Reunion, Chapter 1
Faith’s judgmental reflection glared back at her from a polished brass shield. She was a mess. Her naked body glistened under a thin layer of sweat. Their exertions had made her eyes water, which had smeared her black eye makeup. Her hair was tangled up into a rat’s nest lump behind her head. She was nude except for one shoe, which was caught in the tangled inside-out jeans that hung off her ankle. Real mature, Faith. She hadn’t come here intending to do anything, but shit had happened. She rolled off of the cot and started looking for her clothes.
Ares had gone back to playing with his big gun—and that wasn’t a euphemism. He sat at a table in the nude, pulling off the pieces of a Gatling gun, inspecting it for the slightest imperfections and then scrubbing it down with an oiled cloth. A row of ammunition was stacked on the desk. Each bullet was about as long as her hand.
“You ripped the hell out of my shirt.” Faith said when she found the former garment. He’d torn it and her bra down the front with a single tug of his hand. She hadn’t minded at the time—the idea of being with a guy stronger than her had been new and thrilling, but now she was stuck without a shirt. She glared at him, but Ares was ignoring her. “Hey, I said you fucking tore my shirt!”
Ares looked down the tube of a disassembled barrel, then picked up a wire brush and started scrubbing the inside.
She grabbed a vest of black leather off an armor stand. It hadn’t looked fit for a girl, but it surprised her by stretching nicely over her curves as she held it to her chest. The leather was thick and creased with age, but it still felt cool and smooth against her sweaty skin. She had to twist around to feed a series of straps across her bare back.
Ares finally looked up. “That belonged to Achilles,” he growled.
Faith threw her torn shirt at him and he caught it before it splashed over his face. “Call it a trade.”
Ares nodded and grinned. “I’ll give this to Ajax. A consolation prize during Hades’ long nights.”
Faith’s eyes wandered over his body as he went back to working on his gun. He wasn’t a pretty man, or even a handsome one, but he had an air of danger that had gotten her to spread her legs. The wounds from his earlier fight had healed into pale pink patches of bald skin that stood out against his tanned hairy body.
“Buffy sure kicked the crap out of you earlier.” Faith untangled her pants and pulled them back on. At least those survived.
“That was not Buffy. That was an Old One.”
“Is Buffy still alive in there?”
“That depends on how resilient a slayer is. Would you live if buried in the inferno of the Sun?”
“Shit. Not what I wanted to hear.” She sat back down on the cot and ran her fingers through her tangled hair, trying to return it to some semblance of normal. Why the hell did she keep it this long? It was a damn maintenance nightmare. She should just chop it off. “I knew it, but I didn’t want to hear it. You game for a second round?”
Ares glanced back up at her.
“No, I mean with Buffy. No wait, I don’t mean that either. You ready to go up against the Buffy/One-One again?”
Ares went back to working on his gun without responding. He snapped a barrel into place and tightened the bolt down with a twist of his wrist. He started cleaning the next barrel.
“I had this prophetic dream before I came here,” Faith continued. “I know how it’s going to go down. You’re going to take me to the X-Men. There’s going to be a fight. I’m going to kill the bitch that did this to Buffy, but the X-Men are going to kill you. You still want in?”
“I am Greek. We know not to run from prophecy,” Ares said. “Either you lie and your words do not matter, or you speak the truth and there is nothing to be done.”
“Seriously? That’s it? I tell you you’re going to die and you just say there’s nothing to be done?”
“I am the god of war. This body may fail, but I will endure as long as man is willing to kill his brother.”
“Must be nice,” Faith lay back down on Ares’ cot with her arms tucked behind her head. She silently stared at his ceiling for a few minutes, her fatigued mind barely managing to idle through her thoughts. She wondered what Buffy had gone through. What had this world been like for her?
“I just saw the Old One for a few seconds,” Faith eventually said. “You fought her. What was she like?”
“Says the dude with a footprint in his ass.”
“I was disappointed in humanity the first time I saw them,” Ares said as he continued to work. “A young warrior laid his spear on the ground while he knelt to drink from a stream. A lioness pounced on him. He fought back with fists, but she snapped his neck and dragged him away. I was disgusted. These were the beings who shared my form. They were below the wild beasts.”
“I could so take down a lion,” Faith said.
“But then the young warrior’s comrades found his discarded weapon. They followed the lioness’ tracks back to her pride and fell upon the lions with spears and arrows. Some of the lions fled. Those that didn’t were slaughtered and their flesh cooked over fire. That was the first time humanity impressed me.”
“So what? The moral of the story is don’t misjudge?”
“No, the moral is to carry a big gun and never lay it aside,” Ares snapped the next barrel into place. “My fellow gods hide in Olympus. They hold mankind in contempt, but not I. No mortal will ever match Athena’s wisdom, Hephaestus’ fire, or Aphrodite’s beauty. Those gods look down on men and laugh, but not me. I am a god willing to learn from men. It wasn’t a god that crossed the Rubicon. It wasn’t a god that led the horsemen of Asia to Europe’s door. It wasn’t a god that split the atom. It was men. I am the god of war and yet mankind has long surpassed me in its mastery. They taught me about force multipliers. They taught me that when confronted with a foe beyond yourself, you build a bigger gun. The Old One may be beyond my physical abilities, but she is not beyond my ability to wage war.”
“Nice speech, but you’re still going to get dead.”
“Then my uncle will do good business tonight. I will not go alone.”
“We’re going to need a ride,” Faith said. “In my dream it was you and me on a flying ship—the Helicarrier, I think. And there was an army of soulless men following you. Don’t know who those are.”
“SHIELD’s Life Model Decoys—LMDs. Robots programmed to imitate humans. They’re being used to search the Helicarrier for sabotage left by the X-Men before the mortals are allowed back on.”
“Now that’s a ride. Ain’t never jacked a flying aircraft carrier. Will these LMDs follow you? They gonna be a problem?”
“I am the god of war. They are tools of war. They will obey.”
“You really enjoy this whole god thing. Gets you off, don’t it?”
Ares glared at her. “You are not so dissimilar from myself. I recognize the slayer inside you for what it really is. Another time and place, and you would have been a goddess.”
Faith laughed. “Shoulda, coulda, woulda. That’s bullshit. I don’t want to be some goddess thing. I just want to be Faith. I’m cool with that. Wasn’t always, but I’m cool with it now.”
“What you want doesn’t matter.”
Faith opened her mouth to tell him off, but then she stopped herself. “Maybe,” she conceded. “Maybe it doesn’t matter. If I got what I wanted then I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t have just fucked some god, and I wouldn’t be getting ready to go kill Buffy. I’d be back home, maybe fighting some kung-fu vamps—damn do I love kung-fu vamps. Don’t suppose I’ll get a chance to do that again.”
“Did your dream reveal your own fate?”
“No, but I figure I don’t have much of a chance of making it out of here. Buffy’s a big shot back home. You don’t just kill someone like her and go home. Fate doesn’t work like that. There’s got to be a price, and I’m going to have to pay it. I can feel it coming. But I’m cool with it. I’m willing to pay if it means avenging Buffy.”
“Then you’ll need this,” Ares reached into a drawer. Faith expected him to pull out a weapon, but he instead pulled out something small and metallic that he flipped through the air at her. She caught it. It was a small silver coin, stained by age and imperfections. A man’s laureled head was on one side and a spear on the other.
“For Charon,” Ares said.
Faith stared at the coin for a moment, and then tucked in into her leathered vest. “Guess it’s time to go visit the X-Men.”
“Did you really attack New York City?”
“Is Wolverine dead?”
Scott kept his head down as he shoved his way through the crowded hallway. Two hundred mutants were packed into the chaotic halls of the mansion, and it seemed like all of them were trying to shout questions at him. He shouldered his way past Herman Glob, whose waxy pink translucent skin left a long smear on his jacket, and nearly barreled over Pixie.
“What’s happening, Mr. Summers?” She asked.
Scott started to raise a hand to gently guide the small woman out of his way, but he paused before touching her. Pixie’s lips were pressed tight together and she was fluttering back and forth on her wings a couple inches above the ground. Small lights flickered around her like glitter. She was so nervous that she was subconsciously shedding her mutant “pixie dust”, a powerful hallucinogenic that he didn’t want to come in contact with.
Now that he was standing still the crowd had started to mass around him, blocking off his planned path forward. Not good. He glanced over the crowd until he spotted a familiar head of brown hair.
“Kitty!” He shouted in her direction, though he doubted she could hear him above the noise.
She’d been moving towards him anyways, and a couple seconds later she phased through the crowd. He pointed up towards a less-populated second-floor interior balcony. She grabbed him by the elbow and the noise of the crowd fell to a dull murmur as she phased him away from reality. He enjoyed the few seconds of calm as they floated up to the balcony, then Kitty dropped them back into the world and a wall of sound hit him. Scott turned to the crowd and held up his hands for silence, waiting until the noise faded to a dull murmur.
“Illyria has a plan for the mutant race,” he said to the crowd. “Illyria has a plan for all of humanity—salvation. There is a flood coming. One that would wash us all away. But Illyria will hold back the waters. We will stand on the high ground with her. And all of humanity is welcome to stand with her. Unfortunately, there are people out there who would hold humanity back. The Avengers would not have accepted Illyria. They would have fought us. They would have caused an even greater tragedy for everyone. And thus we had to strike against them.“
Angry whispers rolled across the crowd. They knew this meant they were essentially at war with world.
“Our path is not going to be easy,” Scott continued. “It’s going to be two-hundred mutants versus seven-billion humans. Long odds by any measure. But remember, Illyria has a plan. I have a plan. Humanity is going to realize that we’re not here as its enemy, but as its protector. When dust settles and the world is safe, all of them are going to turn to Illyria. They’re going to get on their knees and thank her. They’re going to love her guidance just like we do. And we’re going to keep this world around long enough to get there. For Illyria!”
“For Illyria!” Someone shouted, and then the whole crowd joined in. “Illyria! Illyria! Illyria!”
Scott gritted his teeth and smiled as the crowd chanted her name. He hated this kind of nationalistic fervor. This was the kind of group-think used by people who were unable or unwilling to rationally accept the world’s complexities. But he couldn’t deny that it was useful. He needed a band of ready and willing soldiers, not scared civilians. And if letting them chant Illyria’s name would help, then he’d let them chant.
He let them go for a minute and then waved his hands to signal that he had more to say. “As I said, we have a plan. That plan has short-term components and long-term components. Right now we need to worry about the short-term. The camp will not be safe for the next few days. You can’t stay out there. I need everyone to return to their tents. Gather any essentials you need for a few days, but no more than a small armful each. Kitty will organize you into groups and ferry you into the subbasement, where we’ll work to setup temporary barracks in the larger storage rooms.”
Kitty looked to him with a raised eyebrow as if asking ‘why me’, but he ignored her. More angry murmurs were swirling through the crowd. He’d already spent the little bit of goodwill he’d just earned. Quarters would be tight and tempers would flare, but it was still necessary.
“This is not up for debate,” Scott said. “Illyria has chosen me as her representative and I speak for her. I want this done in three hours.”
He turned to walk away, but Kitty gently tugged on his elbow. “We can’t do this. What about…”
“I’m giving you leeway to do whatever’s necessary,” he interrupted her. “Leave Cerebro and the war room empty, but pack in every other space. Just make sure it gets done. Give me a report when it’s done or if you’re not going to finish in three-hours. We’re going to lose anyone who’s not secure in the sub-basement by nightfall.”
She released his shoulder and nodded.
Scott walked away up the stairs, finally putting some distance between himself and the crowd. He’d just told a lie. He didn’t have a plan. He didn’t know what to do next. And he was sure that Illyria hadn’t given a single thought on what to do next either. Things were happening too fast, making him feel not-in-control and uncomfortable. He needed time to sit down and think. He needed concrete goals, subgoals, plans, contingencies and intelligence. Maybe it was good that the crowd was forcing him to take a longer, round-about way across the mansion. It gave him a couple minutes to think. He started with a mental checklist of problems:
- SHIELD taskforce likely in-route with surviving Avengers. They’d bring The Fantastic Four and any other friendly super hero they could find. Maybe even some unfriendly ones.
- Long term assault from the United States Government. Likely military strikes.
- Two-hundred mutants who would quickly burn through their stored rations, and lived in hostile territory.
- Need to rescue Wolverine from SHIELD custody.
- Servitude to a psychotic god who wanted him to conquer the world.
Okay, that last point wasn’t anything that he had the free will to do anything about. But he could work on the others. In the long-term he’d need to find a new safe-haven for the mutant race. Maybe the ungoverned Savage Land or Shi’ar space. Maybe some less-reputable countries would be happy to gain two-hundred super powered individuals as citizens. But he’d first have to deal with SHIELD’s response. There was no way they could survive a drawn out war, but another big win could give them a temporary edge and some breathing room. It wasn’t the kind of fight where they could kill everyone who’d oppose them, so it was fortunate that he’d convinced Illyria to take her foot off the kill-them-all gas pedal. Maybe they could take Reed Richards, Maria Hill or other VIPs captive. If he could get them under Illyria’s control then they’d become powerful resources for his side.
He finally reached the greenhouse on the mansion’s roof. Ororo floated on her back near the top of the lush garden, and her long white hair danced in the breeze that weaved around her. She was still in costume. Her body rotated in the air as he entered, turning so that she was looking down on him. There was a knot the size of a golf ball on her forehead where Spider-Man had hit her.
“You need to get that looked at,” Scott said.
“That is unnecessary. I appreciate it as a reminder of the things we have done.”
Scott disagreed. He didn’t need reminders of what they’d done. It would be burned into his memory for the rest of his life. “I’d normally give you leeway, but not today. There’s too much happening and I can’t have you fighting a concussion. I’m pulling rank. We have a mutant healer and we’re going to use him. Go see Josh when we’re done talking.”
Storm floated down on the breeze to land in front of him. “Of course, Scott.”
“Walk with me. I’ve got a dozen other things to do, and we need to talk.”
Ororo followed him down the stairs and back into the mansion’s halls. “We’ve got the world against us,” Scott said.
“This won’t be the first time,” Storm said.
“It’ll be worse than normal. Our safety net is gone—we burned it to ashes. There’s no longer going to be a vocal minority supporting mutant rights. No more Avengers or Fantastic Four waiting on the sidelines. No more cooperation from SHIELD. It’s just us.”
“And Illyria,” Ororo said.
Scott looked around to make sure his god wasn’t near and lowered his voice before speaking. “Except I don’t know what to do with her. She’s probably stronger than the rest of us combined—she beat Ares and made it look easy. He’s a god like Thor. She’s also the biggest loose cannon on this ship. I think I’ve convinced her that killing all the other heroes isn’t in anyone’s best interest, but I don’t know if it’ll last. I don’t know whether she’ll fight alongside us, command me to start a whole new war, or decide we should amuse her with gladiatorial combat.”
“She is a god,” Ororo said. “But not the kind you grew up worshiping. She is ancient and incomprehensible. She moves, and we only flow in her wake.”
“You almost sound like you admire her.”
“Not in the slightest. But I do not think you came to me to talk about the divine.”
Scott nodded. “I don’t like where we stand. We’re waiting for SHIELD to come to our doorstep. We’re letting them choose the time and place. I don’t like the idea of She-Hulk, Luke Cage or The Thing walking through our living room. We’re not going to beat people like them on the ground, so I want to take this to the sky. Find everyone who can fly and field a team. The Helicarrier is going to come rolling up from New York City sometime in the next twenty-four hours. Make sure it doesn’t reach here.”
“You think we can beat them like this?”
“I like our odds,” Scott stopped walking and turned to face Ororo. “We’ve got a stronger set of fliers, especially including you. “
“And what am I to do with the Avengers and Fantastic Four?”
“The game has changed. I want prisoners. We’re going to need bargaining chips.”
“I am relieved to hear that,” Storm said. “I do not have the stomach for more killing. The Blackbird needs repairs and won’t fly, but we still have an airbike in the hanger.”
“Fill that seat. Take whoever you want.”
“I want you,” Storm said.
Scott hesitated. The smart thing would be for him to stay behind. He was the leader. If he went down then everything was lost. Except if Storm failed then everything was lost anyways. “Fine. I’m yours. While we’re up there you have field command, but I’m still in charge down here.”
“Then I’ll begin work immediately,” Ororo turned and walked away.
“And don’t forget to get that head wound healed,” Scott called after her.
“Scott,” Emma’s mental voice echoed in his mind as Ororo walked out of sight. “I need to see you in Cerebro.”
“I’ve got a lot going on up here.”
That didn’t sound good. She was using her business tone. He didn’t need more complications.
The mansion’s elevator took him a hundred yards beneath the Earth and he followed the twisting hallways to Cerebro. Emma was hooked in, her blonde head covered by the metal helmet that amplified her psychic abilities. Her eyes were closed and her body lay relaxed in the chair. Emma’s mind was somewhere far away. Scott rested his hand on her shoulder and waited for her to return.
She came back after a couple minutes. “That should hold him for the moment,” Emma said as she pulled off the helmet and stood up. “And my wayward knight returns.”
“What’s happening?” Scott asked. Emma would normally want to make small talk and flirt, but he needed to stay focused on business.
“The Sentry is still alive.”
“I thought you flew him into the Sun.”
“I did. And that seems to have made him rather upset.”
Scott stepped back. This was bad. This was very bad. The Sentry was not someone you could fight. No one fought The Sentry. There was no plan of attack and no defense. He was like the comic book hero, Superman, but with Truth, Justice and the American Way replaced with schizophrenia, drug addiction and throwing people into the sun.
“Can you do anything?”
“I’ve killed him five more times since we got back,” Emma said. “I can feel it when his mind comes together enough to start resurrecting himself. It’s like watching the Sun rise. Every time he starts to regain consciousness I put his mind through the psychic equivalent of a wood chipper. Then it’s a waiting game until he decides to resurrect himself again.”
“Are you in danger?”
“Not as long as I get him early. As frightening as the man is, he’s not much of a psychic. Though I can probably expect a nasty headache tomorrow morning. I’ll also be expecting a grateful and sympathetic boyfriend.”
“If you keep us alive until tomorrow morning then you’ve got a boyfriend willing to do anything for you.”
“Sounds delicious,” Emma said. “But do try to figure out an alternative. I can’t keep doing this. I have limits. I’m not sure that he does.”
“You face your old god?”
Scott turned at the voice. Illyria stood behind them, just inside Cerebro’s still-closed door. He was positive that door hadn’t opened since he’d been in here, and she hadn’t been there moments ago. Was she teleporting now?
“He might as well be,” Scott said after a moment. “He’s stronger than any god. To be honest, he’s stronger than anything I can muster. We can’t beat him.”
“Then he shall be mine. I am your god and you are my subjects. Just as you have obligations to me, I have obligations to you. When another god comes take you from me, then I shall stand against him. I shall pry his quivering fingers off his hands and drive them through his eyes to scratch at…”
“Thank you,” Scott said. “Any help will be appreciated.”
Illyria glared at him and Scott wondered if he’d stepped over a line by interrupting her. He probably shouldn’t do that to his own god, but she’d yet to command him to be respectful, and until she did he was taking little acts of rebellion where he could.
Illyria just stared at him, her head cocked to the side like a cat. Scott shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. She stepped forward and gently placed her hand against his face—Scott had to force himself not to flinch as she cupped his cheek.
“You still buck,” she gently said. “You are my Qwa’ha Xahn. My high priest. I have given you power beyond anything in this world, and yet you still feel fear.” Her fingers tightened against his cheek and a sharp pain stabbed through Scott’s brain. He cried out. It was excruciating. He collapsed, and Emma caught him under the shoulders before he hit the ground.
Illyria lowered her hand and the pain ended, gone as quickly as it had come. Scott looked up at Illyria and Buffy’s cold blue face stared back down at him.
“Remember,” she said. “None can stand against you. You have nothing to fear. Except for me.”
The bonfire’s orange flames sent Willow’s shadow dancing across the castle walls. The smoke and heat were making her eyes water. She felt the instinct to cover her face to protect the sensitive skin, but instead she stared straight ahead into the fire. It’s not like these sensations were real.
She no longer had eyes that could water or skin that could feel heat. This was what she imagined the courtyard in Castle Doom was like, and thus this was how reality appeared. She could have tried to imagine a different reality with a more comfortable bonfire. She could have leveraged the tenuous connection with her body and perceived the real world instead of imagining it. Instead she continued to stare into the flames, hoping for some revelation.
Dr. Doom was responsible for this. She should have been angry with him, but she couldn’t seem to bring up the emotions. Dr. Doom was like a puppy that had peed on her rug. He’d just been acting out his nature. She’d known what he was when she first saw him at that banquet table, and she should have known it would end like this. It should have been obvious that he’d turn on her, but she’d stuck by him because he was powerful and had cool toys. Darn those cool toys.
Teaming with Dr. Doom had been a mistake. Of course, recognizing a mistake after your body had been hijacked by a super villain was the definition of being a bit on the late side. Now the question was what she should do about it. She had an idea, but it was just a crazy as joining up with Dr. Doom in the first place. She’d been dealt a crappy hand, and now she was considering doubling down.
She didn’t have her magic, or any kind of power to use against Dr. Doom. Unless she wanted to try stern language, which was unlikely to be effective, she needed some new source of power. Neither the Earth nor this dimension’s higher powers were responding to her, which wasn’t surprising considering what she’d done. And that left one more source of power.
It would be incredibly stupid. She used to teach classes on magic for the junior Watchers, and she always started with a list of rules written on the whiteboard. What she was about to do broke all of them. But this was why she was the one up there teaching. Being the expert wasn’t about knowing the rules. It was about knowing when to break them.
She subconsciously ran her thumb across her fingers, letting the nails catch again each other. She stopped herself when she realized what she was doing. Darn it. Picking at her nails was a bad childhood habit that she’d broken years ago. At least they weren’t her real nails.
She thought about it a little more, then stopped herself when she started to pick at her nails again. Might as well. It’s not like she had other options.
“Blackheart. Blackheart. Blackheart.”
Saying the name once could have been sufficient, but three times felt like the proper way to do these things.
Nothing seemed to be happening at first. Then she noticed the shadows lengthening along the castle walls. They were changing slowly, but definitely growing darker. The changes were slow and subtle, but after a couple minutes they’d grown dark enough to consume everything around her except for the bonfire, which now shone bright against an infinite black plane of nothing.
“You can skip the show,” Willow said. “It’s not going to do anything for you. It’s not like I can fight you this time.”
“Not a show,” a voice whispered from the darkness. “But a taste of what’s to come.” An icy cold tendril brushed against her skin under her clothes. It ran up her stomach, cupped her right breast and then ran along the curve of her neck.
Willow stood still and tried not to react. Her heart started racing and she felt like she might hyperventilate. That was not a friendly greeting. But she couldn’t let her nervousness show. It wasn’t really interested in her that way. She didn’t even have a real body. It just wanted her afraid. It was testing her. She couldn’t let it see her fear.
“A gift?” The voice continued. “A little witch who thought she was better than me? Served up without a grain of magic. Just a soul drifting in the currents. Like a ripe juicy strawberry on the lowest branch. I think I’ll keep you, little witch. You can have your own special place in my hell.”
“Yes, we had a fight in that store,” Willow said. “You attacked me and I defended myself. But we should move past that.”
“Should we?” The voice asked. The tendril was back. It wrapped around her ankle and started spiraling up her calf.
Willow forced herself not to react. “I called you here for business.”
“Business implies a trade. What does a beautiful young woman have to offer me?” The icy finger ran along her thigh.
“Victor Von Doom.”
The finger pulled back, finally leaving her alone. She released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. This might just work.
Blackheart stepped out of the bonfire’s flames. His body stood over twelve feet tall with dark shadows corded together into firm muscles. Two red eyes glared at her. “A reasonable prize, but not yours to offer. Doom is not here. You are.”
“Then call it an investment. I’m not asking for a lot. Just a spark of fire and a small bit of power. Nothing you’d miss. In return, I give you Victor Von Doom. If I fail then I’m yours. But if I succeed, if I give you Doom, then you leave me alone.”
“A tall order. But patience is a virtue and Blackheart is not known for his virtues. Perhaps I will settle for what’s available.”
“I spoke your name because we’ve met,” Willow said. “We have a foundation on which we can build a professional relationship. I could use another name. Dr. Doom’s borrowing my brain, and certain words keep bouncing around in it. Perhaps I should say one of them? Who’s Mephisto? Should I say his name with intent? Would he be willing to take my deal?”
Blackheart hissed when she said the name and snapped back into the shadows. Everything was still for a minute as they waited to see if anything happened. Finally Blackheart emerged back from the shadows after a couple minutes of silence.
“Do not speak that word again. If you do I will rip out your tongue and drag you to my hell. No deals then.”
“Does that mean we can make a deal now?” Willow asked. She didn’t actually want to say the other name again. She needed a stupid demon for this to work. She imagined a parchment into existence. It already had her signature on the bottom. “Here are my terms.”
“That is not your role. I offer the terms,” Blackheart said.
“What’s wrong with these?” Willow asked.
Blackheart ran a clawed finger down her list. He smiled as he reached the end and his black teeth shined like obsidian. “No, these will do.” He signed it with a flourish of dark energy.
“You should have asked for more, Willow Rosenberg.” Blackheart said as a small amount of power flowed into her. He reached back and ran his hands through the bonfire like he was drawing water. A single flickering ember sat in his palm, and he tossed it up into the air. “This will not be enough to defeat Doom.”
“Maybe not.” She used a small bit of the power Blackheart had given her to wrap the ember in a protective sphere. It floated back down and she caught it. “But if I can’t do it with this, then I can’t do it at all.”
“I will prepare another fire for you, little witch. Don’t tarry long. It awaits.” Blackheart laughed as he faded away.
Willow waited until the shadows were completely gone before she moved. This may have been a bad idea, but it had also gone about as well as could be expected. Granted, if she didn’t deliver Dr. Doom then she’d have a very unfun eternity with Blackheart. He’d still try to take her even if she did deliver Doom—no way he’d forgive her for winning that fight in the store. She’d intentionally left a loophole in their agreement. It stated that if she got her body back, then he had to leave her alone. That meant that Blackheart would wait until she’d beaten Dr. Doom, then try and take her before she’d recovered her body. But if she hadn’t left such a tempting hole in the contract then he wouldn’t have agreed, and it was better if he came at her from a known angle rather than his own. She’d have to deal with Blackheart eventually, but that was something she could handle.
First came Dr. Doom, then came Blackheart, then came Illyria. A tall order, but she could do it. She could feel Dr. Doom out in the real world. He was prepping his jet for a trip to America where he’d confront Illyria and the X-Men. Apparently he was done with the time travel. That’s okay. Willow would confront them there.
She flexed the little bit of power Blackheart had given her and looked at the spark in her hands. It wasn’t much, but it would be enough.