Dawn woke up early that morning to head to Nottingham's place. Last night's incident left her with a bunch of questions that needed answers. After being let in, she stormed into his parlor.

"Ian, we need to talk," she said.

"What about?"

"I was attacked last night. Three assassins."

"Why didn't you alert me last night?' he demanded.

"I had to get home or Buffy would have been suspicious. And considering I stay with a bunch of girls who seem to have ears everywhere, I didn't want to talk about it over the phone. You got any idea who wants me dead?"

"Well, considering you halved the Onyx distribution within the city, I would guess plenty of people do. I will have people looking into. In the meantime, I want you to prepare for this Friday."

"Another mission?"

"Of sorts. I will be attending a masquerade ball with some very important friends I would like you to meet. You will be my guest. They share our ideals and with their resources and the Witchblade, we can truly bring our ideals to fruition."

"But how am I supposed to explain to Buffy where I am? She's already been suspicious about where I've been spending my time."

"I'm sure you'll think of something," Nottingham replied wistfully.


Friday, 6:00 pm Nottingham's Residence

Friday evening arrived and Dawn had finally thought of an explanation. She was going to be hanging out with some of the interns that night in Queens at a club. Yeah, it was lame, but it was the best she could think of. She arrived at Nottingham's place and was greeted by both Nottingham and a woman in her early 50's.

"Ms. Summers," she said as she extended her hand, "a pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I am Aelyn Marchand, one of Mr. Nottingham's associates. He wanted me here to assist you with your attire. You will be meeting some very powerful people at this gathering and both he and I want to ensure you present your best face possible."

"Uh well thanks, I guess," Dawn replied nervously. "Now I'm not so sure about going to this thing."

"Don't worry, Dawn," Ian said. "You should consider yourself fortunate. Ms. Marchand has exquisite taste and knows how to make an impression."

"You'll be fine, Dawn," Ms. Marchand interjected, "as long as you follow my direction. I've selected an appropriate outfit for this evening. Get cleaned up in the guest bathroom and I'll be along shortly to assist you."

"This way, Ms. Summers," Bernard said as he motioned toward the guest bathroom.

"She is quite the find," Aelyn remarked as Dawn went into the guest bathroom.

"Quit indeed. She is young and eager to prove herself, which makes her perfect for our goals. Treat her well, Aelyn."

"Of course."

Forty-five minutes later, Dawn emerged from the guestroom. Anyone looking at her would have thought she was a d butante which, in a small way, she was. Her gown was emerald green, adorned with a green floral pattern below the waist. Her hair fell down into an elegant princess-style hairdo, and her neck wore one of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry Dawn had ever seen.

Nottingham himself was finely dressed in black clothes and a white shirt, complete with a black cape falling over his shoulders. He looked at Dawn and smiled.

"You look beautiful," he remarked.

"Thank you, Ian," she replied.

Aelyn herself came out in a stunning gown as well, cream-colored. She looked at Dawn and smiled as well.

"Some of my best work, if I may say so. Remember, dear, proper posture, chin up. You may not have had the benefit of etiquette classes, a failing of this generation, but I will ensure you present yourself properly tonight."

"I hope I won't disappoint."

"I'll see you there, Dawn."

A helicopter ride later, both Ian and Dawn arrived at their destination, masks in hand. As they entered the ballroom, the ma tre d' announced them.

"Presenting Mr. Ian Nottingham and Lady Dawn Summers."

While the affair wasn't as harrowing as meeting the rich and famous at the museum event, Dawn was feeling increasingly anxious. She somewhat eased at the site of Aelyn and her husband, but the fact that she was surrounded by some of the most powerful people in the city, indeed the world, made her feel small in comparison. She was barely out of a public high school that had collapsed into the giant crater in California. Now she was surrounded by people who had more money than she would ever know what to do with. The feelings of inadequacy filled her and threatened to overtake her when Ian took her hand.

"Care for a dance, Ms. Summers?"

"Thank you," Dawn replied in an eager sigh.

"Somewhat overwhelming, I bet."

"Just a little. Some California girl mixing it up with the obscenely wealthy makes me feel a little out of place."

"Just remember, Dawn, some of these people have the same goals as we do: to make the world better, to use the Witchblade to bring order and justice to a chaotic world."

"Only some? Not everyone here is a part of this?" Dawn inquired.

"No. We're an exclusive group, Dawn. And the impression you've made with the members has been a good one."

She smiled at that. "Well, I've had help."

"Don't underestimate yourself, Dawn," Ian replied. "You've done great work and we've only begun to scratch the surface. We have so much more to do and I know you'll be at the forefront of it. And sooner or later, Buffy will see it too." She smiled even more as she continued to move to the gentle, elegant music.

Later in the evening, after the soir e, Dawn and Ian went back to his penthouse by helicopter. She was still caught up in the atmosphere of the evening. Never before had she felt so special; well, never in a way that wouldn't end up with her being a sacrifice of some sort.

"I really enjoyed tonight, Ian."

"I'm glad you did. I enjoyed it as well," Ian replied. He stroked Dawn's hair. She slightly flinched, not expecting the gesture. He moved his body closer to hers and Dawn's heart began racing as he put his fingers under her chin to lift it ever so gently. There was a slight hitch in her breath as Ian kissed her. She couldn't believe it. What am I doing? He's, like, 20 years older than me! I'm not Buffy! Buffy... She didn't want it to end; the gentle feel of his lips, the masculine smell of his cologne. It was all too intoxicating. But she knew Buffy would worry if she didn't get home soon. Before she could break off the kiss, Ian preempted her.

"Ian..." she whispered.

"I know. You have to go," he said.

"I'm sorry, I..."

"Don't be," he replied. "I'll see you tomorrow, alright?"

"Definitely."

Dawn walked away from him, wearing a smile that could have been described as exuberant. She was so caught up in the moment that she didn't notice the sly smile that Ian bore, the confidence in his face all too apparent.

He knew was only a matter of time.


"How was your night out?" Buffy asked as Dawn walked in, her clothes swapped for something less extravagant and more club-appropriate.

"Good."

"Glad to hear it, because I found it interesting that I couldn't pick you up on the phone."

"Checking up on me, sis? You do realize I'm not 14 anymore?"

"Considering you've been less than forthcoming about where you've been going lately, yeah," Buffy retorted.

"Still on that, are you?" Dawn asked.

"Still am. And it's not going away until you tell me exactly what's been going on."

"I was out at a club in Queens. What more do you want?'

"What was the name again?" Buffy asked.

"Magma," Dawn replied quickly. A little too quickly, Buffy thought.

"Fine, then. Have it your way, Dawn. But if I find out that what you've been doing hurts this group, that Witchblade is coming off, with or without your approval."

"You're welcome to try," Dawn replied, smirking at Buffy. Dawn had implied before that no one there would be able to stop her, bu she had never so brazenly challenged her sister before. Buffy stared at Dawn. Giles was going to have to come up with something soon.