TITLE: Unhappy Ninth (1/1)
AUTHOR: Sam James
SPOILERS: Set in the summer after S4 at some point after "Who am I"
SUMMARY: Buffy, Willow and the Gang face a demon on the night of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av. This is another in my Jewish Willow series, but it is completely self-contained.
ARCHIVING: Yes, just email to let me know where. Previous stories in the holiday series can be found at my site http://www.fortunecity.com/tattooine/gargoyle/31/index.htm
DISCLAIMER: Buffy, Willow, Giles, Xander, Anya, and the general mythos belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and 20th Century Fox. I claim no ownership of anything other than the plot.
"Only a few more weeks until some of us have to go back to dorm food," Xander joked to Buffy and Willow. "Mystery meat instead of prime steak. Rubber chicken instead of fried. Spaghetti and spongeballs. But some of us," he gestured to himself, "still will be eating Mum's home cooking."
"My mom's not serving any meat this week," Willow laughed. "It's the nine days." She paused for a moment and then confessed, "Not that I mind, I'm mostly a vegetarian these days anyway."
"Nine days?" Buffy asked, slightly confused.
Willow rested her elbow on their table at the Bronze. "Nine days of Av," she replied. "It's a Jewish thing. Not one of the more popular holidays. For a week and a day observant Jews eat no meat except on Shabbos and then nothing at all on the ninth day of the Jewish month, called Tisha B'Av." Buffy nodded; she already knew that the Jewish calendar used different months. Willow had had one in their dorm because its months corresponded with the lunar cycle, making it easy to identify full moon nights for Oz.
Willow continued, her voice developing a lecturing tone. "And on Tisha B'Av you aren't supposed to say hello to people or sit in chairs. Instead, there's this special prayer ceremony where everyone sits around candles and reads the Book of Lamentations."
"Why?" asked Xander, just as if he had never heard this before when it came up practically every year.
Willow just sighed. "It commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in ancient Israel and the sending the Jews into exile, as well as practically every other bad thing that happened to the Jews." She frowned. "Since the founding of the modern country of Israel most American Jews don't observe this holiday. After all, we have our country back. But my Dad still does, because this is the only real holiday in the summer so the Jewish camp he went to as a kid made a big deal out of it." She took a sip from soda. "Fortunately, he doesn't make Mom and I fast on Tisha B'Av the way we do on Yom Kippur. Whatever else I am, I'm certainly not an Orthodox Jew."
By this point Buffy had a glazed look in her eye and Xander's attention had wandered to two scantily clad females dancing near the stage. Just then Anya, who had not even pretended to listen, exclaimed, "Isn't that Giles? I hope he's not here to make Xander do something dangerous again."
The older man made his way to the table, ignoring the music and crowds by sheer willpower. Willow and Buffy's eyes met. It was definitely trouble.
"What's up, G-man?" Xander asked. "Time for the Scooby Gang to ride again?"
Willow squeezed closer to Buffy to make room for Giles. Buffy twitched away causing Willow to frown slightly. She had hoped Buffy had gotten over that reaction.
Seemingly oblivious to this interplay Giles launched into the crisis. "Something weird is happening."
"Welcome to Sunnydale, home of the hellmouth," Xander joked.
"You seem surprised." Anya commented. "Xander, why is he surprised?" Xander merely rubbed her neck, having long ago concluded that such statements were merely a sign that Anya felt he was concentrating on something other than her.
"This is not a joking matter," Giles said severely. "Two bodies were just found with expressions of incredible torment. There is not a mark on them but they clearly died of extreme pain. I've spent the last five hours researching and I've figured out that they are..."
"Torture demons," Anya interrupted.
"Torture de... huh?" Giles broke off. All eyes turned to Anya.
"I knew one back in my own demon days," Anya said brightly. "They feed off people's pain causing incredible torment. Other demons kill for a purpose or plan. These just enjoy making people die from excruciating agony. I saw a couple of victims once." She described the process of causing pain in complete detail, finishing with "I want another soda. Can someone get me a soda?" Xander, Willow, and Buffy, all looking rather green in the face, all pushed their sodas to her.
Giles, who had listened intently, asked. "Do you know of any way to get rid of it? My books were rather more informative on what had been tried and failed, than what actually worked."
Anya took a big sip of soda. "Eventually it runs out of people to torture," Anya said. "Then it moves on."
"Not an option," Buffy said. "I don't let vampires eat my town, I'm certainly not gonna let it get tortured to death." She hopped off her chair, "Time for a little slayage."
"Buffy," Giles warned darkly. "This thing has met slayers before."
"And?" Willow finally was the one to ask.
"They get tortured too." Giles barely breathed the words.
It was a very silent band of teenagers who walked out of the Bronze. After a quick stop for weapons they began patrolling. Despite the danger, none of the group wanted to let Buffy face this latest menace alone. They had wandered for maybe an hour along Sunnydale's silent streets as the sun set a scream of unbelievable anguish shattered the silence.
Buffy ran to the sound at full slayer speed. The others followed at a more human pace. By the time they reached her, Buffy had already launched herself at the demon.
Willow looked at the body who had screamed. It was a young mother, maybe 28, with long black hair. Willow recognized her instantly as Mrs. Halisheen, a neighbor of theirs who had a little boy, about three. An innocent little boy. Willow looked around and moved some bushes. The toddler's body lay dead at her feet; his tiny face twisted with hurt and horror. "Buffy better kill this demon dead," she got out "Or I'll do it myself."
Meanwhile Buffy was not having much luck at all. She punched and kicked to no avail. The demon just stood there serene. Its tall red body did not even move but hitting him was like punching stone, and just as effective. At first, Buffy was barely aware of the pain, her anger and slayer concentrating overriding the pain. But the more she hit him, the more she hurt. Finally she began moaning as she continued battering the motionless figure.
Giles was the first to realize what was going on. "His pain powers. He is using them on you. He's making you his next target."
"His next meal actually," commented Anya casually. "He eats the pain."
Xander looked at Giles. "If we all hit him at once?"
Giles answered, "It will do no good whatsoever."
"Time for plan B then," Xander said brightly. Everyone looked at him; even Buffy stopped hitting long enough to glare. "Of course, I don't exactly have a plan B, but it is certainly time for one." Everyone sighed. "How about... We lure him into a trap."
"We don't have a trap." Giles protested.
"We go back to the your books and find one."
"Guys," Willow interrupted. "He's moving." He was indeed. Moving toward Buffy, slowly but surely, his body flowed from one position to the other.
"Plan B," Xander announced. "Run!"
As they ran, Willow looked back at Mrs. Halisheen's body and felt a rash of anger. The poor woman never had a chance. She was struck down on her way to services. To services. The germ of an idea burst in her mind. "Buffy!" she yelled. "Go toward the synagogue."
"What?" Buffy was flabbergasted. "Shouldn't we get him *away* from people?"
Giles caught up with Willow, despite his age, the ex-Watcher was in excellent shape. "I must agree with Buffy, any trap should be in an isolated spot or there will be too many victims for him to torture."
"Giles, tonight's the ninth of Av," Willow explained. "They're reading the Book of Lamentations."
Giles glanced at her and nodded. The girl clearly had an idea. And the experience of the last few years had taught him that Willow's ideas were usually good.
Xander just looked at Anya. "Lamentations?" he asked.
"Believe me, I've seen a lot of them." She smiled. "I was the cause of most of them."
"But what does the word mean?" Xander's own cries were cut off as they neared the synagogue, an intriguing mix of stone and glass that seemed slightly out of place in a California town. They were close enough to hear the worshipers sing, "How the city sits solitary, that once was full of people! How she has become as a widow all alone! She who once stood great among the nations, and princess among all provinces, how she has dwindled!"
"Okay, we're here," Buffy said, the only one of the group who was not out of breath. "Now what's the plan?"
"There's no time to explain," Willow said. "But he's gonna have to use his pain thingy on me and I know I'll extremely not like it."
Both Giles and Xander objected but Willow insisted. "It's got to be me, I'm Jewish; I have a blood link to my people." Giles nodded, putting the pieces together and deducing her plan. He mentally wished her luck and then motioned the others away.
The monster came, catching Willow unaware as she concentrated. She barely had time to concentrate on the words she had chosen as her focus "Um Yisrael Chai" --the people of Israel live-- before the pain hit her. Her agony was unbearable as every nerve screamed. Still she maintained her focus and concentrated on the words wafting in the air from the synagogue. The pain moved through her and then suddenly behind her. The demon lifted up his head. He was not just feeling the red-headed girl's pain. He was tapping into a far richer source of anguish, of... of lamentation.
Images flashed through the demon's pain-link with Willow and Willow's own tie to her people.
=Tisha B'Av, 1990. Saddam Hussein of Iraq launches a war on Kuwait.= The demon feeds on the pain as missiles attack the Jewish state of Israel.
=Tisha B'Av, 1942. The Jews' final attempt to defend themselves from the Nazis failed as the Nazis capture the Warsaw ghetto in Poland and begin sending Jews to the death camps. Screams of suffering and loss are heard.= The demon eats well.
=Tisha B'Av, 1940. Hitler's lieutenant Himmler announces the "Final Solution" -the Holocaust.= The demon consumes the attempted extermination of an entire race.
=Tisha B'Av, 1917. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand sparks World War One and sets in motion the forces leading to the Holocaust.= The demon continues to feed as millions die in a war that pits cavalry troops armed with swords against machine guns.
=Tisha B'Av, 1492. The Jews are expelled from Spain. The Spanish Inquisition forces Jews their wealth, property, and homes that had been theirs for generation.= The now bloated demon feeds off the sorrow of the dispossessed.
=Tisha B'Av, 1290. King Edward I expels all Jews from England.= The taste of this ceaseless suffering has become bitter to the demon.
=Tisha B'Av, 135. The last remnants of the Jewish struggle against the Romans, Bar Kochba's army, is defeated. Hundreds of thousands of Jews are killed. The Romans completely raze the temple ground, all but one of the outer walls, and turn the city into a pagan showplace. The Jews are again thrown into exile.= The demon, now strangely reluctant, laps up the pain.
=Tisha B'Av, 70. The Romans destroy the second temple. The symbol of the Jewish religion, rebuilt after years of toil, is destroyed. Millions of Jews are killed by the Romans as the arch of Titus is erected for this "triumph."= The demon makes no effort to consume this agony, but finds he cannot avoid it.
=Tisha B'Av, 587 BCE (Before Common Era). Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroy the Jews' first temple, built by King Solomon.= By now the demon, swollen to twice its previous size, has begun struggling to avoid the mourning of the people, exiled for the first of many times, convinced they will die out in a foreign land.
=Tisha B'Av, 1312 BCE estimated. The spies sent by the escaped slaves from Egypt return and tell the future Jews that the people occupying the land of Israel are too mighty to fight. The Jews must wander in the desert for 40 years until those born in slavery had died out and the Jews had become a people accustomed to freedom.= The demon cannot avoid this pain flowing into him. His cries of agony merged with those of the people.
The images, carrying with them the enormous pain and suffering of an exiled people who have survived more than 2000 years of pain and suffering, flowed from the Jews to Willow, from Willow to the torture demon. In all its existence, the demon had never tasted such a ceaseless source of misery. And the demon, trapped by its own nature, absorbed more and more and grew larger and larger until, finally, it could take no more.
The explosion of the torture demon was actually fairly quiet on the physical realm, but each of the observers felt they had gone through a spiritual earthquake. It seemed to begin from what would have been the heart of the demon, if the demon had a heart, and spread throughout its body, breaking apart into pieces and then evaporating like tears on the cheek.
Everyone smiled. With the passing of the demon, the pain it had absorbed seemed to have been destroyed with it. Willow felt the pain she had channeled dissipate, even the last remnants of her grief from Oz's betrayal and abandonment vanished. Buffy seemed more at ease with the burden of being the slayer. Even Giles seemed to be less uptight and nervous.
"Um, guys, what just happened?" Xander, as always, was Xander.
Willow turned to her best friend, "I gave the demon what he wanted and more. I gave him everything from the Jews' worst day ever," Willow laughed. "And it was too much for even a creature from Hell."
As the Slayerettes walked off into the night, ready to celebrate another victory, Willow thought to herself, "I always thought this holiday was one enormous pain."
Note: This is a real holiday, although many less observant Jews may not know much about it, and historians do believe that all the events listed here (except for the last event with the spies) really did all occur on the same day (using the Jewish calendar, of course). I apologize if you thought the story was a little too preachy, it got a bit away from me in the end.