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White Night (The Dresden Files #9)(3)
Author: Jim Butcher

She frowned. "From water?"

"Blessed water from the cup on her shrine," I said. "Think of it as holy water. It's imbued with positive energy the same way."

Murphy squinted at me and then at the wall. "Holy? I thought magic was just all about energy and math and equations and things. Like electricity or thermodynamics."

"Not everyone thinks that," I said. I nodded at the altar. "The victim was a Wiccan."

Murphy frowned. "A witch?"

"She was also a witch," I said. "Not every Wiccan has the innate strength to be a practitioner. For most of them, there's very little actual power involved in their rites and ceremonies."

"Then why do them?"

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony." I shrugged. "Every faith has its ceremonies, Murph."

"This was about a conflict of religion, then?" Murphy said.

I shrugged. "It's sort of difficult for sincere Wiccans to conflict with other religions. Wicca itself is really fluid. There are some basic tenets that ninety-nine percent of all Wiccans follow, but at its core the faith is all about individual freedom. Wiccans believe that as long as you aren't hurting anyone else by doing it, you should be free to act and worship in whatever way you'd like. So everyone's beliefs are a little bit different. Individualized."

Murphy, who was more or less Catholic, frowned. "Seems to me that Christianity has a few things to say about forgiveness and tolerance and treating others the way you'd like to be treated."

"Uh-huh," I said. "Then came the Crusades, the Inquisition..."

"Which is my point," Murphy said. "Regardless of what I think about Islam or Wicca or any other religion, the fact is that it's a group of people. Every faith has its ceremonies. And since it's made up of people, every faith also has its assholes."

"You only need one side to start a fight," I agreed. "KKK quotes a lot of scripture. So do a lot of reactionary religious organizations. A lot of times, they take it out of context." I gestured at the wall. "Like this."

"I dunno. 'Suffer not a witch to live.' Seems fairly clear."

"Out of context, but clear," I said. "Keep in mind that this appears in the same book of the Bible that approves the death sentence for a child who curses his parents, owners of oxen who injure someone through the owner's negligence, anybody who works or kindles a fire on Sunday, and anyone who has sex with an animal."

Murphy snorted.

"Also keep in mind that the original text was written thousands of years ago. In Hebrew. The actual word that they used in that verse describes someone who casts spells that do harm to others. There was a distinction, in that culture, between harmful and beneficial magic.

"By the time we got to the Middle Ages, the general attitude within the faith was that anyone who practiced any kind of magic was automatically evil. There was no distinction between white and black magic. And when the verse came over to English, King James had a thing about witches, so 'harmful caster of spells' just got translated to 'witch.'"

"Put that way, it sounds like maybe someone took it out of context," Murphy said. "But you'd get arguments from all kinds of people that the Bible has got to be perfect. That God would not permit such errors to be made in the Holy Word."

"I thought God gave everyone free will," I said. "Which presumably - and evidently - includes the freedom to be incorrect when translating one language into another."

"Stop making me think," Murphy said. "I'm believing over here."

I grinned. "See? This is why I'm not religious. I couldn't possibly keep my mouth shut long enough to get along with everyone else."

"I thought it was because you'd never respect any religion that would have you."

"That too," I said.

Neither one of us, during this conversation, looked back toward the body in the living room. An uncomfortable silence fell. The floorboards creaked.

"Murder," Murphy said, finally, staring at the wall. "Maybe someone on a holy mission."

"Murder," I said. "Too soon to make any assumptions. What made you call me?"

"That altar," she said. "The inconsistencies about the victim."

"No one is going to buy magic writing on a wall as evidence."

"I know," she said. "Officially, she's going down as a suicide."

"Which means the ball is in my court," I said.

"I talked to Stallings," she said. "I'm taking a couple of days of personal leave, starting tomorrow. I'm in."

"Cool." I frowned suddenly and got a sick little feeling in my stomach. "This isn't the only suicide, is it."

"Right now, I'm on the job," Murphy said. "That isn't something I could share with you. The way someone like Butters might."

"Right," I said.

With no warning whatsoever, Murphy moved, spinning in a blur of motion that swept her leg out in a scything, ankle-height arc behind her. There was a thump of impact, and the sound of something heavy hitting the floor. Murphy - her eyes closed - sprang onto something unseen, and her hands moved in a couple of small, quick circles, fingers grasping. Then Murphy grunted, set her arms, and twisted her shoulders a little.

There was a young woman's high-pitched gasp of pain, and abruptly, underneath Murphy, there was a girl. Murphy had her pinned on her stomach on the floor, one arm twisted behind her, wrist bent at a painful angle.

The girl was in her late teens. She wore combat boots, black fatigue pants, and a tight, cutoff grey T-shirt. She was tall, most of a foot taller than Murphy, and built like a brick house. Her hair had been cut into a short, spiky style and dyed peroxide white. A tattoo on her neck vanished under her shirt, reappeared for a bit on her bared stomach, and continued beneath the pants. She had multiple earrings, a nose ring, an eyebrow ring, and a silver stud through that spot right under her lower lip. On the hand Murphy had twisted up behind her back, she wore a bracelet of dark little glass beads.

"Harry?" Murphy said in that tone of voice that, while polite and patient, demanded an explanation.

I sighed. "Murph. You remember my apprentice, Molly Carpenter."

Murphy leaned to one side and looked at her profile. "Oh, sure," she said. "I didn't recognize her without the pink-and-blue hair. Also, she wasn't invisible last time." She gave me a look, asking if I should let her up.


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