Dawn returned to awareness slowly. Everything was so bright. Green, blue and white lights danced before her eyes. She couldn't seem to move, but, at the same time, when she tried to turn her head to the left, her awareness seemed to stretch in that direction, and, abruptly, without turning, she could see everything in more precise and flawless detail than she had ever imagined possible. Trying to turn her head to the right yielded the same result, and when she tried to look behind her, she was suddenly viewing everything around her at once, as if eyes had been glued to the sides and back of her head.
Behind her there was a bright, white, light, like an incandescent star right before her eyes. Another such light could be made out in the far distance in front of her. She was in a tunnel, but one unlike any other she had ever imagined. What she assumed might be the floor and ceiling looked to be made up of nothing but electric blue clouds, gathered in strange shapes which looked like they might have appeared straight out of a drug addict's hallucinations. All around her, the walls were covered in stars. No, wait. As her perception focused and cleared, she realized that was not quite right. There were no walls and perhaps there was not even a true ceiling or floor. Stars danced around her in every direction, lighting up the blackness of space. Even what she had thought of as the floor and ceiling were little more than translucent clusters of energetic particles driven into that state by the extreme irregularities of local space time.
Dawn tried to blink in incredulity at that thought. It didn't really work. What had she just been thinking? It had seemed to make perfect sense at the time, but, for a second she'd sounded like Willow in full out nerd mode: she'd been technobabbling. Dawn was not a technobabbler. She had barely passed grade ten science. So what the the heck was going on?
The answer seemed to come to her instantly and without effort.
Dawn was within the wormhole formed by the Stargate, perhaps an eighth of the way to her intended destination. Her surroundings were the local galactic features visible from within the wormhole.
Abruptly, she started to feel panicked. Wasn't this exactly what she had been worried about? She was stuck inside the Stargate, wasn't she?
Once again, the instant she had finished her query, the answer was coming to her.
She was not stuck at all. Her merest thought seemed to propel her body or form, or whatever she was, into motion. She somehow knew that, if she so desired, she could escape this wormhole, venture into the deepness of space, continue on her journey forward, or even return to her starting point, with little more than an exertion of will. She should probably hurry. Her friends were probably already worried about why the B-bot hadn't detected her coming out of the other side of the gate. Were they searching for her already?
No. Only a fraction of a second had passed since she entered the Stargate. They had not even noticed what had happened yet.
This instant knowledge thing was pretty weird, even for her, but it certainly was useful. Then she had another thought. Right now, she was just energy. What did she look like?
The mere thought was enough to summon her image. In hindsight, the picture she presented was no surprise.
A ball of glowing, shifting, green light shone within the vastness of space. From within the ball's glowing heart, diaphanous tendrils of green energy reached out, gently waving through the tapestry of stars. Were those her perceptions? As she tried to thicken the tendrils, just curious about what the effect might be, all of existence seemed to come into sharper focus, and then, in an instant which felt like an eternity later, she felt power. The tendril looked almost fully corporeal now, a shifting mass of potent energy. How potent, she didn't really know, but what she did know was that she felt powerful.
Was this how Buffy always felt? Strong, capable, able to do anything: Dawn felt incredibly mighty. The feeling was heady, and she suddenly felt the need to test herself. What could she really do? Could she heal the sick, stop a flood or even disperse a hurricane?
The answer to all those things was yes, she suddenly realized. She was not quite sure how to do any of those things, or if she even wanted to do them, but she was suddenly assured that they were well within her power. She was strong.
Visualizing and focusing upon forming a thin, gossamer web of glowing green strands, Dawn spread her senses out to the fullest extent she could manage, trying to take in as much of existence as she possibly could. Reaching further and further in her rush to see and discover what was possible, she positively reveled in all that she could now do and see.
Nearby, on Earth, a child was opening a birthday present, delighted in his new toy truck; in Africa, an emaciated girl cried out for her mother, for her father, for anyone who might help her; an older man in Thailand looked out towards a growing city, pleased. Further afield, she saw other human beings. Somehow, humanity had spread across a million worlds or more. Some were primitive, but others made Earth's greatest achievements look like the work of infants, and they were not alone. They were everywhere; life was everywhere; and she could see everything.
For years, Dawn had been afraid of the Key. She had not wanted to be the Key. She just wanted to be a normal girl, but that normal girl could never have imagined this wonder or splendor. She could practically feel all of existence dancing merrily around her.
She was the Key, and, abruptly, she realized that she was not alone.
Somehow they had slipped between her glowing webs and beneath her awareness. She hadn't seen them in that eternal instant when she had gazed out in wonderment at the endless parade of life before her, but now she could suddenly sense them all.
Hundreds of eyes, thousands of eyes, millions or even billions of eyes, and it felt as if every last one had fixed its gaze upon her, watching, waiting and assessing her. They were not truly eyes, of course, but Dawn could not help but make the association after living life as a human being for so long. She was being watched by wary eyes, distrustful eyes, suspicious eyes, fearful eyes, terrified eyes, guilty eyes, furious eyes, dismissive eyes. They were all around her, and, without exception, they were not pleased to see her.
Had she done something wrong? Why were they all looking at her like that? Why wouldn't they stop?
Dawn's distress redoubled as her previously faultless ability to instantly acquire the answers to her queries failed her. She didn't understand why all of these things, which looked sort of like glowing balls of energy themselves, were suddenly looking at her this way, and she hated it. She wanted to lash out or cry or have Buffy come charging out of the ether to just make them look away, but she couldn't seem to do anything. She couldn't stop feeling the eyes, and they wouldn't stop glaring at her.
Then, slowly, after yet another eternal instant had passed, a pair of wary eyes seemed to soften ever so slightly at her obvious distress.
'Close your eyes, child,' a voice rang out in her thoughts.
'Close your eyes,' the telepathic voice requested once more.
Dawn was not quite sure what the voice meant. She didn't even have eyes in this form.
'I don't understand,' she tried to think at the voice.
'Then I will help you,' the voice replied, heralding the appearance of a brilliant white thread of power which whipped out of the darkness, tearing at her gossamer web of awareness with wide slices. Soon, nothing remained of her webs but a faint, green glimmer, fading from the vast blackness of space.
As the webs slowly dissipated, Dawn's awareness contracted. She could still feel the eyes faintly, but they no longer pressed at her. She could no longer sense them so intimately. They could be ignored.
Reaching out for the voice, Dawn tried to understand what was happening to her.
'Who are you? Why are you looking at me like that?'
There was silence for a moment.
'Child, when traveling to heaven, it is only polite to take the stairs.'
Dawn did not really understand. She thought that she followed the metaphor, but it did not seem to explain anything. Why had they all looked at her like that? What had she done?
The voice returned.
'Do not be dismayed. How would you react if one of your keys suddenly got up and started to walk and talk? You must go on.'
'What? But I-'
Then, as abruptly as she had halted in space, Dawn was flying forward once more, blurring through the wormhole's interior. She saw a flash of light, felt a sudden constriction, as if she was being forced into clothing far too small to contain her, and then found herself falling out of the Stargate.
“Ach!” she exclaimed, tumbling down the steps in front of the gate and into the B-bot. “What the heck was that?”
The robot remained silent, simply directing its photoreceptor to focus on her face. Then, only seconds later, as her body was still recovering from rematerialization at the gate, her friends began falling out of the Stargate as well.
“Ugh,” Daniel groaned, as he fell right where Dawn had lain seconds earlier.
Fortunately, she was on her feet, if unsteadily, by that point, and held out a hand to help him up. The archaeologist's glasses had fogged up, and he was clearly disoriented form the trip. As Vi and Willow followed Daniel in tumbling out of the gate and down the steps in front of it, Dawn noticed that they were in a similar state. Oddly the gate had not effected her nearly as severely. Even Vi, with her slayer physiology, seemed to need two or three seconds before the world stopped spinning. Then again, what about that trip had not been odd?
The best explanation she had come up with so for her experience in the gate was that Vi had spiked her orange juice with hallucinogens while they were eating breakfast that morning. A drug trip was definitely at least as reasonable an explanation as the other thoughts she was entertaining. She and Buffy had agreed that Key stuff was over, so she couldn't possibly be correctly remembering stopping halfway through the gate to play with some Key powers before being confronted by a bunch of other glowing energy beings. Yep. No Keys here; she was just perfectly ordinary Dawn Summers. Dawn just wished that she could feel a bit more certain when she thought those words.
One thing was for sure, unless someone else brought up the glowing energy beings, she was not mentioning her little detour to anyone. Nope. They'd already have a whole planet probably full of evil aliens to deal with on this trip. There was no need to worry Willow or anyone else about Key stuff which might not have even happened.
“Hey, Daniel, come on. Up you go,” she said, as she pulled the archaeologist to his feet.
Glancing at Willow and Vi, Dawn asked, “hey, are you guys alright? Do you need any help?”
“Nope, I'm okay,” Vi replied, shaking off her unsteadiness after a few seconds. With her other hand, the slayer pulled Willow to her feet, who still looked more than a bit groggy.”
“Ooooh,” the wiccan moaned, rubbing her temples. “In the future, please remind me that spells and Stargates should not be mixed.”
Dawn nodded absently.
“Sure thing. What were you casting a spell for, though?”
Willow sat down heavily on one of the steps in front of the Stargate, as Vi released her arm.
“Ugh. I wanted to see if I could hold onto an active spell through the dematerialization and rematerialization process. Turns out that the answer is no, and the attempt has given me a splitting headache. Ow, ow, ow. Not trying that again.”
Then the gate shut down entirely, plunging the room into darkness.
“Okay, so maybe we should take a break for a minute,” Dawn replied, taking a seat beside the redheaded witch. “Do any of you guys have your flashlights out because I can't see very much now that the gate's been deactivated?”
Vi replied from somewhere to her left in the darkness.
“Don't worry about it. I can still see a bit, so I'll grab the flashlights.”
A moment later, one of the flashlights illuminated the room, blinding Dawn briefly. Fortunately, within a few moments, her body started to adjust to the new lighting, allowing her to make out the small darkened chamber. Besides the Stargate, the chamber did not seem to contain much of interest except for that weird circular pedestal in the center of the room, but, of course, they had already known that from the B-bot's reconnaissance. The little robot seemed to still be functioning and, after Willow had pressed a few buttons on an interface on top of it, the B-bot activated two more lights, revealing the hallway which the B-bot's initial survey had indicated lead to the exit from this pyramid.
“Okay. I think I'm ready to go now,” Willow stated, getting up off her feet. “What do you think, Dawnie? Ready to get out of here?”
“Yep,” she smiled. Vi and Daniel had already started out of the building ahead of them, Daniel carefully examining the walls and ceiling, occasionally pausing to point something out to the young woman. “We'd better go and catch up to the lovebirds before they get too far ahead of us, after all.”
Rising to her feet alongside the wiccan, Dawn paused to look absently at the circular pedestal in the middle of the room. Daniel had identified its symbols as being identical to those decorating the Stargate, indicating that it might be some sort of control device. They could always use Willow's recall grid to get home, but, provided Daniel could work out the symbols necessary to return to Earth, this Stargate should hopefully be able to get them back as well. If so, then they wouldn't need to have Willow on every team going through the gate, allowing for a lot more gate travel if necessary.
About twenty meters down the hallway Vi's flashlight had illuminated, the interior of the pyramid opened up into a room full of tall columns and natural light. Their team had already decided that as a defensible, solid and easily warded location, protected from the scorching desert sunlight during the daytime, this large room would be their home base for the mission. Thus, the first order of business was for Willow to set up some basic magical protections, while the rest of them retrieved and began to unpack the gear they had brought with them. Then they would wait for the sun to start setting before searching their surroundings, hoping to avoid the hottest part of the day.
In the meantime, once Willow had finished creating some basic magical wards and alarms, she had another task to carry out. What they really needed to find was some sort of sentient life form, like a human or demon or even creepy alien snake parasite, so they could figure out what this world was like. Were the goold still here? Did anyone besides the goold live here? If the goold were still here, where did they get their hosts? The only way to find that sort of information was to find someone with whom they could talk, so that was the next order of business.
Fortunately, for a witch of Willow's caliber, creating a compass which would alternatively point towards the nearest sentient life form and the Stargate was not a particularly strenuous task. By the time the sun was setting, while Willow had exhausted a fair bit of her magical energy, she still had plenty of energy for walking around that night, and their compass was finished.
The planet certainly did play host to some sentient life, as the compass immediately swung towards the north. Getting distance from this spell was somewhat more difficult, so they had decided to just try walking in the direction of wherever the compass pointed tonight in hopes of finding someone quickly. If they did not find anyone within four hours walking distance, they would turn back and try again the next night with more of their supplies. It had also been decided that all four of them should set out together. Replacing supplies might be difficult, but they could always return to Earth via the recall grid and try again later if they ran low on essential foodstuffs or water. Replacing captured team members, if they split up, would be far more difficult.
“So, Daniel,” Dawn piped up a little more than twenty minutes into their hike through the desert, “do you have any idea what we should be looking for, since there wasn't a cover stone nearby the gate?”
The cover stone on Earth had provided the gate symbols which they had used in order to reach this world, but Daniel had not found a matching cover stone so far on this end of the Stargate. Thus, a second objective of their trip was to see if they could discover which symbols they would need in order to go home through the gate. Of course, it was possible that such information had been lost to time, but they intended to search the area thoroughly before admitting defeat.
“Honestly, I think that looking for sentient life is still our best option. We should probably be looking for some sort of ruins or possibly, if the goold have been saving the tablet, some sort of vault or maybe even museum. It all depends on what we find when we start encountering local cultures. For all we know the goold have reformed in the past few millennia and will just hand the symbols over. If not, maybe we'll be able to communicate with whatever they're using as hosts.”
The conversation continued in this vein for a while longer before gradually sputtering out. All four of the explorers were too keyed up anticipating danger, interesting cultures or both to really focus on much more than watching their surroundings as they walked through the cold, dark sands. For a long time, they saw nothing, simply following Willow's compass arrow. Then, just over two and a half hours into their trip, they finally began to see signs of civilization.
They were nearly upon the city walls by the time their flashlights illuminated the tall, stone structure.
“What's that?” Dawn exclaimed. “Is it a bluff?”
Daniel walked forward, peering more closely.
“No. I don't think so. It looks more like a building or wall. It's clearly been constructed using tools.”
Willow shone her flashlight along the structure, as far to the left and right as the light could reach, not seeing any end to it.
“Well, if it's a building, then it's a pretty big one. Do you think this might be some sort of city?”
“No,” Daniel replied to the redheaded witch, running his hand along the stone. “Or at least, if it is, then we're dealing with a very primitive culture. This stone is too roughly hewn to have been produced by any sort of machinery. If we were on Earth, I'd suggest that the stonework is from sometime shortly after the neolithic revolution. Whatever culture built this structure, I'd guess that they probably were not much farther advanced than hunter gatherers.”
“That doesn't sound much like the goold, with their fancy magic gauntlet things,” Dawn suggested.
“I agree,” Daniel affirmed. “Maybe this is where they get some of their hosts. Of course, after thousands of years, it could also be a completely autonomous culture as well.”
“So, should I be looking for a door then?” Vi asked. “This is pretty much exactly what we were hoping to find, right?”
“Sure, sure,” Daniel waved her off, studying the stone structure more carefully while mumbling to himself.
Vi grumbled a bit, but nonetheless, waved Dawn over and started walking along the stone structure to the right.
“Hey, Willow,” Dawn said. “Can you stay with Daniel and keep him out of trouble. We'll try to stay in sight, but yell if you lose track of us, okay?”
“Sure,” the wiccan replied, joining Daniel alongside the stonework he was examining. Archaeology was not exactly her specialty, but, as long as Daniel explained things as he worked through them, it could still be interesting.
It quickly became apparent from the sheer length of the stonework Vi and Dawn were walking along, that what they had discovered was most likely a wall. Moreover, it was an extremely lengthy wall, so, unless it was the local equivalent of the Great Wall of China, it likely surrounded or had once surrounded a fairly large village or town. Thus, considering that the two of them and their companions were waving around flash lights on a pitch black night, neither Vi nor Dawn were terribly surprised when a loud call rang out from atop the stretch of wall they were passing.
The wall was far too high for them to make out who had made the call in the night, but, when they heard it echoed along the rest of the wall, it became clear that identifying the caller was of little importance. He was simply sounding some kind of warning to the rest of the wall's sentries that there were intruders outside the walls. At least that was what Dawn and Vi assumed, as they found sentry's speech completely unintelligible.
“So, no arrows or rocks so far,” Dawn noted to her friend. “Do you think they're friendly?”
“Who knows?” Pointing further to their right, she continued, “I think I can hear some kind of gate opening over there, so I figure that's where the welcoming party will be coming from. Daniel and Willow should have caught up by the time they get here, so between us, we can probably handle whatever the hunter gatherer guys can throw at us.”
Dawn rolled her eyes.
“That is, of course, unless the goold are with the hunter-gatherer guys. I could have been wrong about the goold living in the town, you know?”
Vi smirked, stretching her arms, as Daniel and Willow finally reached them, panting slightly from the brief run.
“Well, if there are goold in there, then that's even better. I've been wanting to see how one of those things would stack up against a slayer.”
“And if there's a whole army?”
It was Willow who replied.
“Then we run away.”
“Good plan,” Dawn agreed, nodding. “Running sounds good.”
“Right, right,” Vi said, grinning ferally. “But if there's only a couple or some primitive guys, then Vi is going to town.”
Daniel looked at the redheaded slayer askance.
“Don't you think that's a bit violent? I mean, shouldn't we try to talk to them before we start fighting?”
Vi started shadow-boxing with thin air, clearly raring for a scrap.
“Sure, sure, Daniel. You can do the talking, and then if it doesn't work out, I'll do the butt-kicking. That's the way we're dividing up the labor for this mission, remember. Willow does the magic, you do the talking, I take the butt-kicking and Dawn gets kidnapped.”
“Hey!” Dawn interrupted.
Vi ignored her.
“That way we all have something to do, and no one gets left out.”
Daniel sighed and then turned towards the direction where he could see a group of eight figures approaching in weather-beaten, brown cloaks. Each one carried a large stick with a sharply pointed end, but, as warriors went, they hardly looked like a force to be reckoned with. A bit surprisingly, all the figures looked human and a number of them had Middle Eastern features. He found himself idly wondering if these men might be descendants of ancient Egyptians who had been forced through the Stargate by the goold. He could not imagine any other way humans might have arrived here.
“Hello. My name is Daniel Jackson. I come in peace.”
The weather-beaten figures showed no comprehension of his words, simply staring at him and his companions suspiciously. Okay. Kind of unsurprisingly, English was not their native language. He'd kind of been hoping they might reply, so that he could try to figure out what sort of dialect they spoke, but it looked like he'd have to try option number two instead.
Repeating the same two sentences in the best approximation of ancient Egyptian he could manage, Daniel looked hopefully at the guards. A few of them were looking at him uncertainly now, as if what he had said was familiar, but not entirely understood. It was not the reaction he had hoped for, but he could work with it.
The second time, he repeated his words in ancient Egyptian far more slowly, accompanying them with hand gestures. As he indicated his name, he pointed at himself. Then, when he said that he came with peaceful intentions, he placed his hands in front of him, palms up, to indicate that he bore no weapons.
This time most of the guards seemed to understand him and they relaxed slightly
“What's going on? Do they understand him?” Vi whispered to Dawn from a few feet behind Daniel.
Dawn whispered her reply back.
“It looks like it. He's speaking ancient Egyptian, so they must at least understand some dialect of that language. It's a dead language, so our pronunciation is probably way off, and I doubt that these guys speak it exactly the way it was spoken on Earth after however long they must have been here, but they seem to be sort of following Daniel. You might not get that fight you were looking forward to, after all.”
Without warning, the youngest of the cloaked figures stepped forward. He was really just a kid, maybe fifteen or sixteen years old, but he looked confident as he stated his own name, “Skaara,” pointing at himself.
The teenage boy's actions seemed to break the ice between the two groups, as, within minutes, the guards were exchanging names with Daniel, Dawn, Vi and Willow. They were still wary, but, very slowly, they and Daniel were managing to communicate, as Dawn made an effort to catch one word in three.
As Daniel learned and then explained to the rest of his companions, travelers were forbidden to enter the village during the night, but, in the morning, they could request to speak with the tribe's chieftain. In the meantime, the boy who had first offered his name, as well as one older guard, were willing to speak with them about their intentions in approaching the tribe's village. It did mean that they would need to remain away from their supplies all night, but provided the chieftain did not prove hostile, it was an excellent chance to find out the information they wanted to discover.
One piece of information which had already been revealed, as it was one of the first questions Daniel asked, was that the people of this village worshiped the god Ra. Moreover, Ra was apparently a fairly active God, who sent emissaries once or twice a year to speak with their chieftain and take some of their most beautiful children into his service. It seemed unlikely that this Ra could be the same as the one who ruled over ancient Egypt thousands of years ago (unlikely, but not impossible). However, from the descriptions Daniel was offered, at least some of the present Ra's servants or allies were likely goold.
Thus, Dawn and Willow readily agreed that this village would prove an excellent source of information, provided the chieftain permitted them to stay for a time. They also would not be particularly at risk of discovery, as, apparently, Ra's chosen servants had visited the village less than a month ago. Daniel was naturally delighted at the idea of staying at the village, particularly when Skaara answered in the affirmative to his query regarding whether there were any places near their village which had strange symbols written on their walls. Vi could not bring herself to share her companions enthusiasm at the thought of staying here, but at least understood the practicality of their decision. She was not exactly thrilled at the prospect of following Daniel around as he looked at cave paintings, so, hopefully she could find something else to occupy her time. The slayer did not think there would likely be a lot of shopping in this town, and she also kind of doubted that these guys had tv or any good movies, but there had to be some sort of entertainment around here.
When the chieftain, Kasuf, enthusiastically greeted the travelers the next morning, and offered them beds and food so long as they agreed to assist the rest of his tribe in their labors on behalf of Ra, everything was essentially settled. For the foreseeable future, Dawn, Willow, Daniel and Vi would be collecting information at this wind-swept village. Dawn had told Giles that they might be gone as long as a week, so they still had plenty of time before anyone grew concerned about them.
As she looked at the unsightly gruel they were to be served that morning, Dawn girded her loins for the trials ahead. Hopefully, someone would be able to sneak off to the pyramid for their food and other supplies later today or tonight, but, until then she would endure these trials. She, Dawn Summers, was sister to the eldest and best slayer alive today. There was no way she would be defeated by living it rough. Well, okay, so she maybe needed a couple of essentials if she was going to survive the week, but hey, was it really too much to ask for some proper sanitary supplies and her Jimmy Choos? Of course not! No Summers girl could be expected to live for more than a few days without properly fashionable footwear. There were many things she would sacrifice for this mission – her stomach, her health, her life, maybe even Daniel if he kept babbling on non-stop about cave paintings – but having to wear these ugly hiking boots for two weeks straight was the sort of sacrifice which simply could not be born by Dawn Summers.
AN: So, I said we would only loosely be following the movie's plot, and movie fans will likely already have noticed a serious divergence. Remember that Ra pendant which Catherine gave Daniel in the movie to bring back to her: the one which caused the Abydonians to mistake them for Ra's servants. Well, this mission is not nearly as dangerous, considering they have already run extensive tests on the Stargate and have the recall grid for coming back home. Thus, Catherine hung on to the necklace she found in Giza. Also, in the movie, Daniel made no attempt at communicating except with English. Considering that he at least suspects the Abydonians may be native to ancient Egypt here, it seems natural that he might also try ancient Egyptian. The Abydonians probably think that his pronunciation is horrible, but they can at least sort of make out what he's saying in this language. Anyway, as usual, I would appreciate any comments, criticisms or ideas anyone has to offer, so please let me know what you thought of this chapter.