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(Fic) The History of the Watchers' Council - Chapter Three

18th January 2011 (12:51)

This is Chapter Three of my account of the Council's history, in which they have to cope with Assyrians, Persians and Macedonians.  For the introduction and contents, go here.


 
In 323 BC, the Council saved the world from the apocalypse by preventing an Ascension.


Kilib Lu'ennugi - Watchers' Council of Babylon 1746 - 275 BC
 

The Civil War left the Brotherhood of Shadows in ruins, with much of its former leadership either dead or discredited. The Interventionist Faction came off worse; people still remembered that they had been the first to use the Slayer as a weapon against their colleagues, and their self-interested, power-seeking policies were held to symbolise all that was wrong with the old Brotherhood. The Conservatives were blamed for losing control and letting things get out of hand, however; and the team of radical young leaders who took power in the aftermath of the war were determined not to repeat their mistakes. As a symbol of their fresh start, they decided to give the organisation a new name: Kilib Lu'ennugi, the Council of Watchers. This deliberately referred to the old mocking name for the Conservative Faction - Lu'urru - but while lu'urru and lu'ennug both mean 'watcher', the first implies simple observation, while the second implies a watchman or sentinel. It was a reminder to everybody that the paramount duty of the Council was to stand guard on humanity.

As its name implies, the new organisation was intended to be not a loose Brotherhood, but a tightly organised Council. Weak discipline and lack of central control were blamed for permitting the growth of factionalism and local independence, and ultimately causing the Civil War. This would no longer be permitted. Policy would be imposed from the top, and total obedience required at all levels. King Hammurabi was in the process of drawing up a strict and detailed law code for his Babylonian empire - an achievement for which he is still famous today - and the Council followed his lead by codifying their own rules in writing. However, the new leadership was wise enough to know that laying down the law would not alone be enough to keep the Council united. A system of hierarchy and rank was set up within the organisation, with a clear path for promotion from one level to the next based on ability, loyalty and experience rather than mere political favouritism.

Steps were taken to bring the outlying septs of the old Brotherhood into the new Council organisation too - although some resisted and some compromises were necessary. The key change was that the Slayer would no longer be the sole responsibility of whichever branch of the Council she happened to be nearest when she was Called, a system which the Civil War had proven was wide open for abuse. Instead, trusted representatives of the central Council in Babylon would be sent out - via teleportation - to take charge of the Slayer directly. A tour of duty in the field like this was established to be an essential step on the career ladder for Watchers whose ambition was to become part of the top leadership one day. These representatives would also, of course, act as agents and ambassadors for the Council to its outlying members. This loss of control caused much resentment among the non-Babylonian branches of the Council, although this was mollified by permitting them to come to Babylon to study in the Council libraries there. While the teleportation spell used by the Watchers could be used one-way in a pinch, it was much easier to cast if two people swapped places simultaneously - so when the Head Office rep went out to the local branch, an exchange student from the branch was brought to Babylon for a few years, until it was time to reverse the spell.

The Council prospered during its years in Babylon, but this was also a period of stagnation for them. Following rules and procedures was valued above all else. Long gone were the days of mad, inspired magical research that so extended the boundaries of human knowledge during the time of the Shadow Brotherhood of Sumeria. Latter-day Council scholars were more interested in codifying and classifying the knowledge they had inherited than in adding to it. One mark of this is that within its chambers and meeting halls, the Council still preserved the use of the Sumerian tongue long after it had become a dead language in the world outside, replaced by the Akkadian tongue native to Babylon. (Akkadian is a Semitic language, an ancestor of Arabic and Hebrew; Sumerian is unrelated to any modern language.) Few Watchers used magic themselves anymore, and those who did often cast spells by rote, reading them from books instead of manipulating the forces of magic directly as their predecessors had done.

Shattered Council 689 - 275 BC

The Middle East saw many empires rise and fall, but the Watchers' Council remained aloof and oblivious. Their policy of non-intervention had hardened into immoveable law; most members of the Council barely set foot outside the ancient temple complex which was their headquarters in Babylon. The policy of sending out field Watchers to take responsibility for a Slayer was still maintained - it was traditional, after all. But whereas these had once been important and powerful people on the fast track to a senior role in the Council leadership, now the duty was passed off to whatever junior apprentice could not evade it. The outlying branches of the Council might have benefited from the slackening of central control, but for the most part they were equally ossified: anyone with ambition or skill did their best to manoeuvre themselves a posting to central HQ in Babylon and a comfortable life there.

This torpid lifestyle came crashing to an end in the year 689 BC. By this time Babylon was no longer the capital of an empire, but it still retained great prestige as a holy city and centre of culture and learning. However, in 692 a prince named Mushezib-Marduk took power in the city, calling himself King of Babylon and raising a rebellion against the Assyrian empire which currently ruled the Land Between the Rivers. Three years of war followed, which the Council largely ignored as usual. But then the victorious Sennacherib, King of Assyria, crushed his rival in battle and came down like the proverbial wolf on the fold against the rebellious city. Babylon was besieged, captured - and then destroyed. The temples and walls were razed to the ground, the people slaughtered or enslaved, and then for good measure Sennacherib diverted the course of the River Euphrates to flow through the ruins of the city. Not even the Council could stand aloof from this.

Nevertheless, they survived. Much of their headquarters was destroyed, many of their members were killed, and their centuries-old secret stores of wealth had to be emptied to pay bribes to prevent the Assyrians killing the rest of them along with the townspeople. Eventually Babylon would be re-founded; Sennacherib's son and successor even had himself crowned there in a gesture of repentance to the gods of Babylon. But the real disaster only revealed itself a year or two later, when the time came to teleport a junior Watcher to Magadha in India where a new Slayer had just come to light...

...And the Council realised that the four senior magicians in their ranks who could cast the teleportation spell had all been among the dead during the Sack of Babylon. Not yet seriously alarmed, they went to the archives to consult their ancient spellbooks, confident that the spell would be recorded there. It almost certainly had been - except that when the River Euphrates had been set to flowing through the city, it had flooded the storerooms where their records were kept and reduced all of them to nothing but a heap of soggy wet clay. The teleportation spell was lost - along with many other magic secrets from antiquity.

Desperate now, the Council tried to reconstruct the spell from memory and scraps of notes and commentaries that survived the sack. The Watcher who was to be sent to Magadha was the first recipient of the new spell - he arrived in India sure enough, but unfortunately he arrived there turned inside out. They tweaked the spell and, more cautious now, tried it out on a condemned criminal instead of a volunteer. The poor wretch was teleported to the destination from head to foot, one millimetre-thin slice per second over the course of five minutes (it would have been longer had he remained standing). Further experiments (with animals this time) proved equally unproductive and messy, and eventually the Inner Council put an end to them.

The Council was now broken; there was no way for the central organisation to exchange personnel or exercise control over the branches scattered all around the world. It seemed inevitable that they would drift apart and fragment. Nevertheless, the Council was determined to do their best to avoid this as much as possible. Watchers would still be sent out from the centre to take charge of Slayers - but now they would have to travel by sea or even overland, taking months or years to make a journey that their predecessors did in the blink of an eye. Though the fiction was maintained that they could still return to take a senior role in the Council one day, everybody knew that it was likely to be a one-way trip. The Council was able to retain reasonable ongoing links with those lands which were connected to the Middle Eastern trade network, including India, Egypt, Southern Russia and the Mediterranean, but more distant regions quickly slipped away and faded into little more than legend. Indeed, for over two thousand years Council members dismissed the story that there had once been Watchers in a land on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean as a mere fairy-tale.

The next four centuries were perhaps the Council's darkest time. Their accumulated wealth and magical knowledge had been mostly lost in the Sack of Babylon; they no longer had active links with their former world-wide network of associates, and many Slayers lived and died without ever being contacted by a Watcher. Nevertheless, later historians would mark this as a time of testing where the Council found its purpose and re-defined itself to meet the modern world. The old arrogance was gone: the Watchers now had to re-engage with the world again. Because their representatives had to travel overland to their destinations, they had a new interest in ensuring peace, stability and ease of communications along the routes. The old edict of non-involvement was reinterpreted to forbid interference for selfish or self-aggrandizing purposes: Watchers would now be permitted to engage in behind-the-scenes politics if they could justify it as being for the greater good of humanity. (Of course, since they themselves were the sole judges of that, the way was open for abuse. But their motives were good ones.) Indeed, the scattered network of Watchers all across the Middle East, and the overland and seabourne travel routes they set up to link them, served a valuable secondary purpose in encouraging trade and commerce, and allowed the Council to begin repairing its mundane fortunes. It is also believed that the Council encouraged the formation of the Persian Empire as a means of ensuring security and peace throughout the region - references to Magi with strange powers may be a rare sighting of Council members in general history books.

The Council's relationship to its Slayers also evolved during this period. Previously, the Watchers and their Shadowmen predecessors had only been interested in girls once they became Slayers; they swooped in (literally, by magic), snatched the girl from her previous life and set her against their enemies, caring nothing either for her as a person nor for the family she left behind - unless, of course, they were too powerful to offend. The fact that in most cases they didn't even bother to learn the Slayer's name before sending her to die on their behalf sums up everything that was wrong with that approach.

Now, though, the Council lacked the power to be so casually callous and arrogant. They needed to win the Slayer's loyalty rather than enforce it through magic; and being tied to a single location, they were also vulnerable to the vengeance of any aggrieved relatives she might have. That required diplomacy, negotiation and bribes rather than force majeure. Furthermore, the fact that Watchers had to be stationed permanently in a region instead of being sent out once a Slayer was located meant that for the first time they started paying attention to the Potentials in their region. Those girls, identified by unreliable divination magic, who might one day become Slayers. It became part of a Watcher's tasks to track them down, identify them, and even try to reach a rapport with her and her parents that would be useful if she ever developed Slayer powers and had to be called to duty.

Preventing the Ascension

The new kinder, gentler Council proved its worth in another incident which, like the Civil War a millennium earlier, is taught to all new Watchers as an object lesson. The Persian Empire that they helped found and supported had ensured peace for several centuries, but by the late Fourth Century BC it was crumbling from multiple threats. When a barbarian warlord named Alexandros Argeid led his army from the north in an invasion it seemed like just another in a long series of costly wars - but then Argeid won a series of unbelievable military victories that suggested to the worried Council members that he was using dark sorcery to overcome his opponents. This fear seemed to be confirmed when instead of marching on the Persian capital directly to plunder it, as any self-respecting barbarian warlord would do, he instead went on a long diversion to Egypt.

Here he spend many weeks searching through dusty tombs or sending expeditions out to seek lost temples in the desert and questioning the priests there. Only then - having found what he was looking for - did he turn his army around, sweep away all opposition as easily as before, and advance to the heart of the empire. Not to Susa or Persepolis, the Persian capitals, however, but to Babylon. The ancient, crumbling city that for nearly two thousand years had been the world centre of magical knowledge and research, thanks in no small part to the activities of the Watchers' Council itself.

Fearing his motives, the Council went into hiding and sealed their records. Frustrated in his search, the newly proclaimed God-King set off again on a long winding journey that would take him and his army to the ends of the known world in a search for who-knew-what. Frighteningly for them, the Council was starting to put together the clues and work out exactly what he did want. The final piece came when an agent returned from Egypt with news of what the warlord had been questioning the priests there about.

How to become a god.

No, not a simple god-king such as had ruled the Middle East for uncounted generations. An actual god; a True Demon. He was planning an Ascension; and once he achieved divine power, the people of Babylon and the whole Persian empire and beyond would be merely food for his demonic appetite. When he returned from his long expedition to the mysterious East he sealed himself in his palace and according to the rumour in the city, was devoting himself to drinking and debauchery. The Council's diviners soon learned the truth: he was beginning the ritual that would culminate in his Ascension. It was May in the year 323 BC; a month that would in future generations become notorious for apocalypses.
 



 


The Council acted at once. The Slayer was sent into the palace to assassinate the God-King, shielded by enchantments to get her through the warding spells. She reached her target, pulled out a knife from inside her dress, and stabbed him right through the heart. He looked down at the blade in curiosity, pulled it out, then grabbed the Slayer by the hair and slit her throat with it.

The next Slayer to be Called was named Athanasia, the daughter of a Macedonian settler in Syria. She was apparently alerted by a dream of what was happening in Babylon, and found her local Watcher herself and told him that she needed his help to save the world. At his own personal expense the Watcher, Rachim, arranged for the two of them to travel by swift horses to the city, where they were met by the Council. Athanasia was warned that the God-King was apparently now invulnerable; but she had a plan.

She arranged for herself to be brought into the palace as a serving-girl. It was reputed that the God-King had an eye for feminine boys and masculine girls, so she cut her hair short and adopted a swagger as she walked: and when one of Argeid's courtiers leered at her and attempted to grope her, she caught his hand, dropped and rolled and sent him flying across the room to crash into another table. After a moment of stunned silence the other nobles reacted with anger; but the God-King laughed out loud and invited Athanasia to share a cup of wine with him. She did so gladly, that day and every day thereafter. As a servant, she even brought the wine herself, too. The God-King's foodtaster might have complained at that, but since Athanasia drank half the wine herself from the exact same cup, there seemed to be nothing to worry about.

In fact, the wine was indeed poisoned - enough to kill any normal human. As a Slayer, Athanasia merely had to spend a wretched time sweating and vomiting each night as her superhuman constitution struggled to overcome the poison. As for the God-King, the ritual of Ascension made him invulnerable for exactly one hundred days, so it had no effect on him at all...

...until the moment he began to transform into his new True Demon shape, and the accumulated poison in his body, enough to kill a dozen horses, all took effect at once. He died in excruciating agony, his body swelling up to almost twice its normal size and starting to putrefy almost instantly. His followers hastily sealed it inside a stone coffin and sent it to be shipped back to his homeland - but the Watchers' Council intercepted it en route and arranged for it to be burned to ashes, just in case. The world had been saved by the courage and self-sacrifice of the Slayer, and the God-King's merely mortal followers set to fighting each other in a mundane, human fashion to determine who would rule his empire after him.

(The legend says that Athanasia and Rachim then ran away together, got married and lived happily ever after, depriving the Council of a Slayer for numerous decades until she eventually died peacefully in her sleep at a ripe old age - the only Slayer ever to do so. But the Council's records deny this, and nobody knows the truth.)

 



Next chapter: Boulē Phúlakōn Antiócheiās - Watchers' Council of Antioch 275 BC - AD 1268

Comments

Posted by: brutti_ma_buoni (brutti_ma_buoni)
Posted at: 18th January 2011 18:44 (UTC)

That's just cruel misdirection, to use the illustration and then make Alexander into a more militaristic version of the Mayor. ("Well, gosh. I have no more worlds to conquer.")

I love the loss of the spells, especially teleportation, driving the watchers to a more humane and active policy with the slayers. The sack of Babylon, and the flood - yeah, that would do it, and the archivist in me shudders at their poor business continuity planning. Ack.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th January 2011 20:13 (UTC)

"Well, gosh. I have no more worlds to conquer."

I laughed. :-) But the picture shows Alexander blotting out the sun, which is surely ominous foreshadowing? (Literally so.)

The Council had clearly become decadent and sloppy, and too lazy to make back-ups, which is how they were caught out. :-) I must admit, when I read the detail of Sennacherib diverting the Euphrates to flow through Babylon I thought it was perfect for my story... then I realised the Council's archives in those days wouldn't be written on paper, but on clay tablets. Would a flood damage clay tablets? I suppose it depends on whether the clay has been fired...

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 18th January 2011 19:03 (UTC)

It seems like Athanasia's story would have been worth a full fic in its own right. :-)

I wonder... was Willow the first mortal to rediscover teleportation magic since the Watchers lost it? She must have gotten the recipe from Aluwyn. Even Dark Willow couldn't teleport, but had to use her Tasmanian Devil spell instead.

The Vengeance Demons could teleport, but I guess they wouldn't be keen to share the spell with Watchers or Slayers or any mortals.

This was an interesting way of interpreting Alexander's actual movements during his campaign, BTW. Guess True Demons aren't immune to poison.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th January 2011 20:24 (UTC)

There are lots of ideas for fics in this history. :-)

Anya does say that witches "at Willow's level" can't teleport in 'Two To go' - but later on after she's had a power-up from Rack, she does indeed teleport: not only herself but Buffy too. And of course, Amy was able to teleport Warren to safety at a moment's notice, so it's not only Willow who can use the spell. I imagine it as being something that's very, very rare, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that no mortal in 2700 years ever re-discovered the spell. It just never went into widespread use, and/or died with its rediscoverer(s).


It was quite scary how little I had to change Alexander's history to make it fit with this interpretation. ;-)



Posted by: Damien Sullivan (mindstalk)
Posted at: 2nd March 2011 01:52 (UTC)

Nice stuff so far. A friend asks where you got your Sumerian.

Didn't Willow and Tara teleport Glory into space? Though if the issue is safety I guess she'd be easier than a meatbag.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 2nd March 2011 11:04 (UTC)

Thanks!

The Sumerian vocabulary came from here:
http://psd.museum.upenn.edu/epsd/index.html
http://www.sumerian.org/sumerlex.htm

Willow and Tara did teleport Glory into space in 'Blood Ties', but it was clear it was a new, experimental spell they didn't really understnd - Willow got a nosebleed from casting it, and they didn't actually know where they'd sent Glory!

Posted by: giantpanda_de (giantpanda_de)
Posted at: 18th January 2011 19:17 (UTC)

Love it! This explains so much in history, and canon, and fanfic!

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 18th January 2011 20:25 (UTC)

Thanks! Pretty much all of the historical events I'm describing are genuine, although Alexander wasn't really trying to become a demon AS FAR AS WE KNOW. :-)

Posted by: none of the above (frogfarm)
Posted at: 19th January 2011 10:02 (UTC)

Yes, what the panda said. This is so stunningly fitting the pieces together. (And shiveringly disgusting details, ew!) An all too plausible vision that explains every Watcher and Council decision we ever witnessed.

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