Title: A Touch of Destiny
Rating: T for mildly disturbing situations and descriptions.
Summary: After Horvath's disappearance from Battery park, Balthazar decides to try a long shot and seek out help from an old acquaintance. It doesn't go as planned. One-shot.
Disclaimer: I do not own Sorcerer's Apprentice, Disney, any of that other stuff, yadda yadda yadda.
A/N: Just a little thingy that popped into my head one night. I know it's not my best work. One-shot. Enjoy the drama.
Balthazar Blake was in the process of questioning his sanity.
He knew what he was doing was ludicrous. Possibly a death wish. Definitely a sign of mental health problems. But he knew he had to do it. There were no other leads, no other alternatives. This was the only way to find him.
He realized how foolish they all must look, standing outside a fortune teller's shop at midnight, just staring up at the sign over the door, but he couldn't bring himself to turn the handle and go inside. There was no guarantee that she would help them. Hell, there was no guarantee she wouldn't kill them on sight. She wasn't exactly known for her Merlinian-friendly nature. Which was another problem.
"So… What exactly are we doing here?"
Balthazar and Veronica turned to look at Dave, the Prime Merlinian. He was apparently very confused, and it showed on his face. Balthazar sighed.
"We are here, Dave, because I believe this is one of the few places nearby that Horvath would feel safe and seek solace."
Dave looked skeptically at the flashing neon sign reading 'A Touch of Destiny.' Below it, in smaller lettering, glowed the words '$5.00 a minute.' He made a disparaging noise in the back of his throat.
"This doesn't exactly seem like the type of place that Horvath would go to relax," he said, earning a glare from Balthazar.
"It's not the shop he'd feel safe with," he said. He glanced down, an odd expression on his face. "It's the owner."
Before he could talk himself out of it, and before Dave could ask any more questions, Balthazar took a deep breath and rang the bell.
The door opened almost before his finger touched the button. They all stared at it for a moment, then glanced at each other and cautiously made their way inside.
The smell of incense was nearly overpowering. Balthazar spotted at least five cones of it burning around the cluttered room, each a different color and scent. Woven cloths and beads were strung everywhere. Music played softly from hidden speakers, low, throbbing, mystical beats and chords. Shelves, seemingly placed at random, contained statues and symbols and boxes and doodads and thingamajigs and all manner of strange creatures, suspended eerily in jars of vividly colored liquids. There were quite a few fossils and animals bones and teeth. The complete skeleton of an enormous, prehistoric-looking piranha sat framed above the doorway leading to a back room. The beads and shawls covering the door made it difficult to make out what was back there, but he could see movement. He gestured for Dave to stay close to him, which he did. This place gave him the heebie-jeebies.
"It is about time you came in, you stupid man," said a woman's voice from the back room. The accent was unlike any Dave had ever heard. It sounded like a muddled combination of French, Russian, and Italian. And the way she spoke was strange in and of itself. It was like each word left a bad taste in her mouth, and she was spitting them away from her. Her tone wasn't particularly friendly, either. His jaw almost dropped when she flipped aside the door coverings and stepped out into the room with them.
She was not what he was expecting. Nor, apparently, was she was what Balthazar was expecting, because he actually took step back in surprise. Dave almost yelped in surprise, so alarmed by her appearance.
Her hair was the darkest black he'd ever laid eyes on, like the sky on a starless night. She had it pulled back in a loose braid down her back, leaving a few strands falling into her face and framing her eyes. And, oh, her eyes… Larger and farther apart than should be humanly possible, they glittered an unnatural iridescent green, like the wings of an insect flashing in the sunlight. Her wide mouth opened slightly, her thin lips parting to reveal many small, sharp looking teeth. Her skin was impossibly smooth, the color of an eggshell and just as fragile looking. Dave got the distinct impression that this woman was not human.
"I thought I would have to send out an engraved invitation for you," she spat, stressing the 't' in 'invitation' like it had done her some personal wrong. She crossed the room to where a radio sat, previously unnoticed by Balthazar or his companions, and clicked it off. The room became suffocatingly silent. She stared at Balthazar, her inhuman eyes boring into his.
"And do you have my payment?" she asked, quirking a thin eyebrow at him. He smirked, barely.
"It's nice to see you too, Elian," he said carefully, as though he wasn't sure of himself.
"Bah!" she spat, revealing an abnormally long tongue. "I do not use that name. Not for three hundred years, stupid man. You would know this if you come to visit me more often."
"You hate it when I visit you."
She glared at him, her eyes flashing coldly.
"Yes, but at least then you do not come in here, calling me the wrong name and being stupid!" Once again, 'stupid' was said with particular venom. She folded her arms across her chest. Dave noticed her long, black, claw-like nails. "Now, payment. I will tell you nothing til I see it."
"Before I give it to you, there's one question that would just be plain impolite not to answer, and is a necessity if we wish to communicate properly."
She just glared at him, her eyes narrowing slightly. He sighed.
"What am I to call you now?"
Her expression softened fractionally. She thought about it for a moment.
Balthazar reached into his coat, pulling out a small bag that neither Dave or Veronica had ever seen before. They glanced at him, but he had eyes only for the strange woman in front of him. He tossed the bag at her. She caught it without taking her eyes off him, her long, bony fingers snatching out of the air the way a snake snatches a bird off a branch. It pulsed and throbbed slightly in her hands. She looked at Balthazar for a moment longer, than cautiously pulled back the drawstrings of the pouch and peered inside.
The grin that spread across her face was wider than should ever be possible, and positively evil in its glee. Her long tongue snaked out to lick her lips appreciatively. She looked back to Balthazar and tugged the drawstrings shut again.
"Payment accepted. Now what is it you want from me?"
Balthazar's expression darkened.
"Where is he, Athalia?"
She quirked an eyebrow at him.
"He? I know many 'he's,' you have to be more specific, stupid man."
"Maxim Horvath," Veronica said, speaking for the first time. Athalia's eyes snapped to her, cold and furious. She pointed at Veronica, her arm stretching longer than any human's could have. Balthazar slowly closed his eyes. Veronica realized too late that she should have just kept her mouth shut.
"You do not speak here!" Athalia shouted, her voice distorting and seeming to come from everywhere at once. Dave cowered from the power behind it, shocked that such a voice could come from so little woman. While she was taller than most, she was very, very thin. It just didn't seem possible. Her eyes snapped back to Balthazar, now alarmingly dark in color, almost completely black. Dave was forcefully reminded of rerun episodes of 'Supernatural.'
"I do not listen to her," Athalia hissed, still pointing menacingly at Veronica. "I speak to you, not to her, not to him. They do not pay, they do not get answers." She lowered her hand and her voice, looking as though she was working to calm herself down. She placed the bag Balthazar had given her on a rack next to the radio.
"What is it you want from me, Balthazar Blake?" she asked, her voice deceptively smooth and calm. "I have accepted your payment, and now I answer for you the questions you come seeking the answers to. I cannot lie, as says my duty charged by the Gods. Who is this 'he' you search for?"
Balthazar opened his eyes and swallowed, affording Veronica a glance that clearly meant 'keep quiet.'
"I desire to know the location of a fellow sorcerer, someone who is trying to hide from us. Please, Athalia, I am asking you… do you know the location of Maxim Horvath?"
Athalia regarded him coolly for moment, tilting her head back to look at him down her thin nose. She raised a skeletal hand and traced her wide mouth with single bony finger, her nail (claw?) digging gently into the surrounding skin.
"Yes," she said after a moments consideration. Balthazar looked relieved.
"Will you tell me where Horvath is hiding?" he asked. Her expression hardened.
"No," she said. It was the most normal sounding thing she'd said since they walked in. Balthazar's face fell.
"Is he hiding with you?" he asked slowly. Her eyes narrowed.
"Is he still in New York City?"
"Do we have to play Twenty Questions, or can I pay you more to just tell me?"
Her lip curled, her eyes flashing dangerously.
"You are not the only one who pays me things, Balthazar Blake," she spat, her voice rasping slightly. "Nor are you the highest bidder for my services, stupid man. Now you leave. You annoy me, tamper with my Book enough as it is."
"What? I've never tampered with anything of yours, Athalia. I'm not that stupid."
She made a low growling sound, her lip curling lightly. Dave wasn't sure, but in the low lighting it seemed like each one of her individual teeth was a fang, sharp and pointed like a sharks. Her arms crossed harshly against her thin chest.
"So stupid you don't even know," she mumbled, more to herself than them. "I never liked you, Balthazar Blake," she said, louder this time, glaring right into the old sorcerer's blue eyes. "You never follow what is Written, always changing the words, making your own mind."
"What are you-"
"This is your fault!"
She pointed dramatically at him, then made a tight fist. She jerked her hand to the side and opened her palm, like she was sowing seeds into the earth. The air rippled and changed around them, growing darker and heavier. Dave blinked once. When he opened his eyes. They were no longer standing in the small shop, but in a courtyard. Fire blazed all around them.
Dead bodies, scorched and mutilated, lay at their feet, scattered around them. A wall exploded to their left, but the bricks and lumber passed right through them as though they were even there. Dave looked at Balthazar in alarm, not understanding. He stopped when he saw his master's face.
The sorrow, confusion, and anger said more than any words ever could.
Dave blinked again, and they were back in the shop. Athalia's eyes were closed, her mouth a thin, cold line. Balthazar's face remained unchanged as he stared at her. Dave felt cold sweat on his brow.
"How did you do that?" he said aloud, before he could stop himself. Her eyes shot open, completely white. He couldn't tell, because she had no pupils, but he got the distinct impression that she was staring at him. He swallowed. He should not have spoken. She blinked, her eyes returning to their original iridescent green. Her skeletal hand raised once again, pointing at him.
"You…" she said quietly, her eyes narrowing slightly. "I do not know you. And you do not know me… Ah, he's not told you, the stupid man," she spat in Balthazar's direction." There was something akin to glee on her face. She let out a harsh bark of laughter, a rough grating sound forcing its way up her throat. She lowed her hand and turned to attention to Balthazar.
"You bring him here unknowing. Stupid," she spat. "Why? You think it is protection? To be ignorant? Tell him," she said, not giving him time to answer. Balthazar opened his mouth to protest, then closed it grimly in resignation. He turned to Dave, not meeting his eyes.
"Dave, before we need to go any farther, I need you to understand something," the old man said softly. "Athalia is not human."
Dave had already figured that out on his own, but just nodded, glancing back the emaciated woman. She grinned widely at him. He suppressed a shudder and looked back to Balthazar.
"Nor is her name 'Athalia'," he continued. "Not her true name anyways, or the name most people know her as. I won't get technical with you, because it'll only give you a headache, but Athalia is Daemon, charged by the Ancient Gods, the first Council of Alignment, to watch over mankind and see that they each have a purpose. To put this as simply as I can, she is Destiny."
Dave stared at his master for a long moment, then turned again to look at the strange lady, the 'Daemon,' with uncertain eyes. She stared right back at him, her grin widening impossibly. She licked her lips, her tongue longer and thinner than could ever be humanely possible. He believed that she was a supernatural being. He looked back at Balthazar, who had yet to meet his eyes, and swallowed slightly.
"So, she controls our lives?"
"Tch!" Athalia hissed, catching their attention. "I care nothing for lives," she growled. "Lives are pointless little things. Annoying. Last too long. No, I do nothing for lives. I care for Souls," she said, her gaze directed at Dave. There was hunger in her eyes. "Souls are my business," she said, her voice sounding more human that it had during the whole visit. "I watch them, keep them in line, direct them. Most of them do as I write without a fuss, but some-" she glared hatefully at Balthazar. "-Do not know how to do as they're told. The make their own ways, making messes for me to clean, changing things around them, spreading chaos. Your Soul," she waved her hand dismissively at Dave, "Is quiet. Does not trouble me. Listens to what I tell it. But his-"
Balthazar looked mildly affronted as she snarled at him.
"-Always running around, doing things it shouldn't, ruining the whole chapter. Can't follow directions. Pesky. Stupid!"
"So you're saying that Merlin's death is my fault?" Balthazar said, sounding angry. "That because I don't fit in with your plan, the world is overrun with chaos and threatened by evil? I'm sorry, I just don't see how-"
"Your fault!" Athalia shouted at him, her voice magnifying and echoing around the room. She seemed to grow taller, her arm stretching almost close enough to touch him as she pointed at the now-cowering sorcerer. Her form seemed to become even less human, too angular and sharp and distorted. She glared monstrously at him, her eyes blackening.
"Your fault!" she yelled again, her voice positively thunderous. The trinkets on the shelves quaked around them from the power of it. "You are not the one to make choices! You change everything, ruin it, make my duty impossible! Always to be choices with you! Choices for battles, choices for life, choices for love! No more choices for others, always for you! Taking her choices, changing them, making them wrong! Stupid, ignorant, meddling-"
With each harsh word, she seemed to grow another inch. By the end of her tirade, she was hunched against the ceiling, cracks spreading through it where her bony shoulders dug in.
"-Foolish mortal!" she screamed. "You should have died when I tell you! No more fighting! No more madness! I should strike you down for you insolence, for your stubbornness! I should-"
Pain spasmed across her face, her hand reaching to clutch her chest. She shrunk visibly, quickly, shooting down her original height. She breathed heavily for a moment, clutching the shelf next to her for support. The wood crumbled and warped under her grip. She took a ragged deep breath, then straightened up, her eyes green again, but still just as cold and lifeless. She clenched her jaw and spoke to Balthazar again.
"Your choices change the choices of others, stupid man," Athalia said quietly, her voice back to normal. "You changed her choices," she said, waving dismissively at Veronica. "Made her choose wrong. Made everything wrong. Now you know this, you must live with it. It is all your fault."
She swallowed, grimacing, turning slightly like she was going to leave.
"The Gods, with their 'free will.' Stupid…"
"What do you mean, 'I changed hr choices and made her choose wrong?'" Balthazar asked, looking intently at Athalia. The Daemon whirled around, her eyes flashing black again, pointing at Veronica.
"She was not meant for you!" she yelled, though her voice remained relatively human. Balthazar took a step back in shock. Both Dave's and Veronica's eyes widened.
"That is not what I wrote!" Athalia hissed coldly. "I made her for him, then you changed it! That is why it is your fault! That is why this is happening, you stupid mortal! This is why!"
Balthazar's face was white as a sheet. His lips trembled as he stared at the inhuman woman in front of him, the one in charge of his and everyone else's destiny, their fate. She stared right back at him for a long moment, then made a noise of disgust and turned away, grabbing the pouch Balthazar had given her as payment off the shelf.
"Get out," she said, waving them away over her shoulder. "You are no longer welcome here. I tell you nothing. Leave, before I change my mind and kill you."
Balthazar didn't have to be told twice. He grabbed Dave and Veronica and practically dragged them out the door, his eyes wide and haunted and filled with understanding. The door slammed shut behind them, catching Dave's heel. He yelped, but didn't turn back.
They walked a few blocks, Balthazar anxious to get as far away from the fortune telling shop as possible. They stopped outside a Chinese restaurant, standing in an uncomfortable silence. It was Veronica who broke it.
"Balthazar, what did you pay her?"
Her voice was odd, like she almost didn't want the answer. Dave had wondered about the little moving pouch as well, but he had tried not to dwell on it. Now, though, his curiosity overcame him again. Balthazar didn't met their eyes.
"I gave a pure Soul," he said softly. Veronica gasped, clearly horrified.
"Balthazar! How could you? Where would you even-"
"It was the only way to get her to listen," he said sharply. "And now it's been wasted and we still don't know where he is. I get that, alright?" he snapped at her. She looked a little hurt. Dave looked at his shoes, still thinking they would be more appropriate on someone over the age of fifty.
The stood outside the restaurant for a little while longer in silence, before Balthazar started walking again. Dave and Veronica followed.
Back in the shop, Maxim Horvath stepped out from the shadows, his eyes dark and hooded as he regarded Athalia. He cleared his throat.
"I thought you couldn't lie?" he said questioningly, trying to sound nonchalant, calmer than he felt. She glanced fleetingly at him, her attention on the wriggling pouch.
"I can't," she hissed, undoing the drawstrings and reaching delicately inside with two fingers. He tilted his head to the side and quirked an eyebrow at her.
"He asked if you were hiding me and you said no. That's not lying?"
"He asked if you were with me," she said, her eyes narrowing in concentration as she gripped the thing in the bag. "You were not with me at the time, so my answer was true. He should have been more specific."
Horvath digested it. He supposed it was true. But that also meant…
"And- and the other information you gave him? Was that true as well?"
She turned her attention briefly away from the bag and looked at him. The pity in her eyes caused a painful stab in his chest.
"I cannot lie," she said quietly. She looked at him for a moment longer, then turned back to the pouch and withdrew her payment.
The little sphere of glowing energy throbbed in her hand, blindingly white. Horvath recognized it as being a pure Soul, probably a child's from the size of it. He wondered where Balthazar had gotten hold of it, then looked away as Athalia grinned and gripped it tightly between two claw like finger, holding it up to her mouth. He closed his eyes as she drained it, a high pitched squeal emitting from it. She cast the bag aside and licked her lips, turning away and walking farther into the shop.
Horvath didn't follow her, instead choosing to sit at the small table she used for 'Fortune Telling.'
He needed to think…
Dun dun DOOOOONE! Alrighty, I would just like to repeat this is a ONE-SHOT! Meaning, there will be no follow-up chapters for it, no unfinished storyline. It was in my head, now it's out and I shall not be writing anymore. Sorry to disappoint. Please don't ask me to update because I am never going to. That is all.