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Magister 3: In the Season of Nightmares

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Ch. 1 -The Changing Order

Ethan Rayne stood in a chilly London drizzle and watched the sun sink behind the imposing stone building across the street.  A small, mischievous smile quirked his lips as a dark figure stepped out of the shadows to join him.   He never took his eyes off the target before them as he spoke.

“You know, Ripper, this isn’t exactly a place where I’m welcome.  In fact, last time I stepped foot on the premises, I believe the phrase ‘eliminate on sight’ was uttered.”

“They’ve never exactly appreciated those who would lead their young initiates astray,” the man beside him replied conversationally.

“Oh, but you were such fun to corrupt,” Ethan purred.  “Alas, the relevant point is that you were not the only thing I ever tried to steal from The Council.   Their wards are sure to detect me.  You still haven’t said how I’m supposed to get all the way into the library and back out in one piece.”

“Just be your usual slippery self and you should have no problems.  They aren’t likely to bother with you while they have something they hate much more fervently on their hands.”

“And what would that be?”

The large vampire grinned, “Me.”

Ethan turned to look at him.  “Not that I want to argue who’s the bigger pain in the arse here, but do you really think going in there is wise?  They’ve already tried to kill you twice.  Not to mention there are several lovely ladies who would take your not making it home rather amiss.”

“It’s a risk I have to take.  We need the information they have, and we can’t count on them being willing to share.   Yes, it is possible that they will stake me on sight… but, at the moment, I’m willing to put my trust in Quentin Travers’ desire to survive.”

“You don’t really think he took your boy seriously, do you?”

Giles chuckled at the memory of his young friend growling threats in Quinten’s face.  “Xander may not be so frightening as he tries.  But a man would have to be a fool not to have a healthy fear of Faith Lahane.”

“Ah, beautiful Faith,” a dark smile crossed Ethan’s face.  “Did I ever tell you how fear can be a powerful aphrodisiac, Ripper?”

“More powerful to some than others,” Giles muttered.  “Focus, Ethan.”

The sorcerer chuckled.  “Well, there are still a few of us who are forced to imagine…” he couldn’t help teasing.

Giles gave a long-suffering sigh.  Though, the energetic encounter with Faith, to which Ethan was referring, was not the worst memory the demon had left him with, by far.  “I’ll tell you what, Ethan.  If you survive this, you have my blessing to find Faith and try all of your devious little seduction tricks on her.  Not that I think she won’t see right through you.”

“I’d rather we both survived this,” he responded in an oddly quiet voice.

The vampire turned serious eyes to him.  “I need you to promise me--”

“Please, Rupert, don’t.”

“Promise me that, if you come out and I don’t, you will take the information back to Buffy and the others.  I won’t ask you to stay and help them fight.  That wouldn’t be fair to you.  But they need to be able to figure out what’s going on.  Promise me?”

The chaos mage nodded slowly.  “And what am I to tell Dawn if I’m forced to go back without you?”

Giles let a sad frown settle on his face.  “Tell her I did my best, but it wasn’t my choice.”

“And the witc--  And Willow?” Ethan whispered.

“…The bottle broke too soon,” Giles breathed.  At his friend’s questioning gaze, he said, “You won’t have to tell her anything.  Willow will understand.”

“You’re sure about that?”

Giles knew that Ethan had heard stories, and may have even felt the magickal consequences of the last time Willow lost someone dear to her.  But he also knew that Willow may not be willing, but she was ready to bear his death.  He wasn’t Tara, and his end would never truly be a surprise.  “Yes.  I’m sure.”

Both men looked back up at the problem at hand as the sky turned deeper black. 

“You remember what you’re looking for, right Ethan?” Giles said in a more focused voice.

“I memorized your list, Ripper.  It wasn’t very long.”

“It’s all I could think might have something on what we’re facing.  Oh, and Ethan,” the vampire let a smile tinge his voice, “I’m not going to tell you not to do any shopping for yourself…  Just remember your time is limited, and that the more dangerous black magick spell books are protected by alarms that may even override the excitement of a vampire being in the building.”

“Why, Ripper,” the sorcerer exaggeration a hurt tone, “what is it that you think of me?”

“Only the truth,” Giles grinned as he stepped off the curb.

******

The doors to the conference room burst inward as a security operative flew through them.  Several Council members already in a meeting jumped, some regaining themselves quickly to rush the intruding vampire.  Standing at the head of the table, Quentin Travers held up his hand and called out as the first to reach Giles was swatted aside.

“Enough!  Everyone back to your places.  After all,” he turned his steely gaze to Rupert, “this is the official Watcher to the current Slayer.  Only fitting he should join us at a time like this.”

Several of the Watchers in the room fixed the vampire with unwavering glares.  Except for Lydia Chambers, who watched him with something else entirely shinning in her steady eyes.

“As you can see from the untidiness, Rupert,” Quentin continued, “you are not the first to pay us a visit today.  And, speaking of overdramatic entrances, I do hope you left a few of our young men alive on your way up.”

“They’ll all recover,” Giles replied in the same snide, but civil tone.  “I try not to kill those who don’t have it coming.”

Quentin softly chuckled at the remark clearly directed at him.  “Please take a seat and join us.”

“I prefer to stand, thank you.  Makes it less likely to find a stake in my back.”

“As you wish,” Quentin nodded.  “Now back to the business at hand.  Continue with your reports.”

“As I was saying,” an aid tossed a glare at the vampire.  “They took our files, wiped out our records. We've lost contact with the operations in Munich and Rome. We've got casualty confirmations coming in from as far away as Melbourne.”

Lydia tore her gaze away from Giles and stepped up to Travers.  “Sir, we’re crippled!”

“It's all right, Lydia,” Quentin said smoothly.  “We are still masters of our fate, still captains of our souls.”

Giles did his best to hold back a snort and put on the most innocent face he could manage when those around him heard it escape anyway.

“Yes, Sir,” Lydia returned to her work.

Quentin looked up to address the room as a whole.  “Ladies and gentlemen, our fears have been confirmed. The First Evil has declared all-out war on this institution…”

Giles’ mind instantly went into high gear.  The First Evil.  But he’d always thought it was a story the older boys told the new Watcher recruits to scare them.  Study hard, one day you might be the one facing the First Evil.  And while you’re at it, eat your peas and clean your bunk.  At least, he’d always hoped it was a story.  But, of course, it makes perfect sense that it is exactly what would come along for Buffy and her friends to face after everything else they’ve gone through.

He tried to concentrate, to remember anything of use he might have heard over the years.  But there was nothing more than the ambiguous name.  Giles grew frustrated as he couldn’t focus his mind.  Of course, Travers was still waxing poetic.  Talking about how the Council was going to mobilize and visit the Hellmouth.  As if they would be of any help.  But he had long ago learned to block out that particular voice.  There was another sound, fainter, just on the edge of his vampire hearing.  It was a soft beeping, and it was steadily speeding up until it finally blended into one solid tone.

Giles’ eyes shot up as Quentin was saying, “My friends, these are the times that define us. Proverbs 24:6. O, by wise council, you shall make your war…”

“Get out!” Giles shouted.  “Evacuate the building!”

Everyone around him jumped at his sudden outburst, but he knew they had no chance, there was no time.  He’d realized too late. 

The vampire drove forward, faster than anyone around him could even react.  He dipped his shoulder, putting it squarely in Travers’ chest and continued on, straight for one of the large windows.  They crashed through the glass and wood together just as the explosion engulfed the room.  The force pushed them farther out and away as they plummeted the three floors to the hard pavement across the street.  Giles twisted them around in mid-air, trying to cushion the man with him from the deadly impact with the ground as they landed.

He rolled them over, carefully checking if the older man had survived.  Quentin coughed blood when Giles lifted himself up.  A sharp splinter of wood pulled loose from his own abdomen only to stay firmly lodged in Travers’.

“Quentin,” Giles tried to cradle his head in a hand.  “Damn it, you’re a tough old bird.  Stay with me.”

Travers gurgled a bloody chuckle.  “Don’t go soft on me now, boy,” he whispered.  A convulsion wracked his body as he grabbed hold of Giles’ jacket.  “I…  I always knew…  It’s up to you now, Rupert.  You and your Slayer.  The Council’s time is done.  It’s all in your hands.”

“No,” Giles whispered, holding back tears that surprise him.  “It can’t be.  I’m not even a good Watcher,” he smiled sadly.

“You’ve always been the Watcher that we needed.  I could see that from the beginning.”

“And that is why you fired me and then tried to kill me?”

Quentin gave another bloody chuckle.  “I was ten feet from a stationary target.  Even I never let myself get that sloppy.”

“You…  You missed on purpose,” Giles breathed in astonishment.

“There were eyes on all of us.  I had to be sure they knew you weren’t a threat.  And I had to teach you that you never truly needed to depend on the Council.”

“But why?”

“The future needs a new kind of leader.  One cut from his own cloth.”  The old man inhaled a pain-ridden breath.

“Quentin, you don’t have to go.  I can…”

“No, Rupert.  It’s my time.”  He forced a shaky, bloody hand into his inside pocket and pulled out a few folded pages.  “These are the ones we know of.  No telling how many are still alive.  The First is killing the potentials, trying to destroy the Slayer line.  You must get to them.  Save as many as you can.”

“But, how do we fight it?  How can we stop The First?”

“That will require a new kind of thinking.  It’s all up to you now, Rupert.”

Giles blinked a tear loose.  “I don’t want you to go.”

“I know you’ll make me proud, son.  I’m sorry it had to be a secret that you always have.”

“Ripper,” Ethan appeared from the dark alley in front of him.  “The sirens are getting close.  We don’t want to be hanging around when the authorities get here.”

“Quentin?” Giles whispered once more.  But the old man’s eyes had drifted closed for the last time.  The vampire Watcher carefully lowered his old mentor’s head to the ground.  He slowly rose and vanished into the night.

******

Ethan could barely keep up with the pace Giles set down the alleyway.  “Ripper, what happened?  I only got out just before it blew.  Hey…”  He reached out to grab the vampire’s arm.  “What is it, Rupert?”

Giles halted suddenly and turned to look at his companion.  He blinked the remaining moisture from his eyes.  “They’re all gone.  The Council…  I’m all that’s left.  And if you hadn’t made it out…”  He tried to shake the sorrow and rage out of his head.  “Ethan, it’s The First.”

The sorcerer’s first instinct was to reject the statement as impossible.  But he knew better.  Rupert had been in this fight too long to be wrong, and Ethan had seen more than his fair share of evils in the world.  He took a deep breath and held up a satchel.  “I made off with everything I could.  It’s not much, and I truly doubt it will give instructions on how to destroy ultimate evil.”

Giles looked him deep in the eyes.   “Tell me the truth, Ethan.  I need to know, now that we know what we’re facing…  Where do you plan to stand in this war?”

Ethan sighed deeply, but held the intense eye contact.  “You know I’m a card carrying coward, ol’ mate.  I’d prefer to be on the other side of the planet.  Maybe even find myself a safe, little pocket dimension to live out my days.  Problem is, The First is something that will find us wherever.  This is the end of the world, isn’t it?”

“With only us and a handful of children to stand in the way.”

The sorcerer gave a nod.  “You and Dawn will be face to face with this thing.  I guess it’s time I repay that massive debt I’ve built up with the world.  Who knows, dying a hero might get me a bit of consideration for which hell I eventually end up in.”  He grinned at the shock written all over his oldest friend’s face.  “Where do we start, ol’ boy?”

Holding up the list in his hand, Giles said, “Here.  Quentin told me that The First is trying to kill all of the potential Slayers.  We start by saving every girl on this list.”

“In that case we’d best get a move on.”

The Watcher glanced at the first name on the list and his eyes widened.  “No,” he breathed.

“What is it, Ripper?”

“This Watcher, he’s an old friend of mind.  If those creatures get to him…  Come on, it’s not far!”

*******

Giles burst through the apartment door like it was made of paper.  The first thing he saw was a body on the floor.  It was a Watcher, but one he didn’t recognize.  He could instantly tell the woman was dead.  Stepping in, he scanned the room.  “Robson!  Dear God, Robson, are you here?”

He heard Ethan hit the doorframe behind him, breathing hard as he struggled to catch up.  Giles moved quickly to the next room, leaving him to check the body.

There he found the man he was looking for, lying on the floor and covered with blood.  He knelt beside his old friend, holding back tears that threatened to overwhelm him again.  “You too?”  His vampire hearing picked up soft breathing.  “God, I though you--”

Robson’s eyes sprang open.  “Gather them,” he wheezed.  “It’s started.”

“It’s all right,” Giles tried to assure him.  “I understand.  I’ll take care of it.”

The next moment he sprang up, catching the robed man trying to sneak up on him by the throat and easily ripping the battle axe from his grasp.  The would-be attacker never had a chance as the vampire poured out all of his rage and grief on this one enemy.  He had lost so much in such a short period of time.  Something had to pay.

It was over quickly, and he dropped the torn, lifeless body to the floor before returning to his friend’s side.  The other Watcher flinched at the sight of his demon face.

Giles quickly hid his shame away.  “Forgive me.  It’s, it’s a long story…”

“No, Rupert.  It’s all right.”  Robson took a steadying breath.  “Quentin warned me.  Said we would need you.  Especially now.”

Glancing up to see Ethan enter the room, Giles shouted, “Call for an ambulance!”

“They took her,” Robson clutched at Giles’ shoulder.  “She was only fourteen and they took her right from my grasp.  Find the girls, Rupert.  Don’t let any more die.”

“I will,” Giles whispered as his friend lost consciousness again.  “I promise.”

“They’re coming, Ripper,” Ethan said, hanging up a phone.  He glanced down at the Bringer’s corpse.  “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you have a pretty significant wound there.  Maybe you should take advantage of a free meal while it’s lying around.”  The vampire glared at him.  “Just a thought.  Speaking as the last blood bank that had to step in when you were threatening to make an exit on us.”

Before they could argue the point, a scream from another part of the building had Giles on the move.  He raced down what seemed like an endless maze of corridors until he found two more of The First’s minions trying to break through a door with their large axes.  He only sped up, crashing into them with bone crushing force.  These two had as little chance as their companion and quickly fell prey to the rage-filled vampire.  As he gazed down at their wrecked bodies, he knew Ethan was right about his wound.  They would have to keep moving, and who knew when fresh blood would become available.  Even so, he didn’t have the stomach to taste these creatures.

Turning to the door he could still hear crying behind, he knocked softly.  “It’s all right, you’re safe now.  I’m a Watcher.  Robson sent me.”

The frightened young girl carefully cracked open the door.  She eyed him suspiciously.

“Molly, right?”  He held out his hand, remembering her name from the list.  “Come with me.  We must go before more of them come back.”

She opened the door and stepped out.  “I just ran when I saw them,” she frowned, shame written on her young face.  “Are Mr. Robson and Ms. Nora all right?”

“You did exactly the right thing,” he assured her with a soft smile.  “And Robson is wounded, but strong.  Help is on the way for him.  His only fear was for you.”  He knew she caught the omission of information about the second Watcher, but couldn’t bring himself to tell her.

Ethan appeared around a corner down the hallway.  “Ripper, the medics are on the way up, but they aren’t the only ones.  We need to get the girl out of here.”

Giles gazed down into her fearful eyes.  “Will you trust us to protect you, Molly?”

She surprised him with a sudden, but tentative crooked grin.  “Guess I kinda havta’, yeah?  If my Watcher trusts you, so do I.”

“Come on,” Ethan waved them towards the exit.  “Here’s hoping she doesn’t soon regret that, ‘ay Ripper?”