Willow follows her magical senses to The Nemeton to discover what's happened. There she meets Castiel, who hopes that her insights can help him see past his own limited understanding of druidic magic.
August 29, 2015
The Nemeton, Wildlife Preserve, Beacon Hills
Willow Rosenberg doesn't exactly have a lot of fairy huntings under her belt, so to speak. Druidism is sort of adjacent to things she's familiar with, but not actually her core area of expertise. ...But most importantly, as far as she knows, nothing came through when things got all woogy.
...Maybe she should've brought Buffy, but a little cold--it's probably just a cold--isn't going to stop her from seeing what actually changed. ...It's really a good thing. It means she'll have intel for the Slayer. That's right, she's being helpful!
So it is that she's walking around at night with a flashlight, having followed the signs to...
It's an exceptionally large tree, not quite on the scale of a Giant Redwood, but certainly it's a great deal larger than any of the others around. It also perceptibly hums with magical power. While the supercharged wellspring of energy that was fed through it has been spent, this remains a highly potent mystic site and ritual focus. Anyone working nature-magic or its like could do quite a lot, here. It also seems to have the effect of calling out, like a beacon, to those of the supernatural persuasion--including, as she draws near, Willow. The place practically sings.
Something rustles in the distance, with her. Willow doesn't notice it. She closes her eyes, instead, and lets the hum of magic guide her towards the Nemeton, toward the locus of...
The locus of probably bad. She should remind herself of that.
But finally she does come close enough to see, and opens her eyes again, carefully stepping through the foilage. ...She could probably do quite a lot here, herself. She can feel its power already. It's almost like...
Willow shakes her head. "Okay. ...Guess you're not gonna start talking about what you saw..."
She's probably talking to herself.
Then, entirely without preamble, there's a plain-looking man in a trench coat standing nearby. He regards the Nemeton with a gaze of both wonder and vague concern, as though not quite able to figure what to make of it. He also speaks, to answer the question.
"I saw everything, though I cannot say I entirely understood it." Then, as he turns to face her, "Hello, Willow."
It's the feeling that gives it away as much as anything, and Willow stops right where she is, looking forward. Her flashlight goes all pause-like, and she tenses up.
"...Hi?" she greets, and then looks toward the man suddenly standing in his coat. The witch blinks at him again, and furrows her brow a little.
"Kinda... Kinda forgot the walking part, there? ...And the asking my name part?"
The man peers at her, looking a bit puzzled. "Walking? Oh. Well, the... teleporting... is easier." He gives a mild shrug. Then, "As for asking your name, why would I ask it if I already knew?" He frowns. "Unless I've been rude. I'm terribly sorry if I've offended you. I'm... bad at this." He abruptly extends his hand. "I'm Castiel. Pleased to meet you."
"Sure. Walking, it's the thing where you put your feet on the ground and it moves you. it got developed a long time ago." Pause. ...Teleporting.
Well, teleporting is easy in its way.
Willow looks dubious at first, too, until a half-second after Castiel's introduction, at which points her eyes light in recognition. "Oh! Oh, Castiel! Angel Castiel! ...Not Angel the guy, I mean, I know Angel the guy, but--"
She puts out her hand, too, and smiles slightly. "It's fine! I just... was surprised. I was actually looking for you! Buffy told me about you."
...But there is still something about her at odds with her cheer.
"...Kinda normal to ask though. It's like, you know, just polite. But--no big deal! I mean, it's fine. I mean--" Beat. "Aren't you supposed to be like, six wheels and a couple eyes everywhere or something?"
Castiel takes all of that in without much outward reaction, save a couple of polite nods and a few blinks. He does shake hands, of course, and then lets his arms fall back to his sides. "Human etiquette is something I still... struggle with, somewhat. My apologies."
He turns again to regard the Nemeton. "And, yes. Buffy is one of many champions I have been fortunate to observe. Though, if I may say, her career has not been quite so... colorful... as your own. I didn't ask your name because I thought you might realize: Your reputation precedes you. You are well known to Heaven's eyes." A moment's pause.
"As for my... true form... it's quite different. This is a human vessel, who kindly volunteered to host my essence while I do Heaven's work on Earth."
Willow doesn't do a lot of handshakes; it's a little awkward. ...But a little less awkward with the apologies. "It's fine," she says, gesturing a little with a wave of her hand. "I've been human a long time and I get mixed up too!"
...That... is not, however, the kind of mix-up she was thinking. She was thinking using the wrong name, blurting out the answer to a test question.
So it's with obvious concern--sort of nervous looks, really--that Willow hears about the whole Heaven thing. "W-well, I mean... Buffy's very colorful! She... uses a lot of...color..."
"...This isn't about... Oh. Oh, so it's a possession sort of thing. Huh, okay, I've kinda dealt with that before. So is it like two souls in there? I mean, I'd assume it's got a different resonant harmonic than with some kind of--"
Guilt. Plain and clear. "...I, um--I know I... I'm trying to help. Really."
"The vessel contains a human soul, yes," Castiel says with a nod. "However, our vessels must be given over entirely by free will. We cannot trick or coerce a human into serving, as demons are known to do." He seems to consider that an important point.
"I believe you are here with good intent," he says evenly. "Power is, conceptually, neither good nor evil. Even intent is... questionable. Only action can be measured, and you have taken no actions here that I could hold against you." In his awkward way, this seems to perhaps be intended as a reassurance.
"You came to learn what happened here, didn't you?"
"So is that a can't, or a don't? Is it some kind of specialized thing? Is--" Pause. Not the time to geek out over the angel.
His even words don't really register as particularly reassuring, at first. They register something else instead. But as a bright girl, Willow can keep up, and so...
"Oh. ...Well..." Pause. "Okay then."
She still doesn't feel well. Still something's pressing on her.
"Yep! That's me, good old... fact-finding... Willow. ...I mean, come on, anybody who's read half a wicca for dummies book probably felt that. I can't just let something like that go."
"Can't," Castiel emphasizes. "Not so long as we serve Heaven. If we fall... if we become something else... then it's different. But then, we're no longer... what we are."
He manages a small, stiff attempt at a smile, nodding at her words. "Well. I share your perception. It was certainly felt..." and he glances skyward, perhaps attempting to illustrate his point in a figurative sense.
"As to what it was... I don't understand magic of this type well enough to explain. I see something of the result, in a way, but I don't particularly comprehend the... methodology or intent, if you will. I do know it involved fairies."
"One of those point-of-no-return things. OK. ...I mean, assuming you're telling the truth. ...I've kinda dealt with a lot of puffed-up spirits. ...No offense. I mean, you seem nice."
Willow glances upward, and takes his meaning. She looks back down to him.
"As far as I can tell, it's druidic type stuff. Gotta be a group, I figure, not many can do something this big on their own. And it's pretty big. Like... I'm not sure if something about our reality didn't change and we just don't actually know what it is yet? ...And there's something that's bugging me..." She steps around and looks over at the gigantic tree again. "...Yeah, though. Fairies too. But I don't think I feel anything like that right now..."
"There are no fairies here that I can perceive, but there were some dozen here last night," Castiel explains. "High Sidhe lords and ladies. The ritual was begun with druidic magic, augmented by demonic rites, but then... defused. Whatever the final spell was, the fairies seemed to be the ones casting it. The magic was foreign to me, but... that much seemed clear from observation." He frowns. "What's troubling is that the result seems so ambiguous. Undoubtedly, Earth's dimensional boundaries were altered, but... not in any way we anticipated. It's a fairy thing--subtle yet complex, deceptive yet without falsehood."
"Right. It's like, setting things on like, a lake of death and fire, that's the kind of thing you can expect. But..." Willow pauses to think. "Well, I'm not sure we can necessarily draw many conclusions out of just using demonic rites. They're a pretty standard power-booster in a lot of corners." Sigh. "Giles'd probably have a book about this or something," she mutters.
"Yeah, that's just it. It's like... Well, wait." She frowns. "Is it just the season for the kinda thing? There was somebody trying to magic up something over near San Francisco earlier, too. The whole cult thing. I think it was their first time. It was real easy to unweave, anyway. It's like, why even bother casting if you're not going to bring up something at least equivalent to a reinforcement circle?"
"We suspect the events were linked," Castiel explains, "Though if so, the ones enacting this ritual were much higher up the food chain... so to speak. We know they were humans using a demonic ritual that, if our understanding is accurate, would have erased the boundaries between Earth and several adjacent hell-dimensions. However, the efforts of certain champions prevented the ritual's completion, and no innocent blood was spilled." He turns to regard the tree. "However, the fae... did something with the energy that had been amassed."
"Oh, well, I guess you're kinda on top of things already. ...I'm really getting tired of that kind of ritual." Willow shakes her head. "Still... Something with the energy. I guess that's just it." She hrrmms...
"Well, we'll just have to figure out what and where. Can't be too hard. We've got the space right here, it's just a matter of a little bit of locating. I've got the supplies in my bag."
Castiel looks interested now, which is to say his expression goes from grimly neutral to mild curiosity. "That would be... highly useful," he declares. "This kind of magic is... not something Heaven manages well. However, with your prowess... I believe you stand a strong chance of uncovering at least a measure of useful information." It's not a glowing display of confidence, but Willow has likely observed that emoting isn't Castiel's strong suit.
Willow is actually fluent in unemotional guy; it's been a little while since she's spoken it, but it's kinda like riding a bike, really. "Well, yeah," Willow points out. "Heaven and angels aren't exactly big on the witches, last I checked. There was a whole Inquisition and all." Pause.
Her prowess, huh...?
"...Right. My, uh, prowess. ...I dunno how I feel about it when you put things that way."
Willow slings her satchel off of her shoulder and starts pulling out crystals, checking for a couple of jars of sand here and there, for...
She's got a whole witchy grab bag to start the circle to focus in on the tree and give her a window in that direction.
Castiel frowns. "Please know," he says carefully, as if it were very important to him, "That Heaven does not condone any single specific religious doctrine. There are many paths to truth... but any of those paths can also lead one astray. While Heaven discourages trafficking in demonic arts, we have never supported needless slaughter of that kind." He pauses, frowning. "Well. Perhaps in ancient times, but... the world was different. Heaven was also... managed differently... then. In any case, we did not support the Inquisition, but... churches often invent their own morality."
As she begins to work, though, he falls quiet and watches with interest.
"...Well, all right. ...You seem pretty sincere, and all." She pauses, and looks castiel's way without her usual smile. "I've known a lot of people with honest faces, though. ...They usually turn out to be liars."
Pause, and she shrugs lightly. "...I guess I'm still touchy from that time my mom tried to burn me at the stake."
But then she's working; the circle, the crystals arranged to not only channel but actually slow power, the precious dusts meant to close the bindings. She takes a seat herself, though she doesn't block out the world around her. She keeps a part of herself back, ready.
"Power, come from and through this place... Let slip the bonds of time and space. Bring me sight. Show me..."
Willow's aura flashes brightly, invisible to the eye; her eyes glow briefly, and though they are not black, there is a wave of menace from within her, reacting to her magic, that she's blind to seeing. She focuses on what she needs to learn...
Castiel nods gravely and says, "Then it may or may not be noteworthy that I have been told, frequently, that I am a terrible liar." And he winces at her reference, an expression that seems to go deeper than just an awkward moment. "So much suffering comes from humans harming humans, even when ghosts or demons aren't involved. I... apologize... that we aren't able to prevent more of it."
He falls quiet, then, to let her work. When he feels her power, he doesn't fully understand it... though he does frown. Something is wrong, there, something that he feels more than comprehends. But it's unsettling all the same.
But either way, the spell works.
Willow flashes back. She sees the circle of ritualists with the dozen children they planned to use as blood sacrifices. She sees Kay, Lance, Phoebe, and Michael arrive and disrupt the ritual. She sees Phoebe and Kay use their magic to channel the energies of life while Lance draws off the darkness and Michael severs its source of power.
Then she sees them, the lords and ladies of the High Sidhe, all garbed in green robes belted with silver. Their magic is wordless, performed as a song, all tones and frequencies... no incantations.
Then the power explodes, but into life, not death.
The spell is, like the fae, a paradox of simplicity and nuance. On the face of it, it's life--raw, restorative, life--that bridges gaps and restores what has been rent asunder. Deeper... it seeps into things, changing and awakening them, causing what could be to become what is. In so doing, there is a veil, a sort of mist that divides this world and one of the spirit realms, a place called the Nevernever, which opens the way to Faërie. This veil has been the spells primary target, as the mists are parted, only instead of being torn asunder, they are altered, transformed from a simple barrier to a complex barrier, a nuanced mesh.
It's as though someone took what was a simple wall and transformed it into, instead, a massively complex labyrinth. There is no more seal or door, but the way through is not easy or direct, and the two worlds are much more wholly linked than they were before.
"...Buffy had a good feel for you. And sometimes she's not so good at reading people..." She doesn't actually finish what she's saying, instead, hearing his response to what she said. Preventing...
"You're not the only ones trying," she answers. "That's why I'm here. I can't just hide off somewhere while all this is going on."
But, she works. Whateer is wrong, it works, and she sees...
As she looks, as she watches, her eyes glaze, glowing white with the knowledge she's gaining. It passes in seconds, instants maybe. The veil...
Willow blinks, and is returned to the world at hand.
"...All these people..." Pause. "No... I can't tell if this was going to be the plan or what, but... I see what changed. I can tell, it's...
"The veil isn't broken. It's more like... It's more like they made a way through. It'd be so easy to miss, because if you aren't looking closely, it's the same thing, but... The door's gone. It's hard, but you can just... Go."
Castiel frowns at this revelation. "I see," he murmurs. "Nothing broken, only changed... and not a large enough opening to be obvious. But, then...?" He trails off, eyes widening slightly. "Forgive me, Willow. I must go--if you are correct, as I strongly suspect you are, then this change may go deeper than it seems. If such power was not used to make a single massive change... it might, instead, have been used to effect many very small changes... over a profoundly vast region."
"Whatever they were doing... It was supposed to be difficult to spot. Maybe get missed by the Powers, by Heaven, whatever. It's--" Oh. Oh, he's going.
"Well, hey, hang--" A vast region. That's...
That's a good point.
"...I should go, too. I gotta read up on the kinds of things that might come through. ...And on what Buffy's got to do to take 'em out."
"Thank you," the angel says with grave sincerity. "Your aid here has been... most illuminating. I look forward to working with you again, one day." And with that, not even a proper good-bye, he's gone. There's no particular fanfare about it, just the distant suggestion of the sound of fluttering wings.