Shadows at the Crossroads
Maxims of the Dresdenverse
Almost all beings that could be considered “monsters” are, one on one, far more powerful than the average mortal. They have great strength, implausible toughness, blinding speed, and unnatural powers. What they don’t have is choice. They are what they’re made to be — and some things are simply made cruel, or bloodthirsty, or just plain evil.
On the other hand, mortals have options: choice. That’s their great strength and their great responsibility. Only animals and monsters can truthfully say that they can’t do anything else, or that they can’t be other than what they are. Every human being can make a decision about what to do or not do, what to accept and what to refuse, whether to kill or not kill.
That said, the situation is often grey and not clear-cut. There are those few who are part mortal and part monster: vampires who struggle to fight their hungers and do the right thing; werewolves who chose lycanthropy to get the strength to defend their community; wizards who accept help from dark sources, but hope to restrain the urges that threaten to overwhelm them. Choice is the overwhelming theme of these individuals’ lives. Will they retain their humanity or will they become monsters? And is there any way that those who are now monsters can perhaps regain some degree of humanity, some capacity for choice?
The world is growing darker. Humans are choosing the worse over the better, and the monsters are cheering them on. There are trolls under the bridges, fae stealing children, vampires running businesses behind the velvet curtains, and ghosts sucking the life from babies in maternity wards. Organized crime is strong and getting stronger, gunshots echo in the night, and policemen take payoffs. Drug use is spreading, alcohol is an answer rather than a stopgap, and people lose themselves in their searches for pleasure, power, or escape.
But there are those who stand against the rising tide of shadow. Whether they are ordinary humans, secretive wizards, individuals chosen by supernatural powers, or people empowered by some other means, they will not let the darkness win. Perhaps all the more obvious against the shabby dirtiness of the world around them, perhaps stained or marked by their own errors and problems, they nevertheless hold their ground and work to protect, to support, to rebuild. They choose to use their power for others as well as for themselves. These people exist, and they haven’t given in yet.
Wizards and some other monsters cause nearby technology to malfunction simply by their presence. Monsters aren’t reliably affected by the laws of physics. Some can fly, walk through walls, tear apart steel doors, and bounce bullets or ignore them entirely. All the carefully acquired handguns, sniper rifles, flamethrowers, computer security, and mobile phones in the world may ultimately be useless if pitted against the wrong sort of adversary.
This dovetails remarkably well with the note above about people choosing not to see what’s going on around them. Scientists who might be able to analyze data on monsters don’t want to know in the first place; then their instruments go nuts, so they dismiss the cases of spontaneous combustion or bouncing bullets as statistical anomalies. With regard to the supernatural, science can’t tell you what just happened, can’t explain why it happened, and can’t stop it from happening again.
Faith in itself is a form of power and a kind of magic. Strong faith in good (or evil) can act as a defense, an offense, a shield, or a guide, providing many effects which people would normally consider “magic.” This could include things like a glimmer of light from a crucifix in the darkness, burning a vampire’s hands as it grabs you, or a sudden burst of more-than-mortal strength.
The exact details of the faith can vary. Religious beliefs are the mainstay here, but some people have strong faith in more philosophical beliefs, or even more concrete realities. The important thing is that if the person has faith in something — true, sincere, pure faith — then miracles can happen.
Magic is an expression of the person who brings it forth. It comes from their beliefs, their morality, their feelings, their emotional connections, their way of seeing the world: in a word, their soul.
You can’t make magic do something that goes against your fundamental nature. This works on both the deliberate and the emotional levels. An utterly kind, sincere person will not be able to muster malicious hate and bitterness of a level that would allow him to summon demons or blast with hellfire — or, at least, not without very significant provocation. Likewise, a vicious and corrupt thanatologist practicing human sacrifice isn’t going to have healing magic at her command — or, if she does, it may require blood and pain to make it work and will probably be more corrupting than simply leaving the open wound to fester.
At least, that’s the theory. Practice has, once again, shown things to be a lot fuzzier than the clear-cut examples above. Again, it all comes back to choice and to the complexity of the mortal mind and soul. Even a kindly old grandmother has the seeds of hatred within her, and even a cold-blooded gangster has moments of tenderness and kindness.