Disclaimer: none of the characters are mine, but belong to their respective owners.
...Ethan Rayne was not having the best of days. His initial plan of setting a costume shop back on Halloween had resulted in some preordained planning – as the chaos mage knew that he would, what he hadn’t expected was the mayor of Sunnydale, Richard Willikins (the third?), who was a much older and powerful mage than Ethan himself was, and who had been amused (fortunately?) by Ethan’s meddling – at least to a point. Ethan was still required to fill-out all the paperwork, and he had been warning – appropriately – that any disproportionate infliction of chaos onto the mayor’s domain would result in an appropriately proportionate countermeasures, the sort that Ethan would be unlikely to survive – and Ethan hated this even more so than it would appear on the obvious level.
Ethan hated bowing down to anyone, not counting Rupert (but this was a special case), especially to those who were older and stronger than he was. He also hated restraining chaos: he was not certain he sought chaos for power or for its own sake, but he hated restraining it all the same – and he was forced to do so now. Consequently, he considered this to be a challenge, and decided to rise to the occasion – the mayor of Sunnydale didn’t like chaos in his town? Then Ethan was going to give it to him – right in the forehead (metaphorically speaking)!
Upon deciding this, Ethan girded his metaphorical loins and looked around. He wanted to be smart about this – ‘smart’ as in ‘unleashing maximum chaos onto Sunnydale’, that is. So how to do it?
Thinking hard, Ethan began to take stock of his inventory – and decided immediately that he had been really tempting fate by declaring himself a chaos mage and going with such a straightforward and boring approach to Halloween. A Halloween store? Perhaps, but he still could do it better – a lot. It was time to reach out – and make a mess.
...As he figured out the kinks of his plan, Ethan broke into a laugh. It was not a very nice one.
“Okay,” he told himself. “Let’s relax, take a stalk of our mental inventory, and go on from there.” He took a deep breath and tried to center himself – and immediately ran into a problem. There was someone else in his mind, and he was scared.
“And who are you?” he asked the other entity in his mind (or not his?).
“Xander, uh Alexander Harris,” the other man said warily, even though Ward did not try to threaten him, at least not yet.”
“Nice to meet you,” Grant spoke in a neutral tone of voice, as he still had not decided on a course of action. “What’s with the hyena?”
“It’s, uh, well, uh, I don’t know,” Xander Harris looked even more embarrassed and uncertain than before. “I have picked it up sometime before in the past and don’t know what to do with it?...”
“Oh, it’s your spiritual animal,” Ward nodded sagely. “Here is mine,” he pointed out to his bobcat, which had been lurking in the shadows, deciding whether to strike now or later. “You should really get yourself a proper teacher, a shaman or a witch doctor or whoever, if you’re to master it – otherwise, it may master you...”
“Really?” Xander blinked, thoroughly confused – but also thoughtful. “Okay... can you help?”
“Uh, no, not really. Hydra, see?” Grant pointed out to his uniform, which was more Hydra than S.H.I.E.L.D. in their mindscape. “You need to talk to S.H.I.E.L.D., or to one of their associates, rather.”
“Right,” Xander nodded, clearly unconvinced. “And can you tell me more about both?...”
“Maybe later,” Grant half-lied, half-told the truth. “Any idea, first, who can fix our problem?”
“That would be Giles,” Xander said thoughtfully. “Follow me!”
Elsewhere, Cordelia Chase was being chased (pun not intended). By a demon, which really was not funny – or punny, for that matter. “You know,” the high school queen told her pursuer, “I really didn’t like you when I got to copy your English homework – and I like you know even less, now that you have went all ‘grr’ and demonic. If I get out of this, I am calling Giles-“
Something happened to interrupted Cordelia’s speech: her pursuer got smitten, as in struck down by a glowing, even vivaciously radiant, bird-woman, in whom Cordy recognized Willow – vaguely. “And who are you supposed to be, Rosenberg?” she asked her rescuer, doing her best to sound like her old self – she had to admit that Willow actually looked better as a bird-human hybrid rather than like her usual self. “’Cause I am impressed – sort of.”
Instead of speaking English, Willow emitted a strange-sounding screech, and flew off.
“Right,” Cordelia spoke-up crossly (as she was aware of several demons, vampires or zombies in the neighborhood). “Let’s see if I can contact Giles – or lasso Willow – first. Then we’ll see.”
She looked around, accepted a lasso from a bemused-looking Attila the Hun, and raced-off.
“This is so no going according to plan,” Spike told no one in particular, as he watched his vampire minions being decimated by Buffy. “I cannot believe it, but I should’ve listened to Dru instead.”
“This makes two of us,” Angel told his grand-childe, as he finally burst out of the webbing that had restrained him. “Nothing good had ever come out of listening to Dru, now had it?”
“There’s no need to be sarcastic,” Spike said with whatever dignity he could master, even as he was sidling towards the exit. “What was, or is, she supposed to be, anyway?”
“I don’t know,” Angel admitted, even as he ran interference between the currently changed Buffy and Spike. “She, Willow and Xander had bought a bunch of Halloween supplies from some store in town. Xander got himself some sort of a super spy costume – I thought that he was ripped off, BTW – Willow – some sort of a quasi-Egyptian costume, and Buffy – just body paints. She, ergo, had painted herself into some sort of a super-hero, or villain, person – and then she transformed.”
“Into a human-spider-golem thingy?” Spike said incredulously, as a generous dollop of webbing prevented his escape. “Um, help? For the old times’ sake?”
“I don’t know,” Angel confessed. “What do you think, Joyce?”
“I called Mr. Giles as you told me to,” Buffy’s mother said, sounding even more worried than given the obvious. “He isn’t answering – you think that he is okay?”
“On a night like this?” Angel muttered, as he was trying to help Spike get away from the new, transformed Buffy. “I wouldn’t bet on it.”
“Uh, G-man? It is I, Xander – only I got another bloke...I mean, person – stuck inside of me, and we need some help in being unstuck.”
“Why should I believe you?” Giles asked skeptically, as the voice aside, his interlocutor did not look like Xander, not really.
“We don’t need you to believe us – just to help us,” Grant interrupted Xander and answered instead. “There’s a giant monstrous scorpion alongside us, and it is trying to take over-“
“Right, giant monstrous scorpion – very bad,” Giles said blinking, concerns and urgency overriding his doubts, for the moment. “Any idea how it all has happened?”
“Well, earlier this week we went to this new Halloween-themed store, and I brought this get-up, while Willow bought some sort of an ancient Egyptian thingy, and Buffy – just body paints. She planned to make herself look like some sort of a character from an RPG, just because.”
“...Okay,” Giles said, in an uncertain tone of voice. “This sounds... rather like you, actually. I’m guessing that Buffy and you have helped Willow with her choice?”
“Yes! The owner of the store – Ethan Somebody – he was somewhat surprised when we found it, but did not really have a problem with selling it in the end. He is a weird character-“
“I’ll say!” Giles exclaimed. “Ethan, you say?”
“Yes!” Xander affirmed, enthusiastically. “That’s the name.”
“Right,” Giles immediately got onto his feet, looking all business for once. “Let’s go and talk to him, shall we?”
The phone rang. “Yes?” Grant grabbed it first, using his greater reach. “Who is it? Cordelia Chase? You want to talk to Mr. Giles? We are going to Ethan’s Halloween store – can you meet us there? No problem? Great! Good-bye!” He put the receiver down and turned to Giles. “We really need to hurry, I think, and Xander agrees. This Miss Chase sounded really annoyed over the phone, you see-“
“Then let’s go,” Giles hurriedly said – a cross Cordelia could be really annoying, even to him, and so they left.
“A lot of things that just aren’t native to the Abyss – animal spirits, diminished beast-gods, angry phantoms and ghosts, fragments of ectoplasm and emanations from the plane of Chaos,” Giles replied crossly. “Ethan doesn’t see himself as evil per se, more like the loyal servant of chaos – and he honestly doesn’t care as to who’ll get hurt in the process.”
“You know him?” Xander said incredulously.
Giles stopped his explanation, because he and Xander (alongside Grant Ward, and perhaps a giant monstrous scorpion) had reached the store. Without breaking stride, the Watcher kicked it open.
“Hello, Ripper,” Ethan cheerfully told his former friend.
“Ethan,” Giles began to roll up his sleeves, when Grant, (rather than Xander), grabbed him and held him:
“Trouble?” he pointed out into the darker depths of Ethan’s store, where numerous slimy entities were lurking and hovering in wait, just waiting for the order to attack. Most of them were slimy and snake-like, but two or three of them looked more small dragons instead – and all of them were clearly on team Ethan too.
“Ah yes, the various salamander spirits,” Ethan said brightly. “Remember how I won power over them from the Horned god? They think that I am the boss, and they will interfere if you try to smash the statue-“
“How about,” Grant muttered to Giles, “we let those spirits chew on us, while you do something about the statue?”
“This is really generous, but Xander-“
“If he’s stuck with me, neither of us will have a very good experience before long. Plus I intend to let the salamander spirits – whatever they are – to chew on the scorpion for a while instead of either us-“
“That’s more sensible,” Giles admitted, “but still-“
SMASH! The shop’s ceiling fell apart, right along with one of the walls.
“Cordelia?” Xander asked, (Grant allowed him to), as he saw the woman behind the newcomer.
“Yes, it is I, Queen C,” Cordelia promptly replied, (she was still herself, but her self was actually Queen C, let us call spade a spade), “now who’s the bastard behind this? I got way too friendly with some Huns, and Willow is the Stravinsky’s firebird on my right.”
“She’s on your left-“
“This is my other right-“
Before the argument between Xander and Cordy could escalate further, Willow (or rather the entity that currently inhabited Willow’s body) lashed out – straight at Ethan. “Get her!” the chaos mage yelled, rather shrilly, and his supernatural bodyguards charged Willow – a dark, cold and rancid mass that tried to smother the glowing bird-woman...
It was also just the right opening that Rupert Giles was waiting for: he grabbed his impromptu wooden staff, and slamming into the magic circle on the floor, he cast a dispelling spell of his own...
There was an explosion of magical power – in regards to what happened immediately next. And then...
“So, the store’s owner was an ex-friend of yours, who turned evil?” Buffy asked quietly, which was unusual – for her.
“More like stayed evil,” Giles confessed. “It’s not like he’s evil per se, it’s more like he doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as he gets whatever he wants, which is usually chaos,” he paused. “I must admit, however, that he has apparently grown more powerful since I met him the last time.”
“Which was when?” Xander could not help but ask.
Giles looked askance at the younger man. All of his charges appeared to have changed since Halloween, but Xander was the only one who had benefited from this – at least on the obvious level: he sat more confidently and looked somewhat more physically imposing than he previously did.
(As a matter of fact, this was not all that Grant Ward had left behind: somehow, perhaps due to the chaos magics that had brought them together in the first place, he and Xander Harris had created a mental link between each other, somehow, and thus, at the moment, the older man was observing the meeting of the Slayer and the Scoobies through Xander’s eyes, listening and learning.
Grant Ward was not a monster, but neither was he a hero, and in any case, Garrett’s death put his life into disarray. He theorized that he could use Skye to get himself out of this fix, but now that he had another option, he could choose...)
“A long time ago,” Rupert Giles answered, bending his own truth. “We... did use to be friends. I... eventually realized that hurting people was not the best thing in life. Ethan... apparently did not.”
Willow nodded from her half-crouching position. If Xander’s encounter had been with a morally ambiguous agent of a man, who honestly didn’t know where his loyalties lay anymore, then Willow’s was with Nekhbet, an ancient goddess of ancient Egypt, with plenty of power, but little of intelligence – Willow’s direct opposite, basically. Regardless of that, Willow still felt hollow, empty of warm, solar, divine power, and was wondering if Xander would be willing to help her. After all, they were friends...
“In any occasion, this is irrelevant,” Giles continued, ignoring Willow – something in her gaze made him uncomfortable: her eyes were still human, but the look on her face was not, not really. Rather, it was more reminiscent of a bird of prey that was waiting for its prey to die – but that was silly: ever since Ethan’s spell was destroyed, everyone was back to normal, right?
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Cordelia Chase decided to interrupt the Watcher/librarian: apparently, he had spoken the last question aloud. “I talked to Sean, who went as Attila this Halloween, and apparently, he’s still got plenty of the Hun in him. Plenty of a hunk too, I should add."
Xander glared, but said nothing – for several reasons. For one, Grant Ward was in his head, telling him that such a formidable woman like Cordelia Chase will not be impressed by petty jealousy; for another, there was Buffy...
“Buffster,” he said instead. “How are you feeling?”
“Strange,” Buffy confessed. “I feel all pins and needles half the time, and other times I feel numb. I need to pee excessively often. Spiders seem to be paying excessively much attention to me as well. Since this is the Hellmouth, I really do not think that this promises anything good.”
“Just who did you go as last night?” Xander asked with a clear concern for their friend in his voice.
“No one in particular!” Buffy half-snapped, half-wailed. “There was this dress, but we decided to give it to Willow so as to not steal her thunder. I just dyed my hair and drew some temporary tattoos – and then I blanked out, and now I feel all weird, and half-empty, and half-angry-“
“You sure it isn’t your time of the month?” Cordelia asked dryly, but with some concern in her voice (by her standards).
“I’m – I’m not sure,” Buffy admitted, looking unhappy by this realization. “We’ll just have to wait and see as to what’ll happen next.”
“Yes,” Giles nodded, sounding even more unhappy than Buffy herself was. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Ethan Rayne is dark, wet, cold and worried. The spirits that he had summoned to protect him – he had no intention of being a chew toy to anyone, even an old friend of his – were still with him; they had actually taken him to their home dimensions, which was much more dark, wet and watery than he would’ve liked. There are smells too in the air – of dampness and fungus, of wet death and rot and of strange life...and it is still order, order and not chaos.
“Chaos mage.” Someone or something emerges from the waters – an entity of unknown type (to Ethan at least), followed by several more. “We have served you well.”
“And I have paid you well, right and proper,” Ethan quickly replied, “have I not?”
“Yes you have, and we were pleased,” the spirits’ spokesperson, well, spoke. “Until the last time, when we were facing that effing bird and would’ve best it, if our victory had not been stolen by the Watcher-man. This must not be! We want his head, and if you do not deliver it to us, then we’re done.”
“Well, it’s hard to do that if I’m here and he’s back in California,” Ethan could not help but to point that out. “If you want me to deliver his head to you then I really must be going.”
“And so you will,” the spirits’ spokesperson nodded. “Now go – and deliver us his head!”