Meanwhile at Angel Investigations...
"No, you great poof!" Spike yelled.
"Oh come off it, Spike!" Angel snarled.
"I bloody well will not!" Spike said. "I loved her, you great poofter! Soul or not and you can't take that away from me!"
"There is no way you loved her!" Angel growled. He could feel Angelus, his demon, chomping at the bit, but knew Angelus in no way cared about what was being talked about. Angelus simply wanted to put Spike in his proper place, not defend the honor of Angel's girl.
Spike growled low in his throat, but stormed away - his black duster billowing out behind him. Angel crossed his arms over his chest and barely resisted rolling his eyes.
"We're not getting anywhere with this!" Spike said. "I've helped, oh mighty grand-sire." Spike guffawed and rolled his eyes. "I've paid. Too right, I've paid. I'll not stand for your insinuating that what I felt, what I feel, isn't real." Spike whirled to face Angel. "Angel," he said softly, "I loved Dru. You know I did."
Angel felt his shoulders fall. He sighed and nodded. "Yes," he said. "I know. I..." he was on the verge of saying he was sorry when he shook his head. "It doesn't compare, Spike."
Spike glowered at Angel for a moment before throwing up his hands. "Right," he said. He took a deep breath. "Any of the good stuff 'round here?" he asked.
"I've got pigs' blood," Angel replied. He shuffled his feet for a moment, slipping his hands into his pockets. He sighed. "There's also some bottles of Johnnie Walker in the kitchen."
"Years, labels?" Spike asked.
"1970 and 1984 Red, 1980 Blue..." Angel trailed off while casting his memory back. "Uh, and I think there's still a couple of bottles of their 1960 Black. And....there's a 1932 Swing, but I was sort of saving it for....I'm not sure what, actually," he finished.
Spike nodded. "Better to be drinking than just waiting around. It could take days," Spike moved one hand around in a circular motion, "for them to get back."
Angel nodded and led Spike down to the kitchen where he was keeping his supply of Scotch.
They landed sprawled on the ground.
"Ooof!" Willow exclaimed as she stood up. The feeling of gravity was different here. She struggled to take a deep breath. Her skin crawled. "What is that?" she asked, gasping. She shrugged out of her coat and shoved it into her backpack. "It's....it's so hot, I..." Willow trailed off and pressed a hand to her throat. She leaned over at the waist and began to cough.
Tara's eyes filled. "Part e-evil, part temperature," Tara replied. She held out her hands, palms facing the members of the group. "A Contego e Apto," she whispered. A green light enveloped the group, including Tara, for a moment before it died away.
Willow nodded as the pressure in her lungs eased and she was able to breathe. She stood back up. She kissed Tara lightly on the lips. "Thanks," she whispered.
Willow scooped Dawn, who was unconscious, up into her arms. "The bleeding has stopped," she commented.
Faith, Fred and Cordelia came to stand with them. They all stared at the landscape around them. Quor-Toth wasn't a rugged bandland of nothing, like Willow had feared. Instead, it was a combination of dense, but spindly, forest and abandoned or decrepit buildings. They could hear water trickling nearby, and when they looked up they realized that the sky was purple.
Faith shook her head. "Let's get outta here, I don't like standing around in the open, or with my back to a water source," she said.
Fred raised her crossbow. "Let's find Connor and go home," she added.
Cordelia smiled and shifted. "Will Dawn wake up soon?" she asked.
Willow gave a half smile. "I've got no idea, and we need her...she's the only one that's been here before."
"L-let's get off the road," Tara whispered.
The group agreed and moved as a unit - heading to the first abandoned building they could see. As they walked, Willow handed Dawn to Faith, who could carry her more easily.
Faith gripped Dawn tightly and, for a moment, looked down into the most peaceful face she'd ever seen. She stopped in her tracks and Faith let the feelings of contentment and solace wash over her. For one moment, the future seemed bright with possibilities and hope. Faith looked back down at Dawn once more before she shook the feeling off. She had more important things to do and she, of all people, understood the limitations to her future - which couldn't, for any reason, lie with Dawn. Her redemption was her own; she wouldn't find it in a younger woman whose power and destiny was still as yet unknown.
As the group made it to the building and went inside, the sun began to set. As it disappeared behind a quickly blackening sky, the temperature dropped.
Willow lit the room they were in with magic. It was small, but bare. There were no windows, only the crack in the wall that they had come through. The walls were grimy, the floor was dirty and there wasn't a stick of furniture in sight.
Willow put her coat back on. "I can try to treat Dawn, now," she said and gestured for Faith to hand Dawn to her.
Faith nodded and put Dawn in Willow's arms. "Quickly," Faith said. "This place isn't defensible with no windows or doors and only that crack in the wall."
Cordelia and Fred moved to the crack; Fred stood with the crossbow out and at the ready, on one side, Cordy stood with her sword in hand at the other.
Tara opened the satchel she carried and helped Willow treat Dawn.
"Faith," Willow said, "there's a thermos of water in my bag if you want to hand it around. Some trail mix, too."
Faith nodded, took the pack, and went over to Fred and Cordy.
Dawn woke slowly. She blinked her eyes and immediately rubbed her arms. "It's night?" she said, her voice hoarse.
Tara smiled. "Hi, honey," she said. "It's good to have you back."
Dawn smiled slightly and stood up from where she'd been put on the floor. "Where did we come in?" she asked. She looked around at the group and then at the room. "Not in the forest?" she asked.
Faith shook her head. "Near some body of water. We had a view of the forest though, from pretty far away," she replied.
Fred walked over. "I...I don't like it here. I think we should leave," she said.
Dawn shook her head. "Yeah, if Faith's right, then we're on the outskirts of the city, and pretty far from the forest. Which means, we're not where we need to be," she said.
"We can't leave now," Faith said quietly.
Dawn nodded. "No, we can't. It's dark. There are creatures you've never seen before here, in the dark. Also, I'm assuming one of you," she directed her gaze at Willow and Tara before continuing, "did some kind of spell. It's hard to function here for people who weren't born here or aren't acclimated, and it's usually forty below zero when the sun goes down, but I only feel chilled and I'm breathing just fine."
Tara raised her hand. "I didn't want anyone to suffer," she explained.
"I'm not complaining, it's just....the magic may have attracted demons." Dawn looked around again. "I'm glad you guys moved from where we'd landed. It's best to not attract attention." She rubbed her hands together. "We'll wait for the next light cycle to get out of here," she added. She brushed off her clothes.
Four Hours Later
As the sky lightened, the group left the abandoned building and heading directly for the trees. Dawn had warned them that there might be all kinds of violence once they were inside the forest, but that they had to journey through it to get to the city. In the city, they'd have the help of a friend she'd made on her first trip here in order to find Connor.
Although they ran, they didn't make it into the forest before the sky went dark and the sun went away again.
Dawn cringed. "You don't want to be in the thick when it gets dark, but..." she said, "we're only on the edge. Maybe it won't be so bad."
Faith tensed. "Quiet," she commanded.
They gathered back to back in a circle, weapons out.
"Does fire scare the demons here?" Faith asked in a whisper.
"Some," Dawn replied. "Others are too used to it to be scared. Some fear the light, though."
"Incoming!" Faith barked.
Willow and Tara threw out their hands, calling up protective magicks. Although Willow could fight defensively and offensively, now, with her body and her magicks, she and Tara had both agreed to keep the others alive over fighting themselves.
The fight broke out; they all prayed to make it through.
Although Faith had never seen demons such as these before, she recognized right away that they weren't full grown. Someone's children, she thought to herself. Demon children. And even though she felt a little bit bad about killing someone's children, they were after her and her....friends. She fought with a renewed sense of survival, laying waste to all the ones that came for her.
When it was over, they were all winded and exhausted, but due to Willow and Tara's magicks, they were unharmed.
"Up into the trees," Faith announced. "If we can move up into the trees we'll have an advantage on the next attack, and we might not be noticed."
"Flying monkeys," Dawn said as she panted. "There's flying monkeys here, but....yeah. Trees."
Faith laughed and patted Dawn on the back. "Fucking flying monkeys?" she questioned.
"Like...from the Wizard of Oz?" Fred asked before she took a sip from the water thermos.
Dawn grinned. "Exactly," she replied.
How they made it through the next few hours of darkness, Dawn would never understand. They'd had battles, and wasted demons, and at one point Willow was the only one holding up the protection spell.
At one point, Tara built a perimeter spell around the tree they were all in which wouldn't allow demons to enter. Unfortunately, it meant that both Cordelia and Faith had to be outside of the protective circle.
"When did you become a demon?" Willow asked.
Cordy blushed slightly. "Before Connor was born. On my birthday. It was either that or die," she explained. "It's a little complicated."
Willow turned to look at Faith. "You too?" she asked.
Faith shook her head and then shrugged. "It must just be the whole supernatural Slayer power stuff. I'm not a demon," she said.
"Alright, well. The barrier can't work if it won't protect us all," Willow said. She looked at Tara. "Tara?" she asked.
Tara nodded. "A blood spell would work instead," she replied.
With a few drops of everyone's blood, they created a blood-spell barrier to wait out the night.
The next morning dawned brighter and hotter than the day before.
Willow passed around pieces of gum, a hairbrush, the water thermos and granola bars.
"Dawn, sweetie," Tara said quietly. "How are we going to find Connor?" she asked.
Dawn smiled. "With a little help from a friend," she said.
When they finished their breakfast, Tara banished the barrier spell and they moved out.
As they walked through the woods towards their destination, everyone stayed on alert. They didn't want to be happened on unawares.
They came to a clearing and a road that diverged into two paths. Dawn led them right.
"Stay on the path, and don't veer off it for anything. This section of the forest can trick you, trick your mind into thinking you need to leave the path for whatever reason," Dawn explained. "The path itself is protected; while we're on it, we'll be safe."
They walked for what seemed like hours.
Finally, they came to an outcropping of small huts and wooden buildings.
"We're here," Dawn said as she led them into the little village.
"Is this the city?" Fred asked.
Dawn laughed a little. "No, it's just a little village on the way to the city. It's where my friend lives," she explained.
Fred nodded. Cordelia patted her on the back and muttered, "I thought it might be, too."
As they followed her into the village, they moved away from the majority of buildings and into a small section of trees. In the center of the tiny section of forest, Dawn stopped and dropped her bag and weapon.
She spread her legs shoulder-width apart and raised her arms towards the sky, slapping her palms together. She nodded to the rest of them. "Do as I do," she said, an urgent tone coloring her voice.
Faith was the first to fall in line, followed by Willow, Tara, Fred and Cordelia.
A loud call, a lot like a bird, sounded as three women, clad in very little and heavily armed, dropped from the trees. One of them stepped forward. She had very short dark hair, dark skin and a series of tattoos around her arms, midsection and face.
"Dawn of the Shining Light!" she exclaimed and slammed her fist into her chest and then pushed her arm out and down to her side.
Dawn grinned, lowered her arms and then returned the salute. "Emery," she said.
Emery smiled. "What on Diana's green Earth are you doing back here?" she asked.
Dawn sighed. "We," she gestured to her friends, "need your help."
Emery nodded. "Well, then. Come inside, fill your fast, salve your thirst." Emery looked at the the group and then back at Dawn. "Can they climb?" she asked.
Dawn's laugh rang out as she nodded.
Emery grinned. "Then, come along, and we'll see if we can help you."