track record of not actually trying very hard at his job.
They were out, they weren’t going anywhere, and there was little sense in wasting time or energy in trying to break the spell’s hold on them.
You see what I mean.
He makes his way to where the babies are and the singing ghost also is.
Agatha Hagglethorn had not been old when she died. She wore a proper, high-necked shirt, as was appropriate to a lady of her station in nineteenth-century Chicago, and a long, dark, no-nonsense skirt. I could see through her, to the little crib behind her, but other than that she seemed solid, real. Her face was pretty, in a strained, bony sort of way, and she had her right hand folded over the stump at the end of her left wrist.
So yeah, Harry would still fuck that. She may be dead, but she died young enough for a pretty corpse and that makes it okay.
He explains that her singing will make it so everyone dies in their sleep.
the authorities would blame it on carbon monoxide, or something a little more comfortably normal than a hostile ghost.
I’ve been complaining about the idea that humans don’t want to know about magic for two books, so let’s step over to the related topic that Butcher apparently has no idea unsolved mysteries exist.
Does he not realize people have conspiracy theories every time there’s a mysterious carbon monoxide leak? That people desperately want there to be more to this world than random chance and unfeeling chemistry?
I mean – I’ve complained about Harry Potter’s worldbuilding, but christ, at least when they cover up magical disasters as “gas leaks”, it’s a conspiracy working to keep people from finding out the truth, not the people themselves shrugging and picking the lie because they want it. Harry Potter’s world admits humans love the idea of magic and the only reason for it to be secret is if a small body of extremely powerful people spend a huge amount of their resources keeping it that way.
If ghost murders are blamed on carbon monoxide, it’s because someone powerful benefits by keeping average people in the dark.
Harry goes on to say he’s got enough ghost dust to pin down Agatha and a dozen spooks like her so apparently the candle was solely to tell she was here despite the fact that also she created a dead zone of total darkness filled with magically sleeping people who she’s loudly singing to while walking around in plain sight. On the brighter side, at least this means Harry isn’t able to kill a ghost himself. The idea is for him to go first, chuck the binding dust on her, then let Michael stab her…which just raises the new question of why, if Harry’s job in this partnership is to pin the ghost for stabbing, Michael suggested he go first at all.
Also he goes on to say the ghost isn’t even paying attention to him so all the sneaking wasn’t necessary, and that this is how ghosts always act.
ghosts aren’t terribly observant. I guess being dead gives you a whole different perspective on life.
I licked my lips and watched the ghost as it stooped over one of the rolling cradles. She smiled, loving-kindness in her eyes, and breathed out her song over the baby. The infant shuddered out a tiny breath, eyes closed in sleep, and did not inhale.
But hey, this is cool. So the ghosts are intersecting with our reality but evidently aren’t seeing the same things we are, or else are so far gone from who they were to know what they’re seeing.
He says that furthermore, Ghosts don’t have to play by the rules of reality, and until they acknowledge that you’re there, it’s tough, very, very tough, to affect them at all. Confrontation is the only way, and even then, knowing the shade’s identity and speaking its name aloud is the only sure way to make it face you. And, better and better, most spirits can’t hear just anyone—it takes magic to make a direct call to the hereafter.
First part is cool, but then we’re getting a string of specialness that ends with only Harry can do anything.
The idea that to harm something, you first have to make yourself visible and vulnerable to it – that’s just great! That’s the sort of thing that’s so great about magic, reality being built around how we think about things. If ghosts are scary, how fitting is it that dealing with them means exposing yourself and giving up all possible advantage?
Second part is the names business, which is certainly common with ghosts and a decent way to make research important, but rather limits your options if you’re running into the ghost when not already prepared. It’s one thing not to be able to banish it, it’s another to have to just stand around watching the ghost murder babies because you don’t have the right name and the ghost doesn’t even realize you’re there. (Also it’s rather undermined when Harry doesn’t research or otherwise earn this, he just knows everything because the rapist skull told him.)
Third part is just a reminder that you, muggle reader, can never do jack shit. Not only is Harry the only one who can fight the bad guys, he’s the only one who can even interact with the world.
Anyway, Harry does the attention thing using the magic thing because he’s better than you, and we discover the ghost thinks she’s in her nursery, with her single child, and really, what is she seeing?
Benson sent you, didn’t he? Benson is always doing something cruel and petty like this, then calling me a madwoman. A madwoman! He wants to take my child away.”
I wonder if the author has any historical context for this or if he’s just repeating stuff he vaguely remembers from cheatsheets and pop osmosis.
Harry explains that no, everyone’s dead.
The spirit looked at me with an expression of lost, lonely confusion. This was the hard part about dealing with really substantial, dangerous ghosts. They were almost human. They appeared to be able to feel emotion, to have some degree of self-awareness. Ghosts aren’t alive, not really—they’re a footprint in stone, a fossilized skeleton. They are shaped like the original, but they aren’t it.
Even giving Harry the benefit of doubt and assuming he has on good authority that the human soul exists and always moves on rather than being stuck as a ghost…he’s still sounding like a dick. Does it matter all that much if this is the same person or a creature born from that, really? It certainly seems to be as smart as a human, just confused and/or hallucinating, and clearly it has the memories of a human. And it can react to information beyond the scope of the original – the original Agatha was never told that she’s a ghost and everyone involved has already died, but this creature is able to understand that and react to it the way a person might. Harry himself admits the thing he’s talking to is self-aware. This is one flexible fossil.
But I’m a sucker for a lady in distress.
Oh god Harry. First you say it’s not a person and then you say the fact it has a pretty face is all that matters.
I always have been. It’s a weak point in my character, a streak of chivalry a mile wide and twice as deep.
A vast gaping pit is admittedly a good metaphor for it.
You know what’s most annoying? This:
I saw the hurt and the loneliness on the ghost-Agatha’s face, and felt it strike a sympathetic chord in me.
Why couldn’t he have just said this? Why did he have to explain women are a separate special species first? Why can’t he just feel sympathy? Why can’t it be a moment of connection rather than requiring him to first evaluate her for bangability? And the whole “sucker” thing he always does, like women are just manipulating him by being sad and taking advantage of it deliberately!
Anyway, he explains that sometimes, if you calmly explain what’s happening, ghosts will peacefully dissolve away.
Harry tries telling her that no really, she’s dead, and she does into denial and starts singing again to drown him out. Somehow this time it’s not enchanted, despite Harry at the same time saying the enchantment before was an unconscious act of destruction so who the hell knows why this is happening. Either way, the girl she was singing to originally is slowly suffocating.
For some reason, despite the fact he switched from Plan Ghost Powder to Plan Explain on the basis that he was trying to be nice and that she might be willing to listen, the fact she doesn’t want to listen and he’s going to have to start saying upsetting things isn’t important and he insists on continuing Plan Explain, because only good things will come of making her remember about how her husband beat her so badly she accidentally suffocated her baby trying to keep her quiet so he wouldn’t beat the baby too.
(Also yes, by extension, this does suggest her “pretty face” is sporting a shiner or three. But Harry made it clear battered wives is exactly what he’s into back in the first book, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.)
I felt like such a bastard to be going over the woman’s past so coldly. Ghost or not, the pain on her face was real.
Nobody’s forcing you to do this you asshole!
“I didn’t,” Agatha wailed. “I didn’t hurt her.”
Harry continues to not take the fucking clue and insists that yes she absolutely murdered her baby, admit it. He says it’s because he needs to save the baby, but has said nothing to explain why getting into a protracted argument with an increasingly upset superghost is more productive than just powder+sword like the original plan was.
Something, some spark of memory caught a flame in the ghost’s eyes. “I remember,” she hissed. “The axe. The axe, the axe, the axe.” The proportions of the ghost’s face changed, stretched, became more bony, more slender. “I took my axe, my axe, my axe and gave my Benson twenty whacks.” The spirit grew, expanding, and a ghostly wind rustled through the room, emanating from the ghost, and rife with the smell of iron and blood.
“Oh, crap,” I muttered
What did you expect, dumbfuck?
She begins screaming about how her baby died and her husband and then she cut off her hand and then just roaring, which wakes all the other babies from the apparently not so magical sleep, and Harry smacks the unbreathing baby and somehow that works too.
“No,” Agatha screamed, “no, no, no! He’ll hear you! He’ll hear you!”
Good job, Harry. Thank god you’re so chivalrous. Agatha really appreciates it.
She attacks Harry, who then shouts to Michael who’s now coming in to try to face down a non-pinned ghost. She’s still going to get skewered, but now it’ll probably be more painful for everybody! Also, there’s that cool windy effect ghosts always do, which means he can’t even try throwing gust, but Agatha is desperately trying to quiet the baby girl by shoving her arm into the kid who’s now screaming without any air so he’s got to do something.
If I could not cast the dust upon her from across the room, I could thrust the leather bag into her ghostly flesh and pin her into place from within— agonizing, but undoubtedly effective.
The ghost almost manages to ghost-hatchet the asshole’s face in, but Michael blocks it with his sword. Dammit, Michael!
Upon contact with her immaterial flesh, the ghost dust flared into blazing motes of scarlet light.
Agatha screamed and jerked back, but her arm remained in place as firmly as if it had been set in concrete.
I’m curious if the dust itself is painful or just startling. The fact Harry says the other method is agonizing suggests sticking one pile into the center is worse than covering the outside, but that could be a matter of degree.
Also she promptly rips her arm off to escape so that didn’t really work. She disappears into the NeverNever, but you’ll recall Harry said repeatedly this is a super ghost, so she isn’t going to let a little thing like not being there stop her from killing the babies now that Harry’s gotten her all terrified and desperate.
Michael says well, obviously they follow and deal with her there. Harry refuses. The ghost will be more dangerous there. Also, his godmother.
“Michael, she’ll tear us apart. And even if she doesn’t, my godmother will.”
Michael shook his head, scowling. “No, by God. I won’t let that happen.” He turned his gaze on me, piercing. “And neither will you, Harry Dresden. There is too much good in your heart to let these children die.”
Okay, so we’re getting some more jumbled dialogue. Going by Michael’s second sentence, “that” is “letting these children die”. Going by Harry’s side of the dialogue, which is listing off how horribly they will die if they do this, “that” is their deaths to ghosts or godmothers. I wonder if the author meant to have Michael getting Harry to do it by saying he’d manage to get them through it safely but then realized Harry only saving babies if he’s sure he won’t die means Harry implicitly saying he would let babies die otherwise.
Harry then also recaps the whole eyefuck thing he does with powerful men and how that means he has this like, connection with Micahel, you know? Michael really knows him just like he knows Michael’s gorgeous, gorgeous soul.
Anyway in sum he’s gonna go save the babies because hot-soul big sword Michael says that’s the sort of soul Harry has.
“God will smile on this choice.”
“Yeah. Ask Him not to Sodom and Gomorrah my apartment, and we’ll be even.”
Michael gave me a disappointed glance. I shot him a testy glare.
Harry, he’s not disappointed you’re having out of wedlock sex with a woman, he’s disappointed you don’t understand Sodom and Gomorrah wasn’t about a man and a woman having out of wedlock sex. Like seriously, how can you not know that?