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Rite as Rayne

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Summary: Dead Like Me/Buffy/Angel/Harry Potter. Chaos literally abounds when Mason's cousins come to town. Contains explicit language.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Willow-Centered
Television > Dead Like Me
FlatlanderFR13120,915051,93815 Aug 0515 Aug 05Yes
RITE AS RAYNE


DANIELLE FRANCES DUCREST


Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, UPN, Fox, Kuzui Enterprises, and Sanddollar Television. Angel belongs to most of those, Greenwolf Corp., and the WB. Dead Like Me belongs to Showtime, MGM, John Masius Productions and others. The Harry Potter books and movies belong to J. K. Rowling and Warner Brothers. Any copyright infringements were not intended. This story was written for entertainment and not for profit.


Spoilers and Timing: This takes place after the Dead Like Me episode 'Bicycle Theft,' a year after the Angel series finale and during the month of May of Harry's fifth year. There are very loose spoilers for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and slightly more concrete spoilers for the Buffy ep. "A New Man."


Summary: A Dead Like Me/Harry Potter/Buffy/Angel crossover. Chaos literally abounds when Mason's cousins come to town.


 


===The Beginning


===Now, approx. 8:15 AM


"You mind telling me what the fuck is going on?"


Mason closed his eyes. "Oh, bloody hell." He took a deep breath before slowly turning around. "You weren't supposed to see this," he said, heavily.


Rube faced him, fury in his every feature. It was justified fury, to a point. Rube was Mason's boss. Anything Mason did that jeopardized their ability to do their job, grim reaping, was Rube's business. For once, though, Mason hadn't messed up his job. This particular situation had nothing to do with grim reaping, nothing at all. Rube didn't know that, though. He didn't know that his glare was unnecessary. He didn't know that there were parts of Mason's life and afterlife that he wasn't privy to, that had been unnecessary for him to know-or so Mason had thought.


Mason was cursing, over and over, in his mind. This had all turned into one big fuck-up. What was worse, it wasn't over. Now that Rube was involved, it was going to be that much more complicated.


Mason looked behind him and then down at the wand he held in his hand. "Um..." God, he wished he was high right then. Then he would be too messed up to deal with this. Courtesy of magic, however, he was completely sober. He was going to kill that git of a cousin of his for performing the twenty-four hour Sobriety Charm.


George rounded the corner, only to stop, eyes wide. "Holy crap!" Her mouth opened a few times as she struggled to form words. Her arms waved at the alley wall behind Mason. "What the fuck is this?"


Daisy and Roxy appeared. Daisy's eyes widened. "Oh, my."


"Holy-" Roxy muttered. "What the fuck are those?"


Oh, sweet miserable fuck, Mason thought. He ran a hand through his hair. "Wonderful," he muttered to himself.


Rube took several menacing steps forward until he stood nose-to-nose with the British reaper. "What the fuck is going on?" he asked again, accenting each word slowly and clearly.


Mason stared back, gulping, and wondered what he could possibly do or say to explain everything.


The five reapers stood in the alley alongside Der Waffle Haus. The alley was narrow and the ground was paved with cobblestones; either the pavement had been there for a long time, or it was someone's misplaced idea of making the alleyway look prettier. The back wall of a department store blocked off the end of the alley. Roxy and Daisy stood at the mouth of the alley, with George just in front of them. Rube, who had his back to them, stood near the middle with Mason. Behind Mason, against the far wall of the alley, lay four dog-like creatures in broken heaps.


It was the presence of these creatures that was the cause of such distress to Mason's coworkers. The fact that they were likely dead didn't raise any alarm among them. What did shock them was that the creatures resembled neither human nor any animal ever seen in their world, the Muggle world.


Mason was starting to panic. A thought occurred to him, and grasping it like a lifeline, he swung his wand up and aimed it at his coworkers. "Obliviate!"


He ignored the little voice of guilt inside of him. They weren't part of the wizarding world. Therefore, he had permission to use the Memory Charm on them. Unofficial permission, anyway, seeing as how he was supposed to have a license to perform an Obliviation Charm on anybody...


His rambling thoughts died away. A reddish-yellow light shot out of his wand tip and flew at the Muggle reapers. It headed straight toward Rube's chest.


A purple light appeared out of nowhere. It impacted with the reddish-yellow light and the two spells dissipated.


Everyone's jaws dropped. Mason's eyes widened. "Who's there?" he called out, whirling around in his search for the other wizard. "Jex, is that you?"


There was a loud crack on top one of the roofs, and then another crack that was much closer. Everyone jumped, including Mason, who had yet to be re-accustomed to someone Apparating. Now standing off to Mason's right was Jexter Rayne, Mason's cousin. He had neat, graying brown hair, unlike Mason's own messy hair, and gray eyes. He was also thinner and appeared to be older, though Mason had been born first.


Mason rounded on him. His face was screwed up tight in an effort not to explode from both nerves and anger. "Why the fuck did you counter my Obliviation Charm?" he ground out.


Jexter's eyes darted from his undead cousin to the other four, all of whom were making several loud exclamations and demands that Mason tell them what was going on. Jexter shrugged. "We may need them. If we don't, then we can Obliviate 'em."



"MASON!" Rube yelled, making Mason jump.


Jexter winced at the volume in Rube's voice. His gaze shifted left and he started as he noticed the creatures for the first time. "Merlin! It's started already?"


"Yeah," Mason replied, irritated at his surprise. "Where the fuck were you? I didn't have any back up! And after that stupid speech you made about how we had to do this together and that it had to be us! And don't tell me you didn't see the bloody things heading this way or why else would you be here?"


Jexter presented a guilty look. "Sorry, Mace. I was checking a few of the local wizarding haunts and demon bars, seeing if they'd heard anything new. I was heading in this direction when I heard the growls." He straightened and his features shifted to a defensive expression. "'Sides, you told me to stay away from Der Waffle Haus 'cause you didn't want your co-workers to know about all this. Looks like you fowled that up, cuz, without me even needing to be here."


"Well, we don't have time to deal with them now!" Mason exclaimed, aggravated. "If we need them, we'll explain it to them later!"


Before Jexter could stop him, Mason had waved his wand at his friends and performed the Obliviation Charm silently on each of them. Rube, Roxy, Daisy and George rocked on unsteady feet, blinking stupidly. "What the fuck?" Roxy murmured, confused. Without another word, the four of them turned and left the alley in a daze, heading back around the corner to the door of the restaurant. In a moment or two, they would find themselves sitting in their usual booth without any recollection of leaving it to investigate the noises in the alley.


Mason let out a sigh of relief. He rubbed his forehead where he could feel a headache forming.


"Wonderful!" Jexter threw his arms up to the heavens. "Why'd you do that? We could have used them!"


"I don't see how!" Mason countered. "It's not like they can do magic! Besides, it would have taken forever to explain magic to them."


His cousin blinked, surprised. "You mean they don't know? About you?"


Mason stared at him, face twisting in frustration. "Of course they don't know!" he burst. "I told you that yesterday!"


Jexter shifted and folded his arms across his chest, his wand sticking out from under his left arm. "Well, yeah, but I thought you meant that they didn't know we were cousins."


"They don't know that, either. Rube'll pound me into mulch if he even finds out that you worked it out-"


Jexter barked out a laugh. "Oh, please, as if I wouldn't be able to recognize my own cousin, no matter if I the living see a stranger's face instead of your ugly visage. Your aura's very distinctive, Mason, and I've gotten quite proficient at seeing auras since we last parted ways."


Mason frowned at him. He remembered how they'd 'parted ways.' He'd died, that was how. Thirty-eight years had passed since then. It had been quite a shock when Jexter had suddenly shown up in Seattle two days ago, looking for him.


"Ah, hell, Jex..." Mason began, only to stop, unsure of what he was going to say. He shook his head before pivoting on his heels, transferring his attention to the creatures clustered at the end of the alley. "Any idea what fucker is behind this? "


"Actually..." Jexter fidgeted even worse now. "It's not good, not good at all."


"Jexter. Who is behind all this?" Mason asked, glaring now. Like Mason, Jexter was accident prone, so Mason was well acquainted with the signs that meant he'd messed up again. It was never a good sign when his cousin tried to stall, as it usually meant that he felt guilty about something.


Jexter grimaced. "Ethan," he answered quietly. "My son."


 


===Two nights before Now, approx. 11:30 PM


One minute, Mason had been chatting to a very attractive woman at one of his favorite bars. She was getting him very worked up in the slinky blue number she barely wore, and from the way she was looking at him, she was feeling the same way.


It was loud in the rest of the bar, but the corner where they sat was the farthest away from the speakers. They still had to speak loudly, but talking was much easier there, not that either of them really cared for making small talk. Already, her bare leg was making its way up his pants leg. If they didn't get a room soon, they would be hard pressed to contain themselves long enough to find even an empty street corner.


"Excuse me." It took a few minutes for the voice to register, and that was only after the intruder had repeated his request four times. Mason and the girl both glared up at the man with slick brown hair and amused, though somewhat shocked, gray eyes.


"We're trying to have a moment here, do you mind?" asked Mason, scowling ineffectively.


He raised his arms in a peaceful gesture. "Terribly sorry. It's just that...well, I guess I needn't have worried." He addressed Mason, "If you've already returned to the fold, as they say, you must have gotten over that disgusting rash you were suffering from just last week..."


"Rash?" Mason's date asked, alarmed. "What rash?"


"Yeah, what rash?" Mason asked stupidly, his whiskey stunted brain too busy trying to work out where he'd seen the man before. He was British, like him, but his accent was thicker, meaning he'd been in the States for a shorter time. That didn't tell him much, though.


The strange British man winced. He addressed Mason's date, "He gets this nasty rash down around his privates sometimes. It's occurred regularly since he was fifteen. Awful stuff. Contagious, too."


The woman's jaw dropped. Scandalized, she slapped both of Mason's cheeks, hard, before shooting to her feet and out the door of the bar.


Mason rubbed his stinging cheeks as he stared at the door. "What was that for?" he wondered. "I don't have a rash."


At this, the other man could no longer contain himself and burst into giggles. "No, but she certainly thinks so, doesn't she?" After a moment, his giggles died down. He stared at Mason for a long minute, the look of shock returning to his features. He smiled ruefully and shook his head. "So, cousin, I see you have yet to move on as your mum had hoped."


Mason turned away from the door and blinked at him. "Who're you?" he asked, confused.


The other man tsked in annoyance. "Fuck it, Mason," he muttered as he slid into a chair on Mason's right and pulled his wand out of an inner jacket pocket. "You always were such a screw-up in life. You couldn't even change that after your death."


Other patrons were startled when a light suddenly flashed in the dim corner near the entrance to the bar. When nothing else happened, however, they dismissed it and turned away from the table where the two men sat.


Mason shook his head. His head was suddenly a lot clearer. Thanks to the hangover solution his cousin had forced down his throat after performing the Sobriety Charm, he was feeling pretty good, too, though remnants of the potion had dripped down his chin onto his shirt.


His cousin pulled the small bottle away from Mason's mouth, screwed the lid back on and pocketed it along with his wand. "Should have known I'd need a second bottle," he muttered. He told Mason, "I made that potion for me, you cock-sucker."


Mason stared at him, eyes wide. His breath caught in his throat as he finally recognized who sat next to him. Now that his brain was working properly, thoughts flew by quickly. He wondered what Jexter was doing in Seattle. Even more, he wondered what Jexter was doing in that bar and what Jexter thought he was doing waving a wand in there.


"Do I know you?" he tried, trying to look innocently clueless. He was feeling confused enough to pull it off without much effort.


Jexter scowled at him. "Cut the crap. I know you're Mason Rayne, even if you don't look like him. Personally, I'm wondering what you're doing here in Seattle of all places when I know for a fact you died on the East Coast in 1966!"


His voice had risen steadily with each word. Wide-eyed, Mason scooted away from him. The reaper was beginning to panic. "Fuck!" he said. His cousin knew who he was. He didn't know what he was, but he did know the 'who' bit. This was not good, not good at all. Grim reapers had to follow specific rules in death. One of those rules stated very clearly that they couldn't tell the living what they were. Another one forbade any and all contact with family members or friends the reapers had in life.


"Fuck, Mason!" Jexter exclaimed, frustrated. "It's great to see you, don't get me wrong, but I'm still awfully confused."


"I-I'm..." Mason swallowed. "I'm not a ghost, if that's what you're thinking."


"Well, of course you're not a ghost! You'd be see-through then, wouldn't you?"


"Er, true," Mason said, frantically searching his mind for some explanation. True ghosts, those few souls that chose to stay behind and not move on, did take on a certain transparency in order to be seen by the living. Fortunately, this only occurred with souls of wizards of witches, seeing as how they were the only ones that knew of the option in the first place. Mason shuddered to think of the number of spooky-looking apparitions that would be floating around the Muggle world if Muggles also knew of the option.


Jexter's eyes narrowed. His eyes roamed slowly down Mason's body as the wizard tuned into Mason's aura.


Brow furrowed, Mason glanced down at himself. "What are you looking at?"


His cousin's jaw dropped. Eyes nearly bursting out of their sockets, he swung his gaze up to Mason's face. "You're a...a-"


He shot to his feet, making Mason jump slightly. Jexter laughed uneasily and gave him an unsteady, peacemaking smile. "S-sorry to have bothered you." Without another word, he shot out of the bar.


Mason watched him go as if stupefied. When Jexter was halfway out the door, though, Mason shook himself, hurried to his feet and ran after his cousin. "Wait!"


Mason raced out the door and onto the sidewalk. He could see no one to the left. He whirled right. "Jexter!" he called after the figure that was racing away down the sidewalk. Without thinking about what he was doing, Mason gave chase. Jexter had a good head start, but Mason was the better runner and was steadily catching up to him.


Jexter glanced behind him. He panicked when he realized the reaper was gaining on him.


A loud crack resounded in the air.


"No! Wait!" Mason cried.


His cousin vanished, Disapparating.


Mason ground to a halt, panting heavily. He stared ahead at the empty sidewalk. "Fuck it!" he exclaimed.


 


===Twenty-two hours before Now, approx. 10:00 AM


Mason paced his living room furiously. A battle of wills raged within his mind. "Rube'll kill me," he muttered to himself. "Rube will definitely kill me." It didn't matter that he was already dead; Rube would find a way. Yet, despite that, he couldn't get past the fact that Jexter recognized him and that he somehow knew both who and what Mason was. Nor could Mason ignore the fact that something was going on for Jexter to be in town in the first place.


Mason stopped and let out a frustrated yell. He sighed. "Rube is going to chop me up into little bits and eat me for breakfast," he told himself ruefully. He'd made his mind up. He would just have to be careful to not be caught.


He reached into his jacket, feeling around for the makeshift pocket he knew was there. He hadn't put it there; the jacket's previous owner had used it to conceal a wicked sharp knife. Mason had ditched the knife and put his wand in its place.


Mason wasn't a heavy magic user, unlike most wizards. Most of his time was spent in the Muggle world. He would occasionally stop at the local wizard haunts and stores for a change of scenery or when he had a post-it note. He didn't think that Rube knew those particular locations were wizarding haunts, but none of Mason's coworkers ever had to go to those places in his stead.


He'd kept this wand with him since he'd become a reaper. He'd left the one he'd owned in life with his body, but this one worked just as well. It was eight inches, pine, with a feather from a crow's right wing dyed in augury blood at the core. He carried it with him everywhere, even though long stretches of time could pass without him using it.


He transferred the wand to his left hand and walked over to one of the tables. He opened one of the drawers and pulled out the map he'd seen in there earlier. It was a map of Seattle and a small portion of the surrounding area. He wrestled it open and laid it out on the table. "This had better work," he murmured.


He tapped each corner of the map once with the tip of his wand. "Locate Jexter Rayne."


At once, a small number of areas on the map glowed bright yellow. They indicated every part of the town Jexter had gone to. In some places, there were streaks where Jexter had walked in a straight line; in other places, there were blotches were he'd meandered about in a confined space. Mason recognized the alley that contained the wizarding mini mall known as Listrious Place. Nearly that entire area was alight. Mason also noticed a blot of light at the site of the bar they'd been at the previous night. There were many streaks that ran alongside some of the streets, indicating the routes Jexter had taken when walking from place to place about the city. Some of those routes led to a few other bars, while other routes led to places Mason didn't recognize.


Mason studied the map a moment. "All right, then." He slid the wand back in its pocket, then folded up the map and tucked it into the waistband of his jeans. He pulled out a yellow post-it note from his right pants pocket and glanced at his watch. His eyes bulged. "Shit!" He'd wasted too much time already. He'd never get there in time to catch his appointment if he walked. That left him with only one choice.


"I really hate doing this," he muttered to himself. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and took a half step forward.


One breathless, squeezing-the-life-out-of-him moment later, he opened his eyes and found himself in a bathroom stall in the same building as his appointment. Mason let out a sigh of relief, thankful to have survived Apparating yet again. Each time he did it, he expected to end up in pieces.


He heard a slight gasp. Mason winced and looked behind him at the open-mouthed, staring man sitting on the toilet.


Mason smiled and waved a little. "Just a figment of your imagination," he told the poor man. Hurriedly, before the man could come to his senses, Mason pulled open the stall door and shot out of it and the bathroom.


Once he was safely out in the corridor, he looked around. He was at City Hall. The corridor was long and white and the floor was covered in tiled, midnight blue marble. According to his post-it, the death would occur somewhere in the corridor. At the moment, however, he was the only one there.


Mason started pacing up the corridor. He stopped near the doors and, taking the map out, leaned against the wall. The streaks and blotches on the map were still there, but no new marks had appeared. Either Jexter had left the city or he was in one of the places already indicated on the map. Mason hoped it was the latter.


The doors to the men's and women's bathrooms opened simultaneously. Three men and two women walked out. Mason turned his attention to them and watched. One of the women, who clutched several bags tightly in her hands, collided with the second man. Her bags swung, and the contents of one fell out and spilled across the floor.


One of the front doors swung outward. An immaculately dressed woman in high heels walked in. Her attention was focused completely on searching through her purse.


Mason reached over and brushed his fingers against her upper arm. She didn't appear to notice and kept going. Ten feet away, she skidded on one of the objects spilled on the floor. Despite her attempts to prevent it, she lost her balance and fell with a sickening crack against the marble. Mason winced sympathetically.


The soul of B. Graceland rose up out of her body. He watched her glance around and waited for her to make her way over to him, but there was no need; Ms. Graceland required none of his assistance. A blue-tinted light lit up the far end of the corridor. Mason squinted and could just make out what looked like the entrance to a sweet shop. Smiling, he watched as she made her way over to it and walked into it.


Mason chuckled. He turned away and headed outside. Once out on the sidewalk, he headed for Listrious Place, which was three blocks away. It was the closest point on the map.


The entrance to Listrious Place was a blank wall painted brown. Only wizards or witches could pass through the barrier. The only thing that Muggles encountered was a hard wall. The lower half of the wall was covered in posters and sheets of paper advertising various Muggle-related events, bands and campaigns.


He checked to see if anyone was looking. Seeing no one, Mason slid through the barrier and emerged at the other side.


Listrious Place wasn't the only magic shopping center in town, but it was the better one. The alley was covered over by a glass awning, and the temperature underneath it was always the most desirable according to the weather outside. The floor was the color of amber and the storefronts were made up of solid browns and whites and muted colors of green, blue and red. In the middle of the alley was a small fountain whose bottom was nearly obscured by coins.


The shops were of the type one would expect to find in a magic-inclined mall. There was a store that sold magic books, quills, and ink; another sold owls and other wizarding pets. There was a larger store that doubled as a clothing and beauty supply store, and there was a sporting goods store that sold supplies for Quidditch and Quodpot.


The place was crowded. Mason wondered if there were any holidays coming up but couldn't remember any. Then again, the mall usually had a reasonable crowd in it, or at least it did on the few occasions he came there.


He walked steadily through the mall, hoping to catch a glimpse of his cousin. He didn't have any luck. Jexter may have come there before, but he'd obviously gotten what he needed then.


Mason let out a relieved breath when he stepped back through the barrier and onto the street, happy to be out of the mall. He pulled the map out again and looked for the next closest spot. It was a bar. Mason opted to scope it out that night; in the meantime, he headed for the next location, a wizarding restaurant and hotel called Barnub's.


The hotel lobby looked like any other hotel lobby, and that was on purpose; there was even a working computer behind the registration desk. Nothing magical could be found anywhere within the room. Such measures had been taken in the event that Muggles got past the Muggle Repelling Charms on the doors. The rooms beyond the lobby, however, were heavily laden with magic. There were moving portraits and photographs, radios blasting music broadcast from the Washington Wizarding World station, coffeepots that heated and poured themselves, and all sorts of other charmed objects.


This time, Mason struck pay dirt. According to the desk clerk, a J. Rayne had checked in two days ago and he had yet to check out. Mason waited until the clerk had gone to the bathroom before sneaking around the counter and searching the computer records for Jexter's room. Mason let out a quiet, "Yes!" when he'd found the room number before sneaking back around the desk and down the adjoining hall.


He passed a room containing four fireplaces where a hotel employee was collecting tolls from two witches departing by floo. Not much farther from the fireplace room, he reached the stairs and bounded up them to the fifth floor.


Jexter's room was near the end of the shorter corridor on the right. Mason knocked on the door, but as expected, no one answered. He put his ear to the door and listened for a moment, but he couldn't hear a sound from within.


He pulled his wand out and pointed it at the doorknob. "Alohomora." Nothing happened. Mason shrugged, took out his lock-picking kit and crouched down before the door handle.


"Just what do you think you're doing?" a voice demanded from behind him. Startled, Mason shot to his feet and whirled around, hiding his kit behind his back and attempting an innocent expression. He came face to face with a portrait hung on the wall directly across from the door. Annoyed, Mason queried, "What's it to you?"


"I'm supposed to guard this floor, that's what," answered the portrait, indignant. The portrait showed a bald old man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and khaki slacks. He stood posed on an empty beach. As Mason watched, a woman clad in what could barely be described as a bikini sauntered into the frame. She giggled and blew the reaper a kiss before scurrying back off the portrait.


Mason fought down a smile. It was a battle he was losing, badly. "You're supposed to guard this floor?"


The man, who according to the inscription was a Vance Hollyquick, glared at Mason. Vance's eyes narrowed and he took a step forward, suddenly curious. "You look familiar." His eyes widened, and he gaped. "It's you!" he gasped, incredulous. "My reaper!"


Mason's eyes bulged. His eyes darted down to the inscription. "V. Hollyquick?" he murmured as he reviewed his memories. It took him a bit, but he suddenly remembered it. Mason didn't remember the names of every soul he'd reaped, but Hollyquick was an unusual name. It had been twenty years ago, give or take a year. His brow furrowed as he tried to remember the particulars. "Um...live wire, wasn't it?"


Vance nodded. "Damn lightning hit an electricity wire and the wire fell on the pool while I was in it." He shook his head in wonder. "It really is you, isn't it?"


"Yeah." Mason said, nodding. He cocked his head and glanced around. Curious, he asked, "Can all portraits remember how they died? I mean, how the real people died?"


Vance shrugged. "No idea. I just remembered it myself. It all came to me when I recognized you." He shook his head and folded his arms across his head. "So. Still in the reaping business?" He stiffened and resumed glaring. "Or do you rob hotel rooms for a living now?"


"Er..." Somehow, Mason didn't think it was a good time to bring up the whole reapers-didn't-get-paid-so-he-stole-from-the-recently-dead part of his afterlife. Instead, he hastily placed his kit back inside his jeans and asked, "Look, about the bloke that's staying here, when was the last time you saw him?"


Vance studied him. "You going to take his soul or something?"


"Or something," replied Mason, smiling slightly.


The portrait shrugged. "He came by late last night but left early this morning, hasn't been by since."


"Damn," Mason muttered. He debated waiting up there for his cousin. His stomach chose that moment to announce its presence, and Mason decided it would be a better use of his time to wait downstairs in the restaurant. "Well, thanks for everything," he told Vance. He started walking back down the corridor only to pause. "Oh, and about the whole reaping thing-"


"I know, I know, I won't tell." Vance smiled conspiratorially. "The wizarding world may be used to ghosts, but grim reapers, as we both know, are just a myth."


Mason laughed. He liked this guy, portrait, whatever. "Thanks."


 


===13 hours before Now, approx. 7:00 PM


Over the years, Mason had become particular adept at waiting idly for things to happen. It was an important part of being a reaper to stay as much on the sidelines as possible; that way, he had the least amount of influence on his surroundings. Granted, this was a situation where such precaution was unnecessary, but Mason utilized those skills anyway. He sat in one of the lobby sofas and spent several hours scanning magazine articles and studying the map. If Jexter didn't show before nine, Mason was going to start searching the bars. He checked his watch. It was six thirty.


Someone plopped down next to him on the couch. Mason glanced up from the map and grinned. "Jess!" he said, shaking his fellow reaper's hand.


"Mason, my man!" While Mason worked in the External Influences Division, Jesse worked in the Natural Causes Division. Jesse was an overweight thirty-something of mixed Asian/Native American ancestry, though he'd been born and raised in Sarasota, Florida.


Mason glimpsed the post-it note in Jesse's hand. "Here on business?" he inquired.


"Yep." He held up the post-it for Mason to see. Mason let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding when he saw it wasn't Jexter. "How about you?" Jesse asked.


Mason shook his head. "Nope, not this time. I'm waiting for someone." He glanced around again, but Jexter hadn't shown. "I ran into a portrait of a man I reaped. He recognized me."


Jesse looked surprised. "He did?" He glanced around, relaxing again when he realized there were no portraits to be seen in the lobby. "Freaky."


"You're telling me." He rubbed his nose, which itched. "I got me a new place. It's a nice one. How 'bout you?"


Jesse shook his head. "I rent a room here. I have to. Last two months, the people I've reaped either have massive numbers of family members that claim the house almost immediately, or they were guests in hotels."


"Now that is fucked up."


"You're telling me."


Shouts suddenly resounded into the lobby from within the corridor that led to the stairs. "Get away from me, you asshole!"


"But, Kate-honey, wait!"


"Don't you dare call me honey, you two-timin' little asswipe!"


Mason smiled, amused. Kate was an inventive one, if the words she continued to shout at her ex-lover were anything to go by.


"I believe that's my cue," Jesse whispered to Mason as he stood up. Mason merely nodded, afraid that if he tried to talk, only laughter would spill out. He covered his mouth with a hand in an effort to conceal his merriment.


Kate rounded the corner and stalked into the lobby, trailing a suitcase on wheels after her. She scowled at everyone she caught looking at her.


Her boyfriend appeared behind her. He looked very distraught, and he was panting heavily. A hand clutched his chest. He followed Kate on unsteady feet. "Kate, please, let me explain."


With a look of rage, Kate whirled on her heels and stared him down. He froze, wide-eyed, and visibly gulped. "What is there to explain, Jake? You had your hands all over her! You are nothing but a lying, cheating little shit for brains!"


Jake took a deep breath. He was shaking now. Mason idly wondered what was wrong with him, but didn't try to guess. He'd find out in a moment.


He watched as Jesse passed directly behind Jake, patting his back as if in sympathy. Jake didn't seem to notice. By this time, he was shaking like a leaf.


"Kate, I-I love you, you k-know..."


With a gasp and a shudder, Jake collapsed. He'd had a heart attack.


Kate watched as he fell to the floor. All anger drained from her features. "Jake?" she asked tentatively.


Spectators rushed forward, among them the desk clerk, as they realized something had gone terribly wrong. Jesse maneuvered around them on his way to the door, and Jake's soul followed behind him. Jesse waved at Mason before leaving the hotel, and Mason waved back.


An hour later, the hotel lobby was nearly empty again. The ambulance had come and gone, taking Jake's body and a distraught Kate with them. Various hotel patrons meandered about, discussing the death in the lobby in quiet tones, but Mason ignored them. He glanced up from the magazine only whenever he heard the door open.


At ten past eight, Mason glanced up and grinned happily. Jexter had just walked in. He walked across the lobby and entered the corridor without even noticing the reaper. Mason got up and followed him. He jogged to catch up before his cousin could ascend the stairs. "Hullo, Jex."


Jexter whipped out his wind and pivoted around, settling into a defensive position before he'd stopped turning.


Mason quickly held up his hands. "Woah! No need to hex me into the next millenium."


Jexter stiffened, eyes widening. "Mason? What are you doing here?"


Mason shrugged. "Looking for you. Look, I'm not going to reap you, alright? At least not today."


Jexter's eyes narrowed. "What about tomorrow?"


He shrugged again. "No clue. I hope not, though."


His cousin relaxed and lowered his arm. He licked his lips. "You are a grim reaper, though, right?"


Mason glanced around. He really hoped no one was listening in, or Rube would kill him just that much more. "Right."


When Jexter didn't raise his wand again, Mason decided it was safe to lower his arms. "So what brings you to Seattle, cuz?"


"The usual," Jexter began, then deciding that Mason might not know what that was, continued, "Fighting evil, keeping the balance."


"'F-fighting evil?'" Mason repeated, incredulous. "What the crap would you do that for?" Who was this man and what had he done to his cousin?


Jexter shrugged and smiled ruefully. "A lot of things have happened since you died, Mace." He made a face and bit his lip at this reminder.


Mason shifted from one foot to the other self-consciously. "Look, could we maybe...talk?" Mason ventured, uncertain. "Like, in your room or something?"


Jexter licked dry lips. After a moment, he nodded. "Alright. It's on the fifth floor."


The two wizards ascended the stairs in an awkward silence.


"Oh, hey, it's you again," Vance greeted Mason conversationally. Jexter shot his cousin a suspicious look, but then just rolled his eyes. Mason just looked amused.


"How's the beach?" Mason asked the portrait.


Vance grinned. "The babes are to die for." As he said this, two bikini-clad women wandered into the frame tossing a volleyball between them.


Mason chuckled. "Well, have fun with that, then."


Jexter unlocked the door and he and Mason entered the hotel room. It looked like an ordinary hotel room, for the most part. Out of curiosity, Mason went over to the closet and opened one of the doors of the wardrobe.


A rush of air flew out at his face, accompanied by a deep-throated scream. The door wrenched itself out of his grasp and slammed back shut.


"Careful, now," Jexter warned mildly, "I think there's something living in there."


"You should complain," Mason advised, just as mildly.


His cousin only shrugged. "It's the last thing on my mind, really."


He plopped down on one of the beds. Mason pulled out one of the chairs from under the table. "So..." Jexter began nervously, rubbing his hands together. "Been in the reaping business long?"


Mason shrugged. "Pretty much the entirety of my afterlife, actually." He cleared his throat. "Listed, Jex, exactly what are you doing here in Seattle?"


He sighed. "Like I said, a lot of things have happened since you...died. I own a shop in Cleveland now."


Mason fought down a smile. "Cleveland? What on Earth are you doing in Cleveland?"


Jexter looked hurt. "It's a center of mystical convergence!"


Mason coughed to hide his chuckles. "Right. So, what d'you sell?"


"Mostly wizarding supplies for potions and herbology. I have a whole greenhouse, too, really popular with the locals-I have the largest selection of magical plants and ingredients in town." He smiled, proudly. "I even cater to the Slayers!"


Mason's brow furrowed. "The who?"


Jexter gave him a frustrated glare. "The Slayers! Merlin's beard, Mace, don't reapers keep up with the times?" He sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "That's not important, at any rate." He sighed. "A little over a week ago, someone broke into my shop. They took a number of my more rarer items - some leaves, a few books. They were also my most valuable. That's why I've decided to track the thief down myself. If I advertise the fact that I even had the eleventh edition of The Most Gruesome of Dark Magicks, the Council is going to have my hide, no matter if I've sometimes helped them out or not. There's also the fact that whoever stole those things are obviously up to no good, no good at all."


Mason gaped at him. "Are you telling me that you've taken it upon yourself to track down someone who is probably a very powerful dark wizard?" He wanted to strangle his cousin. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"


Jexter glared at him. "No, I am not out of my fucking mind! I know exactly what I'm doing."


"Oh, really." Mason crossed his arms. "And exactly how have you gone about looking for this thief?"


"I used Wiccan Magic."


Mason's jaw dropped. Astonishment and wonder rushed into him. "'W-wiccan Magic?" he repeated, unable to think of anything coherent to say. He'd heard of such magic. It was the kind anyone could do, no matter if they were demon, magical creature, wizard or Muggle. Still, it took a considerable amount of skill and training to perform it successfully, and even then one needed to have a gigantic amount of self-control to keep from becoming addicted to the power Wiccan Magic offered. Everyone Mason knew who'd ever attempted Wiccan Magic had become addicted; he'd heard of people who had overcome their addictions, but they were few and far between.


He wondered what could have possessed his cousin to even think of trying it. Just how much had changed since they'd last seen each other? In 1966, Jexter had been barely twenty-five and still acted like he was fresh from Hogwarts. Jexter had been co-owner of a shop in Diagon Alley and had given the impression that he was happy there. Cheslie probably wasn't perfectly content, though, Mason reflected, thinking of Jexter's wife. She had been the adventurous type and had always pestered Jexter to go traveling with her. She must have gotten her wish if Jexter now owned a shop on a center of mystical convergence.


"Do you even know any Wiccan Magic?" Mason questioned, disbelieving.


"I know enough," Jexter said, shifted uncomfortably. "Not enough to get helplessly addicted. Like I said, I help the Slayers sometimes, and they've got a few Wiccans among them that've taught me a few things." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, there are only certain spells that one would need The Most Gruesome of Dark Magicks for. I performed a Wiccan spell that allowed me to sense when one of those spells was being performed. It worked, and I sensed one of those spells being performed here, in Seattle. So I came here."


"And exactly what spells can be found in The Most Gruesome of Dark Magicks?"


"Oh, nothing much," Jexter said, attempting nonchalance. "Just a few chaos spells, some world-ending rituals, no big deal-"


Mason shot to his feet. "'World-ending rituals?' 'A few chaos spells?' What the fuck are you trying to pull, carrying a book like that in your shop?!"


"I didn't want it!" Jexter said, hotly. "It just showed up one day in my shop! I don't know how it even got there!"


Mason laughed. "Oh, that's just bloody nice, isn't it? And you didn't think to destroy it?"


"Well, of course I tried! But I've never been very good at Charms, you know that."


"Fucking-" Mason bit off the curse and ran a hand through his messy hair. Furious, he took a step forward and bent over, sticking an index finger in his cousin's face. Glaring, he warned, "If you end the fucking world, Jexter, I swear to you, I will make sure you aren't able to move on, do you hear me?"


Jexter leaned away from the finger that was close to burying itself in his eye with each thrust. He stared up at his cousin, fear overtaking him for a moment as he remembered just what his cousin was now. The moment passed, and resolve overtook him again.



"The world isn't going to end," Jexter said, resolutely. "I've got a pretty good idea of which ritual he's performing, and I think I may know how to stop him. All I have to do is find the guy." He smiled hopefully up at Mason. "Care to help?"


 


===One hour before Now, approx. 7:30 AM


Mason walked down the street at a steady gait, mind whirling as he reviewed the events of the last day and a half. He was still wondering how his cousin had managed to rope Mason into helping him. The reaper wasn't the knight-in-shining-armor type, though it would seem that Jexter was that type. Mason shook his head in wonder every time he thought it. His cousin had grown up a lot in the nearly four decades since Mason had died. The reaper had no idea how it had happened; he and Jexter had yet to spend much time talking and reminiscing. They'd split up the previous evening to quicken the search for the perpetrator. Mason checked shops that sold ingredients the thief would need to perform his chaos ritual and stopped in a few demon bars to see if anyone had heard or sensed anything, and Jexter did the same.


Their efforts weren't entirely fruitless. They were able to gather that something was 'going down,' but no one they talked to knew who was responsible or where to find them. Tired, the two wizards had put a halt to the search early in the morning and resolved to continue the next day. There were only a few more places to look. Jexter had a good feeling about them and was certain they would deliver answers.


Mason had gotten in five hours of sleep before getting up again and heading to Der Waffle Haus for his assignment. He felt exhausted and took a few pills to help him stay awake. That and he was feeling a slight withdrawal after staying drug and substance-free for the better part of a day, but that was really thanks to the Sobriety Charm than anything else. It took three days for the charm to wear off, and during those three days it was nearly impossible to get stoned or shit-faced drunk.


Mason thought over everything Jexter had said they could expect from the chaos ritual. Mass hysteria was one; complete and total disorder everywhere was another; lots of people dying was another factor, but that was a given. The ritual could be performed at any time in the next few days, and thankfully it would be possible to stop it once it had been started.


He glanced around as he crossed the street a block away from the restaurant. Everything looked normal. The streetlights still worked and no one was acting strangely, from all appearances.


He didn't realize what was happening until after it had happened. As he walked across the mouth of the alley next to the Der Waffle Haus, something sharp locked onto his arm. It sunk through the leather material of his jacket and cut into the flesh of his arm with ease.


The pain was both unexpected and intense. Mason screamed even as whatever was clamped on his arm gave one great jerk, forcing the reaper to surge forward into the alley or lose an arm.


Mason blacked out for a moment. When he regained consciousness, he was lying in the middle of the alley. It took him a moment for his pain-clouded brain to realize what had happened, and when he did he sat bolt upright, staring about him in abject fear. Circling around him, snarling and gnashing their teeth at random moments, were three full-sized dog-like creatures. He recognized them as crups, creatures that, despite their likeness to Jack Russell terriers, were anything but. Their eyes seemed to blaze, and their forked tails wagged in anticipation of the feast: him.


Mason had known many crups in his life, but none of them had been this...wild. Not to wizards or witches, at any rate. Did he have a different scent now that he was undead, one powerful enough for them to mistaken him as a Muggle, whom he had heard crups couldn't stand? What they were doing there, in that alley, was another mystery, but any questions would have to be put aside until he'd figured a way out of this situation without his body being torn up and divided among the crups' stomachs.


As Mason continued to panic, he wondered why they hadn't gone in for the kill. A second later, he had his answer. A growl announced the arrival of a fourth crup. The other creatures made way for their pack leader and Mason found himself staring less than three feet away into the leader's eyes.


He saw it in the dog's eyes, the decision to pounce. Only one thought flashed through Mason's mind, Fuck!


Without thought, he jerked his wand out of his jacket, ripping the pocket and almost snapping the wand in half in the process, not that he noticed. The crup jumped straight at him, jaw opened wide.


A spell flew from Mason's wand tip, impacting almost immediately with the creature's chest. The crup let out a yelp before it dropped onto the cobblestones, landing with a thud on its side. The stupefied creature's eyes were opened in surprise, and drool dribbled off its tongue.


Mason blinked as he realized what he'd done. Unfortunately, the pause gave the other crups enough time to process what had occurred. With howls of rage, they leapt forward.


"Oh, crap! Impedimenta!" Mason yelped, shielding his face from both the crups' claws and the brilliant flash of the spell. The dogs yelped as they bounced off of the temporary force field Mason had erected above him. Two of the dogs landed on the pavement several feet away, but the third hit the far well of the alley and fell to the ground where it lay, deadly still.


As the other two lay dazed, Mason got to his feet, mind furiously reviewing every spell he'd every learned. As one of the crups recovered and charged at him, Mason yelled, "Canis Exumai!"


The spell knocked the creature all the way to the far wall of the alley. It whimpered as it slid down the wall, colliding with several trashcans before it reached the ground.


The remaining crup growled at him. It hesitated a moment before charging him. Mason used the same spell on him, and the dog joined his buddies against the wall.


The alley was sudden very silent and still. Mason was frozen in place, staring down at the unconscious or dead dogs. He was nearly panting. He wasn't surprised in the least when he jumped at the unexpected shout behind him.


Rube demanded, "You mind telling me what the fuck is going on?"


 


===Now, approx. 8:30 AM


"Jexter. Who is behind all this?" Mason asked, glaring now.


Jexter grimaced. "Ethan," he answered quietly. "My son."


Mason's jaw dropped. He remembered Ethan Rayne. He remembered the slightly overweight six-year-old Squib with a penchant for getting into as much trouble as his little body could muster. Even at such a young age, he'd been a rebellious little tyke, and it would seem he never outgrew his disposition toward wrongdoing.


Jexter fidgeted and refused to meet Mason's gaze. Shame flushed his cheeks a deep red. He regarded the heap of crups. "Ethan must have begun the ritual already," he hypothesized. "Crups normally don't attack wizards, dead or alive. The ritual must be affecting animals, causing them to act bizarrely. We'll probably see the affects of the ritual in the human population soon."


"Jex." Mason lay a hand on his arm, halting the words as they spilled from his mouth. "How could your son be responsible for this?"


Jexter sighed and rubbed his eyes. He suddenly looked a lot older and more tired than he had a few minutes ago. "The same way he's always been responsible for this," he replied. "He's a Chaos Worshipper."


"Ethan?" Mason questioned. The disbelief was plainly evident in his voice. "How could Ethan be a Chaos Worshipper?"


"I've wondered that ever since I found out when he was nineteen."


"Nineteen? But that was..."


"1979. Nearly twenty-five years ago."


Mason's mouth was collecting flies. He snapped it shut and swallowed. He needed a moment to process this information. The surprises just keep coming, don't they? he thought, positively stunned. "I'm going to go get my post-it," he told Jexter matter-of-factly. He waved at the crups. "You get rid of those. I'll be back in a minute."


Without another word, Mason turned and walked out of the alley. He stopped for a moment to collect himself before pulling the door of the restaurant open and sauntering inside.


Everyone was still there. Only a few minutes had passed since he'd performed the Obliviation Charm. When he pulled up a chair and sat down, none of them looked at him like he'd grown a second head; none of them demanded explanations, either. Mason let out a relieved sigh. The charm had worked.


The bite marks had already healed thanks to his reaper metabolism, leaving caked dirt and a ruined jacket sleeve he'd forgotten to repair magically before entering Der Waffle Haus. Daisy tsked, annoyed, when he plopped his arm on the table in front of her. Other than that, though, Mason's appearance received no comment.


"You're late," Rube said without even looking at the British reaper, a sure sign that he was annoyed.


"Sorry," Mason said, scrambling for some sort of excuse. "Got caught up."


"By what? Have trouble tying your shoelaces again?" Roxy retorted with a disdainful look at him. Beside her, Daisy smirked. George, who sat across from them, smiled into her drink.


Normally, Mason took the insults in stride, but that morning he had too much on his mind to sit and put up with them. His lips pressed into a thin line as he tried to contain frustration that wasn't directed toward them. "Can I have my post-it?" Mason asked Rube as calmly as possible.


"Why?" Rube asked him. "Got somewhere to be?"


Mason bit his lip, using every bit of willpower he had to keep from bursting.


When he didn't reply, Rube only raised his eyebrows before pulling open his post-it book. He pulled off the post-its and slapped them down in front of each reaper present.


"What the-?" George began, staring down in incredulity at all five of the post-its Rube had placed in front of her. Everyone, even Rube, had as many post-its set in front of them.


Daisy checked hers. "All of these are for different locations-" she began. She glanced at Roxy's post-its. "Oh, look, we both have appointments in that park..."


"What's going to happen?" George asked, directing her question at Rube, who shrugged. Mason smiled ruefully. She should have asked him. He had little doubt that it wasn't his cousin's chaos ritual. All of these people would die in the chaos that was to come.


He glanced over his stack. The earliest one was slated to happen in the next forty minutes. "Bullocks," he said as he stood up, pocketing all of them hastily.


When he ran back into the alley, the crups were nowhere to be seen. "I banished them," Jexter explained.


"Good. Come on. I have an appointment to catch."


He grabbed Jexter's arm and hauled him after him. Jexter stared at him. "When you say appointment..."


"I mean someone's going to die, yeah," Mason said.


Jexter dug his heels into the sidewalk, causing Mason to stumble slightly before he stopped and let go of his cousin's arm. "Woah! I don't think I want to be around when you, uh, kill someone."


Mason gave him a confused look. "What are you talking about? I don't kill anyone. I'm just there to take the person's soul."


Jexter's mouth opened, closed, and opened again. "You mean...reapers don't cause the actual deaths?"


"No," Mason replied, feeling insulted. He glanced at his watch. "Now come on. I want to talk to you, but we have to be walking or I'm going to be late."


He turned and headed down the sidewalk. Jexter hurried to catch up to him. Once he was at Mason's side, he asked hesitantly, "So, what happens to a soul if a reaper's not there to collect it?"


They paused at a curb and waited for the traffic to pass, Mason fidgeting impatiently. "The soul stays in the person's body."


Jexter's brow furrowed as he tried to work out this piece of information. "Do they see what happens to their bodies after they die, then?"


Mason nodded. "Yeah. It's usually more humane to not let that happen."


They crossed the street and continued on along the sidewalk. Mason took a deep breath. "I want to know how Ethan could have become a Chaos Worshipper."


Jexter sighed. Mason glanced at him and saw him look sadly down at his feet. "I'm not sure how it happened. Like I said, I only found out about it after he turned nineteen." He smiled. "I felt for sure that it was a just a phase, a little bit of teenage rebellion. When I found out what he'd been doing, I blew up at him. It didn't go well after that. He stormed out of the house. Cheslie and I didn't see him again for months. Early the next year, though, he showed up, just out of the blue. He was a mess. He was bleeding from multiple cuts, he hadn't shaved in a week, and he hadn't bathed or changed clothes in nearly as long. He apologized for everything and wanted his old life back. We, of course, agreed."


His features turned steely. He glared ahead at nothing. "It was a ruse. All of it. He didn't want anything to do with us except my herbs."


Mason studied at him. "What d'you mean?"


"Ethan was back with us for a week. One night, Cheslie and I came back from a date to find him crouched in the living room. He was leaning over a young woman he'd tied and gagged and placed in the middle of a pentagram. He'd just been about to sacrifice her to some demon chaos lord when we'd walked in."


Silence fell for several long moments. Mason felt even more shocked than ever. "Fuck...Merlin, fuck!" He shook his head. "Shit, Jex. This whole situation is fucked up."


"Yeah. I know."


They were silent for the rest of the trip. When they finally arrived at an apartment building, Mason let out a sigh and glanced at his watch. Two minutes to go. There was no way he'd get into the building and find the right apartment before the death occurred. He'd have to wait until the dead guy or gal was wheeled out of the apartment on a gurney.


"So...now what?" Jexter asked, looking about nervously and then above as if expecting to be accosted by a Peeves-like apparition.


His cousin smirked. "Now, we wait." He explained the reasons behind this decision. Jexter's face twisted into a grimace when he realized Mason would actually have to touch the body of the dead person.


"Couldn't you stop it, since you know it's going to happen?" he asked, frustrated by the fact that he himself wasn't doing anything to stop it.


"Not a good idea." Mason explained the reasons behind that as well. "And you can't stop it, either. When a person is scheduled to die, he has to die or his soul'll rot. Trust me when I say it is not a pretty sight."


Fifteen minutes later, an ambulance pulled up in front of the building. Five minutes afterward, a cop car arrived. Twenty minutes after that, the ambulance attendants rolled a body out on a gurney. A sick look on his face, Jexter stayed on the periphery as his cousin ventured forward. Mason managed to brush his fingers over the body of R. Nathaniels before one of the cops told him to scram. He hurried back over to where Jexter waited.


"It was a dog attack," he informed his living cousin. "Looks like Ethan's spell is effecting all the dogs in town." He discarded R. Nathaniels's post-it in a trash bin and took out the next in line.


Jexter stared at the new post-it. "How many souls do you reap in a day?"


"Usually, it's just one a day," Mason replied casually. He checked the time against the ETD given on the post-it, missing completely the green tinge of Jexter's cheeks. "But Ethan's ritual is upping the stakes."


"Are...all of the souls you have to reap today victims of dog attacks?"


"Don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised if they are."


Jexter's look turned reflective as something occurred to him. "If we could piece together where the attacks are taking place, there may be a point of convergence somewhere in the middle of the affected area..."


Mason titled his head as he considered Jexter's theory, as much as he understood it. "It could work."


"Can I see your post-its?" Jexter asked hesitantly, looking like he regretted the request. "I want to look at the addresses."


Shrugging, Mason showed them to him. Jexter memorized them before handing them back. "Right, then. I'm going to check a few places, see if anyone's lost any crups and see if their address is anywhere near those."


"Right, then I'll meet you at the hotel after I'm done," Mason said.


Jexter hurried off, eager to put as much distance between him and the business of grim reaping. Mason smiled at his cousin's behavior, then turned back around and searched the gathering crowd for the soul of R. Nathaniels. Spotting a man with nasty dog bites that had torn up his throat and half of his upper body, Mason whistled and waved for R. Nathaniels to join him.


 


===Thirteen hours from Now, approx. 10:00 PM


One of Mason's souls was a car accident victim, but the rest were prey to dog attacks. All of his reaps were isolated incidents, meaning he never met up with other reapers at the scenes of attacks. The rabid dogs ran off after they murdered their owners, no doubt searching for more victims. Mason wished his coworkers luck as he headed for the hotel, Barnub's.


Jexter let him into the room upon his knock. "Just as I'd thought. Four of them were dog attacks," he informed Jexter.


Jexter nodded firmly. He looked a little steadier than he had that morning.


He showed Mason the newly purchased map of Seattle he'd laid out on the table. He'd marked the locations of each of Mason's reaps, along with the ETD's, on the map. Each death was marked by a x. Three were in the vicinity of R. Nathaniel's apartment; the other two were a few blocks away.


"A wizard who lives here owned the crups." Jexter pointed to a place several blocks away from Der Waffle Haus, away from the small cluster of x's. "He was very annoyed when I told him that we'd killed his dogs, even demanded payment for them. Bloody pillock didn't even care that the crups were the likely cause of death of several Muggles."


"Did you pay him?" asked Mason.


Jexter scoffed. "Of course I didn't pay him. I turned tail and ran for it before he could hex me all the way back to Hogwarts."


The reaper grinned. Now that sounded more like the cousin he used to know.


Jexter pointed to the markings nearer R. Nathaniel's apartment. "Here're where the earlier deaths occurred." He slid his hand eastward to the remaining two marks. "And here are where the later deaths occurred."


"Looks like a line instead of a circle," Mason had to admit. "The spell's effect spread from the west and worked its way eastward." If they only knew where the rest of the dog attacks had occurred, they'd be able to discern where the spell's point of origin was supposed to be. That would, however, mean they'd have to get his coworkers involved, and Mason wasn't prepared to do that just yet.


"So, we've got a direction," Mason said. He traced a finger westward from the later deaths to the earlier ones. Somewhere farther west of that little cluster was the place where Ethan had performed the First Rite of the ritual.


"We've also got a tip." Jexter held up a piece of notebook paper. Two words were written on it, the phrase 'PAX PACIS.' "The bartender at the Banished Broomstick told me to go there and said we should talk to the owner. He should be able to help us."


"It's worth checking, I suppose," Mason agreed. He'd never heard of Pax Pacis. It was probably one of the demon bars, of which he'd rarely set foot in before last night.


Pax Pacis was clear on the other end of town. Mason offered to steal a car, but at the suggestion, Jexter gave him a disgruntled look and proposed that they would Apparate instead. Mason merely shrugged and agreed, amused once again at Jexter's squeamishness.


They vanished from the hotel room and reappeared outside the entrance to the bar. A voice blasted out of the speakers from inside, or they at least assumed it was a voice; it more closely resembled a flock of geese attempting to shout out the chorus of 'We Are Family.'


Mason and Jexter both stared in horror. "It's a fucking karaoke bar!" Mason said.


The two exchanged terrified looks. They took a moment to gather up their courage and then headed inside.


The karaoke bar was packed. Despite the horrid sounds the demon on stage was transferring into the microphone, no one was leaving. An assortment of beings was seated at the tables or at the bar. There were demons of all sorts of shapes and sizes, a few vampires and several humans.


There was a table stationed just inside the door. A human male looked up at them from where he sat behind it. "Weapons, please," he told them.


"We don't have any weapons," Jexter told him.


A demon stepped over to them. "Well, I beg to differ," he informed them in a friendly manner. "I can sense you wizarding types a mile away without even needing to hear you sing. If you want to come any further into my bar, you'll have to give your wands to Rinaldo here." He motioned to the bouncer sitting at the table. "Don't worry, you can have them back when you leave."


"You're Lorne?" Jexter questioned.


The demon smiled. "That's right. I'm afraid I don't have the pleasure of knowing your name, sweet cheeks."


Lorne had to be the strangest demon Mason had ever seen. His skin was greener than grass, his eyes were bloodshot red, his hair was orange and two small horns protruded from his forehead. Those weren't the strangest things about him. What was stranger was his clothing. While most demons he'd met wore leather and metal armor or dirty rags, Lorne wore a chalk pink suit jacket and pants. Underneath it was a yellow pokka-dotted shirt.


Jexter glanced at Mason, who shrugged. Jexter replied, "Er, I'm Jexter, and this is Mason."


Recognition dawned on the demon's face. The smile faded to be replaced by weary apprehension. "Oh, I've heard of you two. You've been going around to all the bars looking for the spell caster of a chaos ritual."


"Do you know where we can find him?" asked Mason. "His name's Ethan Rayne."


Lorne shook his head. "'Fraid not, cutie. Haven't heard a thing. I might still be able to help you, though."


"How?" the reaper asked him, curious.


Lorne smiled slightly and gestured over his shoulder at the stage. "I can read people when they sing."


"'Read people?'" Mason repeated, positively alarmed by the possible meanings behind this phrase. A glance at Jexter told him his cousin felt the same way. Mason wondered if demons could learn Legilimency.


"I can see peoples' near futures," he explained. "It might show me where your friend Ethan is holed up." He beamed encouragingly. "I'm up for a try if you are."


Mason and Jexter stared at him, horrified looks back in place.


 


===14 hours from Now, approx. 11:00 PM


They'd reluctantly agreed to hand in their wands. Then they'd taken a seat at a table...and stayed there, frozen and staring up at the stage as singer after bad singer stepped up to the microphone.


"Merlin," Jexter commented, nearly whining.


"Fuck," Mason offered.


They were silent for a moment, then Jexter said, "I don't want to do it. You do it."


Mason rounded on him. "Me? You're the one that roped me into helping you in the first place, and it's your son that's the cause of all of this. I think you should do it."


Their gazes locked for a long moment. Jexter ground his teeth. "Fine. I'll do it."


"Fine."


"Fine."


They both turned back to the stage. After a moment, Jexter continued, "After this guy finishes."


They watched as the next demon situated itself in front of the microphone.


"I think that's a she, actually," remarked Mason.


 


===14 and a half hours from Now, approx. 11:30 PM


The two wizards flipped through the books of song names and titles. "Oh, how about this one?" Mason suggested, pointing out one of them.


Jexter looked at the song title and then gave Mason an incredulous look. "What, don't tell me it's true that grim reapers are all gay?"


Mason only looked confused. "Huh?"


 


===14 hours and three-fourths from Now, approx. 11:45 PM


"Okay." Jexter said, taking several deep breaths. Up on stage, Lorne took the microphone from the last act and began to announce Jexter. "I'm going in."


"Good luck," Mason said, feeling very sympathetic for his cousin.


 


===15 hours from Now, approx. 12:00 AM


Jexter sat down at the table on shaky legs. "Oh, God," he said, burying his head in his hands. "I don't want to do that ever again. Please tell me I don't have to do that again."


Lorne appeared at their table and sat down. "You won't have to, sweet cheeks. I've got a pretty good idea where your boy is at."


Mason hastily took out his map, which was completely spell-free, and spread it out on the table. "Can you-?" he began, but the green-skinned demon was already pointing to a place on the map.


"He's set up shop in a crypt in Garrens' Burrow Cemetery. I'd be careful if I were you two, a lot of newly risen vampires can be found there."


Mason and Jexter smiled, relieved, before reality caught up with them again. "Thank you-" Mason began as he looked up at Lorne, only to pause. Lorne had the same look of apprehension from earlier. "Is there something else?" Mason inquired.


Lorne winced. "Hurry," he said. "Ethan's going to perform the next Rite of the ritual, and this one's gonna be a big one. I'd rather not have to face the chaos that'll be the result, you know?"


Mason and Jexter exchanged grim looks. "Yeah, we know," Jexter said quietly.


 


===16 hours from Now, approx. 1:00 AM


Garrens' Burrow Cemetery was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Several tall oak trees and an iron fence formed a border around the plot of land, and the gravestones were all surrounded by healthy, green grass. The cemetery was also on a slight incline. From the center, one could turn around and look out at the city sprawled out beyond the cemetery's border. In a few weeks' time, Mason would discover that a young woman named Georgia Lass was buried there.


The cemetery was nearly deserted. The only beings to be found there were Mason, Jexter and the distorted, shifting outlines of at least four gravelings, who were all fast asleep and snoring, loudly.


Jexter and Mason were sprawled out on the ground behind a tomb. Ten feet beyond the tomb was the only crypt in the cemetery. Out of the corner of his eye, Mason watched the graveling sprawled out on top of the tomb, interested despite himself. He'd had no idea gravelings snored.


"Mace?" Jexter asked, trying to capture his cousin's wandering attention. He couldn't see the graveling at all and wondered what Mason was looking at.


Mason snapped his gaze back to him. "Hmm?"


Jexter waved at the crypt they could see just around the corner of the tomb. He held up his wand. "Ready?"


Mason glanced from the wand to the crypt and back again. "Exactly what are we going to do?"


He shrugged. "Stupefying him sounds like a good plan."


"And then what?"


Jexter sighed. "I don't know. Let's just concentrate on stopping the ritual, shall we?"


Mason studied him a moment, then nodded. "Alright." He took out his wand. "Ready."


Jexter closed his eyes a moment and took a deep breath. "Let's go."


They shot to their feet, startling the graveling, who squawked in protest. Mason ignored him as they ran to the crypt.


The door to the crypt was open. Jexter wasted no time in throwing the door open and rushing inside, Mason on his heels.


The crypt was small. It was no bigger than twelve feet across and twenty feet deep. A man sat in a lotus position at the center of the floor, bordered by a circle drawn in black charcoal. The book Mason assumed was The Most Gruesome of Dark Magicks lay open in his lap.


At the age of forty-four, Ethan, like his father, appeared older than Mason. His hair was smooth like his father's and a bald spot had cropped up on his scalp. He was thin and looked to be slightly malnourished, a stark contrast to the chubby little boy Mason remembered.


Ethan blinked up at them in surprise. "Oh, bugger-" His eyes widened as his gaze flicked back to Jexter. "Dad?"


"Hello, son," Jexter greeted him, voice cracking.


Ethan laughed. "I suppose you're here to chastise me, tell me how I've been such a bad boy."


Jexter's expression turned steely. "You have been a bad boy, Ethan. Stupefy!"


"Wait!" Mason said, eyes widening as he realized Jexter hadn't seen the circle.


The spell rebounded off of the shield created by the protective circle. It flew at and collided with Jexter before Mason could utter a counter-curse. Jexter collapsed, stunned.


Ethan got to his feet and threw a powder into the air.


Where before candles had lit the crypt, the room suddenly turned pitch black. The air was thick with the powder, making Mason cough.


He heard footsteps before he was shoved to the side. "Petrificus Totallus!" Mason called in the general direction of the fading footsteps. He heard and felt the spell leave his wand but even its light couldn't penetrate the strange darkness.



He heard the door being shoved open; the spell had missed its target. "Fuck!" Mason turned and gave chase, stumbling over his cousin's stupefied body and nearly falling flat on his face on his way out of the crypt.


He emerged into the graveyard. The powder-induced blackness hadn't penetrated outside the crypt, and moonlight and streetlights both cast long shadows on the grounds, just as they had earlier.


It took Mason a moment to spot Ethan's back. As he watched, Ethan passed through the cemetery gates and ran out onto the street beyond. Mason hurried after him. "Come back here, you cock-sucker!" he yelled.


Ethan glanced through the bars of the fence. Catching sight of Mason, he ran faster before disappearing beyond a clump of trees.


Mason ran out of the cemetery and onto the street. Once there, he ground to a halt. He raised his wand and a brilliant light shone out of its end. Its light glanced off the windows of the houses on the other side of the street. Shadows that provided perfect hiding places were now illuminated for all to see.


It was too quiet. Mason ran down the street, looking everywhere and listening intently. He reached an intersection and glanced down it in both directions, but Ethan was, of course, gone.


Mason let out a yell of frustration, then turned around and headed back to the crypt to un-stupefy his cousin.


He was halfway down the street when he heard something odd. Mason paused and listened. It sounded like something breaking or bursting free from its bindings. Puzzled, he turned left toward the sound, only to freeze and gape.


Five feet away from him was a sidewalk divided into small sections of concrete. As he watched, one of those sections burst into the air as if it had been kicked from beneath. The block rose two feet and flipped before falling back to the earth, breaking into many pieces on impact with the ground.


The block next to it flew up into the air, and as it hit the ground the next one in line followed suit. One by one, each block of concrete that made of the sidewalk burst into the air before falling back down again. A light turned on in one of the houses, its occupants awoken by the noise.


"Oh, God..." Mason prayed under his breath. He looked around for gravelings, for they were the cause of 'accidents.' He didn't see them anywhere. That meant only one thing, that the Second Rite of the Chaos Ritual had been completed before he and Jexter had entered the crypt. Order was being pushed out along with the rules that governed the world, including the rule that said that sidewalks weren't supposed to burst out of the ground spontaneously.


Mason dashed back into the cemetery and into the crypt. The powder had dissipated but the candles had been blown out, meaning his wand was the only source of light. Jexter still lay on the floor, stupefied.


"Finite Incantatem," Mason said, pointing his wand at his cousin.


Jexter shook out his limbs as he got to his feet. "Where's Ethan?"


"He's gone," the reaper replied, "but we've got bigger problems. Ethan completed the Second Rite."


Jexter stared at him. "What?" he exclaimed. He looked around at the candles, the protective circle and the book. Jexter reached into the broken circle and grabbed the book, then flipped through it quickly to the right page. "It says here that there are Five Rites to the ritual. The First Rite was to make an animal of the spellcaster's choice go nuts, in the hopes that the animal could cause as much havoc as possible."


"And the Second Rite...?" asked Mason.


Jexter turned a page. His eyes scanned the first few lines. "Fuck. The Second Rite works on inanimate objects, and can cause a lot more destruction."


"Kind-of figured that," Mason muttered. He glanced warily around at the tombs, half-expecting them to burst from their shelves in much the same manner as the sidewalk.


Just as he thought it, that was exactly what happened. Tombs shot out from the walls, startling them both. "Arresto Mementum!" Mason cried, pointing his wand at one tomb that almost ran into them.


They ran for the door, jumping over and under the flying tombs. Finally, they burst out of the crypt.


The gravelings were awake. Mason listened as they let out several angry and disgruntled squawks. Looking around, he saw why. Gravestones were overturned, broken, or not there at all. He knew the gravelings were upset because the destruction had occurred without them having a hand in it.


"Does the book say what we have to do to reverse this?" Mason asked. He caught sight of the fence and furrowed his brow. The bars and fence posts were bent bizarrely out of shape.


Jexter flipped through several pages. "Ah! Here, it says that in order to counter any of the rituals present in this book...we have to find a copy of the eleventh edition of The Most Magnificent of Light Magicks? Fucking-!"


Mason gave him a look. "You're joking. Tell me you're joking."


Jexter glared at him. "Does it look like I'm joking? Bullocks!" With a growl, he threw the book, hard, against the ground.


The reaper wanted to punch something. "Marvelous. Where, do you suppose, should we even look for something like that?"


It was a rhetorical question. Jexter didn't even pause in the litany of curses that flew from his lips to answer.


 


===23 hours from Now, approx. 8:00 AM


The effects spread out over the town like ripples in a pond. Cement cracked; streetlights acted strangely, some blinking wildly like a frenzied set of Christmas lights, and others all turned green and stayed there, causing several severe car accidents in scattered places about the city. In stores, employees were astounded when items refused to be arranged orderly on shelves; when shoppers tried to line up at the registers, several of them were alarmed when their shopping carts instead ran straight into tables and shelves. Flowers in planters rearranged themselves, switching from immaculately neat rows to zigzags and curves. Televisions stopped working; when one was switched on, the set would switch from channel to channel rapidly, and the volume would go up and down randomly. Phones, radios, and cars wouldn't work, either. They refused to do what they were supposed to do and, instead, did something else. One car, when it was started, proceeded to do a hip-hop dance number; another car, without needed to be started, chased down and ran over every person and animal in the neighborhood, then lay still. Furniture acted just as bizarre.


Twenty people were dead before dawn, but their reapers had yet to come to collect their souls. They had their own problems to deal with.


Daisy was awoken at 5:37 in the morning by her alarm clock. A glance at the electronic clock told her that the clock was broken, for the block letters were now disjointed and even crooked. Daisy groggily wondered why the numbers didn't look like numbers anymore before her eyes slid past the clock and she gasped in surprise. Every painting on the walls of her room, which were normally perfectly straight and spaced evenly from each other, were now crooked or threatening to fall.


George, upstairs, was taken out of sleep by noise her roommate, Daisy, was making downstairs. She groaned and rolled over in an attempt to reclaim sleep, only for her eyes to open wide. She bolted upright. The items in her room were in similar disarray.


Roxy, who had yet to go to bed, was drawn out of her apartment by a shrill scream. She hurried out into the hallway to find a woman staring, horrified, down the stairs at a man lying at its base. He'd lost his balance going down the now very disordered stairs.


Rube, who had fallen asleep reading in his chair, jerked awake when he heard a car skidding on the street outside, followed by a mighty crash. He reached for the closest pair of shoes on the floor, only to blink in astonishment as he realized that every set of his shoes, normally arranged in one long, neat row, were all scattered about the room; one was even hanging from the ceiling fan.


Jesse, the wizard reaper from Natural Causes, was washed out of his bed by a mighty tidal wave. The tidal wave had come sweeping out of Vance Hollyquick's portrait two minutes before.


As for Mason, he and Jexter spent a good deal of time stepping around, dodging, and jumping over various objects that had suddenly decided that order was boring and disorder was much more preferable. They were attempting to make their way to Pax Pacis; they'd had the best luck there the last time, and they hoped their luck would hold a second time and Lorne would be able to point them in the direction of the book they needed. If he couldn't help them, they'd move on to the bookstores, but Jexter doubted they'd have a copy; apparently, the volume was hard to come by. Getting to the bar, however, proved to be problematic, and it was confounded by the time spent stopping at each accident they happened upon.


Driven by a sense of responsibility Rube would be astounded to learn Mason possessed, Mason had called a halt to their walk each time he saw a dead body. He would then run a hand over the person or people in question. It didn't always work; reapers were assigned a specific allotment of souls, and not every person who died that morning was Mason's personal responsibility. He ended up collecting four souls and promptly sent them on their way.


It took them hours to get to Pax Pacis. They didn't dare Apparate when they had no idea what they'd Apparate into; it may not kill them, but it would waste their time. The bar was in shambles, unsurprisingly. Garbage, which had previously been contained in a group of trashcans in the corner, lay in splotches on the concrete before the entrance. The lights that had illuminated the stage were pointed in every direction now; some of them blinked, others dimmed in and out, and others weren't on. Tables and chairs had been thrown about the room, and the various bottles and glasses behind the bar were in odd places.


Lorne sat at the bar on the only righted stool, glass and bottle in hand. He glanced up when they entered. "Looks like someone came in and trashed the place, doesn't it?" he asked bitterly. "Wouldn't be the first time. First time it happened to this place, though." He drained his glass then swiveled to face them. "Guess you guys didn't get there in time, huh?"


"No," Mason replied.


"We're looking for something, the eleventh edition of The Most Magnificent of Light Magicks. Know where we should look?"


"Mm. That's some pretty powerful light magic. The only people I know who would know where to look for something like that is-"


"The Watcher's Council," Jexter finished. Lorne nodded. Jexter slammed a hand on the counter in frustration. "Fuck!"


Mason watched him, curious. "Exactly what is so bad about going to the Watcher's Council?" he asked him. He made a face. "What is the Watcher's Council?"


Lorne answered him, "They train and help the Slayers." Mason raised his eyebrows, uncomprehending. "The Slayers fight the forces of darkness. They're the good guys."


"Oh." Mason turned back to his cousin. "Didn't you say you helped them?"


Jexter rolled his eyes. "Yes, and I also said they didn't know I had a copy of The Most Gruesome of Dark Magicks. They might end up Slaying me if they found out." He ran a hand through his hair and slammed his fist against the counter again. He squeezed his eyes tight. "I'm going to kill him," he said, faintly.


Mason patted his back. "It's not your fault, Jex."


"Maybe." He took a deep, steadying breath. "I guess we'll have to contact the Council, then."


Mason slapped his back and turned back to Lorne, who'd watched the exchange. "Can we borrow your phone, by any chance?"


Lorne grimaced. "I'd let you, but there'd be no point. Your boy's spell has effected the phones, too."


"Damn!" Mason looked puzzled at his cousin. "What're we gonna do now? We don't have time to go to Cleveland ourselves."


Jexter looked unblinkingly at him for a long moment. "We owl them," he replied in an obvious tone.


Mason blinked, then smiled sheepishly. "Oh. Right." He looked outside and scowled. They'd have to go back out there if they wanted to get to the owlry.


As if on cue, they heard a horrible screech and crash, accompanied not long after by the sound of a store alarm, which belted out the chorus of Joe Diffie's 'John Deere Green.'


All three of them winced.


Mason bit his lip as he debated with himself for a long moment. "I have to do my job," he told Jexter.


Jexter looked about ready to protest, but kept his mouth shut and nodded instead. "I'll go to the owlry at Listrious Place. How about I meet you back at the hotel tonight?"


Mason grinned at him in gratitude for understanding. "I may be a little busy," he warned, "but if I've got the time, I'll be over there tonight."


Jexter nodded again. He turned to Lorne. "Thanks."


Lorne only shrugged, looking grim. "Don't mention it. Just be careful. Both of you."


The wizards nodded before exiting the bar, leaving the battle-worn demon behind them.


 


===24 hours from Now, approx. 9:00 AM


Der Waffle Haus was closed for the first time in years. Rube took a seat on a cleared space of ground in front of the doors and waited for his reapers to arrive. Daisy, Roxy and George had all come and gone; now, all he had to wait for was Mason.


Mason thought he looked as bad as him. Mason felt exhausted; it wasn't surprising considering he'd been awake for twenty-six hours straight.


Rube got to his feet when he saw Mason. With a tired sigh, he pulled out his notebook and tore out a thick bundle of post-it notes. Mason whistled as he leafed through the thick stack. "I've already reaped some of these," he told Rube.


His boss nodded and sighed. "Before you ask, I have no clue what's going on." He waved helplessly around at the destruction. "I'm as clueless as everyone else."


Mason nodded. "I'm sure it won't last," he said.


He was trying to be reassuring, and instead he got suspicion. "Mason?" Rube questioned.


Mason hesitated. "Rube?"


Rube was glaring now. "Do you have anything to do with this?"


Oh, crap, Mason thought, staring at his boss' face. "No." He shook his head quickly. "Nothing at all."


This only served to piss him off more. "Bullshit."


Shit! "Um, Rube, er, I really should get to my assignments."


He turned to walk away, but Rube lay a hand on his shoulder and turned him back to face him. Rube was livid. His entire face was red. Mason gulped.


"What did you do?" Rube demanded, accentuating each word.


"Nothing!" the younger reaper repeated. He wondered if he could get away with another Obliviation Charm, assuming he could even reach his wand... He raised his hands in surrender. "I swear to you, I have nothing to do with this." Technically, it was true; he hadn't been the one to cast the ritual, Ethan had.


Rube studied him for a moment, then let go of his shoulder. He pointed a finger in Mason's face. "If I find out you do have something to do with this, I will personally ram all these concrete bits down your throat." He waved vaguely at the bits of concrete scattered about the ground.


With that, Rube turned and stalked away, assumedly off to collect his own souls. Mason watched him go and took a deep, shuttering breath. "Right, then."


 


===2 1/2 days or 58 hours from Now, approx. 7:00 PM


Mason didn't make it to Barnub's Hotel that night or the next morning. The entirety of his time was spent collecting souls and sending them off to the hereafter, and Rube had a few more to give him the next morning. Thankfully, this stack was much thinner, as it would seem that the chaos had stopped spreading and the living were learning to be more cautious. Each post-it in this second stack were all early appointments, which meant he was done with them by noon.


By that time, he was so exhausted that he couldn't even walk straight. Mason collapsed in a tree-filled grove blessedly free of inanimate objects and promptly fell asleep, where he proceeded to sleep for five and a half wonderful hours.


He awoke when his stomach complained loudly, demanding to be fed. Feeling very cheerful now that he'd had some rest, Mason got to his feet and began the dangerous journey to Barnub's.


Once there, he was amazed to find that most of the hotel was back to its original condition. He quickly discerned the reason why; it would seem that wizard magic worked against and not with Wiccan magic. The Second Rite of the chaos ritual had caused some havoc in the hotel at first, but wand-laden hotel employees had quickly rectified that, casting spells upon spells to repair everything. They, too, were nearly exhausted, but most of the people around town were equally deprived of sleep, so that was nothing unusual.


Mason grabbed a bite to eat at the downstairs restaurant before heading up to the fifth floor. Jexter, he discovered, had gotten a full night's sleep and looked a lot better than he had when Mason had last seen him.


"You look like death warmed over," Jexter commented, taking in Mason's appearance. He frowned. "Er, I mean-"


Mason smiled and pushed past him into the room. He plopped down on the bed his cousin wasn't using and buried his head in the pillows. "Did you get to the owlry?" he asked, voice muffled.


"Yeah, yesterday," Jexter replied. "I haven't gotten a reply yet, though I expect one to arrive in the next few hours."


"Great. Wake me up when it gets here."


 


===2 1/2 days or 60 hours from Now, approx. 9:00 PM


Someone was shaking Mason awake. He rolled over, expecting to see his cousin, only to jump, startled by the sight of the red-haired woman leaning over him.


She grinned, highly amused. "Hi!" she greeted him cheerfully.


"Hi," Mason replied in a strangled tone of voice. He squeezed his eyes shut, but when he opened them again and the woman hadn't vanished, he grinned. The wake-up call may have been unexpected, but it certainly wasn't unwelcome; he had no idea who she was, but she was beautiful.


She smirked. "I'm gay," she informed him bluntly.


"Huh?" Mason asked. When his brain caught up with his hearing, his grin vanished. "You sure?"


Her eyes twinkled as she bit her lip. "I think my girlfriend would be pretty upset if I wasn't."


"Oh." Mason deflated considerably, plopping back against the mattress.


"Mace, this is Willow Rosenburg from the Watcher's Council," said Jexter, smirking. "Willow, this is my cousin, Mason Rayne."


Mason sat up again. "Watcher's Council? How'd you get here so fast? Are you a witch?"


Willow nodded. "Yeah, only not the kind you're thinking about. I'm a Wiccan witch."


"She came to perform the balance ritual." Jexter motioned at the floor. "I wasn't good enough or powerful enough to do it myself."


Willow gave him a stern look. "Giles wants to have a talk with you, when you get back."


Jexter grimaced and nodded.


It was then that Mason noticed the various spell ingredients arranged about the room. There was a protective circle, drawn on the carpet with white chalk between the beds and the table, broken after Willow had stepped out of it. Candles were also spread out about the room. Tucked under Willow's arm were two volumes, which Mason assumed were The Most Gruesome of Dark Magicks and The Most Magnificent of Light Magicks. "You performed the spell while I was asleep?" Mason asked, bewildered.



Jexter smirked. again "You were pretty out of it. We tried to wake you."


The reaper swung his legs onto the carpet and rubbed his eyes. "Well, I feel super now, at least." He grinned.


Jexter got to his feet, looking grim. "Good to hear, 'cause we still have something to do."


Mason's brow furrowed. "What?"


Willow walked over to the table and dropped the two volumes on it. "Ethan. I know where he is."


Mason's eyes widened. "Is he still in town?"


She nodded. "Ethan always stays to watch. It's kind of his MO."


"Met him before, have you?"


Willow winced. "Unfortunately." She turned to Jexter. "No offence, Mr. Rayne."


Jexter grimaced, then shot her a sad smile. "It's okay, Willow, and for the twentieth time, call me Jexter."


Mason smiled before getting up, stretching, then walked over to his cousin. "You up to this, Jex?"


Jexter shrugged. He pulled out his wand and proceeded to magically clean up the chalk.


Willow and Mason exchanged glances. "You don't have to come," Willow suggested.


"No, I'll come," he said, sighing. He gave them a humorless smile. "It's the only time we ever get to spend together."


 


===61 hours from Now, approx. 10:30 PM


They walked to the hovel where Willow said they'd find Ethan. Mason and Jexter stared open-mouthed at the scenery they passed. Everything had been restored, as if nothing amiss had occurred. Sidewalks were whole again, the bars of fences were straightened and evenly-spaced apart. Shoppers all over the city discovered to their delight that they could once again que up at the counter. Televisions, radios, and the like all worked normally or not at all, according to their original conditions.


Most of the town was mystified by this second turn of events. Few Muggles could explain it. Those few Muggles who did know about magic, along with the wizarding officials sent to investigate the effects of the Second Rite, wondered who or what had been behind it all, but were nevertheless glad that it seemed to be over.


The only evidence that remained of the effects of the Second Rite and its counter-ritual were the accidents, both the remains of old ones and a few new ones. Some of the counter-ritual's 'repairs' had caused a few injuries or damage, but not too much. Mason winced as he thought about having to pay a visit to the morgue to reap those souls he'd missed. He hated going to the morgue.


Willow finally came to stop. "He's there," she said, turning and facing the opposite side of the street.


The wizards drew their wands. "Ready?" Jexter asked. Mason and Willow nodded, and the three magic casters crossed the street and entered the parking lot of the Preston Inn. Mason glanced around. The inn wasn't the most upscale place to spend the night. It wasn't completely shabby, either, though it came close to being so. The parking lot was half-packed with cars, indicating that business was good if not great. A family of three at the far end of the building was busy unloading a car and carrying their bags up to their second floor room. Mason didn't see anyone else except for one man in his late forties or early fifties who was walking their way.


Mason froze. "Oh, fuck." It was Rube.


"Hide your wand, quick!" he told Jexter as he slid his own wand behind his back.


"What? Why?" Jexter asked. He looked in the direction Mason was gazing and his eyes widened. "Isn't that your boss?"


Willow gave them all puzzled looks. "Does he know you're a wizard?" she whispered this because Rube was much closer now.


Mason shook his head in reply.


"Mason," Rube said in greeting. "What the fuck are you doing here?"


"Well, you're certainly one with the cuss words, aren't ya?" Willow commented.


Rube glanced at her. "I'm sorry, I need to speak with my colleague for a moment."


He grabbed Mason's arm and pulled him away a few yards.


"Rube!" Mason protested. Rube looked at him. Mason hated it when Rube gave him that look. It was the look that promised pain. "Look, this has nothing to do with you-know-what, okay?"


"Then what does it have to do with?"


Mason opened his mouth, only to close it again. He attempted to try again, only to pause. "Hang on - what are you doing here?"


"I'm doing my job, what the fuck do you think I'm doing here?" Rube asked him. "You think I like hanging out in parking lots?"


The younger reaper could imagine the steam rising from his boss' head. "No. No, sir. Just...the name on the post-it. It wouldn't happen to be a Rayne or a Rosenburg, by any chance?"


Curious, Rube's eyes narrowed. He glanced behind Mason at the two people waiting a little ways away. "Is there something you want to bring to my attention?"


Mason shook his head. "No. Nothing at all."


"Your guy friend looks a little like you, Mason. Now, maybe that's just a coincidence, but if I were to venture a guess and say that his last name was Rayne, would I be wrong?"


Mason glanced back at Jexter then turned back to Rube. "So what if it is?" He was panicking a little now. He just wished Rube would show him the post-it. He had to know. He had to be prepared for it if it was happening. He wouldn't try to stop it. At least, he didn't think he'd try to stop it. He felt that he just had to know.


Rube folded his arms. "Well, if memory serves, I seem to recall that your last name was also Rayne. I was unaware you had any family in town." He shrugged. "'Course, it has been a while since you last mentioned your name, so maybe my memory's just playing tricks on me. You tell me."


"Mace!" Jexter suddenly shouted. Mason spun around, forgetting completely about concealing his wand as he brought it up in front of him. Jexter and Willow were both facing the building. Mason turned in that direction and realized his companions were standing in the space between two parked cars, right in front of an open doorway. Ethan stood in the doorway.


Ethan seemed frozen for a long moment, eyes locked on Willow and Jexter. "Oh, bugger!" he exclaimed before turning left and racing down the sidewalk.


Mason dashed onto the sidewalk before him, effectively cutting him off. Jexter and Willow closed in behind him. Mason glanced around quickly, checking for witnesses. There were none except for Rube.


Mason pointed his wand at Ethan. "Petrificus Totallus!" The spell hit him square on the chest...with no effect whatsoever.


Mason stared from his first cousin once removed to his wand. "Huh?" he asked, bewildered.


Ethan looked equally as shocked, then started to grin. "Personal shield," he clarified. "Bloody hell, I wasn't sure it would actually work. Good to know I got it right for once."


"Not entirely, Ethan," Jexter said. He turned to Willow. "Can you get through it?"


Willow nodded. "Easily." She did not, however, raise a hand or utter an incantation. "Let me know when you want me to," she told Jexter. He nodded.


Ethan turned so his back was to the wall. He looked very nervous now. "What're you going to do, old man?" he asked Jexter. "Are you going to drag me all the way back to England and turn me over to the Dementors in Azkaban?"


His father smiled humorously. "Actually, the Dementors aren't at Azkaban anymore. Just ordinary, human prison guards are there now. It should be a lot less painful, at least emotionally."


Ethan's eyes widened. "You can't be serious! Surely you wouldn't do that to your own son? You won't send me to prison?"


"You shouldn't have left it in the first place, Ethan," Willow said, shaking her head.


Ethan glared at her. His look turned stormy, almost animalistic with rage. Mason, Jexter and Willow all found themselves taking a step back at the unexpected ferocity of it. "I was never in prison!" he shouted. "That Slayer friend of yours certainly knows how to pick her boys. You know what they did to me, in that place in shitting Nevada? They interrogated me, they experimented on me, they ran tests of every description. I was nothing but a lab rat!" His whole body shook and his voice cracked. "They were as bad as facing the Dementors, if not worse. At least the Dementors don't touch you except to deliver the Kiss!"


Jexter and Mason were horrified. Mason glanced from Ethan to Jexter, shocked to his core. He couldn't imagine it, being treated as nothing but a test subject. "They...tested you because of your magic?"


Ethan nodded. The rage seemed to have left him. "Yes." He met all of their eyes. "They'd treat all of you even worse." He pointed at Rube and Mason. "Even the two of you!" He looked at Willow, his expression twisting back into a glare. "And especially you!"


"But you escaped," Jexter protested. "You got out of there, son. Why not go into hiding? Why revert back to the very thing that made them want to experiment on you?"


Ethan laughed. "What's this, father? Are you finally interested in what your son does? Well, tough. You had eighteen years worth of chances to find out and you've wasted them all."


"He's addicted," Willow said quietly, in answer to Jexter's question. She swallowed. "Wiccan Magic can be addictive. It's impossible to just stop using it. If you try, the addiction just gets worse and worse until you can't control the magic anymore."


Ethan stared at her, startled. "Well, yes, that's part of it," he admitted reluctantly, "but not all." He turned back to his father. "I'm a Chaos Worshipper, father. I completely despise order. I always try to have a little fun wherever I'm going, and that involves wreaking havoc upon the masses."


"But-at the cost of all those people's lives?" Jexter cried, very distressed. "Don't you know how dangerous dark magic can be?"


Ethan shrugged. "Well, yes, there are going to be side effects."


Jexter gave him a disbelieving look. Angry now, he repeated, "'Side effects?' I-"


Ethan held up a hand and his father ground to a halt. "Spare me the lecture, father. Even if I did want to turn back from my evil ways, there's no way I could. I'm too far into this."


"Piss off a few more demons lately?" Willow asked, glaring. "I seem to recall it's what you're good at."


"Just the one," Ethan replied. His eyes darted around nervously. "Chaos Lord named Histlor. He doesn't like it when his rituals are interrupted."


As if on cue, lightning flashed in a storm less sky, followed almost instantly by thunder.


"Sounds like Histlor isn't too happy with you," stated Mason, scanning the horizon for more lightning bolts.


Fear shone in Ethan's eyes as he stared out at the sky. He turned pleading eyes to Willow. "Look, you've got to let me go, please. You won't ever hear from me again, I promise. I'll leave the country."


Willow gave him a steely look and shook her head. "Not gonna happen, Ethan. Giles says you're not trustworthy, and after all the times we've run into each other, I'm inclined to agree with him. Besides, the Watcher's Council is pretty much a worldwide organization. It wouldn't matter what country you ran off to."


Thunder and lightning struck again instantaneously. The bolt struck the pavement of the parking lot, blasting through it easily and leaving behind a deep, gaping hole. "Shitting-!" Rube swore as he leapt out of the way.


"Fucking hell!" Mason swore, staring in horror at the hole. His eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets when several octopus-like tentacles slithered out of the hole and reached from Ethan.


Willow waved an arm. A wall of purple magic flew out from her and pushed the tentacles back into the whole. The beast below cried in outrage.


Willow held a palm up to keep the field intact. The tentacles resurfaced and pushed against it. "Damnit!" the witch swore. "I can't hold this for long!"


"Lower Ethan's shield! Now!" Jexter ordered.


Willow pointed unseeingly at Ethan. "Lower!" she cried. A field of white energy that surrounded Ethan sizzled into visibility for a moment before dissipating.


Jexter ran at Ethan and placed a hand on his arm. There was a loud pop and then the two of them disappeared, having Disapparated.


The tentacle thing screamed again, realizing its prey was gone. It sunk back into the hole and the hole sealed up behind him, leaving behind restored, unbroken pavement.


The parking lot was suddenly very quiet and still. Mason blinked, shocked, and was surprised to realize he was breathing heavily. He stared at the spot Jexter and Ethan had been. "Damnit, Jexter!" he said, heartfelt.


Willow lowered her arms. She, too, was panting, and if anyone had been looking closely, they would have realized that her eyes were completely black. She stayed standing for a long before she started to topple. Snapping back to his senses, Mason saw her falling and rushed forward. He caught her before she hit her head on the hood of the nearest car.


"Thanks," she said, still panting. She glanced around Mason at the empty sidewalk. "Any idea where they could have gone?"


He shook his head. "No clue." Wherever it was, he hoped Jexter came back in one piece. He did not feel the same way about Ethan.


He heard footsteps and looked up into the completely stunned speechless face of Rube. "I-I don't know if I wanna know what is going on," he said in a dazed tone of voice. "Do I wanna know what is going on, Mason?"


Mason gave him a sympathetic smile. "Oh, I doubt it, Rube." Mason didn't think he wanted to know what was happening. He remembered what Rube was doing there in the first place. "Who was on the post-it, then?"


"Oh." Rube glanced behind him. He was still rather out of it, and it took him a moment to remember the answer to Mason's question. "I already took her soul. She's over there, unloading the car."


"Ah." There really wasn't much else to say besides that. Mason let out a sigh.


"Tell you guys what," Willow said, speaking up now that she'd caught her breath. She slowly got to her feet, leaning a good deal of her weight on Mason on the way up. "How about we go find something to eat." She looked at Mason. "You can tell him all about magic while we eat. I'm starving."


Mason glanced from her to the empty spot two feet away. He was reluctant to leave. "I don't-"


Willow smiled at him. "They'll be fine," she assured him, even though she looked like she had her doubts. "All I'm saying is, it may be hours or even days before either of them turns up again. We might as well treat ourselves to some nice, succulent food in the meantime."


Mason deflated. She was right. Besides, the likelihood that they'd show up again in that very spot was even more uncertain. He sighed. "Let's go to Der Waffle Haus, then." He clapped Rube on the back. "I promise I'll explain everything there."


 


===63 hours from Now, approx. 12:00 AM


They ate their meals without saying much of anything. Afterwards, Willow left the booth, claiming a need to make a long phone call and went outside to use her cell phone. She left Mason and Rube sitting across from each other and staring at their empty plates.


Mason really didn't want to have this conversation. For one thing, he wasn't good at talking. For another, he'd never had to tell Muggles about the wizarding world, and wasn't sure exactly how. For another, he just didn't want his coworkers to know. It was why he'd obliviated Rube, George, Roxy and Daisy when they'd stumbled into the alley and seen the crups. This time, though, he wasn't going to perform the Obliviation Charm. He was going to confess.


He pulled out his wand and laid it lengthwise on the table. Rube stared at it. "Please tell me that's not a wand," the older reaper murmured, resignedly.


"I'm a wizard," Mason stated. "A wand wizard, to be specific."


Rube nodded. "Your friends, too, huh?"


"Yeah. Jexter - he was the other guy with the wand - he's a wand wizard, too. Willow, though, is a Wiccan witch. Ethan was kind-of a sorcerer. There are different types of magic," he finished lamely, grimacing at his eloquence.


"Different types?" Rube repeated, incredulous. "You've gotta be shitting me."


Mason pressed his lips together in thought. "Well, see, it's like this." He held up one hand. "You've got your wand wizards and witches. Now, there are a few million of these people wondering about the planet. They were all born with the ability to cast magic."


"Does that include you? You were born with this ability?"


Mason nodded. "Yeah, I was."


Rube barked out a laugh and rubbed his eyes. "You know, I've seen some strange things in my time, but I never thought magic would be one of them. I was convinced magic wasn't real."


Mason quirked an eyebrow. "Even with the gravelings about?"


Rube grimaced. "Gravelings. You get used to them and stop wondering how they could even exist. Do they exist because of magic?"


He shrugged. "Dunno. Wouldn't surprise me."


Rube studied him. "Why'd you keep it a secret, Mason? Why not tell me?"


Mason laughed. "Why, Rube? You're a Muggle, uh, a non-magic person. There are laws in the wizarding world that forbid wizards from telling Muggles what they are."


"Then why tell me now?"


He sighed. "Because you were bound to find out sooner or later. I just hoped it would be later. Much later." He twisted his lips as he tried to choose his words. "Wizards and witches, you see, have stayed hidden since the time of Merlin. None of us fancy being burned at the stake, as you can probably imagine."


"Merlin was real?" Rube asked, not at all surprised. He was probably still in shock.


"Oh, yeah," Mason answered, nodding. "He's one of the great ones."


Rube nodded. Mason regarded him, concerned. Rube had yet to blow up like normal. He feared that his boss wasn't taking this well at all.


"So what was that thing that came out of the ground?" Rube asked conversationally.


"Some Chaos Lord. Probably from Hell," Mason replied in the same tone.


"Chaos Lord, huh?" Rube buried his face in his hands. "You think you know a person..."


."..and it comes back to bite you in the ass," Mason finished with a smile, thinking about his own problems concerning his cousins.


Rube peered at him over his hands. He dropped them and leaned back in the booth. "I'm probably going to regret asking this, but exactly what was happening a few hours ago?"


"I don't think you want to know," Mason asked, giving him a nervous smile. He so didn't want to get into the fact that he was related to two of the people who were involved.


"Probably not." Rube sighed again, leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling. "What about whatever the hell's been going on the past few days? Was that magic, too?"


Mason nodded. "Yeah. Ethan cast a chaos ritual that made everything go wonky for a bit, but Willow cast the counter-spell so everything would go back to normal."


Rube nodded in understanding. He was silent for a long moment, and therefore Mason was as well. Mason wasn't sure what was going through the older reaper's head, but then the only emotion of Rube's he could recognize with certainty was anger. At the moment, Rube was expressing anything but anger. It didn't put Mason at ease at all.


Rube's head came down to stare at Mason's wand. He reached a hand out to it, only to stop and meet his eyes. "May I?"


"Um, sure."


Rube picked it up tentatively, as if afraid it would blow up. The sight made Mason smile a little. The older reaper turned it over in his hands, staring at it in all directions.


"Uh-" Mason reached out and pushed the tip away from Rube's face. "Really not a good idea to point it at you."


Rube replaced it on the table. "So how does the whole wand magic thing work?"


"Well..." He wrapped his hand around the wand handle. "Er, I pretty much pick it up like this, point it at something, and speak a spell." He pointed at his glass, which was empty. "Diffindo." With a crack, the glass broke neatly in two. Before Rube's staring eyes, Mason tapped the crack and said, "Reparo." The crack neatly sealed itself and the glass was whole once again.


Rube picked the glass up and studied it, mouth slightly agape as Mason sheathed his wand.


"Hey," Willow said, announcing her presence as she stepped up to the booth. She smiled apologetically. "I have to go back. There's some big demon guy who's trying to take over the world."


She said this almost casually. Mason and Rube both stared at her. "Deal with that sort of thing often, do you?" Mason asked, tone baffled.


Willow shrugged. "Only semi-annually. It was nice meeting both of you. I'm going over to Jexter's hotel room to get the books, and then I'm heading to Cleveland to help with the crisis du jour. "Bye!" She walked to the door, then paused at the entrance and whirled around. "Call me when Jexter or Ethan shows up!" she called, then turned and left.


Rube stood up. "I'm going home. I'll talk to you about this tomorrow."


Mason nodded. "Of course. See you tomorrow, Rube."


The younger reaper remained in the booth, staring off into space. He wondered, again, where Ethan and Jexter had gone. He hoped Jexter knew what he was doing.


So much had happened in a matter of days. Mason's biggest secret was now revealed to his supervisor, and he was back in contact with a member of a family he hadn't spoken to in thirty-eight years. He'd discovered that one of his cousins owned a shop on a Hellmouth, occasionally practiced Wiccan Magic and sometimes even assisted others in fighting demons, vampires, and the like. He'd also found that his other cousin, who had been born a Squib, not only regularly practiced Dark Wiccan Magic but also worshipped Chaos. It had been an eventful week, to say the least.


 


=== 5 days from Now, approx. 8:00 AM


Two days went by without interruption. The destruction caused by the two rituals was cleaned up, and the souls of the people killed during those days were sent on their final destinations. Life in Seattle returned to normal, or as normal as it could get with a population consisting of wizards, witches, demons, vampires, reapers, one or two vampire Slayers, and the Muggles who were oblivious to all of those previously mentioned. Muggles, as usual, found some way of explaining the peculiarity of the week's events and continued to live in blissful ignorance of the supernatural.


Rube and Mason talked some more about magic and the wizarding world from which Mason was raised. Mason got a warning that he wasn't to hold anything back from now on, and Mason convinced his boss not to tell anyone about the world of magic, especially Daisy, Roxy, George and any other reapers Rube may come upon.


Mason was sitting across from Rube, busily eating a breakfast he'd actually ordered. Daisy was sitting next to him, looking over the menu.


"I wonder if I should try the eggs benedict," Daisy pondered.


"Don't," Rube advised. "The new cook never makes them exactly right."


Mason pointed with his fork down at his own meal. "This here is really good."


Daisy peered over the menu at the plate. "Mason! Did you order that yourself?"


"Had to. You hadn't shown up yet and Rube had already eaten. I was starving."


Daisy patted his cheek. "Oh, you poor dear," she said insincerely.


Roxy sidled into the booth across from her. "Anything good today?" she asked, nodding at Rube's empty dish and Mason's half-empty plate.


"The sausages are good this-" Rube stopped, eyes narrowing in puzzlement. Mason, Daisy and Roxy looked up at this. Seeing where he was gazing, they turned their attention to the door.


George had just walked in. Before the door swung closed behind her, a brown barn owl swept through the open door and over George's shoulder. Not expecting it, the young reaper jumped and cursed, then watched with the rest of the restaurant's patrons as the owl glided across the room.


"Where the hell did he come from?" Roxy asked, as surprised as everyone else.


"She," Mason corrected absently, having recognized the sex of the bird the moment he got a good look at her.


"What?" Roxy inquired, turning a confused gaze to him.


He didn't notice. He saw the owl descend toward him and, without thinking, held up his arm. The bird settled down on the proffered perch and sunk her claws into his leather jacket sleeve.


"Hello there, lovely," Mason greeted the bird. She hooted at him in response and held up her right leg. Tied to it with a green ribbon was a rolled-up piece of parchment. One-handed, Mason pulled off the tied ribbon and caught the scroll before it could fall. The owl hopped off his arm and onto the table when he attempted to unroll the letter.


Hey, Mace. I'm at your place. Come over ASAP.


-Jex


His eyes scanned the hastily written note and a relieved grin broke out on his face. "Oh, thank God!" Feeling jubilant, he looked around at his companions. They all stared back, open-mouthed.


"Mason?" Rube asked, tone approaching upset. He was the only one besides Mason who knew why an owl was delivering Mason's mail, and he didn't sound happy about it.


Mason's grin faded a little at his glare. The wizard reaper looked at the owl and then around at everyone else. He realized for the first time just how quiet it had become.


Kiffany walked over, staring at the owl. She stopped a few feet away, obviously not keen on being any nearer to the animal than necessary. "The bird can't stay in here. No pets allowed."


"Right. Er, sorry." Mason held out his arm again and the bird obligingly hopped back onto it. Mason stood up and looked to Rube. "Can I have my post-it, please?"


Rube opened his ledger and took out one of the post-its. He held it out for Mason to take, only to pull it back at the last minute. "Do I have to remind you about what will happen to you if you go blabbing to the wrong people?"


Mason shook his head. "No. It's nothing, Rube, I promise."


Rube held out his hand and this time Mason was able to snatch the post-it away. He stuffed the post-it and the parchment in his jeans pocket and then hurried out the door, conversation beginning again among the other customers as they returned to their meals.


"What the crap was that?" George demanded, staring from Mason to Rube and back again. Daisy and Roxy also looked inquiringly at him.


Rube slapped a post-it down in front of each of them. "It's none of your damn business," he said definitively.


 


===5 days from Now, approx. 9:00 AM


Mason walked into his house and grinned when he saw who was sitting on his couch. "Jexter!"


Jexter stood, smiling as Mason pulled him in for a hug. "Hello, Mason."


Mason sat down next to him on the couch. "What happened, Jex? Where'd you go when you Disapparated?"


"Somewhere quiet, out in the middle of nowhere." He winced. "I was hoping we could talk or fight or something, just come up with some solution."


"Did you?"


Jexter snorted. "Oh, yeah, we talked alright. Then Ethan got out of there. I'm still not sure exactly how. Some Wiccan thing."


Mason smiled sympathetically. "He'll turn up again, I'm sure."


His cousin nodded. "Of course he will. And more people will die when he does."


"Guess so, yeah," Mason said, shrugging.


"Mace-" Jexter hesitated, then plowed on, "Where do people go, when they die?"


Mason smiled uneasily. "Don't know. I haven't gotten there myself."


Jexter stared at the carpet. "Think Ethan and I will end up in the same place?"


He grimaced. "Don't know," he repeated, wishing he could say something more.


Jexter smiled deprecatingly. "Probably not." He stood up. "I'll just have to hope for another chance in this life."


Mason got to his feet and smiled. "You do that."


Their eyes met. "Will you ever get to move on, Mace? Like Aunt Janis had hoped?"


Mason nodded. "Yeah, I will, eventually."


Jexter smiled. "Good. At least someone in this family will have a happy ending."


The reaper patted him on the back. "Care to stay for lunch? I've got an appointment in an hour, but I can probably meet you afterwards."


Jexter winced at the mention of his appointment. "No, thanks, Mason. I'll have to take a rain check."


"Um, okay, then."


Mason led the way to the door. "Be sure to write if you ever need anything," he told Jexter in a fit of protectiveness.


Jexter nodded. "I will. I have to go now, though. There's something going down that involves a five-headed beast and the end of the world that the Council needs my help with."


Mason blinked. "Is that the same thing Willow mentioned a few days ago?"


He laughed. "Uh, no. That was taken care of already. This is something worse."


"Oh." The reaper laughed nervously.


Jexter gave him an amused grin. "Oh, Mason, Mason. You really should keep up with the times. Then you'd know this sort of thing happens all the time."


"It just makes me relieved I don't work in Supernatural Causes."


Jexter let out a surprised bark of laughter before pulling the door open and walking outside. "I'll come by next week if I have time!" he called back as he walked down the path.


"See you then!"


Jexter waved and Mason waved back. Jexter grinned. "I'll tell Cheslie you said hi!"


Mason smiled before a look of horror came over his face. "Cheslie? Oh, sweet, miserable - Uh, Jex? I'd really appreciate it if you didn't-"


Jexter grinned before Disapparating away.


 


===The End

The End

You have reached the end of "Rite as Rayne". This story is complete.

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