May 20, 2004
"Okay, since I'm seeing all of you guys here, I'm guessing you probably all got the same anonymous letter that I did, inviting you to meet an unidentified person here, for the purposes of helping to improve the world, right, guys?" Dawn Summers asked as she glanced around at the other three people gathered here in the back room of the saloon, to which she'd been directed upon first entering the bar. “It was so clichéd it got me curious.”
The fact that she hadn’t immediately been ordered to produce ID proving she was over twenty-one had made the younger Summers sister surmise that her appearance had been expected, so she'd simply smiled, nodded and gone where directed. She’d have to remember this place.
And where she currently found herself facing several other former members of the Reformed Slayers Council support structure – namely, Xander Harris, Andrew Wells and Rupert Giles. AKA – the usual suspects.
"You're looking pretty spiffy there, Giles," Dawn smiled as she headed over to the former Watcher and bestowed an affectionate kiss on his forehead. "Who picked out that shirt for you? Was it Xander, or some color-blind expressionist artist with anger management issues?"
"Actually, I think you should apologize to the aforementioned raging artist for comparing them to Xander, my dear," the middle-aged Englishman grinned up at the former Key from his motorized wheelchair, as he managed to reach his left arm sufficiently high enough to give her a somewhat feeble hug. "An expressionist artist typically has *some* sense of both taste and style, regardless of whichever form of art they might decide to emulate."
"Hey now, people, I take exception to that remark!" the dark-haired man in jeans and a flannel shirt declared with an exaggerated expression of indignation as he rose from his chair to give the statuesque brunette a quick hug.
"No, what you should be saying is, 'I take acceptance of that remark, Xand," Dawn teased him as she released him from her hold.
"So, how are you doing, Andrew?" the young brunette then said, turning to address the fourth member of their group.
"Oh, uh, I'm okay, Dawn," the one-time demon summoner told her with a minor shrug of his shoulders.
"The chief's still trying to decide how he wants to allocate that funding Headquarters received from the Federal government, so we haven't really gotten anything accomplished in the last couple weeks. Y'know, since both the Wiccan and the Sorcerer divisions are insisting that they need more of the money than the other divisions, if they're going to get their projects done on time, while the Techno-Magic group is basically being ignored because we haven't been able to come up with anything new and flashy enough to catch the public's attention or something that could be built in one of the oversight committee member’s district," Andrew half-babbled with a sudden frown at the end of his discourse.
"Well, then. How're things going with you, Dawn?" Giles asked as he focused his attention on the young woman. "Has the Devon coven managed to determine exactly what happened when the Hellmouth closed? Have they been able to ascertain what became of Buffy and Willow?"
The immediate departure of the happy expression on the sole surviving Summers woman's face gave the three men present a hint of the information the eighteen-year-old had received from the coven, and they all braced themselves for what was clearly bad news.
"When I spoke with Astarte, she said that their scrying had confirmed what we already suspected – that Willow had sacrificed herself when she cast the Slayer Activation spell," Dawn informed her companions with a sorrowful expression.
"Based on what she said they'd discovered, evidently the spell required the caster forfeit both their magical essence and their entire life force to empower the spell – and it's an indication of just powerful Willow was that she managed to activate the sixty-seven Slayers we've been able to identify," Dawn elaborated on her earlier words. “That’s over eighty percent of the Council’s best estimate of current potentials.”
"She had to have decided right from the beginning to not tell us about that part of the spell's requirements," the brunette said painfully, "because Astarte said that the coven figured out that particular component of the requirements almost as soon as they began analyzing the spell."
"Did Astarte indicate whether they have any idea of what might have happened to Buffy, after she used the amulet?" Andrew somewhat hesitantly asked a moment later, breaking the silence which had blanketed the room after Dawn's revelation a moment earlier.
"Yeah, Andy," Dawn sighed. "Yeah, she did.
"Based on the little bit of information Angel gave us about the amulet, Astarte said the they think it's actually an artifact called 'Aoife's Blessing," she told them. "It's an ancient Celtic relic that was created by a witch named Aoife the Wild, which she used to destroy or banish demons back to their home dimension.
"How exactly Wolfram & Hart managed to get their slimy paws on it, no one knows – but if it really was Aoife's Blessing? It only works in the hands of a woman, so I guess Spike's getting dusted by those Turok-Han before they even got through the Seal in the school basement was actually a stroke of luck for us, since it definitely wouldn't have worked for him the way we originally planned to use it," Dawn noted parenthetically.
"The only problem is that it's another one of those damned things that uses the wearer's life force to power itself, and since Buffy obviously managed to destroy all those Turok-Han and their handlers the First had collected underneath the Seal, she must have sacrificed herself completely to do all of that," the brunette adolescent completed summarizing the information the coven had relayed to her, Dawn's voice having dropped to just above a whisper by the end of her account, and her eyes now glittering with unshed tears.
All three former members of the Slayer's support team converged on the young woman at that moment, wrapping her in their embrace as they murmured well-meaning but inadequate words of support and comfort at her loss.
The group's privacy was shattered a few moments later by a discreet cough, and Xander, Dawn and Andrew all whirled around to confront the interloper, the three reflexively moving to surround their handicapped mentor in a protective circle as weapons, both modern and ancient, almost unconsciously appeared in their hands.
'Who are you people?" Xander demanded, his face blank and emotionless as he stepped between his family and the three cloaked and hooded figures standing motionlessly by the still-locked exit door in the far wall.
"You may consider us representatives of a coalition of sorts – one which is comprised of several groups of reluctant refugees who have recently arrived on this plane, and who wish to avoid being made pawns of any of the cabals which currently either influence or control the majority of the public governments in this world," the short and quite bulky figure at the front of the trio answered in response to the brunet's question.
"After evaluating all of the available information on the various organizations which are not affiliated with any particular government, and following much discussion, the coalition voted to extend an offer of alliance to the surviving remnants of the Watchers Council," the second hooded being stated, offering what was clearly a formal bow.
"Accordingly, invitations were sent out to the four of you, who were formerly members of what had been considered the Executive Board of the Watchers Council prior to its dissolution, in the hopes that you would be willing to begin negotiations towards such a goal," the third hooded being continued.
"Would you be interested in initiating such discussions?"
Shifting his stance so that he could glance over his shoulder at his companions, Xander raised an eyebrow in a quick, silent question easily interpreted by the other three former Council members.
Giles' strong-voiced "I would," Dawn's semi-indifferent shrug and Andrew's wide-eyed and obviously interested nod of his head all agreed with his own inclination to learn more, so the dark-haired carpenter turned back to the three envoys and said, "All right, looks like the majority rules; we’re definitely interested. So what kind of alliance are we talking about?"