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R.E.M., "Losing My Religion"

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Castiel attempts to recruit the world's most renowned consulting wizard to look into the strange magical displacements plaguing North America.

Type:

Mystery

Emitter:

N/A


July 28, 2015
Harry Dresden's Office, San Francisco

Most legitimate detectives have an office they don't live in. They rent a little space here or there, maybe have a receptionist sitting out front, some frosted glass, a nice desk. Most legitimate detectives also make a little more than Harry Dresden, though. Most legitimate detectives don't short out elevators or security systems, either.

So Harry's office is accessible through the basement entrance of a lovely old house that's seen better days. Upstairs, in the main part of the house, lives a sweet and slightly senile and short-sighted old lady who also doesn't get along very well with modern electronics. Harry does her grocery shopping. She likes to cook and to have him around for conversation, and his old-fashioned manners suit her well. She's like the sweet old granny he never really had, and as long as he keeps his own property to the basement (and keeps the noise down), they don't really have any problems.

Lucky for Harry, his landlady doesn't come down here much. His business card, now pinned to most of the grocery shops, bookstores, and occult and head shops (you never know) in this part of San Francisco, gives his phone number and directions to the outside entrance to the basement. It's cool and dark and a bit dank, but San Francisco is like that everywhere. The basement is at least finished and even has more than one room. What most people would use as a living room is Harry's office, furnished with a metal desk and swivel chair that look like they were liberated from a government office in about 1946, a couple of threadbare wingback chairs, shelves holding various occult paraphernalia collected over the years, and a woodburning stove. The lighting is primarily candles and oil lamps. The warding is... reasonably subtle, mostly carefully-pencilled runes around the windows and doors that will prevent most unauthorized entry and, if it happens, to set off a magical alarm. Just teleporting on in might be more difficult than usual.

Dresden himself is sitting in one of those wingback chairs near the wood-burning stove. San Francisco isn't actually colder than Chicago, but it's more consistently chilly. That means robes and fires are more appropriate than usual out here. He flips through the pages of one of the local occult rags, hunting for anything that looks like a good venue to get more work. Legit work. No more celebrities trying to exorcise the creaks out of their Painted Lady.


Castiel approaches far more normally than, well, normal. He comes to the door, noting the wardings and protections with mild approval. Clearly, this man at least knows his trade. Squaring his shoulders and smoothing the front of his coat, he then raises one hand and gives a firm, sharp knock.


A knock. That's... unusual. Harry looks up. His landlady would just come downstairs. It's not a particularly obvious entrance, so it's probably not a door-to-door salesman or a missionary. Could that actually be a client? Harry tosses aside his magazine and strides to the door, glancing through the little peephole before opening it. He does notice, though, the very slight glow to the wards around the door. His guest may not be entirely human.

Still, no need to discriminate. He gives the man on the other side of the door a pleasant enough smile: "Good afternoon. Can I... help you?" Said a bit as though he's surprised at the opportunity. ...He is.


The man--average in height, build, appearance, and attire, so much so that it almost seems intentional--offers a faint, somewhat awkward smile, as though he's not used to it, and says, "Harry Dresden. It is important that we speak." He hardly even pauses, simply forging ahead as though his entire purpose were to disgorge information in the most straightforward manner possible. "Dire portents have been detected by The Powers That Be, and I am a messenger sent to apprise you of the situation and, if possible, to secure your aid in investigating this situation." A beat, and he adds in a somewhat less rigid, memorized-sounding tone, "Also, I was told to tell you that you might have a uniquely useful perspective on these matters."


There's something just a little creepy about a man who basically screams EXTREMELY ORDINARY rattling off a clearly rehearsed and carefully-worded speech. Harry hesitates, eyebrows raising, and regards the curious man on his doorstep. "The Powers That Be. ...Are you from the White Council? You're not like most of the messengers they send." Opening his door a little further, he adds: "You'd better come in. This place is warded, but they have a caveat for peaceful visitors. Kind of enforced hospitality." He gestures to the chairs inside, watching the man with not a little suspicion. Suspicion is outweighed by curiosity, though.


Castiel gives a compliant nod, and he steps across the threshold--though in so doing, he falters just slightly. "Hm," he observes quietly, "Hearth and home magic. Ancient, bolstered by wards..." Straightening and looking Harry's way again, he nods. "I approve. You seem well-versed in your craft, Mister Dresden." He lets his hands fall to his sides, again a gesture that just doesn't seem quite right. Only after a slightly too-long hesitation does he move to stiffly occupy a chair. "To come to the point, however, I do not represent the White Council." He tilts his head slightly, and then, completely oblivious to the opportunities for irony, he says, deadpan, "I answer to a higher authority."


Compliments are always nice. Compliments by someone who seems to know what he's talking about are even nicer. Harry allows a little more of a smile at this statement, nodding his assent: "I've been studying magic since I was thirteen. I'm serious about my work and about my results." He turns to fill an iron kettle, setting it on the hearth and looking around to find his guest... still standing stock-still with his hands at his sides. ...Possessed. The word drops into Harry's head. The man is possessed. Whoever's piloting that body isn't used to having one the shape of a man's. Wariness suddenly touches every movement and gesture; then again, demons don't tend to politely take over perfectly ordinary men who need a bit of a shave. The wards wouldn't even have let a demon through the door, not if he'd meant any kind of harm. Possibilities start flipping through Harry's mind, but none of them seem to fit. When Castiel finally sits and declares his 'higher authority', Harry actually snorts. Awkward guy, answers to a 'higher authority', bringing dark portents? Someone's been spending too much time behind the 7-11 smoking nature's most interesting bounty. ...Except he's also supernatural. Somehow supernatural. On Three-Eye? No. Three-Eye was both more and less subtle than this. This isn't a man whose third eye has been opened, someone who's been maddened by the terrible beauty of reality.

Nevertheless, Harry takes comfort in his usual sarcastic irony. "If they heard you say that, they'd be scandalized. Who do you answer to, then?" He flicks a finger skyward, lifting his eyes that way as well. Not that he thinks the White Council would think themselves subject to Heaven, after all. The Good Lord is a hands-off kind of guy, and who's seen an angel in the last two thousand years?


Sadly, Castiel is utterly unequipped to appreciate Harry's humor. Perhaps even more sadly for the messenger, he entirely takes this response at face value, nodding, and lets a sense of relief spread across his features. "Oh--good. I was concerned that you might not believe in or accept Heavenly authority." Assuming a somewhat more focused, businesslike air--and completely oblivious to what little this likely does for his credibility--he attempts to forge ahead. "You see, my name is Castiel. I am an Angel of Heaven acting as an emissary for the Powers That Be... and it is entirely possible that the World As We Know It is in imminent and acute peril."


Schizophrenic. He's got to be a schizophrenic wizard or something. Amusement and pity vie for Harry's mind, and he settles somewhere between the two. "Uh huh. Okay. You're an Angel of Heaven." And immune to sarcasm, too, apparently. He goes on a bit more gently: "The world as we know it has always been on the edge. I guess you're getting your information from the Almighty? I don't get a lot of angels in here, you know, as a rule." Turning to the kettle as it starts to whistle, he pours the water into a couple of mugs and adds some instant coffee to both. "Castiel," Harry begins, much as if he's going to address the man. Except because he's good at that sort of thing, he pronounces the name as perfectly as Castiel himself does. And when he does, he feels that tiny tug. The way true names tug on supernatural beings. That's not just this guy's Happy Angel Pseudonym. His hands halt and he stiffens, standing stock-still for a moment before turning around to look at the small, unassuming man sitting in the armchair.


The angel's eyes widen slightly, feeling that tug. And he understands. "So, it's true," he says quietly. He seems to attain several emotional states at once--relived, satisfied, interested, and perhaps not inappropriately, concerned--though as with all his expressions they seem to be grayed, muted. "I was told to give you my Name," he says quietly, "despite the fact that you are one of those who knows how to Hear and to Speak such names. In truth... I do not believe you can command me unless can pronounce it in the correct dialect of ancient Enochian, but even this... is clearly sufficient for one of your Thaumaturgical prowess to hold sway."

Castiel settles back into the chair, though he looks more wary, now. "Yes, Wizard Dresden, that is my name. And I speak the truth. The Almighty, as you put it... well, that is a more complex answer. Suffice to say that you may count Heaven among the Powers that Be. I am only a seraph--a messenger and, at need, a soldier--I am not privy to the mysteries of En Soph, of God the Unknowable. However, inasmuch as Elohim is plural... perhaps, from a certain point of view, The Powers That Be might truly be called the Almighty." He shakes himself slightly, then, and changes tone.

"However, I did not come here to debate theology. I bear a message. Will you hear it?"


So he does feel. The emotions look like they're features shifting behind a mask -- a mask of flesh, Harry supposes. His throat closes around any more words for a few moments. The coffee is in both hands; it needs stirring, but it's not moving. Maybe the slight shake in Harry's hands is stirring it. Get it together, Harry. Get it together. So you're actually talking to a being beyond anything anyone has talked to in centuries.


So he nods a little at the comment about Enochian, making a small grunt that he hopes will be taken for assent rather than pure shock. At long last, he masters himself enough to clear his throat and turn more fully toward the... angel. The only other thing Castiel could be is a fallen angel -- different from your standard demon, even -- and he's pretty sure he'd know if that were the case. Rather lamely, he sets one mug on the small table between the two chairs. He doesn't seem to be able to bend enough to sit down himself.


"I'm... not enough of a bastard to try conjuring with an angel's name," he says at last. "If you have a message for me," he adds, "I'm here to hear it."

Castiel gives a slow nod and says, simply, "Thank you. Your understanding is, frankly... refreshing." He peers at the cup of coffee for several moments, though he does not move to take it. Instead, straightening in his seat, he regards Dresden directly, not quite meeting his gaze, as though he knows that to do so would have consequences that neither of them might like. "This is something that has been displayed in portents for some time," he explains, "And I would be quite shocked if your White Council were entirely ignorant of it. However, they seem to have kept it entirely silent if they do know. You, yourself, have been impacted directly by these matters--Chicago was one of the first sites hit." He reaches into a pocket, taking out a battered-looking spiral-bound pocket notebook and a pen bearing the logo of a bank--no doubt the free sort they give out in lobbies. Opening to a fresh page, he begins to sketch out a series of complex, partial sigils.

"We do not know who is responsible, as they have shrouded themselves even from Heaven's Eyes. Further, we do not know what precise methods they are using. These sigils here represent a partial reconstruction of some of the magics used--though even they are part conjecture." He continues to draw as he speaks. "Thus: Forces unknown using methods uncertain have conspired now to achieve, via lesser ancient mystic rituals of great and ancient power, to entirely drain several major urban centers of all magic. Every single enchantment, ebb, and flow of energy within... was consumed. Chicago was one of the first. Because of assets within those regions that The Powers deemed key to salvage, I and others of the Heavenly Host were sent to extract those assets, relocating them so that they would not be harmed by the rituals." He glances up, again not quite meeting Harry's eyes. "You are one of those assets."


As Castiel begins to draw, it's as if the spell is broken -- Harry moves, stepping around and sitting in the chair near the angel's to observe what he draws. "They seem to be aware that something's going on. I've actually been expecting a visit or an invitation to some kind of colloquium." He leans forward, elbows on his knees, and sets his coffee aside for now. A nod to the mention of Chicago, and a soft chuff: "Yeah. 'S why I'm here."

He can't stop thinking of Michael as he listens. The Lord hires some very humorless men. He's also grateful when he realizes Castiel knows enough not to meet his eyes; he's not even going to try to begin to think about what a soulgaze with an angel would be like. He'd like to keep what vestiges of sanity he has. He rubs his face as he leans over and watches, listens, raises his eyebrows in surprise. "That's what happened? I. Yeah. Woke up in San Francisco one morning with a lead on an apartment and my stuff mysteriously in storage. I figured it was better to go with the flow."

In a smaller voice: "Heaven wants me to investigate this? I thought. Uh. You guys were full of all the ineffable knowledge."


As he finishes sketching, Castiel tears out the page and offers it to Harry. "The sigils might be helpful... or not. It's difficult to say. I wish I could offer more, but... if the Archangels know more of this, they remain silent. Honestly, I believe they consider this an Earthling affair. Heaven protects souls more than the physical world... and we are extremely bound by the cosmological balance, as I'm certain you can imagine. We dare not upset the balance in the name of preserving it. However... I have been granted limited dispensation to act in this matter. I am at the service of those acting on our behalf."

At this, he explains, leaning forward somewhat--and again, his tone and expression hardly seem to vary at all. He doesn't even have a nervous tic, not one, to betray him. "Heaven has begun gathering potential Champions for this cause. Several of them are gathered at the Hyperion Hotel here in San Francisco. You may be able to work together... and you may not. I do not know. However, I do have one other piece of information: We predict that a nearby city, Beacon Hills in the north of this state, has a high probability of attracting this groups attention. Something ancient and powerful has awakened there, a magic centuries old. It may make them one of the next targets."


Harry accepts the page, looking it over and frowning at the sigils. It doesn't look hugely familiar; then again, he hardly expected it to. Something to be investigated, anyway; he continues examining it as Castiel speaks on. But his eyes keep sneaking up, flicking back to the unassuming man. Not what you'd expect an Angel of the Lord to look like.

He does manage to snort at the notion of protecting souls rather than lives: "Oh yeah, I've heard that line before. You should meet Michael Carpenter; you two would get along. He's the real Champion of the Lord. I'm..." Not much of a believer. Not much of a godly man. Maybe not what he wants to say to the seraph in his office.

But it fits. "Heaven probably sees this as a sign of the end times. I'm willing to bet there's probably a few beings up there who'd be glad to see the world end so the entire humanity experiment can be done with. Kill them all; God will know his own."

A faint curl of his lip, and Harry settles back again. "Beacon Hills?" he murmurs, picking up his own notebook and pencil and starting to jot down some notes. "Do you have any idea what it is that's awakened there? It sounds like the place to be. I don't suppose," he adds, and he knows it's a blasphemous question but he's sure he can't be blamed for trying, "that Champion of the Lord comes with any kind of stipend? Something to help pay the rent; keep Mister in cat food?"


Castiel is silent for much of Harry's reflection and commentary, either giving tacit acceptance or simply having nothing useful to contribute--until, of course, Harry gets down to brass tacks. Castiel attempts a smile, which isn't his most successful expression to date, and he says, "All we know that it is a form of druidic magic in nature... and it was activated via human sacrifice." Then, at Harry's question, Castiel reaches into his coat pocket, extracts a walled, and thumbs through it. After a moment, he takes out a stack of bills. "Will nine hundred and sixty dollars be enough?" he asks, his tone that of someone who has absolutely no idea of the value of money.


Where the heck do angels get money? Harry blinks, and his frown deepens at the mention of the human sacrifice. "That can be very potent," he murmurs. "I've encountered some druidic magic; I might need to do some extra research. I know California has a pretty decent witch population, though I do have my own resources as well." But when Castiel pulls out the cash, Harry clears his throat: "That pays for a lot. Uh, yes. Thank you." And even though he almost never feel the need to justify himself, he adds: "Rent, materials, resources, time; it adds up. I want to do as good a job for you as I can. Heck; I guess I'm doing it for the world, aren't I?" A very slight but still extremely cocky smile follows that statement. "How do I get in touch with you when I have some answers? I could... literally just call you by name, but that seems a little pushy. Not to mention rude. I wouldn't try summoning you," he adds hastily. "But you can feel it when your name is spoken. It's direct, but not exactly polite on my side."


Castiel nods along with Harry's explanation of the expenses, seeming to find them both reasonable and acceptable. He offers no further comment on the magic, putting on a general air (that, like the rest of his manner, seems too blatant and crude to be any kind of reasonable put-on) that says he's trusting the professional to his task. He gives a mute nod at the mention of doing things for the world, and when Harry asks how to contact him, Castiel takes the opportunity to stand. "I will know if you call to me. Angels... hear prayers." And there's a weight to those words, something more genuine, raw, and very nearly human... than anything else he's said. Apparently, Castiel can speak casually about a would-be apocalypse, but thinking of human prayers really gives him pause. He looks to Dresden, offering a pointed nod, and says, "The other Champions may go to Beacon Hills as well. You may find answers at the Hyperion Hotel. Good luck, Wizard Dresden." And then, he's abruptly just--gone. No swell of magic, no echoes of power, just the faintest hint of distant, fluttering wings vibrating on the air... and he's simply no longer there.


That moment. That moment of emotion from an angel. For a moment, Harry can really understand what would make someone believe. If he could believe that some perfectly-created celestial being cared that much about the desperate wishes of some lost soul, he could believe in just about anything. He finds himself blinking suddenly and sharply, but there's nothing he can say to that. There's a hundred questions he'd love to ask, but he's at a complete loss to form even one.

Castiel doesn't wait for Harry to say goodbye. It's a human nicety, not a seraphic one. Harry sits alone in his chair staring into space. It's as if his mind is in two channels. One is trying to work out all the implications of what he's seen and what he's been told. The other can't decide if it's paralyzed or at peace; either way, it's not moving. Nor is Harry, not until the fire in his stove flickers down to something closer to embers. It's Mister who rouses him at last by leaping into his lap and viciously headbutting his chin. Looking down in surprise, he drops a hand on the cat's back, gives him a brief scratch behind the ears, and shifts to rise at last. "All right, buddy," he murmurs. "Dinner for you, and then... I have a lot of work to do."

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