"We're clear, boss." Hendricks spoke softly to me in deference, I thought, to the deathly hush that had descended on the townhouse we were in. I nodded and he left me. Left me alone with Dresden. With temptation.
I stepped closer to the circles. The larger outer circle I recognized as a ritual circle. Ms. Gard held tutorials on magic every Thursday and I made it a point never to miss one. The circle was for binding, for removing the will from the unfortunate creature captured within it and making them slavishly loyal to whoever wielded the spell. The inner circle was smaller. Just large enough to contain the man within.
Harry Dresden, professional wizard, professional private investigator and professional thorn in my side, lay within the circles. The warlocks who had abducted him had very obviously underestimated his great height because they had had to lay him within the circle curled on his side, his knees up to his chest, arms and legs bound together with a truly gratuitous amount of rope and duct tape. His bindings were sloppy and unprofessional, but since he was also very much unconscious and would remain so for some time if the drugs I'd located were what had been used on him, that didn't mean much.
"There was a time not too long ago, Harry, when Hendricks would have stayed behind. To guard me, he would say. When in fact we both know the truth. He would have remained in order to attempt to talk me out of doing something ill advised. What do you think has changed?"
I paced around the circle, slowly and deliberately. Harry's still form was always visible out of the corner of my eye.
"The Denarians, of course. He had known what we faced, but there is a difference between knowing and having it come to your doorstep and eviscerate the woman you are falling in love with. Having the monsters kidnap your friend and torture a young child. Hendricks and I finally see eye to eye on this." Anyone else would have sounded wistful, I suppose. If there had been anyone to hear me, I might have made the attempt to fake the emotion. But then if there had been anyone else in the room I would hardly have been speaking out loud to myself.
"You represent power, Harry. Power and security. The maddening thing about you is that you refuse to see sense. You refuse even the most generous and comfortable of offers. What am I to do with a weapon that refuses to be obedient to my hand? You can either destroy such a thing or fix it. I had despaired of you, Harry. A weapon that can only be poorly used is not one to keep around and I did not think you would take to being fixed.
"But now." I broke off and surveyed the room. Plain, uninspiring. No decorations on the walls, not even a pentagram or a severed head anywhere to be seen. "Now I see the possibilities again, Harry."
I faced him. He hadn't moved since I'd come into the room. Without the slow rise and fall of his chest and the faint movements of his eyes behind their lids, I might have taken him for the newly dead.
"We could do such great things, Harry. Marvelous things." My fingers shook, imperceptibly. I tightened them on themselves, holding myself still. "We would start with Morelli, of course. My only 'competition', though he only has the title out of form, really. His tactics are crass. Bloody. They cause too much collateral damage and he continues to make efforts to encroach on my territory. With him removed, a simple operation once you've come on board, Harry, we can consolidate our hold. Nail Chicago down, remove any dissenters in the ranks. I know who they are, of course, but these things must be handled delicately as it is. But with you, accidents would be far easier to arrange.
"The police. No longer a problem. Between your skills and those of myself, my men, there would be no evidence at all. Merely the shadow thereof." I smiled, glad there was no one to see it. "Rather like Moriarty, I suppose. Though the parallel fails in that you are hardly Sherlock Holmes, and I have no intention of going over the falls with you. We could consolidate my empire within six months at the outside." A thrill at the thought ran through me. I had dealings and influence throughout the nation. But a secure power base was necessary to keep my more far flung enterprises under control.
"And then once Chicago is perfectly secure, a safe haven, a fortress, we can deal with the greater threats. I'd like to take them out first, but it would be too easy to get embroiled in a longer fight. In which case having all the minor issues dealt with could mean the difference between victory and defeat. Your Council," I managed not to spit out the word, but it was a near thing. "They have long outlived any usefulness they might once have had. Their crimes are many, though I doubt I need to spell them out to you. They murder children, Harry. Children. Above that, they allow these children to run about the world, in danger from magical predators because they are too inept to bother to try and keep track of magical talents. I can't imagine that you thought that would escape my knowledge forever, or that you didn't know what would happen when I did discover it." I paused. There might have been a slight movement, little more than a twitch from the bound man. It did not repeat, assuming that it had been there in the first place, so I took a deep breath and resumed my pacing.
"This Black Council Ms. Gard has informed me of. The faeries and other creatures of the Nevernever who are allowed to run wild across our world because the people meant to be defending us are more interested in sitting back and saving their own skins. The Denarians. Why have they not been wiped off the face of the earth? Because of misguided morality? Or a way to keep people in line, perhaps. Fear is a wonderful tool. It is past time that humanity be able to defend itself, Harry. And you are the perfect tool to allow me to begin that.
"Amanda." I swallowed, thrust the memory of the last time I'd seen her away. She was deteriorating. Slowly, but inevitably. "I am convinced that, given enough time and resources, you could come across a solution. A cure."
I moved around the circle, to the place where the 'master' would stand for the binding ceremony. I picked up the blade and examined the rest of the implements. It meant nothing specific to me but it would be easy enough, a matter of perhaps five minutes, for Ms. Gard to be called in; to walk me through the spell well enough that I could perform it.
"I don't ask for world peace, Harry. I'm not such a fool as that. All I want is control. I want the chaos to be tempered into order. Pain and suffering are tools, not things that should be incidentally visited on innocents." I let myself picture it. The dream. The fantasy, if I was being honest. Control, at last. And Harry by my side, fiery and strong, wanting what I wanted. What I knew was needed. No. It wouldn't be like that, though, would it? The spell would ensure that my desires were his, but would it leave his spirit intact? I doubted it. If it did, it would only be a matter of time before one or the other broke.
Part of me did not care. Wanted it. I toyed with the images. Old, familiar ones all of them. Harry on his knees, eyes down, subdued as he waited for my next command. My hands pulling hard at his hair as I thrust into his mouth, him letting me, passive. Conquered at long last. Crawling for me. My body thrummed with the desire these images called up. I'd had nearly a decade to refine them, and they were glorious in their detail. I looked again at the reality of Harry Dresden, bound and waiting. Passive. Conquered, or so nearly it made little difference. Memories of Harry, bloodied and bruised, but unbroken. Facing down the creature MacFinn. Getting into my face and fighting me in a way no one had dared in longer than I cared to recall. Harry was attitude and fight, convinced of his own moral stand and willing to die for it. That was the key to his success. Not all his power, though it played no small role, of course. But his willingness to use it and use it creatively. The passion that drove him. The demons as well. I had other fantasies of Harry. Harry fighting me as I pinned him down, eyes snapping but a snarling laugh on his mouth. Biting, fucking, fighting. Bringing the building down around us in flames.
I sighed and took hold of myself. I stomped down on the glee, the plans that I could see spinning out to fruition. The justice long denied that would finally be served. I took it all and with long practice stuffed it back into the coldest recesses of my mind, where it could scream and cry for attention but remain denied. It would all come to pass, eventually. That was my sole comfort some days.
"I'd do it, you know. Finish the spell, bind you to me. Don't imagine that I wouldn't out of some faint morality. The problem, Dresden, is that I don't know if you would be as useful a creature if you were tamed and broken to my hand. I can't take that chance." What had he said to that creature on the island, 'A monkey with a stick could break it?'
I broke the outer circle. Smashed what focusing objects I could and maimed others, throwing them far from the ritual space. The inner circle took more time, being more fine, having more materiel involved. The destruction was simple. Primal. I let myself enjoy it for a few seconds as I did it.
When it was done, I took the blade and sliced his bonds. Harry flopped limply, now that he wasn't held in position. A faint groan came from his throat and I pried his eyelids up, peering into his eyes. The pupils were reactive to the light but drawn down to tiny pinpricks. I tapped the tip of the blade against my thigh and rose. He wasn't going anywhere under his own power any time soon. Transport to his home, then.
I walked out to find Hendricks waiting. Our eyes met and after a second he grunted. I could see tension slide out of his shoulders. He'd left me to do what I would do but he'd had his opinion of it after all. Apparently I'd done the right thing again.
"Mr. Dresden will need to be examined, and then we will take him home. I should think he will begin to come around at that point." I went back into the room with Harry. He needed someone to keep an eye on him, after all. Just for the moment.