Chapter 5 pt. 4


"Something strange is going on around here," Willie mumbled under his breath. It was a most unusual scene in Willie's Alibi Room. All evening long, and well into the wee hours of the morning, they came. One by one, and occasionally in pairs, they came and visited a secluded back booth that was well hidden from the main entrance, and had easy access to the rear door and the sewers. While Willie often had patrons that were partial to the out of the way corners, these beings were different in that they came in, stopped briefly at the booth, and left again. They never ordered anything, and came in about every hour and a half to speak to the man in the back booth.

What was most disturbing to Willie, was that it was always a different man in the back booth, and while the men ordered beer, they never offered any information on themselves, or their business in Sunnydale. How was Willie supposed to broker information if he didn't have any? That in and of itself made the smarmy barkeep suspicious as the near parade of demons, vampires and other unsavory characters continued; it had been nearly every night for the past week. So, concerned that someone else had horned in on Willie's sometimes lucrative and sometimes painful side business, Willie surreptitiously kept his eye on the dim back booth, and the individuals that stopped to visit it, wondering what on earth was going on.

Ethan Rayne hid a satisfied smirk behind his mug of beer as he reluctantly swallowed some of the foul American brew. Ethan much preferred good English ale or Scotch, but he had indulged those tastes earlier in the week, and couldn't afford to repeat himself. He didn't want to attract the bartender's attention by asking for an import again. Or rather, he didn't wish to attract any *more* attention from the owner of this establishment, much less any of the other patrons. Especially not the individuals he'd been meeting with for the last several evenings.

The chaos loving sorcerer smiled a little, a smile that would have made a certain Watcher very nervous, had he seen it. But, Ethan was taking great pains to not be seen. He only went out very early in the morning and early evenings, when Giles' little brat pack was least likely to be out patrolling. And despite the temptation, Ethan had avoided any little side schemes for the last several months while he waited and listened.

A little discrete questioning in the right places had established the identities of those that could potentially cause him problems. Apparently, the werewolf was still around, and he and the redheaded witch had been known associates of the most recent Slayer to fall to the Hellmouth. And rumor had it that the redhead had apprenticed herself to a trustworthy witch a few years ago, and was growing stronger by the month. While Ethan was certain he could still defeat the young woman, due in no small part to his lack of scruples, he certainly didn't want to tip his hand, or attract unwanted attention.

Having tapped into various magical cults during his youth, associations he still cultivated from time to time, Ethan had become aware of a recent plethora of signs and portents, as well as various prophetic writings that indicated an increase in activity at the Boca del Inferno. Many of his old acquaintances, along with some reading he'd done on his own, predicted another attempt to open the Hellmouth. Ethan knew that Giles' former associates would most likely oppose the evil forces, and possibly even call good old Ripper back to town to help out when things really started heating up. As Ethan had no desire to get into another fight with Giles until things were in his own favor, Rayne had decided to lay low.

Granted, Ethan loved his chaos as much as the next evil wizard, but in truth, he had no desire to see the world end. At least, not unless he had an assured position of power in the new order. Since the creatures currently plotting to bring an end to life on Earth, a slimy demon known as a Plegraf, were what amounted to fanatics of a demonic religion. Since they did not allow human converts there was no opportunity of which Ethan could take advantage, he was unable to place himself high into their plans. Also, knowing Rupert and his little group of do-gooders, the Plegraf's plot to open the Hellmouth would ultimately fail. As a result, Ethan had looked for another way to profit from the situation.

Usually, Ethan was a spur of the moment fellow, but he did have a couple of well thought out plans to his credit and, to his way of thinking, the fact that Buffy had stopped most of them was incidental. Besides, based on the news that the Hellmouth had been through three Slayers in the past few years told him that she was long gone. As a man that liked his comfort, Ethan did a little tedious research, and discovered a way to profit handsomely from the *attempt* to open the mouth of hell. Several methods, actually.

Rayne had spent months stirring up hornets nests in various demon sects until he found the Sedlotz. They hated the Plegraf's and would relish a blood war with them, as well as an opportunity to foul up their religious activities, and Ethan had made a tidy amount by selling information, ranging from dangers in the city of Sunnydale to where to stay while in town, to them, as well as other similarly minded sects. He'd made an even larger amount by translating and explaining the prophecies to several diverse groups, some of them human, that needed large amounts of power for rituals, sacrifices, or ceremonies. Since there was likely to be an overflow of energy when the Hellmouth tried to open and was stopped, there were now four other demonic and two human sects already in Sunnydale or on their way, all hoping to take advantage of the energy. In addition, there were at least three groups of varying sizes that were simply in town to take advantage of the general mayhem in the city. Only a large art exhibit at the richly backed local museum that was drawing in huge crowds from Los Angeles and San Francisco hid the sudden influx of people and supernatural beings.

Ethan figured that the overwhelming supernatural presence in Sunnydale would keep Rupert's white hats distracted and busy enough that no one would notice when he...liberated a few books and magical relics from the traveling exhibit. Granted, the tourists and the police might notice, but they weren't a real threat to Rayne, especially considering the disguise spells he could cast to confuse them. With luck, Giles' friends wouldn't realize what had happened until the fireworks were over and Ethan was well on his way out of the country.

What Ethan liked best about his plan was that none of the sects in town knew that he was involved. He'd used messengers, e-mail, and spells to contact the various parties, using different methods and cover stories in each instance. It should prove nearly impossible to track all of the chaos to one source. He hadn't even made contact with any of the participants in Sunnydale, except in passing as would be expected of a chaotic individual with a talent for magic. Ethan had made a deal with Willie that would keep him informed of various movements and events of interest as a cover. That way, Willie got a little money for his information and would likely eliminate Ethan from the many possible sources of problems if the snitch were pressed for information; a source that was obviously capable of his own information gathering, and had heard about Willie's notoriously loose lips.

The only things that concerned Ethan were the uncertainty of Rupert Giles' arrival, and one obscure bit of prophecy of which Ethan had only a shaky translation and an even dimmer understanding. Rupert was notorious for upsetting even the best laid plans, but without his Slayer he lacked powerful backup. Ethan just kept as vigilant as possible so he would be aware of Rupert's arrival. As for the 'greatest weakness returning' to someone their 'greatest strength' during some unspecified time of 'great darkness and turmoil,' Ethan was still in the dark. His only real concern was that this was winter so it was much darker than usual, and he had certainly helped to arrange for a lot of turmoil. Vague references to light and dark, falling from grace, and rising from the ashes were all typical prophetic gibberish, and something that seemed to indicate a child was very unclear, so Ethan still wanted to find a better translation. He certainly didn't want another enemy, especially if his own plots brought them out of the woodwork. Still, with a brand-new, inexperienced Slayer on the way Ethan figured he was pretty safe. No Slayer had ever lived long enough to have a child, and Buffy certainly hadn't come back to life, and the Slayers following her line were dropping like flies. Ethan was sure that everything would be just fine. "Things are about to get very interesting," Rayne toasted quietly as he again sipped his beer. Leaning back in his seat, Ethan waited for the fireworks to start.