Mon
Feb 18 2013 2:00pm

The Dresden Files Reread: Side Jobs Pt. 2

The Dresden Files Reread: Side Jobs Pt. 2In our last post about the various Dresden short stories, Harry Dresden found a little girl, saved a wedding, protected a group of LARPers and fought a creature out of legend. In this post we cover a few more of his Side Jobs and a special novelette told from the point of view of Thomas Raith.

Day Off

This story originally appeared in the anthology Blood Lite edited by Kevin J. Anderson, an anthology focusing on comedy. It is set between Small Favor and Turn Coat. It begins with Harry in a roleplaying game session with the Alphas. Harry kills the mood by criticizing the game magic and the group wraps up for the evening.

Harry mentions that he has the next day off from everything and is looking forward to spending some time with Anastasia Luccio (whom he’s dating at this time). Andi tries to get him to help her with something, but Harry brushes her off. When he returns home, he finds a van full of wizard posers who threaten him over a curse removal he did in New Orleans. They posture, but Harry runs them off with his gun.

In the morning he’s awakened by Molly who is going to be mucking about with potions unsupervised in Harry’s lab. She promises to be gone by the time Harry’s back from his date. Harry oversleeps and Molly is already making a mess as he gets ready. Then Andi and Kirby show up. They’re both acting strange, and complain of things that make them itch when they’re in wolf form. They’re both naked and as they wait for Harry’s help, they start to get intimate. Harry uses his Sight to see that they’re infected with psychophagic mites, psychic parasites from the Nevernever that they probably got from messing around while they were wolves. The parasites inflame their baser instincts, which leads to Andi coming on to Harry and Kirby becoming enraged by that.

Mouse tries to defend Harry and Harry puts them in a magic circle to prevent the influence of the mites. Meanwhile, downstairs Molly is creating acrid and noxious fumes. Oh, and the wannabe poser wizards throw a smoke bomb into Harry’s place. Harry manages to get to Molly, who’s unconscious and not breathing, and resuscitates her just in time for Luccio to arrive (and did I mention that Molly is topless?). In the end, Harry apologizes to Luccio for using up most of the day and Luccio tells Harry there’s still time left and they have their date, only delayed.

A cute little story that details some of the weirdness that seems to follow Harry around. But also showing how he always does the right thing and helps those in need.

 

Backup

“Backup” was a novelette from Subterranean Press. It takes place between Small Favor and Turn Coat. Unlike the previously mentioned stories in the book, this one focuses on Thomas and is told from his point of view. It starts with Thomas receiving an email from Lara, his sister, referring to something called the Oblivion War. Thomas is something called a Venator, and Lara is the only other one in the White Court of Vampires. Thomas is reluctant to deal with it but Lara tells him she’s sending a courier.

We see Thomas at work (this is while he’s still a hairdresser) and get a glimpse of the hunger and how it works inside of him. He’s managing to resist for now, but feels that one day he will give in.

Thomas returns home, paranoid, fearing that Lara might be doing this to take him out. Nice family, the Raiths. Instead of an assassin, the courier is Justine, the woman Thomas loves. He embraces her, feeling his demon move inside of him. He also burns himself on her hair by accident. Lara gave Justine the message vocally and Thomas fears that her knowing it will draw her into the Oblivion War. Thomas realizes as Justine tells him the message that Lara was general enough so that Justine wouldn’t know anything. He also realizes that some women called the Stygian Sisterhood are trying to dupe Harry into helping them by taking a young girl. Thomas has to help protect Harry without being able to tell him anything about it. This is one of the reasons I love Butcher’s writing—he knows how to set things up so that his characters are stuck in the worst possible position.

Thomas then performs a tracking spell, giving us a helpful little bit of exposition explaining that anyone can do magic, just that people like Harry do it really well. Thomas uses his pentacle amulet to link to Harry’s. Thomas finds Harry in Millennium Park and follows him, realizing that he’s being followed as well, by two ghouls. Harry disappears into the Pavilion and Thomas follows, shouting for Harry, though it seems like he doesn’t hear.

Thomas realizes that the person he’s following isn’t Harry as the ghouls attack. Thomas is armed with his kukri and Desert Eagle and he makes quick work of the ghouls, then turns to face the Stygian, who he realizes has been masquerading as Harry. Before he can attack, however, he catches his own reflection in some metal and he doesn’t look like himself. Instead he looks kinda like an older ghoul. While he’s distracted, the Stygian escapes.

Thomas is understandably freaked out, so he goes to get help. From Bob the Skull. Bob talks to Thomas when he hears that Harry is in trouble, but he won’t help Thomas without knowing what this is all about. So Thomas asks Bob to agree not to tell Harry about the Oblivion War since it will put Harry in danger. Bob agrees.

Thomas tells Bob about the Oblivion War, about the fight for the memory of mankind. Old gods and powers are tied to the mortal world by knowledge and belief. The Venatori, of which there are fewer than two hundred, fight to eliminate the knowledge of those old powers so they can’t come back. They have to keep their numbers small so that the knowledge doesn’t spread. Bob can know because he isn’t mortal. But if Harry knew, he would be a threat to both sides.

Thomas also explains that the Stygian Sisterhood is a group of women who replace parts of their personalities with those taken from inhuman minds. They are in service of demon-goddesses who they are trying to keep in the world. The key to this plan is a book called the Lexicon Malos. The idea is that when Harry tracks down the lost child, he’ll find the book, turn it over to the White Council, and they’ll publish it like they did the Necronomicon to defuse its power. Only it will spread the knowledge of the demon-goddesses. Thomas also mentions that the Venatori tried to get rid of faeries, only they were stopped by the G-men, Gutenberg and the Grimms (I love little bits like that).

Thomas twigs onto the fact that the Stygian changed his face to probably resemble the supposed kidnapper and that Harry is aware of it. Thomas also explains that the vampires are involved in the Oblivion War for the simple reason that they don’t like competition. Bob agrees to help him, but Thomas tells him not to change him back.

Bob helps set up a better tracking spell that leads Thomas to an alley outside of a warehouse. The Stygian is playing her role as the frightened mother. The warehouse is guarded by ghouls. Thomas gets to the roof and then waits. When Harry attacks, early in the morning, Thomas slips into the warehouse and grabs the Lexicon Malos. He thinks about getting out then, but the Stygian has messed with Harry and Thomas can’t let that stand.

Thomas instead decides to play the role that the Stygian assigned him, hamming it up as the villain. Harry attacks him, of course, but Thomas kills the lights and the Stygian comes for him. She scores a cut on him while Harry frees the child. Then the Stygian cries for help in her grieving mother role. She also alludes to the fact that Thomas has been poisoned by her cut. Thomas, realizing that he’s still ahead by grabbing the book and that the child is safe, skedaddles.

Thomas is poisoned, but he goes after the Stygian nonetheless using hairs he cut from her head. He finds her in her hotel room where he sneaks up behind her and lets his demon feed.

The next day, Thomas’s natural appearance is restored and he visits Harry who has discovered that the kid’s mother wasn’t actually that. It ends with Thomas asking Harry to lunch.

I really like Thomas so I enjoyed reading a story from his point of view, and I think Butcher did a good job of giving him a distinct voice from Harry. Thomas can be a little emo at times, but I think he comes off as sympathetic here, a slave to his demon. I also love the idea of the Oblivion War and the fact that even talking about it undermines the efforts of the Venatori. I’d love to see more from Thomas in the future.

 

The Warrior

This novelette appeared in the anthology Mean Streets and takes place between Small Favor and Turn Coat, and before the next story in the collection. This one focuses on Michael Carpenter.

Harry visits Michael at the ball park while he’s coaching his daughter, Alicia’s, softball team. Harry received a number of photos of Michael with no note, the implication being that Michael is in danger. Harry offers Michael his old sword back, but Michael refuses. Harry plays the family card, and offers to lurk about, but still Michael refuses.

Harry watches Michael’s place, then gets out of the car to go in. As he’s walking, he just manages to save a neighborhood girl named Courtney from getting hit by a car. Courtney’s mother comes to get her and Harry notices a bruise on her, calling attention to it.

Inside, Harry is greeted by Charity and Little Harry, his namesake. Michael mentions to Charity that he invited Harry over for dinner, then they (with Charity) go into his office. Harry worries that it’s Nicodemus behind the photos, but Michael claims to be protected by faith. Charity mentions that it’s only against supernatural forces and warns Michael not to be proud. They agree to let Harry stay in the house.

Harry realizes as he sits in the guest bedroom that Michael is happier than he has ever been. And he worries that his involvement might be putting the Carpenters at risk. He heads down for a late snack and sees a shadow outside. He follows it, veiling himself, and sees what appears to be a male figure breaking into the Blue Beetle and stealing Michael’s sword. Harry tackles the culprit, but the thief scrambles away and Harry’s magic doesn’t affect him.

The next morning Harry explains that the thief took a decoy sword and not the real Amoracchius. Harry can track the decoy sword and does so after breakfast. The thief, however, ditched the sword in a dumpster outside a fast food place. Attached to the sword is an envelope with more photos, one of Michael and one of a high-powered sniper rifle. Michael realizes that the photos were sent to Harry to scare him into a reaction, most likely bringing the sword to Michael. Michael still won’t take up the sword, though, and he relies on his faith and the belief that everything was happening for a reason.

Harry next accompanies Michael to a building site his company was working on. Harry recognizes it from one of the photos sent by Buzz, the nickname he uses for the bad guy because of his buzzcut. He thinks Buzz might still be there so he looks around. He runs into a drunk electrician who he worries might electrocute himself and burn down the building, so he blows a transformer with a little magical tech interference.

Harry sets Molly up to look after Michael, then he heads home, expecting an attack there. He powers up his shield bracelet, which only just manages to save him as he’s getting into his apartment. Harry goes down, and it takes him a while to be able to open his door. Mouse manages to help, dragging him in, and helping to close the door behind Harry just as Buzz gets there. Harry needs medical attention and so calls his favorite off-the-books medical professional, Waldo Butters.

Butters patches up Harry, who only just managed to avoid getting killed. Butters also helps Harry figure out that Buzz would have had to learn that Harry had Amoracchius. And the only people who knew that aside from Sanya, Michael and some angels were from the Church.

Harry heads to see Father Forthill and barrels in, finding him in his underwear. Harry explains what’s been happening and Forthill knows what’s going on. Unfortunately, he can’t tell Harry. He’s sworn not to say anything. Harry gets angry until Forthill points out that Harry’s been in that position before. Forthill askes Harry to trust him. Harry tells him to hurry up.

Harry heads to the softball field next and runs into one of Alicia’s teammates, a girl called Kelly who is crying because she feels like she’s letting the team down by screwing up all the time. Harry tries to make her feel better using a reference to Great Expectations of all things. Then he questions Michael about who might have known about the swords. Michael only knows Forthill. Then the softball team appears yelling that a man, Buzz, abducted Alicia. Michael sends Molly to drop off the rest of the team and has Harry take him to Father Forthill’s.

Michael urges Forthill to break his oath for Alicia’s sake, and Forthill does. He explains that Buzz’s real name is Father Roarke Douglas, a military man and sniper and a member of the Ordo Malleus, the organization within the Church that deals with supernatural issues. He was close with Shiro and unhappy about what happened with Fidelacchius. When Amoracchius went to Harry as well he got extremely upset. He felt that Harry was manipulating them and wanted the swords for his own purposes.

Douglas gets in touch with Harry later that night attempting to arrange a trade, the swords for Alicia. Harry agrees. He meets Douglas on a rooftop where Alicia is strapped to a chair wired with explosives. He asks for the swords. Harry tosses him the bag which is rigged with a smoke grenade. As it goes off, Harry leaps the roof and tussles with Douglas. He gets his hand on the dead man’s switch Douglas has and gets it away from him. Douglas grabs for the bag and runs.

Harry manages to get Alicia free and away from the explosives before Harry’s natural hexing power blows them. He gets Alicia to Michael’s car where Molly and Michael are, then they trace the swords using Molly’s hair, which was wrapped around their hilts. They track him and Harry tries to get the bag back. Douglas gets Fidelacchius and Harry gets Amoracchius. Douglas almost takes Harry down, but Michael shows up with his baseball bat, and he grabs the still-scabbarded sword. He fights Douglas back, arguing with him about faith while he does. Michael takes Douglas down and Harry has to stop him from going further. Michael gives Amoracchius back to Harry. In the end, they take Douglas back to the Church.

As a coda, Harry has a chat with the janitor, Jake, whom Harry knows is the archangel Uriel. He explains that a lot of God’s will is about giving free will to people. To let them choose their path. He also outlines a lot of the good Harry did in the story. Harry saved Courtney’s life and pointed out abuse to her mother, causing her to move out. He saved the drunk electrician which later allowed him to save his daughter’s life with a bone marrow transplant. And he helped the young softball player which will translate into her helping others. And he stopped Michael from seeking vengeance. Harry ends things by trying to bill Uriel for his services. Perhaps predictably, Uriel doesn’t pay.

A nice look into the life of Michael and the reaction to Harry having two of the three swords. Harry has had them for some time now and hasn’t done much with them yet. It seems reasonable that some would question that. It also stresses the good that small actions can do, when one isn’t busy saving the world.


Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator and blogger who is dying to find out what’s going to happen to the unclaimed Swords of the Cross. His website is www.rajankhanna.com and he tweets @rajanyk.

4 comments
Kasiki
1. Kasiki
The Warrior and Backup, are probably the most beloved of Butchers short stories. so many things that add a great Baskstory to some of the best characters in the series as well as add to some of the events that have happened.

But there is always going to be a sorf place for Butcher describing a RPG like D&D and adding "He who breaks the cheer, springs for beer!"
Emmet O'Brien
2. EmmetAOBrien
Three parts this time. Are we looking at an exponential progression such that the Cold Days reread will be chapter by chapter ?

I'm not particularly fond of any of these stories, for different reasons. "Day Off" is fluff, and most of the supposed humour makes me groan. "Backup" has the same problem for me that the other non-Harry-POV stories do, in not feeling independent enough from Harry - even with a Harry-centric plot, I don't quite believe in Thomas seeing himself that much as a supporting character. I also liked it better when it was plausible that the Oblivion War was a mindgame Lara was running on Thomas to get him to assassinate rivals - the you-can't-talk-about-it nature of the concept is a beautiful piece of abuser logic that fits right in with that family - but Cold Days strongly suggests otherwise.

"The Warrior" I dislike on a whole other set of levels; firstly, because it's doing major resolution for what happened to Michael in Small Favor in ways that really should have been in the books. Secondly, because it hints at a couple of directions that would be genuinely new and interesting for the series - for one thing, Harry's initial reaction to the rogue priest being a degree of sympathy and understanding that he rarely gets to show for antagonists, and for another, the possibility of exploring what it would mean for Michael to genuinely not be able to be the defender any more and how he handles that - both of which it did not follow through on - I found the priest crossing the line by kidnapping Michael's daughter and then running into just the exact situation where Michael is still able to actively counter him a very disappointing ending. And thirdly, it's very hard not to suspect Uriel of contriving both that and the set of coincidences that make its rhetorical point about Harry's influence on ordinary people's lives - that would to me have been a much more convincing argument had Uriel referred to events over the span of the series rather than getting so many such useful incidents within the timescale of the story.
Debbie Solomon
3. dsolo
I happen to love "The Warrior". JB commented that the inspiration for this story was related to an incident with some former neighbors. He had apparently done them a minor kindness, which had major effects down the line. When he was made aware of it years later, it inspired this story. I love that all the fighting and arguments were not the major focus, but Harry saving the little girl and the electrician. Harry is basically a good person, which gives me hope for how he's going to handle his new position as of the last couple of books.
Emmet O'Brien
4. EmmetAOBrien
dsolo@3: JB commented that the inspiration for this story was related to an
incident with some former neighbors. He had apparently done them a
minor kindness, which had major effects down the line. When he was made
aware of it years later, it inspired this story.

Real life doesn't have to make satisfying narratives.

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