Disclaimers;
Joss Whedon owns them, plots out their lives and keeps trying to convince us that there is chemistry between Buffy and Riley. We of course know better. I'm just having fun, don't sue me.

Author's note;
This is my take on the various reports on Season Five; god-like adversaries, Tara's secret, Dawn's secret, that sort of thing. So call this one an Alternate Universe, because I would not claim to know the mind of Joss.

Oh, while this isn't a dark fic, or overly angsty, it does get pretty intense. At least that's what I'm going for. And yes, this will be a Buffy/Willow story. Eventually.

Spoilers;
"Hush", "Goodbye Iowa" and general Season Five

Feedback;
Do I have to ask? Jim_D_Means@prodigy.net

Summary;
Ancient forces that have opposed each other since time began have chosen human champions to fight their battle. To the death.

========
AVATARS
By Kirayoshi
========

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
Having tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if the world should perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate,
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great,
And would suffice.

--Robert Frost


Prologue;
Setting Up The Game


"The battle begins anew, Tiamat."

"So it does, Marduk."

"Has your avatar been put in position?"
"It has. And yours?"

"Is ready."

"So let us begin the game anew, my eternal enemy."

========
December; 1999

She was doing the will of her deity, that's all that mattered.

Never mind that she felt attraction for the young woman whom her god had chosen to be his champion, that didn't matter. She was an avatar of Marduk, that is all that mattered.

The game was being readied. The pieces must be prepared.

She could only hope that Thespia wouldn't try to interfere again. She couldn't understand Thespia's obsession with the Lower Beings. They were beneath her master's notice. Not worthy of a god's time.

However, the rules of the game had forced her to take the flesh of a mortal. She had assumed control of this shell of flesh, with all its negative attributes; the need to eat, to excrete, to respirate, to bathe, to maintain constantly a shell that would only last a mere century on the outside. Hardly worth the effort.

But her waiting in this gross frame would soon be over. She had found the vessel. The champion. The avatar.

An unassuming shape, not attractive by the narrow and prejudicial standards of these contemptible microbes that dare to call themselves sentient. Short hair, bright red. A skinny body. A face that was too expressive, lips a trifle too wide, eyes a shade too green. Hardly whom she thought her master would choose.

Then she looked at her for real. Not fooled by sight, she saw her for real. She saw her true form, her aura, her inner self.

A powerful one, she was. And more so than even she herself thought. If she were allowed to mature, to learn to control her powers, she would be formidable among her people.

No wonder her master had chosen her. And small wonder that this battle would be the last. When it was over, only her master would be standing, of that she was certain. And once that happened, the microbes, the Lower Beings, these gnats that infested Creation, would be swept away in a purifying fire.

She saw her take her seat at a meeting of these gnats, as they spoke of Goddesses, of powers, of magic. Her contempt for these Lesser Beings grew with every word. What did they know about power, about the true magic of her Gods? Soon, they would see power. And that power would be the last thing they ever saw.

After the meeting, she made her move. She approached the red-haired human, and offered her hand, as she had seen people do in greeting before.

"Hi," she said to the future avatar. "I'm Tara."

"Willow," the avatar answered back, shaking her hand.

========

January; 2000

Riley Finn died of injuries sustained when he faced the cybernetic nightmare called Adam.

But no one knew about his demise.

Not his fellow officers within the Initiative, not the doctors who labored to keep him alive, and certainly not his girlfriend, Buffy Summers, who waited patiently for news of his progress.

The moment his soul was wrenched from his body, another soul entered it. The other soul was Discord, the servant of Tiamat the Destroyer. Tiamat had come, as he had come a thousand times before, to lay waste to this pitiful world.

And what wonderful toys these pitiful humans had seen fit to leave him! An arsenal that could destroy a hundred Earths, terrible weapons with a fiery breath that would do the gods justice. Tiamat was always amazed at the capacity of this species to destroy themselves.

Tiamat would be happy to help them to that end.

Discord slowly knit the damaged body of Riley Finn back together, and bolstered it so that this aberration Adam wouldn't be able to damage it again. Discord then rifled through the dead man's memories in order to find the name of Tiamat's Avatar, the one who would take the essence of Tiamat and become his champion. Yes, Discord chuckled to himself. This one would be a most excellent avatar. Stronger than any human alive, agile, swift and cunning. A true destroyer. A Slayer.

As 'Riley' recovered from his injuries, he noted his friend Forrest at his bedside. "Forrest," he breathed to his former friend, who smiled back.

"Hey, Finn," he gave him a firm handshake. "How ya doing?" "I'm fine, but I gotta know." Riley smiled, as he asked, "Where's Buffy?"



Chapter One
Destiny's Dawn

Halloween, 2000

"Hey, Mom, what do you think?" Dawn Summers bounded down the stairs in her costume. A bright lime green tunic and knee-high dress with a wide black belt, green socks and black mary-jane shoes. She posed hopefully for her mother, who nodded politely.

"Very nice, Dawn," Joyce said as she appraised her younger daughter. "Uh, who are you supposed to be?"

"I'm Buttercup!" Dawn announced, as if stating a self-evident truth.

"Oh, Buttercup," Joyce nodded approvingly. "I loved 'The Princess Bride', especially that scene where Buttercup followed Wesley down the hill and into the Fire Swamp--"

"Uh, Mom," Dawn stared at her mother as though she had sprouted antlers. "What are you talking about?"

Joyce looked at her daughter quizzically. "The Princess Bride," she answered. "But, now that I think of it, I don't recall Buttercup wearing bright green."

"Mom," Dawn shook her head, wondering yet again if she was adopted, "I'm Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girls! Geez, hop on the clue train!" Joyce laughed at her daughter, and consoled her, saying, "Sorry, honey, it's this thing called the Generation Gap. Don't worry about it, sweetie. You'd hate it if I were cool anyway, I'm your mother."

"All right, Mom," Dawn yielded the point. "When's Buffy getting here?"

"Soon, dear," Joyce answered as she went back to clearing the dinner dishes. "She and Riley will drop you off at your Halloween Party before going to theirs."

"Oh," Dawn said without enthusiasm, and wrinkled her nose in distaste. Joyce caught the tone in her daughter's voice, and asked, "Is something the matter?"

"Yeah, Riley."

"I don't see your problem, Dawn, I like Riley. He's a good man. Buffy likes him."

"Yeah," Dawn complained, "but she has no taste. Didn't she used to date a vampire?"

"Now Dawn," Joyce scolded her daughter. "I want you to be polite to Riley Finn when you're with him. He's going out of his way to take you to your party. I don't want to hear Buffy saying that you mouthed off to either of them. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Mom," Dawn answered. "I'll be good." The last thing she needed. Her sister playing spy on her. Geez, but why did she still fawn over that dweeb Riley? I mean, she could have that hottie Xander if she wanted, all she'd have to do is pry him away from that slut Anya.

She would have continued on that line of reasoning for several seconds if the universe hadn't chosen that moment to turn her life inside out. Her head suddenly reeled, vertigo assailed her senses, and the visions came--

--Some punk poseur, being attacked, killed by -- Buffy. Buffy stood over her victim's remains, like an animal having made the kill. Like some terrible beast of prey, savaging a gazelle. She wasn't human, she wasn't--

"Dawn!" A worried Joyce shrieked as she rushed to catch her fainting daughter. "Dawn, honey, are you okay?" Dawn lay limply in her mother's arms, between waking and dreaming.

The only sensation she could feel was a plea from some unknown and unknowable source. "Now," the plea cried out to her heart. "It is beginning now."

========

"So this is what 'William the Bloody' is reduced to," the pathetic shell that had once been Spike, the scourge of the Slayers, muttered drunkenly as he ambled his way through the streets of Sunnydale. "Stuck in this dead-end armpit of a burg, damn chip still keeping me from killin'." He took a swig from an old bottle of Jack Daniel's, laced with A negative. He had just raided a local blood bank, unable to draw from the living after what the Initiative had done to him. "Gods, I hate my unlife!"

"I can fix that for you," a voice startled the inebriated vampire. Spike spun on his heel, only to find Buffy Summers standing in front of him, crouched and ready to attack.

"Oh, lookee here," Spike laughed bitterly. "What are ya gonna do, Slayer-girl, kill me? You can't kill me, girlie-girl, you have that nasty conscience that keeps you from killing the helpless andUNGH!" He was cut off in the middle of his drunken rant by a pile-driving blow from Buffy's shoulder. Without speaking, she grabbed him by the lapels of his jacket, and threw him against a building. Before Spike could defend himself, the Slayer grabbed his neck in her left hand, and held out her right hand, her fingers like claws. She drove her free hand into Spike's chest, and tore out the vampire's festering heart, displaying it before Spike's terrified eyes.

The grisly sight of his own heart was the last thing Spike saw before he immediately decomposed into a pile of ash. The heart disintegrated as well, and Buffy Summers snarled as she inhaled the vampire's dust.

Her eyes, normally a smoky hazel, flashed with unearthly fire. Her features contorted into an animalistic grimace, and she howled out her victory to the night sky.

"Very good, Buffy," the voice of Discord complimented his avatar. The savage Slayer growled with approval as her master emerged from the shadows. "You have done well. You have killed the helpless. You have crossed the line you vowed never to cross. There is no going back. From this day forward, my avatar, you belong, body and soul, to Tiamat." He summoned Buffy to his side, and she meekly ran on all fours in a loping gate to his hand.

The thing that had once been Riley Finn smiled. The Primal Slayer, the avatar of Tiamat was loose upon the world. Soon, the fate of mankind would be sealed.

========

"I wanted to thank you again, Xander," Giles announced as he hoisted a small amplifier into the back of Xander's car, "for helping me get my equipment to the Espresso Pump."

"No problemo," Xander grinned as he noticed Giles carrying his guitar case. "So, how's the Giles Unplugged deal going?"

"Well enough," Giles answered as they headed back to his townhouse. Giles located his sheet music books. "Care for some tea before we take off?" "Don't mind if I do," Xander agreed. "Say, you take requests?"

"It depends," Giles eyed Xander warily. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well," Xander said with a slight edge of anxiety. "I was thinking of bringing Anya over for a latte later tonight, and I wondered if you could play 'Change the World' by Clapton?"

Giles smiled at Xander's selection. "I believe I could manage that. Always did have a fondness for old Slow-hand. I think that can be arranged." Grabbing his music, he opened the door, only to be greeted by two familiar faces.

"Willow, Tara," he greeted the two witches. "What brings you here? I thought you two were attending a Samhain festival tonight." As he spoke, he found himself regarding Willow's face with growing concern; her normally animated features were frozen in a hard mask. Not her world-famous and much feared 'resolve face' but a blank expression that forced all emotion out of her face. Tara also seemed transformed, darker somehow. And Rupert Giles' mental defenses suddenly flared.

"Rupert Giles," Willow intoned. "You have in your possession the Sword of Gilgamesh. You will bring it to us now."

"Uh, Willow?" Xander greeted his childhood friend uncertainly. "What's the up? You don't need no steenkin' sword--UGH!" Xander found himself thrown backward, impacting suddenly with the far wall.

"You will bring the Sword of Gilgamesh to us now." Willow declared passionlessly. Tara simply glared behind her. Then she stepped forward, her eyes glowing pale white. She grabbed Xander by the scruff of the neck, and demanded, "The sword, Rupert Giles, or I will snap this one's neck."

"The sword is here," Willow interrupted as Tara held Xander's body aloft. Tara dropped Xander like a sack of flour, and followed Willow's pointed finger. Willow was pointing at a padlocked rifle cabinet. Tara concentrated, and the padlock snapped open. Removing the broken padlock, Tara opened the cabinet doors, revealing a number of formidable swords. Some simple, some ornate, others arcane. Tara scanned each blade, finally selecting one specific sword. Holding the sword in front of her, she intoned, "The Sword of Gilgamesh." Handing the blade reverently to Willow, she declared, "You will wield the sword against your eternal nemesis, my avatar." Willow bowed toward Tara as though she were standing before a mighty king, preparing to be knighted.

"I cannot allow you to remove that blade from these premises," Giles shouted out, grabbing a crossbow from his mantle and aiming it at Tara. "The Sword of Gilgamesh is too dangerous for anyone to handle!" Tara ignored Giles' statements as if he were a flea before her. She held the blade aloft and gave it to Willow.

Taking the sword in her hands, Willow answered, "I will slay our eternal foe, the avatar of Tiamat. Marduk will once again be sovereign of this world. And that which displeases him shall be rendered dust." Willow took Tara's hand in her own, and the two wiccans promptly disappeared in a shower of light.

"Whoa!" Xander shouted. "Willow! Tara!"

"They're not here, Xander," a terrified Giles answered. He feared not for himself, but for Willow and Tara. It was clear to him that the two witches had tapped into some terrible form of primal magic, and this power was controlling them. He immediately dropped his sheet music, and told Xander, "I'd better tell the Espresso Pump that I won't be available tonight. My apologies, Xander..."

"Hey, don't sweat it, G-man," Xander smiled ruefully, "I won't be resting until we find out what happened to Willow." While Giles plunged into the research mode, Xander tried to contact Buffy on the phone. "C'mon, Buff, quit playing tonsil hockey with Ry-Krisp and answer your damn phone!"

========

"NOW!" her heart cried out to her. "Be who you truly are!"

Dawn Summers rose from the sofa and said to her mother, "I must go."

"Go?" Joyce asked. "Are Buffy and Riley here?"

"I must stop the avatars," she stated tonelessly.

"Dawn, what are you talking about?"

"I am not Dawn," she answered. "I am Thespia."

At this, Joyce looked quizzically at her daughter. "I thought you were Buttercup."

"This discussion can serve no purpose," she said, as she prepared to go. "I must stop the avatars."

"All right, Dawn," Joyce shouted. "Where in the world do you think you're going?" She took Dawn's arm in her hand, to restrain her.

"Remove your hand, Joyce Summers."

Joyce blinked, unbelieving. "Young lady, I am still your mother, and I still insist on a modicum of respect." "You are not my mother," Dawn breathed as she brushed Joyce's hand away from her.

At this Joyce grew livid. "Oh, you are so grounded, Dawn Summers!" She grabbed Dawn by the shoulders, trying to gently restrain her.

Dawn's eyes glowed a neon violet, and she regarded Joyce with the expression of a deity whose worshippers had displeased her. Her body crackled with an unearthly energy, with an impossible strength. She shot Joyce a venomous look, and Joyce suddenly felt a disquieting fear of her own daughter. She slowly removed her hands from Dawn's shoulders, and backed away quietly.

Dawn simply looked at Joyce, no emotions at all registering on her face. "Joyce Summers," she spoke tonelessly, with just a hint of sadness, "I regret any distress that I have caused you, but my deception was necessary. I must go now, or else you world is lost. Farewell, mortal, we shall not meet again." Dawn closed her eyes, and in a flash of light, disappeared.

Joyce stood alone in her living room, shocked at what had happened. Her heart was heavy with grief, with worry, and with the realization that nothing she knew was right. The first time she felt this way was when Buffy revealed to her that she was the Slayer. At the time, she was certain that she had lost her daughter for good. Now, she was losing her other daughter, and she didn't understand why.

All she knew was that the fates had taken Dawn away from her. And nothing would ever be the same in her world again.