Notes: Written by request for the Illyria Ficathon
Better to Reign in Hell...
"Now?" the girl asks.
The sky crackles and splits with lightning, throwing illumination and shadows in odd shapes, and for a moment the girl is a black silhouette painted against the chaos of the darkened sky. Wind roars furiously, turning her hair into whips that lash at her thin, oval face, and she raises her arms as if to embrace the invisible gusts. Her forearms are a twisted mangle of scar tissue that wind together in all shades of red, pink and purple, individual threads woven like fabric and beaded jewelry made of flesh, and Illyria finds them beautiful, more real and visceral than any aspect of humanity she has yet witnessed.
"Soon," Illyria answers.
The girl moans, as if eager, and sharp metal presses with impatience against a familiar corded line and doodles there, thin scratches forming the shape of a symbol that had held no meaning in Illyria's time. A cross, she remembers, a Christian symbol of faith and the burden of sin. She'd thought it a silly indulgence then.
It holds even less meaning now.
Even were the skies calm it would be easy to see that this world is no longer what it once was. The city skyline is decimated with the hulks of smoking buildings, spires sticking out and up at random like the mane of a mangy cat, and the streets are empty, cars abandoned all along the roads as far as the eye can see, thick as choking weeds and silent as a graveyard.
The Apocalypse has come and gone and not a single hero has lived to see its end.
Only one building alone rises untouched, like a beacon to the hopeless, a civilized morsel for the hungry human masses that still remain. Lights shine upon it like the entrance to the gates of heaven itself, and atop its peak stand guard three stone creatures Illyria has come to recognize well.
The wolf, the ram, the hart.
Their name is plastered from one end of the city to the other, and likely in all the major cities across the world. Construction sites for new homes, recently reopened movie theaters, stores and banks, each one a glittering ray of hope to the human race bearing the name of Wolfram & Hart.
False hope, she knows, and though the sight of the name still stirs anger deep within her breast, she is unmoved. She understands nothing if not power, and it is clear who has the power in this ravaged world.
Lightning cuts the sky into jagged shards of purple-black, and Illyria turns her eyes back toward the girl. She takes no notice of either Illyria or the skies, and she skips as she sings; a mad, dancing paper doll of a silhouette, cut carelessly from the cloth of the universe.
In her time, it had not needed a name.
It was simply a sort of energy crafted from the very fabric of the universe, shimmering like the hearts of stars, pure in its essence and its purpose, existing only to fulfill its duty. It was an existence that could not be measured or encompassed with mere words; that could not be named but only understood by the truly divine. And even Illyria, God-like as she was, had respected the nature of such things.
And now it retained nothing of its former glory. It had been profaned, plucked from the heavens, bound in flesh and bone, a bit of iridescent green peeking out from between the vestments of the human race. They had made it human. They had made it a human girl with a human name and frail human bones and blood. They had called her Dawn and kissed her cheek and touched her hair as if she were real, as if she were human and family. And yet they knew enough to call her a 'key', and so they must have understood her ultimate existence and meaning in this form as that of a tool, which made their actions all the more curious.
Angel and Wesley had tried to tell her of such things, of the complexity of emotion and thought that they considered beautiful in humans. Had told her that they cared for Illyria because she wore the face of one they'd once loved, and stripped of her power, of her comprehension of the world, she had tried to understand. But Angel was dead, as Wesley was dead, as they were all dead, all those who had helped her touch and feel and understand this strange world she had been called to, this frail vessel that could not even hold the totality of her power.
They were dead, and she was alone, and she wanted only for the times of memory, when her name was a whispered prayer uttered with reverence and terror in the deepest shades of night upon the lips of those who knew her. For the days when entire armies had trembled and fallen before her, when sacrifices of blood were given with tears and terror as her due. For the days when she had controlled time with but a thought and her power was that of a God, when she could sweep up entire continents with a gesture of one of her many arms and reshape the land to her pleasing.
She had long understood the arrogance of humans, understood the faint glimmer of their self-awareness which they assumed to give them the right to rule this world. The dust of this world knew more than humans; knew its place in the scheme of things and did not seek to be more than it was. This thing had known its place then, too.
And now only she could see the glory it might yet attain.
Dark skies threaten with rain that never comes, and on the rooftop, Dawn bleeds and spins, knife still gleaming in her hand, her face that of a mad clown, crimson blood smeared across her mouth in a grotesque parody of grease paint. The black hollows beneath her eyes could have been painted there too, but Illyria has watched them grow and thrive with death and time and blood.
"What will we make this time?" the girl asks, breathless, madness dancing like chaos within the slack, green depths of her eyes.
Illyria does not answer, her eyes pinned upon the horizon as if she seeks the answer to the girl's question, and Dawn lifts the knife again, poised to cut another groove into her flesh.
"No more," Illyria commands, pushing the knife aside.
"You have been used before," Illyria said as she held the girl's forearm up for inspection. She glanced at Dawn, as if anticipating some kind of reaction, but the girl only drooled and stared blankly at the sky. She shrugged, consulted Fred's memory banks about the amount of Thorazine she'd injected the girl with, and found the dosage accurate.
The skin of this world still understood the words of the ritual that had been old even in her time. Guttural language fell from her lips as she cut the girl--a long, slow trail down a thin forearm that was scarred from several other such cuts. Blood rushed forth and reality had split open like a gaping maw, birthing an army of demons that crawled and slithered and capered on claws and teeth and tails, a solid mass of black flesh that was deafening in its whimpering mewls and lion-like roars. Demon bodies slipped and slid against each other with the whispering sound of oiled leather, pouring out in a ceaseless tide from some unimaginable hell dimension.
Dawn had been soundless, motionless, lost inside the pale green of her eyes. Her sister, Angel's beloved Slayer, had wanted to kill Illyria for touching the girl.
But the demon mob had gotten to Buffy first.
Wesley would say she was abhorrent, inhuman and mad. Sometimes she wonders if she is mad--sometimes she argues with his voice inside her mind--but she knows she isn't completely human, any more than Dawn is completely human. Besides, Wesley is dead.
"Their deaths were meaningless. It changed nothing," she speaks the words she does not realize have become a mantra. Dawn might have pointed this out to her once, before the skies had blackened and the madness came, but now even Illyria, in all her fragmented, fractured essence is saner than this girl. Dawn capers along the edge of the rooftop, giggling and whispering to herself, and as Illyria watches, she encircles herself with her arms, hugging her emaciated body like a child as she smiles.
The wind tosses long blue strands of hair into Illyria's eyes, and she blinks them away, unaffected. The girl has been bled more than a dozen times, ten times a dozen and more, always with no more effect than to erode the walls between the worlds. Once, Illyria had thought that if she could manipulate the girl's energy, she could find her way home to her armies, to her own time and place. She had hoped once to transcend this human fate, to become as she once was. But that, it seems, is forever beyond her reach.
When she had fallen to her knees before the ruination of her carven image, before the decimated armored bodies of her armies who had waited eons for her return, she had felt darkness, despair, the pain of loss that she associated only with humans and their dim animal responses to the accident of self-awareness. She had known then that her essence was tainted, forever changed by this human vessel she occupied. She had known then that she could hurt, that she could feel the same primitive emotion as these creatures. Even Dawn has not been spared this fate.
So be it, then.
She opens her arms in invitation to the girl, like the Madonna statues she has seen carved everywhere throughout this city, and the image, Goddess-like in its essence, pleases her.
Lightning and thunder split the night in time with ancient words hurled at the sky, blood flowing like the rain that will never come, and at the end of it all, the body of the former Goddess lies still and cold.
Less than a day has passed beneath the eternally black skies, and in the center of the city, she surveys the ruins of the building with something like true joy. She feels whole, complete for the first time since she'd been born into this world. Power that she'd barely remembered sings in her veins like the stars glitter and flash in the sky, filling her. The bodies of lawyers and policemen litter the ground, surrounding her like broken and bloodied porcelain dolls, and her hands are slick with the blood of their organs.
The wolf, ram and hart rule no more.
And in the crumbling halls of their once great building, a slender teenaged girl who was called Dawn once when the world still made some kind of sense, pushes back her matted blue hair, and smiles.