Wicked Willow: The Darkening (an Excerpt> by Yvonne Navarro

 

Wicked Willow, Book 1:
The Darkening

Prologue - Continued


      There was a lot of blood, but Willow had expected that. The sight of it didn't shock her, but she really hadn't expected it to--she'd certainly seen enough of the scarlet goo since Buffy's arrival in Sunnydale and becoming friends with her. But Willow had thought she would feel something... better, something like vindication. Instead, seeing Warren hanging there like Wicked Willow: The Darkening a combination of some kind of biology book cross-section and a freshly prepared side of beef only angered her more. Was he still alive, even without his skin? Probably not, and that was a good thing. Where was it written that this pathetic excuse for a human, this sorry worm, should live when it had been by his hand that her beloved Tara was dead? On the other hand, why should Warren's death be so quick, painful but relatively easy to the blackly empty future that yawned in front of her?

      Warren had been saying something, blathering on about absolutely nothing that could change either his dirty deed or her mind, before she'd gotten bored and skinned him. And the undoability of that was what it was all about, the fact that he couldn't fix what he'd done, that he couldn't bring Tara back. Just like she couldn't restick his skin to his ugly body.

      An eye for an eye.

      A death for a death.

      The limp thing that used to be Warren made a little moaning sound, so soft that only Willow heard it. Even so, she wasn't sure if it was a groan or just some odd noise that wind made when it slid across surfaces not naturally exposed to its touch--like bare, glistening muscle and the rounded tops of blue-red veins. Surely he wasn't going to open his mouth and start yelling again, was he? Best to make sure that didn't happen, not because she was worried about anything--it was far, far too late for anyone to come to his rescue--but because she simply didn't want to hear the racket.

      A twist of her finger made sure Warren went the rest of the way into the arms of oblivion, this time riding on the flames of Willow's fury.

      As the night breeze took the smell of blackened flesh and wrapped it around her senses, Willow heard a noise behind her. She turned automatically and, again, wasn't surprised as she saw Buffy, Xander and Anya gawking at her from a few yards away. Beneath her dark knit cap, Buffy's eyes were wide with shock and disbelief. "Willow, no... what did you do?" Beside her, Xander and Anya looked just as stunned, like poor little kids who'd just seen the neighbor run over the family dog.

      For a moment, the only thing that wanted to come out of her mouth was "One down, two to go." She opened her mouth to say as it as she reached inside herself and started to build up the power to shimmer away, then she hesitated. There was a split second of... weirdness, where everything around her that she could see, feel or hear just sort of went still, yet trembled at the same time, as if some strange chill had gone up the spine of the universe. Had she caused that? Maybe. Because things were going to be different from now on--

      Very different.

      Oh, yes.

      She was going to cause a lot of things to happen. A lot of really monumental things. Willow turned her head and stared at the young woman who had for so long been her best friend.

      Things would never be the same for them again.

      "Maybe you should get your eyes checked." The sarcastic words sounded like they were coming from a stranger, with none of the familiar we're-all-friends-here tone so often present in the past. "I thought it was pretty obvious."

      "You killed him!" For a second, Buffy sounded like she ws going to choke. "Willow, he's not a demon or a vampire or a big beastie of the night--"

      "Matter of opinion," Willow interrupted coldly. She felt... odd, as if something about her had changed, almost been freed. In fact, everything felt slightly strange--the night, herself, Sunnydale, as if all of it was a little off kilter. Like the whole world had tilted a little on its axis and sent everything and everyone off in a new direction.

      How... exciting.

      "He's a human being!" Buffy was saying, plowing on as if Willow hadn't spoken. "Flesh and blood, a soul--"

      "First of all," Willow cut in, "Warren had no soul." This time there was such fury in her tone that Buffy shied away from breaking in. "Or if he did, it was so shriveled and twisted that it was a lot worse that any of the vamps you so happily dusted. Secondly," Willow's mouth spread into a wide, dark smile, "you keep talking about him in the present tense. In case you didn't get the memo, Warren has now gone on to the big slime pile in the sky, where he can spent the rest of eternity with all the bad and unwanted little cockroaches just like himself."

      "Somehow I don't think his destination is in the overhead direction," Xander muttered.

      Willow's gaze passed over him, but she acted like he wasn't even there. She still felt like she had to say those words, and she didn't fight the urge. "That's one down," she continued, "with two to go. You can't be so dense you don't realize I'm going to send along a certain duo of Warren's scuzzy friends to make sure he doesn't get all lonely-like."

      "Wil," Buffy said, stepping toward her. "Don't you think you've done enough? You've had your revenge--"

      Willow's eyes suddenly flared red. "Enough? Enough?" Her teeth ground together and her fists clenched. "There is no enough, Buffy. Don't you understand that? There isn't anything on the face of this earth that's enough. Enough would take me back to yesterday morning, and it would let me take Tara's hand and pull her away from that damned window." She laughed and the sound was harsh and sharp, like black, broken glass floating on the night wind. "I'd even say it was enough if I could trade places with her, if it could have been me lying on the floor with a bullet in my back!"

      She lapsed into silence and stood there, swaying slightly. For a long moment, no said anything at all. Then Buffy decided to try again.

      "I know this hurts," she offered. "But you've already killed one man, and that won't bring Tara back. Nothing you do tonight, or tomorrow, or the day or week or year after that will. When you face off with something like this, all you can do is accept it and try to move on--"

      "I WILL NOT!"

      The force of Willow's scream--the actual, physical consequence of it, made them all stagger back. Anya went down on one knee and Xander quickly hauled her upright again.

      A few feet away, Willow stamped her foot against the ground. Such a little movement, but with big backlash--spreading outward from her foot and toward them, the grass dried out and withered, then blackened and cracked, hardening in a hellish replica of a volcano's aftermath. "I won't accept any of it," she hissed. "I won't rest until Jonathan and Andrew are as bloody and dead as their gun-toting partner. And I certainly won't accept Tara's death!"

      "I don't think you have a choice," Anya spoke up. Xander elbowed her in the ribs, but she waved him away and took a tentative step toward Willow. "I mean, the universe has very clearly defined rules about that. You were able to bring Buffy back because she died due to mystical forces, but Tara was killed by manmade circumstances. They aren't going to allow--"

      "Catgut or silk?"

      Anya blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

      "I'm going to sew your mouth shut," Willow said blandly. "Like I did Warren's for a little while before he died. But since it's you, I'm giving you a choice of threads."

      Xander pushed Anya to the side, hoping to distract Willow. "Listen," he said, "killing the other two might give you a temporary high score on the Venge-Ometer, but in the long run it's just going to eat away at your conscience. Do you really want to live with that?"

      "Conscience?" Again, Willow laughed before he could continue. The sound of it made them all wince. "Don't you guys get it? I don't care."

      Buffy started to say something, then lost her words as Willow's statement triggered a nasty memory, giving her an ugly flashback to when Faith had wrongly assumed Mayor Wilkins's assistant was a vampire and rammed a stake into his chest. Hadn't her companion Slayer said those very same words?

      don't care...

      That statement has triggered enough big and bad to rival any of the biggest and baddest that had happened in Buffy's life. If history was running a repeat show, that meant a whole lot of crash and bang was coming down the Wiccan pipeline.

      "But--" Xander began.

      Willow held up her hand, then put a finger to one cheek and tilted her head coquettishly. "Hmmmm. What was it I said just a few minutes ago? Bored now. Again."

      She raised her hand and started to form a Wiccan symbol in the air. Before she could finish it, Buffy tackled her.

      Willow shrieked as she went down under Buffy, but the cry ended in a drawn out whooooof as the air was forced out of her by the Slayer's weight. When Buffy tried to wrap her in a sort of bear hug, something she obviously thought would keep Willow harmless and not hurt her, Willow almost giggled at the absurdity of it.

      Almost.

      But still, there was that rage thing inside her.

      That huge, dark, hungry rage thing.

      Dragging herself backward like a crab, Willow kicked out instinctively and was rewarded when her knee caught Buffy's chin. Buffy's surprised "Ow!" gave Willow enough time to twist sideways and get one arm free and upraised. That was really all Willow needed, and one ever-so-slight twist of her hand, the air painting of an ancient Wiccan symbol, sent Buffy slamming backwards against the thick trunk of a nearby tree.

      For a long, long moment, everything seemed to stop.

      While everyone around her seemed to freeze, Willow used this time for a little bit of self-examination, kind of like a lawyer cross-examining someone in a courtroom.

      Was she really out for revenge for Tara's murder?

      Absolutely.

      Was she worried about the consequences?

      Nope.

      Was she going to let herself be bogged down by the whole weight-of-the-world-on-the-shoulders conscience thing?

      Be serious.

      Would she let anything, or anyone, get in the way of her having that revenge?

      NO!

      She blinked and everything in the world started moving again--the breeze wiggled through the leaves in the trees, the bushes rustled as Xander barreled toward her in a second wave attempt to subdue her. Willow pressed her lips together in irritation--surely he knew better, surely they all knew better. They always went for brawn over brains; she had the brains to squash their brown right off the bat, but she also had more than brains going for her. They should have figured that out long ago.

      Xander grabbed her by the wrist, but the instant he touched her Willow could sense that he would never be able to bring himself to do more. So then what? Did he really think he could just drag her along like a dog would tug an oversized bone? And to where? Most likely the Magic Shop, where someone would come up with some miracle cure that would salve her heartbroken soul and send her back on the path to forgiveness and redemption. Blah blah blah.

      Not in this universe.

      Willow glanced at him, then frowned slightly at his hand. One itsy-bitsy mind flutter, and then--

      Xander yelped and yanked his fingers away from her skin, then did a frantic little pain dance around the clearing in front of where Warren's body had hung just a short while ago. The skin on his palm and fingers was red as a lobster and covered with small, oozing blisters. "Jesus, Willow--what'd you do to me?"

      "What's the matter, big boy?" A corner of her mouth lifted in a contemptuous smile. "Am I too hot for you to handle?"

      "Willow, think about what you're doing," Anya implored. Willow studied the other young woman as she spoke, noting that in spite of her pleading tone, Anya held her head confidently as she came forward, with none of the perceived frailty that had occasionally surfaced since D'Hoffryn had busted her from vengeance demon down to human so many years ago.

      An oh-so-tiny bit of concentration and... ah, yes--the vengeance demon in her had finally resurfaced, as Willow had long suspected it would. It wasn't as though Xander hadn't given her reason enough--Willow still recalled the sight of Anya walking alone up the aisle on her wedding day as tears streamed down her cheeks. On the one hand, Willow knew the agony of finding yourself alone after everything you'd planned for and counted on was unexpectedly yanked away; on the other, she felt strangely detached from Anya and any perceived empathy with her. Maybe that was because Xander was still there for Anya, standing only a few feet away with his heart still beating strongly, blood still pumping through his healthy body. No matter what Anya thought, Xander would be at her side as long as he or she had breath in their human or otherwise lungs.

      Willow scowled at the thought, feeling a surge in the darkness already bubbling within her heart. Her beloved Tara had not been so lucky, and now here was Anya, thinking that becoming the answer to every jilted woman's prayer put her on equal footing with Willow.

      So foolish.

      She held up one hand and Anya ground to a halt about three yards away, unable to come any closer. Confusion flitted across the slender young woman's face as she struggled against the invisible bonds, then she relaxed and stopped fighting. Apparently the memories from her earlier freeze session at the Magic Shop were still fresh enough to make her realize how futile it was. Buffy and Xander stood on each side of Anya's paralyzed form like wary sentries waiting to see what the enemy would do next.

      "What are you?" Willow asked Anya, even though she already knew the technical answer. She walked a slow circle around the vengeance demon, but there wasn't any visual indication of the answer. "Are you human? Or demon?" She tilted her head. "Good? Or evil? Or is it that you just can't make up your own mind?" Willow frowned when Anya didn't answer, then she realized what was wrong. "Speak," she said absently.

      Anya's breath came out in a whoosh as if she'd been trying desperately to get the words out the entire time. "What I am isn't under the big hot-light here," she said. "Why don't you ask yourself that question?"

      Another humorless laugh came from Willow, and it was an absolutely dreadful thing to hear. "Now this is amusing," she mused, crossing her arms. "A vengeance demon tossing quotes from the Bible at me." She rolled her eyes and tried to look frightened. "Ooooh, stop! It burns, it burns!" Her mouth twisted into a sneer, making an angry black-lipped slash against skin that seemed whiter because of the unnatural darkness of her hair. "Really, Anya, is that the best you can do?"

      Anya looked like she wanted to shrug, but she still couldn't move. "Sorry. I thought it was okay in a pinch."

      Buffy had rallied herself and gotten brave again. Now she was advancing, trying to let Willow distract herself with Anya's prattling. The Slayer froze instinctively as Willow's head swivelled in her direction. "I could hurt you," she said matter-of-factly, "but I have two other fish to filet. Or should I say flay."

      Willow raised her left hand in the air and made a swirling motion, and before any of the others could speak, she disappeared in a spiral of hellish red lights.

***


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