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Everyone is King When There's No One Left to Pawn

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Beacon Hills was never a town of peace. How could it be, with a nemeton’s roots so firmly embedded in the ground?

No, Beacon Hills was never a town of peace.

There were droughts and earthquakes, regularly combated by wicked storms and good homeowners insurance. The town’s streets met the feet of both strangers and neighbors. There were annual Strawberry Festivals, high property taxes, and a fairly decent bowling alley.

Life was pretty average. Ordinary.

Balanced.

Beacon Hills was never a town of peace, but it was also never one of horror.

That is, it wasn’t, until a weary fox buried a jar amongst the nemeton’s ancient roots.

Yeah, that’s when things got pretty fucked.

 


 

Noshiko Yukimura, in all her years, had never known a numbness as sharp as her own blade.

She knows it now.

When she calls upon a dark demon, eyes unable to look away from the tattered bandages wrapped around Rhys’ brutalized body, all she knows is grief.

When she stares at the bodies littered across Eichen House’s front lawns, all she knows is regret.

Because of one man’s greed, her entire world has turned into chaos.

And as she plunges her katana into her lover’s reanimated corpse, she can’t suppress the hysterical laugh clawing its way up her throat.

She should have known better.

For all the trickery that the nogitsune is capable of, its intentions sure are reliable.

Chaos begets chaos, after all.

Why had she thought it would turn out any differently?

Noshiko had never meant for the nogitsune to run rampant. She had only wanted for it to taste the tears of their captors, to lick up every drop of their terror.

She hadn’t wanted it to feast on her friends. On innocents.

On the rest of the world.

And certainly not on Rhys.

As she stumbles through the dark woods surrounding Beacon County, a monster trapped inside a glass jar and these thoughts—these haunting, burning thoughts—are her only companions.

Noshiko, delirious in her grief and tired in her rage, is drawn towards the center of the forest, her knees finally giving out as she trips over a root.

She lifts her head just enough to gaze up at the old, sprawling oak tree towering over her. Its bark glows gray under the moonlight, its limbs spiral up and sway amongst the stars. Noshiko recognizes the drum of energy emanating from the tree, from the nemeton. And in time with that beat—that dreadful devil’s tattoo—she starts to dig.

As she buries the ancient demon below ancient roots, tears and sweat drip down her face. When the last handful of dirt is once again packed into the earth, Noshiko feels a surge of power.

And then nothing.

Nothing but that sharp, terrible numbness.

She staggers to her feet and takes a single step backward.

And then another. And another.

Noshiko walks backward until she can’t see the nemeton’s branches anymore. When it finally disappears from view, she tears her gaze away and shuts her eyes as tightly as she can.

“It will hold,” she whispers to herself. “It will hold.”

A brisk wind cuts through her, rattling her bones. She turns her back to the forest, teeth beginning to chatter.

She opens her eyes and nods once, a shaky reassurance. “It will hold. It will have to.”

Noshiko Yukimura, in all her years, had never known she was capable of simply walking away.

She knows it now.

Reaching the edge of the trees, Noshiko steps out onto the road and begins to walk.

She allows herself one last glance behind her, and takes a deep, stuttering breath.

“It will hold.”

 


 

It doesn’t.

 


 

In December of 1945, eight months after the horrific events at Eichen House—the newspapers had pointed the finger at a pack of man-eating mountain lions, go figure—Sebastian Hale makes his way steadily through the Beacon Hills preserve.

As the newly appointed Alpha of the pack, he’s being sent to perform their annual sacrifice to the nemeton.

A few drops of blood, a few words in ancient Gaelic—bodda-bing, bodda-boom—balance!

At least that’s what his pops had told him.

What he finds, though, is nothing like his father had described.

The nemeton is…bleeding.

Thick, black ooze trickles down the trunk—scratch that, climbs up the trunk. It spreads slowly, soaking into the bark and staining the base.

It’s rotting.

Taken aback, Sebastian wolfs out involuntarily—like a pup who’s just discovered its tail—and runs back to the house.

He needs his Emissary.

There was no way a smear of blood and some butchered Gaelic oath was gonna fix that fucking mess.

Sebastian had never heard of anything like it. But he knows they’ll reverse it, whatever it is. The nemeton’s job is to protect the town, and it’s their pack’s duty to protect the nemeton. A righteous purpose like that always wins out in the end, after all.

“We’ll find the answer,” Sebastian huffs to himself as he speeds through the forest. “We’ll figure out what’s wrong. Be right as fucking rain, it will. It’ll get better.”

 


 

It doesn’t.

 


 

It starts out small.

A slight uptick in the number of omegas that pass through Hale land. None feral or looking for a permanent home, but still often enough that the pack performs nightly patrols.

Wildflowers seem dimmer.

Birds chirp less often.

Autumn leaves fall too soon and bloom too late.

They’re not immediately obvious, the effects—until they are.

They find a mad kelpie in the lake, a sickly band of brownies in the northwest area of the woods.

The omegas passing through are no longer travelers, but enemies that only stop when the pack makes them stop.

Beacon Hills’ petty crime stat grows larger. The town experiences its first murder-suicide. And then its second only two months later.

The land and everything belonging to it become a shade darker—just like the nemeton.

 


 

Yeah, it’s pretty fucked.

 


 

1968 is a year of many things.

Talia Wilhelmina Hale is born.

The Vietnam War rages on.

Rosemary’s Baby premieres in theaters.

Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are assassinated.

“Hey Jude” plays on every radio station.

Oh, and Sebastian Hale, tired of watching the great tree rot into a shadow of its former self and scared of letting the black ooze climb further up the trunk, cuts the nemeton down.

 


 

“Why do we keep coming out here, Dad? There’s nothing left to protect.” Talia eases herself down to the forest floor, hand resting instinctively on her slightly swollen stomach.

“Of course there is!” Sebastian exclaims, running a tentative hand across the tree’s ashen bark. “Even if I haven’t found the cure, I’m damn sure going to keep it alive to the best of my abilities. It’s still holding on—I can feel it. And even if I can’t find the solution, maybe one day you and your brothers can.”

Peter looks up from his book and furrows his brow. “You can still feel it, Father?”

Sebastian walks over and crouches next to his youngest child. “Of course I can, my boy. It’s very old, and very powerful. Everything in this forest can feel it—even you, if you try hard enough.” He ruffles a hand through Peter’s feathery hair.

Peter hums, thoughtful. “If it’s as old and powerful as you say…well, maybe what’s hurting it is just as old and strong.”

Sebastian blinks, rocking back on his heels before tilting his head to the side. “That is…an interesting point.”

Peter nods, because of course it is. He closes his book and leans forward. “Maybe the answer is to get something even stronger than the tree or the black goo. Something that can take care of the nemeton better than we did.”

Sebastian inhales sharply and stands up, hooking his weathered hands underneath Peter’s armpits and lifting him into the air. “You, my smart little man, just earned yourself some ice cream.”

Peter grins. “As long as I don’t have to eat it the way Talia does—pickles and strawberry ice cream is gross.”

Talia sniffs. “It’s not my fault. Blame her,” she points at her abdomen.

Sebastian stops swinging Peter around. He gives his daughter a watery smile and asks, “It’s a girl?”

Talia answers with an equally teary grin, “Yeah, James and I found out at my appointment last Tuesday. We were going to tell everybody at the wedding rehearsal.”

Sebastian marches over and helps Talia to her feet, hugging her tightly as they both cry.

Peter wriggles between them, embarrassed at being surrounded by a bunch of cry-babies. He rolls his eyes. “Yes, yes. We get it, it’s a baby—a girl baby. Woo. Hurray. Can we get some ice cream now?”

 


 

For a year, Alistair Hale and his young protégé scour through supernatural texts. They perform ritual after ritual, trying to call upon a benevolent being or force that will tend to the nemeton.

They chant in several languages, pray to a handful of different pantheons, and sacrifice many, many goats. There’s even a chilly October evening where the two Druids strip down under the moonlight and get completely plastered on ceremonial wine, spouting angry ancient Greek up at the sky.

Yeah, they don’t really talk about that night.

But they try. They call and they beg and they plead.

And there’s never a reply.

Alistair's apprentice, after a few months of performing unanswered rituals, once asks why.

Alistair just wipes his urine-soaked hands on his robes and says, “Because the old gods, dearest Deaton, are assholes.” He tosses the knife he’s holding into the dirt and waves his hand. “Now make yourself useful and pass me the next sheep’s bladder.”

 


 

As a year of searching comes to a close, Alistair and Deaton are still without their Powerful Benevolent Miracle Grow™.

And so they huddle behind closed doors, kneel before their Alpha, and tell him as such.

Now Peter, the cleverest of almost-eight-year-olds, isn’t a fan of closed doors. So, he takes matters into his own hands.

From his vantage point, his ear firmly pressed against the hole he had drilled in the wall behind his father’s favorite painting, he can hear their Emissary’s progress—well, anti-progress? regression?—report. He listens quietly, trying to memorize exactly what Alistair says.

It takes him three days to realize what they were doing wrong.

 


 

“I know who they’ve been telling you to call upon,” Peter murmurs, running an open palm across the tree stump. He curls his fingers, digging sharp claws into soft flesh. Peter allows it to drip into the central ring of the nemeton. “But they aren’t what you need, are they?”

Peter focuses, closing his eyes and chanting the same phrase in every language he had translated it to.

Any and all that can revive and protect a nemeton, I demand your aid.

“Why beg when you can order?” Peter whispers, watching his blood soak into the tree.

A sudden gust of wind whips through his hair, and Peter feels something in the ground start to beat—a rhythm eerily similar to that of his heart.

He smiles as his wounds close. “And why ask for a good being’s help?” Peter watches as some of the ooze retreats from where his blood has pooled. “When did being kind get anybody anywhere?”

Peter waits for a moment, nods decisively, and then starts back towards home.

“No,” Peter yells out, challenge dripping from every syllable. “Benevolent entities need not apply.”

 


 

Two weeks later, the infertile wife of a newly appointed Beacon Hills deputy finds out that she’s pregnant.

A miracle, her doctors call it.

Well, that’s one word for it.

 


 

Mieczyslaw Gajowy Stilinski is born unto the world on April 8, 1987, crying horribly and with his bright hazel eyes shut tight.

Strangely enough, at the very same second he takes his first breath, an earthquake rocks Beacon Hills. Not enough to cause any serious damage—but enough to split the center of a rotted tree stump, a single defiant branch emerging from the wreckage.

 


 

When Mieczyslaw is three, he finds it funny to mock anybody that talks to him. His parents think it’s amusing—that is, up until one afternoon when he snakes a sneaky hand into the cookie jar, looking for an extra treat.

“Mischief, don’t touch that! You’ll spoil your dinner.”

“Mischief, don’t touch that! You’ll spoil your dinner.”

His mother freezes, shock etched into her face and the hairs on the back of her neck standing straight.

She stares into her baby’s eyes, not quite able to look away from the smirking mouth that had just mimicked her words—that had stolen her voice.

Claudia tries to relax, but the knowing glint in little Mieczyslaw’s eyes won’t let her.

In the end, he eats the cookie.

She couldn’t find it in herself to say anything else about it.

 


 

For his fifth birthday, his mom and dad take him for a picnic in the preserve.

He toddles off as soon as their backs are turned, his footsteps soundless as he passes by plants and animals alike. Each creature shuffles forward, unable to resist the pull of their new companion.

Deer and rabbits and bobcats and foxes—prey and predators both—incline their heads as he wanders by.

Trees and flowers and tall stalks of grass sway in his direction.

Bees buzz lovingly in his ears and toadstools and dahlias sprout in the wake of his footsteps.

Mischief sighs as he travels deeper into the woods, the quiet sound morphing into a gentle breeze between the trees.

As he spots his friend, he smiles—eyes turning bright, more green than brown in the light.

Mischief settles himself atop his friend, ever mindful of its new growth, and begins to talk. He chatters and he squeaks, he mimics the calls of birds and babbles like a brook. He yells and he cries and he roars a mighty, terrible roar. And through his constant sound, the nemeton is soothed.

The split in the middle widens, and Mischief sticks a curious hand down its center. He pulls out a jar, dusty and cracked. The edges are crusted in black and a fly is furiously buzzing inside.

“You're not s’posed to be here,” Mischief says, poking at the glass.

LetmeoutletmeoutletmeoutletmeoutLETMEOUTLETMEOUT—

Mischief narrows his eyes. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

LET ME OUT, YOU INSOLENT CHILD! DO YOU KNOW WHAT I AM? WHAT I AM CAPABLE OF? I AM CHAOS! I SHALL FEED OFF OF—wait, what are you doing?

Mischief frowns and shoves his hand in the jar, snatching up the fly and squeezing it tight. “You’re very mean.” He looks down at the nemeton. “And you hurt my friend.” His eyes glaze over. “I don’t think I like you.”

He squeezes tighter.

H-how? I feel, no—it can’t be! How are you doing this? I can’t—the fly struggles, its menacing buzzing turning into desperate gasps. You’re just…a child, how—?

“I’m older than I look.”

And then Mischief’s tiny fist finally crushes the fly, and the nogitsune knows no more.

Mischief calmly wipes his hand on his shorts—bug guts are gross, after all—and scurries off of the nemeton.

The sickly stump is gone, a short but sturdy seedling standing in its place.

Mischief smiles, the expression as bright as the sun. “You look much better, my friend.” He remembers that it’s his birthday, and that his dad got him a chocolate cake. “I’ll be back. I promise.”

On his way out of the woods, he spots a sign declaring: Beacon Hills Preserve, No Entry After Dark. He scoffs and knocks it down from its post, laughing mischievously. “It’s not like it's theirs anymore.”

 


 

It really, really isn’t.

 


 

Mischief is eight when his mother tries to drown him.

She calls him a changeling, a devil-child.

Mischief knows that she’s not wrong, but she’s not entirely right, either. He is something other, but he is also himself. There is no separating the two, as they are the same.

Mischief loves his mom for many reasons, but most of all because he’s never had one before—and because she used to read him stories and pat his head and call him her darling.

Claudia doesn’t do those things anymore, but Mischief loves her all the same.

 


 

When Stiles is nine and, well, calling himself Stiles, he figures out that he’s not the only one in Beacon Hills with a secret.

The Johnsons down the street smell like lightning.

The local vet smells of Hawthorne.

And Laura Hale smells like wet dog.

He’s seen her take on four bullies at once, so he makes it a point to never mention it to her.

 


 

Stiles is ten when he realizes that other people might have clued into the fact that he’s got a secret of his own.

Lydia Martin is holding court at recess, playing word games far beyond the comprehension of the average ten-year-old.

It’s why Stiles likes her so much.

He and Scott are passing a basketball back and forth.

Laura Hale is leaning against the chain-link fence, suspended from recess because she punched Chad Anderson in the nose, and eavesdropping out of boredom.

Jackson is pretending that he understands what Lydia is saying.

And Greenberg? Well, Greenberg is her latest victim.

Lydia has moved on from lecturing to asking riddles and mocking people when they don’t guess correctly.

Stiles doesn’t really get what’s fun about mocking people, but to each his own.

Now, scaring people in the woods? Getting them lost and turned around for hours on end? Whispering over their shoulders? Knocking down the Beacon Hills Preserve sign over and over? That’s his idea of fun.

He’ll never get tired of it.

Ever.

“Everybody has it, but no one can lose it. What is it?” Lydia asks sweetly.

Greenberg begins to sweat. He tries to turn his back on them and continue playing with his Pokémon cards, but Lydia keeps confronting him.

“What is it?” she grins.

“Like he knows,” Jackson laughs. “He’s stupid.”

Laura cracks her knuckles.

Stiles goes to pass Scott the ball, but misses, and accidentally hits Jackson in the face instead.

Accidentally.

“Stilinski, I swear to God I’m gonna—”

He doesn’t get very far, not with Coach Garcia and her warning whistle. Jackson stops in his angry march over to Stiles after only two whistles.

Stiles isn’t very impressed. He glances over at Lydia and says, “A shadow.”

Her red hair fans out as she turns to look at him in surprise. She squints for a few seconds and then dismisses him. “Jackson, I’m bored. Let’s go.” And then she saunters off towards the benches.

Scott snickers. “You showed her, man.”

Stiles smiles faintly. “I did, didn’t I?”

“Yo, Stilinski!”

He whirls around in time to see Laura lift her chin to beckon him over.

Scott’s eyes widen. “Dude, Laura Hale said your name.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Yeah, she sure did. She even said ‘yo,’ too.”

“Shut up,” Scott shoves him. “Go talk to her.”

“Alright, alright. I’m going.”

He sidles up to her on the fence and leans back casually. “What’s up? Having a Hale of a good time?”

Laura’s face screws up. “Do you ever stop making useless noise, Stilinski?”

“Nope,” he puts a lot of pop! into the word. “It’s one of my best qualities.”

“I’ll bet,” she mutters, eyes focused on the ground. She looks around, slowly dragging her gaze back up to meet his own. “You realize you’re wearing your shirt on backwards, right?”

He stifles a laugh. “Yeah, I know.”

She cocks her head. “And you know you’re wearing your shoes on the wrong feet, don’t you?”

A huge grin breaks across his face. “I do. It’s a bit of an…inside joke.”

Laura offers her own small smile. “Okay. Just thought you’d like to know.”

Stiles nods, still a bit curious, and then starts to walk away.

“Oh, and Stiles?” Laura catches his arm, the grip tight and unyielding. Claws dig into his plaid.

Interesting.

He meets the eyes of a fellow predator. “Yeah?”

“You also realize that you don’t have a shadow, right?” she pulls him closer and whispers, “Thought you oughta know.” And then she releases him right as the bell rings, disappearing inside.

Stiles looks around himself, the hot sun shining bright overhead.

Huh. He’d forgotten about that.

Scott hurries up behind him and claps a hand on Stiles’ shoulder. “What’d she want?”

Stiles puts his hands in his pockets and grins, the edges of his smile bordering on manic. “She wants us to be friends.”

 


 

Stiles is eighteen when he finds the huntress in his woods.

It’s not the first time she’s traveled through, but it is the first time he makes the connection with her scent.

It’s been all over Derek for the past month. Freshman Derek. Just turned fifteen Derek. Brother to one of his best friends Derek.

And this bitch has to be at least 25.

Stiles frowns and steps out of the shadows.

 


 

Kate Argent is many things, but easily frightened isn’t one of them.

That’s why, when a figure steps out onto the trail in front of her, she doesn’t scream. In the moonlight, she can only make out pale skin and a lanky frame.

She decides to play it cocky and bares her teeth in the semblance of a grin. “It’s a bit late for a stroll in the woods, isn’t it sweetheart? You never know what might come and getcha.”

The dark chuckle isn’t what she expected in response, and the bass behind it has her blood running cold.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself, huntress,” the figure says. In the shadows, his form seems to grow. An ethereal overlay starts to expand and take shape.

Kate takes a step back.

“I’ll not ask you again, Argent. What are you doing in my woods?

This time, Kate screams. She catches a glimpse of the stranger, of his incorporeal overlay turned corporeal, and screams.

She thought she’d seen every monster there was.

Oh, how she was wrong.

She screams because in front of her is a giant—a giant with verdant vines hanging from his head and his chin, with glowing green eyes sunken into his skull, and with pale horns curling around his ears, each tipped with a dripping, wet crimson. Blue veins pop under the whiteness of his skin and clusters of poisonous toadstools cling to him in random places, a hideous mockery of freckles and moles. The man has a club in his right fist, the size of a small tree and roughly worn into the shape of a…Louisville Slugger?

He smells of pine needles and rotting meat.

A simple chain of daisies rests upon his head.

Kate screams and she screams—unable to look away from this nightmare brought to life—until something cool and earthy wraps itself around her head, digging into the crevice of her mouth.

“Now isn’t that better?” the creature muses. “The only person I want wailing in these woods is me, thank you very much.”

The giant drags itself closer, the sound of its footsteps utterly silent. It takes in her teary, desperate eyes and asks, “You’re not going to be of any use to me, are you?”

She gathers her wits and shakes her head defiantly.

“I’ve killed humans before,” the giant continues, “not really my ‘thing,’ per se. But I’m not really opposed to it…” He takes a loud sniff. Even Kate can smell the ash in the air. The creature’s eyes grow cold. “Not when it’s a human such as you.”

And then the cold, earthy thing wrapped around her mouth grows tighter. She can feel smaller ones start to bind her entirely. These things—vines—drag her to her knees. Kate starts to pant, the vines crushing her ribs, restricting her air.

She swears she can hear blood vessels pop!

The creature shrinks down right before her eyes and it crouches in front of her face. She can just make out the grim smirk from behind its swaying green beard. “I just want you to know, before my friend eats you, that your plan didn’t work.”

Even though her vision is fading, Kate’s eyes widen.

The giant chuckles. “This is my land, Katherine Argent. Did you really think its fires would burn for you?

The creature straightens and turns away, walking forward a few steps before disappearing back into the darkness.

Her last thought is of that demon’s horrible face—and of the feeling of being dragged towards the gaping maw of a giant, hungry tree.

 


 

Peter awakens with a hacking cough.

He can still feel the smoke filling his lungs, his arms wrapped around his two youngest nephews. Peter knew that the lick of flames was next, and was glad he had passed out before he could feel it while fully conscious—but now that he’s awake, he’s…confused.

There’s no burning sensation, no aches or pains other than the one in his lungs. He rolls himself over and starts to push himself up, only for a cool hand to push him back down.

His eyes fly open.

A teenager is hovering over him.

“I know your law school is far away and time-consuming, but I can’t believe it took you almost burning to death for me to finally meet you, Peter.”

The sarcastic lilt to those words, the smug smile, the tousled bed-head and stupidly backward shirt—ah, oh yes. He’s heard about this particular teenager before.

He’s more handsome than Laura made him out to be. “You must be Stiles.”

Stiles’ grin grows wider. “I must, I must.”

That startles a chuckle out of Peter, which brings about another disgusting cough. Stiles reaches over and grabs a cup of water. Bringing the bendy straw up to Peter’s lips, he orders him to, “Suck.”

Peter eyes the straw and then Stiles. For some god-forsaken reason, he relaxes back into the mattress and obliges the boy. Stiles watches, attention rapt and strangely possessive, as Peter wraps his lips around the straw and takes a nice, long pull.

When he’s done, Stiles places the cup back on the night-stand. “Your family is okay, Peter. You’re all at the hunting cabin right now.”

Peter hears no lie. “What happened?”

“Kate Argent tried to roast you guys like a rack of ribs.”

“Charming,” Peter bites out. He checks under the sheet and finds his body unscathed.

Stiles gnaws on his lip. Peter finds it stupidly appealing. “You’re, uh, fine.”

Peter decides to let that go without mocking him. “And what, might I ask, are you doing here?”

The boy’s eyes seem to glow. “Now, that’s a loaded question, Peter Hale. But, I’ll answer it, because I like you. What am I doing here, you ask? In regard to this very specific instance, I’m here because I killed Kate Argent, fed her to the nemeton, and put out the fire that was going to turn you into a wolfy charcoal briquette.”

Peter has to lock onto his facial muscles to stay calm. “I see.”

Stiles cocks his head. “Do you really?” He reaches a hand out and slides it over Peter’s, turning it over so that their palms are touching. “Because the second part to that answer is even more…complex.”

Peter can’t seem to look away from where their skin meets. Something in him—his wolf—rises within and stares at Stiles like prey.

“The reason I’m here, at all, and in a very physical sense, is because you demanded that I come.”

Stiles doesn’t blink, doesn’t look away—he just holds Peter’s attention until he becomes aware.

That dreadful devil’s tattoo.

Everything in this forest can feel it—even you, if you try hard enough.

Peter feels something in the ground start to beat—a rhythm eerily similar to that of his heart.

I demand your aid.

I demand your aid.

I demand your aid.

And Peter—he fucking gets it. He leans forward, interlocking their fingers together and staring hungrily into this fascinating enigma’s eyes. “Why beg when you can order?” he whispers, a thousand questions weighing down his words.

Stiles chuckles mischievously and kisses him, tongue tentative and teeth sharp. Against his slick lips, Stiles murmurs, “Benevolent entities need not apply.”