Title: A Proper Introduction

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG-13

Summary: He looked over his shoulder toward the counter, where the customer stood; the man wore a sharp business suit and a neat goatee, and spoke with a slight accent Balthazar couldn't quite identify. 1600 words.

Prompt: 24 Days of Ficmas, Day 8: For KaylaShay. Prompt: Sorcerer's Apprentice/Stargate SG-1, Balthazar Blake, "Not again". Set post-movie and post-series.

Balthazar ran his fingers along a shelf of Egyptian artefacts, checking the symbols on several canopic jars against the ones his newest customer had been looking for. Only a very specific goddess' blessing would do, apparently; he was fairly certain he had one bearing the name in question, but couldn't recall exactly where he'd placed it.

It had taken him half a year to repurchase his old property out from under the electronics shop, brush up the wards, track down most of the previous stock in moldering warehouses around town, and reopen the Arcana Cabana. He'd filled up the corners with random purchases from estate sales, auctions, and other antiques stores; he had an eye for the unusual, especially items with mystical properties or histories. It had felt good to finally open the doors again; like the sign painted in the window said, the shop had first been established in 1888, perpetually sold and reopened by 'nephew' after 'son' after 'cousin' all named for the original proprietor, Balthazar Blake. It felt like a home to him, as much as any place ever had after Merlin's tower- and more so now, as he shared it with Veronica. Due to all the reorganization, though, he hadn't quite committed the shop's new merchandise layout to memory.

Ah: there. His trailing fingertips stopped against a jar marked with the name of Anat, a warrior goddess of ancient times. A strange thing for someone to have hunted as far as this shop simply because Balthazar had been noted as attending the auction where it had sold. A strange thing- indeed.

He paused as he lifted the thing off the shelf, cradling the delicately carved ceramic container between his palms. It tingled. It was almost as though something inside was setting up a harmonic resonance with his rings; it felt as though his fingertips were experiencing a mild case of pins and needles. Had he ever held that particular jar so closely before? Balthazar couldn't recall.

He looked over his shoulder toward the counter, where the customer stood; the man wore a sharp business suit and a neat goatee, and spoke with a slight accent Balthazar couldn't quite identify. He raised his eyebrows at Balthazar's look- then caught sight of the object in his hands, and a much hungrier expression took over. Balthazar could swear he'd caught sight of a lambent golden glow-

No. No, it couldn't be. Damn it; no, not again.

His hands tightened on the jar. Then this was probably- He looked down at it, jaw clenched as he tried to suppress a rush of fear and disgust. Whatever possessing spirit lay within, he'd have to deal with another day; first things first. He shook his head as though disappointed, set the jar back on the shelf, and pasted on a false, apologetic smile as he walked back toward the counter.

The last time he'd seen one of these things had been back in the time and place loosely referred to as "Medieval Europe"; he'd been passing through the area again on his eternal search for the Prime Merlinian when he'd discovered a region of small villages very recently emptied of the majority of their residents. He'd seen something similar once before, but had been too late to do anything about it then; this time, the hearthstones of the last empty village he reached were still warm, and the few survivors reported that the invasion of men with the heads of beasts who threw magic bolts from their staves had departed only a handful of hours previous.

He'd rushed to the next intact village and then set up to wait. What he'd seen there had been like something out of Merlin's teaching tales- not his own master, but the one who'd taught him only to disappear around the same time as the King of Britain later known as Arthur and the majority of his knights. That Merlin, who'd first been known under the name Moros, had not been like any other sorcerer Balthazar had ever met- save perhaps his opposite number, Ganos Lal, who'd mentored Morgana Le Fay as her own student before disappearing around the same time as Moros. Balthazar's master had whispered to him, once, that he thought they were the last survivors of Plato's fabled Atlantis; and that Moros had once told him the most potent sorcerers of the modern era were those who combined the human ability to access the Earth's magical energies with powers transmitted through the bloodlines of Moros' people's scattered descendants.

Balthazar had never found any proof of those hints, one way or the other. Moros and Ganos Lal had disappeared after only a single mortal lifetime's worth of instruction without warning. Afterward, their conflict had spiraled out of control between their apprentices, resulting in the shadow wars that had torn Balthazar's world apart and leading storytellers to conflate their myths with their masters'. But on the day he'd seen a man with golden-glowing eyes and a reverberating voice commanding men with metal helmets in bestial shapes, he'd known that at least some of Moros' tales must have been true.

The glow was a sign of a parasitic spirit: one that chose a host in a manner not unlike a malevolent version of Veronica's fusion spell, with the invading soul as the trapper instead of the trappee. They frequently borrowed the names of the old gods to trick people into worshiping them; they took human slaves as hosts for their children and as a workforce for their native realms, and they had access to wondrous knowledge stolen from Moros' people in the dim mists of history. In ages past, they had used a fixed summoning circle with symbols carved round its edge to create portals to and from the other realms under their control, but during the time of Egypt's earliest pharaohs the circle had been destroyed or buried in a rebellion. Since then, no man had been able to predict the times and places of their arrivals and departures.

Balthazar had left none alive the day of that encounter, save the innocent villagers. Not even the spirit's host; no method of exorcism he'd tried had worked, and he hadn't been willing to risk leaving it alive, or to attempt to imprison it in the Grimhold. Since it hadn't behaved like other spirits in respect to his efforts to eject it from whatever poor soul it had chosen to inhabit, he'd worried that it might not accept imprisonment with its host like Morgana's had. The possibility of him falling victim to a megalomaniacal entity with his quest left unfinished if it failed had been unthinkable.

Once the invaders and their strange accoutrements had all been destroyed, he'd moved on, leaving new myths about travelling magicians behind him. And now he had encountered another one: here, in the modern world. Trying to purchase a receptacle with the name of a goddess inscribed on its surface, which radiated a disturbing energy in Balthazar's hands- undoubtedly another conquering spirit ready to feast upon the world.

"I'm sorry," he said as he placed both palms atop the counter, still smiling placidly at his foe. "I don't think I properly introduced myself."

The host's brow quirked briefly at Balthazar's comment, but he ignored it, still focused on the item he'd come to acquire. "I take it the canopic jar I seek is not among your collection? Here, let me leave you my card; I trust you'll notify me if you chance across it. Money is no object." He reached inside his suit jacket, fingers closing on something out of sight.

Balthazar lifted his right hand, the green diamond on his index finger glowing brightly as he readied a shield spell to protect himself from any potential attack. "I am Balthazar Blake," he continued, ignoring the man in turn, "sorcerer of the 777th degree, and I have met with your kind before. Whom do I really have the displeasure of addressing? Because somehow I doubt you make your subjects worship the name on that card."

His opponent carefully eased his hand back out of his jacket- and as it emerged, Balthazar saw that he had acquired a set of golden rings and metallic finger-caps of his own, connected by metal strips to a central red jewel over his palm and continuing up into the sleeve of his jacket.

"Bow before the Lord Ba'al, mortal," it said, voice suddenly echoing with deep undertones, and lifted that hand to cast some kind of reddish energy wave in Balthazar's direction.

Trapped inside his shop, with clutter everywhere, Balthazar was reluctant to engage in a full-scale duel. Fortunately, the risks of attempting to trap one of the creatures were fewer than they had been the last time he'd encountered one, and Veronica was in the back, available to put things right if it went badly wrong; so he deflected the attack, then summoned the Grimhold from its shelf and cracked it open.

With a look of surprise on his face, Ba'al dissolved into dust and flowed into the doll. No energy escaped the trap; Balthazar waited tensely for a long moment, then let out a sigh of relief as images formed on its dark surface. On one side, the illustration of a man with a goatee and a business suit appeared; on the other, a bizarrely shaped snake head materialized, with fins and a wide-flaring mouth.

Balthazar shuddered, staring at it in disgust, then set the Grimhold back up out of the way.

It looked as though chance had given him a new quest to investigate.