The New Dawn
Kirahala, Age of Sardal, Year 4087, Fourth Month
Dawn had been prowling the jungle for five months when she finally found the clearing again. Actually it seemed to her like it had magically appeared where it had not been for quite a while, maybe even where it had never been once since the moment she had arrived there. But it was there now, and the path they had followed to get to it was there too.
She walked for about an hour before reaching the rock wall. The portal was there, wide open, waiting for her. Without hesitation she crossed it and found herself back at the top of the steep and narrow, apparently endless stairs. It took her about ten minutes to run them down, and she did run. Of course there was less effort going down, but Dawn also noticed how her balance had improved. She was running down the steps four at a time, and any observer would have noticed the feline grace with which she did it.
There they were, the rope bridges, the ledges, the paths, still so narrow, still so hazardous – but not to her anymore. What had taken six hours of a very cautious walk she made in less than half an hour at a brisk pace, sometimes running lithely, sometimes jumping from a ledge to a path, never losing her balance for a second. She finally arrived at the wall where the subterranean trip had started five months ago. She could see the portal this time, and she went through it like a hot knife in butter, to finally find herself back in the Great Hall.
There was no one in sight. Dawn’s spider sense told her no threat was around. She was truly alone. She started moving toward the door leading to the outside.
“Welcome back, my apprentice!” a voice said behind her.
Dawn jumped. She was surprised. For the first time in months, something had been able to stalk her. She was not scared though, because she knew the voice. She turned around and smiled.
“Thank you, Master!” she answered with a smile, kneeling in front of him.
Karl nodded to her. “Remember what just happened now, my apprentice: never forget that your new skills are not perfect. You must keep practicing, honing them, and even then, some species you will not be able to detect using them.”
Karl made a gesture, inviting her to stand up. “You are taller, my apprentice. You have grown by five of your inches, and you are now a tall human female, but not too tall for your species. Your face is more chiseled, less childish. Your body is thinner”, he said, coming much closer to her and feeling her breasts, “leaner, more muscular, yet still very feminine. I am pleased that the mark I made for you did not alter your appearance to extreme ends and took nothing of what makes you, you.”
“So you really designed the mark for me, Master?” Dawn asked.
Karl nodded again. “Of course I did. A simple slave mark requires no effort, because it is just like a seal of property. But merging your flesh with a demon’s, even in small dosage, is a very delicate operation, which requires a thorough examination of the recipient’s physical, mental, psychic and magical abilities. Your being the Key – because although the powers of the Key are dormant now, the substance of the Key remains – made things even more delicate. Your having the blood of a Slayer was also a challenge. But to every problem there is a solution, and the result is much better than what the shamans, in their ignorance, their stupidity and their absolute lack of compassion did to the poor Sineya.”
“Huh?” Dawn said.
“Has no one told you how the First Slayer came to existence?”
“It is time to explain then. Eons ago, during the era you call prehistoric times, Sineya was chosen by three African shamans to fight against the darkness. After they chained her naked to the floor of a cave, they filled her with the heart, soul and spirit of a Shadow demon. She became the First and strongest of all the Vampire Slayers, for her connection to the Shadow demon was the closest. But the price she had to pay was the definitive loss of her humanity. It would have been easily avoided, had the shamans actually taken the time to adapt the mark so Sineya could remain human. But they did not have the patience and compassion to do so, and instead went for the quick fix, not knowing and not caring about what it would cost the poor girl.”
“What was their mistake, Master?” Dawn asked, genuinely interested.
“Shadow demons are among the fiercest to ever roam the Earth. When it merged itself with Sineya, it gave her superhuman strength, speed, reflexes and agility. She also inherited from it a superior healing factor, a predator instinct, innate formidable combat techniques and a prophetic ability. She was ready to fight immediately after the merging. But it completely overwhelmed her. That was what the shamans wanted. They never considered the price she would have to pay because they did not want to know, and they never warned her about that price.”
“It’s horrible, Master!” Dawn exclaimed.
“That is why I gave you many chances to back off, my apprentice, and I warned you every time you were about to take a step you could not take back. Whatever happened, you have chosen to take your chances. Sineya never had that choice, and she became a predator, you might almost say a monster. Eventually the village she came from, and which she protected mercilessly, became more afraid of her than of the creatures of the night she was fighting and told her to go away.”
“Is that why the Slayer is supposed to be alone? Because Sineya was so dangerous humans could not be among her anymore?”
“Exactly, my apprentice. But that rule will not apply to you. You will be free to associate with your friends, and they will be free to help you, should they wish to, just like your sister did. Of course, she was not a Slayer like the ones that came before her, and neither will you be.”
Dawn nodded, “I understand you made me differently. But why was Buffy different?”
“There is a prophecy about the Slayer who will free herself from the chains of loneliness. I will show it to you someday. But I am not exactly sure if it is to her that it applies. There is the other Slayer who is now in those very same chains, literally, in her prison. In a way, the appearance of the Slayer named Kendra Young, even if her career was short, then that one, Faith Lehane, freed all Slayers from the chains of loneliness. Then of course, should you achieve your goal, it could be you, in a way that I do not yet discern. But I know for sure that the prophecy is to be accomplished in a short time, during the next age, the Age of Torok.”
Dawn nodded, but things were far from being clear at the moment, especially the part about being freed from the chains of loneliness. After all, now that Buffy was dead, Faith was the only Slayer. Although if she, Dawn, became the new Slayer… Karl saw the confusion in Dawn’s mind. It was not yet time to explain himself. So he decided to change topics.
“As for your mark, I will tell you what I did, my apprentice. Instead of infusing you brutally with the essence of one demon, I gave you the essence of seven. It was a long and arduous work. I selected the ingredients, calculated the dosages, all to give you a maximum of benefits without letting any part overwhelm you, which would undoubtedly put your humanity in danger. So I made trades. For instance, your fighting skills are latent. You will have to learn to wake them up, and train to keep them well honed. Some of your other talents will also need daily practice. On the other hand, you will be able to breathe in almost any atmosphere, even underwater. And to fully preserve your humanity, I had to agree to the infliction of extreme pain. No other ransom would be accepted.”
“I feel the pain, Master, like you told me I would. Also, like you told me, it has become less… unbearable. But since I have received a mark different from the one Sineya received, am I going to be different from, say, Buffy or Faith?”
“You will be a new kind of Slayer, my apprentice, the kind Sineya should have been, and so will be your successors. You will earn your commission through blood, sweat, pain and time. But once I am through with you and you have completed your quest, you will be, like Sineya before you, the First and the strongest of all the New Slayers. You will be like her, but you will not have sacrificed your humanity. That of course does not mean that you will be ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ at all times. There will be a toll on your personality. But you, Dawn Summers, will always remain in control.”
That was the very first time Karl called Dawn by her name, and it surprised her. “So there will be more slayers?” she asked.
Karl nodded, “Oh yes.”
===London, May 26, 2001
The two teams had traveled together to Heathrow Airport. They would take the same flight to Los Angeles, but would sit separately. Officially, they were just two groups of three businessmen on their way to visit Disneyland or something.
That was a lie of course. The two groups were actually the Special Operations Teams sent by the Watchers Council (meaning, Quentin Travers) to deal with the situations created by Buffy’s death.
The first group was the original team: Alastair Collins, Jeff Weatherby and Kevin Smith. For years now, those watchers with unique credentials had been handling missions such as interrogations, kidnappings, assassinations and smuggling. When the Council needed something violent and/or illegal to be done, they called Collins, the team leader, and the deed was done. As soon as they landed in Los Angeles, they would rent a car and move to Chowchilla.
The second group had been put together by Quentin Travers about five minutes before the 8 AM meeting had even started: Roger Wyndham-Price, Duncan Fillworthe and Rutherford Sirk. Their mission would require cunning, ruthlessness and a total lack of respect for human life. But those three had plenty of that. That was why Travers had chosen them: they were Little Quentins. They were all experts in interrogation, and they had brought with them magical restraints. Their destination was Sunnydale.
While the two teams were waiting for their flight, Quentin Travers was sitting behind his massive desk in his vast office, a glass of single malt scotch in front of him. It was early to drink, but this was a very special occasion indeed.
The Los Angeles, or rather the Chinchilla or whatever team, would have no problem fulfilling its mission. Collins, Weatherby and Smith were experts. Besides, there was more than a way to skin a cat. He knew of thirty-seven actually. Of course, this particular cat would be a bit hard to reach, but the Collins team had never failed. No, the deed was just as well as done.
The Sunnydale team though was facing a completely different situation. The Summers gang would be hard to control, even if the mission was a success. That was the second best scenario. They might have to eliminate them all. That was the third best scenario. And then of course there was the small matter of the vampire. He had of course hidden that piece of information from the Council, but Sunnydale still had a defender, that William Crap, aka The Bloody, aka Spike. Why he had joined the Summers gang remained a mystery, but as long as he would live, the Council could not take control of Sunnydale operations. So he had to die.
But even if they failed, and that was the fourth best scenario, things would still turn to the best for Quentin. Roger Wyndham-Price was too popular, too respected by the lion's share of the Council. The man’s popularity was a threat to his, Quentin’s, supremacy. If he failed, his prestige would go down a few notches. Of course, he might also be killed by the vampire.
And then, there was of course the very best scenario of all: the Sunnydale operation could be a success and Roger Wyndham-Price could die in the process…
Karl’s and Dawn’s conversation had gone on for a while, and they were now speaking about her future in the arena. Karl had given her permission to ask all the questions she wanted.
“Do you remember your first fight, my apprentice?”
“The saber-tooth cat, Master? Of course I remember.”
“That one was an exhibition fight for the benefit of my household and guests. The rules will be different on tour. The better your reputation becomes, the less balanced the fights will be. At first you will fight one or several beasts, then a single, unarmed sentient opponent. As you get known, you will ascend to the second level, which means you will have to fight two, then three unarmed sentient adversaries at a time. At those first two levels, you must win as decisively as you can, for those fights serve only to bring you to the higher levels. Only once you have fought – and won – several fights at the third level is there a chance for you to be noticed by a Jaralian scout.”
“Jaralian, Master?” Dawn asked.
“Every year the First City of Kirahala, Jaral, organizes a tournament between the best fighters of this world and the other 255 worlds. Fighting in that tournament is the best way for you to meet opponents that simply do not exist in our dimension.”
Dawn was wondering at that moment why it was so important that she fights in Jaral. Karl knew that and he answered: “The… suppliers I had to deal with to build your mark want to see you fight in Jaral, and fight well. Only then will they give me what I need to make you the Slayer you wish to become. If you survive of course. That too is part of the deal I had to make.”
Dawn looked at him, and she was a little scared now. But Karl continued:
“Once you reach the third level, you will be invited to confront two sentient and armed opponents at a time. You will still be unarmed and unprotected of course. In the beginning, they will probably be armed with staffs only. Then one will have a staff, and the other a bullwhip. After a few fights, as you make yourself a name, swords and spears will be wielded by two or three adversaries, and in a three-against-one fight, your opponents will most probably use a sword, a spear and a bullwhip. But have no fear, I will teach you how to defeat all of them. It is at that time that Jaralian scouts will start hearing about you.”“Have no fear”
, Dawn thought. It was not like she had a choice. She had already spent thirteen months in this dimension. As Spike said: “In for a sodding penny…”