A/N: Thanks so much to my reviewers, they really mean a lot to me, especially since there aren't many story in this section. I was originally going to have Illyria go back with Dawn, but in the end, it would have just caused problems, so Dawn will be going back alone. Still no Knights in this chapter, but next chapter, I promise.
The battle raged heavily. Dawn could no longer stand on the sidelines with her magic, the vampire's numbers were just too many and they had her surrounded. Dierdre had fallen soon after Yvanna had, there had been no stopping it. Dawn ducked a swing and pulled a sword from her hip. This was the part she was less good at. Dawn knew she was more likely to trip and stab someone rather than do it on purpose. She would have preferred to keep to her magics on the sideline, but that wasn't looking to be an option at the moment. She slammed the hilt of her sword backward into the face of one before spinning on her toe and attempting to lop of his head. He blocked with his own sword and exerted some force in bringing her sword down to the ground. She jumped backward, pulling her sword away from the confines of his and swung again, he blocked once more and she kicked him in the gut, putting as much of her strength behind it that she had. She saw her opened and stuck her sword through his side, pulling up and ripping him a rather large new hole that would leave him immobile for a moment, giving her ample time to swing and take his head off as she had originally intended to do.
Dawn didn't have the time to stop and congratulate herself on her defeat of the vampire, for in the next second, there was an arrow lodged into her shoulder. She cried out and clutched the arrow, dropping her sword in surprise. The force of the arrow sent her stumbling backward and she erected a shield around herself, keeping herself safe from the vampires that had tried to pile on her vulnerable state. She panted for air as she clutched the hilt of the arrow and with a grunt, she pulled the it from the meat of her shoulder. A cry spilled from her lips and her teeth snapped together, breath coming in sharp, short bursts as she tried to reign in her pain. The blood flowed down her arm freely as she picked up her sword, the shield immediately dropping as soon as she had the weapon in her hand. She didn't have the control it took to fight and preform magic at the same time.
As the lithe brunette threw herself back into battle she heard Buffy's voice ring loudly across the battlefield, instructing Slayers to fight. She knew there was an army of Slayers, almost enough to match the army of Vampires. Almost. But these were no normal vampires as Dawn had come to find. They were an ancient Sleeper Sect. So called Sleepers for the fact that no one had heard nary a word of them for...hundreds of years, maybe more. Then suddenly, the entire army had started with the whole death and destruction mess that had brought the Slayers to Hadrian's Wall in the first place. Dawn felt relief when she heard Buffy, a relief that only came accompanying the voice of her sister. It was like a safety net had been draped over her. No matter how much she hated being babied by her sister, Dawn would always appreciate that Buffy kept her safe from danger and she'd come to associate her sister's very presence with being safe.
But she wasn't safe now, no matter if her sister was near or not. Not surrounded by a sect of ancient vampires could she ever be safe. So she fought. Dawn blocked a sword, using both of her hands to keep her own from vibrating right out of her hands. She used all of her strength to whip her sword around, forcing the vampire in front of her to drop his sword. Dawn kicked it up with her foot and caught the hilt, using both swords to slice off the head of the vampire. It felt comforting to have the weight of two blades her hands, familiar somehow. She spun them around experimentally and then went to work with a new vigor, dodging through vampires and parrying thrusts. She could hear shouts from the Slayers, could hear chanted spells from the witches that Willow had brought up to the hill. The sounds of battle raged in her ears. Metal clanged on metal, cries of anguish and pain, cries of triumph and relief, encouragement and warnings were shouted, bodies slumped to the ground all around her. She didn't have the time to take her eyes off of her own fight to save anyone else.
She twirled the two swords in her hand and crossed them at the neck of a vampire that was distracted by one of the slayers. “Drop the girl,” she spoke clearly. The vampire froze and his grip tightened on the slayer, who whimpered in pain and fright. He flung the girl away from him and whirled around, seemingly not caring that his neck was sliced by her swords. Even through the yellow of his eyes, she could tell they were wild, not with animalistic urges, but with madness. Like he'd suddenly gone crazy at the sound of her voice.
“No,” the word dropped from his lips in disbelief.
Her eyebrows arched, “yes,” she responded.
“This...this cannot be,” he murmured to himself.
“What? That you've been bested?” she scoffed, “maybe you're not as good as you think.”
If it were possible for a vampire's face to drain of color, Dawn was sure that his would have, he looked so perfectly stunned. “Do not touch her,” he warned a vampire that was coming up behind her, his voice was sharp and commanding and the vampire immediately backed away and went to find someone else. “You are not real,” his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.
Dawn flinched back at his words, feeling them like a slap to the face. How many times had she been told that in her life time? She didn't care to count them, but they still hurt each and every time. But there was no way that this vampire, this...beast
, could know anything about her unless he truly was mad. “You're not looking so peppy yourself, buster. I'd be careful what you say to the woman who has a couple of swords pointed at your neck.” she warned him, suddenly wondering why it was that she hadn't just ended this man instead of giving him the chance to engage her. No...not a man. A vampire. She forced herself to make that distinction.
“A vision - my old age has finally snapped my mind,” he laughed hysterically, falling silent after a couple of seconds.
“What are you going on about?” Dawn demanded, “what vision? Speak quickly or my blades will end your suffering”
“Still the same,” he murmured to himself, “never learned manners then,” he chuckled. “But then...I suppose being dead doesn't help.”
“The dead do not bother me,” Dawn responded harshly, “it's those that refuse to stay buried that I take exception to.”
“Of course,” he replied, almost sardonically; the wild, crazed look never leaving his eye.
Dawn's mind was taken back, suddenly, to the letter she'd read in the bedchamber. The letter in her own handwriting, addressed to her, informing her of how she'd failed to save the men from becoming vampires. These very vampires before her. This man was staring at her as though he were seeing a ghost and suddenly, it seemed to click into Dawn's mind what was happening and why he wasn't making any sense. “Did you know me?” she asked him cautiously.
“A very long time ago,” he murmured, eyes glazed and distant.
“You saw me die?”
“I was there,” he answered through gritted teeth, focusing his gaze back to her, as though seeing her for the first time. “Which is why you cannot be here. It is my mind playing tricks.”
“I'm here,” she told him, brow furrowed tightly as a look of pain crossed his face. He reached up his hand, but Dawn did not feel threatened, she waited for the cool fingertips to touch her face, held her breath in anticipation. Suddenly, he stilled, eyes wide with shock. Dawn felt trepidation trickle into her stomach seconds before he disintegrated into dust right before her eyes, his fingertips being the last things to crumble. “NO!” the exclamation burst from her so forcefully it felt like it had taken a part of her with it. She stared, wide-eyed as the dust settled, her stomach churning sickly. Slowly, her eyes rose to the offender. Her sister, standing there proudly with a determined air about her.
“Alright, Dawnie?” the oldest Slayer asked carefully.
“M'fine,” she mumbled thickly, eyes straying from the blonde back to the ground where the pile of dust had settled.
“I know you probably had it all under control,” Buffy went on, turning to block a swing from a vampire with a grunt “but he looked like he was getting too close.” she decapitated the vampire in front of her and turned back to her shell-shocked sister. “Dawnie?” concerned filtered into her voice.
“What?” Dawn snapped her gaze up. “Thank you,” she said quickly, turning away from the blonde to return to the fight, her mind buzzing with what he just happened. She'd known that man from the past – or...he'd known her past self from the past – or...her head began to pound all over again. He'd definitely recognized her. He hadn't tried to kill her, he even warned off another vampire from killing her. She wondered what stilled his hand from ripping her throat out when he had the chance. What distinguished her from the other girls he had been ripping apart on the battlefield? Maybe it was just because he recognized her from when he was human and that had struck a chord with him.
From that point on, Dawn didn't get touched by a vampire. Not even when she attempted to fight them. They looked at her and backed away, fading into the crowd. She was beginning to feel frustration unfurl in her gut. It seemed that word had spread like wildfire that the man, the vampire she'd spoken with had given an order to leave her untouched. No one dared betray it even though he was dust. She growled with anger as yet another vampire recoiled from her and bled into the battle, like a friggin ghost. She was not going to be engaged again, she knew this, but that didn't stop her from using her magics against these beasts. Cries continued to pierce the air, terrible pain filled cries that only spurred Dawn's anger onward.
“Control yourself, Key,” Illyria hissed, backing up to stand next to the brunette. “I can feel your magic leaking.”
“So much death,” Dawn whispered lowly, not taking her eyes off the battle. “So many have died. I never wanted this. I thought this battle was going to be a clear victory...I was certain of it.”
“Nothing is ever certain, you of all people should know that,” Illyria responded. She yanked the head off of an approaching vampire and tossed the resulting dust away from her in disgust.
“I feel like a fool,” Dawn muttered, “we were so confident.”
“The battle is not lost,” the Demon King answered.
“No, but how many lives have been? How many more are we going to lose?” Dawn questioned sadly, raising her hands and muttering a word. The vampire nearest her burst into flames and collapsed into dust. In that moment, time slowed for Dawn, just like it was said to do when all important events happen. She saw everything in perfect clarity, it was almost too cinematic to be really happening. As the vampire burst into dust, Dawn saw straight through him and to the battle behind him. She watched as one girl fell and then another, as three vampires tackled a group of witches on the outskirts of the battles. Willow turned to help them and was grabbed from behind and roughly bitten, her throat torn out with a harsh jerk of the vampire's head. Blood spattered everywhere, spraying from the redhead's neck like a fountain. Her face was screwed up in pain and surprise. Dawn's stomach lurched painfully and her hands raised to help. Her attention was drawn away, however, by Buffy's voice, shouting Willow's name over and over again. She turned to face her sister, who was fighting her way towards Willow, horror plainly strewn across her face, her arms quavering with shock and terror for her best friend. Dawn mouth gaped open in a silent scream as Buffy was grabbed and bitten. She fought off the vampire, killed him and continued on with determination. She was bitten by another, a chunk torn from her shoulder. Buffy cried out in shock and backed up into another vampire that spun around, grasped her by the neck and twisted. Dawn could hear the crack from even where she was standing. It took ages for her sister's body to fall to the ground.
“Control,” Illyria pleaded, but her voice sounded far away, muffled, like it was coming from under water. Dawn couldn't listen to her. All she could hear now was the blood rushing through her veins and pounding in her ears; her own voice repeating the word 'no' desperately over and over. She'd heard fear in Illyria's voice, it hadn't even struck her that that had been the first time she'd heard the Old One be afraid of anything, least of all her.
The vampire's were winning. The battle had taken a turn for the worst and all that she had witnessed had happened within a span of seconds though it seemed to take years to unfold. Girls continued to fall around her, the vampires growing stronger with the blood of the Slayer running hot through them. Dawn couldn't take her eyes off those of her sister. They were glazed, lifeless, dull and unseeing. Her neck was twisted at an unnatural angle. “Fall back!” she heard Faith shout loudly and slowly. She was looking over her shoulder, motioning to Vi and Rona who were leading their own troop of new slayers. Very few of them were left. Faith turned her head to look back in front of her and ran face first into a vampire's chest. She immediately jumped backward but was caught around the shoulders. Dawn watched in never-ending shock, unable to move as Vi was taken down first, her throat slashed by a sword. Faith was next, her neck bent to an uncomfortable angle and her throat torn out by a pair of fangs.
Dawn's breath came in bursts. She was hyperventilating. Her world was spinning, her mind couldn't catch up with the happenings of the battlefield. She couldn't move, she couldn't breath
. She felt numb. The world tipped around her as she swayed dangerously on her feet. She was choking on air, her lungs felt like they had collapsed. Her eyes burned with hatred and unshed tears, her muscles quivered with horror and anger. She felt her control snap like a rubber band, felt the recoil in the pit of her stomach. Her head was thrown back by an unnatural force and primal scream tore from her chest. Nothing happened for a moment, leaving a heavy tenseness of anticipation hanging over the battlefield. No one moved, everything was silent and then - everything exploded.
A pulse wave of power rolled off of Dawn, destroying everything evil it touched. Vampires disintegrated to dust even as they were blown backward by her power. But it was not over. Illyria was pleading with her to reign in her control. That she'd destroyed the army and she needed to stop. Dawn either couldn't hear or had decided to forgo listening. All she could see was her sister and her friends being torn apart and the pain poured forth from her body in the form of her power. A second explosion knocked the remaining people on the hill at least fifty feet backward, like a concussion bomb had gone off – the Star Wars kind.
Dawn collapsed then, completely drained of power and almost of her life. Illyria pulled herself up slowly, knowing she was the only living person left. “I told her to control herself” she told herself, wincing at the pain she had been put through thanks to Dawn's loss of control. “Now her power's gone and killed her. Immense good this does for the world” she muttered darkly.
Dawn groaned and tried to lift her head, her vision dark and blurry. Her breathing was shallow, her heart was slow. She reached out towards her sister before falling into nothing. Darkness surrounded her, she saw nothing but black, she wasn't even sure she was standing on solid ground. This couldn't be what death was like, could it? Buffy had spoken of heaven, or at least a heavenly dimension. Maybe this was a hell dimension where she would be forced to stare at blankness for eternity until it drove her insane. “Hello?” she called out tentatively. Maybe this was the Ether that her past self spoke of in the letter. She'd gone and killed herself and the Key had been released. Why then, did she still feel like she had a human body? Wasn't she supposed to be a ball of green energy? Even that would have been giving off some kind of light. “Is anyone here?” she called out again, spinning around in the dark, straining her eyes to find some sort of life. There was none. “Am I all alone?” her voice dropped to a whisper.
“Fear not, Child,” a voice reverberated through the darkness, “we have taken you before Death, you are safe now and alive”.
“How is that possible?” she asked dully, “who are you?”
“We are neither here nor there, neither living nor deceased, neither past nor present nor future” the voice answered, hurting her ears with the loudness of it. Dawn didn't care, she felt her heart break as the battle she'd just finished rushed back to her memory.
“My sister-” a whimper spilled from her lips “my friends...I – what have I done?” her voice grew hoarse as tears welled in her bright blue eyes.
“This was never meant to happen,” the voice answered her.
“Well that's comforting,” she spat. “Who. Are. You? No more vague answers.”
“We are who you seek.”
“We? I only hear one of you,” Dawn retorted.
“We are a whole, we speak as one.”
Dawn was ready to tear her hair out, she was not in the mood for this. “I've just watched everyone that I have ever loved die in front of my eyes and you want to play games with me?” she asked, her voice dangerously low. “Where am I? Who are you? What the hell
do you want with me?”
“It wasn't supposed to happen like this,” the voice confessed. “We will send someone to explain.”
explain!” Dawn demanded angrily. Silence was her answer. “You brought me here, now tell me what the hell is going on! Tell me what you mean! Tell me! ANSWER ME!” she bellowed in the blackness. Only silence remained after her tirade. She fell to her knees as the tears trickled down her cheeks, biting back the painful sobs and buried her face in her hands. She was well and truly alone. How had everything gone so wrong?
“Hope is not lost,” a female voice said through the darkness, a painfully familiar female voice.
“...Cordelia?” Dawn looked up disbelievingly, choking on her tears slightly in her shock.
“You can still save them,” was her answer.
“Cordelia, is that you?” she asked hesitantly, slowly climbing to her feet once more and peering through the darkness.
“Yes, ok? It's me!” Cordelia snapped, huffing with irritation and clapped her hands loudly. The blackness was replaced by pure white and she could see the older girl plainly. She looked amazing for a dead person. “Geez, you people never accept the floaty comforting words, do you?”
Dawn laughed then, laughed with pure incredulity. “You're dead.”
“So are you,” Cordy deadpanned. “Well...kind of, that's what I'm here to explain.”
“What do you mean I can still save them?” Dawn demanded.
“Ok, here's the thing. I can't tell you everything so don't start demanding. What I can tell you, you're not really going to like. I'm dead so you can't kill the messenger either. You're just going to have to suck it up and act like a big girl. Got it?” Cordy folded her arms and arched an eyebrow at the young brunette.
“Just tell me what you can,” Dawn sighed heavily, looking to the ground briefly.
“Alright, good.” Cordy nodded. “See, the things is...those vamps you fought. Really not
supposed to be vamps.”
“But how –”
“Don't interrupt me,” Cordelia held up her hand with a familiar glare. “We were betrayed. Well...not me personally, this was way before my time, but the Powers...they were betrayed.” she said seriously. “By a Power That Was, just...don't ask what that is,” she stopped Dawn before she could even ask. “This PTW, if you will, worked in secret, slipping into the mortal world to contact a powerful vampire master named Aurelius. Thankfully he's not the originator of the Order of Aurelius, so we can hold on to small favors.”
“What are you talking about?” Dawn groaned, trying to soak in this new information.
“Let me finish,” Cordelia snapped. “It directed this vampire towards Hadrian's Wall in 467 A.D. Where a bloody battle was being waged and there were many on the verge of death. It was smoky in that battle, there was a lot of fire going on, Aurelius was able to sneak around fairly undetected, changing all that were on the verge of death. Wanna know why he amassed this army?”
“Let me guess...to put an end to the Slayer line after all of them had been called?” Dawn retorted blandly.
“How'd you know?” Cordy pouted, put out that her surprise had been ruined.
“They only woke up after Willow did her spell,” Dawn pointed out. “Simple deduction. Here's the question, where do I fit into this and how can I save my sister and my friends?”
“By going back and stopping Aurelius, of course” Cordelia answered as if that should have been obvious from the start. “You stop Aurelius, you stop the big bad army from being created, you stop your battle that killed everyone.”
“And if I fail?” Dawn arched an eyebrow.
“Then everyone dies.”
“Cheery, isn't it?” Cordy asked sarcastically. “Here's why it has to be you. The Key's power is great, far greater than you or anyone can control, but it does have the ability to bend space and time, create portals to places. You're going to need that to get back to Hadrian's Wall at the proper time. Your power, however, is unstable. I can't guarantee that you'll be placed exactly where you need to be, exactly when you need to be there...” Cordelia seemed hesitant and Dawn was on guard.
“What can you guarantee?” She asked sharply.
“I can guarantee you won't find yourself past the battle you need to be at,” she replied simply. “There is, however, a catch.”
“Once the portal is created, it requires a sacrifice of power. If you step through, the power of the Key will be unactivated, it will be as though Willow's spell never woke it up. In time, you may find your own way to activate it, but it will lay dormant until then,” the older woman answered, taking in a deep unneeded breath.
“I'll sacrifice it,” Dawn answered immediately. “Will it take away the semi-slayer abilities that I have?”
“No, those are two separate powers. You may retain your speed and your strength.” Cordelia nodded to her and then held up her hand “I forgot to mention one other thing...I'm...kinda going to have to block some of your memories of the battle. If you recognize any of the vampires in the past, it could just be bad all around so when you remember the battle, their faces will be blurry, unrecognizable, their voices distorted. I'm sorry, but this must be done.”
“Good. I don't want to kill innocents for something they haven't done yet.” Dawn's voice was hard and steely, suggesting that she would feel no remorse for preforming such actions. “Will I be able to return?”
“If you succeed...” Cordelia started, looking upward for a moment. “If you succeed, the choice will be yours.”
“And if I fail?” Dawn's eyebrows raised.
“If you fail, you'll be dead and it won't matter,” Cordelia pointed out. “Are you ready?”
“Then give me your hand and let's get this show on the road.” Cordy's smile didn't reach her eyes, it was humorless, it didn't give Dawn much hope but she knew what she had to do. “Oh, oh, one more thing!” she stopped and clapped her hands together with a grin. “We can't have you going back looking like a freak now can we?”
“Hey!” Dawn protested, insulted by the comment and then she looked down at herself. The new material she was wearing was thicker than her original clothing but not too thick. The color was an off white, the neck was high and was held together at the shoulders by little brooches, leaving her arms bare but surrounded by flowing material. There was a rope belt around her waist, giving her shape and the rest hung loose around her. “Is this really necessary?” she asked.
“Blame the time period,” Cordy shrugged and grasped her hand. “Now, prepare yourself. This might hurt.”