With Age Comes Wackiness (#6 of Excedo Inferi)

by Philip S.

Summary: Selling candy to get money for the school band brings fresh wackiness to Sunnydale.

Spoilers: General spoilers for the S3 episode "Band Candy" You should have read the preceding parts of Excedo Inferi in order to understand this story.

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Buffy and associated characters are copyright Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The concept and stories of Excedo Inferi are copyright Yours Truly.

#

Part 1:

Buffy's dreams were plagued with nightmares and memories and few people alive or dead had so many memories that might as well be nightmares. She tossed and turned in her bed, drenched in sweat, and even the cool body lying next to her could do little to help her as she was caught up in the past and muddy divinations of the future.

She remembered crossing the fifth circle of Hell with Angel by her side, crossing the Styx where those who had allowed anger and fury to dictate their lives were eternally consigned to battle each other in the muddy waters of the black river. She remembered the air full of anger and rage, infecting them to the point where they almost came to blows several times.

The city of Dis, towering over burned-out wasteland, was the point where the fifth circle of Hell, the eternal resting place of the furious and angry, gave way to the sixth circle, where the heretics were said to dwel. The city was surrounded by impossibly high walls of gray steel, manned by creatures the likes of which even the Hellmouth had never seen, radiating scorching heat in all directions. Getting in had not been easy.

Simply being inside had been worse. Anger and fury held sway even here and those of the damned who were free to move around found themselves infected by it, striking out against each other and their captors both, the latter but amused by their antics and finding great joy in beating them down again and again.

Dante had written that the city imprisoned the heretics, but Buffy and Angel soon learned that this was not exactly true. Speaking out against a God who might or might not exist was not what brought one to this place of eternal torment. Heresy alone did not suffice to consign one to imprisonment inside a burning tomb, forever locked in with nothing but one's screams to keep one company.

No, Dis was the punishment for those who had tried to set themselves up as God or gods, those who had used religion and faith as a tool for power, who had abused the faith of others to enrich themselves, who had sent people to their deaths under the banner of a God they themselves never believed in. Everyone from TV priests to religious cult leaders and kings and queens reigning and inflicting cruelty in the name of God, they all ended up here.

Buffy had no idea how long it had taken them to make their way through this city, a labyrinth of streets lined with burning graves, the air filled with screams that never stopped. She did remember questioning her sanity more than once during those months, years, maybe decades they had spent there. Then there had been those times she had stopped questioning it because she had no longer had any.

She and Angel had been at each other's throats more than once, the only thing keeping them together their need for each other, both physical and emotional. They had even hurt each other, sometimes intentionally, giving in to the demons inside themselves that so easily came to the surface in this environment.

She cried in her sleep, reliving the torment of this terrible time. She remembered hiding among the graves as the demons strode through the streets of Dis. The Furies had known somehow that there were entities in their city which had no place here and they had searched for them ceaselessly. Tisiphone, Megare, Alekto, all three of them terrible and beautiful at the same time, impossible to describe with mere words. The Medusa had walked the streets as well, her gaze sufficient to turn even other demons to stone. Other creatures that Dante had never described had been with them and both Buffy and Angel had, at times, been insane with fright and terror.

Somehow, though, Buffy had almost been thankful for the madness that had overcome them both in that place at one time or another. In a twisted way it had made crossing Dis easier than their travel through the fourth circle, where Pluto had hunted them all through the endless days. In Dis she had allowed her thoughts to tumble away into madness, convinced that their times on Earth had been nothing but a dream to make the reality of Hell more bearable, and this insanity had softened the world around them. Everything had seemed unreal after a time and even the ceaseless screaming of those imprisoned in their fiery graves had ceased to make an impression on her.

In her nightmares, though, Buffy was unable to retreat into the inviting ease of insanity. The images of Dis flickered through her mind with brutal clarity, every pain and anguish as real as a nightmare could be. She screamed and whimpered as the Furies' whips descended on her back, reliving the months or years she and Angel had spent in captivity in Dis' dungeons at the mercy of the Erynnes.

Interlaced with the nightmares, though, were other images. Some detached part of her mind recognized the familiar humming of a Slayer's prophetic dreams. In the midst of Dis' burning streets she saw herself, dancing to a music that had replaced the screams of the damned, Angel by her side. Both their eyes were glowing in demonic colors, lighting the crimson twilight surrounding them. There were other shapes, dancing as well, rubbing against them. She could hear Angel growl as someone touched her, saw the demon coming to the forth.

Buffy woke with a scream as Angel broke a human body in half and she saw herself giggling in delight.

"Buffy?" Angel was taking her into his arms without a moment's hesitation, knowing that his mate had once again been reliving the memories of their journey. He, too, saw it in his dreams sometimes, but somehow it seemed to much worse for her. Especially now that the reality of Hell was removed, replaced with life on Earth once more.

It took minutes for Buffy to calm down, to remember that Hell was in fact behind them, no more real than a nightmare now. They had made it through all nice circles of the Inferno and had come out alive, if not unscathed. There was nothing to be afraid of anymore.

Then why was she trembling?

"Just a dream," she mumbled to herself as Angel rocked her. "Just a dream."

"More memories?" he inquired softly.

She nodded, swallowing with a dry throat. Her blood cried out for the moisture that was running through Angel's veins, but she clamped down on it immediately. She had long ago learned to live with the fact that she was addicted to her mate's blood but refused to let her life be governed by it.

"There was more, though," she finally said, regaining her composure. "There was ... I don't know how to describe it, but I think it was one of my prophetic dreams."

Angel gave her a quizzical look.

"It's been a long time since you have had one of those, hasn't it?"

Buffy nodded, remembering exactly where and when she had last received mysterious insights via her dreams. It had been the night after Angel had lost his soul when it had been revealed to her that Jenny Calendar was somehow involved in these events. Ever since that terrible time her strange pipeline to the future had been silent.

"What did you see?"

Buffy closed her eyes, once again seeing the burning streets of Dis.

"Us, the two of us. We were ... we were dancing. Wildly, uncaring. Our eyes, they ... you were in game face and me ... me, too. Or ... close to it anyway."

Angel unconsciously tightened his grip on her. He knew how frightened Buffy was of the changes she had undergone in Hell. It had not been that bad before they had returned because there had been nothing and no one to compare herself to. Now, though, she saw herself among her human friends, saw her face in the mirror, had experienced her demonic temper unleashed upon a human being.

He knew Giles was still looking for information on what else they might expect or maybe even on a way to undo what he had been forced to do to her with his tainted blood. Angel prayed every night that the Watcher would be successful.

"Something was wrong with us," Buffy continued, unaware of his thoughts. "It was as if ... I don't know, as if we were high on something. There were other people there and they ... one of them approached me, touched me, and you ... you broke him. You broke him in half and I just watched and laughed."

Angel closed his eyes, not liking what he heard in the least. No one knew better than him what could happen if the demon inside him were to be unleashed again. Neither did he doubt that, even without a soul, his feelings for Buffy would barely change, especially now that she was not quite human herself anymore. Angelus would love having her around and he would be highly possessive, too. Seeing anyone touch what he considered his ... it would not be pretty.

"Anything else?" he asked. "Some clue as to when or how this might happen?"

"Nothing, no. Maybe it's just ... I don't know, some kind of warning not to let our guards down. I mean, you saw what happened when I let my temper get away from me with Xander."

Angel remembered. Just a day after their return and they had confronted Xander. Buffy had been so angry she had nearly killed the boy.

"Then we'll be careful," he said, pulling her closer against him. "And we'll be staying away from everything that could make us high."

He smiled, which caused her mood to brighten considerably.

"That would have to include each other, wouldn't it?" she asked with a naughty smile on her lips.

"I wouldn't go quite that far."

#

Mayor Richard Wilkins consulted his To-Do list and saw that he had not been mistaken about his appointment two days from now. With the big day less than a year away now things were getting more and more hectic. There was barely a moment to spare for anything not connected with it and a small part of him felt that he was letting his voters down, preoccupied as he was.

Well, it could not be helped. Looking ahead he knew that all his voters' problems would be solved no later than a year from now anyway. Dead people had few problems.

Speaking of dead people, he once again remembered that his problems with Angelus and his little entourage had yet to be solved. Information he had acquired since the failed assassination attempt on them two weeks ago had shown that his suspicions had indeed been correct. Buffy Summers, the Slayer, was now a blood junky. He was not yet certain how this could have come to pass, but it was almost certainly connected with that unfortunate business with Akathler.

Well, he had put things into motion to ensure that they would not cause more disruptions in his carefully laid-out plans. As these would need a bit longer to take effect, though, he had to do something to keep them from interfering with his important appointment. Something would need to happen to distract them and everyone else in this wonderful town of his. Sunnydale's residents had, due to a century of careful grooming on his part, developed what had to be the most powerful ignorance in all the world, but even that would probably not be enough for what he had to do two days from now.

No, something had to happen. Something to distract them. A little chaos unleashed, but nothing that was terminal in nature. He did not want people to die, at least not many of them. He still had a need for them come the big day. No, what he needed was something flashy but mostly harmless. Something guaranteed to draw the attention of the Slayers and their vampire companion. Something like ...

His lips spread in a smile as he remembered what had happened about ten months ago. Yes, something like that would do just fine. Now he just had to hope that the man in question was available for a little contract work.

TO BE CONTINUED