Title: Hell on Earth
Disclaimer: Willow and BtVS belong to Joss Whedon. Sylar and Heroes belong to Tim Kring. Loki and Dogma belong to Kevin Smith.
Spoilers: BtVS Season 6 and 7, Heroes Season 3 and the movie Dogma.
Notes: I noticed today that the acronym for this story is HOE O_o
Loki nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of shattering glass. He spun round in time to see Sylar and Willow plummet to the ground and land with a sickening crunch on top of a car. He scowled at their attacker. “For fuck’s sake, Azrael!”
The demon brushed his nails against his crisp white lapel and cocked his head to one side. “I’m sorry, did I push your new friends out of the window?” He took a quick glance down at the mess below. “Oh yes, it appears I did. How evil of me.”
It had been years since he’d seen the demon. He kicked himself for not guessing the former muse would make an appearance at some point. Ever since Azrael’s demotion from Lucifer’s henchman to Asmodeus’s whipping boy, he went out of his way to escape the fissures in the Midwest. He ran his hand along the back of his neck in irritation and demanded, “What the hell are you doing here?”
Azrael pulled a rusting chair from the dining table and sat himself down. “I should ask you the same thing,” he said.
“That’s none of your concern,” Loki snapped. Dammit, he liked Willow, and now it looked like she was gonna be lunch for some shit-for-brains Haxil Beast. Or worse... the mother of its spawn.
Azrael formed a triangle with his fingers and regarded him patiently. “Ah, but you see young Loki, it very much is. I *distinctly* remember telling you that if you *ever* showed up on my radar again, I would personally see to it that you were next in line for the job of Asmodeus’s chief bend-over boy. And the next thing I know the Prince of Lust senses a fuck-ton of magical disturbance in *your* backwater neighbourhood. So what the hell happened?”
Loki frowned, and reminded himself that he and Azrael, despite their disagreements, were essentially on the same side. Not that anyone other than Loki knew this, of course. He sighed. “Look, Azrael... I think I might have found a way out of this.”
“Really.” The demon didn’t even try to look impressed.
“Yes! Those two down there... I think they know something we don’t. They reckon they’re responsible for the rift.”
Azrael stood up and walked over to the window, watching the commotion in the street below. He raised a single, sardonic eyebrow. “Those two soul-bags?”
Loki looked out of the window too, noticed that somehow Sylar had gotten Willow to safety. Maybe the guy wasn’t a total douche after all. He knocked the urge to go down and rescue them on the head... without Azrael to call off the Haxils he’d be toast. “Yes. And I think they might know a way to reverse all this.”
The demon shook his head, and then snickered. “Oh, Loki. Loki, Loki. You do amuse me. So gullible. Didn’t you learn anything from yours and Bartleby’s ill-fated escapade?”
Loki decided it was time to use a little of his ‘leverage’ and said, “Are you gonna listen to me or do I have to drop in on Lucifer and accidentally ‘let slip’ *your* role in mine and Bartleby’s ill-fated escapade?”
There was a long pause. “Very well,” Azrael said with a smooth gesture. “Continue.”
Loki turned on his heel. “Right. Well, one of them can access the magics, and we’re gonna go to LA and...”
A hard wooden object smashed into the back of his skull, splintering with the force of the impact. Dazed, losing consciousness, the last thing he heard was Azrael’s silken voice.
“Thankyou Loki. I think I’ll take it from here. Can’t risk any of my associates finding *you* with the merchandise...”
Willow blinked awake, her vision cloudy. She woke up to a foggy red light, feeling like she’d done ten rounds with a slayer. She appeared to be lying under a truck. She groaned and reached up to touch her head, which felt extremely tender. Apparently she’d been knocked out.
She lay on the ground, waiting for her memories to sort themselves out. They watched a marching battalion of Haxil Beasts, relatively safely from the windows of a penthouse suite. Then a window smashed, and then she fell. Time had slowed down. How had she survived the fall? That penthouse was fifteen floors up!
Sylar must have somehow cushioned her fall, she reasoned.
Then she noticed that she was staring at his head. His *severed* head.
“Ack!” Willow made an involuntary noise and scrambled further under the car, away from the grisly sight. It appeared to have rolled down the street and come to a stop by the wheel of a nearby car. The eyes were as dead as they had been in the magic den, and the hair and skin was covered in blood and dust. The tender skin of his neck was ripped to shreds, tendons and vertebrae sticking out of the bloody stump. It looked like someone had *pulled* his head off.
There was a time when she’d have happily mounted his severed head on a pike and kept it in her bedroom as a trophy. It marked how much her feelings had changed that she now felt saddened by the sight.
For the briefest instant, she was flooded with relief. She could feel compassion again. She was still Willow.
She scrambled out from the car and snatched Sylar’s severed head, determined to hang onto it until she found his body. She realised immediately that she had made a mistake.
“Woman!” A nearby Haxil Beast bellowed and thumped his chest. “I found her!”
Willow dropped the head and dived for the car, still on her hands and knees. She was too late, and the beast yanked her back by her ankle. She squealed, kicking and flailing against the demon, but it dragged her up anyway. Pain shot through her body as the Haxil Beast held onto her ankle, dangling her upside down, and ten feet off the ground. It sniffed her.
“Get off, get off!” She tried, and failed, to wriggle free. Blood rushed to her head and she soon became dizzy. Through the confusion she heard a silken male voice say, “Please stop playing with that. She’s not for you, she’s for the camps. Put it in the cage, there’s a good Haxil Beast.”
It carried her over to the rest of the hoard and unceremoniously dumped her in ‘the cage’, knocking the wind out of her. Panting, she surveyed her surroundings.
She was in a kind of cart, to which metal bars had been welded to fashion a cage. The wheels started to turn, and she realised one of the Haxil Beasts was dragging the cart. Several feet away, another cart was being dragged. In it was Sylar’s body and head, still very much severed from each other. She panicked, scanning the street for Loki, hoping for a rescue. The Haxils had no problem clearing the streets of debris, and she soon realised the battalion had got what they had come for and were now heading back to wherever they came from. She attempted a confusion spell under her breath in desperation, but nothing happened.
She didn’t know how she’d worked the magics. She hadn’t consciously done so, and try as she might, she couldn’t recreate whatever she’d done in the dream. Every time she tried to work something, it just felt as if nothing was there. But Loki had insisted there was. She clung to the spark of hope, even while she was being wheeled off to Goddess-knows-where as a result of magics she knew not how to work.
Oh crap, she was being taken to one of the demon concentration camps. She tried not to hyperventilate. The disturbing sight of Sylar’s head and body rolling around in the cage next to hers was too much. She tried to reach an arm through, hoping to force the head back onto the body. Surely that would work? He couldn’t really be dead. He was her way out of this hole! Unfortunately she couldn’t reach, and she soon had a Haxil Beast threaten to remove her arm if she didn’t pull it back inside the cage.
Willow curled up in the corner and struggled not to cry. Somehow, within the space of half an hour, she’d gone from travelling to LA to save the world with an ex-angel guide and a super-human protector, to prisoner of a Haxil Beast hoard. All because of some stupid, confusing-as-hell dream.
The cages holding her and what was left of Sylar rolled on, kicking up dust, and Willow waited for help. But Loki never came. And soon, they were leaving the city behind.
Hours passed. Soon, the lack of food and water started to get to her, and she dazed in and out of consciousness. Some guy in a dapper white suit occasionally brought her cans of soda and packets of chips, just enough to keep her from starving but the sugar rush and resulting lows didn’t do much to improve her mood. Small horns protruded from his forehead so she guessed demon. He seemed interested in Sylar’s body, occasionally entering the cage to poke at it as it started to rot and decay. They had put his head in a separate box to prevent the two from merging, and so Willow deduced that they had somehow figured out Sylar’s invulnerability. What were they planning for him? The smell of his rotting corpse started to make her feel sick if she concentrated on it for too long.
She wondered what had become of Loki. Though she hoped his ‘leverage’ had somehow worked and he was tailing them at that very moment, planning a rescue, she couldn’t help but admit how ludicrous it sounded. The logical outcome was that he was dead, and no one was coming to help. With that in mind, she concentrated on examining her magics – or the lack of them – and trying to work out how she’d summoned the Prince of Lust.
Ok, so she’d had an erotic dream. Wasn’t the first, probably wouldn’t be the last. Normally these sort of dreams exclusively featured Kennedy, though sometimes she dreamt of Oz and Tara too. She’d never expected Sylar to pop up unannounced – and the spike of lust that had followed – but she figured her brain was just confused after everything that had happened between them. Heck, she’d invaded his mind and projected naked visions of herself, she’d witnessed him jerking off in a graveyard, she’d even opened a telepathic link to him while he was murdering yet another person and engaged in a relatively pleasant conversation. Frankly, she was surprised that she *hadn’t* had any disturbing dreams before now.
So, somehow, her passion had summoned a lust demon, or whatever Asmodeus was. It made sense that he could sense lust... but then how come Loki’s enthusiastic drinking hadn’t summoned the Prince of Gluttony? Was that because of his leverage? Or because Willow had, subconsciously, managed to pull some magic from *somewhere* and gave herself away? If so, where the curly heck had it come from?
All the thinking was making her head hurt, but at least it was a respite from the monotony of travelling. The days stretched into more days, and then weeks, and all the while, Sylar’s corpse decomposed.
She had to remind herself that he’d come back once before from nothing but a skeleton. This was just a flesh wound in comparison. But still... what if he was gone? A small part of her felt relieved that she was finally free of him, but the overriding emotion was still sadness. In a way, she’d started to become hopeful that she might, one day, be able to make peace with him. She’d even been tossing the word ‘forgiveness’ around in her head, trying it on for size. She was a long way off but... if she could free herself of him mentally, and emotionally, then she’d finally be able to move on.
But there was little chance of doing that if he died. He would forever be a spectre in her past, an unresolved torment in her life. She prayed to the Goddess, wherever she was, that Sylar would live. Willow *needed* to finish whatever it was they had started together back in the dark little archive room in the J Edgar Hoover building. He couldn’t just be ‘that guy who fucked up her life who may or may not have been sorry about it and who she may or may not have been able to forgive’.
If only she could talk to Buffy.
Buffy had triumphed against the odds so many times that Willow had all but forgotten what it was like to feel doomed. No matter how bad it got, they had all become so used to Buffy sorting it out, that they had stopped even worrying about it. And now Buffy had asked Willow to save the world, and she was failing spectacularly. How had Buffy ever coped with this pressure?
And they had all just assumed that she could, and would, save the world no matter how big or bad the apocalypse. And she just handled it. Buffy took everything in her stride. And yet this feeling of utter hopelessness, the very real temptation to give up and end it all, was threatening to overwhelm Willow. Was this how Buffy had felt, all those years? Was this what Buffy had forced herself to come back from, time and time again?
Willow suddenly felt like a terrible friend. She’d never known. Never even guessed how hard it could be when everything appeared to be lost. But Buffy had never failed them, and this time she had put her success in Willow’s hands. If Willow failed, then Buffy did too.
Over the long journey to wherever it was they were going, Willow started to repeat a mantra over and over in her head. Buffy has never failed the world before, and she won’t fail it this time
. Strangely, the words were reassuring. It was as though she could *feel* Buffy next to her, reminding Willow that she had faith in her. Willow took out Buffy’s note, now quite crumpled, and read it over and over again, and resolved to not die
She couldn’t say how much time had passed, but eventually the well-dressed demon deigned to come over and talk to her. He handed her more chips and soda, and she was so famished that she guzzled them down with little dignity. It was only after she’d wiped the bubbles and crumbs from her chin that she noticed he was still walking beside the cage, studying her actions. “What?”
“How did you two get here?” he asked.
Willow’s eyes went wide. “W-What do you mean?”
He gave her a ‘who are you kidding?’ look and continued. “Petal, you’re clearly not from around here. Your friend there is impervious to harm, although I must say the Haxil Beasts’ solution of transporting him in pieces was quite ingenious, and he can manipulate magic. And you don’t look as if you’ve done a day’s hard labour in your life, so I’m going to ask you again, how did you two get here?”
Willow’s thoughts went into overdrive. This guy thought Sylar was the source of the magical disturbance! Which was understandable really, given the apparent immortality. Perhaps it was throwing Sylar into the lion’s den, but every fibre of her being warned her *not* to disabuse the dapper demon of this notion. “What’s it to you how we got here?”
The demon frowned. “Listen, perhaps I’m not making myself very clear. I happen to move in some very influential circles in the pit. Trust me, you do *not* want me as an enemy. Now, if you are a good girl and co-operate, I will see to it that you are placed in one of the surface camps which, all things considered, aren’t that bad. The alternative, I can guarantee, is not something you want to risk.”
Willow swallowed. “If I tell you how I got here, and anything else you want to know, then you won’t need me anymore. Call me insane, but I think I’m better off keeping schtum. At least then I know you won’t be able to injure me *too* badly or you might never get what you want.”
“Have you been taking lessons from my dear friend Loki, little girl?” The demon shone his nails against his lapel, evidently not in the least bit concerned by her lack of co-operation.
“How do you know Loki?” she demanded.
“Let’s just say we go *way* back,” he replied.
“Loki hasn’t... shopped us, has he?” It was an unpleasant notion; she had thought the ex-angel seemed so trustworthy.
“No, petal, your buddy over there did that by inviting the Prince of Lust into his dreams.” He shrugged. “Though, if I were you, I would trust that angel about as far as you could throw him.”
“Now, now. I believe I’m the one doing the questioning here, not you.” He waggled his finger at her. “I’ll ask you one last time, and then I may have to set the Haxils on you. How did you two get here?”
Not good. “You’re wrong. I... er, I escaped the camps. I don’t know how he got here, I found him just like I found Loki. I don’t really know either of them.”
“Perhaps I need to call one of the Haxils over?” He clicked his fingers.
“No!” Willow screeched. “Please, I don’t want to be eaten or spawned with. Listen, you should probably ask Sylar. You already know he’s immortal... why don’t you put his head back on his body and let him tell you how he got here?” And then let him telekinetically vivisect the lot of you,
she thought savagely.
“Oh, don’t worry, we’ll be doing that soon enough.” He studied her for a time. “Very well, perhaps you really *are* just a boring little human. And I’m in a generous mood. Since you may or may not be telling me the truth, I’ll tell you what I’ve decided. I’m going to be nice, and put you in one of the surface camps. And maybe one day I’ll decide to pay you a visit. And perhaps you’ll remember that I’ve been more-than-hospitable and will decide to be a little more co-operative. How does that sound?”
“What are you gonna do with Sylar?”
He cocked his head to one side and smirked. “Wouldn’t *you* like to know? Sweet on him, are you?”
“Of course you’re not,” he replied with a chuckle. “Well Asmodeus certainly is. He just *loves* a strong young man. I’ll be sure to let him know he doesn’t have to fear any competition from you.”Get telekinetically fucked,
she thought to herself.
He became distracted then, and Willow realised that they’d reached their destination. Hellish plains, burning with fires and littered with the corpses of animals and humans alike, were all that was left of the Midwest. Before them a giant canyon snaked across the plains like a fork of lightning, a chasm so deep that she couldn’t see the bottom. An eerie red glow seemed to rise from its depths, as though fires burned deep within. All around, as far as the eye could see, were encampments. The crash and bang of industrial endeavour was interrupted only by a chorus of pained wailing. The humans here were... slaves.
Which was more than could be said for the humans *within* the fissure. From down there she could only hear screams. As their entourage wound down through the camp, they passed skeletal human beings, chained and bound, performing mundane tasks as though in a chain gang. Demon task masters whipped them repeatedly.
These were the surface camps? This is what the well dressed demon meant by ‘not that bad’?! And, Goddess, these people had been trapped like this for two hundred years or more.
Willow repeated her mantra to herself like a lifeline as they passed the legions of sinners.Buffy has never failed the world before, and she won’t fail it this time. Don’t you dare let Buffy down, Willow
END CHAPTER THIRTEEN