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Chapter Data

Chapter Nineteen

Fan Fiction: From the Shadows

Chapter Nineteen: Destiny in the Balance

"Much that we call evil is really good in disguises; and we should not quarrel rashly with adversities not yet understood, nor overlook the mercies often bound up in them."
~Horace Mann


The rumbling continued for a few seconds, then stopped, leaving the hotel still and quiet.

"So it's true, then," Dawn said, in a scared, determined young voice. "They're moving the Hellmouth to L.A."

Jonathan looked down at the cards at his feet. He'd been just about to win this round, and finally getting to see a more positive side of Ethan, too. "Evil has no sense of timing," he muttered. Irritably, he kicked out at the draw pile and watched the little rectangles of plasticized cardboard fly every which way.

"I take it you found something in the books," Ethan said, frowning at Wesley.

"Yes," he sighed. "Unfortunately. There was a book of recent English prophecies I hadn't got around to investigating, and Fred found something in it."

He glanced over at Fred, who had followed Wesley from their meeting room. She cleared her throat and looked down at the hefty book she was holding, then began to read.

"When the Thirteen take their stand 'gainst Devils' law
In the City that the angels gave their name
The Mouth of Hell shall gape and bring forth fire,
Called into focus by the Key of Blood.
Then shall the Chosen make their choices four
And ever after fight they for the Rule."

Jonathan glanced around the lobby while Fred spoke. Everyone was filtering back in; it was like the minor earthquake had been a meeting bell. Groo and Cordy looked a little, ahem, disheveled, and Spike had got a pair of reading glasses from somewhere that were subverting his Big Bad look, but otherwise they all looked as grim and ready-for-whatever-happens as they had walking into the hotel several hours earlier.

"So you're thinking this Key of Blood thing isn't a big sacrifice like they were pretending, just one of those nasty rituals where they boil up all our blood and cast a big spell with it." Faith scowled, crossing her arms, and drifted towards the couch where Wesley still stood facing Buffy and Dawn.

"I'd imagine so, yes," Wesley answered her, staring off into the distance with a worried look on his face.

"Yuck." Gunn made a face. "Doesn't that sound tasty."

"Which brings us to the fifth line, the Chosen part," Buffy said, firmly. "Which means me and Faith, right? What does it mean about 'choices four?' What kind of choices? And do we each get two, or four, or do we have to make them all together, or what?"

"Actually, none of the above," a new voice announced.

All heads turned towards the staircase. A man Jonathan had never seen before was descending, one hand on the rail and the other in the pocket of his coat. He was wearing a hat and a slightly smug expression.

"Whistler," Angel said, surprised.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Buffy exclaimed, scrambling to her feet.

"Hey, long time no see," Whistler joked, ignoring Buffy's question. "You know, it's funny, but that spell the lawyers were using? It called for thirteen different individual essences. I wonder what they'll do when they realize they only got twelve?"

"You're... a balance demon, aren't you?" Wesley said, staring intently at the intruder. "In the service of the Powers. Something hasn't gone according to plan."

"Well, aren't you a bright boy," the demon continued, smirking. He reached the ground floor and paused, glancing around at the varied group in the lobby. "My, my. A lot of big players in here."

"When you say they only got twelve," Buffy addressed him cautiously, "you're not talking about them accidentally missing a person, are you?"

"More like doubling up on one," Whistler said, and his gaze slid to Dawn. "When you're using such a powerful energy source, you've got to be careful how much you put in."

The rumbling began again; a few bits of plaster drifted down from the high ceiling before it settled down, several seconds later.

Buffy took a few steps to the side, placing herself protectively between Dawn and Whistler. "You mean, because the monks made her out of me?" she asked, frowning.

"Yeah. We wondered if you'd forgotten that." The balance demon walked slowly forward, closing the distance between him and the blonde Slayer. "Metaphysically speaking, the two of you are pretty much considered identical. Which brings us back to the whole Chosen situation..."

"No," Buffy cut him off, firmly. "Tell me you're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting."

Jonathan hadn't the least idea what they were talking about, except that it had more to do some secret identity of Dawn's, which he'd never heard of before this week. All the same, it was obvious to him that the subject was extremely important. There was enough tension crackling in the air to power half the city, and everyone not involved in the conversation was watching with bated breath.

"Sorry, kid," Whistler said. "I don't make the plans. I just nudge them back on track." He shrugged, then turned and started walking back up the stairs. "I think you can figure out the rest of it for yourselves."

Behind Buffy, Dawn pulled her feet up onto the couch and wrapped her arms around her knees, making herself smaller. "I'm going to be a Slayer?" she said quietly, looking shocked.

"Wait," Wesley raised his voice. "Can't you at least tell us what that omission means for their plan, or what sort of choices we'll have to make?"

Whistler turned, his foot on the first step, and grinned back at Wesley. "Didn't I say you were bright? You have to realize, the Powers couldn't possibly allow so many powerful warriors for Light to exist all at once without creating a counterbalance-- they don't want the world to end any more than the rest of you do. As for the lawyers, well, let's just say the Hellmouth has lost its anchor." Without further ado, he hurried up the rest of the stairs.

There was a collective intake of breath as soon as he disappeared from sight, as if everyone had been frozen in place and were suddenly able to move.

"An unanchored Hellmouth..." Ethan was the first to break the silence, musing aloud. "The level of chaos that will create..."

"Wes?" Buffy's gaze bored into the ex-Watcher. "You're the book guy. Explain it to me."

"You do know that the Hellmouth hasn't always been fixed in Sunnydale," Wesley said slowly. His face was set and pale, as though he were more statue than person at the moment.

"That's bleedin' obvious, if you've ever been to London," Spike interrupted. "You can feel it there, like the scent of smoke on your jacket when you've left a bar. It lingers."

Wesley nodded slowly. "Yes. You might imagine it as a sort of mystical magnetic north pole... it realigns naturally every few centuries, slowly following the major shifts in metaphysical energy. The process has been forced once or twice when someone sought to seal the Hellmouth permanently. It never worked, obviously; at best, they only managed to temporarily uproot it, whereupon it shifted to the next most powerful hotspot. Inevitably, earthquakes, fire, and heavy demonic activity occurred before it tied itself once more to the Earth. If that anchor has been removed entirely..."

"You get a free-floating portal to the stuff of nightmares," Fred guessed, wide-eyed. "Every time someone does something big enough to attract the attention of the dark energies... Poof, here it comes."

"They believe they are successful, then," Groo put in his two cents. "These lawyers. When it moves on, they will be less than pleased."

"They're not the only ones," Gunn said, tapping the flat of the axe blade against his hand. "What a mess. Hey... I don't suppose this is that Tro-Clon thing we were all worried about back when?"

Wesley turned to him, startled. "What do you mean?"

"You know," Gunn said. "That part you were worried about translating, that could mean the ruination or purification of mankind. I'd say something like this could do it-- man, there'll be demons everywhere."

"But I thought that was talking about, um, Connor," Cordelia said, glancing worriedly at Wesley.

"No," Fred shook her head, clutching the book of prophecies like a shield. "We decided the Tro-Clon was this whole confluence of events thing. I guess you could say he's part of it, but I think this entire week, everything was part of it. Especially this problem with the Hellmouth."

"Tro-Clon?" Buffy asked tiredly, then shook her head and took a deep breath. "Never mind. You know, this whole keeping secrets thing has got to go. I don't pretend to understand any of this, especially the whole Connor issue..." She wrinkled her forehead in Angel's direction again, then shifted her gaze back to Wesley. "But I am a hundred percent sure sure I heard you tell him 'we', Wes. As in 'choices we'll have to make'. What's up with that?"

"Yeah, Wes," Faith said, frowning at him. "I thought Slayers didn't come in male."

Wesley scrubbed a hand over the stubble on his face and sat down unsteadily. "Not a Slayer," he said. "According to... well, there's nothing conclusive, but a combination of fragmentary prophecy, old Daywalker legends, a conversation I had in a vision, and what Whistler said about balance..."

"Don't babble, Wes." Angel's voice sounded tight, and he cleared his throat. "Spit it out. You think you're this Destroyer Spike mentioned. You think you're supposed to be evil."

"Well... yes. There are three Slayers right now, after all, or will be, once Dawn reaches the age at which Buffy received her calling. That's unprecedented, and obviously it makes sense to create an anti-Slayer of sorts to counterbalance." Wesley sighed heavily. "It fits all of the signs."

"Well, fuck that," Faith poked him in the chest with an index finger. "The cryptic guy said we each get a choice. Choose not to be evil. If I can do it, you can."

"I don't think it's that simple," Wesley pushed her hand away and buried his face in his hands.

"Nothing ever is," Lorne spoke softly. "Look. Whistler likes to present himself as being all Light and good, but he's a balance demon, Wes, pretty high up in the ranks. He shows up to even the score, not to choose one side over the other. It's possible he's promoting evil this time, in which case, he could be trying to sow discord on purpose. Don't just take this as gospel."

Fred piped up. "And, well, maybe the Powers didn't see the time-travel thing coming. I mean, they haven't sent Cordelia any visions about any of this, right? Maybe if you had stayed in Quartoth, or something, you would have ended up a lot darker."

"Well, that's certainly an optimistic way to look at it," Spike said, dryly. "Tell the man all of Heaven's against him."

"Wait, back up," Cordelia started pacing, waving her hands around. "We keep calling this guy a balance demon. He, like, measures which side is winning, and when they get too far ahead, he shows up to smack them down. Right?"

Spike chuckled. "Roughly, yeah."

"Where are you going with this, Cordy?" Angel narrowed his eyes, watching the seer pace.

"The last line of that poem, dorks. 'And ever after fight they for the Rule'. Isn't Rule archaic-speak for a set of standards, like a ruler, or something? Which is totally a measuring tool. I mean, I don't think you guys are honestly going to beat each other up over who gets to be King of the Hellmouth, so what else could it mean?"

"She does the most astonishing things to the English language," Ethan said, under his breath.

"Shhh," Jonathan frowned at him.

"Soooo..." Buffy said, slowly. "You're thinking, what. We get to do a balancing act?"

"Hey." Dawn sat up straight, putting her feet back on the floor. "Actually, guys, that kind of makes sense. We've got this huge new threat, right? A mobile Hellmouth. Which would make with the mega-darkness. What if they allowed that in order to cancel out Wes turning out good? And Faith too, probably. I mean, if she was still evil, and he was evil, that would be two on two, but right now it's four against nothing. Well, that we know of; Glory might have counted, but she's dead. So hello, big nasty problem."


Out of all the options, Jonathan thought that last one sounded the least painful for everyone concerned. "Uh, I vote for Dawn's interpretation."

"What do you think, Wes?" Angel asked his son, softly.

Hope began spilling into the ex-Watcher's expression. "It's... it does sound possible, actually. I'll have to do some more research..."

The earth shook for a third time, brief and sharp, like an aftershock.

"You do that," Buffy said. "But let's worry about it later, okay? Because I'm starting to think it's a very bad idea to leave the lawyers in control of the Hellmouth, even if it's not going to stay there very long."


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