Disclaimer: See first chapter
"Willow, we have to leave now!"
Willow stared at the body, the blood forming a sticky pool. The eyes were glassy and wide open in death; the mouth slightly open, as if to take in a breath. But this one would no longer breathe. Or do anything but lie there in the blood.
It was always the blood that bothered Willow.
Blood had decorated the student lounge on that fateful day, sophomore year. Bloody handprints as the dying fought for life; blood left behind as the killers laughed and played. Blood was what her doppelganger had feasted on with such joy. Blood had been stolen from that nameless boy just this year; stolen from him while they desecrated his corpse.
And now Willow was stealing the blood. Blood for a spell of justice, true, but blood still stolen from the dead. And hadn't that girl lost enough already?
She jerked up, startled from her reverie. Erik was shaking her, trying to get her to respond.
"They're dead," she whispered numbly. Now that her focus was taken from the dead girl, she concentrated on the other three bodies. They didn't look like they even had a chance to fight for life and leave bloody handprints. Their killer had been one they trusted.
"Yes, they are," Magneto said, his patience with her ebbing. "Haven't you seen bodies before?"
"The last time I saw senseless death like this was four years ago," Willow said softly. "Vampires. But this, this was a human killer. She may have been influenced by a demon, but an empathic manipulator can only bring potential to the surface. It can't cause unnatural behavior."
She turned to her cousin.
"Is this NATURAL?!"
Magneto stared into her confused, pained eyes. Despite their frequent disagreements, he found himself growing fond of her. It saddened him that she was learning what he knew all too well - that not all evil wore the face of a demon.
"Come on, Willow. We have to leave."
"What about the bodies?"
"The authorities will be here shortly. The survivor will be fine until they do; the murderer is safely locked up. We've done all we can do. Do you have the blood?"
Willow held up the vial. The red, viscous liquid glided within. Tomorrow night, with the new moon rising, it would be used to cast a spell that would hopefully stop the chaos and massacres.
Magneto nodded and took her by the hand. Pulling gently, he led Willow away from the scene of blood and death.
Later that night, Tara held her girlfriend close as Willow sobbed. In turn, she began to cry, remembering the little boy sacrificed to bring such evil about.
They cried for deaths that shouldn't have been, for innocence slipped away, for shades of evil too dark and gray to see.
As the sun rose for another summer day, they finally slept, spent from their outpouring of grief.
At the same time, the Slayer prowled the streets, wearing herself out as she kept the town from self-destructing. Even the minimal help the police would give was taken from her in the first blow.
Stopping for a moment, she yawned and wished for sleep, but continued on to break up the riot that was brewing in front of a barbecue restaurant between the vegans and the owners.
That same night, Giles began to study the parchment prophecy anew.
And chaos shall spring from the keepers of order Blood fallen and taken Light is shown dark; Dark is shown light All glory to chaos All glory to order All glory to -
Giles studied the last phrase intently. He felt that the first part of the stanza was accurately translated - the only other option was chaos springing from strawberry marmalade. But that last line - it used the Tamarian dialect, which often employed metaphors in place of words. Except when an outside speaker of Tamarian used it. Therefore, it was either "All glory to the fields running with blood", or "All glory to life in its fullest beauty".
He spent a moment cursing bad copyists and vague seers before diving back in. Perhaps a cross section of some of the vocabulary would clarify?
"What is it?"
"We have a lead, sir, on the escaped prisoner. There is a report of a man being rescued by someone who manipulated metal. The description fits the prisoner."
"Well, where is this report from?"
"A town named Sunnydale, sir. If you recall, we had a unit there just this last - "
"I'm well aware of our connection to Sunnydale. Prepare a detachment to retrieve the prisoner."
After only a few hours of sleep - blessedly dreamless, as only the
sleep of the truly exhausted can be - Willow woke up. Tara had already
gotten up earlier, leaving only a faint Tara-sized imprint in the sheets.
Willow just laid there for a moment, pretending it was an ordinary day and
she was an ordinary girl. Buffy may be the one who had to be Miss Not
Normal, but her friends were always along for the ride. At times like this
one, Willow would wish Buffy had never broken the social code of Sunnydale
High and said hi! to the geek. But it was only for a moment. With a sigh,
Willow decided to follow her girlfriend and get up.
She padded into the kitchen, where she found Tara reading the morning paper. Her girlfriend's face was so quiet and composed that Willow immediately knew something was wrong.
"Honey, what is it?"
Tara looked up. Her eyes were still red-rimmed and filled with tears that threatened to spill at any moment.
"I hate this," she whispered, before handing the paper over to Willow. Willow took it automatically, as Tara grabbed a tissue to wipe her tears.
Once Willow saw the headlines, she understood Tara's continued sorrow. The top headline was POLICE STATION MASSACRE, but that was only the beginning. There was a story on a riot started by a group of vegetarians (one death, four hospitalized), fans of two rival sports teams (no deaths, but ten on the critical list), a riot in one neighborhood (three deaths, two in the hospital, three children now fatherless, four now motherless, one family now childless) and the list kept growing. It was as if the police station killings had spawned a whole slew of riots and deaths.
Willow found herself unable to read anymore. The paper dropped from her hand, the sheets spilling all over the floor.
"We're going to Giles'," she decided. Better to be at Scooby Central and help than to stay here and mourn.
Tara nodded. This wasn't the sort of thing you hid at home for.
Twenty minutes later they were knocking on Giles' door. He opened it, looking even more tired and worn out than Willow felt. She doubted that he had slept more than a few catnaps here and there. Giles wordlessly allowed them inside.
Willow stepped inside, pulling Tara in behind her. She had expected to see most of the Scoobies there, maybe even some of the Brotherhood. Surprisingly, she only saw Anya and Melly. Anya looked like she was taking notes on the newspaper; Melly was frying eggs and flipping pancakes.
Giles answered her unspoken question. "Buffy is at home, sleeping. The rest are," he paused to yawn, "are out there, patrolling."
Melly noticed the newcomers. "Do you like your eggs runny or hard?"
"Hard. It's better for you."
"Uh, hard then for me too."
Melly nodded and expertly flipped the frying eggs over. "Be done in a few minutes, dears."
Okay, that's not too out of place. Everyone fighting the apocalypse gets asked how they like their eggs. Actually, we usually get asked what donuts we like for snack runs. Eggs suddenly make much more sense.
"How are you?" Giles asked, breaking Willow's reverie. Both Willow and Tara gave him forlorn looks. "That bad?"
"What do we have, Giles?" Willow asked while taking a seat. Tara went over to help Melly in the kitchen.
"Anya is compiling some statistics from the paper to give us a better idea. As of right now, after the violence at the police station, it seems the Sl'kanith had gained enough power to affect humans. We are not positive, but the criteria for the human to be affected appears to be involvement in some sort of dispute. There has to already be present a certain enmity. Much as it is for affected demons, I would imagine.
Before I sent Buffy home, she indicated that before the violence escalates, the victim can be calmed down. However, once the victim is fully under the Sl'kanith's spell, he or she will be unable to see reason. They act as if they are fighting an intensely personal war - their cause is one to kill and die for."
"So basically, everyone who has a grudge will do something about it?"
"Simply speaking. Theoretically, the Sl'kanith will affect those with the most suppressed anger and expand its influence from there."
"There's a problem with that," Tara said quietly as she moved to join Willow on the couch, balancing two plates heaped high with eggs and pancakes. Willow gave her a smile as she took one plate.
The rest of the room were giving Tara a 'duh, there's a problem' look. Tara blushed.
"W-what I mean is, if the Sl'kanith affects those with the most anger the strongest, c-can we trust the Brotherhood?"
A moment later, Giles understood her point. "I'm not sure we have much of an option," he said. "They are here and as long as they are willing to provide aid, we should accept it. We lack the resources to effectively patrol this town otherwise."
"What?" Willow still didn't see the problem. Sure, her cousin and his Brotherhood weren't citizens of the year, but -
"The Brotherhood is made up of mutants," Anya clarified. "And they have a load of issues about 'the mutant problem' so if anyone is going to go all psycho, it'll be your cousin and his friends." Anya frowned. "Wait a second, Xander is with them! They might hurt my Xander!"
Uh-oh. Willow suddenly felt very, VERY bad about bringing Erik and co. to Sunnydale. They could end up causing all the deaths the Sl'kanith needs! If that policewoman could be affected like that, what could a xenophobic magnetic field manipulating mutant do?
Xander patrolled the streets of Sunnydale with Magneto and Pyro, feeling woefully unarmed with just a tranquilizer gun. Magneto was reputedly the Master of Magnetism and Pyro was able to manipulate fire. And Xander wielded the mighty power of the trank gun. All hail Xander.
Okay Xander, so you don't have the super-power - you never do. At least this time your weapon is actually more useful. Since they were fighting humans instead of demons, the tranquilizer gun was MUCH better. Or so he kept telling himself.
"You're Willow's friend, correct?" Magneto asked. They were currently walking through downtown Sunnydale; Mystique's team was taking the outskirts.
Xander flicked his eyes over to the mutant. "Yup. Willow and I have been best buds since kindergarten."
They walked some more in silence.
"You carry the gun with some familiarity," Magneto remarked. "Do you have any military experience?"
Xander smiled. "You could say that. Halloween, a couple years ago, this guy enchanted a bunch of costumes so that the wearer would think they were whatever they went as. I went as a soldier." He gestured with the gun. "Lost the dog tags, kept the memories."
They walked some more in silence. Xander tried very hard to listen to whatever it was he supposed to be listening for. Shouts? Cries? People chanting to get the stakes set up so they could have themselves a bonfire?
'Burn the witch!' 'How do we know she's a witch?' 'She turned me into a newt.....'
Monty Python musings were much more interesting than mindlessly walking about town. Xander decided to allow himself until the end of the witch scene before returning to reality. He'd gotten as far as 'What also floats?' and 'Very small rocks' when Avalanche came running, shouting at the top of his lungs "Magneto, boss, we've got a problem!"
Xander quickly stopped his Monty Python musings.
"What is it?" Magneto demanded. "What happened?"
"It's the flatscans," Avalanche gasped. "Mystique and Toad weren't disguised or anything and the flats noticed and started shouting 'demon spawn' and some 'mutie freaks' and then it all went to hell."
"I hope you don't mean literally," Xander hastily clarified, "'cause I really don't want another apocalypse. It's usually a one-a-year deal and we already met our quota."
"Shut up, flatscan," Avalanche snarled, "I was talking to Magneto, not a stupid anachronism like you."
"Ooh. Big words. Scary."
"Silence!" Magneto snapped. "Where are Mystique and Toad?"
"Three streets west of here."
"Then move, boy!"
A few minutes later, Xander got to see what exactly happens when you piss a mutant off. Mystique was like a one-woman fighting machine, jumping and kicking and punching. She looked like she belonged in a kung-fu movie and not a mob scene. Toad was fighting just as much, only grosser, because he periodically spat green guck on people's faces. They'd fall down, choking.
All the while, people were throwing stones and whatever else they had on hand at the mutants. They chanted, "Kill the freaks!" "Go back to hell, demonspawn!" or just the succinct "DIE!"
Xander found himself strangely impressed. This was the first time he'd ever seen anyone in Sunnydale acknowledge the weirdness of the world. Except that time with M.O.O. and the Gingerbread demon. Which this was kind of a repeat of. So, not so impressed.
Focus, Xander. What can you do? Well, can't calm them down - major killing frenzy going here. He checked the number of darts in the tranquilizer gun. It held twenty and he had another set to reload. So, shooting seemed to be a good option.
But who should he shoot?
While Xander was figuring out what to do, Magneto just stood there, watching. As the scene before him played out, he found himself growing angrier and angrier. This was precisely what he feared! Foolish, weak, bigoted humans. Just look at them - attacking two mutants for simply existing. They all could die and the world would be a better place.
That man there yelling at Toad could die. The woman next to him, his wife most likely, she could die too. Their children who screamed and shouted and called for blood, they were just a waste of space, should make room for the real future. Yes, that's the idea. Start with them, start with those wasteful brats. All they will grow up to be are human scum like their parents. Kill them. That's the ticket, KILL THEM!
With a roar, Magneto sent the children flying backwards, striking the ground. Another surge of power knocked their parents away from Toad, freeing him to fight some more. As if on cue, Avalanche and Pyro began to attack the humans as well. They had fought the compulsion to join in until their leader had succumbed. Now, the ground began to shake and jets of fire swirled around, ready to attack.
Shit. Xander gaped at this sudden display of violence from his allies. There was no way he could fix this without their help. Even then, they would be very lucky to get out of this with minimal fatalities.
"Magneto, what the hell are you doing?" Xander shouted. Magneto was the leader-guy, if he calmed down the others might follow. "Hey, we're supposed to be STOPPING THIS!"
Magneto didn't answer. Instead, he appeared to be channeling his inner Darth Vader and choking some people.
Xander ran over to him, cursing Sl'kanith demons. "STOP IT! JUST CALM DOWN!"
"SILENCE, BOY!" Magneto bellowed. Xander found his gun yanked from his grasp. Uh-oh.
"Listen," Xander shouted back. "You're under a spell. The Sl'kanith is messing with your head - it's messing with everybody's head. None of this is real!"
"But it IS REAL!" Magneto snarled. "They need no spell to do this!"
"Maybe they don't," Xander conceded. "Maybe they don't need a spell. But right now, that's all it is. Some sick demon gets off on you killing people for no good reason. You're just" Think Xander, what would get through to a guy like this "You're just a puppet for the Sl'kanith. All you're doing is feeding it. They die, all to make some evil demon happy."
Magneto seriously considered letting his current victims go and crushing Xander instead. Xander gulped, since he had a very good idea what Magneto was thinking. Their eyes met. Magneto wondered what a powerless boy like Xander was doing standing up to him. This one was weak and useless, exactly like all the all the humans he hated. Passionately hated. Yet the boy did not back down.
Xander stood there, every muscle tense. With his only weapon gone, he was basically at the mercy of Magneto. He expected to die at any moment. Well - at least he liked the quiet.
Magneto released his prisoners. "Brothers," he shouted. "We leave."
Toad, Avalanche, and Pyro, good little soldiers that they were, grudgingly obeyed. The ground stopped shaking and the flames disappeared.
Mystique, however, either didn't hear or didn't care. She continued to deliver blows, radiating a cold hatred.
Xander picked up the tranquilizer gun which Magneto had let fall to the ground. Taking aim, he shot her once. She staggered. He shot her again. She collapsed. Toad jumped over and pulled her out before her attackers could surround her.
The mob quieted down a little, seeing as their foes were no longer reciprocating the violence. Their eyes still gleamed with hate and they obviously wanted to continue the fight, but the Sl'kanith's spell over them was fading. Even now, a few turned from the mutants to tend to the wounded.
Xander and the Brotherhood left quietly, even now heading to Giles'. Magneto gave the young man an assessing look.
As they walked along, Magneto remarked to Xander, "There are very few who would speak to me like that."
Xander shrugged. "It needed saying."
"So it did. Tell me, Xander, why do you do this?"
"Fight. You have no special knowledge, no powers or gifts. Yet you are here. Why?"
"Why not? Someone has to. And I know that someone has to. Might as well be me."
"My turn to ask a question," Xander turned to face the mutant. "Was it real?"
Magneto's thoughts drifted back to Willow's impassioned cry "IS THIS NATURAL?". For all the Scoobies had done and seen, an aura of innocence still clung to them. It was saddening to watch it slip away.
"Far too real, Xander, far too real."