Last time, Harry decided that he’d so thoroughly fucked up everything about investigating the A-plot that he might as well work the vampire party B-plot.
Michael parked his truck on the street outside Bianca’s mansion. He put the keys in his leather belt pouch, and buttoned it with the silver cross button. Then he straightened the collar of his doublet, which showed through the neck of the mail, and reached behind the seat for the steel helmet that slipped on over his head. “Tell me again, Harry, why this is a good idea. Why are we going to a masquerade ball with a bunch of monsters?”
So, I know the advice is that it’s better to show than summarize. But sometimes showing just doesn’t work, and this is written in first person, so we don’t actually need Michael to drive Harry all the way to the mansion then sense the cameras are rolling again so he can finally ask why the fuck they’re doing any of this. Harry could just chat directly to the reader about his reasoning instead of making us try to decide which is more absurd, the idea Michael didn’t ask at all or the idea he did and forgot.
The explanation Harry gives Michael is “Everything points us this way,” I said. and jesus fucking christ this is the worst detective story ever. If “everything” is pointing in a direction YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO NOTICE THAT.
The way it SHOULD work is that something just happened that makes the rest of the pieces fall into place. Instead, Harry recaps stuff we’ve known for half the book: someone’s been messing with ghosts, Lydia is connected to it, Bianca is connected to Lydia and also doing a big vampire shindig.
Stallings told me that people have been going missing off the streets. They’ve probably been taken for food or something. Even if Bianca isn’t behind it, and I’m not saying she isn’t, chances are that anyone who could be is going to be at the party tonight.”
And why has Harry suddenly realized this? He doesn’t even pretend that this just didn’t occur to him until he found the nightmare has a patron. He says nothing, in fact, to suggest any of this is a sudden realization at all.
Which leaves us with one alternative.
Harry always knew this but didn’t care.
Harry knew the vampires were up to something with a big body count but he figured that since only the nightmare was directly threatening him, he didn’t want to poke a hornet’s nest by complaining about what was behind it. Now that he’s failed to beat the nightmare in each encounter, he’s forced to reconsider his plan. He did sear Bianca’s skin off that time, so hey, maybe he’ll be better able to murder the nightmare’s master than it.
Plus, if he goes to the vampire party and triggers vampire hospitality, then perhaps either the nightmare won’t go after him or when it does the vampires will have to destroy it. I’d certainly expect that from fae hospitality, but vampires being a bit more casual makes sense to me – making a monster designed to attack during the party would clearly be unacceptable, but someone aggroing a monster and then fleeing to the party is pretty different. Under normal circumstances, it could be a power play where the vampire host will be embarrassed by the death of a guest because it suggests they weren’t strong enough to control their territory, but I could see everyone involved deciding to just pretend the whole thing didn’t happen because they’re happy he’s dead too – and if not, I’m sure Bianca would be willing to accept the loss of face as a small price to pay for Harry’s death.
To try to give it some connection to last chapter, Harry goes on to explain that the spell means he bumped auras with the nightmare’s patron, so now if he touches somebody he can to an aura comparison and know who they are.
(Possible concern – are we sure the patron is its creator? The werewolf pileup made it clear that it’s possible to have multiple supernatural entities at the same time. Someone could be motivated to protect the nightmare without being the final boss.)
Michael goes on to remind us it’s nighttime and that the nightmare hasn’t appeared and this worries him.
“Maybe I scared it. I cut it up a little.”
You’re both stupid. The nightmare has shown no teleportation powers. It called Murphy and then showed up later. It physically dragged Charity about. It had to sit around waiting at Micky’s house and pass the time killing animals.
The summoning spell at Harry’s house was trying to pull it in from somewhere else, therefore, it isn’t there. While theoretically it could’ve been lurking nearby (given we’re talking magic, we don’t know if range matters, so we can’t take the difficulty in summoning to mean it was far away) there’s the fact that before Harry’s spur of the moment binding, it was still free to harass anyone it felt like. And given that binding was spur of the moment, it’s really unlikely it could predict it and know last night that Harry would be the only target it could get tonight. Personally, I’d guess it was going to attack the hospital or Michael’s house. And there’s no sign it knows where its victims are, given so far it’s attacked two people in their homes and one person nearby. So, it started out a good distance away from Harry, then probably assumed Harry would still be at his house (and as it never actually got over any thresholds, he might actually be totally safe so long as he just stays inside at night…)
The nightmare, therefore, is either on route to Harry’s house, at Harry’s house, or walking in expanding circles around Harry’s house hoping to find him.
But forget that poor reasoning! Michael has a much stupider thing to say.
There are going to be dozens of things in there that have no right to exist in this world. It will be like walking into a roomful of wolves.”
Guess they don’t teach how analogies work at paladin school.
We then get a fresh reference to the hospitality rules!
The bad guys have to play by the rules tonight. We’ve been given the protection of the old laws of hospitality. If Bianca doesn’t respect that, it’s going to kill her reputation in front of her guests and the Vampire Court.”
…it doesn’t actually tell us anything. You can’t just keep saying “old laws” if you never tell anyone what the fuck the old laws are. Especially when you’re constantly sneering about idiot mundanes and how all our stories are wrong and also dumb.
We still don’t know how gameable these rules are. We don’t even know if everyone under the roof is covered by the rules – normally it’s assumed so, because inviting two enemies under the same roof only for one to die is not very hospitable, but we’re dealing with vampires. Bianca’s promise could easily be that none of her vampires will cause trouble but any independent diplomatic agents answer to their own people and not her, like say, a fairy who also got an invitation. There’s also the fact that because again, vampires, doing stuff against the rules may be fine so long as you’re not caught. If dealing with fairies is all about impossibly complex unknown rules, dealing with vampires is all about trying to fend them off and stick to the lighted areas because they’re monsters that like to pretend they’re classy and subtle so they won’t do stuff where there’s witnesses.
Worse, the only thing that does seem to be nailed down is that this isn’t magically enforced, because Harry just says it’ll make Bianca look bad, not curse her or something. Combined with what I just said about vampires being all about surface politeness and plausibly deniable murder…really doesn’t seem like rules will do much to protect you.
Michael promises to help and Harry clarifies that actually in this case “help” will be to not pick fights as the vampires drain people and then offer you some still-steaming steak tartare. It’s their turf.
But Michael counters by pointing out that he’s a paladin and the DM will take all his precious levels if he prioritizes long-term goals.
“I am what I am, Harry.”
I threw my arms up in the air, and banged my hands on the roof of the truck. “There are people who could get killed if we mess this up. It isn’t only our own lives we’re talking about, here.”
“I know,” he said. “My family are some of them. But that doesn’t change anything.”
“Michael,” I said. “I’m not asking you to smile and chat and get cozy. Just keep quiet and stay out of the way. Don’t shove a crucifix down anyone’s throat. That’s all I’m asking.”
“I won’t stand by, Harry,” he said. “I can’t.”
Michael then finishes up saying, “I don’t think you can, either.” which I can only interpret as another self-serving bit of acting to convince the DM that hanging out with Harry doesn’t count as consorting with evil creatures. Harry can, has, and will, Michael.
My loathing for the both of them aside, this is a real dilemma for anyone who isn’t contractually mandated to care or a predatory piece of shit. I’m very much on the side of the ends having the capability to justify the means, but that just makes it all the more vital to always carefully weigh the two. It is super easy to react to every situation with, “Oh, that looks risky, I’ll hold back to do more good later!” which is why such an impulse can never, ever be trusted.
It’s easier when you’re not godmoding your way through a book – a pair of ordinary humans entering it would be in a situation where most things they tried would get them killed without helping anyone, in which case “stay alive, do good later” is being contrasted with “die pointlessly”. But when you can set off skin-searing lightbombs, Harry is pretty much guaranteed to have the ability to save others. The question then becomes, what is the most good Harry can do?
Normally he’d be able to make a case that he’s the magical savior of Chicago, but another issue comes up – what’s Harry’s current life expectancy? Let’s say he’s right and he’s safe from harm all party. He then has to leave, and unless the vampires let him stay until dawn, a terrible idea in general that in Harry’s specific case could result in him going “oh hey, guest-right ceasefire is up, guess I’ll explode the roof now :D”, he’s going to leave while it’s still night. The nightmare attacks him and either finishes him off or Sexy Godmom yanks him out of harm and into being a dog. If he decides to stay longer, the vampires probably eat him. If he somehow avoids the nightmare tonight, there’s still the next night, and the next. While it would seem Harry should be able to win by just staying up all night, the fact this is unmentioned suggests it won’t work – maybe it can just batter down the wards over time.
So, even allowing for the selfish-but-valid impulse of not wanting to die, and the fact that Harry clearly prioritizes the survival of people he knows over random missing persons, the argument they should keep their heads down because they need to survive this to do good later isn’t very good. Blowing the place up and getting killed may be the better choice of action.
But Michael doesn’t see any need to actually discus things, Instead, he suggests praying together. When Harry boggles at him, because Harry forgets his friend whose only character trait is religion is religious, Michael says he’ll do the praying. That’s not how joining in prayer works, Michael.
I don’t have anything against God. Far from it. But I don’t understand Him. And I don’t trust a lot of the people that go around claiming that they’re working in His best interests. Faeries and vampires and whatnot – those I can fathom. Even demons. Sometimes, even the Fallen. I can understand why they do what they do. But I don’t understand God. I don’t understand how he could see the way people treat one another, and not chalk up the whole human race as a bad idea.
I guess he’s just bigger about it than I would be.
Okay, so apparently demons are not fallen angels, which does work with them having no moral sense but then raises the other question of okay wtf are fallen angels. I wonder if this is another D&Dism since demons and devils are different things there, with devils being what the angels sent to hell to fight demons became.
It’s – you know, I often rely on “interesting”, but in this case, I’ll go with “odd”, because it’s a very boring choice – odd that Harry’s disagreement with God apparently contains no real issue. His big point of contention is just why God doesn’t hate us more and maybe wipe us away completely. Most theological arguments are about why there is suffering and if God can be said to be good if he is all powerful yet allows evil, in part because there’s more to think about but largely because most of us aren’t unfeeling monsters.
In a way, I guess it makes sense with who Harry is. Harry generally does unto others. Despite his constant pity parties, Harry always has some other option. He may be bested, mostly by chance, but he is never helpless. So to him, the world is made up of various people pushing and shoving for power. Some people screw up and lose. Some people are nice and choose to largely avoid it. But everyone has the capability and most are using it, which fits exactly with his behavior towards Lydia, or even his general description of women tricking him into being “chivalrous” by using their sad eyes to make his brain short-circuit long enough to get what they want.
I think the only time he’s shown to fully, definitely understand people can be powerless was in the first book when he saw the kid near the end. Given this Harry is orders of magnitude crueler than that Harry, he may simply no longer feel that way. And even if he still does…well, there were plenty of other victims in that book, and Harry was able to rationalize how them having any agency at all meant they had power. He’s obviously pretty talented at making the world fit a convenient worldview, and he’s also demonstrated throughout this book that he’s great at forgetting stuff he doesn’t want to deal with, so he may just ignore the few people he can’t pretend are equally deserving of being washed away in another flood.
Michael then does one of those lameass “hey god, we’re doing a thing, help us to do the thing however it turns out you want it done” prayers. Dammit, Michael! Use some actual prayers. You might as well be some bullshit nondenominational Christian with your stupid blank white churches with nothing interesting in it at this point.
Harry tries to tell me to be impressed by his Simple words (because it still counts as triggering the faith buff) and fuck that shit. Michael, you’re probably gonna die, at least do the Lord’s Prayer or something! Butcher shouldn’t even need to look that up, fucking everyone knows that, and I won’t even complain if you merge Catholic and Protestant versions because they’ve both got their good points, and it even has the bit about God’s will being done which is pretty much what Michael’s saying here only in a flowery portentous way. (Much better would be to go with some saint’s prayer – especially after fucking up, since the point of the saints is them being more human and so more sympathetic to the fact humans fuck up. And given there are a bajillion saints and people arguing over who is and isn’t, it’d be fine to make one up and say it was the secret saint of those who knew magic was real. I mean, Michael’s already part of a secret order carting around a secret relic, why not give his order a patron saint nobody knows about too?)
Anyway, they finally head in.
The gate had an honest-to-goodness guard house, with a pair of guards.
Why is this a shock? Harry’s last meeting with Bianca was high security and that was just him turning up out of the blue. This is an enormously important affair. Plus, he just said yet again that the host’s protections are going to be a big deal, which means Bianca can’t stop at just the level of security to keep herself safe.
Harry then sees some other guests arrive.
a man glided out of the limo.
He was tall, pale as a statue. Sable hair fell in tousled curls to his shoulders. He was dressed in a pair of opalescent butterfly wings that rose from his shoulders, fastened to him by some mysterious mechanism. He wore white leather gloves, their gauntlet cuffs decorated in winding silver designs, and similar designs were set around his calves, down to his sandals. At his side hung a sword, delicately made, the handle wrought as though out of glass. The only other thing he had on was a loincloth of some soft, white cloth. He had the body for it. Muscle, but not too much of it, good set of shoulders, and the pale skin wasn’t darkened anywhere by hair. Hell’s bells, I noticed how good he looked.
The man smiled, bright enough for a toothpaste commercial, and then reached a hand back down to the car. A pair of gorgeous legs in pink high heels slid out of the car, followed by a slender and scrumptious girl barely covered in flower petals. She had a short, tight skirt made out of them, and more petals cupped her breasts like delicate hands. Other than that, and the baby’s breath woven into the tumbled mass of her black hair, she wore nothing. And she wore it well. In the heels, she might have been five-seven, and she had a face that made me think that she was both lovely and sweet. Her cheeks were flushed in a delicate pink blush, vibrant and alive, her lips parted, and she had a look to her eyes that told me she was on something.
Now, this is Thomas, who I’ve osmosed is a big part of the argument for bi Harry, to which I reply, eh. Yeah, that sounds pretty interested – but it’s nothing compared to the next paragraph. When a supernaturally hot guy gets less of a reaction than a human hot girl…
Which is not to say this proves Harry isn’t bi. Just that I see no evidence here his tastes swing toward men of delicate swords and soft loincloths. The man is described as possessing attributes. The girl is a series of body parts.
Also, let’s take a look at the final line of her description.
Her cheeks were flushed in a delicate pink blush, vibrant and alive, her lips parted, and she had a look to her eyes that told me she was on something.
The very next line?
“Harry,” Michael said. “You’re drooling.”
It might be uncharitable to wonder if there’s any connection between the two. Certainly, what he notices first is what he’s most likely interested in. But Harry’s often described women as attractive and making him lose control, and somehow he never really acts interested until they’re properly broken.
Michael goes on to tut at Harry that the girl isn’t even nineteen by his estimate, and oh Michael, as if slobbering over someone “not quite nineteen” is some sort of low for Harry.
Now, Harry mentioned a bit earlier his costume’s something that’ll get everyone’s attention, though we haven’t been told what it is. Thomas checks it out and finds it a funny joke as well as guessing it means Harry’s Harry.
Harry, who is in the phone book, throws his weight around every chance he gets, and who took the time out from being stalked by a superghost to pick a costume to get the vampire’s attention, is now pissed: That got my hackles up. It always bugs me when someone knows me and I don’t know them. Yeah, it’s definitely his fault you don’t pay attention to anybody else.
Thomas introduces himself as Thomas. Harry appears to believe his politeness is some sort of supernatural chill and not a recognition that if he was offended, ignoring it is the best fuck you to Harry and his desperate attempt to start a fight anyway.
of the White Court.”
“White Court,” I said.
“Three vampire Courts,” Michael supplied. “Black, Red, and White.”
“I knew that.”
You absolutely did not. I can’t remember if this came up any other time, and it doesn’t matter. The simple fact is, you knew nothing about Bianca so even if you knew they had colored courts you wouldn’t know anything but the names themselves.
Apparently the black court is going extinct, which pleases Thomas because vampires don’t get along.
We all trouped up the front stairs, affording me an uncomfortably proximate view of Justine’s legs along the way, lean and lovely and made for doing things that had nothing to do with locomotion.
See what I mean? She’s pretty much attached to someone equally naked and even hotter, and Harry only has eyes for (a part of) her. Also, while “made for” can be okay in moderation, when you keep referring to the legs themselves as a separate entity and have no concern for the fact the girl herself is drugged and a vampire’s supper, yeah, bit objectifying on the whole.
Thomas then asks if Harry knows about how this works and Harry snappishly says that no, he doesn’t know jack shit about what vampire etiquette involves, as if he has no awareness that only keeping to such etiquette keeps the guest protections active. Thomas, who I guess also feeds on impotent dickishness, helpfully lays out the evening’s program of being presented to the crowd and then getting gifts from the host.
Harry is baffled by why a vampire of the white court who had just expressed delight at the near death of the black court might be helping someone opposed to the red court, because Harry is a fucking idiot.
“Why, Mister Dresden. Why should I not help you?”
“You’re a vampire.”
“So I am,” he said. “But, I’m afraid, I’m not a terribly good one.” He gave me a sunny smile and said, “Of course, I could also be lying.”
Worse, so’s the book, given it thinks it makes a lick of sense to act as if his actions are some great mystery, where they only make sense if he’s good but as a vampire he must be evil, what could be going on????????????
Anyway Harry finally shakes his hand and verifies Chatty isn’t related to the nightmare, so, time to go a smoozing. He steps up to be introduced to the crowd and the narration finally explains his outfit is the shittiest movie vampire costume Harry could make. I mean, he put real effort into it. The tux is tattered outdated garbage, his necklace is painted plastic – you know, for when mere colored plastic doesn’t look bad enough – , he painted his entire face with shitty white clown makeup, and then he stuck plastic fangs in his mouth and some fake blood. These are Harry’s priorities.
“I think,” Michael said, “that you’ve just insulted everyone here.”
We’re supposed to be impressed by what a SICK BURN it is that Harry’s a shitty version of them, but I’m pretty sure a human looking shitty compared to actual vampires is not really that cutting.
From the courtyard below came several distinctive sounds: A few hisses. The rasp of steel as several someones drew knives. Or maybe swords. The nervous click-clack of someone with a semiautomatic working the slide.
Alternatively, Harry’s a fucking idiot and this is just the reaction everyone has to seeing he’s arrived. Surely if anyone was going to view guest right as more of a suggestion it’d be vampires.