"So Tonight That I Might See" by Mazzy Star
"Bolt Action" by Vigilantes of Love
"Stand Guard" by Bob Mould
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Forget Quentin Travers and everything BtVS has shown about the Watchers Council. This is my own interpretation of the organization. Also, the Mayor in "The Trick Chronicles" is not based directly on Mayor Wilkins as he was portrayed in S3. I don't believe my depiction of him is as different as my take on the WC, but just so everyone knows, it's not necessarily the same guy. I wouldn't want actions that might appear out of character to cause confusion.
It was a dark and stormy night. While that phrase has been the genesis of countless bad short stories and tortured novels, the night in question was, in fact, both dark and stormy. Thick clouds scudded across the sky, driven by a sharp wind that pushed rain squalls ahead of it. The clouds were edged with white, courtesy of the full moon they obscured. It was a cinematographer's singular rendering of a stormy night.
The stone manor house had seen countless nights just like it. This close to Scotland, still in England, it was one of countless old piles that might have had great claim to history if anyone famous had ever slept, screwed, or died there. No one had and so it was simply an old, well-maintained house located far off the beaten path.
Tonight, however, the path looked beaten to within an inch of its life. A collection of vehicles startling in their diversity lined the drive. The windows of the old manse glowed a warm yellow, a distinctly old color, not the bright white of modern lighting. The wind blustered and whistled, adding its voice to the cacophony to be found inside.
And cacophonous it was, in a strangely civil way. The great hall of the house was crammed with an astonishing array of people. They were predominantly male, and a goodly portion of them white. More than a few looked as though they might be dead also, but there were women present, and many men whose skin color indicated that this could possibly be their first trip to England or, for a few, to the northern hemisphere. They had arrived three days ago in response to an urgent summons.
One of them held forth at the podium stationed at the foot of the great staircase. He was not old nor was he dead, but he was most assuredly white, possessing the pallor common to scholars and zealots. His hair was a disheveled mess. A pair of small rectangular spectacles perched at the end of a long, thin nose. His chin could be used to open the mail. His clothing matched, at least in the sense that all very dark colors tend to look at least presentable when worn together. He jabbed at his glasses with a forefinger and continued his jeremiad.
"I know that certain factions within this august body believe the present situation to be of only passing interest. They counsel caution and make passing reference to past events, which they imagine to be similar to this present calamity. I say, with utmost sincerity and no rancor at all--" there was a general stirring as a large portion of the audience stifled laughter-"no rancor at all in my heart, that they are wrong. We must not be lulled into complacent slumber, for if this happens we will most certainly awaken too late.
"Our ancient and hallowed traditions have been subsumed by modernity, not because our brother is evil, but because he is lax. It is easier to acquiesce than to stand firm. This must be stopped."
He stopped to take a breath and a member of the audience stood. At least it seemed that he stood for his diminutive stature changed very little. What he lacked in height he possessed in girth and his features clustered in the center of a round face. "That's all well and good, Kirkland, but don't we have a baby and bathwater situation here?"
Kirkland nodded the nod of a debater who has spent his entire allotment of time laying one rhetorical trap in the hopes of snaring his opponent and who has just now seen his adversary step into the carefully prepared snare. "That is a common reaction and on its surface it is most reasonable and temperate. All of us want to see error corrected yet none of us wants to overreact. That is understandable. This leads inexorably to a belief that it is better to wait to long than to act too soon, to strike too softly rather than too strongly, and to assume that over the course of time all will be brought into equilibrium." Kirkland fixed his crowd with a fevered gaze. "Yet who among us, if he encountered a viper in the garden, would concern himself--" Kirkland faltered slightly "-himself or herself with how hard the hoe was swung that lopped off the head of the poisonous reptile?"
"Sir, sir." David Mangwana rose to his feet. "Surely you are not comparing our brother to a poisonous snake?"
"Not at all." Kirkland bowed his head. "I am aware that he is on the front lines in a way that I cannot imagine. I also know that a soldier in the heat of battle may lose sight of the larger objective, which is why the general staff exists. I understand full well the seriousness of this debate and that is why I stand here before you with heavy heart." A rustle from the crowd indicated that at least some of them thought that his heart was about as heavy as butterfly droppings.
The fat man spoke again. "What exactly do you propose?"
Kirkland placed one hand on the podium and the other in his pocket. "I propose measures of necessity." A rumbling murmur passed through the assembly. Voices were raised, some in protest, more in assent. Kirkland stepped away from the podium. An old man took his place, his thin gray hair combed straight back. The old man rapped on the podium with an oaken gavel until quiet, or a reasonable facsimile of it, again ruled.
"Is there any more debate?" he said in a voice whose clarity and vigor clashed with his appearance. Kirkland appeared to be looking down at his feet, but in reality he was scanning the crowd. This was the knife edge, the fatal moment.
One man rose to his feet. His black eyes reflected the light in glittering pinpoints. A thick shock of unruly black hair fell over his forehead. Dread and doom seemed to radiate from him. "Brothers... and sisters," he said in his heavy Romanian accent. "Since the dawn of time, our brotherhood has held to a sacred trust. There is only one, but what good is one without training, without counsel, without wisdom? What we decide tonight is not only about us, but about the Slayer as well. Are we truly, truly upholding our oath to her if we do not continue in the paths of our fathers?" He cast one piercing glare around the room and sat down. Kirkland almost smiled, but he caught himself and in concealing that smile of triumph, he won. He had wheedled and cajoled, counted and re-counted every vote, twisted arms and scratched backs. Rupert Giles might believe himself above the law, but the Watchers Council was about to demonstrate the untruth of his delusion.
The exhausted Watchers stumbled out of the great hall and scattered, some to sleep, some to settle the night's events with a single-malt scotch or three, and some to simply try and come to grips with what they had done. Five of them drifted into the study, circumspectly arriving at irregular intervals.
"No harm in it, I suppose," St. John Merriweather said. He swirled his glass and stared at the amber liquid in it. His long fingers caressed the crystal. "Damn Kirkland has spies everywhere."
"Yes. For instance, one of us might be his accomplice." Gunther Koenig's joke fell flat. He belied the stereotype of the jolly fat man; in fact, Gunther had one of the worst senses of humor on the planet.
Merriweather sipped his drink. "Hate to see it happen to Giles. Boy was always a bit of a comer if you ask me. Bright as a new penny once he put his shoulder to the wheel." He took another sip. When he was a young man he would have slammed the first drink, made his pronouncement, and refilled the tumbler for another toss. Now he was an old man, or at least on old age's doorstep, and his pleasures had to be rationed. "Must say I hate to see him take it at the hands of a prick like Kirkland."
"Could you believe that 'he is on the front lines in a way that I cannot imagine'? What a load of fertilizer." Sofia Pellecanos' dark eyes threw off sparks that Merriweather feared might ignite his drink.
"Fertilizer? Dear Sofia, euphemism is not your specialty." Koenig giggled.
"I believe that our Greek fury fears that if she looses her tongue she may not be able to rein it in again." Merriweather's smile was distant and self-satisfied.
Sofia snorted derisively. "You know as well as I that Kirkland's jealousy is at the root of all of this. As if he could handle a Slayer, that gangling jelly of a man."
"The cause is not important. What matters is that tonight we have voted for measures of necessity." Robert Woo's comment sobered all of them.
"Well, not to be insensitive, but the young lady who was killed, she was one of yours, wasn't she?" Merriweather craned his neck upward to look at Woo, who leaned against the bar.
"Lindsay Maeda was an American," Woo replied. "She was of Japanese ancestry. I am from Hong Kong. I am Chinese."
"Sorry, don't get your knickers in a twist." Merriweather settled back in his chair. "Still, what d'you make of it?"
Woo shrugged. "Watchers die all the time. I could find no indication that Rupert Giles could have prevented her death."
"What about allowing his Slayer to be marked?" Koenig raised an admonishing finger.
"Oh please." Merriweather sounded grumpy. "I'm older than all of you, maybe older than any two of you put together outside the Chinaman, and I wouldn't have seen that coming. It was an old wives' tale, everybody knew that. Can't hold a man accountable for something we'd do ourselves."
"It is unjust," Sofia said. "It is shameful."
"It may be all of those things," Koenig said. "But it is the lawful decision of a majority of the Inner Council." The others nodded and made sorrowful noises.
"So the Inner Council is infallible?" The four of them looked at David Mangwana. He had remained silent during their exchange but now he stepped forward. Like most of the Watchers he wore a dark suit, but over his was draped a garment somewhere between a shawl and a scarf, covered in a chevron design of orange, green, and black. "Remind me how we came to this resolution."
Merriweather began. "Many years ago, before the dawn of recorded time, the first Watcher--"
"Sinjin." Sofia's voice had more layers than a good baklava. Most of them were threatening. Merriweather harrumphed and slouched back in his chair.
Koenig shrugged, his eyes wide in his chubby face. "There were complaints regarding Mr. Giles' relationship with the Slayer and the events of the past year."
"Complaints from whom?" Mangwana's bitter-chocolate skin stretched tight over the commanding bones of his face. His hooded eyes suggested that he was leading them through their paces.
"Humboldt Eubanks." If words could have a bad taste, Merriweather had certainly said something bitter to judge from his expression.
"That odious little toady," snapped Sofia.
"Ah, dear Sofia, neither alliteration or rhyme yet containing elements of both." Merriweather's voice was as dry as his favorite sherry.
"And what was the result of these complaints?" Mangwana would not be swayed.
Robert Woo shook his head. "A call for the appointment of a new Grand Inquisitor. We were all here at the meeting, what, three months ago?"
"Not quite." Koenig was a stickler for accuracy.
"Look, we all know Eubanks carries Kirkland's water." Woo held out a hand, palm up. "What are you saying, David? That Kirkland orchestrated all of this so he would be chosen as the new GI?"
David Mangwana thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers. He looked in all directions, letting his eyes roam without moving his head. Satisfied, he spoke, his voice pitched low. "More than that. I say that Kirkland manipulated the selection ritual. Lindsay Maeda was not supposed to be the chosen Watcher."
"Well," Merriweather said as he stared deep into his glass, "I'd say we've crossed some sort of Rubicon here."
"David, we all think that Kirkland is a jealous little wretch, but what you're suggesting..." Woo's voice trailed away.
"Why?" Koenig demanded. "Why would he do such a thing? What could he possibly gain from it?"
Sofia looked at him with such pity that the other men felt an urge to turn away in embarrassment. "What could he gain? He--"
The subject of their discussion walked into the room. "Hey ho," Kirkland said, crossing the worn carpet to the bar where the bottles were arranged. He did not pour a drink, but instead leaned on his elbows facing them. He wore some sort of loose flowing garment that Mangwana realized was intended to look like a cross between the robes of a headmaster and those of a wizard in a child's picture book. If the Grand Inquisitor had looked any more self-satisfied his lips would have turned into gumdrops.
"So," he said, "what are the five of you up to?"
Koenig's eyes bugged. Robert Woo turned to Kirkland. "We are discussing our reservations about tonight's vote."
Kirkland shook his head in a convincing portrayal of a man burdened with deep sorrow. "It's truly a grave matter."
"Indeed," said Merriweather. "Been three generations since measures were voted on a Slayer. Never been done to a Watcher. Not before now."
Kirkland's mouth puckered in disapproval. "You heard Manolescu. This is about our sacred traditions, about insuring that the Slayer is receiving proper guidance."
"Then, if I may be so bold," Mangwana said smoothly, "why are these measures so important? After all, Rupert Giles is not technically the Slayer's Watcher now. Buffy Summers is no longer the recognized One. Perhaps a better use of our time might be to select a new Watcher for the present Slayer."
Kirkland shook his head. His stubborn refusal to consider David Mangwana's point was written in every line of his face. "No, not as long as the Slayer is still in California. I'm afraid that Giles would only corrupt a new Watcher as he corrupted Lindsay Maeda and as he has no doubt tainted the Chosen One."
Gunther Koenig sighed. "You are probably right. It just seems like such an unprecedented step." He shook his head and his chins wobbled. "Perhaps that is why I feel so timid."
Kirkland smiled and strode over to Koenig. He clapped the fat man on the shoulder. "Buck up, Gunther. History will vindicate us."
"Perhaps." Robert Woo held up a bottle. "Drink?"
Kirkland made a face. "God, no. Stuff's disgusting." He cleared his throat. "I understand your reservations, but I believe we are in the right. I also know that I can trust you to abide by the vote of the Inner Council, regardless of your personal misgivings."
Koenig inclined his head. "We are sworn Watchers."
Kirkland actually winked. "Well spoken, Gunther. Now, don't stay up too late." He snapped off an ironic salute and stalked out of the room.
Merriweather took a slow sip of his whiskey, then looked at the golden liquid still in his glass. "I suppose," he said, "that's reason enough to hate the man."