|Navigation: Home About News Fiction Links Email|
Fan Fiction: They Also Serve
Chapter Eight: Earthquake
"Time has been transformed, and we have changed; it has advanced and set us in motion; it has unveiled its face, inspiring us with bewilderment and exhilaration."
Let him work? What was that supposed to mean? Xander frowned down at Giles, watching in confusion as the older man closed his eyes and sank his fingers into the turf.
Nothing seemed to happen over the next several seconds, so Xander shook his head and retrieved his cell phone to make the promised call to Willow. He'd entered all 10 digits and had his thumb poised over the OK button when he looked up again, checking instinctively on Giles' position. Giles hadn't actually moved, and no one else had appeared... but each and every one of his recently enhanced senses suddenly clamored at him, and his soldier's instincts were going haywire. Not to mention his instincts as an ordinary boy raised to manhood on a Hellmouth.
Giles' attitude had reminded him of prayer before, and that impression was even stronger now. He had bowed his head slightly towards the ground, and his knees were out of sight amidst the grass... grass that had suddenly grown another three inches in the last few seconds. It was rippling gently in circular waves, as if each blade were bending towards Giles' kneeling form. More than that, small vines and flowers had begun appearing out of nowhere between Giles' fingers, winding up his wrists in shades of green and brilliant color.
The early evening sun seemed to dim slightly where it touched Giles' skin, taking on a pale green hue reminiscent of new leaves in the spring. Giles himself seemed impossibly solid, unbearably real. Every line of his features gave off the impression that it had been hewn from granite, despite the fact that he was obviously made of flesh and not stone.
The phone fell to the grass unnoticed, all thoughts of the girls gone from Xander's mind. He didn't know what to make of this, how to process what he was seeing. It was as though Giles had become a living statue, part of the Earth; the ground, the plants, the very dust-motes in the air were welcoming the older man.
Then things began to change. The air dimmed further, as though a cloud had passed over the sun, and the foliage clasping Giles' arms and legs abruptly withered and fell to the ground. The shivering grass waved outward instead of inward, falling flat like the walls of Jericho and writhing with dark shadows.
Xander hadn't been in church in many years and didn't often remember his Sunday School lessons, but something about this situation brought it to mind. Maybe it was the way he suddenly felt so small, puny and irrelevant in the face of something frighteningly vast. Vampires and demons never made him feel this way; he could strike at them and crack lame jokes even when they scared him, even when they could pulverize him in return. They were immediate and knowable. This... was not. What on earth had Giles tapped into?
Giles groaned, and the world snapped back into order with a nearly audible jolt. The dimness lifted, traded for sunshine warm and golden with approaching sunset. The long, dark circles of grass shrank back into a short, green expanse of healthy lawn. The blackened vines and flowers vanished as though they had never been. Giles was back to being Giles again, British and aging and human, familiar and comfortable and not all that mysterious.
"Um, Giles?" Xander asked, stooping to retrieve his phone from the ground. "Could you maybe tell me what that was? Because it looked pretty Hellmouthy to me."
Giles snorted and looked up, spearing Xander with haunted green eyes, and maybe he wasn't so familiar after all. "Hellmouthy? You have such a way of phrasing things, Xander." He leaned back on his heels, moving his hands from grass to thigh, and pushed smoothly to his feet. "I was asking the earth spirits that abide here where Warren had gone with his object of power, and the Hellmouth did indeed interfere."
"Can I be the first to say, Wha...?" Xander half-joked, raising a hand up into the air. None of this made any sense. He might vaguely expect something along these lines out of Willow, at least before her magic-addiction spree, but Giles was usually steady as a rock, carefully intoning any spells he used from thick, well-guarded books.
Giles' hands went into his pockets, and his gaze turned introspective as he answered. "They burned this out of me, you realize," he said, his voice thick with some remembered pain. "Long ago, after Eyghon. If Willow got out of control again and was brought to their notice they might try to retrain her, but I was judged a lost cause."
"Why?" Xander couldn't help but ask. Eyghon had seemed so horrible when he was younger, but the memory of it had lightened in comparison to everything else he'd seen in the years since. Sweet, for one; how many people had burnt up from his demonic songs? Now that had been a colossal mistake on Xander's part. So maybe Xander wasn't inherently powerful, but did that make what he did better or worse?
"Willow draws on her own power, and that of her chosen deities, as does Tara. Ethan is much the same; he has Chaos to fuel him. Most practitioners of magic pull from similar sources. I, however, inherited another sort of power entirely."
Giles paused for a moment there, looking uncomfortably terrible and tragic, before continuing. "My mother's family has an Elemental connection to the earth; always has, since records of her line began. The men manifest the abilities in puberty; the women do not, but are always carriers. Her uncles arranged her marriage to my father as a test, to see what would come of two such old and different guardian lines. I was the only offspring... and a grave disappointment."
He took a deep breath, and looked up to meet Xander's stunned gaze again. His voice was calm, as though he were giving some lecture or other; there was very little emotion in his words. Close up, however, Xander could see his eyes burning with truths and pain. "I took that power and turned it to perverse ends; Eyghon was the worst, but by no means all. They could not eject me from the Watchers due to the influence of both families, but they could and did render me harmless. At the time, I felt guilty enough that I accepted the punishment without question."
Xander interrupted him there with a choked laugh. "I wouldn't exactly call you harmless, G-Man. I mean, even before this." He waved vaguely at the ground at Giles' feet.
The corners of Giles' mouth twitched in an almost-smile. "Yes. Quite. But I was, for many years. At any rate it's back, God knows why. I'm not certain I'll be able to master it now without becoming Ripper again, but if defending my chosen family means that I must face that..." He shook his head.
Xander filed most of the explanation away for later. He knew he'd have lots of questions once it sunk in, but he was having trouble absorbing it just now; the shock was making the details hard to grasp.
"So that's the long answer, huh?" he joked. "Wow." Something Giles had said earlier about Xander's new gifts floated to the surface of his mind, and he parroted the words back with a with a more genuine smile. "We don't have the time to discuss this in depth now... but I'll keep it in mind. Thank you for telling me."
Giles just shook his head and stepped forward, removing a hand from his pocket to clap Xander on the shoulder. "I wasn't entirely being sarcastic when I said that this isn't such a change for you," he said. "I think you've been behaving stupidly for quite some time as a cover for truths that you have seen, but would rather not know."
Xander swallowed. "Yeah. Probably," he admitted. "I keep wanting to pretend everything's perfect, but..." he shrugged. "I've done some really brainless stuff, haven't I?"
Giles gave his shoulder another squeeze, then dropped his arm and turned towards the street. "You have all your life in front of you, Xander. The slate has been cleared; what you write on it from here on out is up to you."
"Yeah." Xander cleared his throat, and followed Giles' look. "So. Did these earth spirits have anything to say? And what did you mean about the Hellmouth interfering?"
Giles' expression soured. "I can feel it," he said. "It's a bloody great wound in the earth, and it pulls at the edges of my mind now even when I'm trying to ignore it. All of Sunnydale is tainted by it, and it clouds everything I try to do." He took a deep breath. "Nevertheless, I did manage to contact a guide." He gestured towards the curb.
It looked empty enough to Xander, but he was willing to believe anything just now. "A guide?" he prompted, raising his eyebrows.
"All living things on the earth are a part of its domain," Giles said. "I haven't much control over the more intelligent creatures, but some are willing to be of service. This being will follow the path of the disturbance Warren left behind with his medallion; we should be able to trace him to his current position."
"So what, we walk?" Xander wasn't exactly objecting to Giles' invisible friend, as he'd seen enough strange things in his life. The speed of their pursuit was bothering him, however.
"Don't worry," Giles said, nodding at the blank space. "It can travel a good deal faster than our vehicle." Without further comment, he headed for the car.
If he hadn't known better, Xander wouldn't have realized there was any difference between the drive to Warren's lair and the drive back. Giles kept his eyes on the road, signaled in advance of every intersection, and generally behaved like the conservative driver he was supposed to be. Apparently, their guide was well versed in human traffic laws... or else very patient.
The smooth journey stopped abruptly as they passed through an intersection near the Bronze. Giles halted in the middle of the road, glancing left and right with a concerned look on his face. "Warren's crossed his own path," he said, frowning. "If he were carrying the Orbs the second time, hopefully that trail will be stronger..."
The guide apparently made up its mind just as the honking of the cars behind Giles began to get obnoxious. Giles followed it toward a line of parked vehicles, then found an empty space and stopped the car. "I think it wishes us to follow it on foot now," he said, unnecessarily.
Xander stretched as he got out of the car and cast an eye at his watch. At some point since they'd left Willy's, a whole lot of time had vanished into the ether. It was actually starting to get late; Willow and Tara hadn't checked in yet and the sun was beginning to go down. He frowned at the darkening horizon, then felt in his pockets for a stake before following Giles and their guide down the sidewalk.
They were nearing the door of the Bronze-- what was Warren doing in there?-- when something else unexpected happened. Giles cried out and dropped to his knees; at about the same time, Xander became aware of a deep, low sound, barely audible to his newly expanded range of hearing. It was swiftly followed by a sudden heaving of the earth. Xander abruptly found himself making a close acquaintance with the pavement as chaos erupted around him. Glass shattered in windows up and down the street, car alarms started going off, and signs and other loose bits of buildings began crashing to the ground. The rumbling continued for several seconds, causing further damage, and then quieted, leaving the street eerily calm.
"Giles? You OK?" Xander picked himself up off the cracked cement sidewalk, carefully patting himself down to check for injuries. Fortunately, he seemed to have picked up only bruises.
Giles looked up slowly from his kneeling position, his face slack with surprise. "It's... it's gone," he said, with wonder in his voice. "The Hellmouth... I can't feel it anymore."
"It's WHAT?" Xander exclaimed, disbelieving. Surely that wasn't possible. How could it be gone? It was a fixture, a fact of life around here. What could have taken it away?
"There was a massive burst of magic," Giles said, climbing slowly to his feet. He stumbled a little, bracing himself against the nearest wall with one hand, and breathed deeply as the blood drained out of his face. "Ohhh, I don't feel well."
"Someone made it go away?" Xander's jaw dropped. "Well, why didn't we just do that a long time ago?"
Giles heaved a sigh. "Because it would just go somewhere else, and because the magics involved are intensely evil." He swallowed. "Perhaps... perhaps you'd better see if Warren's inside? Give me a moment to catch my breath."
Xander kept staring for a moment, then shuddered and forced himself to shift gears. "Warren. Right. Orbs. Sure. I'll... I'll be right back."
"Do be careful," Giles added.
Xander just nodded, then walked to the door. The bouncer was just climbing to his feet again, and he waved Xander through without asking for the cover charge. He was fumbling with a cell phone, looking a little stunned, probably trying to call the management or 911.
The club was chaotic inside, full of broken glass and noisy people. Some were crying out in pain, some were aiding the injured, some were beginning to clean up the mess, and some were just starting to make for the exits. Xander did a quick visual scan of the main area, hoping to spot Warren before Warren saw him, but there were too many moving bodies. He'd just have to wade in and see what happened.
© 2004 Jedi Buttercup.