Dresden Files Storm Front Ch11 Part 1

It took me the rest of the night and part of the morning, but I worked out how I could murder someone in the same manner that Tommy Tomm and Jennifer Stanton had been killed. After the fifth or sixth time I’d checked the figures, I stared at my calculations.

It didn’t make any sense . It was impossible .
Or maybe we were all underestimating just how dangerous this killer was.

At which point he explains nothing, just repeating that it’s a big deal, Murphy needs to know, big deal, tell Murphy, big deal.

There’s a couple things wrong with that even aside from the fact it’s not suspenseful when characters do this, it’s just irritating.
See, what Harry’s figured out is that indeed, it’d take way too much power to do this. By his calculations, even he’d only be able to kill one of them and it’d almost kill him in the process. Although he’ll never point this out, this makes the case particularly perplexing because no one can figure out any link between the two victims – they’re assuming the goal was to kill one or the other, with the second being collateral damage, but that would require a vast excess of power, which is the opposite of Harry’s calculations.

Now, the next problem with this is we don’t know any real rules for this type of magic. We know how circles work (draw circle, fill with magic) and how potions work (liquid + seven more ingredients that must each correspond to a particular category) but we don’t know anything about offensive spells. Importantly, we don’t know if there are tricks and loopholes or if it’s unheard of, and that’s important.

If offensive spells like the heartsplode are straightforward equations, then all Harry has to do is run the math. That could take a while if the equation is long enough, but there aren’t a variety of options. If spells vary, however, then to do this Harry had to first cobble together a spell to do it, then try to refine it, then assume there’s absolutely no better way of doing it that takes less power. For Harry’s revelation to work, it has to be the latter, but everything he’s said about how he shouldn’t even work out the spell suggests it’s the first one.

Basically, we have to know which impossible is merely improbable: is it impossible to heartsplode with less energy, so the person must somehow have an improbable amount of power? Or is it impossible to have the energy to do Harry’s hack on two people, therefore the person must have some improbable superspell?

On the other hand, we do find out Harry has no mirrors in his place because Too many things can use mirrors as windows-or doors and then informs us that he can guess he looks pretty terrible at the moment. Harry, if you have no mirrors, you probably look terrible all the time.

This is also yet another time when there’s an obvious solution, namely, a compact mirror. Everyone knows that covering mirrors keeps you safe. But those are for girls, so Harry just does without any mirrors at all like a proper alpha male.

(Also he only has a “shadow of a beard” at the moment, which means he shaves. It’s impossible to use a straight razor properly without a mirror. He could be using an electric shaver (1928) – specifically a plug-in one, because the battery ones were 1960. But I can’t imagine how he could possibly track down one in working condition without ebay (sidenote, a world with wizards probably wouldn’t have much vintage stuff left to be put on ebay) plus it sounds like his powers wreck electrical power in general. So I guess he’s using a safety razor, despite that being neither as awesome as a straight razor nor as convenient as an electric one, and getting a patchy result anyway because he can’t see what he’s doing.)

The police station Murphy worked in…was run-down, sagging in places like an old soldier who nonetheless stood at attention and struggled to hold in his gut.

God, this description seems phoned-in.

The desk sergeant wasn’t the usual mustached old warhorse who I had run into before, but a greying matron with steely eyes who disapproved of me and my lifestyle in a single glance

Fun fact – matron, outside limited contexts, requires the woman be both older and married, which appears to mean Harry instinctively checks all women for a wedding ring. Disapprove, good woman. Disapprove hard.

Then some other guy gets dragged in. He sounds like your sterotypical heroin addict: young, super skinny, and out of it. They’ve got him for DUI. Remember this, it’ll matter in a minute.

He goes up to see Murphy, who apparently needs to get remarried fast and get the coveted matron descriptor, because right now he describes her on the phone as

looked like a teenager having a fight with an out-of-town boyfriend, though she’d tear my head off if she heard me saying any such thing.

And what is it about our language that saying “and if the person heard me saying this bullshit about them, they’d be angry” makes the other person sound like the unreasonable party?

She indicates for him to wait while she finishes her phonecall fight with her “out of town boyfriend”, and then…it’s that skinny kid! He’s bolted and also screaming. Good lungs on him, apparently. The police are chasing, but Harry says, with what I sincerely hope is sympathy, that they’re old and out of shape. Being a cop is hard. I mean, also they shoot innocent people and stuff, but it is a really shitty job that wrecks your body.

While I hope sympathy, Harry then informs us he doesn’t want to do anything to stop the sprinting guy, despite the fact that whatever you feel about our drug policy in general, driving while tripping is generally a dick move on your part and also he’s handcuffed, it’s not like he’s going to actually escape or something, this is just making people’s lives worse for no reason plus he could attack someone else while he’s crazy.

Luckily, Harry does manage to feel concern about the fact the guy is about to sprint down the stairs and decides he’ll intervene.

I threw myself toward him as hard as I could, attempting to put my shoulder into his stomach and drive him backward in a football-style tackle.
There is a reason I got cut every year during high school. I rammed into him, but he just whuffed out a breath and spun to one side, into a wall.

This is amusing, but I also sort of wonder how you can be able to go toe to toe with vampires one chapter and can barely even slow someone a third of your weight the next. (Harry consistently being a squishy wizard rather than action hero would’ve helped. I mean, he’s not even a real detective, his skillset really shouldn’t have much of a physical component beyond able to walk everywhere.)

Anyway, the guy just keeps going while Harry ends up on the floor, which makes his head throb because concussion. Aw. And despite that he still manages to grab the guy and trip him before he manages to dive off the stairs. Good job, Harry. Also, seems the shock knocked him out of whatever hallucination was causing the screaming and running, so double win there.

The cops catch up, but then the guy finally registers Harry’s existence and goes a new sort of crazy. Somehow, their sustained eye contact doesn’t lead to Harry getting to rummage around in his soul (if third-sight somehow turned off that effect, it’d make sense, and could end up an additional factor in wizard meetings). Then eye contact stops being an issue.

His eyes rolled back into his head until he could hardly have been able to see, and he started to shout in a clarion voice.
“Wizard!” he trumpeted. “Wizard! I see you! I see you, wizard! I see the things that follow, those who walk before and He Who Walks Behind! They come, they come for you!”
“Jesus Christ on a crutch,” the shorter, rounder officer said, as they took the man by his arms and started dragging him back down the hall. “Junkies. Thanks for the assist, buddy.”
I stared at the man, stunned. I caught the sleeve of the taller officer. “What’s going on, sir?” I asked him.
He stopped, letting the prisoner hang between him and his partner. The prisoner’s head was bowed forward, and his eyes were still rolled back, but he had his head turned toward me and was grinning a horrible, toothy grin. His forehead was wrinkled oddly, almost as though he were somehow focusing on me through the bones of his browridges and the frontal lobes of his brain.
“Junkie,” the taller officer said. “One of those new ThreeEye punks.

His forehead was wrinkled oddly, almost as though he were somehow focusing on me through the bones of his browridges and the frontal lobes of his brain.

GET IT?????

I really wonder what the author thinks second sight means.

But anyway, Harry now realizes that wait, the stuff that supposedly grants “third sight” totally does, shiiiiiit.

See, he’s been marked by He Who Walks Behind. Incidentally, those tend to be guys, don’t they? We need more ominous She Whos.

Because the author thinks we’re stupid, Harry then reminds us that ThreeEye(c) is a new drug, and the cop explains that it supposedly shows the spirit world. The other cop then takes pity on us and gives us a new tidbit: it’s more addictive than crack!!!! for some unclear reason. It seems like all it does is make you see stuff, and most of the time what you see is terrible. LSD isn’t addictive and LSD that caused bad trips 99% of the time probably wouldn’t have many users even if it was double-crack addictive. Arguably it could be a combination of the third sight + some legitimately addictive substance, but it seems like the vision part is a detriment.

If it’s supposed to be doing stuff other than terrorizing its users, it’d probably have been wise to have Harry see other people sitting around staring at the walls rambling about beautiful colors before now, and then the fact it’s real and shows you real monsters could come as a surprise. Instead, all we know prior to this is it makes people burn down buildings.

I hadn’t sensed the subtle tension of power in the air around him that signified the presence of a magical practitioner.

This seems like it should matter, but I don’t think he ever makes use of it. There’s a general problem, especially in mashups like this, of failing to account for all the impacts. Can Harry tell this about anyone, magical creatures included, or do vampires and wizard vampires register the same? If wizards couldn’t get a clear read on other magical creatures, that might be part of why they get along so poorly, and it’d mean Harry wouldn’t know Bianca wasn’t a wizard herself with total certainty – and the fact vampires feed off blood and death might explain the issue of two heartsplosions being impossible. What if it’s a cascade effect? The simplest mechanism would be using magic to harm someone to generate magic energy to harm them further, causing a runaway effect, but such a development would be catastrophic. There were only two people this time, but activate it on someone in a crowd…

So instead, let’s assume the vampire magic just stumbled on a way of conservation of magic – the death energy of one heartsplosion is about equal to the energy it takes to do it. It can’t be used for anything but heartsploding the next person in line, and it’s still going to leave the caster exhausted – maybe even set it so they only recover part of the energy, so they can’t keep going very long.

Harry earlier asserted that it’s flat out impossible this was a vampire because they’re too delicate, and that, like so many things, is the boring answer. Vampires absolutely should be potential problems, and it then gives us a potential motive – instead of people saying only Harry could’ve heartsplosioned, what if only Harry could’ve double-heartsplosioned (or at least, is close enough that everyone assumes he worked out a way somehow, despite his protests it’s beyond him). By using this trick, the caster could frame a more powerful magic user instead.

Bianca is trying to kill the john. The connection to her thrall makes the spell itself easier, and between that and the doubled murder, the total energy of the spell would be clearly out of reach of a vampire. Plus, the fact one of her prostitutes was involved makes it look like it was an attack on her.

It’ll then turn out that the whole thing was someone else’s idea (possibly Harry’s supposedly dead girlfriend, since having it be a guy would risk the trope of women only succeeding because of men handing them the solution) to frame Harry, in turn possibly in an attempt to get on the good side of the White Council (remember how I said we didn’t know if there was a fifty/fifty split on killing or forgiving Harry with the Doom of Naked Sword a compromise hated by both sides? This is where it’d be important. If the majority were fine with the ruling and Harry in general, then Harry’s just a whiner and the wizarding body doesn’t really have it out for him. BUT. If the ruling was incredibly divisive, than there’s plenty of people on the kill-Harry side to plot or reward someone else’s plotting, and you’d want a solid character assassination to remove the other side from play. Trying to get Harry on a technicality would just get the pro-Harry side up in arms, killing Harry for heartsplosions is far more solid.)

Bear in mind that despite stating there’s no way a vampire could have enough power, Harry has gone on to admit he had no idea what vampires really looked like and to be flabbergasted by the realization vampire spit is addictive somehow. Anything he says like he’s an authority on it should be considered suspect.

Where were we…right, He Who Walks Behind. Okay, so Harry explains that it’s more like He Who Is A Hitman Ghost, who some enemy of his called up but he somehow survived (I initially assumed this was all his former teacher but if so his former teacher did a lot of murder attempts before Harry finally killed him, which is weird, so maybe somebody else tried to murder him? See, if Harry had a couple more sketchy deaths on his record that happened to not involve proof of murder-by-magic, we’d have a better case for why the wizards would figure a sword hanging by a thread as a metaphor about how insanely easy it is to get killed seemed like a reasonable decision by a justice system.

Now, because the hitman came after him the mark could still be seen upon me by those who knew how, by using the Third Sight, stretching out behind me like a long and horribly shaped shadow. To which I reply, it’d be a thousand fucking times cooler if it did that to his actual shadow. Don’t try to tell me Harry can’t have any obvious supernatural tells because it has to make sense the police don’t believe him, he can soulfuck you by making eye contact and shoot fireballs at a whim. That ship has sailed, gotten halfway across the world, and then sunk to the bottom of the ocean. He could totally have a creepy shadow.

But only a wizard had that kind of vision, the ability to sense the auras and manifestations of magical phenomena. And that junkie had been no wizard.

But forget that, there’s a real problem here. Harry just said that there isn’t a literal HE WHO WALKS BEHIND WUZ HERE tag on his soul, just a funky shadow. Only someone who already knew what the shadow mark means would know more than that, and they wouldn’t know what to call it unless someone had already told them the name.

Even if we assume the third sight is specifically going overdrive in its ability to see the past, and Harry’s totally wrong that the junkie is just working off his marred soul shadow, all the guy would then see is whatever the thing looked like. Him screaming about a jagged dark thing of five legs and a face that is not a face, or whatever He Who Walks looks like, would definitely work to tip off Harry that the other guy is seeing something in his past that no mortal should be able to guess, but it makes no sense he knows the thing’s given sobriquet.

Going off that, Harry’s next point?

Was it possible that I had been wrong in my initial assessment of ThreeEye? Could the drug genuinely grant to its users the visions of the Third Sight?

Totally wrongheaded. The drug is obviously causing demon possession. Try to keep up, Harry.

Our tropes for demon possession and strung-out junkie have a lot of overlap, so it’s actually a neat niche for your given demon. The switches between passivity and manic energy will be written off as random rather than part of a malevolent being’s intricate plan. Why’s it fucking with Harry here? Well, first off, demon, it’s like what they do. Second, Harry’s limited description of what was going on (such as not identifying the enemy) suggest it’s left more than a supernatural scar on his psyche. Third, it was obviously trying to convince him that the other thing is still coming for him. It just didn’t work because he was too stupid and was busy being all wait…drug magic?

Has anyone tried this trope? There’s plenty of drug = magic, but what about drug = demon possession as a way of highlighting how little we care about people actually doing drugs? “Oh, they’re just junkies. Of course they’re carving pentacles and filling the grooves with the black bile dripping from their eyes while chanting in unholy tongues.” Best part, you don’t even have to explain why they’re doing the drug! You just need some sort of cult grabbing actual drug users, infecting them with the “drug”, and the resulting demons can take over the cover from there.

Hm, you could also do a story set in a prison where the demons-possessed start being sent, and no one really cares about the fact they’ve chewed off their own lips because people are always faking being mentally ill, and then the regular prisoners have to try to survive as more and more of these people start making being stuffed in. Midway through they break out and take over the prison (because they’re super strong and immune to pain) and start like eating people and painting the walls with viscera and all that good videogame horror level stuff.

…but Harry is ignoring the fact it’s obviously demonic possession in favor of explaining how third sight works. Still hasn’t said what second sight was. I declare right now that second sight is regular future visions and ghost-seeing. Wizards get access to something else and named it third sight because three is a magic number.

This third sight seen with one’s third eye, suggesting incidentally that wizards can see fine when blinded, is, fittingly enough, sight on crack. SO BEAUTIFUL SO HORRIBLE PAST FUTURE THE TRUE NATURE OF ALL AND ALL THAT IS NOT!!!!!!!! Also, you can never forget any of it, ever.

Then Harry says that, besides the really obvious ways that’d be bad to put in drug form and give to people who have no idea what’s going on…

Even if a user didn’t go mad from seeing too many horrible or otherworldly things, he might see through the illusions and disguises of any of a number of beings that passed among mankind regularly, unseen-which could compel such creatures to act in defense, for fear of being revealed. Double jeopardy.

Aside from the fact that apparently neither the author nor anyone else who worked on the book knew what double jeopardy is, this is a very interesting fact and so is totally irrelevant.

Totally. It’s not even a red herring. Harry doesn’t even consider a connection between “mysterious magic killing” and “there’s a magic drug that might prompt magic creatures to start murdering people in self-defense”, just says the drug is bad and moves on.

Bianca has a magical connection, but since Harry’s seen that her very soul obsesses about beauty and the three-eye users could see her “real” form, we know she wouldn’t possibly be passing out this drug on the side. Mr. Refrigerator Tiger Soul, on the other hand? It’s a shitty thing to do, but evidently very profitable by the fact the drug seems to be used so much. And he could easily be using it as a cover for his own stuff – once the cops get used to the junkies doing stuff for the crazlulz, a lot of arson and murder could be blamed on them if you just make it look weird enough and make sure to have some users in the general area. The only flaw is this seems more chaotic than we were told, but Harry claimed the motive there was profit and obviously now chaos is more profitable. Plus, he seemed pretty into magic, given he believed Harry was a wizard and knew at least enough about magic to be completely ready for the soulgaze. If he knows about magic, it’d also fit with the fact he didn’t want to hire Harry to find him the killer so he could enact his own form of justice, but just to not touch the case while he hunts the culprit down.

So, Tomm is killed because Icy Tiger Steel is distributing the drugs and some powerful but hidden spirit had its cover blown. Harry’s been assuming all along that it had to be either a human or one of the magical creatures that normally interacts with humans, but those are just the ones weak enough to have to deal with us as semi-equals. There could totally be some monster that has heartsplosion powers and it’s just it usually isn’t provoked like this.

Harry considers absolutely none of this. In fairness, concussion. But yet again, it doesn’t seem to be impacting his general thought process otherwise, and also it’s supposed to be a detective story why isn’t he thinking up cool things?


  1. illhousen says:
    “Only someone who already knew what the shadow mark means would know more
    than that, and they wouldn’t know what to call it unless someone had
    already told them the name.”

    You know, it would be cool if He Who Walks Behind was called that because everyone who encountered him said a variation of that phrase:

    – I know someone’s coming for me. I can sense his presence. He walks behind me.

    – Who got that guy?
    – The one who walked behind him.

    – I know you have no reason to believe me, but I have to warn you. Someone walks behind you, and he would kill you if you don’t get help.

    And so on. There is no origin, nobody came up with the label. Everyone just instinctively knew that he is the one who walks behind.

    And so he became known by that name.

    1. Farla says:
      Oh that’d be super cool. It’d also imply that whatever this thing is, it’s so alien we can’t properly comprehend it.
      1. EdH says:
        From what I’ve heard about the later books, that’s kind of what He Who Walks Behind is. Literally a creature from an alternate reality that describes itself in emotions because that’s the closest human mind can comprehend it.
        1. Farla says:
          This is one of those execution things. If you’re trying to go Lovecraft, you really need the right tone for it because god knows a straight up description of That Which Cannot Be Described isn’t going to cut it.

          Thus, the guy babbling about a thing walking behind = gold. The guy saying he sees a bunch of stuff walking, one of which is this guy, and uses the exact term down to the capitalization for it = less gold.

          1. illhousen says:
            Speaking of stories about incomprehensible gibbering horrors from behind the doors of madness whispering blasphemies into your ears in the dead of night even as their ichor drips on the floor creating profane melody not registered by human mind as sound but as pure agony…


            I recommend “Call him demon” by Henry Kuttner. It’s a short story. I’ve read it in Russian translation and enjoyed very much. It does what it would be like to witness a being that is just wrong invading normal life.

      2. illhousen says:
        And whenever someone talks about something walking behind, wizards would assume it’s He Who Walks Behind, even if in truth it’s just Marcone with surprise buttsex.
  2. guestest ever says:
    “It’s impossible to use a straight razor properly without a mirror.”
    I’m sure he goes to a barber every few days. This is the guy who drinks coffee at airport.

    “The police station Murphy worked in…was run-down, sagging in places like an old soldier who nonetheless stood at attention and struggled to hold in his gut.”
    I’m shocked that it’s not an old cheerleader. He’s losing his touch.

    “I really wonder what the author thinks second sight means.”

    It’s probably like the world, there’s just first and third. Alternately, reflection on a mirror; but that could mean cool things and we can’t have that, so probably not.

    “Double jeopardy”
    He was probably thinking about a game that has a double something in it (likely chess), forgot what it was and went with jeopardy instead.

    “why isn’t he thinking up cool things?”
    He couldn’t be assed to sit down and do some math (or whatever) until he got clobbered, no way he could ever think a single cool thing until he’s already killed.

    There was a demon induced mass poisoning at Arkham Asylum at some point, in yet another dumb plot to make Batman kill somebody that obviously failed. It has a demon, a crazy soul seller and poison in it, which is kinda close to drugs. It’s not a particularly good story though.

    1. Farla says:
      I’m sure he goes to a barber every few days. This is the guy who drinks coffee at airport.

      But then, why don’t we get the scene where he tells us he’s such a rebel because the traditionalist wizards who suck and aren’t as cool as him like to have beards? Maybe that’ll appear in another book.

      There was a demon induced mass poisoning at Arkham Asylum at some point, in yet another dumb plot to make Batman kill somebody that obviously failed. It has a demon, a crazy soul seller and poison in it, which is kinda close to drugs. It’s not a particularly good story though.

      That probably has more to do with the fact supernatural stuff + Batman = terrible. (Especially because the writers always have him going on killing sprees as soon as he verifies something’s nonhuman, because obviously Batman’s do-not-kill is based on human DNA and not a respect for life.)

  3. Roarke says:
    suevision (n) – soo-vizh-en: SO BEAUTIFUL SO HORRIBLE PAST FUTURE THE TRUE NATURE OF ALL AND ALL THAT IS NOT!!!!!!!! Also, you can never forget any of it, ever.

    I’m guessing Harry can do this naturally?

    I’m staggered by how internally inconsistent Butcher’s world is, and just how full of holes it is. The soulfuck would have been the perfect way to show that there’s something seriously wrong with the ThreeEye(c) junkies, be it demonic possession or some other nonsense. Harry could see the guy’s soul with like a parasite attached, or strings leading somewhere.

    The heartsplosion impossibility nonsense would be crazy in a much better book in which the setting and magic system was properly established before Harry started diving into the intricacies of it. Like, okay, we know that it takes energy to do stuff. We know that you can make magic easier or harder to do by “owning” the space it occurs in, which is why vampires stay out of places they are not invited to. So what if someone created a magic circle around the room or under the bed that gives them a two-for-one on heartsplosions, similar to Farla’s cascading energy theory? Highly flexible magic systems are great because there are so many possibilities, but they often become impossible to govern within the narrative, so I respect authors who place reasonable limits on them. But too often those limits get pushed back for no other reason than RuleOfCool, and then it’s just like why were they in place at all?

    1. Farla says:
      So what if someone created a magic circle around the room or under the bed that gives them a two-for-one on heartsplosions,

      Oh god, he didn’t even check for that even though he shows you can cover a circle, and he makes a big deal of the place having a thick carpet. All the killer would have to do is draw the circle under the carpet. The police wouldn’t have any reason rip up wall to wall carpeting, and even if someone did it’s still not something you can use as evidence in court.

      1. Roarke says:
        Yeah. He also made a big deal about how it happened in the throes of passion. You could think of the bed as a giant magical mousetrap that uses the energies of the people inside to pop their own hearts, while the culprit hasn’t lifted a finger.
      2. illhousen says:
        And tearing away the carpet to reveal the circle with occult symbols in it would make for such a great image.
        1. GeniusLemur says:
          Isn’t it depressing when you think for two minutes and come up with something light-years better than the professional author did?
          1. guestest ever says:
            I thought he wasn’t much of a professional back when he wrote this. First books deserve a lot of leeway. Nevertheless, screw him. This guy’s writing sucks.
            1. GeniusLemur says:
              Somebody (God knows who) thought this was good enough publish and pay him for, that makes him a professional.
          2. illhousen says:
            Not really. Ideas are cheap. I can generate them all day long, and I am sure most people here can do the same in the right mood.

            It’s the execution that truly matters.

            Granted, Butcher doesn’t exactly shine on that front, either, but I do admit that I most likely won’t be able to write a better original book.

            There is a number of online authors writing for free I know who can, though, so I guess your point ultimately stands.

  4. SoxyOutfoxing says:
    I was going to ask if anyone knew something that did magical junkies well, but then I remembered it’s practically a miracle to see regular old normal-world junkies done well. I guess flailing homeless randoms who jog around making cryptic statements and freaking out have entertainment value in a sick sort of way, but I would like a little more nuance myself.

    This is the part where Harry should have a contact who actually uses drugs, as opposed to Tiger Soul who just distributes them. Then he could go ask about this three eye stuff like a real imaginary detective. Because I’m pretty sure a noir detective’s contact in the crime world should be at the rank of bartender in local dodgy bar, not Crimelord Jesus. He needs to have someone who knows rumours about what’s going on, not someone who actually causes what’s going on.

  5. GeniusLemur says:
    “And what is it about our language that saying ‘and if the person heard
    me saying this bullshit about them, they’d be angry’ makes the other
    person sound like the unreasonable party?”
    The person saying it. Typically, they’re an “approved” (“rebellious loner” in this case) white man, and the person they’re talking about isn’t.
  6. GeniusLemur says:
    “I hadn’t sensed the subtle tension of power in the air around him that signified the presence of a magical practitioner.”
    Of course you didn’t, Harry because you’re:
    a) monumentally unobservant
    b) monumentally incompetent
    c) monumentally stupid

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