Damned If I Don't, Damned If I Do
Part Three of The Damned Series


PART NINE: 5th July to 23rd September 2004

Chapter Eight: Question of Questions

Buffy gave in to a deep sigh as she looked from one muzzle to the other of the antique guns. They looked like props from a film about the French Revolution - did they use guns in the French revolution? - but she had a feeling they weren't replicas.

Two guards, one on either side of the grand entrance, were bearing the weapons, and they looked pretty serious about her staying on her side of the arch. They looked one hundred percent professional, in fact, despite being dressed like military clowns.

Her forward charge had been thoroughly checked by this new twist, and as she teetered on her tiptoes just under the arch, the guns went through some complicated dance routine until they were pointing safely skyward. She wasn't fooled; just because they weren't pointing at her didn't mean they weren't still thinking of her.

It wasn't that she hadn't expected Troy to have some kind of protection hanging around, not after his demons at the warehouse. She just hadn't expected to encounter any right on the street like this, and bearing weapons in broad... streetlight.

She needed a ruse quick. If she just kept gawping at them, they'd think she was just another groupy... Hey, she had a ruse!

"Hi guys, I'm here to see Troy," she smiled cheerfully, giving a little wave, seeing who was the most susceptible to the clueless blonde in the short red dress. "He's expecting me; honest. Are you guys, like, my armed escort? 'Cause that is so cool!"

The clown standing on the left of the arch didn't even blink. "Mr Athanasia is not receiving visitors tonight."

"Are you sure?" Buffy kept her big smile. "'Cause I just saw him, like, a minute ago and he told me to come right over."

"Mr Athanasia is not receiving visitors tonight."

Buffy slumped, "Yeah, you said that already."

There were no chinks in the guards' multicoloured defence then, but maybe she could make a Buffy-shaped hole in them. She was getting into that house tonight, and if she had to do it in a rain of bullets, well... she looked at the guns again and gulped.

Buffy didn't like getting shot; she'd tried it, and it so wasn't for her, but surely these guys wouldn't shoot her. She was an American... on foreign soil, and that counted for... stuff! Troy couldn't get away with having her killed on the strada. People would ask questions. And not just her friends, important people even. There would be enquiries made and an investigation undertaken, and then, possibly, a... war?

With that not particularly comforting thought in mind - after all, if there was a war in honour of her death, it wasn't like it was going to do her a lot of good - she dropped her shoulder and steeled herself - wincing internally - to charge.

"If you are wondering if they will kill you in an instant?" The conversational question from behind paused Buffy; partly because she was wondering just that, and partly because the voice was familiar. "The answer is yes."

"Huh." Buffy tilted her head sideways as she relaxed the tension in her muscles. "Okay, thanks for the warning. Will they shoot me just for standing here?"

"Perhaps, if they see you are talking to me."

"Could you go away then?"

There was a soft laugh behind her. Buffy sighed again and finally turned around.

Quantiaro was leaning against an impressive statue in the centre of the small plaza. He smiled as she made her way over, being careful not to get too close because of his contagious good feelings - she didn't have time to be happy and she wasn't in the mood to be loved-up.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"I have a better question," he countered. "What are you doing here?"

"Attempting to see Faith, not that it's any of your business."

"You want to be her friend? To put your past behind you? To ignore your feelings? To let her be happy with someone else because you are so noble?"

Buffy's eyes narrowed, "How do you...?"

Quantiaro waved her question away. "You do not have time to be gracious. The equinox is almost upon us."

"I kno..." Buffy paused, a blank look slowly crossing her face. "Nope, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Quantiaro shook his head slightly, regarding her through his dark glasses. "I believed he had backed the wrong horse, choosing Miss Lehane over you, but I guess your hype really is just hype."

"Wanna find out how hard my hype can punch?" she asked angrily, raising her fist as she stepped forward. "Gah!" Overcome by the sudden urge to hug him instead, she back-stepped quickly, holding her arms tight to her sides. "How come you know Faith's surname when I didn't?"

"I took the time to learn it," his tone made it clear it wasn't something he considered important.

Buffy grit her teeth and clenched her fists. "You're just loving this, aren't you? I bet you and Troy aren't even really enemies; you're probably frat bro's or something. Did he send you down here? Because if he thinks you are gonna distract me from seeing Faith..."

Quantiaro tipped his head back to look at the night sky, rolling his hand in time with Buffy going on and on and on. "You know I think I have worked it out," he cut her off. "Why - even though you could theoretically prevent it before lunch - the balance of the universe is about to be drastically altered for all time."

She folded her arms across her chest, "Care to tell me?"

"You have developed tunnel vision. A cataclysmic upheaval is on the horizon if Troy succeeds in his task. We are not just talking about a few demons trying to make their mark on the world; we are talking about how humanity as a whole will suffer for years untold if this comes to pass. We are talking volcanoes erupting, earthquakes ripping apart the land, storms that last for days, droughts that last for months and famine that lasts for years. We are talking the end of life as everyone on the planet knows it - and all you can think about is your little girlfriend!"

Buffy listened hard to what he had to say, because, if nothing else, at least someone was finally telling her what was going on.

"Time is running short and you are asking the wrong questions." Quantiaro continued. "You are asking how I know Miss Lehane's surname, when you should be asking...?"

It was Buffy who cut him off this time, "How do you know Faith? Or... or why, if you and Troy aren't friends, would you have any interest in who Faith is? A'ha," Buffy snapped her fingers. "What's so damn interesting about Faith anyway?...Damn!" Buffy winced, scrunching her shoulders. "Please tell me she's not standing behind me right now?"

Quantiaro chuckled and gave a little shake of his head, "I imagine Faith will be convinced to stay behind the walls of Palazzo Immortale for a few days; at least until Troy has found a way to deal with your presence. But I am glad you are finally beginning to question the bigger picture."

Buffy was no longer listening, "Troy has a palace too!?"

She turned to look at the face of the fifteenth century building behind her. At four stories it was impressively high, but it was it's grandeur that set it apart. The stones looked like butter blocks in the lamp light. The light also caught the thick curving cornices running around the edge of the flat roof, giving the gargoyles and griffins nestling up there strangely expressive faces.

In Rome, palaces seemed to be a dime a dozen. Was it really surprising Troy would own one of them, and one of the nicer ones too?

"He really does have everything, doesn't he? How was I ever supposed to compete with that? Not that I want to now or anything, I mean, I know Faith's made her choice and I need to accept that. I'd rather be her friend than nothing at all, I think, and we did have some fun times as friends. There's no reason we can't get that back, right?"

Quantiaro groaned, muttering a prayer for strength.

"Sorry, big picture." Buffy resolved, before asking, "Why are you wearing sunglasses at night?"

"Did you hear what I said about the volcanoes?"

"Fine," Buffy huffed as she studied the statue he was leaning on. "Sunglasses less important than big mountains spewing flamey rock. Hey, I have a question, what did you mean by Troy backing the wrong horse? And why, and I have a feeling this is a related question, does he have a file on my history a foot thick?"

"Your history is very colourful, maybe it needed a lot of pages."

"See, you tell me to get with the big picture and then you give me that kinda answer." Buffy cocked her head to the side as she took in the striking features of the bronze young man on the pedestal, dominating the small plaza. "Who is this guy anyway?"

Quantiaro ignored her, "Buffy, I can not give you direct answers for this, the truth has to come from inside you, otherwise it is useless."

"Well, I 'm drawing a blank. Actually I'm painting a beautiful watercolour of blank," The statue man was bare save for a sheet around his waist - okay, it may have been a toga, but Buffy was definitely left with a 'Hot, naked guy in a sheet!' feeling. "So I don't see how a couple of direct answers can be more useless than that."

"It is about faith."

"Well I'm getting that much," Buffy said impatiently.

"Not Faith... faith! The utter belief in that which can not be seen."

"Yeah, I don't have a lot of that," she admitted. "I prefer my belief seeable, that way I know its worth believing in."

"And that is why we are here."

Buffy looked around at the plaza again, "Actually, I'm here because I need to see Faith. Faith, Faith, not the other kind of faith."

"Because you could not believe she truly loved you from America; you needed to see the proof."

"I'm just here to help her plan her wedding."

"By all that is holy, you should have been drowned in the Nile at birth!"

Buffy gave him a warning glare, "Would have been a little far from the maternity suite in LA."

"I give up!" Quantiaro pushed himself off of the statue. "What do I care if civilisation goes down the plug hole? Perhaps what you people need is a good hot dousing with molten lava. Heck why stop there, perhaps a meteorite is exactly what you sorry lot deserve. Do you think it is easy planting the knowledge of flushable toilets into someone's dreams? Do you know how many scrub fires we nearly started before we found the right mix of pure energy and devout faith to create living flame to burn that bush with? But if you want a return to the dark days of black magic and constant chaos, far be it from me to waste my time trying to stop it. You have a thousand channels of television and complain there is nothing on, well see how you like it when the blood sport of the arena is your only viewing pleasure."

Buffy had gone wide-eyed as his rant went on and on, surprised by his outburst - okay she'd only met him twice, but he'd seemed so mild mannered - but even more surprised by the apparent nonsense pouring from his mouth. It had to be nonsense, but whether it was or not, none of it sounded good. Slayer she may have been, but blood sports were so not her thing. The idea of a television that only showed boxing and fox hunting was not a nice one.

"Okay, I'm sorry," she said slowly. "I didn't mean to piss you off. I'm listening now."

"I no longer care," he gave a shrug and walked off.

"Wait!" she called after him.

He did stop, but as she soon realised, not because she'd asked him to. He was talking to himself.

"I'm sorry, my Lord, I know I speak of too much, but she is impossible. If she is the true essence of humanity, I say we leave them to each other and good riddance." Quantiaro hung his head and was silent.

Buffy regarded him with new suspicion, wondering if the stranger was not only in possession of some weird powers, but also a Schizophrenic. He was obviously hearing voices in his head - but were they real or imagined?

"Hey," she called over to him when the silence stretched on, disturbed only by the sound of the fountain behind the hunky statue.

Quantiaro gave a quick shake of his head, as if hearing something that displeased him, turned and walked back to her.

"My Lord apologises, as do I," he started, his tone more formal than before. "We had forgotten how imprudent you can sometimes be. I am to answer your questions directly as you choose to ask them and just pray that your heart is not as brainless as your mind." He even gave her a little bow.

"Your Lord called me brainless?"

"I may have been less than charitable with my interpretation," Quantiaro admitted, a faint smirk on his lips. "Please forgive me; as someone unable to curse without severe retribution, I must find other ways to relieve the frustration you cause me. Shall we begin?"

"Why aren't you allowed to curse?" Buffy asked automatically, but then her eyes widened yet again in panic. "Wait, this isn't a three questions only deal, is it?"

"I wish that were so," Quantiaro sighed, sitting on the ledge of the fountain. "Swearing is forbidden by my holy order."

"Who's your lord?" Buffy asked next.

"I can't answer that."

"You just said you were told to answer anything," Buffy pointed out.

"Anything except that."

"Okay." Buffy smiled, trying to think cleverly. "What's he lord of?"

"I am not stupid, Slayer. Ask me a question of relevance."

"Why can't you just tell me everything you know?" That was a question.

And she got an answer, "Because it would take two hundred days, and we do not have that long."

She was about to ask why it would take so long, when he held up his hand.

"Please, be quiet for a moment; think very hard - not with your head, but with your heart. There are a million questions that you could ask me tonight, but only one of them will truly help you. Think with your soul, let the faith inside you lead to the question of questions."

"Why, are we on a time limit here?"

"No, but you have given me a headache," he smiled properly for the first time in ten minutes. "Now think."

Buffy nodded and closed her eyes. What did she have to lose?

She pushed away her reoccurring jealousy at Troy having a palace, and did her best to clear her mind. Quantiaro seemed to think one question was all she needed to figure out what was going on, but it had to be the right question, and only the faith inside her would lead her to it...

She opened her eyes, "Why does Troy need a Chosen One so badly?"

Quantiaro smiled and let out a little relieved laugh. "To think all you needed was focus, perhaps humanity isn't such a lost cause after all. There is a prophecy that dates back many thousands of years, to a time long before I came into existence, which tells of a man that will be born in the twenty-first century. His destiny is to rule all of mankind. He will achieve this through fear and manipulation, through tyranny and anarchism, through persecution and death..."

Buffy had gone cold at the first mention of the prophecy. As Quantiaro kept talking, that coldness turned to ice.

'My son,' she thought. 'The twenty-first century's answer to Hitler, with a splash of Saddam thrown in for a real kick. How proud am I?'

Quantiaro hadn't finished, "The prophecy states clear that only three Slayers are able to bear this rotten fruit, and he..."

The loud sound of two guns being cocked stopped Quantiaro mid-sentence. He lifted his head heavenwards and gave a deep sigh. Buffy turned her head to the sound, expecting to see the two guards from the archway there. She wasn't disappointed. She was a little surprised though when she realised Troy was standing with them.

If there had been any colour left in her face after Quantiaro's speech, it would have drained out now.

"Hello, Buffy, it is good to see you," he greeted her levelly. "You are looking very well."

"It is? I am?" Buffy was too surprised by his almost warm welcome to inject any sarcasm into her own words. "Uh, thanks." She stopped just short of saying, 'you too.'

"I see you have met my friend Amasai."

"Ama...?" Buffy started, then nodded in understanding, getting a little of her wits back. "You mean this guy, your arch nemesis, right?"

Troy smiled; it was one of his nicer ones. "Nemesis, especially arch ones, are usually more of a challenge than this aspirant."

Buffy noticed Quantiaro smirked at that. "I have you running a little faster each day, Troy. Creative name, by the way," he added sarcastically.

"Yes, but I have you running in circles every day." Troy smirked back. "And it seemed appropriate for the times."

Quantiaro chuckled at a joke Buffy wasn't in on.

Troy turned to her, "If you are ready, Faith will see you now."

"I'm sorry?" Buffy's eyes bulged, figuring she must have heard wrong. "What?"

Chapter Nine

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Part Nine Quick-Jump:

Chapter One || Chapter Two || Chapter Three || Chapter Four || Chapter Five || Chapter Six || Chapter Seven Chapter Eight || Chapter Nine || Chapter Ten || Chapter Eleven || Chapter Twelve || Chapter Thirteen || Chapter Fourteen || Chapter Fifteen || Chapter Sixteen || Chapter Seventeen || Chapter Eighteen || Chapter Nineteen || Chapter Twenty || Chapter Twenty One || Chapter Twenty Two || Chapter Twenty Three || Chapter Twenty Four || Chapter Twenty Five || Chapter Twenty Six || Chapter Twenty Seven || Chapter Twenty Eight || Chapter Twenty Nine || Chapter Thirty || Chapter Thirty One

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