Chapter 30 – Dancing with Devils III
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, or any of the Mythology that I am about to mangle to suit my own twisted purposes. Frankly, if you recognize it, I don’t own it. This work may not be sold or used for profit in any way shape or form for that very reason. Please don’t sue me because I don’t have anything worth taking…
Author's Note: My apologies for the lack of an update last week and the fact that I've been a bit lax in replying to my reviews. I've actually had a good bit less time to work on the story then I had hoped over the past couple of weeks and on top of that, I decided to rewrite a big chunk of this chapter and got way behind as a result. Hopefully, I'll be back on schedule with weekly updates, but it does sort of remain to be seen. Thanks to everyone for the well wishes for my dad, it is greatly appreciated.
-== Chapter Thirty – Dancing with Devils III ==-
Coach Walt was not a happy man. It was a fact that likely would have surprised a great many people, considering that he had just soundly beaten one of the school’s biggest rivals and one of the best teams in the state. Even more amazingly, he’d done it with half of his first string offense missing from the game. Accomplishing such a feat would have left most normal coaches ecstatic about their prospects for winning a state championship, yet Walt took no pleasure in it at all. All he had felt since the opening kick off of the game was a growing, burning feeling of rage. Needless to say that Walt was no ordinary football coach.
Winning certainly came easily enough to him. The fact was that he could most likely beat the Metropolis Sharks with the cheerleading squad if he really wanted to. Compared to leading men into battle, football was a trifle, a bloodless war that was at best challenging and at worst so simple that it was pathetic. For a man who had spent more than a score of centuries commanding armies, losing was often more difficult than winning. It was both a blessing and a curse. He could have been the greatest professional football coach in the game if it weren’t for the fact that attempting to live in such a spotlight and would have proved difficult. His continued existence required things that could not be widely known with great risks. Human sacrifices, in any form, were hardly acceptable in this enlightened age after all, not that he often had to take life by his own hand anymore. In the past twenty-five years, he’d only been forced to take such direct actions twice…
The source of his ire, presumed by many to be the result of his missing players, actually had little to do with football at all, though it did indeed center on the small group of missing players. He’d known that Whitney and his gang of miscreants had failed him the moment he felt their chosen scarecrow get away before the game began. That alone had been adequate to leave him thoroughly upset. Seeing those same failures hanging on crosses on the front lawn of the school after the game had been very much like adding a few thousands gallons of gasoline to a forest fire. Not only had they failed to complete the task he’d given them, they’d somehow managed to expose the ritual to the entire town.
If the coach had his way, he would have had the boys publicly beaten and then drawn and quartered. Unfortunately, the modern world frowned on such displays. Of course, that just meant that he’d have to find some more suitable, or rather more subtle, punishment. Whitney would have to die, of course; no lieutenant could be permitted to live after such a spectacularly dismal failure, but he would make an adequate replacement sacrifice for the escaped scarecrow. The other boys could be spared, once he utterly destroyed their hopes for the future.
As he considered his options, the coach looked around his office with a critical eye. Thanks to this blunder, his time in Smallville was suddenly growing short. It was a shame really, since he had been able to disguise the ancient ritual he performed each year as a team tradition for the past twenty-five years thanks to the school’s team being the Crows. He drummed his fingers absently on the desk absently, letting the heat of his anger drain away to a cold resolve. Unfortunately, the unwanted attention that five very public scarecrows was bound to draw would force him to abandon the ritual in favor of more traditional sacrifices. Sacrifices that couldn’t remain unnoticed for long in a town this small.
No, he would have to leave Smallville within the next year or two. He wondered idly if there were any other schools that used a crow as their mascot…if so, with a new identity, a new appearance and a carefully arranged accident to eliminate their current coach, he might be able to settle down somewhere else for a few decades. At worst, he could always plan to come back to Smallville in a decade or two, once the scarecrow tradition was mostly forgotten and revive the practice.
After all, it wasn’t like he didn’t have plenty of time…what was a few years when you had already lived for millennia?
* * * * *
Lionel Luthor’s eyes froze as they flicked over the report from his inside man on Lex’s staff. He hadn’t paid any particular attention to the news of his son’s car accident earlier in the week as Lex had managed to adequately clean up his own mess for once. When the accident hadn’t made headlines on anything more reputable than a supermarket tabloid, he’d dismissed it as handled. Now, however, he was wondering if perhaps he should have looked at the matter a little more closely. The names of his son’s rescuers stared up at him from the report like the baleful laughter of a mocking god.
Clark Kent, and his brother Alexander, had dove into the river after nearly being hit by Lex’s Porsche and had pulled his son to safety. The two teenaged boys had then successfully resuscitated Lex, who, by all accounts, had drowned in the accident. The boys’ father, Jonathan Kent, had then refused to allow his sons to keep the gifts Lex had sent the boys. The father was the same Jonathan Kent who had helped Lionel get Lex to a hospital in the wake of the Smallville meteor shower and who had latter asked for his help in arranging the adoption paperwork for young Clark.
Lionel frowned slightly, an expression that seemed increasingly at home on his face of late. He’d spent years surreptitiously keeping an eye on the Kent family in the wake of the meteor shower. There had always been something about that adoption that had struck him as odd, but then something had to be really strange for a man like Jonathan Kent to ask for his help. Unfortunately, nothing worthwhile had ever turned up and he’d eventually turned his attention elsewhere.
The one thing he did know for certain, however, was that Martha Kent was barren and to his knowledge the Kents had only adopted the one child. Which of course begged the question of where and when young Alexander had come into the Kent’s lives?
If there was one thing Lionel had learned in his years of doing business and dealing in the more supernatural affairs of the region, it was to never trust a coincidence. His son’s sudden interests in the Kent family had apparently extended into full investigations of the two boys. It was a fact that could be somewhat problematic if Lex uncovered the details of Clark’s adoption and its connection to Lionel. Unless, of course, he took steps to ensure that little fact remained buried.
Lionel reached over and jabbed the intercom button on his phone. Moments later, Dominic’s sycophantic voice answered, “Yes, Mr. Luthor?”
“Clear my schedule for tomorrow and have the helicopter ready first thing in the morning. I’ll be spending the day in Smallville,” he ordered curtly, shutting off the intercom without regard to Dominic’s response.
‘Yes,’ he thought with a half smile, ‘some things should be taken care of in person.’
* * * * *
As the vampires filed into the room and circled the table where the Master’s bones lay, Willow froze in terror. She was too late. She hadn’t been able to rouse the others or manage to find a way to escape and go for help. The vampires were ready to start the ritual and there was still no sign that anyone had even noticed they were in trouble. They were all going to die.
The panic welled up inside her, causing her heart to race and thud painfully in her ears. A dull, roaring sound filled her hearing, drowning out the sounds of the room around her. Somewhere in the whirling maelstrom of her fear, Willow closed her eyes and came to a single, resolute decision. If she managed to live through this, she would never, ever let herself be so helpless again. No matter what it took. In that instant, it felt as though something broke open inside of her and her terrified panic drained away into a crystalline calm. Suddenly, she could feel the world around her in a way that she never could before. She could sense the seething evil of the Hellmouth in the distance and the demonic energies that animated the corpse-like shells of the vampires that surrounded her. She could even feel the calm, still pools of pure Earth energy deep beneath the ground.
But most importantly of all, she could feel it deep inside her: the coiled strength of her own, internal magick. She knew this energy; this power was hers to command. Willow grabbed for it in her mind, trying to draw it up and force it to obey her will. She felt the faint brush of it against her mind as it slipped through her fingers like smoke.
She screamed out her rage and frustration and abruptly felt a tendril of the power snap outward and shatter the metal cuffs around her ankles as though they were made of fragile glass. Suddenly, she understood. She gave herself over to the anger she was feeling, embraced the fury of her often suppressed temper. Her eyes snapped open as her body’s fall stopped midair. An inky, cloak-like cloud of shadows rippled around her as she righted herself and floated above the Master’s bones while the vampires gaped at her. With an almost cruel smile, she lashed out with her anger, feeling an intense satisfaction as the power responded and the vampires around her exploded, turning into rapidly expanding clouds of dust and ash. Even the Master’s bones were not immune as the inky black energy flowed over them and crushed them into so much dust.
Moments later she settled softly to her feet, the power she’d called up dissipating as her emotions calmed. ‘What the hell just happened?’ she wondered quietly as she turned around and noticed that her friends had finally begun to stir.
“Willow?” she heard Buffy’s groggy voice call out as the blonde tried to focus on her. “Willow, what happened? Where are we?”
“We’re safe now Buffy,” she said in a puzzled tone. “The Master’s bones are dust and so are his minions… I’ll try and find a way to get you and the others down.”
The redhead shoved down the power she could feel stirring in response to her puzzlement. Whatever it was, the last thing she needed was for Buffy to see it and decide she was evil. The Slayer just hadn’t been the same since Xander revived her in the Master’s cave. She’d been angry and selfish and downright mean and Willow just wasn’t sure she could trust her anymore.
The only problem was that with Xander gone, who could she trust?
* * * * *
In the hellish pits of the last dimension he’d conquered, the demonic-god called Trigon smiled. He’d seeded many worlds with fragments of his power, shards of his evil essence that could physically bring him into those worlds. He’d felt another of his daughters, another of the mortal children he’d hidden those fragments in, awaken their powers. It was only a matter of time now.
His child would use those powers and the more they did, the stronger those powers would become. Eventually, they would become strong enough that he could use the child as a gateway to enter her world. And once there, he would add yet another world to his kingdom. It was his way, his destiny to conquer and dominate everything he came in contact with. It was inevitable.
* * * * *
“What do I need to do?”
Lindsey’s voice was calm and even as he spoke, deeply impressing Hades. The King of the Underworld hadn’t met a great many mortal men who had the kind of spine that the young lawyer was showing. The god reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and produced an unsealed envelope of heavy parchment paper. He offered it to the young man with a wicked smile. “First off, you’ll need to sign this,” he instructed in a pleased tone.
The attorney took the proffered envelope with a cautious look. He carefully opened it and withdrew a single sheet of heavy paper. Unfolding it, Lindsey was surprised to find a short, typewritten letter resigning his position as an associate at Wolfram and Hart effective immediately. The resignation cited an unfamiliar clause in his contract for his impending departure and the lawyer looked up at Hades. “What is this clause you’re referring to? I’ve gone over my contract with a microscope and I don’t remember there being any clause that I could use to justify a resignation.”
“That’s because it’s a clause that I just inserted into your contract,” Hades said with a chuckle. “It’s an escape clause you can invoke by entering into the direct service of one or more hell-gods.”
“You can do that?” Lindsey asked, clearly shocked by the implications. “You can just change my contract to suit you?”
“Of course we can,” Hel replied coldly. “The Senior Partners may enforce the contracts, but they are fashioned by mortal mages. Any god with sufficient power and the desire to exercise it can alter them.”
“The Senior Partners actually change them all the time,” Hades added with a snort of derision. “They change the rules to suit themselves whenever they see fit.”
“Won’t they just remove this clause then?” The man asked with a frown.
“They’d have to be more powerful then me to do that,” Hades said proudly. “And there are no gods with that kind of power in league with the Senior Partners and few enough of them among the old gods.”
“And you don’t believe that Zeus or Odin or one of the heads of the other pantheons will oppose you on this?”
“You don’t know very much about the power structure of the Olympian pantheon, do you?” Hel asked as an unreadable mask fell across Hades’ features. “Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus are brothers, each equal in power and each uncontestable in their wills. Hades is as powerful as Odin or Ra or any of the other chief deities.”
“I am the most powerful of the Gods of Death or the Dead, Mr. McDonald,” the Olympian declared coldly. “There are precious few other gods willing to risk my wrath over a matter as trivial as the soul of a single mortal man.” There was a dangerous glint in his eye as he spoke, a promise of unimaginable torment. “Now are you going to sign the letter or not?”
Lindsey plucked a pen from his pocket and hastily signed the letter without another word, drawing pleased expressions from both of the gods. “Good,” the God of the Underworld said as another smile spread over his face. “Now remove your suit jacket and roll up your right shirt sleeve.” The god scooped up the letter and carefully folded it back into the envelope. He produced a heavy blot of blood red wax from nowhere and used it to seal the envelop shut.
The attorney did as he was told, albeit somewhat hesitantly, exposing his bare forearm as the two gods watched. Once he was finished, Hel’s hand darted out to wrap forcefully around his arm midway between wrist and elbow. A sharp, fiery pain unlike anything the lawyer had ever felt tore through the flesh of his arm, ripping an anguished scream from the mortal.
“Oh, and this is really going to hurt,” Hades added blandly. “Try not to pass out though or it’ll kill you and you’ll end up in one of Wolfram and Hart’s private little hell dimensions for the rest of eternity.” Despite the fact that the god spoke the words in an almost conversational tone, they cut through the din of Lindsey’s scream and were clearly heard by everyone in the room.
The lawyer gritted his teeth and focused on ignoring the pain. As he did, the pain worsened and a soft, hissing sizzle echoed through the room carrying with it a smell of burnt flesh. Lindsey fought back the urge to pull away and swallowed against the bile rising in his throat. He was strong, he told himself. He could endure this no matter how long it took.
The pain grew worse still, spreading through his entire body to the point where the blackness of unconsciousness pressed in at the edges of his vision. Finally, after what had seemed like a lifetime of torment Hel released his arm and the pain vanished. Instantly, his eyes shot to the arm that the goddess had grabbed. There on the soft flesh of his inner arm, he had been branded with a black skull surrounded by a ring of Norse runes and Greek letters proclaiming him the property of Death and the Underworld in body and soul.
“You’re made of tougher stuff than I gave you credit for Lindsey,” Hel commented in an almost disappointed voice. “I didn’t believe you would endure the marking.”
“I told you he was stronger than you thought he was,” Hades countered smugly. “Now then, Mr. McDonald, there are three things you’ve got left to do. First take this letter your superior.” The Olympian handed him the sealed envelope containing his resignation letter. “After Mr. Newman has read it, you’ll be free of your obligations to Wolfram and Hart and you’ll become our agent on Earth.”
“Your first act as our Hand on this plane will then be to kill Mr. Newman by your own hand,” Hel commanded with a wicked smile.
“Then, finally, you just need to leave the building without dying to receive the full measure of our favor,” the God of the Underworld said as though it were a simple thing. “Leave through the front door and kill anyone who tries to stop you or gets in your way, without mercy or hesitation.”
Lindsey frowned. Intellectually, he knew that he had been responsible for a great many deaths in the few years he’d worked for the firm. He’d worked tirelessly to keep vicious, murdering monsters out of jail. He’d arranged fatal accidents for people who were in his way. He’d even been responsible for causing more than a few people committing suicide, but he’d never killed anyone directly. It wasn’t that he had any moral issues with such acts. He could care less who lived and who died, as long as he was among the former group, but outright murder had been frowned on by the firm. Wolfram and Hart associates never got their own hands dirty if they could help it. “Why?” he asked after a moment’s thought.
“We’re sending the Senior Partners a message,” Hel explained, raising an eyebrow at the question. “You can either deliver the message or be a part of it. The choice is yours.”
“I understand,” the attorney said, forcing an unconcerned smile onto his face. “It’s a show of power, a reminder that there are always bigger fish in the pond.”
“Precisely,” Hades said with a grin.
“Then I suppose I should head upstairs while old Geoffrey is still in the building,” Lindsey began only to be cut off by one of his new masters.
“No,” Hel countered. “It is too late tonight. You’ll do it tomorrow morning, when the potential carnage will be the greatest.”
“The bigger the body count, the more effective the message,” Hades confirmed with a nod, “For tonight, go home and enjoy yourself, you’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
Before Lindsey could respond the two gods vanished, leaving him alone in his office.
* * * * *
Once its hunger was sated, Greg Arkin’s possessed form started to focus on its next need: shelter. It would be powerless, utterly incapable of defending itself, while it changed. Therefore it needed a place where it could hide away undisturbed while its body was repaired and modified by the infusion of demonic power. It wouldn’t take long, just a day or two…maybe less if it could find a concentration of the strange power it had encountered in the insect venom still coursing in its veins.
The alien intelligence of the demonic creature that was empowering the boy’s body stretched out its awareness looking for a suitable place to nest. Distance meant little enough to the power of its unfettered senses, allowing it to search quickly across all of Smallville. It found many small pockets of the strange energy, but all of the largest concentrations seemed to be underwater or near enough to the water to make them useless as a place of shelter. It was about to give up and stop looking for a source of the energy when it found the ideal place. Accessing its host’s memories, it identified the site as the old Smallville foundry.
Getting there would be difficult, but not impossible. Ignoring the still intense pain in his leg muscles, the demonic avatar leapt into the night air with all of its considerable supernatural strength. It sailed through the darkness not unlike the way Thor had when the Thunder God rescued poor little Greg Arkin earlier that night. The miles between it and its destination melted away under repeated jumps. With every landing pain screamed through its body. The body of a normal human being simply lacked the resilience to cope with such strains.
The fourth jump landed it just inside the fence surrounding the foundry. Unfortunately, it also left him without sufficient undamaged muscle or bone to stand upright. The body of Greg Arkin collapsed into a heap on the cold, damp ground. The demonic entity dragged its mangled host slowly, and quite painfully, across the distance to the remaining structure of the facility that had once been Smallville’s biggest non-agricultural employer. The great shell of the foundry works would be more than adequate the demonic creature decided as it slid through the door.
The building’s floor was littered with great quantities of a strange green crystal that radiated the malevolent energies he needed. Half-crawling and half-slithering, the fiend pulled its brutalized and broken shell into one of the thicker concentrations of the energy. Once there, it savagely ripped away the blood soaked and filthy clothing it wore before curling its now naked form into a ball. Within moments, tendrils of white, web-like material began oozing from his skin, stretching and pulling itself taut. The tendrils wove a thick cocoon around the creature’s otherwise helpless body as it sank into the utter blackness of a death-like sleep.
The Kryptonite began to glow a baleful green color as the demon avatar began to absorb energy from the crystals, soaking in the power they provided. Inside the cocoon, muscles and bone were rebuilt and strengthened, crafting a more perfect vessel for the avatar’s power. Somewhere in the silence of that sleep, the avatar’s spirit consumed the human teen’s mind, absorbing the very essence of what Greg Arkin had been. It stripped away everything good or decent about the boy, which was a decidedly small portion of what he was, and molded its own personality around what was left. The two minds fused into an unholy amalgam, a violently amoral creature of incredible power that used to be Greg Arkin.
The metamorphosis had begun.