Title: Tipping Point
Series: Scales of Justice
Series Order: 1
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Teen Wolf
Genre: Drama, Paranormal
Relationship: Stiles Stilinski/Derek Hale
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Suicide, Discussion-Hate Crimes, Discussion-Murder, Discussion-Torture, Discussion-Child Death, Violence
Author Note: Inspired by Fate Plays Chess by Claire Watson.
Challenge: 2021 Every Fandom Bang
Artist: Thank you to, darkseraphina! (Also find the art on AO3)
Word Count: 6,340
Beta: Grammarly and wishful thinking
Summary: The hunters have pushed too far, and the lone survivor of another decimated pack cries out for justice in the oldest and most mystical of ways. The Earth decides to hear their plea, and Stiles can only hope to mitigate the damage.
20 June 2017
Stiles washed off the grass and grit he’d gotten on himself from rolling around in Central Park with Derek. The secluded part of the park they’d found to make out in wasn’t a place he’d have felt safe hanging out in typical, not even just before lunchtime, but with Derek, anywhere was safe.
They’d been together since Stiles graduated high school in the spring of 2012, and they’d mated the year after Stiles finished college in 2016. This week was the anniversary of their mating ceremony. Today was the actual anniversary: the summer solstice. They’d left the territory in Peter and Noah’s hands and taken a week to themselves. They’d fly back in five days on Sunday afternoon. Stiles had been having the time of his life.
He loved his life, but it was a life of responsibility to their territory and their pack. His father had worried about him falling into so much duty and responsibility right after college, but Stiles had no regrets. Still, having a carefree week to not think about difficult things or worry about supernatural threats trying to sneak into Beacon County was a gift.
It could only have been better if he’d been able to persuade Derek to shower with him. But Derek had been ravenously hungry, so he’d showered first then abandoned Stiles so he could raid the room of all their snacks. They’d had lunch after the park, but dinner was still a few hours off. Stiles was fine waiting, but werewolf metabolism was a whole thing he’d been used to for years.
He left the bathroom and quickly re-dressed, wondering if he could persuade Derek back into bed for a little fun before dinner.
“Stiles!” Derek’s tone immediately had the hair on the back of Stiles’ neck standing on end.
“What’s wrong?” All thoughts of luring Derek back between the sheets were gone as he joined his mate, finding him watching the news.
Derek pointed to the screen. “It looks like someone’s doing magic on the damn news.”
“What?!” He crowded in next to Derek and took in the Breaking News chyron: Inexplicable barrier keeps police back in Battery Kemble Park. Stiles pressed his hand to his mouth. “There’s a nemeton in Battery Kemble.” The video was of a kneeling man’s back, but what Stiles could make out of the objects in the man’s possession, showed the tools of magic.
Derek glanced over sharply. “Have you been there?”
Stiles nodded. He’d visited several of the nemeta over the years, and he remembered the one in Battery Kemble Park very well. He could have completed college in three years, but he’d taken his academics at a normal pace so he could train his magic at the same time. That had involved a fair amount of travel on the weekends to meet with reclusive magical practitioners and learn what would be required of him to protect their territory.
“The Battery Kemble nemeton is a huge, multi-trunk chestnut oak. Biggest in the country; it’s over seven feet across and a hundred feet tall. Because it’s smack dab in the middle of DC, it doesn’t get exposed to dark rituals the way many other nemeta have. Either it’s had plenty of time to purge any taints or it’s never had them. It feels light and pure.” He dragged his hands through his hair. “How is this on the news? It’s going to out the supernatural.”
“I can’t believe this.” Derek paced the room, hands laced behind his head, eyes fixed on the screen.
Stiles blew out a breath, not sure what he should do. He was arguably one of the strongest magic users in the country, though he kept a low profile as much as possible. Still, his connection to magic was profound, and he could feel the truth of it.
He might be able to put a stop to whatever was going on—assuming he could get there in time. But he also knew the part of the US government that was in the know was deeply invested in keeping the supernatural a secret, above and beyond anything else. If Stiles got involved, he could be bringing the wrong kind of attention to their pack.
“I don’t know what to do.” Stiles kept staring at the screen, shaking his head. Nothing much had happened so far beyond the image of police trying and failing to cross an invisible barrier. He collapsed into one of the chairs at the small round table.
“Can you tell anything about the kind of ritual?”
“I can’t see enough, but I’d guess… I mean, I don’t know, Der. He’s by himself. The kinds of magic you need to be at a nemeton for are limited. Sacrifices are usually involved, but I don’t see anything living.”
“You’re sure he needs to be at a nemeton?”
“Why else do it right there? If I remember the park’s layout, he’s kneeling on the most accessible ley line leading to the node. Most of them are coming in through dense underbrush. There’s a huge line just to the left of the park entrance. It’s nearly magnetic for anyone magic sensitive.” Stiles looked away from the TV and met Derek’s gaze. “I don’t know what to do,” he repeated. Nothing he’d trained for had prepared him for this.
Derek knelt in front of him, hands on Stiles’ thighs, rubbing reassuringly. “I’ve got you. Whatever you decide, I’ve got you. We’re in this together.” Before Stiles could say anything, Derek gave a little twitch then reached into his pocket. The vibration was audible when he pulled his phone out. He glanced at the screen. “It’s Noah.”
Stiles huffed. “He always calls you instead of me.”
“That’s because you tend to text back rather than answer.” Derek pressed the answer button then put it on speaker. “Noah, you’re on speaker.”
“You’ve seen the news?”
“Yeah, Dad. We just started watching.” Stiles chewed his lip. “How long has this been going on?”
“Not sure, but it’s been on CNN for about forty-five minutes. Parrish has been reading Twitter and various news sites. He says it was on a local DC channel for a while before, but police forced them to shut down their broadcast. In the meantime, the big networks had shown up.” Noah hesitated. “The police keep saying it’s nothing, but I think the news networks took notice of the fact that the president and his family were evacuated.”
Derek swore softly.
“Well, that’s not going to help with deniability.” Stiles fisted his hands in his hair.
“You boys are close. Are you going to head to DC?”
“I don’t know, Dad. Walking into a media circus will draw attention to our pack. I don’t want to just think about us, but the supernatural world has never had the support it should have from government agencies or the councils that are supposed to police the hunters. If we get involved, it could be a point of no return for all of us. Or even our whole town.”
Derek squeezed Stiles’ knee.
“I trust you, kiddo. If you think you need to get—”
“Someone is coming,” Derek interrupted, holding up a hand, head cocked to the side. He took a sniff just before there was a loud banging on the door. “They’re armed.”
Stiles pursed his lips. “We’ve always thought that the government was more aware of us than anyone might suspect.”
“You think it’s federal agents, Stiles?” His father’s voice easily conveyed his worry.
“Probably. The stuff that went down in Beacon Hills wasn’t subtle. My magical awakening wasn’t subtle. And the way we protect Beacon Hills…” Nothing got into their town anymore with even a lick of ill intent. People or beings who wanted to do bad things “inexplicably” found themselves turning around at the county line and going elsewhere.
“I hear you, Son.”
Stiles flicked his hand, putting a ward around his mate. “You’ll be safe.”
“Keep me on the line,” Noah ordered.
Looking concerned, Derek got to his feet and went to the door, cracking it open. “Can I help you?”
“Deputy Hale? Agents Henderson and Morris. FBI. We need a moment of your time. The matter is quite urgent.”
Stiles squeezed his eyes shut, forcing himself to be calm. The government didn’t just know who they were and what they did, they knew exactly where to find them.
Derek glanced over his shoulder at Stiles, who nodded. This situation had escalated fast, and it seemed like it was already way out of their control. Derek stepped back and let the two agents in. One was male, one female. The woman had a small bit of magic, though she didn’t have an active sense of it about her. Either she didn’t use it often or she was unaware of it.
Derek closed the door behind them and moved to stand by Stiles, arms crossed over his chest.
Stiles got to his feet and nodded at the two agents. “What do you need, Agents?”
“We need you both to come with us to Washington DC.” Henderson nodded in the direction of the muted TV.
Stiles pursed his lips, biting back what he wanted to say. “What makes you think we can help with whatever’s going on in DC?”
Morris stepped forward. “Plain speaking here, Mr. Stilinski, because time is short, we’re quite aware that you’re a magical powerhouse and that Alpha Hale is the guardian of the Beacon Country territory. The government has stayed away because the two of you keep the territory under control.”
“You stayed away when the territory wasn’t under control,” Stiles snapped. “Don’t act like you’re doing us a favor with your non-involvement since that’s all the government has ever done.”
Henderson looked annoyed, but Morris dipped her head in acknowledgment. “Mistakes were made at a very high level,” she admitted. “It’s been kept quiet, but I’m sure it won’t be a surprise to you to hear that there was corruption high up in the FBI and Homeland Security. Those elements have been rooted out, but fixing things is a process that takes time.”
“I’m sure you’ll understand if the people who were hurt while you guys are going through your ‘process’ aren’t exactly sympathetic,” Stiles snarked.
“Your territory is safe and secure,” Henderson snapped.
“And how many died to get us there?” Stiles bit out. “You don’t get to judge us, Agent. I have the power to keep hunters out of our territory, and you assholes too. We keep the peace and keep violent elements of the supernatural world dealt with. Don’t think you’re getting anywhere with my mate or me to play that card. Our territory—past or present—has nothing to do with you or this situation. Now, what the fuck do you want?”
Morris held up a hand to Henderson. “The magic user in DC has cast a barrier we can’t get down. We have several magic users on our task force, and even with combined effort, we can’t get it down. You’re reputed to be the strongest magical practitioner in the US. Rumor is you’re a mage-level magic user. We need your help to get that barrier down. Hopefully without outing the supernatural world.”
“It’s on CNN,” Stiles said dryly.
“Yes, but we can spin that. An invisible barrier no one who isn’t present can verify even exists is a far cry from werewolves and vampires. We need to end this situation sooner rather than later, and you have the power to do so.”
“And what happens to us after that? Did you just paint a target on our backs?”
“The government has no interest in messing with you, your pack, or Beacon Hills. Hunters may be ignorant of what happens when you mess with a nemeton, but we certainly aren’t.”
Stiles blew out a breath and dragged his hand over his face. “You’re making an assumption that I can have any effect on what’s going on.”
Henderson gave him a disbelieving look. “Are you saying there are forces a mage can’t do something about?”
“Arch-magus, actually. And I think you know that, so let’s not play games.” Stiles’ power level and the origins of his power were two different things. He was a spark. Sparks had limitless potential, but few were able to achieve the upper ends of magical training due to a lack of faith in themselves. But those who were acquainted with Stiles’ ability knew he performed at the highest level with magical spells.
Derek stepped closer to Stiles so that his heat radiated all along Stiles’ side. “We haven’t received any assurances here. We could both wind up shot in the head when this is over, but I also don’t think your assurances would have much meaning.”
Stiles snorted. “Fair. They could shoot us as we walk outside of our hotel room.”
“We’re not interested in shooting you,” Henderson said testily.
“Yeah, and your superiors tell you everything, I’m sure,” Stiles said dryly. “I’ll get my stuff. Dad, have Elian lock down the wards. I’d like the county a little more protected from even benign government agents until this is over with.”
“Understood. I’ll get everyone on alert. Be careful, son.”
Stiles and Derek both grabbed their jackets, and Stiles grabbed the bag of magical supplies he kept with him at all times.
“We’ll have whatever you need,” Morris offered.
“Like I trust you,” Stiles said without malice. “I’ll use my own stuff unless there’s something I need that I don’t have.” He blew out a breath, hoping he wasn’t making a huge mistake. “Let’s go.”
– – – –
After a helicopter ride to a private airfield followed by a short plane flight to DC, they were taken by SUV to an area of the park controlled by the FBI and local police. An area that reporters were kept out of. They’d been informed that the National Guard was being readied in case things got really out of hand.
Stiles didn’t bother to get out of the SUV. “The barrier wasn’t cast by the guy kneeling on the ground. At least not directly.” He’d felt magic like this exactly once.
Morris turned around from her spot in the driver’s seat. “What do you mean?”
“Someone made a petition to magic directly. Magic cast the barrier.”
Henderson looked at Stiles from the passenger seat. “What does that even mean?”
Morris replied, “Supposedly, the magic of the whole planet is semi-sentient and can be appealed to directly.”
“Not semi-sentient,” Stiles clarified. “Completely sentient. Sapient too. I get that you government types won’t like acknowledging that kind of thing, but some of the old gods are real too. Whatever was invoked here was huge. Thinking I can take this barrier down is like assuming a drop of water can tell the ocean what to do. I’ll only be able to get the barrier down if Magic allows it.”
“We have to try something,” Henderson said, only half paying attention as he texted furiously.
“I can try to cross the barrier, but it’ll be up to Magic if I’m allowed in. But that puts another magical practitioner right in the lens of the cameras.”
“We can try again to get them to shut down,” Morris mused aloud.
“No,” Henderson replied as he read something on his phone. “The decision, for now, is not to arouse any more suspicion by trying to shut down the media. Our prior attempts at that are why they’re so interested.”
“Does that mean you want me to try to cross the barrier and figure out what’s going on?” Stiles wasn’t even sure how he felt about that.
“Yes,” Henderson said firmly. “We need information. If you can get it, do so.”
Stiles bit the inside of his cheek and exchanged a look with Derek. “Der?”
“If you feel you can do it safely, yeah, okay. But please don’t put yourself at risk. Because I have a feeling I won’t be allowed to go with you.”
“We can try…?”
Derek nodded but looked like he didn’t believe they’d be remotely successful.
They discussed scenarios with the two agents for a few minutes, working out contingency plans to make the agents feel better. Stiles knew the contingency plans were pointless. When it came to Magic, the rule book wasn’t even a factor.
They got out of the car, and the two agents checked in with the scene commander. Stiles took a minute to get the feel of everything. Magic practically crackled in the air, and it was hard to believe that even mundane humans couldn’t feel it.
“Even I feel this,” Derek murmured in his ear, standing as close to Stiles as humanly possibly.
“I feel…” Stiles tilted his head, trying to read the magical undercurrents. “Something wounded magic in this area recently.”
“Any idea what?”
He shook his head and waited for the agents to join them again.
When Morris, Henderson, and their boss, SAC Atonal, came back over, Stiles asked, “Want to tell me what catastrophe happened in this area recently?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Morris said.
“That’s not true,” Derek said. “I’m particularly good with the chemosignals that come with withholding information. You all know something.”
Morris exchanged a look with her boss, who nodded. “A peaceful pack nearby, one of the oldest in the territory, was killed recently. We think it was rogue hunters, but we can’t be sure of anything yet.”
Derek sucked in a sharp breath and looked away.
Stiles took his hand, squeezing tightly. “You had to know this was likely related to that; it’s too fucking coincidental. And yet you came for us anyway, and I don’t believe for a second that you don’t know Derek’s history.”
“Anyone’s personal history is secondary,” SAC Atonal said firmly.
“You could have warned us!”
Atonal glared. “This is a matter of exposing the supernatural world. We need you to get it together and find out what’s going on. If you’re not able to assist us, we’ll get you on a flight back to New York. I don’t time to waste with your personal tragedies.”
“Nice.” Stiles returned the glare, feeling a deep loathing for the man begin deep in his belly. “So much motivation to help you out.”
“Stiles,” Derek said softly. “Just go see if you can do anything. If you can’t, at least we can get out of here.” He pressed a quick, hard kiss to Stiles’ mouth. “Be careful.”
“You’re going to try with me,” Stiles insisted.
“I can already feel the magic pushing against me. It’s not going to work.”
Stiles wanted to argue, but he knew it wasn’t the time, so he nodded and dropped his mate’s hand. Since he wasn’t feeling any sort of go-away from the barrier, he had every reason to believe he’d be able to cross. “All right, let’s do this.”
He walked up to where some police were manning the barrier, trying to stay out of the line of the cameras for now. He pressed his hand against the invisible field and closed his eyes, sending out a plea to be allowed to cross.
There was an instant sense of receptiveness, and he knew he’d be able to step forward. But he needed an official witness. He sent that out into the magical void, and a picture formed in his mind of Agent Morris.
“Morris,” he called back. “You’re with me. As a witness only.”
Morris looked startled but conferred briefly with her boss before joining him at the barrier.
“You need to be able to explain without bias to your bosses what’s going on, but you can’t interfere with what’s going on in there; Magic won’t let you. Whatever’s going on now is at Magic’s discretion, not the person who initiated the ritual. So, if you’ve got orders to shoot that guy to bring about an end to this thing, first, it won’t work. Second, Magic would retaliate against you in a way you’d likely regret for the rest of your life.”
“And what would that be.”
Stiles cast a small ward so they couldn’t be overheard by anyone except Derek. “She’d probably take your magic.”
Morris’ reaction was tiny, but it was definitely pained.
“I’m not sure how trained you are, but having your magic stripped away would leave you feeling bereft for the rest of your life. I’m sure you’d live with that consequence if you thought it was for a worthwhile cause, but it’s futile. You might be able to kill that guy, but you can’t stop whatever he’s put into motion. At least, not that way.”
“Then what way?”
“Negotiation. Whatever he’s asking for, Magic is entertaining it. And maybe it’s benign, but this barrier, in this place, makes me think it’s not. So, keep your wits about you, and keep your gun in its holster.”
“You always this calm under pressure?” she asked with a wry grin.
Stiles just shrugged. He’d always been calmer than most, but the calmness he had now was something that came at a steep cost. “Let’s do this.”
He passed through the barrier with no issue, and as soon as they were on the other side, he could see the presence of magic. She had chosen to manifest in a near-humanoid form, though she had traits of many supernatural creatures, including wings and a short horn on her head.
Morris sucked in a sharp breath. “What is that?”
“The personification of magic.”
There were no go-away vibes, so Stiles crossed the small clearing, aware Magic was watching his approach.
As soon as they were within speaking distance, the man, still facing away, said, “You won’t change my mind, but she wants you here.” The voice was flat and devoid of emotion.
Stiles’ gaze flicked to Magic’s. “My lady.”
“Mieczysław.” She gestured to the young man. “You may confer with Rian for a brief time, but my time here grows short as the sun has begun to set.”
Stiles nodded and walked closer to Rian, dropping to one knee about six feet away. “Hey, Rian. My name is Stiles. You want to tell me what’s going on here today?”
“A ritual,” Rian said flatly.
“Right.” Stiles scratched the back of his neck. “I get that, but you’re kind of outing the supernatural here, man. So—”
“Good!” Rian’s head whipped around, and his pale blue eyes were full of pain. “This is just the beginning. They killed my pack.”
Stiles could feel the magic on the guy, so he knew Rian wasn’t a wolf himself. “You were the emissary?”
“In training.” Rian pulled up a clump of grass, fiddling with the uprooted blades. “I was going to take over when the pack emissary retired in a few years. I was mated to the pack’s right hand.”
Stiles winced. This was as much about the loss of the mate bond as the loss of the pack. Magic users felt bonds as keenly as wolves did. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Rian. Can you tell me what happened?”
Rian made a bitter sound. “What is it that ever happens to us? Hunters. Always claiming to follow the code, but they never do. Our pack has been peacefully living in Virginia for over two hundred years. My family has been the magical backbone of the pack the entire time. We wouldn’t have achieved that if we were violating the law.”
Stiles sucked in a sharp breath. “The Sayre pack. I’m so sorry. I hadn’t heard.” Usually, word like that traveled fast.
“Why would you?” Rian shook his head. “It just happened yesterday. Besides, no one ever cares. No one ever does anything about it.”
Stiles shot Morris a look, wondering what the FBI was doing about one of the oldest, largest packs in the country being wiped out.
“We didn’t have any specific details, just that it had happened. We were waiting for more information.”
He wanted to press her, ask why they didn’t have a team on the ground getting information. Why they were waiting for information to come to them, but he’d been warned that time was short.
He refocused on Rian. “What are you trying to do here, Rian?”
“You don’t care beyond stopping me.”
“That’s not true. I do care, far beyond whatever this ritual is.”
“Why?” Rian’s gaze sharped, and he focused more intently on Stiles.
“I’m mated to Derek Hale.”
Rian looked startled. “You’re from Beacon Hills.”
“You’re the s—” He cut himself off, gaze flicking to Morris. “You locked your whole territory behind ill-intent wards.”
“I did. It was the only way to stop the supernatural shitshow that was turning our town into a hell mouth.” Stiles hesitated. “Do you want to come back to Beacon Hills with us?”
Rian shook his head and looked forward again. “I’ve already made my bargain.”
“What bargain is that?”
Rian hesitated. “Do you know that Magic is not pleased by what’s been happening in the world? By the way magic is treated and the way the supernatural is slaughtered?”
Stiles glanced at Magic and found her expressions blank. “I didn’t know that specifically, but I’m not surprised.”
“She’s limited in her ability to act directly by the cosmic rules of the universe. The rules of magic itself. To distill it down to its simplest form, in order to give Magic room to do what Magic wants to do anyway, first, someone has to ask, second, someone has to be willing to provide the necessary sacrifice, and third, it has to be in the pursuit of justice.
“There’s an actual cosmic force about justice that weighs an appeal like this. That was the second part of my petition. Just before you arrived, that force found that my request is just. So what could you possibly say to me, Stiles, of the Hale Pack?”
With his heart in his throat, Stiles asked, “What have you asked for, Rian?”
“Do you know how much intermixing there used to be amongst the various species? There are very few humans that are purely human on this Earth. Most of them, especially hunters, have tainted blood.” Rian looked at him again, smirking. “I’ve asked that every hunter have their supernatural blood activated, and that some degree of connection to them be activated as well. Justice has determined what is fair.”
Stiles stared in horror, looking to Magic. “What degree?”
“Seven to the seventh.”
“Oh my god,” Morris gasped in horror.
Feeling like the world was unsteady under him, Stiles said, “That will affect every person on Earth. Please, Rian… We can’t have the entire planet suddenly turn into a Werewolf or a Vampire or whatever.”
“And why not?” Rian bit out with venom, the first strong emotion he’d displayed. “They’re all complicit. The supernatural went into hiding because humans are monstrous. The governments of the world know, they know what hunters do to us, and yet they do nothing to curb their excesses. The Councils are useless! The Magical Council sits in apathy, led by druids who think everything is the fucking balance. The Supernatural Council has been silent for so long that we’re not even sure they’re still there! And the Fae, well, they found us so horrid, they fucked right off to another dimension.
“Everyone knows this is terrible, and no one does a damn thing! The hunters murder with impunity; they slaughter whole families and torture—” He stopped with a broken sob.
“What happened, Rian?” Stiles edged closer.
Rian wiped at his eyes, staring at the grass for a long time. “They captured one of the betas in our pack and tortured him until he was feral. Then they let him go. The first person he killed was his own son. The twelve-year-old light of his life. And when the pack was trying to subdue him, the hunters moved in and started killing us all.”
Stiles felt sick to his stomach. He’d heard about tactics like that being used, but he’d never heard about a feral wolf killing their own offspring. What had the hunters put that man through? “I’m so sorry, Rian, but punishing the entire planet isn’t the way.”
“You think not, Stiles? You who have the magical power to keep hunters away from the ones you love? You think just punishing the hunters will do a damn thing. New hunters will just rise. This world is fundamentally prejudiced. If they can find a way to look down on someone, they will.” His smile turns a little mean. “Hard to look down on someone when you’re all the same.”
Magic moved closer, her aura crackling sharply. “Justice has found Rian’s argument to be sound and just. The world has been out of balance for too long.”
Stiles could feel her resolve, and he knew he couldn’t change the minds of forces like Justice and Magic, the very life of the universe, but he had to try something. He got right up next to Rian, “What is justice without mercy, Rian?”
“What mercy is there for me? For my pack?”
“I know, but there are innocents who are going to be hurt. They will die. You can’t just make the entire world supernatural, all at once, and not have people, young people, become collateral damage.”
“I won’t change my mind,” he said implacably.
“Then, at least temper your request for justice and balance with mercy. Please.”
The muscles in Rian’s jaw flexed. “What do you mean?”
Stiles flailed about for a plan, anything to mitigate the damage. “Let it be gradual—one or two cities at a time. Let there be a natural inclination to pack formation, or whatever the grouping for that species is called. Let there be a magical curb on violence for some time after the change.” He took a deep breath. “And we need alphas. For Magic’s sake, Rian, we can’t have millions of omegas running around without a draw to an alpha. Please don’t throw the world into complete chaos.”
“It’s going to be chaos no matter what.”
Morris moved fractionally closer. “Yes, that’s true, but we’ll learn. We’ll get better at handling the changes. The first cities will be rough, but a few months out, we’ll do better.”
“Yes,” Stiles agreed. “And, please, Magic,” he looked to her beseechingly, “communicate the next locations to someone so we can help prepare.”
Magic ignored Stiles, her focus entirely on Rian. Rian met her gaze, and they stared at each other for a long time. Finally, Rian nodded. “I agree to temper my plea for justice with mercy so that it may be true justice and not just retribution.”
A male voice reverberated through the clearing. “Granted.”
Magic looked at Agent Morris. “Your duties here are done, little witch.” She flicked her fingers and Morris was suddenly outside the barrier. She turned her starlit gaze to Stiles. “Mieczysław, three major regions per week. You will commune with any nemeton after Sunday to learn the next regions to change. Those who are within the region at the time of the choosing will be marked by magic, and fleeing will not see them escape the judgment of justice. You may announce the regions or not as you choose. The first regions, however, you will not reveal.”
Stiles took a shuddery breath and nodded, feeling completely overwhelmed.
Magic turned back to Rian. “It is time.”
He got to his feet. “Thank you.”
“This must be of your own free will, and your earnest wish, or the sacrifice will be in vain.”
“It is. I would see this happen to no others. I want no other pack to feel how I feel.”
Stiles winced, thinking of his mate and the years of pain he’d endured.
Rian stepped to the nemeton, kneeling before it. Then he pulled a knife and slit his own throat, blood gushing in spurts before he collapsed onto the roots of the tree.
Stiles stared in horror, body jerking back in reflexive shock. “Oh god.”
Magic had her head cocked to the side. “It is done. His sacrifice was pure.”
He stared at her with tears in his eyes. “How will we survive this?”
“You will survive, Mieczysław. You are the Earth’s Guardian, whether your nonsensical Magical Council had ever seen fit to tell you so or not. You have more power to help the people adapt than any who have gone before you. Simply believe in yourself and follow your heart.”
She moved closer, reaching out to cup his cheek. “I have chosen the first regions for change to aid you, though it may not feel like help. Regions are not cities, but you will get an impression of one of your cities. It will start in the center and ripple out to the smaller, less populated areas of the region for the full week.”
“Can we use magic to help facilitate things?”
“In what way?”
“Can I travel to a region that’s about to change and help subdue violence through magic if things are going crazy?”
“You may do whatever is within your power to do, but appeals for justice will not work to fix what is caused by an appeal for justice. I cannot intervene.”
She touched his cheek again. “Three regions to start.”
Stiles cringed. She was starting in Washington DC, Moscow, and Beijing. And it would start in three nights, at the witching hour.
“Go, Mieczysław. Be with your mate and prepare.”
“What about Rian?”
She gestured to the nemeton, where there was no body any longer. “He is joined with his mate in eternity.” Then she vanished, and he felt the barrier fall.
Only a few seconds later, Derek was there, pulling Stiles close. “Are you okay? Stiles, what happened?”
Stiles clutched at Derek’s shoulders. “I couldn’t stop it, Der,” he sobbed. “I couldn’t change his mind!”
– – – –
Stiles dropped his head in his hands. “I’m done. I’ve explained everything in at least six different ways. I can’t say it any plainer.” Stiles had been interrogated under the guise of “debriefing” for hours. The only reason he’d put up with it was that they hadn’t tried to separate him from Derek. “I have no more information I can tell you. Friday night, in three days, three regions will be chosen, and every single person who is in that region at the moment it was chosen will inherit their supernatural ancestry. They can’t run from it.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like, I don’t know how long it’s going to take, I don’t know how to make this better. We just have to ride it out. Apparently, there’s going to be a magical calm for a day or two after the effect to help people come to grips with the transition, but that’s the only help we get.”
SAC Atonal paced back and forth, glaring at Stiles. “You don’t even know if they’ll all be in this country or not?”
“I sincerely doubt they’ll all be in one country. It’s going to affect the whole planet eventually. In fact, we need to come clean to other world leaders. We barely have three days before this goes off. And during those three days, people who have been marked by magic are going to be travelling out of the affected area!”
“We don’t know that this is even going to happen, Mr. Stilinski.”
“We don’t know that?” Stiles echoed incredulously. “Are you fucking kidding me? When the very life force that fuels the universe tells you that this is going to happen on Friday night, that’s when it’s going to happen.”
Atonal shook his head. “Wait here.” He spun on his heel and left the room.
Agent Morris made a placating gesture and followed her boss out of the room.
Stiles huffed and buried his head in his hands. “We’re so screwed.” His voice was muffled, but he knew Derek would understand him.
Derek’s strong hand settled on the back of Stiles’ neck. “We’ll be okay.”
“I know we will be, but how many people are going to die because they won’t tell anyone what’s happening? Most world leaders know about the supernatural, so giving them a heads up that this might be coming isn’t going to break anything.”
“I know. We can always leave…?” They both knew that the FBI could probably contain Derek, but they couldn’t possibly contain Stiles.
Stiles waved vaguely in the direction of everything. “I think we need to be close to their resources when this happens. They’re going to need us.”
“None of this is your fault,” Derek whispered.
“I know.” Stiles clutched at Derek’s strong arms, wishing this had all been a bad dream. “I just really wish I could have done more.”
“Morris made it clear that Justice had already determined the request would be granted. It was only because of your intervention that there were any failsafes put into place. I can’t imagine most of the world turning into werewolves with no alphas.” Derek shuddered.
Stiles peered over at him, resting his head sideways on his folded arms. “You think it’d be mostly werewolves?”
Derek shrugged. “Probably? Maybe? I honestly have no idea what all used to mix with humans. There’s certainly a suggestion that the Fae used to intermix with humans, but they left this dimension a long time ago. If someone has a bit of Fae and a bit of some shifter or the other, what’s going to come out?”
“I assume magic is going to pick one thing or the other. Damned if I know how that decision is going to be made.” Stiles sat up again and promptly slouched down in his chair. “And what about magic. The prevailing theory is that magic is a hereditable trait. If you’ve got werewolf and magic in your family tree, what wins?”
“I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
The enormity of it all hit Stiles, yet again, like a freight train. “God, Der, the whole world doesn’t know what’s about to happen.”
Continued in Believer – Rough Trade, July 2021