When Faith and Buffy made their way back into Giles’ room it was to find a few of the younger slayers off on patrol, and Angel nowhere in sight. For this small favor the two elder slayers breathed a sigh of relief. If either of them saw the former vampire again, he might not suffer from just a bruised jaw.
Walking over, Buffy took an empty seat across from Willow. It afforded her a view of the entire room, and placed her well away from all of the books. Not that it helped any. As soon as she had settled herself, Dawn quickly marched over, dropped a book into Buffy’s lap, and then returned to her place against the couch.
Picking up one of the thinner books, Faith chuckled at Buffy’s sulky expression. Settling at one end of the couch next to Willow, Faith sent a smirk her sister slayer’s way.
“It’s only a book B,” Faith grinned. “Surely you’ve seen one before.”
“Ha, ha! Faith,” Buffy grumbled. “I just don’t want to see one.”
“Buffy…” Giles sighed as he removed his glasses so that he could rub his tired eyes.
“I know, I know,” Buffy mumbled. “Research good, books good, can I go kill something now?”
Seeing the hopeful look on her sister’s face caused Dawn to laugh. Picking up a stray piece of paper, Dawn wadded it up, and tossed it at Buffy. It hit her directly between the eyes, causing Buffy’s eyes to widen in mock outrage. Picking up the make shift weapon, Buffy lobbed it back at her sister, hitting her on the head, causing a few giggles to erupt from the formerly somber group.
“Girls, please,” Giles scolded, though his smile gave away his true feelings.
“Right, right,” Buffy said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Time to research.”
Opening the book in her lap, Buffy slowly began to leaf through the yellowed pages, scanning the text for any useful information. For a few minutes the only sound in the room was the soft scraping of pen on paper, and the gentle rasp of pages being turned.
Soon, the soft ruffling of the page she was reading attracted Buffy’s attention. Placing her hand on the book, she held the page down, preventing the subtle breeze from causing her to lose her place. As the breeze grew stronger, Buffy’s annoyance became greater. Looking up Buffy voiced her irritation towards Xander, who happened to be sitting next to the window.
“Xan, close the window would ya?” Buffy groused.
“Umm…Buffy,” Xander started. “I didn’t open the window.”
“Then who did?” Buffy asked. Seeing the confused gazes of her sister and friends, Buffy looked around the room. Her slayer senses were starting to tingle, and from the looks of things she wasn’t the only one who noticed something wasn’t right.
Faith, and some of the other slayers who had stayed behind, spread around the room, covering any and all entry and exit points. Willow stood as well, her eyes turning white as she began a magical scan of the room. For a minute nothing happened, and then Dawn began to scream.
Buffy rushed forward, grabbing her sister by her arms. Her panic grew as Dawn became less and less responsive. Dawn was hot, feverish. The sweat beaded along Dawn’s skin made holding her upright difficult, and it was taking all of Buffy’s strength to keep her sister from falling to the floor. Her eyes rolled back in their sockets, and her jaw clenched, cutting off pain filled screams. Spasms racked her slender frame, and a low moan crawled it’s way her throat.
Suddenly, like the picture on a TV during violent weather, Dawn’s body flickered, disappearing briefly. A short moment later, it happened again, only this time Dawn did not reappear.
For a minute no body moved. Everyone was focused on the area where Dawn had been standing. All that could be heard was ragged breaths being pulled in and out of over worked lungs. Buffy stood the closest to the singed circle, staring with wide disbelieving eyes. Her sister was gone.
Liana gently patted Gaelwine, a gray battle dragon, on his back before he flew off a short distance, hiding his presence. Gaelwine had borne her the distance to the brilliant white temple, getting her there much faster than any horse ever could. Scanning the area with sharp black eyes, Liana could see where her priestess had fallen, and where the remains of Ktulu’s minion lay in a chard heap near by. Cautiously, Liana walked over to the two large scorch marks decorating the peaceful lawn before the temple.
Drawing closer, Liana slowly bent forward, and ran her fingers along the outer edge of one of the marks. The ground was burnt, and Liana could detect a hint of what smelt like scorched meat.
Standing, Liana brushed her fingers off against her pant leg. What had happened at the temple was of no concern to her. Liana could not change it, nor would she waste her time wishing she could.
Marching towards the temple, Liana drew her broadsword, and gently pushed the white door open. If the message her Priestess had sent was to be believed, then it was up to Liana to deliver the treasure hidden inside to the Father before Ktulu, or anyone else, came to claim to what was not theirs.
“Willow! Do a spell, any spell. I want to know who took Dawn, where she is, how I can get to her, and how I can kill what took her,” Buffy ordered as she suddenly snapped out of the momentary stupor that had settled over her the moment her sister had disappeared.
“On it,” Willow said as she began to wave her hand over the scorched ring in the carpet. Her eyes flashed between white and black for a few minutes before finally settling on a deep gray color. Soon, her hair matched her eyes as Willow used every bit of magic she knew to try and locate Dawn, and the being responsible for taking her from them.
It was an eerie sight when Willow’s hand dipped down into the center of the ring, disappearing into the carpet. For a few very long seconds, no one breathed, then Willow quickly jerked her hand back, her eyes and hair returning to their normal hues. Looking her distressed friend in the eyes, Willow offered what small bit of hope she could.
“I found Spike,” Willow whispered.
“And how does this help us Wills? We’re trying to find Dawn,” Buffy snapped. Spike could take care of himself, Buffy knew this the way she knew the sun rose in the east and set in the west. How this was related to her sister, Buffy had no idea.
“That’s just it Buffy!” Willow said, hope shining in her eyes. “It’s the same world Dawn’s now in.”
“Can you get us there?” Faith asked as she came to stand before the excited witch.
“Yeah,” Willow said. “Using the residue left by their spell I should be able to open a portal to their location.”
“Good,” Faith said. Looking at the others in the room she continued, “Vi, go find the other girls. I want volunteers only. Xan, go get Angel. He’s going to need to know where we’re going, and why we’re leaving. I’ll go to Buffy’s and my rooms and get our stuff. Everyone else get your own. I’m positive we’ll be leaving soon.”
Turning, she quickly made her way to the door, and was halfway out, when the sound of her name being called stopped her. Glancing over her shoulder, Faith found herself looking Buffy straight in the eyes.
With a slight nod of her head, Faith quickly left the room, and the others as they hurriedly carried out her orders.
It was hot, too hot for comfort. He couldn’t get away. It felt like his whole body was on fire, and somewhere in the distance he could hear screaming. Spike couldn’t make out the words, but he knew it was a woman he was hearing. Her crying turned into pain filled moans, and were nearly as unbearable as the heat. Spike’s whole body hurt. Muscles seemed to spasm, and his bones felt like they were grinding together.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of white light, and then silence descended. The heat, along with the ache, slowly receded. With a startled jerk, Spike’s eyes snapped open, and he quickly sat up from where he had been resting against Draco.
Einarr and Draco looked at Spike, concern clear in their eyes as Spike fought to keep his rising panic down. It didn’t help, because an instant later Spike knew without a doubt whose scream he had heard.
“Father, what is wrong?” Draco asked as Spike’s terror continued to rise. When Spike gave no response besides his first frantic shout upon waking, Einarr made a swift decision. He quickly reached out and slapped Spike. The resulting action pulled Spike from the horrors of his mind, and brought him back to his present situation.
“What is it?” Einarr demanded, his voice like steel.
“Dawn,” Spike whispered as his fear for his Niblet entered his voice. “Somehow she’s here, and she’s terrified.”
Standing, Spike dusted off his pant legs and turned determined blue eyes onto his companions.
“You’re going to help me find her.”
King Aneirin tried his best to look interested, but all he heard was the same bull that had been lobbied around for the last few years. With the increase in the number of raids, and the brutality in which they were being carried out, the young king did not have time for political games of one up-man-ship.
“We have problems of our own. There are raids along our shoreline. The Barbarian ships come nearly every day! Our recourses are stretched thin as it is. Let the Desert province lend a hand,” King Harlish bellowed from his seat as he eyed King Kahil, the ruler of the desert province, with venom.
“My kingdom has no interest in your wars,” King Kahil stated with a dismissive wave of his dark hand.
“If we do not band together then Ktulu will soon become everyone’s problem!” King Leof, ruler of the Great Plains, growled as he slammed his large hand down on the arm of his chair, silencing many of the voices, for the moment.
The stout old man had a grizzled look about him with his wiry white hair and beard. He had been one of late King Edderon’s allies, and was one of the few men in attendance Aneirin trusted. “Do any of you honestly think he will simply stop once King Aneirin’s province has fallen? His armies numbers are simply too great for one Kingdom to handle.”
“So?” King Harlish roared back. “The barbarians are…”
“I get it,” Aneirin growled, his green eyes shining brighter than any jewel in existence. Seeing the color change in his King’s eyes, Frederic stepped behind his chair, hoping no one noticed. A part of him wanted to see Aneirin tear the simpering morons to pieces, while a larger part hoped the fallout from this would not be too widely felt.
“I understand innocent people dieing, and their towns being obliterated, is simply not important enough to put aside our petty grievances…”
“Now listen here…” King Harlish interrupted with a growl. He was quickly silenced with a withering glare.
“If you had sent word the Barbarians had become such a problem, I would have gladly sent help. But instead of asking, you kept silent. Now I am the one asking for help against a far greater enemy than the barbarians, and you hide behind a petty skirmish,” King Aneirin said, his voice going calm and steady with a forced casualness which was far scarier than any shouting ever could be. “I maybe the youngest one here, but I seemed to remember being taught being apart of this Alliance meant no one was truly alone, and help would come if, and when, it was needed. I would have thought most of you would remember this better than I.”
Silences greeted his words. No one was willing to contradict him, nor were they willing to stand up and offer the help he was seeking. They were all firm in their convictions, believing the problem would not spread to their lands, though none had the courage to meet his eyes.
“I will stand with you,” King Leof stated firmly, casting a disgusted glance at the others assembled for the Council.
“Thank you,” King Aneirin said with a heartfelt sigh. Some of the anger left his eyes, leaving a tired, and desperate man standing before the other rulers.
“I have a solution,” the Oracle announced during the silence created by the monumental moment. It was not often one King openly berated the rulers of another province.
“And what is that Oracle?” King Leof asked.
“How about I show you?” the old Oracle said, a sneer spreading out over his face. Waving his hands, the Oracle chanted in a language no one present understood. He turned in quick erratic circles, his long greasy white hair, and ragged clothes flying out wildly around him. A gust of wind swept through the room, ruffling hair, clothes, and scattering sheafs of paper.
Then, as suddenly as he had begun, he stopped, and slammed the tip of his staff on to the floor. The action caused a loud bang to echo throughout the room. A bright flash of light momentarily blinded everyone, and when they could all see again, a frightened young girl lay in the center of the room.
“I present to you, The Key!” the Oracle declared with a flamboyant wave of his arms.
Once again the others began speak, some with a mad light shining in their eyes as they looked upon the one being they all believed to hold stores of untold of power.
“How is this possible?”
“Where did you find it?”
“The power it must hold…”
Horrified, King Aneirin quickly made his way to the center of the room, stopping only when he was within arms reach of the frightened girl.
Kneeling, Aneirin placed a gentle hand on her slim shoulder, gaining her attention.
“Are you all right my Lady?” King Aneirin asked, a soft gentle tone to his voice.
Not getting any reaction except for the same frightened gaze, Aneirin glanced behind him, seeking out the one ally he knew of.
Thankfully, he found the same horrified expression he wore plain to see on King Leof‘s face as well.
“That is enough!” King Leof growled as he too came to stand beside the young King. “Can you not see she is just a child?”
Hurriedly, Frederic came forward as well, Aneirin’s warm winter cloak clasped tightly in his weary hands. With a sympathetic smile on his face, the old royal adviser held the cloak out to the shaking girl.
“Take it. You must be in shock, my dear.”
Wide eyes snapped left to rest on Frederic’s kind face as she reached out, and quickly grasp the cloak from his out stretched hand. She hastily pulled the thick forest green wrap around her.
“You can’t honestly expect us to let you have complete control of this weapon,” King Harlish said, his anger at being denied access to the power of the Key growing.
“Hey!” the girl cried out, clutching the cloak around her tightly as she climb unsteadily to her feet. “I’m right here, and I would appreciate it if you all would stop talking about me like I’m some thing. I have a name too you know, it‘s Dawn.”
“The power in it alone can not be held by one man,” King Kahil said, his eyes never leaving Dawn as she stood bravely in the center of the room. “Truly you do not wish to try, and wield it yourself?”
“I believe Lady Dawn said she is not a thing,” King Aneirin said as he stood to face the assembled crowd with a glare, reminding all while he may be young, he was still his father’s son.
“And I believe the young mountain King is right,” a voice from behind the assembled group said as the double doors flew open. Turning all witnessed the entrance of a tall well-built man.
He was dressed in fur clothing, and carried an axe strapped across his broad back. Metal braces covered his wrist, and a matching helmet rested atop his head.
He was huge, bigger than Aneirin had pictured, and just as formidable. His white blonde hair, and ice blue eyes did little to take away from the imposing air surrounding him. Oddly enough, his accent was soft, almost musical despite the harsh guttural tones dominating the Barbarian’s language.
“Stop him!” King Harlish shouted motioning for the soldiers gathered in the room to take action.
“Halt!” King Aneirin yelled, causing the soldiers to freeze their motions. “Why are you here King Gunnarr….”
“Gunnarr will do,” the Barbarian ruler interrupted quietly, but firmly. “My people do not hold to such formalities.”
“Of course,” King Aneirin said with a slight bow of his head.
“I believe King Aneirin was about to ask why you have arrived to a gathering you have not been invited too?” King Harlish growled, angry he was not allowed to try, and strike his enemy down.
“The Oracle sent me word of this meeting," Gunnarr replied. "Also I come because of this.”
Motioning for one of his men, Gunnarr took the brown sack he carried, and up ended it, pouring its contents onto the polished floor of the conference room. The leviathan’s head made a sickly plop as it hit the ground. It left a trail of black blood leading away from the Barbarian King as it rolled to a stop.
“Eeeewwww! That is sooo gross!” Dawn screeched, momentarily forgetting her fright in the face of such a disgusting display.
“Right you are little Daughter-Key,” Gunnarr smiled at Dawn, finding her reaction amusing. Expression turning serious, he addressed the only two Kings he held any respect for. “The Dark One’s evil has spread. My people only steal from this one, because the Dark One’s servant, Ktulu, has cut us off from gathering supplies any other way. We sent word asking for aid, but we were denied. ”
Seeing the disgruntled expression cross King Harlish’s face, Aneirin had a feeling what the Barbarian ruler spoke of was true.
“I will not let some Barbarians take the Key from us!” King Harlish cried out ignoring the accusations spoken by Gunnarr. “It belongs to us, and it is only for us to use!”
“You are wrong Merchant King,” Gunnarr said, his soft voice taking on a hard edge that held a promise of violence. “The Dragons are the guardians of the Daughter-Key, until the time when the Father finally arrives.”
“The wind whispers the Father has all ready arrived, and wishes to collect his treasure,” the Oracle grinned as he purposely invaded Dawn’s personal space. Cringing she shrank back from the smelly old man putting her up against King Aneirin‘s back. Noticing whom she was leaning on, Dawn let out a high pitch squeak, and jumped back.
“I’m sorry! It’s just he’s really wigging me out, and he smells bad…not that I make a habit of draping myself all over strange guys, even if they are cute...I didn’t mean to say that! Not that I think your ugly…I just…okay, shutting up now,” Dawn babbled as she turned a bright red, and buried her face inside the folds of the cloak she wore. “Why can’t the ground open up, and swallow you when you really want it too?”
Hearing only a soft chuckle great the end of her rambling words, Dawn slowly brought her eyes up to meet the amused gazes of Gunnarr, King Leof, and King Aneirin.
“Wigging?” King Leof asked confusion at her rapid-fire words, and amusement, fighting for dominance on his features.
“It means he’s creeping me out,” Dawn answered softly, and with a belated “Your Highness,” added to the end of her sentence.
“Just between you and I,” Aneirin said in a blatant mockery of a private conversation. “I think he’s creepy too.”
“King Aneirin…” Frederic sighed; knowing everyone present had heard the exchange. “Despite your opinion, he is still the Oracle, and therefore he must be respected.”
“Still doesn’t change the fact he’s creepy,” King Aneirin said with a slight smirk sent Dawn’s way.
Before anyone else could reply to Aneirin’s blatant disregard for the Oracle’s status in their realm, a loud thunderous laugh rolled through the room.
Turning, all saw the Barbarian ruler nearly doubled over, breathing hard as he laughed at the display being played out before him. Quickly getting himself under control, Gunnarr drew in a few deep breaths before speaking to the assembled crowed.
“I must apologize,” Gunnarr said through the chuckles he was trying to control. “We have waited millennia for the Daughter-Key to return home, and I must say it is my pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.”
“Home?” Dawn asked, a confused look settling over her face. “But this place isn’t my home.”
“Of course it is!” King Kahil said as he came to join those standing in the center of the room. “You are the Key.”
“No, I’m not!” Dawn blurted out eyeing the Desert King with apprehension. “I’m Dawn! And my sister is so going to kick your ass for bringing me here!”
“Why are we even having this conversation?” King Harlish demanded. Reaching out he quickly wrapped one hand around Dawn’s forearm with enough force to bruise. “I am taking this thing with me, and my men will figure out the best way to use it against our enemies.”
Before King Harlish could follow through with his plan, the Oracle stumbled into the man as he clutched his head, moaning as if in the grips of a vision. The sudden movement caused him to lose his grip on Dawn’s arm, giving her the chance to move closer to King Aneirin’s form, and well out of King Harlish‘s reach.
“No, no!” the Oracle whimpered. “Outsiders are coming! They are not a part of the Gods’ plans. Only the Father and the Key can stay.”
Taking advantage of the distraction created by the Oracle, King Aneirin quickly wrapped an arm around Dawn’s shoulders, and swiftly began to lead her from the room. Given her choices, Dawn would much rather go with the cute King, who seemed to treat her like a person, rather than the two who looked at her like she was nothing but a thing to use.
“This is my Kingdom,” Aneirin stated firmly as he waited for Frederic to open the great hall’s doors. King Leof and Gunnarr kept close watch on the other occupants in the room from their position behind him. “Lady Dawn will be staying in my home, and will be treated as my personal guest. That will not change even if the Father arrives. And believe me, I’ll know if the one before me is in fact the true Father of the Key.”