Last time, Harry finally bothers to confront the guy he was hired to find at the start of the book.
I was so dead. There was no way out of the kitchen, no time to use an explosive evocation in close quarters, and the deadly scorpions would rip me to pieces well before Victor could blow me up with explosive magic or one of the blood-maddened Beckitts could get their guns working long enough to put a few more bullets in me.
If only. But again, you have spells other than fireball. You also have wind punch. Wind punch them into a bloody smear. If somehow you can’t concentrate your force enough, wind punch something else into them.
Also, you just said the guns are going to explode before long from this much magic. The options are not gun jam or gun fire, they’re gun jam, gun fire, or gun asplode in their hands.
Assuming equal probability, there’s only a 33% chance they manage to shoot you. Also, supposedly you’re on your last legs, so having two people fiddling with guns that have a 66% chance of not working one way or another is actually really good for you, because that’s two people not just hacking you up with butcher knives.
Possibly the odds aren’t equal probabilities, but given Beckitt-the-male fired only a couple bullets before jamming and now both of the new guns they’d found haven’t managed to fire at all, it definitely seems like “not work” is more likely than “work”. Even if explode is set at like 10% or something, he’s got cover, so he just has to get through one or two working bullets before there’s a boom and a win for him.
Honestly, the worst outcome for him right now is for one gun to backfire but not significantly, so they realize the guns are a bad idea, which is really not at all the same thing as “poor me they have guns”.
My hip was beginning to scream with pain, which I supposed was better than the deadly dull numbness of more serious injuries and shock, but at the moment it was the least of my worries.
Also this just seems weird to me. I mean, okay, injuries can be weird, but he apparently powered through this whole time on adrenaline, and now that things are actually getting bad his injuries are kicking in? It all smacks of fiat.
Anyway, there’s a broomstick, so he grabs a straw and does a spell to make it be an animated Disney broom.
” Pulitas!” I shouted, bringing the chant to a crescendo. ” Pulitas, pulitas!”
So apparently saying it three times is a thing unless it’s a direct attack.
The last thing I had expected to use that cleaning spell for when I had laboriously been forced to learn
Because cleaning is just so hard when you’re male that even figuring out how to make a robot do all the work for you is laborious and requires being forced.
Victor screeched in anger when he saw his pets, still too small to carry much mass, being so neatly corralled and ushered off the balcony.
It’s interesting that the book previously did a pretty good job of selling the scorpions as dangerous and now it’s doing such a terrible, terrible job. If Harry was bright enough to animate his shoe, they’d be destroyed already.
The Beckitts, presumably after every better gun failed, have apparently found revolvers and they shoot at the broom. Such tension.
There was a lot of blood, but not so much that I was sitting in a puddle.
“There was precisely enough so you know how hardcore I am for enduring this, but not enough to prevent me from doing anything.
Right as the broom knocks the scorpions onto the first floor, Sells grabs it. Tension!
The straw I still held in my fingers broke with a sharp little twang, and I felt the energy fade from the spell.
OH NO THE SPELL THAT HAD COMPLETED ITS PURPOSE HAS BEEN ENDED WHAT WILL HARRY DO?!
Sells then says that if Harry surrenders he’d be willing to let him go, I think just so Harry can show how brave and smart he is by refusing but come on, no one would bother offering in the first place. Harry mocks him a bit, Sells tries another fire blast.
“Oh, cute,” I said, my voice dripping scorn. “Fire’s the simplest thing you can do. All the real wizards learn that in the first couple of weeks and move on up from there.”
Given what we’ve seen from Harry, I’m going to assume he’s lying here to fuck with Sells.
“Shut up!” Victor snarled. “Who’s the real wizard here, huh? Who’s the one with all the cards and who’s the one bleeding on the kitchen floor? You’re nothing, Dresden, nothing. You’re a loser. And do you know why?”
“Gee,” I said. “Let me think.”
He laughed, harshly. “Because you’re an idiot. You’re an idealist. Open your eyes, man. You’re in the jungle, now. It’s survival of the fittest, and you’ve proved yourself unfit. The strong do as they wish, and the weak get trampled. When this is over, I’m going to wipe you off my shoe and keep going like you never existed.”
Now, this looks like your bog-standard villain speech, BUT, if we go on the idea Sells can’t turn the sight off, what might that mean?
Let’s remember that while “idealist” generally goes with the idea those ideas are noble ones, technically, there are an awful lot of shitty ideas.
So, does Harry try to operate based on an idealized version of the world? Yes yes and yes. Is it a substantial part of why he failed to do all of the many things that could’ve stopped Sells earlier, and is currently here with no allies whatsoever? Yes. Has this entire book been illustrating all the ways Harry is not “fit”? Hell yes. Had Harry told the truth, actually cared about investigating, not relied on assumption after assumption, etc, he’d have done so much better. Even up to the very end, Harry lost an ally and crippled himself in the upcoming fight because he couldn’t explain himself even with her life on the line too, and then beat another potential ally unconscious with a chair.
Harry is very clearly failing at survival of the fittest. For god’s sake, he stands around and insults the wizard commanding the demon about to eat him rather than trying to escape. He fucked up this very encounter by choosing to levitate up and banter rather than directly attack.
Sells may literally be seeing that Harry’s behavior is maladaptive.
“Too late for that,” I told him. I was in the mood to tell a white lie. “The police know all about you, Vic. I told them myself. And I told the White Council, too. You’ve never even heard of them, have you, Vic? They’re like the Superfriends and the Inquisition all rolled up into one. You’ll love them. They’ll take you out like yesterday’s garbage. God, you really are an ignorant bastard.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then, “No,” he said. “You’re lying. You’re lying to me, Dresden.”
“If I’m lying I’m dying,” I told him. Hell, as far as I knew, I was. “Oh. And Johnny Marcone, too. I made sure that he knew who and where you were.”
I’d just like to say that Harry’s idea of a “white lie” is a thing where he lies about doing something only a monster wouldn’t have done.
Harry was in contact with all three of these groups. Harry is known to all of them, so even dashing off a note would’ve gotten back to them. Harry chose to fuck everyone over by making sure if he dies, the trail ends.
Sells wants to know who set Harry on them and Harry realizes that hey, opportunity to double fuck over everyone if he dies! So he begins the laughing about how the dumbass doesn’t realize who really sent Harry after him, because that sure won’t lead to him slaughtering people after this at all, then belatedly realizes that naming his wife has a decent chance of leading to her, you know, dying horribly. He only does this after happily ruling out everyone else Sells can think of, because he’s a stupid fucker.
I should point out that this is hugely unfair, because what set Harry after him was actually the white council, specifically the fact that unlike Harry they did care about the heartsplosions and were ready to prosecute the person they thought was responsible. And even saying that would do a tiny bit to try to ameliorate the whole “dying fucks everyone else” thing by making it likely Sells will try to attack the council and inform them of his existence.
The Beckitts, surprisingly levelheaded for lust zombies, point out that Harry is obviously taunting Sells to keep them in the burning house. Harry’s penned in, so leave him to burn. Sells belatedly decides that maybe there’s a point, possibly because a timber just fell next to him, but also wants to be sure to kill Harry, so he decides to summon the demon again.
He says Kalshazzak three times. It’s like the author just now decided that since three is magic, you have to say things three times.
Harry informs us that demons are unkillable.
You can’t kill demons, as such, only destroy the physical vessels they create for themselves when they come to the mortal world.
If called again, they can create a new vessel without difficulty.
I would like to see the study.
Did they tell a demon something, explode it, then re-summon it to verify information remains constant? Can they tell the personality is the same and that it’s not just in contact with its society and passing the information along to others? Does trying to summon the same one twice fail?
I had seen only one person call a demon before-and I had killed my old master shortly after.
It’s a shame more wasn’t done with the idea of demons being this rare and instead Harry keeps telling us how he knows all about them. No “oh shit I guess I didn’t kill it”, no, “damn, as I suspected it was only banished”, Harry had to tell us “the way demons objectively works is that…” instead of being uncertain in any way. Harry either knows it or it’s impossible to know.
The thing crouched in front of Victor, its lightning blue eyes whirling with shades of scarlet hate, staring up at the black-clad wizard, trembling with the need to tear into him, to rend and destroy the mortal being who had dared summon it forth.
What does this mean?
See, “demons”, conventionally, want to be in this world, because hell is hell to them too and/or to cause trouble here. Not necessarily under the control of someone, but Harry’s description of the demon said it’s continually powered by the summoner, so killing the guy would mean popping back into their original reality. That suggests demons don’t want to be here, in which case they’re not really demons, are they? They’re just somebody you’re dragging into what, to them, is probably some horrible hellplane, then demanding they do a task to be let back to their home universe.
It suggests the association with black magic has nothing to do with them being evil and everything to do with summoning and will-binding being evil.
Sweat ran down his face, and he tilted his head slowly to one side, as though his vision were skewing along the horizontal and by the motion he would compensate for it. I gave silent thanks that I had closed my Third Eye when I did. I did not want to see what that thing really looked like
Oh hey, I didn’t remember we got confirmation for always-on wizard sight!
I redouble my claim that when Sells says Harry is failing survival of the fittest, it had nothing to do with Harry being nice and everything to do with objectively not being fit.
Anyway, after all the drama, Harry’s all lololololol.
“My God, Victor,” I said. “I can’t get over how clumsy you are.”
In a different book where Harry wasn’t handed advantage after advantage, and especially didn’t whine about the advantages as if he was suffering, this would be a pretty cool scene. The book builds up how objectively dangerous the demon is while managing to duck around Harry saying he’s actually scared to be facing it, and it’s good for the whole self-taught newbie vs properly educated semi-experienced thing to actually have some impact.
So – demon control is just based on names, which means that if you summon one in front of your target, the target can also control your demon. And it’s described pretty well too.
The demon stopped in its tracks and gave a whistling howl of agony and rage as I called its name and drew my will up to hurl against it.
“Kalshazzak,” I snarled again. The demon’s presence was suddenly there, in my head, raging slippery and slimy and wriggling like a venomous tadpole. It was a pressure, a horrible pressure on my temples that made me see stars and threatened to steal enough of my balance to send me falling to the floor.
I tried to speak again and the words stuck in my throat. The demon hissed in anticipation, and the pressure on my head redoubled, trying to force me down, to make me give up the struggle, at which point the demon would be free to act.
I cried out the demon’s name for the third and final time, my throat burning and raw. The word came out garbled and imperfect, and for a sinking moment I feared the worst, but Kalshazzak howled again, and hurled itself furiously to the floor, thrashing its limbs about like a poisoned bug, raging and tearing great swaths out of the carpet.
It’s a good expansion beyond magic being just saying words – it’s not original, but there’s a reason this stuff comes up again and again. The fact saying words is causing a change as he connects with the demon, and then there’s not only mental pushback but what seems like a dash of physical pressure to fight through to finish it is “magical” in that it’s something that we find very intuitive but bears no resemblance to how the real world works.
“What are you doing?” Victor said, his voice rising to a high-pitched shriek. “What are you doing?”
Sells is very shrill and screechy in this. I’m not sure how intentional it was, but he definitely gets more evil-feminine descriptions, which is suspect in general and especially so in this book.
Sells then runs for the doors, again showing a higher degree of fitness than Harry.
“Oh no you don’t,” I muttered, and I uttered the last spell I could manage. One final time, on the last gasps of my power, the winds rose and lifted me from the earth. I hurtled into Victor like an ungainly cannonball, driving him away from the doors, past the demon as it made an awkward lunge at us, and toward the railing of the balcony.
This raises interesting questions about what exactly counts as killing with magic. Fireballing someone is evidently killing with magic. Presumably, magically throwing yourself into someone in a way that leads to their death by other unmagical sources is not, even if you used the magic intending to cause that outcome.
Although we’re told Harry is yet again in so much pain you have no idea after this, he’s able to explain that the 4th wizard law about binding beings means he just broke the binding but didn’t establish his own, implying that the white council is surprisingly chill about unleashing demons to rampage so long as you don’t order them around in the process. It also means demons, who Harry just finished explaining are impossible to kill, count as mortals, because as Harry said to Morgan way back when, “You know as well as I do that those laws apply to mortals.”
It’s not clear why Sells can’t just release the spell, but at least this plot hole is consistent, since Morgan assumed Harry had no choice but to thunderboltsplode a demon he summoned and that’s probably not just due to Morgan’s extremely low opinion of Harry’s intelligence. (Also unclear is why there was even a battle of wills in this case.)
“It’s free,” I confirmed. I glanced at the demon. “Looks hungry.”
Again with things that look hungry. We’ve established that demons are some sort of other dimensional being temporarily (and perhaps partially) yanked into our universe with a materialized shell around them. Not only do I see no reason why they would want to eat us, but I’m extremely dubious they’d even be capable of it.
I saw him glance at the demon, then back to me, eyes terrified and calculating.
“Work with me,” he said. “You stopped it before. You can stop it again. We can beat it, together, and leave.”
It’s interesting how tropes work, isn’t it?
In some stories, this sort of thing is a moment of shared humanity and virtue, in which two enemies work together for mutual survival against a greater and often literal monster. In other stories, it’s part of establishing the villain’s lack of virtue, because they shamefully reach for any way to stay alive while the hero sits back and says he’s good with them both dying.
I couldn’t kill him with magic. I didn’t want to. And it would only have brought a death sentence on my head in any case. But I could stand by and do nothing. And that’s exactly what I did. I smiled at him, closed my eyes, and did nothing.
So you see what I mean about how his bit about not being a murderer earlier was ridiculous.
I’d also like to point back to the very beginning, when Harry had his whole bit about how magical killing is just perverse, about the idea this is a particular wizard hangup and not anything rational.
See, it’s possible for magic itself to be some sort of sacred, and there are things you don’t do with it because of this visceral sense of wrongness.
And it’s possible for this to be the other kind of sacred, where it’s just an empty rule you have to abide by or risk the wrath of other people.
What’s not possible is for both of these to be a meaningful factor at the same time. Either killing with magic truly is a horrible atrocity OR it’s a rule Harry’s following at swordpoint. Can’t be both.
And it’s not a good mix with letter of the law bullshit. Harry keeps saying how supposedly he’s expecting to die and willing to die to stop this guy and yeah he’s totally going to die here but he just wants to take Sells down in the process look at him nobly sacrificing all over the place. But he’s not willing to stain his soul with magic murder to do it, and also he’s not willing to risk a judgement that he supposedly will never live to see.
If Harry ever displayed reverence for magic outside that one bit about magic killing being gross, it would be possible to set Harry up as an atoner, where he’s happy to die here and make up for his crimes by choosing not to kill with magic to save himself the way he sinfully did last time. But of course there’s been none of that, so we’re just getting yet another bout of self-important smug here.
“Fuck you, then, Dresden,” Victor snarled. “It can only eat one of us at a time. And I’m not going to be the one to get eaten today.” And he picked me up to hurl me toward the demon.
Also, I’d just like to point out that everything would’ve worked better if the previous bit was skipped and it went straight from Harry being all ALL UR DEMONS ARE BELONG TO THEMSELVES to this. Currently I feel he really has a decent point after Harry’s response. He’s killed a bunch of other innocent people, so he’s evil, but Harry went into this trying to kill him and so trying to kill Harry back is pretty neutral.
I objected with fragile tenacity.
What does that even mean.
Harry goes on to say that Sells has all the advantages in the wrestling match, and unusually actually lists only advantages for the guy, but it doesn’t matter because somehow he’s still better anyway:
He levered me up and almost threw me, but I moved quicker, whipping my right arm at his head
Remember, bullets are only flesh wounds!
He manages to get Sells the rest of the way to the balcony’s edge and they fall over, and Harry’s injuries and exhaustion and lack of oxygen from the fire continue to not prevent him from doing stuff like holding on to a railing.
I shot a glance below, and saw the glistening brown hide of one of the scorpions, its stinging tail held up like the mast of a ship cutting through smoke at least four feet deep.
This is such a cool description I almost feel bad pointing out that wtf sort of smoke stays neatly on the bottom floor and completely out of Harry’s eyes? This stuff is behaving like stuff that comes out of a fog machine.
I saw him draw in a breath, and try to plant a foot firmly enough to free one hand to point at the oncoming demon in some sort of magical attack or defense. I couldn’t allow Victor to get out of this. He was still whole. If he could knock the demon down, he might still slip out. So I had to tell him something that would make him mad enough to try to take my head off. “Hey, Vic,” I shouted. “It was your wife. It was Monica that ratted on you.”
Wrong: killing him with magic.
Wrong: not killing him.
Right: telling him who, if he makes it out of this alive, he should torture horribly, in the hopes it’ll maybe distract him enough he’ll fail to escape and die.
Victor proceeds to be bitten and slowly crushed by the demon because Harry couldn’t be assed to give him a quick death, as Harry dangles and yet again realizes that shit, he’s going to die. It is amazing how many times Harry can realize this.
idly wishing that I could have had time to apologize to Murphy, that I could apologize to Jenny Sells for killing her daddy, that I could apologize to Linda Randall for not figuring things out fast enough and saving her life.
Harry, I’m telling you, that was not a child and the only way Sells is the father is if horrible abominations count their summoner as their parent.
But also, your apology list does not impress me because this isn’t a sincere admittance of guilt, it’s just you trying to show off how great you are by caring about even those things.
Suddenly, Harry realizes the handcuffs can save him!
With my right, I flicked the free end of the handcuffs around one of the bars of the guardrail. The ring of metal cycled around on its hinge and locked into place.
This is incredibly unclear. My guess is that the railing has upright pointed bars somewhere and Harry’s dropped the handcuff over them, but it leaves the issue of what kind of railing was this, because generally upright pointed bars are a bad idea, especially ones thin enough to easily throw a handcuff over.
Then, as I started to fall back down, I hauled hard on Victor’s leg. He screamed, a horrible, highpitched squeal, as he started to fall. Kalshazzak, finally overbalanced by the additional weight and leverage I had added to Victor’s struggles, pitched over the balcony guardrail and into the smoke below, crashing down to the floor, carrying Victor with him.
There was a rush of scuttling, clicking sounds, a piercing whistle-hiss from the demon. Victor’s screams rose to something high-pitched and horrible, until he sounded more like an animal, a pig squealing at slaughter, than a man.
I swung from the balcony, my feet several feet above the fray, held suspended in an acutely painful fashion by Murphy’s handcuffs, one loop around my wrist, the other locked around the balcony railing. I looked down as my vision started to fade. I saw a sea of brown, gleaming plates of segmented, chitinous armor. I saw the scorpions’ stinging tails flashing down, over and over again. I saw the lightning eyes of Kalshazzak’s physical vessel, and I saw one of them pierced and put out by the flashing sting of one of the scorpions.
And I saw Victor Sells, struck over and over again by stingers the size of ice picks, the wounds foaming with poison. The demon ignored the pincers and the stingers of the scorpions to begin tearing him apart. His face contorted in the final agony of rage and fear.The strong survive, and the weak get eaten. I guess Victor had invested in the wrong kind of strength.
But instant death heartsplosions are evil.
Anyway, having won, Harry just dangles there and Morgan shows up to hack apart the scorpions and then, omg, the sword comes for Harry!!!!!
Typical, was my last thought. How perfectly typical, to survive everything the bad guys could do, and get taken down by the people for whose cause I had been fighting.
“God fine if the dark wizard is going to personally murder me I guess I’ll do something about it to save my skin!” is probably not the same cause as the white council, Harry.