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As the last of the bolts slid free, Willow had a feeling that she’d made a mistake. The mutants up on the tower weren’t; any more responsible for what had happened to them than Tara was.
The entire structure, incredibly, held for a moment even without the bolts and welds needed to hold it in place. There were probably bolts she couldn’t see which were still in place.
The pinging sound of bolts sheering and the groaning of metal as other struts were suddenly placed under strains they hadn’t been designed to affect warned her of what was going to happen.
She looked up into the face of a horrified girl hanging from the scaffold, a sudden moment of lucidity bringing an awareness of the death which was coming. As pieces began to fall, there was an outcry from the mutants below, and Willow felt Lex pulling at her.
“It had to be done,” he said. “Let’s go.”
The sounds of horrified screaming from behind her would haunt her for the rest of her life.
The sounds of the tower falling brought Glory up short. She’d been draining the members of a family of farmers brought to her by the mutants, and she thought that the empty space left when she’d assimilated Clark Kent into herself had shrunk infinitesimally, although it might have been wishful thinking.
Shifting into superhuman speed, she moved so quickly that she inadvertently ripped the girl’s head she’d been absorbing clean off her shoulders.
The fall of the tower slowed until it was motionless in mid air, and she began moving to grab the minions below, careful not to harm them. It looked as though half the tower was falling, and she would need every hand she had to get it finished by the evening.
The ones above the breaking point were done for. She couldn’t fly, not with her powers curtailed in this realm, and even if she could, she shuddered at the thought of turning into Ben in mid-flight.
As it was, using the energy she was using here would bring Ben back faster than she wanted, even at this late time. She was going to need more minds to shore her up in preparation for the evening.
She felt her first moment of doubt. A slayer was one thing, a worm not much less insignificant than the other worms. Even the witch, although she had potential was no real threat.
The boy, though, was something else. She’d been in his mind long enough to know that he would heal from what she’d done, and she had no doubt that he would be back; heroes were so predictable.
She sighed as she gathered the last of those she was able to save and then allowed time to speed up again.
The struts fell down all around her, some striking her and burying her. She could hear her minions moving around in confusion and she rolled her eyes in the darkness. “Morons.”
Knocking tons of metal off of her, she pulled herself to the top of the heap.
“Get back to work!” she screamed.
The spell she murmured this time worked like a charm. With everyone distracted, no one was looking for them, and they walked right out the front door. Lex tightened his hand in hers and looked at her with something akin to admiration.
Willow felt herself flush, and then looked guiltily at Tara, who was following docilely behind; her hand in Willow’s other hand.
Tensing, Willow stopped as one huge mutant rounded the corner. It must have weighed at least three hundred pounds and where its eyes should have been were burn scars. It was pale, white, the color of a fish’s underbelly.
It walked toward them with a limp, and it sniffed the air as it went. There was something wrong about the way it moved as well, stiff and jerky. Willow had to suppress a gasp as she saw the scarring on its head. Some sort of crude surgical procedure had been performed on it at one time.
Lex slowly reached in his pocket for his pistol, but Willow shook her head slowly, careful to not move too quickly. If he fired the gun, the spell would break. There were at least six mutants within sight, and more around back. Furthermore, Glory would return momentarily at superhuman speeds and that would be it for all of them.
She forced herself to stay still and Lex did so as well, although his hand tightened in hers as the thing which had once been a man approached them.
The tension grew within her as it approached; by the time it was within arms length Willow was trembling.
It stepped around them, still sniffing, and now she could see it sniffing at their trail, following it back to where they had been.
The spell had worked as it had been meant to.
Willow sighed, and the thing behind them stopped suddenly, its head snapping around to stare in their direction.
Willow froze. If it discovered them, she had no doubt it would find a way to contact the others.
The sounds of Glory shouting on the other side of the house came, and the creatures head snapped back. It began to shuffle stiffly in the direction of the tower.
Willow waited until it was halfway to the house before pulling at the others to let them know it was safe.
It took five more minutes before they reached her Kia by the side of the road.
“You came here in a Kia?” Lex asked incredulously.
“My Lamborghini was in the shop,” Willow said. “Get in.”
Gently helping Tara into the back seat, she slipped into the driver’s seat, with Lex in the seat beside her.
“Where are we going now?” Lex asked.
“The Kent farm,’ Willow said.
Lex blinked for a moment and then he smiled. “Why am I not surprised?”
He slept fitfully, images of the woman flashing through his mind. The pain when she’d jammed her hands into his head had been beyond anything he’d ever felt, even being exposed to the meteor rocks.
Feeling himself slip away had been horrifying, and even though he was beginning to recover, there was a sense that there was a part of himself that she’d taken that he would never get back.
He woke fitfully. By this point, even Buffy had fallen asleep in the chair facing the couch. For a moment he thought the sun was rising. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn’t the sun at all, but a strange glow from outside.
He rose painfully to his feet. His left foot still dragged a little, but he was able to make his way across the living room well enough to reach the door to the outside. There was something strangely compelling about the light, and he felt as though he was in a dream.
Opening the door, he stepped outside and headed around the building. The light was coming from the cellar, and unthinkingingly he snapped the lock with his right hand and opened the door. He stepped down the stairs into the cellar.
He didn’t notice the figure moving stealthily through the darkness behind him.
“You did what had to be done,” Lex said soothingly.
Somehow, Willow had held it together throughout much of the drive away from Glory’s castle, but now she pulled off to the side as she felt her hands shaking uncontrollably.
“It’s just the adrenaline,” he said. “It’ll pass.”
Staring at the dash, Willow fought back tears. “I killed those people.”
“If you hadn’t, we’d all be dead,” Lex said. “You didn’t have a choice.”
Willow was silent for a long moment, blinking. The look in the girl’s eyes as she fell and the knowledge that it could have just as easily been Tara up there sickened her.
“Buffy would have found a way,” Willow said. “She’s a hero.”
Lex chuckled. “I know someone like that…but I guess if we’re going to the Kent farm, you’ve already met him.”
Willow took a deep shuddering breath and straightened.
“So you’re not a hero,” he said. “Neither am I. Sometimes the world needs people who aren’t afraid to get their hands a little dirty, to do what needs to be done.”
“I’m not a dirty hands person!” Willow protested. “I’m the plucky sidekick…the comic relief.”
“With your kind of power, you’re nobody’s sidekick,” Lex said. He reached out and took her hand in his. Willow stiffened for a moment, and then relaxed. “You can use your power to help people, or you can go back to being powerless…a nobody.”
Willow stared at him for a moment. “I’m not a nobody.”
She started guiltily as Tara leaned forward. “Shiny.”
Looking at Lex, Willow glanced down and then said, “Um…I’ve never said this to anyone before, but your pants are glowing.”
He glanced down and started. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an octagon of dull metal surrounded by strange symbols.
Willow was fluent in Latin and Sumerian and she could recognize a half-dozen other languages, but this was a language she did not know. It glowed brightly in Lex’s hand and then shot forward through the windshield, which exploded into radiating lines and cracks around the hole.
It moved forward at a speed Willow knew her car would be unable to match and then it was gone.
“I always thought UFO’s were something drunk rednecks made up to explain why they’d gotten probed by their buddies,” Willow said. “I never thought I’d see one come out of someone’s pants.”
Flushing, she looked down. She had no business talking about anyone’s pants except Tara’s.
“It has alloys found nowhere on earth. My best scientists are convinced that it’s alien in origin.”
Staring after the object, Willow was silent. Given the existence of magic and demons, it had never occurred to her to wonder if there were other things out there.
She struggled for something to say. Finally she said “I don’t think we’re getting our deposit back on this car.”
“They wouldn’t have rented to you if they knew you’d planned on going to Smallville,” Lex said quietly. “Meteor freaks tend to be hard on the ride.”
Willow finally pushed the gearshift into gear and the car began rolling forward. She grimaced as she tried to see around the cracks in the glass before her, then she murmured a quick spell and the lines vanished, leaving clear glass except for that around the hole the object had left.
This time she tried to ignore Lex’s look of approval.
Ripping the heavy steel door off its hinges was satisfying, even if the spare room inside was empty.
“The little rat was in here all along, monitoring us,” she said, staring at the monitors on the walls. She reached up and grabbed the monitor and pulled it off the wall. She hurled it with one hand so that it exploded against the other wall.
“There are other passages,” Jinx said, bowing. “We have the mutants looking for them, but they aren’t the brightest bunch.”
Her first and truest servants stood out in the middle of the mutants, their brown robes and disfigured faces far fewer in number than there should have been.
“We found something,” Murk said.
“This had better be good,” Glory said. “Or I’m going to put somebody’s head on a pole.”
She’d fed to the point of satiation and beyond, draining twenty people one after another, and still the hole in her mind remained. It was enough to make a god cranky.
Still, turning the corner into the secret door that had been battered down, she had to admit that her minion had been correct.
The secret room beyond was filled with an array of monitors, all of which contained pictures and information about the boy who had attacked her.
She leaned forward. “Good luck, boys. I’m not putting anybody’s head on a stick just yet. At least nobody here.”
His name was Clark Kent, and if she understood what she saw laid out before her, she now had his home address, the addresses of all his friends and family and everything else the insect that had owned this castle before her could gather.
“More good news, your most imperious, imposing magnificence,” Jinx said. “We have the Key. The tracker and the snot mutant just brought her in.”
“Things are looking up, boys,” Glory said. She smiled. “Twelve hours from now I’m going to leave this pitiful little world in flames.”