The Dresden Files: Portland

Side Job: Ransom

Karkana Chronicles: Twenty-Nine

January 20, 2014 (Monday)

Brianna and Joey are at their apartment. It’s the late afternoon when there’s a sudden knock on their front door. Brianna looks at the peephole to see a dapper looking gentleman in a suit on her doorstep. He evens carries a cane. She doesn’t recognize him at all.

“Okay, Joey. I don’t know who this joker is, so head’s up.” She opens the door slowly.

The man cocks his head. “Good afternoon. Are you Brianna Karkana?”

“I might be.”

“Yes.” He drawls slightly. “Well, I have a business proposition for you, if you are. Would you be so kind as to invite me in?”

“And you are?”

“Mr. Bradbury.”

Brianna doesn’t recognize his name, either. A quick glance at the man tells her nothing but that he is very confident. “Is this something that we can just discuss right here?”

“I would prefer not to discuss my business out on a stoop.” He sniffs.

“I would prefer not to invite people I don’t know into my home,” she counters.

“Well, that is very disappointing. Not for me, truly, but for Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive.” He turns to leave.

Brianna quickly calls out to him, “Mr. Bradbury.” He pauses, turning back to her. “Come inside my home.”

“Very good then.”

She holds out one of the amulets needed to pass through the wards on her apartment. The man nods at her, then take the amulet and enters. As he passes by, Brianna feels an indomitable presence, a supernatural weight, to him. Mr. Bradbury looks around the shabby apartment and Brianna offers him a chair.

“Thank you.” The man pulls out a handkerchief and brushes it off before sitting down.

Joey, who was kicking back on the couch, is watching the situation with a what the fuck is this? expression. Brianna resists an eye roll, then offers her ‘guest’ a drink.

“That would be wonderful, do you have any tea?”

She looks him up and down, then says “No.” She offers an expensive whiskey instead.

“Well, it’s a little early in the day, but why not?” He has a slight accent, American, but cultured.

Brianna pours a glass for all three of them, then sits down on the couch next to Joey.

“Well, this has been extremely pleasant, but I suppose we should get down to as they say ‘brass tacks.’ I have a proposition for you. It’s quite simple actually. I have something that you want and I can return it to you in exchange for you bringing me something that I want.”

“How does this tie into Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive?”

“Oh, as I said, it’s quite simple. I have something that you want: Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive.”

Brianna very carefully sets her glass down.

“Now, I have it on very good authority that you owe Ms. Patel a favor.”

“And who told you that?”

“Oh, I have it from Ms. Patel’s lips herself. She made a very interesting proposition to me. In return for their freedom, she would trade that favor to me. So my proposition is to use that favor to have you perform a service for me. In return, Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive are released unharmed and said favor is spent.”

Brianna’s expression isn’t particularly friendly. “So, if I get whatever you’re wanting and give it back to you, you’re going to release Ms. Patel and Mr. Clive unharmed?”

“That’s correct.”

“And let them go?”

“That’s correct.”

“And you’re swearing this on your Power, are you?”

“I will once I’m sure we have a deal. I can assure you my oath is binding.”

“No one has ever accused me of being a deal-breaker.” Her voice is crisp. “I honor my promises.”

“Well, good!” Mr. Bradbury folds his hands over his lap.

“What is it you need me to do?”

“What I wish you to do is return with me to the NeverNever and go into the domain of a rival. There, in that domain, is a shield embossed with the symbol of Chaos: eight intersecting arrows pointing in all directions.”

“And that’s it? Just pick up a shield and walk out?”

“Well, obviously the owner of the shield is not going to be giving it up easily.”

“Who’s the owner of the shield?”

He smiles. “Her name is Quillathrix.”

“Any pertinent information that I should know about Quillathrix? Is she fae … ?” Brianna trails off.

“Not pertinent.”

“Not pertinent.” Brianna repeats, “Okay, am I going to have to go up against magic or is this going to be a physical situation?”

“You’re going to be in the NeverNever,” Mr. Bradbury comments dryly.

“I’ve never been to the NeverNever,” she rejoins, “although that may come as a surprise to you. I also don’t necessarily do well against magical things, I tend to just beat the shit out of people.”

“That’s what I’m counting on.”

Brianna makes a slightly frustrated noise. “And how am I supposed to get to and from the NeverNever?”

“I will take you there and I will give you the means to return to me.”

“How big is this shield?”

“Approximately two and half to three feet in diameter.”

“What can you tell me about her demesne? It’s not underwater is it?”

He smiles. “No. At least not last time I was there.”

“Do I need to bring anything in particular?” she presses. “From what I’ve heard about the NeverNever, sometimes you’re in Summer lands, but sometimes you’re close to Winter.”

“This is very much out of the domain of Winter, thank you.” Mr. Bradbury seems offended at the very thought.

“So, we’re in the Summer lands, then?”

“There are more realms than those of the Fae in the NeverNever.” His voice rises in agitation. Brianna’s notices that his eyes briefly flash red-gold.

“How much time do I have to prepare?”

“Prepare?”

“I’m getting precious little information about what I may encounter along the way. I may need to bring something like, I don’t know, a gun.”

Mr. Bradbury chuckles. “Yes, you may bring a gun.”

Brianna narrows her eyes. “I’m glad you find my personal safety such an amusing topic. If you want me to do this successfully, then information is valuable. Unless this is just some sort of exercise in futility you’re sending me on.”

“No, I very much want to have that shield. However, I can tell you that the idea of you approaching Quillathrix with a gun is a little ludicrous.”

“Well, if I do this right, I won’t be approaching her at all.”

“Very smart,” he nods.

“But is she really the only thing protecting this shield?”

“No, I can only assume that she has other guardians.” There’s a pause. “How long do you need to prepare?”

“Twenty four hours.”

“I can spare that.”

“Good. In twenty four hours, I will get your damn shield and you will let Nerise and Clive go. You will swear to this on your Power.”

“I swear to you on my Power.” Brianna feels a slight rumble beneath her feet at his words. Mr. Bradbury says he will return in twenty-four hours. Brianna sees him out, reclaims her amulet and shuts the door behind him.

Brianna turns to Joey. “What the hell was that? Did you get any vibes off him?”

“What am I? An antenna?”

“Oh, for god’s sake.” She rolls her eyes. “When he was throwing that hissy fit, his eyes flashed a different color. Something’s odd about that man.” Brianna wants to do research, especially of a supernatural nature, but she still is leery of being noticed while asking a lot of questions in that community. Joey agrees to ask around on her behalf, while Brianna goes to Powell’s to do research on the NeverNever.

Since the topic is so broad (and she has such little true information), she decides to focus on the nature of demesnes. The owner of a demesne has immense control of the physical aspects of it. In essence, it is their own little reality. Would she detect Brianna’s presence the moment she sets foot in the demesne? Only if she also has an intelligent Loci, or spirit, that controls the area. Theories vary on what would happen if the owner of a demesne dies or is killed.

Brianna attempts to research the chaos symbol and any known shields bearing that mark, but comes up with nothing.

She leaves Powell’s and begins gathering things for her trip into the NeverNever, from bottled water and small amounts of food, to holy water and cold iron. She decides not to bring a gun (especially based on Mr. Bradbury’s reaction), but more practical items such as binoculars, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and extra batteries.

Brianna calls Shawn on his cell phone. “Without getting into a lot of detail over a cell phone, I’m getting involved in a job that’s going to send me into the NeverNever.”

“Do you need some backup?”

“Unfortunately, this is a one-person ticket to and from.”

“I don’t like that.”

“No, it’s not my favorite situation, but it’s to get a couple of friends of mine out of a tight spot.”

“These friends of yours better be worth it.”

“Yeah, I think so. I also owe one of them a favor.”

“Be safe.”

“I’ll call you when I get back.”

They say their goodbyes and they hang up.

Brianna calls Sydney next to let her know that a job is sending her into the NeverNever. “I’ve been, so this may be interesting.” Brianna pauses, “So, if something happens and I have trouble getting back, is there a way that you can find me? I don’t know how this works.”

“Do you know where you’re going?”

“I know who lives there.”

“Well, any information you have will be helpful, but the NeverNever is as vast as the imagination.” Brianna makes a unhappy noise. She asks if she can stop by, so that they can talk more freely. Sydney agrees.

While at Sydney’s apartment, Brianna asks her if she’s heard of Quillathrix. The young woman hasn’t. Brianna also more details about how she might be located in the NeverNever if something goes wrong. Sydney says that if she wants to leave something personal behind, then it might help. The more personal the better. Otherwise it would be like trying to find the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack.

Brianna is clearly displeased at the idea, but says “I’d rather be found, Sydney. And I trust you.” She pauses, “How about hair?”

“That would work very well.”

Brianna yanks out a few strands of blonde hair and hands them to Sydney. “I’ll let you know when I get back into town, and then you can just burn that. You can keep in touch with Joey, too.”

They say their goodbyes and Brianna heads back to the apartment. Joey is waiting for her, pacing.

“Hey, what’s up? I found out a little, not much.”

His expression is grim. “I found out a little, not much, but what I found out, I don’t like”

Brianna sighs. “You go first.”

“I didn’t find out anything about this Mr. Bradbury. Nobody had heard of him. But, I did come across somebody who had heard of Quillathrix. According to them,” he pauses briefly, shaking his head, “Hell, as much as I’ve seen it may even be true, Quillatrix is a dragon.”

“A dragon?” Brianna repeats, incredulously.

“That’s what they said.”

Brianna knows a little about dragons. They’re extremely rare and powerful supernatural beasts with alien and inscrutable motives. While they are ancient and immortal, they are not unslayable. “Well, that’s just swell,” she mutters. “I don’t even know what to do with that piece of information, except try not to run into her at all.” She paces a bit herself while sharing what she learned with Joey. “I left some of my hair with Sydney,” she adds, “If I don’t come back, I wanted to have a way from you to track me down.”

January 21, 2014 (Tuesday)

Brianna gets the rest of her duffle bag packed, then heads to Powell’s for one last chance to research dragons. She doesn’t learn anything new, however. Dragons are rare and haven’t been seen for a very long time. Dissatisfied, she heads back to the apartment to hang out with Joey while she waits.

Later that afternoon, a knock sounds on her front door. Slinging her duffle over her shoulder, she opens the door. It’s Mr. Bradbury, looking as dapper as ever.

“Ah, Ms. Karakana,” he says, “Or, may I call you Brianna?”

“Do you have a first name as well?”

“Mister.”

She pauses, trying to decide if he’s bullshitting her, then says “Brianna will be fine.”

“Very good. May I come in?”

Brianna hands him the amulet to get past her wards and Mr. Bradbury enters. Once again, she feels that supernatural pressure as he moves past her. She reclaims the amulet immediately.

“So, have you made your preparations?”

Watching his expression carefully, she replies, “As much as I can, I really don’t know if anything I have is going to do much good against a dragon.”

He cocks his head and smiles a little bit. “Well, I’m hoping that you will work something out.”

“I guess we’ll see. I have every expectation of succeeding.”

“I can tell you that Ms. Patel has every confidence in your abilities. Well, if you are ready, then so am I. Shall we?”

“Yes.”

He walks to her front door and opens it. Brianna feels almost a shifting in the air. When the door swings open, Brianna doesn’t see a view of Portland. Instead she sees the interior of a ski chalet. The faint smell of wood smoke wafts past her nose. “After you.”

Brianna nods at Joey, who is goggling at the view. “Sydney may be in touch. Catch you on the other side.” She steps on through.

She truly appears to be in a very posh ski chalet. A window takes up one entire side of the room, framing a spectacular view of a mountain. Snow drifts down from the sky. Plush carpet lines the floor and huge wooden rafters span the ceiling. A fireplace burns merrily in front of a large circular couch.

On the couch sits Nerise Patel and Clive. Their faces reveal little, but Brianna doesn’t spot any obvious signs of a fight or mistreatment.

Mr. Bradbury comes in behind Brianna and shuts the door. He hands her back her apartment key and gestures to the couch. “Please, come. Sit.” He turns to a nearby wet bar. “May I pour you a libation?”

She agrees, asking for a whiskey, neat. Taking the drink, Brianna chooses to sit on the other side of Nerise, flanking her with Clive.

Mr. Bradbury sits opposite of Brianna. “So, I will let you finish your drink and then, you will be on your way.”

“Is this your demesnes or hers?”

“This is mine.” Brianna can sense an underlying possession behind his words. “I can give you this bit of advice. When you leave my domain, you will travel through the forest perilous. Don’t stray from the path.”

“Alright. Any advise you might have about where she would hide the shield? Anything applicable as to how I would get back?”

“Oh, you not straying from the path is very applicable to you getting back.”

Brianna poorly stifles a sigh.

“But, no, I do not know where in her domain the shield resides.”

“And you have a way to get me back here?”

Mr. Bradbury reaches into his vest pocket and flips something at the White Court Vampire. She catches it. It looks like a communion wafer, but embossed upon its surface is a single arrow. “Break that and you will return here.”

Brianna turns the wafer over in her hand several times, then tucks it away. “Do you think she’s going to be inclined to disguise the shield as something else? I can’t see through magic. I’m not a wizard.”

“I don’t pretend to know her mind.”

Frustrated, Brianna is done with this conversation. She turns instead and looks at Nerise. “Are you alright?”

“We are well,” Nerise replies calmly. “We are both ready to return home, but our host has been hospitable.”

“As hospitable as be held hostage can be,” Brianna mutters.

Mr. Bradbury interjects, his voice stiff. “Madame, you insult me. I am no kidnapper. I merely dealt with trespassers in a hospitable manner. I would have an apology.” His eyes flash red gold briefly and the flames of the fire flare up. The temperature raises noticeably.

“If trespassing is the reason why we are in this position, then I apologize.” Her voice is quite sincere.

Brianna senses a cooling of the room, both literally and figuratively. “I accept your apology,” Mr. Bradbury nods.

Brianna tips back the rest of her whiskey, grabs her dufflebag, then rises. “I’m ready to begin this journey.” Mr. Bradbury stands as well and leads her to the door. When he opens it, this time Brianna sees a path cutting through an old growth forest. She shoulders her pack and steps out onto the path. After a couple of steps, she hears the sound of a door closing behind her. She turns. There is no sign of Mr. Bradbury’s domain, just the surrounding trees and a path continuing on behind.

She moves quietly along the path. The sky is dark with the occasional flash of lightning, and the air around her feels electric. Brianna pulls out her cell phone, just to check. There’s no signal. The smell of earth, leaves, and the occasional whiff of ozone fills her nose.

Without any warning, Brianna suddenly finds herself enveloped in a sticky web that is trying to pull her off the path. She digs in her heels and uses her supernatural strength to pull away. Emerging out of the woods is an enormous pony-sized spider. Its hideous, human-like mouth speaks something in a language she doesn’t understand.

It’s quick, but Brianna is quicker. She moves into the spider’s path and attacks. Her punch doesn’t land, but the spider successfully bites her in return. Brianna can feel a burning coursing along her veins from its poison. Angry, she lashes out at the spider, feeding on the rage she invokes. The creature is frenzied, but still manages to bite her in return. Brianna hits and feeds again. The spider is clearly doing poorly and can’t seem to make contact. Brianna hauls back and punches one last time. She feeds deeply and heals her injuries with its death.

Brianna spins slowly around, looking for more threats. She spies eyes watching her from the trees. She stares back and points at the dead spider. “I’m not prey.” Her voice is icy. The eyes slowly withdraw.

The White Court vampire continues down the path, wary of other dangers. Eventually, Brianna finds herself at a large stone bridge spanning a river of brown sludge. Standing in front of the bridge is a strange figure. It stands about 13 feet tall, with rubbery muscles, warty skin, and a misshapen head. It stares at her with tiny, beady eyes. Brianna recognizes it as a bridge troll.

Brianna slowly retrieves a few iron nails and sticks them in her pocket. Then she strides purposefully towards the bridge and the troll.

He looks down at her and in a rumbly voice says, “Halt.”

Brianna stares up at him. “Yes?”

“This my bridge.”

“I’m sure it’s a very lovely bridge.”

“You won’t find out unless you pay toll.”

“What’s the toll to cross your bridge?”

The troll smiles broadly, showing crooked teeth. “What you got?”

She pulls open her duffle. “Well, I don’t know what kind of things you like. I’ve got some interesting food in here. When was the last time you ate?”

“Do you have a naughty child?”

“Mmm. No. I’m afraid not. I have a power bar.” She holds it up.

“Power bar?” It leans down and sniffs the proffered item. “Puny.”

“I’ve got a flashlight.” She pulls it out and turns it on. “Look at this. Makes light where ever you want. I bet you’d be the only one around that has one.”

“Bah. Puny.”

“Well, I wasn’t wanting to give this up quite so early, but I do have holy water.”

“Holy water.” It pauses. “How does water have holes?”

“Magic water,” Brianna clarifies. “It works very well against those who don’t like things of a spiritual nature. I’ve used it to kill ghouls. They didn’t like it much.”

“Oh. The water of the White God.”

“Yep. The water of the White God. In a jar.” She lightly shakes the container. “This is some pretty powerful stuff.”

The troll looks interested. “I will take your White God water.”

“In exchange for crossing this bridge … unharmed?”

“You will have safe passage across my bridge in exchange for the White God water,” it agrees. “Do we have an accord?”

“We have an accord.” She places the holy water in his outstretched hand.

Brianna crosses the bridge and continues down the path, leaving the troll far behind. Eventually she comes to an enormous wall made of thorns and vines. It stretches 15 feet high and blocks her path.

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