Apparently, Ra, or whoever was in charge of recapturing the escaped prisoners on Ra's vessel, had not anticipated that the prisoners would simply teleport directly from the System Lord's ship into the gate room. If he had, then perhaps the Chappa'ai would have been better guarded. At the very least, one of the six guards in the room might have been facing in their direction when Willow and her companions appeared, mildly disoriented, less than ten feet from the Stargate. Unfortunately for the Jaffa guards, their opponents' disorientation was short lived, and none of the Jaffa were in position to capitalize upon said disorientation, as half the guards were watching the door to the chamber, while the other half made sure that no additional foes would enter Ra's temple through the Chappa'ai.
Within seconds of the group's materialization in the chamber containing Abydos' Stargate, Vi was already moving towards the nearest of the Jaffa. Hearing a strange noise, as Vi and her friends got their bearings, the guard was still far too slow, turning to face Vi just as the slayer reached him. He did not even have time to put his staff into a defensive position before the red-haired warrior launched him into a stone wall, five feet away, with an inhumanly powerful high kick. The Jaffa did not get back up.
The next three closest Jaffa to her position were guarding the Stargate, obviously more wary of dangers coming out of the gate than those already present on Abydos, as they had been facing the gate when Vi and her companions abruptly appeared in the middle of the room. Hearing their comrade's sudden meeting with a nearby wall, the three guards rapidly spun to face the source of the noise behind them and spotted Vi. As she charged towards them, two of the Jaffa yelled what sounded like battle cries, although Vi did not understand their language.
Fighting in melee with the warriors Vi had encountered on Abydos was an interesting experience. She was fairly certain that they were not entirely human, even though they looked human from what she had seen of their faces, since even the weakest of them was nearly as strong as a newborn vampire. Vi suspected that they were probably some kind of weird, human-looking aliens, as her demon senses continued to pick up nothing from them, but could not be certain one way or the other. What she could tell for sure was that in a fight, when she did not take them by surprise, these warriors were no joke: they were good.
Unfortunately for them, she just happened to be better. At the same time, while she was definitely stronger, faster and probably at least as skilled as any of these guys, not only did they outnumber her, but they were armed, while Vi was not. That simply would not do.
Sprinting into a position where the leftmost of the Jaffa facing her was between Vi and his two companions for a moment, Vi was able to engage one of her opponents in single combat, while the other two moved around him. A moment was all she needed.
Darting forward with a seemingly reckless punch towards her opponents face, Vi left herself completely open for a return strike. As expected, her well-trained opponent, easily dodging her wild blow, responded in kind with a swift, thrusting strike towards her upper body, using his staff like a pole arm. However, if her opponent was swift, then Vi was like lightning.
Sliding past his guard, as the Jaffa thrust his staff forwards, Vi was suddenly within reach of her opponent's hands, grabbing both with bone-crushing force. The slayer did not know whether her foe would ever hold a staff again, but he certainly would not be holding the staff which had been in his hands just then, as he let out a chilling scream, pain lancing through his crushed digits.
Then the staff was in Vi's hands, and, with a quick strike from its unsharpened end to her opponent's head, he was out of the picture. Of course, that was hardly the end of the fight, as the other two staff-wielding Jaffa she had run towards had finally gotten around their now fallen comrade and surrounded her.
Vi smirked. Three against one while unarmed would have almost been a fair fight. However, with only two to one odds, these guys did not stand a chance against her.
Hoping to take advantage of their superior numbers, the two Jaffa struck high and low at once from different directions. Against a normal opponent, such an attack would be impossible to avoid, but a slayer was hardly an ordinary opponent.
Bending her body backwards below the high strike, Vi allowed her feet to leave the ground, as she moved into a corkscrewing jump, her staff lashing out to strike the Jaffa trying to attack her upper body from below before he could get his own staff back into position. As he staggered backwards from the force of her blow, Vi landed her jump with catlike grace, striking out at the only opponent still within close range with a blisteringly fast series of strikes. In a matter of seconds, he was disarmed, tripped, and knocked out with a heel strike to his helmet.
Alone, the final Jaffa was no match for Vi. Apparently, having despaired at defeating her in melee combat, he opened the front of his staff in preparation for a staff blast, but, once again, he was too slow. As his staff shot a gout of energy towards Vi, she, having seen such shots fired before, and being able to determine its trajectory from the direction his staff was pointed, lithely dodged out of the way of his energy blast. Mildly scorched from the close call, but not seriously injured, the red-haired slayer reached her opponent before he could get off a second blast. A blow to steal his breath, and then a second strike to knock the Jaffa unconscious finished off the last of the Jaffa guarding the Stargate.
There had been two more Jaffa in the room when Vi and her friends entered, but, as her gaze swept the room, the slayer saw that her remaining two foes had already been neutralized by Willow. The witch had obviously cast a powerful sleeping spell upon them, but the effort had drained what little energy she had left, and she looked as if she might pass out at any moment, having fallen to her knees.
Daniel, having realized the urgency of their situation, had rushed towards the circular pedestal in front of the gate nearly as soon as they entered the room, and was now rapidly pressing what Vi hoped were the coordinates for Earth into the device.
“Alright,” the archaeologist declared, as he finished inputting the seven symbols they hoped would get their team back to Earth. “That should have done it. Why isn't anything happening?”
“What?” Vi asked. “You mean we're stuck here?”
“I don't know,” Daniel replied, staring at the Stargate as if he hoped that it might suddenly turn itself on. “I've never done this before, but those should have been the right seven symbols.”
Walking over to the pedestal herself, Vi looked over the device in consternation. Willow was out of it, Dawn was not just unconscious, but taken over by a Goa'uld, and Sha're had apparently decided to pray for Ra's mercy, having dropped to her knees in the center of the chamber. Vi had no idea how Stargates worked, of course, but if Daniel couldn't see how to dial the gate, then she had to do something.
“Maybe the big, red jewel in the center does something,” Vi proposed, pushing the large, red circle without warning.
“No! You can't just-” Daniel began, his head turning towards Vi rapidly before he was interrupted by the gate dialing. “What? That worked? I guess it must have been some sort of on button.”
Vi simply shot a slightly smug smile towards Daniel before racing off towards Willow and Dawn. Taking one of her friends in each arm, the redhead began quickly moving towards the gate, as its seventh chevron locked and the Stargate activated, its blue event horizon forming with its characteristic 'kawoosh.'
Gesturing urgently towards Daniel and Sha're, Vi said, “Come on. There'll be more of those guard guys here soon. We have to get out of here.”
Then Daniel was pulling Sha're to her feet, and running towards the wormhole alongside her, as Vi stepped into the event horizon, supporting both Willow and Dawn. Within seconds, she was through the gate, and, thankfully, from the slayers she recognized surrounding her, back home. Daniel was barely a second behind her along with Sha're.
Turning towards Kennedy, who was already striding towards their team past the younger slayers under her command, Vi exclaimed, “Kennedy, we have to close the Stargate as quickly as we can! There are probably going to be enemies following us. And-”
Kennedy interrupted her.
“We can't. Willow's the only one who might know how to do that, and she doesn't look like she's up to it. We'll have to hold the gate from here.”
“No,” Kennedy interrupted once more. “This is why we defended the Stargate with ten slayers, after all. Nothing's getting through us, so just get out of the way before the bad guys get through.”
Then Kennedy's face took on a quizzical appearance.
“Wait a second. Where's Dawn? Are we still waiting for her to come through that thing?”
“What? What do you mean, where's Dawn?” Vi replied. “She's right-” and then Vi looked towards her arm, which had been supporting Dawn's weight just before she walked through the Stargate. Her arm was still there, unharmed, but Dawn had disappeared.
Her eyes widened in shock. Where could Dawn have gone? She had been right there.
Suddenly panicked, Vi spun around to look behind her back, hoping that maybe Dawn had somehow gotten behind her, or slipped out of her grasp, as they went through the gate, but no one was there. There was no sign of Dawn at all.
She, Daniel, Willow and even Sha're had all crossed through the Stargate just fine, but Dawn was nowhere to be found. * * *
Dawn awoke alone once more.
She was floating within the blackness of space once again. Pinpoints of incandescent, white light – stars – dotted the blackness in every direction, while a translucent curtain of electric blue had appeared below her feet and above her head.
Dawn recognized this place. This was the place she had – Dawn had hoped – hallucinated during her last trip through the Stargate. How could she have returned here?
As had happened during her last little trip through this particular interplanetary wonderland, the answer to Dawn's question was forthcoming as soon as she finished formulating it. Her body had entered Abydos' Stargate and was now within the wormhole which linked the Earth and Abydos together.
Huh? She did not exactly remember walking into a Stargate. Was this was all just a dream? That made sense. This was all just a dream, right? She was not actually inside the gate again.
Then Dawn was struck with that same certainty she remembered from her last time through the Stargate: she was not dreaming. She was actually in the wormhole linking the Abydonian Stargate to the Earth. However, that did not make any sense to Dawn. How could she have entered a Stargate without noticing?
Vi had carried her through the gate, her mind helpfully supplied.
That made a little bit of sense, but why would Vi need to carry her?
Oh. She had been unconscious.
How had that happened?
Oh. Willow had knocked her out after going all black-eyed and veiny. That seemed definitely not of the good. Why had Willow knocked her out, though? Had she gone all evil magic addictey again?
No. Willow had just been using an illusion. She had knocked Dawn out because Dawn's body had been taken over by a young Goa'uld. Dawn's mind supplied a name for the Goa'uld: Tarnis.
Had she really been possessed by a Goa'uld, though?
Then, abruptly, in response to her query, Dawn remembered. She remembered everything she had been suppressing – each detail indelibly etched into her mind in vivid colour.
She had been tortured for hours: tortured beyond her capacity for speech or even coherent thought. Searing pain had lanced through her mind again and again until she was little more than a broken wreck. Then it had come for her.
She had still been strapped to her bed when one of Ra's Jaffa warriors came forward to stand beside said bed. The warrior had been dressed in nothing but his underclothes, having shed whatever armor he must previously have worn at some point. Then, as the Jaffa remained impassive, a pouch cut into the warrior's stomach had begun to pulse and undulate until, after a few moments, something snake-like had begun to slowly poke its head out of his body.
Dawn did not have words to describe that thing. Beady, red eyes had peered down at Dawn's naked body and broken mind, as the creature – the Goa'uld – had slithered out of its previous host, licking its tongue upon Dawn's skin. Then, apparently satisfied with her taste, the monster had slid out onto her belly before taking a meandering journey towards the back of her neck.
Then Dawn had felt fangs upon her neck – not those of a vampire, but no less a violation for that – before the thing had slid into her body. Mere seconds later, she was a prisoner in her own mind. She could not move her own body. Tarnis moved her body. She could not speak. Tarnis spoke. She could see, but she saw only what Tarnis directed her eyes towards.
Then the young Goa'uld had found her memories. Tarnis had torn them open with the glee of a Goa'uld violating its first host, while Dawn was forced to feel its satisfaction, as it pried into her most intimate secrets, and wormed its way into her most private thoughts. Then Tarnis was released from her bindings, but Dawn was more trapped then ever.
The Goa'uld revealed all her secrets. It forced her to betray all her confidences. It told Ra that she was the Key, even if neither Goa'uld seemed to know anything about the Key, except for the information her mind could provide. She was forced to betray the Watcher's Council, her friends and even her sister. Then, having finally sated his curiosity for a time, Ra left Tarnis to enjoy the Goa'uld's new body – her body.
The young Goa'uld locked her into a tiny cage in the back of her mind, forcing her to relive all of her worst memories again and again with relish. When it tired of that diversion, it called upon the genetic memory shared by all Goa'uld, filling every inch of her brain with the most debasing and degrading scenes it could find in its ancient recollections.
Already shattered, Dawn had no defense against this new torture, and, with every new scene of horror, her awareness retreated further and further into the deepest and darkest recesses of her mind. However, no matter where she went, there was no escape from Tarnis. The Goa'uld was always one step behind her and right before her eyes. He was everywhere and tainted everything.
Dawn watched in despair as Tarnis struck out at Vi, and then as the Goa'uld tried to attack Willow. She even tried to fight for control – to help her friends in whatever small way she could – but Tarnis swatted her like a fly. She was too weak – too broken. She could not fight him. All she could do was find relief, as she saw Willow's eyes turn black.
It was going to end. They would both die. She would be free.
Then Dawn suddenly found herself floating within the wormhole once more.
On the one hand, floating freely within this weird place certainly beat being enslaved by Tarnis. At the same time, what had happened to her body? Where was Tarnis? What was going on?
The answers to all three questions instantly appeared within her mind.
Her body had been converted into energy by Abydos' Stargate. Tarnis, dwelling within her body, had also been converted into energy, but lacked the awareness to form thoughts within their present plane of existence. While she was free of Tarnis here within the gate, once she emerged on Earth, Tarnis would be in control again.
No. She would not relinquish control of her mind and body once more. If Tarnis was here somewhere, then she would destroy him, no matter what the cost. When she had last resided in this strange place between Stargates, she had felt enormously powerful. Now, even at her lowest, having endured tortures from which she was not sure she would ever recover, she knew that, if she was to defeat Tarnis, it would have to be done here – at the seat of her power. She was strong and free here, while Tarnis was helpless and trapped. She could defeat Tarnis here.
Focusing her energies upon finding her Goa'uld tormentor in this strange realm, Dawn summoned the image of the glowing, shifting, green ball of light which seemed to serve as her representation in this place. If that ball was her, and Tarnis was within her, then Tarnis should reside somewhere within that glowing, green sphere of energy.
Thus, Dawn was unsurprised to find the green sphere which she suspected represented either the Key, herself, or both riddled with thin strands of crimson energy. She could see the countless red skeins of Tarnis' energy burrowed within her. She could practically feel their malignant touch upon her very being, as if tendrils of the creature had penetrated deep into her soul.
Dawn steadied herself, she focused, and then she pulled.
Of course, she did not know quite how to pull Tarnis' red skeins from her own form, but, as seemed to often happen in this realm, her mere intention to pull the crimson threads out, together with her firm will to see this action done, was enough to begin the process.
While the the Goa'uld seemed to interpenetrate the entirety of her being, its presence was spread finely. She could snap the strands connecting the various parts of Tarnis' awareness, almost certainly killing the Goa'uld, but this was not enough for Dawn. She wanted Tarnis gone – excised from her body in the Goa'uld's entirety – so she pulled each strand out one by one.
Dawn knew that she was pulling parts of herself out as well – slender, diaphanous wisps of green energy which her control was not fine enough to leave in place – as she tore the pieces of Tarnis out of her one by one. She did not care. Dawn wanted every tiny piece of the Goa'uld cut out of her. She wanted nothing of Tarnis left behind. If she had survived Glory literally pouring the Key's energy into a portal, then she could definitely survive losing a few, tiny bits of green magical energy. Whatever the cost might be, she would pay it in order to get that thing completely out of her.
What felt like hours later, although Dawn did not trust her sense of time in this place, her task was done. As she peered towards her glowing, green form, she could not detect a single hint of the red skeins which had once made up Tarnis' body. She had scattered that energy into space, where it would never reconstitute.
The glowing, green ball of energy she had come to associate with herself in this place appeared a little ragged, and holes had, in places, been gouged out of it, where she had torn Tarnis' energy from her own. Nonetheless, it was whole, and Dawn felt unharmed, if a little weary from the task of cutting Tarnis out of herself. However, that weariness was an insignificant burden when set beside the elation buoying her at the thought of her tormentor's destruction. She was truly free. Now it was time to go home.
Gathering herself once more, Dawn focused her will upon moving herself towards the bright, white light of the Earth Stargate's event horizon. She knew that she could be there in an instant. While it seemed distant, the journey from her present location to being reconstructed by the gate would take a fraction of a second.
Her mere thoughts propelled Dawn forward, as the stars seemed to blur around her. As she shot forward, the white light of Earth's Stargate grew larger and larger in her view, until it was right in front of her, and she was practically diving towards the event horizon.
Then, just before Dawn could pass through the gate, what felt like a hand seemed to grab her by what felt like her shoulder, stopping the glowing, green ball of energy in her tracks.
Momentarily befuddled, and then annoyed, Dawn tried to escape the grip she was feeling, but whatever was holding her did not seem particularly inclined to let go. Having failed to free herself with brute force, Dawn cast her awareness outwards, as she had done during her last trip through the Stargate, this time weaving a web of green energy which only encompassed her immediate surroundings. What her senses then reported was more than slightly startling.
Apparently, something which looked awfully similar to a human hand had grabbed onto the green ball of energy which Dawn had come to associate with herself. That hand, while slightly unusual in that it was giving off a faint white glow, was rather familiar. The arm that hand was attached to was rather familiar as well, and the face of the well-proportioned body to which that hand belonged was even more familiar.
Cordelia Chase looked down towards the glowing, green ball of energy she was holding in one hand with her eyebrows arched upwards in exasperation.
“And just where do you think you're going? Also, news-flash: this new Christmas ornament look you have going on is totally last season, and does nothing for your figure. I mean, I know that you Summers girls tend to be a bit too busy getting slimed to bother keeping up with the latest fashions, but I would have thought that even you would have noticed that Santa and his little elves finished joy-riding months ago.”
'Cordelia?' Dawn thought, trying to direct her question towards the statuesque, young woman who had suddenly appeared just behind her. 'But you're dead.'
Cordelia rolled her eyes.
“Well, duh. I mean, for those of us ordinary humans who aren't born as some kind of glowing, magic, energy balls, that is just about the only way for to get into this higher being gig. So far, I have to say, I'm not terribly impressed with the wardrobe.”
Dawn focused her awareness upon Cordelia's clothes briefly in response to her remark, taking in the former Cordette's silken, white, evening dress, slit half way up her thigh.
“This outfit does have a certain panache, I'll grant you, but, seriously, you can't imagine what a trial it is to be stuck in white on white for all of eternity.”
If Dawn had eyes in her current form, she would have been rolling them. Apparently, Cordelia – who was dead – had decided to stop her – while she was stuck as some sort of glowing, green ball of magical energy – in a wormhole, in order to talk to her about fashion, and complain about her latest outfit. Seriously, this kind of thing only ever happened to her.
'Um, Cordelia, it's, um, nice talking to you again, but do you think that you could let me go? I need to go back to Earth now before my friends get worried.'
“Right. Um, nope. Not happening. That's actually what I'm here to tell you. Don't go through the Stargate.”
'What? But I have to. How else am I supposed to get back home?'
Cordelia winced, and then stared at Dawn seriously, mild sympathy in her eyes.
“Well, Dawn, as it so happens, you can't get home right now. At least not alive. You see, the Stargate, well, okay, I don't really get how it works, but, from what I've been told, it won't rematerialize your body until all the energy it dematerialized when you came through the gate has been retrieved.”
'Okay. So what,' Dawn replied.
“So, when you ripped out that snake alien thing's energy, and scattered it through space, you lost some of the energy the Stargate dematerialized while you were on Abydos, so the gate on Earth won't be able to rebuild your body. You'll just get stuck inside it.”
'What? You mean I'm stuck like this!'
“Well, that's what sometimes happens when you play with powers beyond your comprehension, I guess. But, um, don't worry too much because the Powers have also sent me here to bring you an offer.”
'An offer?' Dawn asked skeptically. She had never heard anything good about dealings between mortals and The Powers That Be. They seemed to always attach all sorts of hidden strings and fine print which never got properly explained until it was too late. Even so, Dawn had to admit that, if what Cordelia was saying was true, then she was in a bit of a bind here.
“Yep. I don't really know the all the details, but, for one of their deals, it seems like it might be on the up and up. They say that they'll put you back into your usual human form, and transport your body to a friendly, hospitable world. They will put you right in front of the world's functioning Stargate, and will tell you the address needed to transport yourself from that world to Earth.”
'Why not just send me to Earth then?'
Cordelia shrugged again.
“Don't know. Maybe there's something that might detect it if they meddled on Earth, or something like that. Like I said, those are all the details I have.”
'And what do they want from me?'
“That's the weird part, actually. Nothing.”
'They want nothing?'
“I know. It seems kind of suspicious, but I can't see the catch.”
'And you're sure that's what they said?'
“Yep. I even triple-checked with the guys upstairs, since it seemed too good to be true.”
Dawn carefully considered her options. She vaguely recalled Willow saying something like what Cordelia had just told her about rematerialization during one of the Wiccan's long and boring spiels about Stargate operation. Thus, the Powers probably were not lying, and she probably could not simply go back to Earth through the Stargate. She was also fairly sure that Buffy would be really pissed off if Dawn came back from Abydos as a floating, green ball of light. It really seemed like the sort of transgression which might result in her older sister trying to lock Dawn at the top of some really tall, windowless tower for the rest of her life. Thus, in order to avoid probable sororicide, it would be best if Dawn found another option.
She also could not see a catch. She would have the gate address for Earth, and she would be right in front of a functioning Stargate. That should mean that she should be back on Earth about ten seconds after she arrived on whatever planet she ended up on. Cordelia had even mentioned that the planet was friendly and hospitable. If there was a catch, Dawn did not see it, and, whatever it was, it could not possibly be worse than spending the rest of eternity floating through space as a glowing, green ball of light.
'Alright. I accept the deal.'
In reply, Cordelia nodded solemnly and vanished into thin air.
Then, suddenly, Dawn was racing forwards in a completely new direction, her surroundings blurring around her once more. In the distance, but growing ever closer, an unfamiliar planet rushed towards her. As she shot towards its surface, Dawn gave in to the human fear of a sudden, incoming impact, rapidly drawing all her senses inwards until she could not see anything.
Abrupt feelings of compression, contraction and tightening overtook Dawn, as if someone was trying to pour her essence into a vessel far too small to contain her. Then, finally, Dawn Summers, eyes closed, felt the brief, physical sensation of falling, before she crashed into the ground, groaning at the sudden impact. She had arrived – wherever she was.
AN: So that's the first arc of this story mostly out of the way, after a chapter which proved far harder to write than I had anticipated. I hope that you all enjoyed it. Please let me know what you thought, and I'll see about getting the next installment up as soon as I can. I should note that this story will be moving into the General category next chapter, as, since I have decided not to split it up after the next chapter, it will be more of an ensemble fic than a Dawn-centered story by the time the next few arcs (which will be shorter than this first arc) are finished.