A slight breeze lifted the yellow gingham curtains. Just barely audible was the laughter, the screams, conversations and noise; the life of the city below. The sun was beating down on the city of Rome and its citizens were taking full advantage of pleasant weather.
Inside the cool room, the bedroom furniture had been pushed to the corners to allow two occupants space to sit, lotus style, in the center. A large ring of purple sand had been carefully drawn around them.
A gentleman was chanting softly in a strange language. Across from him, her hair pulled into a perky ponytail and her toenails carefully painted a summer orange, was a young girl in her mid-teens. Her eyes were closed and her nose was wrinkled in concentration.
A bee buzzed about, languidly inspecting the colorful flowers flourishing in the window box. Suddenly, the insect began flying erratically around the room. The flowers were flattened, as if in a heavy wind. Several of the knickknacks on the dresser started shaking.
The man's voice grew slightly louder, his upper body leaned forward. The young girl's face contorted as if she was struggling to push aside something heavy. With a loud bang, both members of the circle were thrown violently backwards. The bee dropped to the ground, stunned; all the window box flora drooped as if suddenly losing their will to grow.
"Well, that didn't go very well." the girl pushed herself back into a sitting position.
"Dawn! Are you alright?" her counterpart clambered to his feet and gave Dawn a hand up.
"Yeah, Giles, I'm fine. Just banged my elbow."
"Ah. Did you see anything?"
Dawn's face dropped. "Almost. Something bright and hot - like a really intense fire. But then..." She gestured vaguely towards the circle. "Everything went boom."
Rupert Giles sighed. They had been trying the Memory Spell for almost a year now, with little success.
"Right. You did well Dawn. We might as well call it a day." He stepped carefully over the Intensification Circle and opened the door to Dawn's room. "We're supposed to meet Buffy for lunch soon."
"Cool. I'm starving." Dawn jumped over the circle and headed down the hallway of the Summers' apartment. She had overwhelming advantage of youth - after three straight days of the memory meditation Giles could barely shuffle his way across the room.
"Bloody hell," he murmured, trying to work the kinks out of his shoulder. "This is getting rather old."
Buffy Summers sat in the shade of an awning, absently fanning herself with a menu, her eyes scanning the crowded streets.
Seeing Giles and Dawn looking lost at the entrance to the open air bistro, Buffy frantically waved her hand at them, nearly knocking the tray out of an attentive waiter's hand.
"Oh! Sorry," she grimaced. The waiter smiled, rattled something in rapid fire Italian, and bowed graciously.
Buffy grinned. "I'll take that as a sign of forgiveness."
Giles and her sister arrived and took their places around the table.
"So, how'd it go?" Buffy said anxiously.
"Ah. Buffy. This is a lovely table." Giles forced a smile in her direction, an obvious sign of avoidance.
"Didn't work, huh?" she said. Beating around the bush had gotten old six months ago.
"Nope. Just the same old same old." Dawn perused the menu with gusto.
It had never seemed fair that Dawn could eat the equivalent weight of a third world country in pastry and maintain a slim figure. Before being endowed with super Slayer metabolism, all Buffy had had to do was look at a doughnut the wrong way and she gained five pounds. Some girls had all the luck.
"Well, we did manage to hold the spell for longer. That is encouraging." The Watcher trailed off. "Oh, blast it. It's not working, Buffy. After all this time, we're still at square one."
"But it's not hopeless, right?" Buffy looked worried. "I mean, it's been kinda sporadic, what with you being in London and all. Maybe Dawn could go with you to the Watcher's council – "
"Buffy!" Dawn exploded.
"– for a little while." Buffy shot a look at her sister. "Maybe someone there can help with the spell or something."
Giles looked thoughtful. "It's not entirely out of the question."
The three were silent for a moment. Trusting anyone with something as delicate as the Key caused hair raising, not of the good feelings for all involved.
"But Buffy, I really can't see what difference it will make," Giles finally said. "The tactics we've been using simply aren't working."
"We've got to find something," the Slayer said. "Dawn is still having nightmares." She began mutilating her napkin, taking out her frustration on the hapless cloth.
"Buffy, it's not that bad, really," Dawn said. "I mean, it's not every night anymore. Anyway, maybe it's not really important."
Giles leaned forward, meeting Dawn's eyes. "I disagree, Dawn. Discovering the Key's – that is your origins could be of vital importance. We have to understand you if we're going to adequately protect you. I promise, nothing will hurt you. No one will try to take you away from Buffy. But it is imperative that we find the meaning behind your dreams."
"Fine," Dawn sighed. "Whatever. Does this mean I have to go back to school next month?"
"Yes," said Buffy and Giles together.
"Whatever!" She said. "Just checking. Sheesh!"
"Mi scusi." The waiter reappeared at Buffy's elbow. "Cosa desidera da bere?"
"Uh, wait. I know this one. What do we want to drink? Ok, I can do this." Buffy furrowed her brow in concentration. "Scozzese...um...un succo and amico un'acqua."
The waiter smiled a bit, nodded, and headed off towards the kitchen.
"Wow Buffy! That was a lot better than last time." Dawn looked impressed.
"Well, I have been practicing," her sister said, smiling proudly.
"Buffy, are you aware that you just ordered Scottish juice and told him that I was water?" Giles arched an eyebrow.
Dawn's gales of laughter startled nearby diners.
"Oh." Buffy looked worried. "Is there such thing as Scottish juice?"
"Not to my knowledge. What exactly have you been doing with your time? I would think that you could order drinks without major debacle." Her former Watcher shook his head, attempting to look stern.
"Hey! It's not my fault that more people don't know English," she pouted. "And it's not like I sit home at night and do my nails! I work hard." Buffy fought a losing battle to maintain her straight face. "Did I really just say you were made of water?"
The laughter rose like a wave of heat, joining with the symphony of noise that was an Italian summer.
That night Giles and Buffy had a talk. Dawn had been sent off to her room amid protests and promises that nothing significant would be said without her.
The dichotomy of the Mentor/Slayer relationship seemed to have changed little, though the world around them was vastly different. Old friends, familiar places, and comforting routines had all been ripped away in a moment. Still, as Buffy had stated on numerous occasion, evil didn't seem to change much, wherever it was found.
This time, though, Slayer strength and Watcher wisdom weren't enough. .
"Have you tried Willow? Or the witches coven? I mean, there has to be someone with another option," Buffy's face was intent, in full Slayer problem solving mode. She had asked the same question several times now.
Giles absently cleaned his glasses, his mind running along a thousand different paths. "Of course. Willow was one of my first calls; I spoke with her again just before this trip, in fact. She sent me some ingredients. They didn't help.". The same answer, leaving them at the same place they had been for a year.
Now he began to pace, right hand in pocket, left hand - with glasses dangling - rubbing his head as if to increase circulation and therefore miraculously provide the hidden answer. Buffy sat on the rummage sale loveseat, legs tucked under, watching the Watcher. Tea cups lay forgotten on the nearby table. The increasingly circular conversation had pushed into the wee hours of the night.
"I simply can't think of another solution. She'll have to come with me. Perhaps there's something I'm overlooking," Giles' frustration was palpable, "perhaps something can be gained by group study."
"She's not some rat in a cosmetics study!" Buffy exclaimed, "She's my sister. I won't have a bunch of stuffy tweed-infested Brits poking and prodding and examining!"
"I know! Buffy, I know. No one is going to treat Dawn like that. I won't allow it." He sat beside her, exhausted. "But, I'm tired of fighting, tired of chasing something in the dark. It's not fair, not to me, not to you, and especially not to Dawn. She deserves to know - what she is, where she came from. I care for her too."
"I know you do, Giles." A moment of silence passed. "Ok. Dawn goes with you. We'll tell her in the morning."
With a grim smile, Buffy got up and headed down the hall towards her bedroom. Just before shutting her door, she looked back at her ex-Watcher. Giles was taking off his shoes and preparing to sleep as soundly as possible on the loveseat.
"Just...just take care of her, ok?"
Rupert Giles, with a sad smile, said, "Of course."
They turned from each other, each lost in their own thoughts. Neither noticed a door slightly open or the sound of gentle weeping.
A ringing phone woke Giles up early the next morning.
"Bloody phone. Bloody, sodding, wanker phone." He growled, still half asleep, fumbling around for his glasses.
Insistent electronic sounds spurred him onward in his quest. He finally managed to put on his glasses, roll off the loveseat, and find his cell phone in his discarded jacket.
"Hello," Giles winced. The bloody sun was too bloody bright this early in the bloody morning. Bloody hell.
"Giles? Is this Rupert Giles?"
"Yes. Who is this?" He shook his head, trying to clear away cobwebs. Who would be calling him this early?
"It's Andrew! You know...Andrew? Anywho, um, listen, I have that information you were looking for," the chipper voice on the phone drilled into his brain.
"Andrew. Do you have any idea what time it is here?" Giles sat back, wishing many evil things on his geeky self-proclaimed 'right-hand man.'
"Gosh, no. Didn't you remember your watch? Maybe you should start taking gingko biloba. I've heard that after you get to a certain age the memory starts to fade – "
Giles cut off the incessant prattle with a sharp, "what is the purpose of this call?" Subtlety was often lost on Andrew.
"Oh. Well, you remember the research you asked me to do? The special research? Remember, you said no one else could handle it - so you asked me to do it. Kind of like I was Robin, and you're Batman. Only without all the cool gadgets. And in tweed." Andrew was off and running. He'd continue with the 'just like, only not at all' analogies until...well, for a long time. No one had ever had the courage to just let Andrew go.
"Andrew. Please, try to stay focused. The research?" Giles found a comfortable spot on the loveseat. This might take a while.
"Right. Well, it took a lot of work. I mean, most people probably would just have given up. I talked to all the people on that list you gave me; I called in some favors; I even went to that demon hangout under Trafalgar Square. It was really scary..."
Oh, yeah. Sorry. The thing is, it's not for certain. I mean, it is, but my guy is out there checking it out right now, so I don't have official confirmation. But you said to call."
"Andrew, may I remind you that you don't have 'guys'. Secondly, if you don't get to the point of this conversation shortly, I will send someone to rip your spleen from your nose."
"Ok. Sheesh. I just called to tell you that I found her."
Instantly, the Watcher was awake. When he had sent the well-meaning boy on this rabbit trail he hadn't actually expect results. It was more a futile gesture.
"I'm on my way. Make the arrangements."
"Oh, and Andrew? Dawn will be accompanying me."
Rupert Giles turned off the phone. For a moment, he simply sat and stared. In his wildest dreams, he'd never expected to find her. The answer to everything was within their grasp.
He rose quickly. Years seemed to have dropped off him in an instant. He strode to Dawn's doorway and knocked.
Dawn slowly opened the door. Her puffy, red eyes and grim mouth gave testament to a sleepless night. She was dressed, her packed bags on her bed.
"When are we leaving?" She said, gulping down air as if drowning.
He studied her. She was getting older, maturing into a woman before their eyes. Sometimes he and Buffy forgot that. It had been hard to keep things from her when she was fourteen, but it had been necessary to give her a normal childhood. Now...now she was facing something that frightened her very much with courage and grace.
"Today. As soon as possible. Andrew is procuring tickets now; he'll call back with the details." Giles reached out, touched her arm. "Dawn, we found something - someone - who can help us. Help you."
The teen cocked her head, he eyes brightening slightly. "Who?"
"Hopefully...someone who knew you."
"Back in Sunnydale?"
"No, Dawn. Back when you were formed."
The late afternoon sun beamed through the plane's window. Dawn was looking out, captivated by the rolling clouds. The pilot had just announced they had less than an hour 'til touchdown. She looked to her right. Giles was asleep, glasses askew and mouth open. Every so often, a soft snoring would emanate from his general direction. Dawn giggled slightly. It was a very different picture than the stuffy librarian she remembered from when they had first moved to Sunnydale.
The thought gave her pause. After a moment, she reached into her backpack and pulled out her journal. In the last year she had filled up two notebooks and was working on a third. Giles had thought it was a good idea to begin writing again. He thought that if she kept a record of the times when memories came - both those given to her from the monks and those of her real past - then the spell that blocked her real self might weaken. So far, she just had two and a half books of fake memories. Like the one about Giles.
I just remembered the first time I saw Giles. Well, it's not really the first time, cause I didn't exist when Buffy and Mom moved to Sunnydale. At least, Dawn didn't exist then. It's so hard to keep the Key part of myself separate from Dawn Summers. They're both me, but not. It's weird.
Sometimes I wonder if all this isn't working because I don't want it to work. I just want to be normal, to have everything that's rolling around in my head be real. Like, remembering Giles. Dawn first remembers him from when she met up with Buffy in the Sunnydale High School Library after school. Mom was busy, so Buffy was supposed to walk me home. She and Willow and Xander were all reading these huge books, talking about 'sacrifices' and 'blood rites.' When they saw me, everyone just froze. Then Willow and Xander both started to talk real fast, making like they had been doing Math homework. Can you believe it? Like I was two or something, and would actually fall for that.
Then, Giles came over and asked if he could help me. Real polite, not like Buffy normally treated me - like I wasn't there. Then my sister pulled me away and told me to wait outside. Giles waved goodbye to me. I liked him right away. He just...smelled alright, you know? Like tea and old books and summer.
But me, the real me, wasn't really there. It's all some spell a bunch of old dead guys in robes put on everyone. None of it really happened. The first time I really saw Giles...I don't know. I don't know the first time I really saw anyone. Anything. I mean, when was the first time I saw a car? Or ate an apple? Or talked? Walked? Sang, shouted, showered, sneezed, ANYTHING? I don't know. And that scares me.
Dawn sighed and closed the book. Two and a half notebooks full of different stories, all with the same question - 'Who am I?'.
But now, after almost a year of trying every memory spell anyone could find, Giles said there was hope. Supposedly, they were going to meet the 'Yaaraea.' Whatever that meant. Hopefully, this whatever-they-were was going to help Dawn remember.
She looked out the window again. They were flying lower now - she could make out buildings and streets crisscrossing the ground below. From her side, Giles gave another soft snore.
What if she didn't want to remember?
Andrew, dressed in a suit and his hobbitesque hair firmly gelled into place, was standing at the terminal. In his hands was a placecard reading 'MR. RUPERT GILES AND MS. DAWN SUMMERS'. Giles spotted him as they came down the escalator, rolled his eyes and chuckled slightly. Dawn thought it was adorable - totally geeky, but adorable.
"Mr. Giles! Over here! Mr. Giles! Dawn! Here I am!" Andrew hopped up and down, waving his free arm and shouting across the receiving area.
"Oh, for heaven's sakes," Giles groaned, "who let him out alone?"
Dawn giggled. Andrew really was something, but it was extremely funny to have the man who got excited about thousand-year old books making fun of the Star Wars geek. Pot calling the kettle dorky or something.
"Calm down, Andrew," Giles said. "Remember, a Watcher strives to blend in, not cause the entire world to look in his direction."
"Right, right. Sorry." Andrew looked sheepish. "Hello Dawn."
"Hey," she gave him a tiny smile. She was just thankful that the 'Watcher Stare 'O Death' wasn't pointed in her direction. This time.
"Anywho," Andrew continued, "one of our guys isgettingyour luggage and everything, so we can just get going."
Giles rolled his eyes. Saints preserve him; dealing with Andrew was worse than working with a hormonal Slayer. "Thank you Andrew. You're doing a fantastic job."
Andrew grinned, basking in the praise. "Thank you. I also got you both rooms at a hotel outside of town. And you're meeting with the Yaaraea first thing tomorrow morning. A car will pick you up."
"We're not staying at Watcher central?" Dawn questioned.
The men exchanged quick glances. "Well...no." Giles said.
"Why? Not that I'm complaining," she said, "just curious."
The two men looked at each other again. "I think I'll just lead the way then," said Andrew, practically running towards the airport doors.
Dawn stood, waiting.
"Actually," Giles said, following Andrew - albeit more slowly and with a touch more dignity. "we felt you'd be more comfortable staying in a neutral place."
There was a pause, as if he was hoping this explanation would satisfy the teen.
No such luck.
"Go on," prompted Dawn.
"Well, the Watcher's council doesn't exactly...approve of the person I'm taking you to see."
"Why?" She said.
"It's complicated." He glanced at her. "Basically, this person - or the entire people group, it's hard to tell - has refused many times in the past to help the Watchers. The legends say that the Yaaraea shunned a Watcher who requested their aid a century ago. There is no further mention of them in Council records."
"Sounds like my kind of - what are they exactly?" Dawn said. They had reached the exit and could see Andrew standing next to a sensible four door sedan. Their luggage was strapped to the rack on top of the car.
"No one knows. Apparently, 'Yaaraea' means 'Ancient Ones' in their language. Other than that, there is no information on them, at least none that we've been able to find in the past few months. So, I really don't know if we'll be meeting with a group or an individual. And I have no idea what species they are." Giles paused before passing through the doors. "I've always thought they were myths, actually. If all the old stories are true then they may be able to shed a light on your origins."
"Ok then. Let's do this monkey." Dawn strode towards the car, leaving Giles in her wake.
"What does that mean? 'Do this monkey?'" Bemusedly, he followed after the teen. "I really have to get a translator."
Beep BeeP BEEP
Dawn rolled over and slapped the Snooze button on the hotel alarm.
She'd been having the most delicious dream. One involving Orlando Bloom and several gallons of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey. Mmmmm....Chunky Monkey....
Beep BeeP BEEP
"Leave me alone! Stupid alarm clock," she grumbled, hitting the Snooze button a second time. "Nine minutes is never enough time."
Another great dream. This time, Elijah Wood and Sean Bean had shown up in a red convertible. Mmmmm...Elijah Wood....
Beep BEEP BEEP BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP
"Ahhh!" Dawn judo chopped the alarm clock, simultaneously hitting her elbow and falling off the bed.
"Crappit." Her voice was muffled by the comforter and pillows she had brought down with her. "That was graceful."
She pulled the clock towards her by the cord.
Sheesh. That meant she only had forty-five minutes to get ready and meet Giles downstairs for breakfast. Stupid British alarm clock.
Dawn stood up gingerly, nursing her funny bone, and began to rummage through her bag for a suitable outfit.
"What exactly does one wear to an unknown mystic who's supposedly been around since the dawn of time and is going to take a journey into one's messed up head?"
She shrugged, picked out jeans and a casual top, and headed towards the shower.
Rupert Giles checked his watch for the fifteenth time.
She was twenty-one minutes late.
A car would be arriving in twenty-four minutes time to take them to the Yaaraea. Dawn was not in the lobby and not answering her room phone.
He decided to give it another five minutes before asking the front desk to break down her door.
Dawn put on the final layer of lip gloss and shook her head slightly to make sure her hair wasn't going to go spastic as soon as she got out of sight of the mirror.
There. She was now ready to face the world. And it was only...
Oh for heaven's sakes. She was really late. Hopefully Giles wouldn't freak out.
Grabbing her room key and a sweatshirt in case it really was as foggy and gross in England as it was in the movies, she ran out the door and towards the elevators.
"Giles is going to kill me."
"I'm going to kill her." Giles was working his way to furious, having bypassed worried, frightened, exasperated, and angry. He looked down at his watch.
One more minute and the door was coming off its hinges, if he had to tear it down himself.
He made his way towards the elevator bay. Then, as one of the elevator doors opened, a whirlwind of brown hair and Converse tennis shoes collided with him.
"Sorry!" The whirlwind said.
"Dawn!" Giles stopped Dawn short. "Where have you been? We only have fifteen minutes until the car arrives. What have you been doing all morning?"
"Um...drying my hair?"
"Oh for heavens..." Giles ran his hand through his own hair. "Come on then. You'd better eat something. And I could definitely use a cup of tea."
A scant twenty minutes later found Dawn and Giles sitting in the backseat of yet another sensible four door sedan, speeding through the British countryside.
They had been assured by the driver that they would arrive at the meeting place by 10 o'clock. Giles was pouring through a huge, leather-bound book that Andrew had left with him. Occasionally, he'd let out a 'Hmm' and flip the pages about frantically. Dawn had no idea what the book contained, but it certainly was keeping Giles occupied.
Her stomach was in a thousand knots. It seemed impossible to her that thirty-six hours ago she'd been sitting in a bistro in Rome's incredibly hot summer, listening to her sister order drinks in horrible Italian. Now, she was driving through fog and hills, extremely thankful for the sweatshirt she had grabbed this morning. The damp seemed to go to her bones.
Suddenly the chipper Council-provided driver turned towards her.
Dawn looked out her window. The fog was a bit thinner now, the sun trying to shine through the gloom. They had stopped outside a simple cottage - a postcard English garden within a white picket fence.
"My God," Dawn muttered, "it's like a Thomas Kinkade painting."
"Yes, it's a bit prosaic, isn't it?" He said, looking around them. "Well then, let's get on with it." Giles walked towards the door, Dawn following close behind.
There was a cutesy brass knocker. Giles used it to announce their arrival. A few moments passed, and no movements came from within the house. He shrugged, and was about to knock again when the door suddenly flew open.
A hooded figure stood just in the shadow of the room. It was tall and thin, with a regal bearing. Even knowing nothing about it, both Dawn and Rupert Giles felt...something emanating from the being. Giles took a step forward.
"Just the girl may enter."
The voice was silver water, sweet and pure. Both paused on the doorstep. It never occurred to either to question the demand. Giles simply hugged Dawn, pouring his love and strength into the gesture.
Dawn Summers took a deep breath of the damp country air and stepped forward.
The room was dim, lit only by a few white candles. All the shutters were drawn on the windows. The entire interior was made out of an aged silvery wood that seemed to radiate a faint light of it's own. Dawn looked about the huge open entryway she found herself in. For all it's humble posturing on the exterior, this cottage was immense. The front room had a huge vaulted ceiling, and the walls were covered with gorgeous paintings and intricate tapestries - all depicting beautiful people and fantastic beasts. All in all, it was unlike anything Dawn had ever seen. She felt...peaceful. Rested. All the world outside, all the busy and bustle and noise, was a faraway remembering. This room, this place, was real. Everything else was a fevered nightmare.
The winding voice interrupted her musings.
"Dear Child, will you not come in?"
"Uh, yeah. Sure. Sorry, but this place is wicked cool." Dawn's eyes continued to roam the walls as she followed her robed host down a hallway - apparently made out of woven tree branches - into an equally beautiful room with several chairs around a small table in front of a enormous fireplace.
A tingle of laughter came from under the hood of her mysterious companion.
"I am glad you approve. Please, sit down. I will prepare some tea."
Dawn sank into a lush chair. It was covered with the most amazing fabric she had ever seen - a beautiful shade of blue, so soft it seemed to hug her body as she tucked her feet under her and stared at the fireplace.
Obviously the huge mantel was meant to be the focal point of the room. It depicted two trees which grew on either side of the fireplace. Far above her head, the branches intertwined in a breathtakingly complicated pattern. On the mantel itself, strange characters were strung along; some unknown language telling a story.
The fire was another source of wonder. It burned high and gave light to the entire room, yet - though Dawn was sitting only a few feet away - it gave only enough warmth as to make the room the perfect temperature.
"Curiouser and curiouser," Dawn muttered.
The woman whom Dawn assumed was the fabled Yaaraea glided back into the room, a tray balanced in one hand and a book in the other.
"I hope you like tea," the Yaaraea placed the tray on the table and sat down opposite Dawn. "I am afraid I have become far too addicted to it. There once was a time that my drink of choice was water from the purest springs or wine so fine that only the High Ones could take of it. Alas," she sighed deeply and removed the hood from her head. For the first time, Dawn could clearly see to whom she spoke. "Those times are long gone. And this age is swiftly passing."
The woman was tall, stately. She seemed both young as spring and as ancient as the Earth itself. No feebleness marred her face, she was strong and yet so fragile. Beautiful, yes, but beautiful as a sunrise is beautiful, or a star-filled sky - it doesn't really matter what you think of them, they merely are.
"Who are you?" Dawn said, simply because it was the only thing she could think to say.
"I am a Yaaraea. My name is Elear."
"Yeah, but...what are you?" Dawn knew she was being rude, but this place was like something out of a movie. She needed to deal in facts, in the real world.
"In the common tongue of this age, I believe we would be called Elves."
"You mean like Santa's little helper, pointy-ears-and-shoes-with-bells Elves?"
Again, the tingly laughter echoed through the room. Elear smiled gently at Dawn.
"Amin n'rangwa edanea! " The Elven maiden exclaimed, clapping her hands in mirth. "You have such strange tales to describe the Yaaraea. Only one of your kind has understood the True history."
After this cryptic statement, the two lapsed into silence. Elear seemed perfectly content to wait, her deep eyes smiling at Dawn, her hands gracefully folded in her lap. Dawn decided to figure all this out one step at a time.
"Mr. Giles told me that you could help me. That you might know what I am."
"Indeed. Now, Dawn, do you know anything of your true self?"
"No," Dawn said, "not really. Just that I'm actually a big ball of energy that can be used to open up dimensions. Oh! and I'm really old. And I keep having this dream - just images, really."
Elear leaned forward, her ash-grey hair brushing her clasped hands. "Tell me."
"I feel...darkness, evil, pulsating around me. I'm surrounded by it, but I can't scream, can't escape. I know that I'm - the Key part of me - is being used to do horrible things. But I can't stop them from happening. He's using me and I can't stop him. Only, I don't know who he is. Then, a terrible struggle...I'm trying to help someone, but I can't. Nothing I'm doing is getting through the darkness. Then, a...fire or bright light. And pain, lots of pain. Then...then I wake up. Usually screaming." She began to shake then, even just talking about it. "It feels so real."
"That is because it is real." The Yaaraea looked concerned. "Dawn, I am about to tell you something. Something that only one other mortal has ever heard from an Immortal in the last two ages."
Dawn sat up straighter. She felt as if she were standing on a cliff. Everything she had known, her entire life, lay behind her. If she stepped forward, it would all be gone. Nothing would be as it was before.
"In the Elder Days, after the Dawn of the Earth, the Elves were sung into existence.
"You see, Eru the Creator had fashioned the Ainur to sing before Him. Yet as they sang alone, they began to understand each other and began to increase in harmony and unison. So they sang, until Eru came out to them and showed them things more great than he had yet revealed; so wonderful that all of the Ainur bowed before him and were as stone, silent. Then the Creator spoke of the Theme he had showed them; and now that they had begun to sing in harmony they began to bring forth their powers in adorning this Theme.
"Their song increased, filling the world beyond with flora and fauna in accordance with the Theme of Eru, who is called Ilúvuatar in the language of my people."
Elear paused, seeking Dawn's eyes with her own. "My Child, you have observed my fireplace, have you not?"
Dawn nodded, "It's beautiful. But I can't read the writing."
The Elf smiled softly. "There are not many still walking in this shadowland that can. Roughly translated it reads:
And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no Theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the Music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.
Behold your Music!"
"But, Elear, what does it mean? Who is Melkor? And what does ancient history have to do with me?" Even as Dawn voiced her frustrations, the text sounded vaguely familiar. Was this a suppressed memory? No, it seemed more recent...
"Ah, Dawn, it is your history as well. It is all of our history. Yet, you are right. You are an immortal, but you are dwelling as a mortal. You, like most of your adoptive race, will tire quickly of the old tales." The Yaaraea seemed vaguely disappointed.
She poured herself a cup of tea.
"The most powerful of all Ilúvuatar's creations was Melkor, the Ainur. He lusted after power; and this lust is the ultimate cause of all the pain and suffering in this world's long history. You see, Melkor tried to change the Theme of the Song, and in doing so set himself against his brethren and Ilúvuatar . Therefore, he was declared an outcast, and the Ainur who sang Eru's Song changed their name to the Valar.
"After this, the Valar continued to sing the Theme; but Melkor worked against them. Oromë of the Valar sang the Elves into existence. Melkor divided us, confused us, and caused the Kinslaying," Elear paused, sorrow creasing her brow. "Eventually, other races joined the Elves on Middle Earth: the Ents, the Halflings, the Dwarves, the noble Maia, and Men. Melkor perverted these creations of the Theme. So walked the Uruk-hai, the Trolls, the dark races that covered the once pure earth in filth.
"Yet, his greatest corruption was Sauron the Maia. Only below the Valar, the Maia were the protectors of the Theme, Ilúvuatar's wise and powerful wizards. Yet Melkor twisted Sauron, molded him to evil."
There was a breath, a pause, that crept through the room. The Ancient One sat, no longer looking at Dawn but staring into the flames.
"Sauron used his magic, his power, his very soul, to create a Ring. In that Ring was the power to rule the world, to bend minds to the wearer's will, to cross into the Wraith dimension and appear invisible to the mortal eye. In that Ring," Elear lifted her eternal eyes to Dawn, "was you. You were the power that Sauron called down from the very fabric of the universe."
For a moment, Dawn sat, waiting. "You have to be kidding me."
Elear was taken aback. "I assure you, I am not. That is where you came from –"
Dawn interrupted the Yaaraea with a jerk of her hand. "That's not my history. That's The Lord of the Rings. By J.R.R. Tolkien. And that verse, or whatever you call it, on the mantel? That's from The Silmarillion. Andrew kept quoting them to me back in Sunnydale." Now she was getting upset. "You're just a big phony, aren't you?"
Elear opened her mouth, but Dawn continued her tirade.
"You have no idea what you're messing with. You just sit in this crazy house, all dressed up like some kind of loser, and lie to people. You could have at least picked some fantasy world that they didn't just make into billion dollar movies." The teen jumped to her feet, nearly upsetting the tea. "You have no clue how much this meant to me, and to my sister, and Giles, and...and everyone!"
"Please, Dawn, let me explain –"
"No! I don't think so," Dawn shouted. "I think I've listened enough. I'm out of here." She made her way back to the door.
The command echoed around the room, buzzing in Dawn's soul. Every nerve ending was suddenly shouting an alert at her brain; the hair on the back of her neck was standing on end. Slowly, she turned back.
"You will listen. You will hear. You will understand. Well I know that this sounds impossible. I assure you, though, I am only here to tell you what you need to know." Elear was standing, her back to the fireplace, her hands clasped in front of her. Majestic she looked, beneath the carved trees, wreathed in flames; ancient and newly-formed, immortal and so fine. She was Yaaraea, and she served Ilúvuatar's Theme
"Come to me, Child. Take my hands." The Elf held out her delicate fingers towards Dawn. Almost in a trance, Dawn walked forward. "I told you this story had been sung to one other mortal in this age. He had the patience and the skill to hear it in full, and to put it in the written language of your age. This man, this Tolkien, was an elf-friend. He was beloved by my people, and his passing was mourned in the Grey Havens as well as by those still walking this shadowland."
"But...but elves. They're not real. They're in fairy tales. Tolkien is a fiction writer. He just made it all up!" Dawn struggled to connect with reality, with facts.
"You see all this around you, and you still cannot believe?" Elear looked saddened, and again reached out her hands, "John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was chosen because he possessed both the ability to see beyond the physical world and the thirst to chase after Ilúvuatar's Theme. I would think that you, among all the masses, could easily understand the concept of being Chosen, of those set apart. A few of my people still walk among the Men, that the Theme will not die." Elven eyes searched out Human. "Now that I have explained with inferior words, I wish to show you, that you may fully see. Take my hands."
The time for hesitation had passed. Dawn reached forward, and grasped Elear's hands.
The world rushed at Dawn, flew past her, and jumped around her. She struggled to remain upright and to maintain her hold on the Yaaraea's hands.
The chaos around her subsided and she was standing inside a mountain. A tall stately figure was outlined in a strange red glow. Seeking the source of the illumination, Dawn looked over the precipice. Hundreds of feet below her bubbled and boiled angry molten lava.
"This is where you came to exist in this plane." Elear's voice startled Dawn.
"So that's Sauron?" Dawn whispered, "That's the big bad?"
"You could say that, yes," Elear said. "He is now using magic shown to him by the Elves to form his own Ring of Power. He is perverting it so that he can rule Middle Earth and ultimately thwart the Theme."
"Ah. And this is where I come in?"
Sauron began to chant in a dark oozing language; not of stars and music and birth, but of the grave and decay, of blackest despair and heartrending sorrow. His smooth voice wound in and out of Dawn's every fear, every disappointment and failure. Suddenly, all she wanted to do was throw her worthless life at the feet of Sauron, to give him all he asked for in exchange for the blessed oblivion he promised. Dawn fell to her knees, every beat of her heart a piercing pain forcing a foggy haze of anguish to surround her. She crawled forward, towards the pit, towards her salvation and doom.
"My Child," the Yaaraea's sweet voice broke through, "remember the Song."
Suddenly, Sauron's voice didn't sound so smooth. Through the cracks, at first far off and faint, but then growing stronger and more substantial, was a beautiful strain of pure Music. Not the thin veil of sounds that we living in the shadow call music. No, true Music is not just something you hear; it surrounds you and lifts you up, it is taste and smell like a summer rainstorm or a baby's first laugh. Pure Music bursts into view like spring in the desert, it smothers you in softness so intoxicating there are no words big enough to surround it or small enough to fit inside. It is the language of the stars, the voice of the Valar, the vista of the Theme.
This beautiful thing pushed through Sauron's lies, swooped to Dawn's prostrate form, and breathed life into her blackened soul. The Song wrapped it's harmonies and melodies around Dawn's frame and brought her back to herself.
"What happened?" Dawn asked, as soon as she could breathe.
"You listened to Sauron, to his pure lies and absolute darkness. However you, like all creatures, belong to Ilúvuatar. I simply reminded you that His Song is more powerful than Melkor's schemes."
"Oh," the girl sat up, shaking her head. "Let's not do that again."
"Agreed," Elear said.
"Where exactly are we?"
"Inside your memories."
Dawn glanced around again. Now they were standing on a grassy hill. Far below, houses with small round doors dotted the landscape.
"Ok. Where are my memories?"
A tinkling laugh came from Elven lips. "I am merely showing you the substance behind your dream. First, you were formed into the Ring and surrounded with all the evil and lies that Sauron could summon. The Ring was lost to him, but not destroyed. It came to a prince, then a foul creature called Gollum, then to a good-natured Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo - also, by the way, an elf-friend - left the Ring to his nephew, Frodo Baggins."
"He just gave the ring up?" Though she, like most of the free world, had heard the story before, it was drastically different when you found out it was real.
"Yes," Elear said, "the first and only Ringbearer to do so. When Sauron infused his true nature into the Ring, he caused it to corrupt and twist whomever wore it. Bilbo's sweet spirit, along with guidance from Gandalf the Maia, helped him overcome the Ring's power."
All of this was so overwhelming. Sadly, it seemed to be confirming something that Dawn had struggled against acceptingher whole life. She was evil. She had been first formed to do evil, and she could be used again by evil things. Nothing that this Elf could show her would change that.
Like storm clouds on the horizon, these troubling thoughts threatened to overwhelm Dawn, send her back to the darkness and despair. Suddenly, Elear reached out and touched Dawn's shoulder. There was no bright sunshine and puppies and all-is-right-with-the-world; but it did seem as though the clouds were pushed back a bit, the air a little warmer, the future somewhat brighter.
With a grim smile, Elear continued the story. "Gandalf told Frodo Baggins the history of the Ring, and the evil Sauron would wrought if he ever laid hand on his creation again. So Frodo and his loyal friends began a journey that would change all forever. They quested to destroy the Ring in the fires from whence it was forged."
Now Dawn was beginning to remember, not the movie or the books, but her journey trapped inside the Ring. "There was a night, when Sauron's servants were calling me, that Frodo heard it too. He put the Ring on, and I took him to where the Wraiths walk."
"Yes. You remember."
"Yes," the teen looked at her guide. "Show me more."
Years later, when Dawn tried to tell of her journey, she found herself entirely unable. It was as if this experience went too deep, resonated too strongly for words to capture. With Elear, she relived the quest she had taken ages before; and she discovered why she had forgotten.
During the time she had spent close to Frodo, the Ring had begun to consume him. This pure being had been utterly devoured by the evil he bore. The Ring was far from merciful; Frodo could feel himself slipping a little each day. With each rising sun, more and more of his soul surrendered to the darkness. At the end, it was Sam's love and Gollum's greed that destroyed the Ring. Then, all of Sauron's dark magic and twisted lies dissolved into the fires of Mt. Doom. The Key - Dawn - was released back into the universe.
All this she saw. At the foot of Mt. Doom, Elear held her while she wept bitter tears; tears for herself, for Frodo, for the pure things that she had been an instrument in destroying.
"Oh, my Child. Tears will fade."
"But, don't you understand? I have done so many horrible things." Tearstained and weary, Dawn's face looked up at one of the last Yaaraea to walk beneath the shadow. "I am evil."
"No Dawn," Elear said firmly, "you are not. Even bound by darkness, you never gave up hope."
The Elf gestured towards the sides of Mt. Doom. Suddenly, appearing out of Dawn's memory, two tiny figures were toiling up the steep path. As in a dream, Dawn and Elear zoomed closer. There, covered in blood and sweat, Sam and Frodo were climbing the mountain.
"Remember, you said you tried to help, but could not? You were wrong. Even lost in an outpouring of Sauron's greatest power, you broke through, if only for a moment." Elear pointed towards the Hobbits.
Frodo, at last succumbing to his hunger and weariness, had collapsed. Sam was cradling his master's head in his lap, crying out in despair. Then, Dawn remembered. She could see herself, caught in the Ring, crying out to Sam:
"don't give up. don't ever give up. dear sam, have hope."
And then, miracle of miracle, a small seed of hope began to take root in Samwise Gamgee's heart. He thought of his Gaffer, of the garden at Bag End. He thought of Rosie Cotton and Bywater and fireworks and second breakfast. Sam remembered Gandalf, and Merry, and Pippin, and Strider. Then, looking into his Frodo's face, he desperately wanted to see his master smile again. So, against all odds, Sam struggled onward. He carried Frodo when Frodo couldn't walk, he went without water when it felt as though he would die for the lack, and he took his master out into the fresh air when the world seemed to be falling on top of them. All because he had hope.
"So you see, dear Child, you did help. You are not evil. You were used by evil, but that does not make you so." Without warning, with yet more tears still streaming down Dawn's cheeks, Elear transported them back to the familiar room in an English cottage.
"But," Dawn's voice shook, "how do I stop bad things from using me? I mean, I can say 'I'm not evil' all I want, but if I'm forced to do evil things, that what does it matter?"
The Yaaraea sighed, "Dawn, do you still not see? That is the moral of the story, if you will. No thing that happens, happens outside of the Theme. Remember the words of Ilúvuatar in the beginning: 'And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no Theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the Music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. Behold your Music!'
"Ilúvuatar said that whatever evil twisted for it's own purpose, He would use for good. Do you know how that can be?"
"No," Dawn said, "I don't understand."
"Because Ilúvuatar is the source of all Music; so there will always be a Frodo, or a Sam, or an Aragorn, or someone like you, someone who remembers the Song. There will always be someone who perseveres, even when all seems dead. Someone who fights though he cannot win. Someone who cries out when there is no one to hear. There is always hope, Dawn. And if there is hope, then evil can never truly prevail."
A light began to break on Dawn's soul. Perhaps Elear was right. Maybe, just maybe, she could turn back the tides of evil. Maybe she could use what was once a curse to sing Ilúvuatar's Theme.
"For the first time in your long history, you have become human. Perhaps, Dawn, you will forge your own fate this age."
Outside again, blinking in the sunlight that had appeared in the late afternoon, Dawn felt as though years had passed. Yet, there was Giles, still reading that book, coat off and arms bared to the sun.
Giles jumped to his feet as Dawn approached the car. His eyes were eager, his expression worried. Dawn smiled to reassure him.
"Well? Did she know anything?" Giles strode forward, disturbing the driver from his slumber. "Could she help?"
"Yes. Yes, she told me what I needed to know," smiled Dawn. And the understatement of the year award goes to...
"Ah. Good, good," the Watcher wasn't going to fish, but he fixed his gaze on Dawn. "Well, we ought to get back to the hotel. I'm sure you are famished."
"Yes," she said eagerly, "I'm starving!"
Rupert Giles smiled as Dawn got into the car. The driver had taken his place behind the wheel, and Giles slid into the seat next to him, leaving Dawn the backseat to herself. During the ride back to their hotel, he kept glancing back at his charge. Something about her was different. She seemed...peaceful, happy, and confident for the first time in what seemed like years.
"Alright there Dawn?" He asked.
She met his eyes and truly smiled, "Yes, Giles. I'm all right."
And she really was.
A few hours later, after a delicious dinner and a long-distance phone call to Buffy, Dawn was taking a few minutes alone on the balcony outside her room.
Elear would no longer be in that cottage. In fact, Dawn felt quite certain that if someone was to find it now there would be just a normal house, with no magic fireplace or Elven art. The Yaaraea went where they were needed, where they could sing the Theme. She had told Dawn all she knew of the Key's past. After the destruction of the Ring, Dawn passed out of their knowledge.
The Elf had apologized for not having more information to share. However, she had given Dawn something far more valuable. Hope.
For the first time since a crazy ex-Hell god chased her through dimensions and she found out she had flunked math, Dawn looked forward to the rising sun.
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or her companions. These belong to Joss. I also do not own the world of The Lord of the Rings. These belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. Elear, though not specifically mentioned in any of Tolkien's work, is also not something that I can claim. The engraving on the fireplace comes from The Silmarillion, also by Tolkien. Elvish phrases are from and much of my research took place at and , both of which are excellent resources. The plot can be blamed on me though. That's about it.
Thanks and Cookies: To mermaidrain for the first beta, and for Spiletta42 of the GAFF for my harsh, yet much needed, second beta. All the good things in this fic are because of them, and any mistakes are mine alone.
Dedication: For HonorH on her birthday. Aa' menealle nauva calen ar' malta . I hope that your second 29th is better than the first.
A/N: Something that came to me. Hope you enjoyed.
(Translations: Amin n'rangwa edanea! Sindarin. In English: 'I just don't understand these humans!'
Aa' menealle nauva calen ar' malta. Sindarin. In English: 'May your ways be green and golden.')