Chapter 51 –Metamorphosis VI
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, the larger DC comics universe that I am drawing elements from, 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: First off, let me apologize for how late this is. I could have sworn I posted it almost two weeks ago, but apparently I was mistaken. Secondly, sometime in the next day or two the name of this story is going to change slightly. When I originally began this series I had a very different vision of where it was going and how long it would take to get there, which is reflected by the 'Year One' moniker, but at this rate the first year in Smallville is going to be a few million words and a few hundred chapters which seems fairly insane. Instead this is going to be re-titled 'Beginnings' and I'm going to end this installment of the series before moving on to the next chunk (I think there might be one, or possibly two more chapters in this segment before I mark it complete).
-== Chapter Fifty-One –Metamorphosis VI ==-
Greg paused just outside Smallville General Hospital, reaching out with his hunting sense and searching through the psychic noise of the mass of people inside the building for any sign of his prey or potential threats. To his great dismay, he found neither Lana nor any of the non-human presences he recognized. Whitney was still there, however, and surrounded by a knot of other presences.
He considered going up there to finish off the jock for a long moment, but eventually decided against it. It was simply too risky to expose himself here before he got to Lana. No matter how much he wanted to kill the quarterback, doing so would be a hollow victory indeed if it got him killed before he could ensure his species’ survival. That had to be his priority at the moment.
That decided he turned his thoughts to actually finding Lana. He extended his psychic awareness outward, hoping to catch a glimpse of her or a residual presence that might clue him in on where she was. Unfortunately, there was no sign of her anywhere, which meant she was probably one of three places: her home, at the graveyard visiting her parents, or at the riding stables where she boarded her horse. Her home was entirely too close to the Kent farm, so he immediately decided that he would leave looking for her there as a last resort. There was no sense in tempting fate after all. Given that Whitney was still in the hospital, it seemed unlikely that she would just leave to go horseback riding, so checking the graveyard seemed like his best bet.
He turned and walked away from the hospital wearing a broad smile. Before long everything would be ready and this world would belong to his kind. Once that was the case, he was going to take a great deal of pleasure in exacting a very painful revenge on everyone who ever stood in his way or mistreated him, starting with Whitney Fordman and Xander Kent. The future would be glorious indeed.
* * * * *
If anyone had chanced to look up at the sky over Smallville that Sunday afternoon, they might have seen a sight most would have believed completely impossible. Even after yesterday’s news reports about superheroes in Los Angeles and the coverage the events had received in newspapers around the world, most folks still found the idea of people flying around under their own power ridiculous. They also figured that even if super-heroes were real, they’d never show up any closer to Smallville than Metropolis. If they knew the truth about the heroes from LA they’d have been shocked beyond the telling of it.
As it was, however, the three teenaged superheroes managed to traverse the cloudy skies over the small farming community entirely unnoticed. They traveled an arrow-straight path from the Kent farm to the condemned remains of the old Smallville foundry in a matter of minutes and landed just inside the fence that surrounded the badly damaged structures.
“If he’s here, I can’t sense him,” Chloe said quickly after scanning the area with her psychic senses.
“Raven,” Clark addressed Willow by her codename despite the apparent lack of any on-lookers. One couldn’t be too careful with one’s identity after all. “You’re our demon expert, could he be hiding here?”
The black-clad girl considered what she knew about demons, magic and Chloe’s powers carefully before answering. “It’s possible,” she conceded. “With powerful enough magic I think someone could hide from even Oracle’s second sight.”
“Okay,” he said, taking a deep breath and hefting the unfamiliar weight of Mjolnir in his hand for reassurance. “Let’s take a look then. Once we’re inside, spread out but everyone stay in sight of each other. This thing already took out Thor and Green Lantern, so don’t take any unnecessary risks.” The reminders about the damage that their foe had already inflicted on the fledgling team of superheroes wasn’t really required, since none of the three could put the images of their fallen friends out of their minds, but they accepted the warning without complaint.
The trio slipped inside the building cautiously, expecting an ambush at any moment. Of all the things they had expected to find, however, what they actually found was the most surprising possibility of all: nothing.
“He’s been here,” Chloe called out, finding the broken shell of Greg’s chrysalis. She closed her eyes and examined the empty cocoon with her powers. “I can sense his demonic taint all over this and to a lesser extent all over the foundry, now that I know what I’m looking for,” she announced grimly.
“We may have another problem,” Clark announced from where he was kneeling over a large chuck of broken stone.
“What is it, Superman?” Willow asked sharply, he concern clear in her voice.
“This is, or rather was, Kryptonite,” he answered flatly. “Something seems to have drained the power out of it though, because it’s not affecting me. Since Kryptonite drains my powers…”
“Whatever drained it could be really dangerous,” Chloe finished off the statement for him as she moved to join the other teens. “And if that thing is our bug-demon, then we may have an even bigger problem than we realized on our hands.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we find him,” the young man said flatly, turning his attention back to the girls and standing up. “Since he’s not here, we should try his house, but there’s no way we can do that in costume without attracting attention. How do you two want to handle it?”
“Well,” Willow began after a moment’s consideration, “if Oracle can pull an image out of your head of where we’re going and pass it on to me, I can teleport us there. That might attract less attention, especially if we can teleport into the house…”
“I’m pretty sure that I can do that,” the other girl replied, “if that’s okay with you, Superman? I don’t want to poke around inside your head without permission.”
“I’ll try to picture his kitchen, his mom never changed anything in there,” he said with a nod of acquiescence.
Oracle’s eyes went unfocused for a moment and abruptly a massive raven of shadowy, black energy erupted around them, engulfing the trio in its wings as it wrapped around them. Absolute darkness blotted out the world around them for a few heartbeats before they emerged from it to find themselves standing in a rather average looking home kitchen.
“Okay, that’s a bit disorienting,” Clark complained with a shudder.
Willow shrugged, “For some reason it’s not as bad if you’re not touching the ground when I teleport us, but you get used to it after the first few ‘ports.”
“It’s still not as bad as Thor’s teleports, even if your feet are firmly on the ground,” Chloe commented before reaching out with her senses again. “He’s not here, but he was recently. The sense of his presence is much stronger here than it was at the foundry.”
Clark bent down and touched an oily spot of black slime on the floor near the stove. “Yeah, he came here after the battle with Thor. I think this black stuff is what passes for his blood.” His eyes flicked to the gas burner that was still lit on the stove.
“That’s what that disgusting burnt smell is,” Willow said, abruptly making the connection. “He cauterized a bleeding wound. If he patched himself up already, he’ll be going after whoever he’s picked to be his mate.”
Wordlessly, Clark stood and strode purposely out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” Chloe asked quickly.
“To search his room,” he replied as though it were obvious, “maybe something in there will give us a clue about where he’s going. You guys check the rest of the house. There’s got to be something for us to go on here. We’re running out of time.”
He mounted the stairs two at a time and crossed the hallway at the top of them with a sense of urgency. He could hear something coming from Greg’s old room… like the sound of a TV playing, but couldn’t tell what it was for certain. Gripping Xander’s hammer tightly, Clark pushed open the door with no small amount of trepidation. The pile of human bones that looked as if they’d been stripped clean by animals lying just inside the room left him no doubts as to the fate of Greg’s mother and made his stomach clench sickly.
The scenes playing out on the smallish television in his former friend’s room didn’t do him any favors either. The video was a little shaky, making him fairly certain that he didn’t really want to know what else the teen holding the camera might have been doing. The footage was of an unknowing Lana undressing in her bedroom and it had clearly been taken from outside of her house, probably from the tree near her window. Clark had no doubt that the pervert doing the filming was none other than Greg Arkin and that said pervert was still very human at the time the tape was shot. It suddenly seemed fairly obvious exactly who it was that Greg meant to mate with.
Turning quickly, he hurried back downstairs in a whoosh of displaced air. “I know who he’s going after,” he announced without preamble when he reached the girls in the living room. “He’s been stalking Lana since before the demon changed him.”
“She should be safe then,” Chloe stated quickly. “She was at the hospital with Whitney. Surely he wouldn’t try something in such a public place, would he?”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Willow countered. “I know this isn’t Sunnydale, but the demons there didn’t seem all that interested in secrecy when it came right down to the bottom line. The Master’s minions attacked the Bronze when it was packed with teenagers during the Harvest.”
“Then I guess we make a public appearance today after all,” Clark said blandly, before turning to Willow. “Unless you think we can make another unobtrusive entrance, only out of uniform this time?”
She traded looks with Chloe and frowned. “I don’t think so. There are too many people at the hospital and even where there aren’t people there tend to be security cameras.”
“The roof,” Chloe blurted out abruptly. “If we can get on the roof unnoticed, I can find out if Lana’s still there and if Greg is there yet or has already been and left… without having to go inside.” She paused and looked uncomfortable with what she was offering to do. “I just think a public appearance in Smallville is going to generate way too much attention and make our lives a lot harder. It should be our last resort.”
“How? I mean how can you find all of that out?” Clark asked, seeming surprised by the statement.
“I’m a telepath, Superman, the daughter of the Goddess of Thought herself,” she reminded him. “I can peek inside people’s minds without them knowing it if I need to.”
“Oh, yeah… good point,” he agreed with a slightly embarrassed smile. “Okay, we’ll go with that as plan A then and hold back on just barging in while in costume as plan B.”
“Everybody off the ground,” Willow recommended with a grin. “I’ll teleport us to a few hundred feet above the hospital so we can avoid being seen leaving here and falling would be bad…”
* * * * *
Greg frowned, annoyed at the emptiness of the graveyard. Apparently, he’d misjudged Lana on this one, not that it particularly mattered. This was only a delay to his plan, not an actual problem. If she had gone riding, then he knew the perfect place to intercept her along the trail she always rode. Even better, he was fairly sure he could tell from there whether she was on the trail at all.
One way or another, he’d find her… and that’s all that really mattered at this point.
* * * * *
Floating a few hundred feet above the roof of Smallville General Hospital, Clark couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before someone noticed them. It was almost certainly bound to happen sooner or later if they weren’t more careful, yet compared to their other options, this was being careful. He also knew that Chloe was right though. A sighting of superheroes in a town as tiny as Smallville might make even bigger waves than the incident in LA had and the added attention would make it hard to use their powers without being noticed. They really needed to try and avoid the spotlight for the time being.
Willow was floating nearby, her attention fixed on Chloe who had dropped down toward the hospital. Some part of his mind suggested that it was a little odd, the way that Willow seemed so focused on Chloe all the time, but he simply dismissed such thoughts out of hand. His talk with Lex earlier had him seeing things between his friends that he was fairly positive weren’t really there. The fact that the two girls seemed to be looking at each other oddly when the thought no one else was watching could be blamed on dozens of other things besides their being attracted to one another. After all, why would Aphrodite encourage Xander to pursue Chloe if Chloe was a lesbian?
Then again, why would the Goddess of Love encourage Xander to pursue anyone when she knew he was engaged to Athena? Frankly, in retrospect, nothing Aphrodite did made any sense to him anyway. With a shake of his head, he forced his attention back to the present and saw that Chloe was flying back up to join him and Willow.
“Whitney’s awake. He and Lana fought almost as soon as he opened his eyes and she left,” the Olympian announced in a tight voice. “She usually either goes riding or visits her parent’s graves when she’s upset according to Whitney’s memories.” She met Clark’s eyes. “I can’t tell if Greg’s been here, but if he knows where she is, we might already be too late. She left here more than an hour ago.”
Clark’s jaw clenched hard as he considered the problem. The riding stables weren’t that far from the cemetery where he knew that Lana’s parents were buried, but if he chose wrong… “We’ll go to the stables,” he announced, trusting his intuition. “It’s closer to the hospital and not far from the graves. I think that’s our best chance to find her in time.”
Turning slightly, he led the way toward the stables, flying fast. He could only hope they arrived in time.
* * * * *
Greg sat motionless in the branches of the very same tree where he’d been hiding when Whitney and his goons grabbed him the night he’d changed. The irony of it wasn’t lost on him despite the differences in his perspective now. It was the last place that he’d seen Lana before his transformation and now it would be the place where her own transformation began. He found the symmetry there very agreeable.
He could feel her approaching and focused his senses on just her to the exclusion of anything else. She was agitated, but not afraid… only angry and frustrated. ‘Good,’ he thought, pleased by her mental state. A part of him had wondered if his foes would figure out his plans and try to warn her that she might be in danger. It wouldn’t have changed anything, not really, but it would likely have made things more difficult for him. As it was now, she was far too wrapped up in her own emotions to realize she was in danger until it was far too late.
He dropped out of the tree and hopped over the fence easily, despite his human appearance, before leaning casually against the fence where she’d be unable to miss seeing him. After all, if he spooked her and she went galloping off fast even he’d be hard pressed to catch her without hurting her, so he had to play it casually. He had to lure her in close before he struck. Even so, he couldn’t keep himself from smiling. There were miles from anyone who could even try to stop him. She would be his.
The sound of hooves on hard ground beat toward him a trot and his smile grew smug and almost cruel. This was going to be entirely too easy.
The horse and rider came into view and Lana’s eyes betrayed her obvious shock. “Greg,” she stammered on seeing him, forcing a pleasant smile onto her face, “what are you doing out here?” She drew back on her reins and pulled her horse to a stop. The animal shifted nervously under her as the boy moved closer.
Greg approached slowly, keeping downwind of the horse to minimize the animal’s reaction to the presence of a dangerous predator. “My car broke down just on the other side of the grove,” he lied convincingly. “I knew the riding trails were here and was hoping to somebody with a cell phone might happen by.”
Her body language relaxed ever so slightly and he knew that she’d bought the story. “I’m sorry, Greg,” she answered with genuine sympathy. “I’ve got a phone, but there’s no signal out here.”
“Damn,” he said, feigning upset at the situation. “That’s just my luck.” He was two steps away from being close enough for what he meant to do and closed that distance to a single step with a thoughtful frown. He was so close now that he could almost taste his impending victory.
“Stop right there, demon!” a powerful masculine voice ordered from just a short distance away.
Caught unaware because of his focus on his prey, Greg snapped his head around toward the voice, expecting to see Thor standing there. Instead, he found a powerful looking man in a two-tone blue bodysuit flanked by a cloaked and hooded figure in black and woman in white leather with silver accents. In the man’s hand rested Thor’s damnable hammer and, in an obvious display of power, the entire trio floated a few feet above the ground.
“Superman?” Lana asked, sounding shocked but clearly recognizing the man from somewhere. “What’s going on here?”
“That’s not who you think it is,” the woman in white said in a cool, calm voice. “It’s a monster wearing a young man’s face… and it means to turn you into a creature like itself, miss.”
Seeing his careful work falling apart the way a sand-castle would in the onrushing tide, Greg acted. He dropped his human façade and moved to grab Lana. He had no sooner moved, when something black and shadowy wrapped around him and hurled him away from his would-be Queen.
“Get out of here already!” a female voice ordered from beneath the black hood as he smashed into the ground.
The sound of galloping hoof-beats pounding away from him filled Greg with rage as he scrambled to his feet. Lana was escaping, leaving him to face off against the three foes alone. He eyed his costumed adversaries closely as the sound of Lana’s retreat faded. He knew the man had to be Clark Kent, given his resounding lack of a presence in his psychic senses. To his surprise, however, the two women only cast the barest of shadows on his awareness as well, thanks to the power shields they had wrapped around their psyches.
The significance of Thor’s absence and Clark’s possession of the hammer were not lost on Greg and he laughed harshly. “Do you really think that you can stop me, Clark?” he taunted. “I have millions of years of evolution and instincts on my side. All you’ve got are a couple of circus freaks and a hammer. You don’t stand a chance. Surrender now and I’ll finish you quick and take one of your friends as my Queen. That way at least one of your useless little group will survive in my world…”
“I can’t let you do that, Greg,” Clark answered bluntly. “This ends here and now. One way or another, you will lose.”
An insectile chitter of what passed for amusement escaped from Greg. “You can’t stop the future, Clark. Humanity’s time is done. Now it’s our turn,” he shot back before attacking viciously.
* * * * *
Greg was fast. A lot faster than Chloe had really expected – a fact which made her glad that she hadn’t waited for the demon to attack to begin shielding herself. The flurry of blows he rained down on her telekinetic barrier was brutal and relentless and it collapsed the defensive construct within moments. Luckily, the few moments it had bought her were enough to allow her to gather herself and attack him. She thrust her hand out and shoved at him with a burst of force, staggering him backward.
She flitted away, using her powers of flight to put distance between herself and the demon even as Clark zipped in and took a powerful, if clumsy, swing at it with the hammer. Once Clark got in close, her job, like Willow’s, became simple: make sure Clark didn’t wind up like Xander and Midori because if something happened to him it was game over for everybody. The two combatants didn’t make it easy on the girls either as they hammered away at one another with pure, brutal force. Greg was the better fighter by far and for every swing Clark took, the demon took two. For every attack the Kryptonian blocked, there were three more that she and Willow kept from landing. Even worse yet, Greg had no difficulty blocking or outright avoiding every strike Mjolnir made.
As a result it looked pretty hopeless, a fact that was lost on none of the teens. “You’re all dead,” she heard the demonic bug assure them loudly in its inhuman sounding voice. “You’re not good enough. None of you are good enough to stop me.”
And Chloe knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the creature was right. She and Willow could throw him around like a rag doll for the rest of eternity without hurting him but he was too strong for them to hold him still so Clark could brain him with the hammer. At least if they tried to hold him physically, he was too strong… but if she could get inside his head, maybe she could stop him that way.
Dropping her shields, she reached directly for the monster’s mind with her own. The moment she touched it directly, pain exploded in her skull, ripping an anguished scream from her throat. The evil, alien power of his connection to the demonic god that empowered him seemed to seize her in its grip and began to try and crush the life out of her. She fell heavily to the ground, completely unaware of the bone jarring impact as she landed. All she could feel was the pain in her head.
Her last conscious thought before passing out from the mind crushing weight of her agony was a flickering memory of a kiss she feared she’d never get the chance to repeat.
* * * * *
Clark was starting to get worried when everything abruptly went to hell. Out of nowhere, Chloe screamed out in pure, raw agony and collapsed. Instantly, he whirled toward her, heedless of the danger that action posed as it put his back to his adversary. He saw Chloe hit the ground hard and watched as Willow swooped toward her with a panicked look on her face. A moment later a sharp pain, like nothing he’d ever experienced before, ripped through him. He faltered, feeling his power drain out of him like it did when he was around Kryptonite and looked down to see that Greg’s stinger had been driven so deep into his back that the tip was now protruding through the center of his chest, mere inches from his heart.
He slumped forward bonelessly, falling limply onto the ground, face first. He felt his body slide off the stinger without resistance of any kind and knew, in that moment, that he had failed. His last sight before blackness threatened to overwhelm him was of Willow cradling Chloe’s unconscious body with tears in her eyes.
* * * * *
Greg chittered happily as Clark fell to the ground before him, dead or dying, and then turned his attention to the other woman, the one who wasn’t having her brain slowly turned to paste inside her skull. Her hood had fallen back, revealing the pretty redhead he’d seen with Xander and Clark at the market earlier that day. Her psychic shields had weakened and begun to leak under the force of her emotions and he could taste her fear, her sorrow and her despair… and they were good.
He considered his fallen foes for a long moment as he stalked toward the girl menacingly. He couldn’t believe that he had been afraid of these weaklings. Of the entire lot, only Thor had posed a real threat, and even he’d been overcome by the paralytic toxins in his sting, it had obviously just taken longer. As he approached the girl, he savored the thrill of anticipation, knowing that she too would fall to his power, and that when she did the world was his.
He was still four steps away from the girl when she suddenly looked up and met his eyes unflinchingly. The depths of pain and rage that burned in her emerald orbs warmed his demonic heart. Such fire deserved a choice, he decided magnanimously. “Beg for your life and perhaps I’ll make you my Queen instead of feasting on your flesh,” he offered graciously in his harsh, inhuman voice. He stopped scarcely a single pace away from her, within easy striking distance, and waited for her answer.
A sudden, half-smile slipped over her face and Greg froze in momentary confusion.
“I have a better idea,” she offered, brazen anger filling her voice. “Why don’t you go to hell instead?” The instant the words left her mouth, her eyes flicked over his shoulder and she grinned with savage joy.”
He whipped around just in time to see Thor’s hammer a split-second before a now uninjured Clark Kent buried it in his skull with the might of a vengeful God. That sight, along with the burst of unendurable, crushing pain that followed it were the last things that Greg Arkin ever experienced.
* * * * *
The moment that Greg stepped away from him, the world crashed back in on Clark, dispelling the blackness that had nearly overwhelmed him. Along with the surging influx of clarity came the strangely painless sensation of the gaping hole in his chest and back healing almost instantly as his strength returned. It was oddly disconcerting to be alive when he had expected to be dead and it took the teen a moment to recognize that he wasn’t dreaming or in some sort of heaven. He really was alive.
Pushing himself slowly to his feet, he focused his attention on the creature that had tried to kill him and his friends. It was stalking toward Willow with slow measured steps, as though it were trying to prolong this final act of the confrontation. As quietly as he could, Clark stood and hefted Xander’s hammer, moving toward his foe. He hoped that he could accomplish through stealth and surprise what he had failed so completely to do through direct confrontation. He saw Willow’s eyes pass over him as she turned her attention from Chloe’s unmoving form up to face the monster, but she was careful not to betray his presence.
Once he was close enough, he took a strong, two-handed grip on the magical weapon and raised it overhead for a powerful downward blow. He heard the creature speak and shifted his attention to Willow for the briefest of moments.
“Beg for your life and perhaps I’ll make you my Queen instead of feasting on your flesh,” the demon demanded harshly, poised to strike out at the girl at a moment’s notice.
A half-smiled slipped over Willow’s face and the monster hesitated. “I have a better idea,” she countered and Clark tensed up, putting all of his strength into the motion of the hammer as he began his swing. “Why don’t you go to hell instead?”
Clark didn’t see the look Willow shot him that gave his presence away because his attention was solely on his target now. The creature spun toward him in the space of a single heartbeat and the world slowed to a crawl around him as the hammer swung down as hard and as fast as the Kryptonian could manage. The split-second look of shock and horror on the demon’s face burned itself into Clark’s memory as the hammer connected and the monster’s head exploded like an overripe melon being hit with a sledgehammer, splattering sickeningly over the three still-living teens.
“Eww,” Willow complained, turning away and wincing as the body crumpled under the follow-through and slammed against the ground as though it were a football being spiked by the winning team.
Grimacing, he looked down at the viscera and ichor decorating his costume, which was thankfully free of holes, the Kryptonian smart fabric having already repaired the damage done by his impalement. “I think I hit him too hard,” he said softly, sounding as nauseous as he suddenly felt.
“There’s no such thing as hitting a demon ‘too hard’,” the girl countered, raising a hand. “There’s only ‘not hard enough’ and ‘yay, it’s dead’. Sometimes ‘yay, it’s dead’ is just a little messier than others.” A globe of black, shadowy energy formed around her hand and every fragment, piece and minute particle of demon-bug splatter lifted off of each of the three teens, moved aside and dropped to the ground, leaving their clothing and skin unmarred by its momentary presence.
Chloe groaned loudly and made a feeble attempt to sit up before moaning in pain and dropping back onto Willow’s lap limply. “Note to self: trying to get inside a demon’s head is a really, really bad idea,” she pushed the quip out through a tight jaw, despite the fact that she was still clearly recovering from whatever the creature had done to her.
“Are you alright, Ch-Oracle?” Clark asked her, faltering for a moment before using her codename.
“I feel like someone detonated a bomb inside my skull, but yeah, no permanent damage done,” she groaned again and tried to sit up again, managing to accomplish it this time, with Willow’s help. “Nice work, Superman,” she complimented on seeing Greg’s rapidly decomposing corpse. “Now, can we please get out of here?”
As Clark and Willow helped her to her feet, her weakness became obvious. The mental onslaught she’d endured had left her almost entirely incapable of even standing unsupported yet. She swayed unsteadily and in a gallant gesture, Superman dropped the hammer and scooped her into his arms. Mjolnir vanished the instant he let go of it, surprising them all.
“I, uh, guess that means Thor is okay,” Willow said with a strange note of tension in her voice at the sight of Clark with Chloe in his arms. “I’ll teleport us back.”