Dresden Files Storm Front Ch25

So hey guys. We are nearing the end of this terrible thing, and you’ve produced foefic and not all of you want to post it yourselves for some mysterious reason. Roarke’s said to post theirs, so I’d like to extend that offer to the rest of the snippets – stick them together in a mass of gay and evil and/or incompetent Harry, credited to you by name or as anonymous not wanting to admit their shameful fanficing. Comment if you approve of us polluting the fandom together. It’ll be on AO3, so I can add your name when you change your mind and accept you fanficced and are now a fanficcer forever and ever and ever and want your deserved credits.

And of course, anyone else who’s already posted should mention it about now so we can all kudos you.

Back to the thing I’m slogging through,

The Sight of Victor’s lake house will always be with me. It was an abomination.

Harry’s still on about this, and he’s still being boring as fuck about it.

I’ve had a pretty good life but there’s definitely been times I’ve appreciated my lack of eidetic memory. The idea that wizard sight burns everything you see into your brain forever is a good one and gives an easy reason for Harry to use it as little as possible, because I’d want to use it as little as possible too if it meant risking seeing surprise horrors I could never forget. The problem is what’s being described here just sounds a bit haunted-housey.

Shadowy spirit-beings that weren’t wholly real, only manifestations of the negative energy of the place, clung to the walls, the rain gutters, the porch, the windowsills, glutting themselves on the negative energy left over from Victor’s spellcasting. I was guessing that there was a lot of it. He didn’t strike me as someone who would be able to make sure that his spells were energy-efficient.

This is an interesting bit about magic ecosystems. Harry says they’re just manifestations of the energy, but they’re also feeding on it, so it sounds like they’re actual creatures. Being flimsily made doesn’t make you not real, just ask jellyfish.

The question becomes, do they do anything but exist? They’re apparently spontaneously generated from a certain amount of magic energy, then proceed to eat more of the same. Why? Even if it’s as simple as “because if they don’t keep eating, they disappear” if they come into being by spontaneous generation, there’s really no difference between forming and then eating the energy to keep existing verses dissipating as new ones form from the new energy. That would suggest there’s something added here by eating – maybe they get more complex, maybe Harry’s totally wrong about them being manifestations and they’re actually conventional creatures that seek out these locations to feed and reproduce.

Could a wizard cultivate them? Deliberately feed them up to create guards? Or maybe farm them for exotic magical ingredients? Sort of like magic guinea pigs.

My Sight revealed no alarms, no sorcerous trip wires. I might be giving Victor Shadowman too much credit. He was as powerful as a full-blown wizard, but he didn’t have the education. Muscle, not brains, that was Victor Shadowman.

You know, I wonder how this relates to that awful NaNo talk of his you guys linked.

What I’ve gleaned is that the author does have plenty of formal education, to the point he insisted he was better educated than his own writing teacher, and also that he pretty much entitlemented his way into an actual publishing deal under the similar logic that he just deserved it.

He really doesn’t seem to think much of anyone who succeeds through working things out on their own rather than absorbing the info from a college course, and he keeps coming back to Harry’s “formal education” despite Harry blowing up his teacher while still an apprentice, relying on Bob the Rapist Skull constantly because he has trouble working out spells on his own, and simply being very young for a wizard – he even says the others are old men. Everything about the Harry he’s actually writing sounds like someone whose wizarding education is up to high school at absolute best, and possibly no better than middle school.

We know Sells is a smart man. He figured out the three-eye(tm) just trying to find a way to communicate what he was experiencing with his wife, then realized this stuff was marketable as fuck and moved into running a drug empire flawlessly. For sake of my sanity, I’ll assume he relied on the hologram thing to give orders and prevent anyone from following him and that’s why Marcone didn’t just order him killed in his bed, but he still had to move the actual product from the lakehouse to his people, as well as find people to do it and pay them and all that, all in what seems like a very short time. And he did it all without Marcone having any idea what was going on.

He seems to have read things to learn magic, but if any of these spells where in a book then they’d be official magic spells and it’s a lot less likely Harry would be loling about how they’re crappy n00b spells. (Possible that the book could just be ancient, but Harry seems to be at least decent at recognizing spells, and so should be able to tell the difference between outdated spells and made-from-scratch-last-wee-by-a-self-educated-madman.) Sells’ magic “tell” seems to be that his spellwork is sloppy, which suggests whatever he used to learn magic had few to no spells in it and he’s had to construct everything himself.

One reason his place isn’t trapped could be as simple as not having time for it – most of his spells seem like they have very obvious application. He pries his third eye open, starts going crazy, thinks that if only other people could see what he saw they’d understand, rigs up a way to make magic drugs that do precisely that, realizes he can use this to make money, then goes through several refinements of the process as he learns to exploit emotions to power it and how to use other people as extra batteries, and eventually how to also tap storms. He probably works out the hologram as the best way to safely build a drug empire, then later the heartsplosion to deal with problems. I’d bet the demon is the most recent spell, to deal with someone who he doesn’t have a link to, because if he had that originally there’s no real need to figure out heartsplosions anyway – he’s only going back to that spell due to the fact Harry is unusual in being able to stop a demon. The only spell he’s used that doesn’t have a blindingly obvious reason for it is the scorpion, and that’s probably just because we know barely anything about the guy – the scorpion is probably his first attempt at an offensive spell to help him out in the drug war (Harry does say scorpions have a good nastiness synergy going on) that he abandoned as not useful enough, which is why it was left behind for his wife to bring to Harry.

His spellwork is clearly going to look like a jury-rigged mess by now, but the fact he worked out a solution to each problem that arose shows he’s a lot better at this than Harry “It’s Definitely Possible To Find A Spell To Block The Hair Issue And Not Die But It’d Be Way Too Much Work” Dresden, and the scorpion even suggests he’s tried various other spells but they weren’t useful enough to keep using. I’d say it’s almost certain that, once he finishes assembling a basic library of spells and gets experience with different methods, he’ll go back over them and tighten them up.

Another option, going back to Harry’s constant sneering about what a rube this guy is, is that he does not know magic tripwires exist. Again, all his spells have obvious application, which means he made them as a result of seeing a problem and then trying to make a solution, and they’ve all been focused on physical things. That doesn’t make him stupid for not realizing this completely non-obvious thing was an option and putting them up. Harry’s stupid for not putting them up – he’s the one aware of them choosing not to use that so he gets blindsided by surprise demon.

Oh, and there’s also just the possibility that the traps are all inside. Guess Harry’s fancypants education didn’t cover the fact that maybe your enemy might decide the best place for their magic trap is right behind the front door.

I tried the front door, just for the hell of it.
It opened.
I blinked. But I didn’t question the good fortune, or the overconfidence that had seen to it that Victor left his front door standing unlocked.

Seriously.

Also, I’d just like to point out that land mines were invented in 1277 and ones that could be primed to go off on their own were invented sometime before 1375. So wizards could absolutely use land mines. They could even use relatively modern ones – the 1912 version used throughout WW1 is well before the cutoff Harry gave. Mining your backyard to kill your enemies is generally considered overkill, but as Harry is illustrating, anyone who’s a threat will be looking for magic traps and ignore anything else. And mines are just one illustration – there’s a really wide range of options that are “not newer than 1940” and “not magic”. Imagine there was just a net trap there. Those are pretty damn simple, but rig it out of something that doesn’t burn well (metal chains, maybe?) and it’ll delay your opponent and warn you. I said Harry should be able to vaporize the elevator’s roof fast enough to not heat himself too much, but being able to vaporize chains currently in contact with your body is another matter. Or just a pressure plate that drops scorpions on your head! I realize Indiana Jones style deathtrap archaeology is not particularly realistic, but like 90% of that is the idea all this stuff is still working after thousands of years. The basic principle of triggering deathtraps through simply physics is sound.

I forget how the house was furnished or decorated. All I remember is what the Sight showed me.

Except, of course, wizard vision is supposed to be intensifying your perception of existing reality + magic additions, not replacing one with the other. It’s also supposed to burn everything into your mind forever, so even if the magic additions were way more noticeable, it should be literally impossible for Harry to forget the house’s furnishings.

(Come to think of it, Harry should be able to use wizard vision to burn spell directions into his memory. Flip on, flip through, flip off, spellbook memorized.)

Things clung everywhere, things with silent, glittering eyes and hungry expressions. Some reptilian, some more like rats, some insectoid. All of them were unpleasant, hostile, and shied away from me as I came in, as the aura of energy I held in readiness around me touched them. They made quiet noises, things I would never have heard with my ears-but the Sight encompasses all of that.

This sure looks like an ecosystem.

Now, with magic, there’s always the possibility that what looks like complexity was actually just copied out of the general world where it did make sense but has no meaning. The best way to judge is to see if the features fit together to form a coherent whole. Looking like reptiles, rats and insects could just be a matter of human associations coalescing into semi-tangible form, for example.

Thing is, even self-preservation is an evolved mechanic. Creatures spontaneously formed into existence by magic would not by nature act to preserve that existence. Here we see that the creatures also have a sub-preservation mechanic (hunger), although again, Harry mistook a grieving family as childfree by choice and then said the wife had POW eyes, so it comes down to if that’s what Harry’s interpreting from his wizard sight or if the wizard sight has a particular sense cue for “objectively hungry”. They’re also making noises – could just be something that came with the forming, but generally vocalizing = communication = purposeful actions.

Most tellingly, they’re all behaving in this way, despite looking different. Their appearances aren’t standardized but their reactions to threats are, which suggests selective pressure. These seem like actual animals.

And if it’s true that Harry’s aura is anathema to them, then they should want to repel him. These guys likely aren’t powerful enough to do anything, but then, they haven’t been here long, and who knows what happens as they feed? A smart wizard should be able to find a way to use these.

I could hear music playing, and recognized it as the same piece that had been playing on the CD player at the Madison in Tommy Tomm’s suite when Murphy had asked me there on Thursday.

This I have no idea about.

Okay, so the song is part of the general spell boosting (further indicating that Sells is the one who experiments and innovates with magic). But it obviously isn’t required to have it playing in both locations to heartsplode, and it’s an amazing coincidence for it to be there if he wasn’t doing it deliberately. Possibly the idea is one of them liked the music and introduced him to it, but that’s so irrelevant I don’t know why such a distracting detail is even being brought up. There’s more than one single CD of sexy music in existence.

Also, how the hell does Sells use a music player in a ritual when Harry fucks one up just by being near it? Is technology unbothered by magic, just wizard proximity, and he turns it on with ten foot poles? How does this work?

The CD player was down in the room beneath, music flowing from speakers that were covered with an image of fire and dozens of bloated, disgusting creature forms, feeding on the music as it came out. I could see the influence of the music as a faint, violet mist, in tune with the light coming from the platform above.

Someone mentioned they remembered the spell components being color coded, and indeed they are! So apparently that’s the mechanism you’re supposed to use, and Harry just refuses and ends up with a convoluted workaround involving a rapist skull instead. He probably got it for free when the DM got fed up with him walking in circles because he didn’t know the spell and refuses to turn on his sight to play the spell generating minigame.

This was a complex ritual spell, then, involving many base elements coordinated by the central wizard, Victor. Tricky. No wonder it was so effective. It must have taken Victor a lot of trial and error to figure it out.

Yes, Sells sure is better than you.

Harry keeps away from the CD player, presumably not wanting it to choke and give away his position. But also he just said the spell was complex and needed coordination, so breaking the CD player might ruin the whole thing.

Harry then sees boxes of stuff.

In one, ancient liquor bottles full of an almost luminescent green liquid. Absinthe? I leaned closer, sniffing, and could almost taste the madness that swam latent in the liquid.

Fun fact: absinthe is not actually hallucinogenic, at least not more than alcohol generally is. So is it working because culturally, we believe it’s hallucinogenic? If you convince enough people rabbit poop has to do with diamonds, will that start being a viable substitute?

Ammonia, reminiscent of hospitals and mental wards.

This one seems like it’s really stretching.

Aside from it being generally a cleaner, there’s the part where you go to those places to get better, not to start being crazy. I mean, unless you’re a really good planner. “Hi, I’d like to be admitted, I have a breakdown penciled in for about half an hour from now. No need for a straightjacket but you should definitely take my shoelaces, thanks. Should be done by about noon Sunday.”

More interestingly, this suggests that the components of a potion have no physical bearing on the finished product, which is interesting, and opens up the potential for a bad batch of potions where there’s incompletely transformation, so that some of the toxic components are still present in the result.

Peyote mushrooms in plastic Tupperware-I was familiar with them.

That makes sense.

Alum, white and powdery.

Not sure the connection here.

Antifreeze.

I’m pretty sure this one just causes organ failure. You might start hallucinating as a result of the organ failure, but you might as well put a bullet in because bullets also cause organ failure.

Glitter in a hundred metallic shades in a huge plastic bag.

This one I like.

Victor was mass-producing what amounted to a magical poison, one that probably remained inert until it was inside someone, interacting with their emotions and desires.

And it’s also interesting that Sells has made a potion that can fly under the radar of other magicians. Unclear if this was intentional or coincidence – he doesn’t seem to know much about other magicians, and it seems odd he’d accidentally do something important, so it may be the delay is instead built in to prevent the potion from rapidly degrading the way Harry’s do, which seems required for him to be producing a relatively steady supply when he can only produce it during storms. If so, Harry should really be taking notes here, being able to stockpile potions would be a complete gamechanger.

Think about it – even Harry finds himself worn out after making two potions at once, and the resulting potions aren’t expected to last the week. That means even a wizard of Harry’s power, which appears to be a population of one, will never have more than 12 potions at any given time, and keeping that stockpile going will consume much of his time and energy (also, there’s good odds that when he tries to use one of those twelve, it’ll be a dud, which will be a wasted turn or possibly even toxic depending on if potions turn back into their components at the end).

We haven’t seen much use of potions yet, but certainly the escape potion was a complete gamechanger and just having twelve of those on hand could let you do a lot of teleporting. Assuming that first one Harry uses isn’t also completely overpowered (which seems particularly likely given the love potion seemed similarly powerful), there are probably more than twelve useful potions total. Even just a potion that absorbed your power then released it again when drunk rather than having an effect would be a huge deal if it was sure to last more than a few days. (I mean, ignore the power boost for a fight aspect, it would let wizards bust the hard cap on their max magic! All sorts of spells and items they simply can’t do would now be possible! This guy may seriously be a one-wizard Industrial Revolution.)

It would be even more important to non-Harry wizards. The average wizard probably can’t make two potions at once, and likely doesn’t have the energy for daily brewing either. Their max potions might be more like three and each one would be a bigger investment than Harry’s. Figure out a way to preserve them and every wizard can always have several escape potions, enough to escape an ambush, jump a good distance further to throw off pursuit, and still have some left over in the event of anything unforeseen, without having to spend every single day of their life brewing them to replace the oldest one. We’d be well on our way to Batman wizards.

I closed my eyes, shaking. The Sight was showing me too much. That was always the problem with it. I could look at these ingredients, the cases of the finished drug, and catch flash images of exactly how much suffering could be caused. There was too much. I was starting to get disoriented.

Look, no one said you had to keep it on forever, just that you should try blinking occasionally.

Victor’s voice rose in pitch, to something audible. He was chanting in an ancient language. Egyptian? Babylonian? It didn’t really matter.

Because Harry’s a magic geek, not some sort of nerd who could tell us if his own Latin use is because that’s his school or that magic in general has updated to Latin sometime in the last thousand years.

Bear in mind that “Babylonian” (Akkadian) is a really old language. The last writing is barely younger than the bible, and it’s believed the spoken form had died hundreds of years prior. More importantly, it begins five thousand years ago, and so a magic spell written in Akkadian could be written across a very wide time period. He could be speaking the very first magic spell ever written, or the refined product of thousands of years of an ancient civilization’s spellwork.

Then…well, there’s Egyptian, which goes back even further. The earliest appears to be just names, so perhaps we should date it by sentence, but on the other hand, magical writing tends to be coded and hidden, so that could easily predate the first discovered sentences. Depending on which “Egyptian” he thinks it is, it could also be far, far younger – even assuming Harry didn’t fuck up and mistake the modern Arabic version for an “ancient language”, the last Egyptian language comes into use at about the same point Akkadian finally dies. So it could be five centuries old or five thousand. This is the sort of thing you should want to narrow down.

Depending on magic’s history, hearing really old languages is going to be either OHSHIT or LOLZ.

If he’s actually hearing Coptic, then this could be modern spellcasting – that’s a contemporary of written Latin, although if there are magical schools, almost certainly a different one. If it’s one of the older versions or Akkadian, then that’s really unlikely.

If it’s one of the really old ones and magic has been relatively orderly in transmission, than Harry’s magical education is a descendant of this stuff and it’s just a really old and crappy version of what he’s familiar with. The very first spells are likely going to be terrible.

However. If magical knowledge has not been transmitted in a relatively orderly fashion, and bear in mind that the crashes of these civilizations took out a lot of far more commonly known technology than magic, then it’s entirely possible that huge branches of early magic are unknown.

Best case: this is totally unknown magic and Harry has no clue about how to counter it, but it’s crappy totally unknown magic while at least his is streamlined and efficient.

Worse case: oh dear god there was an ancient Babylonian Tesla and also he actually documented his work and I am now simultaneously on so much fire and frozen solid in ten feet of ice and being devoured by a thing that doesn’t exist and I don’t even know how it happened even with magic that’s not supposed to be possible and the worst part is I can’t even tell if you can counter it because I didn’t recognize a single piece of that spell.

I guess if we want to be boring about this we were told that Sells learned his magic from a book, which implies it’s relatively mainstream and he’s probably using the magical equivalent of a freshly chiseled stone wheel for his cart. But on the other hand, we have no idea what the actual chain of events was that ended at Sell’s current abilities, and it’s possible his presumably always-on sight that was activated by the book led him to other sources. If the majority of wizards are like Harry and prefer to keep the awesome vision switch firmly off, there could be all sorts of stuff out there that radiates magic and no one knows because the only time anyone would see it is during an initiates fortnight of learning to turn the sight off, which they probably spend in a quiet room where there’s nothing upsetting to see.

(Really there is just so much to be mined from feral wizard initiates!)

I could understand the sense of the words clearly enough. They were words of hate, malevolence. They were words that were meant to kill.
My shaking was becoming more pronounced. Was it only the effects of the Sight? The presence of so much negative energy, reacting with me?
No. I was simply afraid. Terrified to come out of my hiding place under the platform and to meet the master of the slithering horde that was draped over everything in sight. I could feel his strength from here, his confidence, the force of his will infusing the very air with a sort of hateful certainty. I was afraid with the same fear that a child feels when confronted with a large, angry dog, or with the neighborhood bully, the kind of fear that paralyzes, makes you want to make excuses and hide.

Well, it’s a nice thought, but bear in mind Harry could resolve this entire conflict with a fireball pointed up.

First, again, it’s okay to murder people with magic in self-defense. There’s a chance the council won’t accept this, sure, since that was his excuse last time, but there’s a guarantee that if he doesn’t stop this guy he’s gonna get heartsploded. Second, and more importantly, it’s unlikely lighting the platform on fire will instantly kill the people above, but it’ll definitely fuck up any circle(s) and probably distract everyone involved from even focusing on a spell.

Really, if you think about this, he doesn’t even have to actually beat this guy, he just has to stop him from being able to pull off the heartsplosion until the storm passes, at which point he’s safe. Then it’s just wait until Morgan shows up to drag him to the council practicing his smug face.

Instead, Harry fireballs the CD player. Yes, Harry, supposedly down to the wire, wastes magical energy on something that automatically happens based on proximity. It isn’t even that he doesn’t want to go out where he could be seen, because he immediately follows this with a levitate spell so he can be seen.

a white rabbit, its feet bound with red cord. One of its legs was bleeding from a small tear, staining the white fur. And tied against its head with a cord was the lock of my own dark, straight hair.

Now, here’s an interesting question – did the spell link form earlier and cause the injury to the rabbit? Or did Sells know about his injury and copy it?

The first seems the simplest explanation but if it takes an enormous amount of energy for rabbit-to-human sympathetic heartsplode, you’d think it’d take plenty of energy to go human-to-rabbit too. Since the storm has arrived and Harry’s heart is still in his chest, possibly Sells has been calibrating the spell for the last minute or two, pulling Harry’s injuries slowly onto the rabbit to make them resonate better and allow the next injury to be slammed through quickly. Possibly heartsplosions can be countered if they’re too slow, and possibly Sells is just worried that might be an issue and better safe than sorry, right?

The second would suggest either Sells saw it through the scorpion (and got lucky that Harry had no other major injuries from the elevator dropping and the fight with Morgan), or someone called and told him. It’s that last one that moves this from “interesting discussion of magic” to “possibility of something important”. If the EMT guy is secretly a Sells’ agent, or Sells just has the raw power to jump around behind people’s eyes, then he could have already killed Murphy, for example.

Victor stared at me in shock as I landed upon the balcony, wind whipping around me, roaring inside the small room like a miniature cyclone, knocking over potted plants and knickknacks.
“You!” he shouted.
“Me,” I confirmed. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about, Vic.”
His shock transformed into snarling anger in a heartbeat. He snatched up the sharpened spoon, raised it in his right hand, and screamed out words of the incantation. He dragged the rabbit in front of him, the ceremonial representation of me, and prepared to gouge out its, and therefore my, heart.

This wasn’t necessary.

I didn’t give him the chance to finish. I reached into a pocket and hurled the empty plastic film canister at Victor Shadowman.
As a weapon, it wasn’t much. But it was real, and it had been hurled by a real person, a mortal. It could shatter the integrity of a magic circle.

See, if he’d done that immediately, rather than sizing up how Sells liked to dress all in black and then trying out some really horrible banter, then

The canister went through the air above Victor’s circle and broke it, just as he completed the incantation and drove the spoon’s blade down at the poor rabbit.

the circle would’ve been broken before he started the stab, and the rabbit would’ve lived. Harry chooses showing off over a rabbit’s life and his own.

Also I guess no, Bob the Rapist Skull throwing something wouldn’t violate the circle because the item was real but it wasn’t thrown by a mortal, despite that really making no sense when the whole circle/boundary/divisions logic is just about if something crosses or not.

At any rate, breaking the circle is more interesting than just the spell not working.

The energy of the storm came whipping down the cylinder of focus created by Victor’s now-flawed circle. Power shattered out into the room, wild, undirected, and unfocused, naked color and raw sound spewing everywhere with hurricane force.

Only it doesn’t really come to anything. Harry informs us that they’re tossed about by the storm, but it’s a non-factor to the confrontation that follows. Sells blasts him with fire because apparently no one knows ice spells in this universe, Harry pulls off a shield spell explaining that sure, it’s a dozen times harder to shield without my bracelet, but I blocked the flame, because sure, he was nearly out of magic before even entering, sure, he just levitated using magic, but he’s still able to pull off a 12x shield spell.

A crooked stick that looked like it might be some kind of bone soared through the air toward him

Bone usually isn’t crooked.

See, wood can be crooked because trees don’t grow in specific shapes and don’t have specialized needs. It’s just cells, go generally lightward, try to move around damaged areas, bud off sideways when appropriate. If this leads to a particularly bad shape, it’ll break off at the stress point and try again. Bone using creatures aren’t so robust. The only way to get a really crooked bone would be repeatedly breaking and healing at really odd angles, which is exceptionally unlikely.

I mean, just look at this, what sort of bone do you think would match that shape?

Admittedly, bones don’t tend to be perfectly straight either, but they’re normally described as “curved” or “knobbly”, maybe “tapered”. Even rickets mostly got that effect from the leg as a whole, because the joints weren’t holding together all that well, and also I really doubt bones from a disorder of bones turning to mush are good for much of anything. It might be a spinal column stick, which would look pretty rough, but I still can’t see that looking crooked unless he deliberately compromised it by forcing a bunch of sharp bends in it. Also, while spinal column sticks are totally an evil wizard thing, I feel like pointing out actual examples tend to be carved, so we’re now at “Sells took a piece of wood and carved it to look like bones, because that’s super metal and shit” and then Harry was all “omg BONE?!?”

Sells having or buying a wooden stick carved to look like a spinal column seems well within the range of possibility, but having it also be crooked seems bizarre, because if the idea is to look bonelike, why choose something that isn’t bonelike to carve?

turning to me with the attitude of a man holding a gun.
The problem with most wizards is that they get too used to thinking in terms of one venue: Magic. I don’t think Victor expected me to rise, lurch across the trembling floor toward him, and drive my shoulder into his chest, slamming him back into the wall with a satisfying thud.

Uh.

Sells has been a wizard for a couple of months max, and has been either writing his spells from scratch or jury-rigging them out of pieces of the few ancient spells he had access to. Your generalizations about “most wizards” eventually getting used to solving all their problems with magic really do not apply to him.

The comparison used, furthermore, is not “the attitude of a man holding a wand”. It is entirely possible Sells is actually familiar with guns, and that the one venue he’s thinking about here for conflict is guns, which is something a newbie wizard actually would have had time to get used to thinking in terms of.

Finally, Harry is completely ignoring the possibility that Sells didn’t default to tackling not because he’s too used to magic, but because he is not used to tackling, because normal people don’t tackle people every week. Harry has tried physical pummeling every single time that was halfway viable. I’m not going to actually go back to count, but as I remember:

Morgan, first encounter: face punch.
Bianca: magic, because she is a giant bat monster completely invulnerable to human fists and who could tear Harry limb from limb.
Guy with baseball bat: After going down like a chump, he got a gun for next time.
Junkie: tackle
Demon: magic, because it was a giant froglizard monster completely invulnerable to human fists and who could tear Harry limb from limb.
Hair-stealing guy: tackle and clawing.
Hologram: magic, because it was a hologram completely invulnerable to human fists, but probably not able to tear Harry limb from limb.
Morgan, second encounter: chair to the head.

So it’s really not “other wizards are such losers they don’t know how to deal with problems other than with magic” it’s “Harry assumes the best option is physical violence and everyone else must have just forgotten that’s an option or else they’d be punching and tackling too “.

I leaned back a little and drove a knee toward his gut, missed, and got him square between the legs instead. The breath went out of him in a rush, and he doubled over to the ground. By this time, I was screaming at him, senseless and incoherent. I started kicking at his head.

But it’s totally not that Harry just likes physically assaulting and is him being sooo much smarter than those other wizards who over-rely on magic.

At this point, Beckitt-the-male-referred-to-only-as-Beckitt comes over with an “automatic weapon”. Why was that around? Because. At least it’s not outright plotholey, since Sells’ people must be armed and so it’s easy to see how he could end up with some lying around as he manages weapons distribution.

Harry, sadly, is only clipped and runs for the kitchen rather than shield-spelling again, all without so much as a “okay now for serious I’m out of juice”.

There were a number of sharp clicking sounds. The automatic had jammed. Hell, with this much magic flying around the room, we were all lucky the thing hadn’t just exploded.

So to recap:

1) CD player can only play for a few seconds before it begins to malfunction due to Harry’s proximity.
2) Harry owns a gun and explains that magic is generally okay with guns.
3) A CD player was currently playing throughout the magic spell in the center of a house literally lousey with magic.
4) A gun just jammed and Harry says he’s surprised it’s only malfunctioning that badly rather than way worse due to the level of magic.

This also continues our glorious streak of Harry’s antitech flaw continuing to only benefit him.

Victor, meanwhile, shook the end of the bone tube he held

Seriously why it is bone. How are you able to positively identify it on sight, and, even assuming you could get horribly crooked bone, how could it possibly hold up to any use?

What I’m meant to concern myself with is that he just dumped six or so more of the undead scorpions out.

His whiter-than-white teeth flashed in his boater brown face

Uh…most of the things I get googling that seem to be pretty dark. And I can’t find anything else to clarify.

That would mean the evil dark wizard abusive husband of hot white MILF who Harry just spent the book calling “Shadowman” is not white.

Let’s just assume he means like, tan from all the rich person boating he does, such that his skin is leathery as the shoe.

and he snarled, ” Scorpis, scorpis, scorpis!”

So now he’s doing Latin! Also making it that much more ridiculous somehow.

I mean, okay, Harry’s been running around shouting “Fire!” to shoot fire, (in…wait, Spanish, I was just assuming it was under the umbrella of “faux-Latin” he mentioned earlier, but no, the Latin it comes from is “hearth”, okay nothing makes sense at all now) but at least it’s a relatively simple concept there, so it being one word is okay. But apparently saying “scorpion” is enough to make loyal undead growing scorpions, with intelligence?

Anyway, Harry doesn’t understand that the amount of wind force it takes to slam an elevator with working brakes into one of these to crush it is less than the amount of wind force it takes to splatter them directly, so he starts retreating rather than attacking while the spell is still animating. (Also an option – fireball as soon as he saw the inert versions. THEY ARE DRIED SCORPIONS THEY CANNOT POSSIBLY BE FIREPROOF NOT EVEN MAGIC COULD JUSTIFY THAT.)

The Beckitts rose, both naked, lean and savage-looking, both sporting guns

Really? Well, so yeah, let’s assume Sells was centralizing everything and it’s just somehow Marcone missed that the place the drugs was coming from was also the place the illegal guns were going to. It’s not even that odd of a mistake to make, we just have to say Marcone isn’t competent enough to have caught it.

And shooting stuff was the Beckitt’s hobby which is why they’d immediately go for guns and be a real threat with them.

A roomful of deadly drug. One evil sorcerer on his home turf. Two crazies with guns. One storm of wild magic looking for something to set it into explosive motion. And half a dozen scorpions like the one I had barely survived earlier, rapidly growing to movie-monster size. Less than a minute on the clock and no time-outs remaining for the quarterback.
All in all, it was looking like a bad evening for the home team.

Okay, not only did you just fucking do this, but the storm of wild magic is not a drawback for you, what with, as you just said, the place being some other guy’s home turf and generally a craphole and you even know that making it all be on fire is the most likely future, so it shouldn’t be too hard to make it all be on fire and make your escape. There’s also the literal storm overhead generating functionally infinite magic you could tap into, again literally, at will.

51 Comments

  1. GeniusLemur says:
    “Things clung everywhere, things with silent, glittering eyes and hungry expressions.”
    Yes, Harry, this place is really nasty. You’ve already established the hell out of that at least six times over. SHUT UP ABOUT IT ALREADY
    1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
      That quote keeps cracking me up, as really, it describes the Camelback bus at evening rush hour. Calling the other riders “things” is probably rude, but I’m feeling pretty thing-like myself by about 18th Street.

      Dresden has led a sheltered life.

      1. illhousen says:
        It also describes Moscow Underground, now that I think about it.

        As for Harry, I am reasonably sure he moves around in his car or, when it’s not available, on a taxi. You know, it’s so hard for him to pay for the taxi every time he want to drive somewhere because he has no money.

  2. SoxyOutfoxing says:
    See, in horror movies they often have the rat scene, which just involves briefly showing a random rat scampering along on rat business, because people are supposed to be grossed out by rats so it’s meant to contribute to a creepy atmosphere.

    (The problem with that is, although I don’t have statistics, it’s only going to gross out part of the audience. There are some people who are scared of rats, I’d say a lot more who are neutral to them, and then there are people like me who dissolve into “Awh, look at the rat, it’s doing rat things, who’s a precious baby?” And then it takes me a long time to settle back into being scared mode; it’s as if they randomly showed a kitten in the sewer/haunted mansion/abandoned theme park.)

    So when Harry says “some reptilian, some more like rats, some insectoid,” it’s so emblematic to me of how this is an author writing down the very first thought that occurs to them when trying to set a scene, and not doing any work to make it, uh, work. It’s an effortless cliche from a bad movie. You notice how the reference to rats is the only specific animal, because we all know reptiles and insects are creepy, right, but mammalian would obviously sound weird because then it could be anything from kangaroos to humans?

    Well, you didn’t specify, Butcher, so I’m imagining evil spectral butterflies, ladybugs, and leaf hoppers for the insects, and skinks, geckos, and tiny turtles for the reptiles. Harry is being menaced by a room full of evil squee, because you put no effort into the creepy you were going for.

    1. illhousen says:
      ” it’s as if they randomly showed a kitten in the sewer/haunted mansion/abandoned theme park.”

      But what the kitten would do in such a place? Isn’t it terribly suspicious? There must be some deeper reason for its presence. One that we shall uncover.

      Though, yeah, a lot of problems in this book come from using stock tropes with little thought put in them. Sexism, too, is partially explained by that. Fiction was not kind to women in general, so when some hack writer reaches for a stock archetype or a plot involving women, chances are, it’s not going to be pretty.

      1. SoxyOutfoxing says:
        Eh, there was a family of semi-feral cats living at the uni I attended; seeing wild kittens might be more unusual than seeing wild rats but a random kitten frisking in an abandoned amusement park isn’t that suspicious. Except it would be in movie, because in movies everything is suspicious because you know someone did it on purpose. And yeah, a kitten in a sewer would be creepy, in an adorable way. :)

        Now I want a horror movie where people are trying to solve the mystery of the sewer kittens.

        You’re right, so many of the issues with this book could have been solved with thought and effort. I’d even say it’d have only taken about fifteen percent more thought and effort to have created a piece of fiction that was tolerable and reasonably competent. It’s a very frustrating level of laziness.

        1. illhousen says:
          Actually, Junji Ito probably can make sewer kittens absolutely terrifying. He also won’t explain what’s up with them.
          1. Farla says:
            Junji Ito made his daily life of owning a cat absolutely terrifying. God that man can draw horrible faces.
    2. Farla says:
      Honestly, I’m not sure it’s even that they think rats are creepy as that rats are at least sort of creepy and they’re easier to work with than the alternatives.

      I mean, if I had to be around the set for the scene? “Oh yeah rats will get across that it’s terrible fine, no need to break out the centipedes, I hate rats, everyone hates rats, go with rats.”

      (Sometimes the rat scene is scary! What if it’s one of those horror movies where the monster eats small animals to show its presence and hunger?)

      Also geckos are totally evil and so are some turtles. Imagine one of those softshell turtles shooting its neck out at Harry, or a gecko latching onto his finger. Then the butterfly lands gently on his cheek to siphon up his delicious tears.

  3. SpoonyViking says:
    And the funny thing is, people keep saying how this series’ action scenes are so well-written. Personally, I think they’re just in awe of the damned undead tyrannosaurus. They should read more pulp novels or comics.

    Victor’s voice rose in pitch, to something audible. He was chanting
    in an ancient language. Egyptian? Babylonian? It didn’t really matter.

    Because inventing spells in extinct languages must be SO EASY.
    I get the feeling Butcher doesn’t really understand the linguistic complexities that are – sorry, that should have been involved here.

    Out of curiosity, Farla, what’s the word Dresden uses for his fire spells? “Fuego”?

    1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
      Dresden knows too much here, yet not enough. How do you tell a language is “ancient” just by hearing it, if you don’t know the modern dialect form?

      What Victor Sells is speaking is most likely Syriac, anyway. Assuming he had to have gotten any intel on spells in a foreign language by stumbling over printed material, your prime choice for ancient languages in Chicago is Syriac. Syriac was a huge literary language at one time, so it’d be a great language for a rival magic system to a Latin-based one.

      Book-smart Dresden should actually have been taught that rival magic systems exist but are obviously Utterly Inferior to his master’s system, so he’d logically recognize the overall feel and sound of a rival but not really know what it could do.

      Also, Sells must be smart or diligent, since any of the possible choices involves a non-Roman alphabet, usually if not always read right-to-left. Latin’s relatively easier, since at least it sits on the page about how an English reader expects words to sit.

      1. SpoonyViking says:
        Indeed. And the whole thing is so unnecessary! If language really isn’t a fundamental part of magic and only a means to focus the wizard’s will, Sells could have been just chanting in plain old English, or possibly (in order to reflect his self-taught magical background) a smattering of Latin, Ancient Greek and other languages.
        1. illhousen says:
          What we truly need is a wizard chanting in Klingon.
          1. SpoonyViking says:
            Klingon! Pffft! They should chant in a respectable language, like Quenya or Sindarin!
            “Klingon”. Heh. What a nerd!
            1. illhousen says:
              But everyone knows Quenya. With Klingon, even people who know it would deny they understand it, those ensuring nobody could tell what you are casting before the spell is in effect.
              Reply
              1. SpoonyViking says:
                Ah, the “secret shame” factor! I like it. :-P
              2. illhousen says:
                Victor: In order to defeat me you have to admit you know Klingon and lose your Alpha Male cred! Everybody would call you nerd!
                Harry: Noooooo!
              3. Farla says:
                Hm.

                You know, Harry actually strikes me as self-centered enough to just define whatever he likes as cool.

                So maybe what’s really going on is the white council knew all along this guy was there, but none of them would admit to knowing Klingon and needed Harry, The Alpha Male Without Shame, to handle it for them.

                But they couldn’t just tell him because he’d lecture them on how being a Klingon nerd meant he was better than them and that’s about as horrible, so they had Morgan chase him around saying the council would kill him if he didn’t prove it was someone else doing the heartsploding.

              4. Roarke says:
                You know, Harry actually strikes me as self-centered enough to just define whatever he likes as cool.

                His behavior carries that impression, but it isn’t true. At least, there’s solid evidence within the novel itself that it isn’t. You yourself noted it: in the chapter where he goes home to make the potions, he wishes he had some suave, socially-acceptable hobby to fall back on. This indicates he is aware of standards of “cool” that he falls short of.

      2. Farla says:
        Wait, what about Hebrew? If he’s Jewish, he could possibly have learned to read the language already (maybe his long interest in old texts is how he first stumbled across the magic book), and we don’t have to explain how it got to Chicago because he’s rich and could’ve ordered it shipped over.

        I mean, then we get the evil money grubbing Jew, but…

        1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
          Hebrew would work really, really well on its own merits, especially because there are all sorts of esoteric texts running loose, of various degrees of authenticity. (It’d be a hoot if a newbie wizard was doing effective magic using a text that everybody “educated” had dismissed as a fake.)

          I’ll admit, I just didn’t want to contemplate setting Butcher loose anywhere near Judaism.

  4. Roarke says:
    One of the plot holes you missed (there was bound to be one) was that Harry entered this abode without being invited in, which should have played hell on his magic. Actually I don’t remember if the “threshold” issue was even a thing in this book, but I remember the demon having to push through Harry’s threshold, so it should have at least been mentioned.

    And of course, the whole Sight being possibly even temporarily debilitating if you see something crazy enough won’t ever happen to Harry for like 10-12 more books, when he will finally see something that damages his psyche so much he needs part of an afternoon to get back to the world of the ambulatory.

    1. Farla says:
      arg I even meant to mention that back when he brought it up before.
      1. Roarke says:
        I’m sure that the stupid wishy-washy explanation would be something like “It’s a vacation home, so it doesn’t have the same defenses as a real home, despite the fact that Victor has clearly been living here for weeks and neglecting his family.”
  5. Zzz says:
    Maybe if Harry wasn’t so lazy, he could cultivate one of those spontaneously generated magic constructs and get himself a not-shitty familiar to help him remember his spells, instead of a malevolent skull that’s constantly looking for ways to get leverage over him.
    1. Farla says:
      But if Harry did that, how would he excuse how his dates keep “accidentally” drinking love potions?
  6. illhousen says:
    I’ve posted the fic about Harry and Medea already, but if you are making a collection, I wouldn’t mind seeing it there. As well as other snippets, like Marcone who wanted to be beautiful.

    “My Sight revealed no alarms, no sorcerous trip wires. I might be
    giving Victor Shadowman too much credit. He was as powerful as a
    full-blown wizard, but he didn’t have the education. Muscle, not brains,
    that was Victor Shadowman.”

    For all you know, he’s discovered ways to create magic traps that just happened to not look like any trap you know. Maybe those skulls are actually here to nom on intruders.

    “The only spell he’s used that doesn’t have a blindingly obvious reason
    for it is the scorpion, and that’s probably just because we know barely
    anything about the guy – the scorpion is probably his first attempt at
    an offensive spell to help him out in the drug war (Harry does say
    scorpions have a good nastiness synergy going on) that he abandoned as
    not useful enough, which is why it was left behind for his wife to bring
    to Harry.”

    Scorpion could be found by Victor along with whatever source he uses to learn magic.

    I forgot, was it explained how Victor learned about magic to begin with? If it was from some book he found somewhere, maybe the scorpion was there, intended to guard the knowledge. It didn’t react to Victor due to being broken and activated only much later, when it was in Harry’s possession, because protocols have finally kicked in.

    “I mean, just look at this, what sort of bone do you think would match that shape?”

    Oh, that’s easy to answer:

    http://i46.tinypic.com/169q0pf.png

    “and he snarled, ” Scorpis, scorpis, scorpis!”

    He’s a fan of Soul Eater!

    “I mean, okay, Harry’s been running around shouting “Fire!” to shoot
    fire, (in…wait, Spanish, I was just assuming it was under the umbrella
    of “faux-Latin” he mentioned earlier, but no, the Latin it comes from
    is “hearth”, okay nothing makes sense at all now) but at least it’s a
    relatively simple concept there, so it being one word is okay. But
    apparently saying “scorpion” is enough to make loyal undead growing
    scorpions, with intelligence?”

    That was actually addressed. Basically, words don’t matter. They are here to help you focus, nothing more. You can pretty much shout anything you want or remain silent, it’s just using words that are associated with the spell in your mind makes it easier.

    I am not sure why wizards bother with Latin and other dead languages, though. I would speculate that it’s because a dead language creates a clearer association: when you say “Fire”, you may think about a candle flame or a fireplace, or a fireball, or shooting people, or firing someone from work. When you shout “Fuego”, you are thinking about the spell you picked to associate with ‘fuego’.

    However, later we learn that wizards speak Latin on formal occasions, so…

    1. Farla says:
      That was actually addressed. Basically, words don’t matter. They are here to help you focus, nothing more.

      I know, but if Harry uses faux-Latin, why does he use an actual regular Spanish word for when he wants to call down fiery death? And a slang term no less! A single Spanish guy calling out “Hot!” about someone could make Harry accidentally fireball!

      And if you’re trying to do a multilayered spell, wouldn’t you have multiple words? Shouldn’t “undead giant scorpion” require saying “undead giant scorpion” to focus on those aspects and not “scorpion scorpion scorpion”? Even for running on bullshit this doesn’t make sense!

    2. Farla says:
      I’ve posted the fic about Harry and Medea already, but if you are making a collection, I wouldn’t mind seeing it there. As well as other snippets, like Marcone who wanted to be beautiful.

      Looking at it, I think what I can do is mark the fic pile as part of a series, then mark you as a coauthor so you can add your fic in.

      If you’d rather have it all in the same fic pile, you add me as co-author to the fic, then I pile the rest of them on as new chapters.

      1. illhousen says:
        So, if I understand it correctly, the end result of the first option would be two fics connected via belonging to the same series accessible from either of our accounts. And the second option would result in one fic, likewise accessible from either account.

        Hm, I think I am inclined to do the second option, though either is fine.

        Do I simply write your name in the “add co-authors” section? Or are there any more steps?

        1. Wright of Void says:
          Making it a series would flood the archive more effectively and make it more notable, which I believe is more in keeping with the spirit of the project. If there are a lot of tiny snippets people might get annoyed though.
          1. Farla says:
            I hate the series, I don’t hate basic archive usability. Plus the last thing I want to do is become yet another model of that infuriating behavior and make it seem halfway acceptable.

            Also, AOOOOOOOOOO’s view-all-chapters feature is perfect for reading all of them together, which is best given how many snippets there are.

            1. Roarke says:
              How many is “there are?” out of curiosity? Actually I guess I don’t mind waiting to find out.
              Reply
        2. Farla says:
          Just sticking my name there should do it!
          1. illhousen says:
            OK, done.

            I guess summary and tags should be altered to reflect the change.

            Do you want to do it, or should I get to it?

            1. Farla says:
              I’ll do it, I’m about to be trapped somewhere annoying so it’ll be a good distraction.
              Reply
              1. illhousen says:
                OK, I am excited to see the snippet collection posted.

                I take it the annoyance is related to Christmas since you heathens celebrate it around this time instead of after the New Year as is right and proper?

  7. GeniusLemur says:
    You know, this would work a lot better if Victor and Harry changed places. Then you’d have the plucky, proactive, self-taught guy, acutely aware of his own limitations, but still enough in the regular world to use those kinds of solutions, taking on the smug, complacent, lazy, but formally taught and experienced wizard who’s got an in with the magic power structure self-taught guy doesn’t even know about and who just branched out into magic drugs to supplement his own already great power. THAT would work for the David vs Goliath scenario Butcher seems to be shooting for, but blows again and again because he can’t stop ass-kissing Harry Alpha-Male-Sue Dresden.
    1. Roarke says:
      Dude, come on, haven’t you been paying attention when Butcher laboriously explained how CLEARLY and COMPLETELY the circumstances were stacked in Victor’s favor? I mean, come on, I’m questioning your basic literacy at this point.

      But in all seriousness, I like your scenario a lot better. It’d be cool to see a novice approach a full-fledged wizard’s dwelling and encounter wards with his Sight for the first time, and have to think on his feet to bypass them, etc.

    2. illhousen says:
      The best thing about Victor von Protagonist is that he would be constantly tripping balls over all the things he has seen before he learned to deactivate his Sight. Should make for some amusing narration.
      1. Roarke says:
        I would hope he still has his family (that he doesn’t abuse, being a protagonist) and gets into humorous situations thanks to his Sight. He could be pulling his kids into the drive-through at a fast-food place and try to order the usual, only to come out describing all the horribly sick and wrong things he sees looking at a fast-food menu. And his kids will just be like “Nevermind, Dad, we’re vegetarian now.”
    3. Farla says:
      But ambition and motivation are evil things evil people have.

      That’s why Harry is so moral and pure and Gryffindor.

  8. sliz225 says:
    Pollute away, Farla. Release our little monstrosities so the rest of the world can look on them and despair.
    So is Dresden nonchalant, terrified, overwhelmed, or kicking ass? The author can’t seem to decide. Nor is he sure what Dresden’s/Victor’s respective power levels are. I don’t know whether to be afraid for Dresden (to survive) or not.
    1. Farla says:
      ::::D

      So is Dresden nonchalant, terrified, overwhelmed, or kicking ass?

      He’s whatever you want him to be at that moment! And by you, I meant the author.

  9. guestest ever says:
    I actually stopped reading these a few chapters back except for allcaps sentences and comments, I’m certain those are enough summary for this book (ALPHA MALE). Or is that false, am I missing anything?
    1. GeniusLemur says:
      You’d get the important points that way.
    2. actonthat says:
      Issues kind of stopped manifesting after like chapter 15 and it’s been the same awful over and over since then, so aside from plot points you’re not really losing anything.
      1. GeniusLemur says:
        Well, not every bad book can be like Left Behind and have a whole new kind of awfulness on every single page.
  10. EdH says:
    With the information Harry does know, a small part of me wonders if third person narrative would have made this more tolerable (in fact if it would make many noir stories tolerable), because if there’s one thing that annoys me it’s if people know more than they should.
    1. sliz225 says:
      Argh, me too. My personal sub-pet peeve is when narrators instinctively know, perhaps by “gazing into their eyes and recognizing what they see,” the inner lives of other characters. Or when they instinctively love/hate/distrust other characters on sight. This book is odd in that respect; Dresden consistently does this, but he also consistently wrong.
    2. Farla says:
      I dunno. Pretty much the only thing the book has in its favor is the chatty writing. Third person might just make this a more boring sexist slog.

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