As Seen By The Unholy
by alejandra

Dawn puts the word out to everyone she comes in contact with. No people, only demons. Ghede, Shedu, Apollyon, Asuras -- demons of books, not demons of the world. Demons come up from a Hell that is real.

They are polite.

Demons are more polite than high school students.

Demons are more polite than vampires.

Dawn has learned to disdain the half-breed.

The demons call Earth "Hittola". It's a word Dawn doesn't know, and she thinks it must just be a nasty demon curse name for Los Angeles, or the West Coast, or a place where humans live.

"What language is that?" Dawn wants to know, and she persists until one of the demons -- she doesn't remember which one now; could have been anyone -- tells her gently to stop asking so many questions.

There is compassion in demons for the Great and Evil One True Key.

Demons are more polite than high school students.


Dawn gets the word out that she wants the humans left. Demons who bring tribute in the form of humans who are intact -- that is the word, intact, meaning ensouled and alive -- will be given gifts.

Demons who bring tribute in the form of humans who are not intact will be turned away.

Demons who wish Dawn to visit upon them her gracious smile should bring tribute.

Demons who wish Dawn to visit upon them her angry scowl and disapproval should arrive empty-handed.

Demons are more polite than high school students. This is Dawn's mantra, it is how she remembers where she came from.


Dawn lives on the Hell Mouth. She has nine sleeping bags piled on top of each other, and nine pillows and nine bedsheets in nine different colors. It took her nine days and nine nights to dig through the sands of Sunnydale to find the Hell Mouth, nine days and nine nights to clean the sand off it, nine days and nine nights to heal her hands, nine days and nine nights to begin digging again, nine days and nine nights to find the high school library, nine days and nine nights to read the books and cast the spells, nine days and nine nights to realize that no book is of use, nine days and nine nights to crawl through the town finding pieces untouched under tons of sand and rubble, nine days and nine nights to mourn and move on.

She makes nine cuts in her palm and holds her breath for nine minutes and glows nine times more brightly than ever before.

When she opens her eyes, there are nine demons in front of her, each with nine offerings that have each been burnt nine times.

One of the demons wears a suit in three pieces with six ties and bows to her nine times. Nine times he says to her, "We will serve you, Oh Key," and nine times she holds her breath and counts to nine and replies, "I am no longer the key," and nine times the third demon cuts her wrist with his talon-fingernail and nine time she bleeds onto his skin and nine times each drop of blood sizzles.

"You are the Key," they whisper. "You are the Key."


(Everyone is dead and Dawn is covered in blood and she gets into a car abandoned on the road and drives to the only place she knows. She's a human girl and she has no mystical monks or protective transgender gods, and she's never even had sex for real with someone she loves.

This is her fault, because she wished for something exciting to happen, for all the stupid fake slayers to go the fuck away. She wished she could go back to California, just for a little while, and they let her, they let her, so this must be her fault.

She has cans of gasoline and drives the car out to the pit of Sunnydale. She sings all the songs she can remember, and she knows she's getting the words wrong, but she doesn't care. She sings a little bit of Elton John and a little bit of Bon Jovi and a little bit of Britney and a little bit of Christina and she remembers one song that her mom used to sing to her in the mornings -- or so said the monks -- and she screams it to the empty sky --


-- and has to pull over the car because she's laughing too hard.

The end came so fast no one had a chance to stop it. There was not even a prophecy.

Dawn thinks it's fitting.

Sunnydale hums with power and Dawn can feel it in her fingertips, it calls to her blood. She thinks: I'm bound to this place.

Then she feels stupid.

She's putting off thinking about why she's still alive when everyone else is dead and gone. Or maybe this was the rapture and she's the only sinner left.

"I wished for something interesting," she whispers to the pit of Sunnydale. "I WISHED FOR SOMETHING INTERESTING!"

This is her fault so she may as well make the most of it and do everything she never got to do when she was really alive. Because this isn't being alive.

If a human is alive on a Hell Mouth and there's not even a demon there to see her, is she really alive or is she a demon hallucinating or is she a teenage girl or is she a key or is she a Key or can she turn in a lock?

She digs through the rubble of Sunnydale and is pleased to almost immediately find the school. It is, of course, where her fingertips tingle and her legs shake. It's like being high -- which she only did a few times, sorry, Buffy -- except all the time and it never ends. She pokes paperclips through her ears instead of earrings and collects iPods out of lockers. Hey, they're still charged and no one else is using them, and she finds out that they fit perfectly onto one little nub of the Hell Covering and charge right back up, so she's got music.

Dawn can sing out loud.

There's a picture of her in the desk that used to be Buffy's.

Dawn isn't too thrilled that it's a picture of her at age five. She didn't even exist at age five. What does that say about her relationship with Buffy? Nothing, not really, since Buffy is gone. Disappeared with the rest. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust?

No text Dawn's read has ever said, "Nothingness to nothingness" although that philosophy book of Willow's came close.

When Sunnydale collapsed, all the magical bits smashed together, because her house is right next to the high school and the Magic Box is on the other side of the high school and Spike's old crypt is there. It's very cinematic and beautiful, and helpful, since it means she doesn't have to dig through everything.

She sleeps on top of the Hell Mouth's cover, because it's the only part of Sunnydale that doesn't shake at all. Ever.

The cafeteria food is perfectly preserved.

She plugs the laptops she finds into the Hell Mouth and charges them up.

The Hell Mouth lets her watch movies. The Hell Mouth keeps milk cold and mold free. The Hell Mouth heats up water for baths and tea. The Hell Mouth likes jewelry.

Dawn twists bracelets out of old wires and paperclips and bits of her hair, and leaves them like charms around the edges of the warm metal plate.

Dawn wishes they knew earlier the power of the Hell Mouth. They could have been using it the whole time to pop popcorn and turn moldy apples back to perfectly ripe.

Dawn knows she's going crazy.

Dawn starts seeing demons.

The demons all bow to her.

They are all more polite than high school students.)


Nine books shall be given unto the Most Unholy Key and the Key shall say unto you nine times, "You are blessed, Demon Child, go in war and famine," and the demon shall bow nine times and say unto the Most Unholy Key, "You are the future," and nine times shall the Key smile.


(The demons are kind of great, except for how they're always killing vampires to free the demon inside.

Sometimes Dawn can't stop laughing at how backwards the demons are, but she tries to keep it inside since it hurts their feelings.

They bring her human food, more and more come each time, and finally she holds her stomach and groans and says, "I can't eat more than nine bags of M&Ms at a time!" so the demons always bring her things in nines.

It's kind of creepy. She's like their goddess. It's like they worship her. Why aren't they boys she can have sex with or her sister or those dumb monks? Dawn's still mad about that.

She keeps her eyes open for Glory. And Ben.

She puts the word out that she wants Riley. She hates him but she misses him. He was her favorite.

There are no other humans except the ones the demons kill.

Dawn stacks those in piles of nine, like a joke, but the demons take it seriously. They don't have much of a sense of humor.)


Dawn is collecting humans. She keeps them in classrooms and gives them books and laptops and movies. Everyone likes to watch The Lord of the Rings, even at the end of the world.

Dawn doesn't have much in common with them. They're all kind of boring. They like to talk about the way it used to be, and they're totally in denial, like this is some kind of nuclear holocaust and the demons just have radiation poisioning. They get boring really fast.

They learn that if they shit in the middle of the room, she won't bring them treats.

It is like having a dog.


At certain points, when Dawn's head is pillowed on the exploding sun carved into the Hell Mouth, she thinks: I am crazy.


I have nine names, says the Unholy Key unto the humans. They are weak and cower in fear. They believe demons should be feared.

"She is the one Dawn, the light of the world, that which evil fears, she who does things in nines, the one who will eat the sacred chocolate, the child of the scourge, she who is under the bottom, the one to whom we bring the tribute, the Unholy Key," chant the demons.

It's like being in a really crappy school play, but Dawn is saving them. She hopes they understand. It's her, the underground school, the clammy crypt, the blood on the floor of the bedroom where Tara was shot -- or the demons.


Demons don't eat humans. They find them distasteful. They burn them in offering, they burn them in fun.

Demons take everything really seriously. The real ones do, anyway.

"Gods are the tricksters," Cupay tells her somberly, in his thick accent. Dawn guesses he's Mexican, and tries to speak Spanish to him, but he waves a huge hand at her and shakes his head. "Gods play the games with our existence."

"Don't you hate gods?" she asks. She twists a wire around and around a paperclip -- it's a bird, and she'll give it to her newest tribute, the child from across the world, from the black country. That's what they call Russia, she guesses, because the kid looks kinda European.

"Don't you?" Cupay leans back on his elbows and stares at her ceiling. "Oh, Unholy Key, whyfore do we do all this?"

"To keep existing?" she says, and shrugs. "I dunno. Ask the sky."


(Three days later, Dawn exits the school as night falls to see thousands of demons howling at the sky. Oops.)


Demons bow.

They bring her tribute.

They bring her Xander's eye patch from Africa and Anya's shoes from her apartment across town and Spike's leather coat that she wears all the time, and they dig out the town slowly because they think that's what she wants.

When the town is back on the surface, Dawn might have to leave. She doesn't think she can stand to see her normal life come back without all the real parts of it.

The demons are starting to look normal.


On the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year, when all was black and fire, the Unholy Key did leave us nine hairs, did leave us nine fingernails, did leave us nine eyelashes, did ride on Belial and follow Ammut out into the world of humans. The Unholy Key did meet Iblis on the highest plain that isn't a mountain, where the Unholy Key did embrace Evil and become our truest sign, the cursing of Hittola, and Rati-Mbati-Ndua did take her across the world to the Black Countries, where the Unholy Key did find the sun and allow her blood to nourish our skin.


The dragon thing with one tooth who flies around eating dead bodies agrees to take Dawn to another hidden city. Or something. Mostly he hisses.

Dawn stocks a knapsack with iPods and a laptop and a couple of DVDs and two books (okay, one is The Princess Diaries, but it's fun, and, anyway, the other one is a book of poems about the end of the world, and it's not anyone's business but hers) and a notebook and a bunch of pens. She takes a sack of apples and some cheese and a bunch of wires and paperclips so she can keep making earrings. She takes Buffy's old diary and a few of Willow's tank tops and one of Xander's heavy plaid shirts (and his eyepatch), and a picture of her mother, and a sharp knife, and a plastic bag with dirt and dust from Sunnydale.

She cuts off all her hair, which comes down past her waist now, and leaves it scattered on the Hell Mouth. The demons can nest in it or something.

"Okay, let's go!" she says, tucks her headphones into her ears, climbs onto Rati, and holds on tight.

She sleeps and dreams for the first time since she realized she was alone. There's a black woman with crazy hair and paint on her face, and she's all, "Where is the chosen one?" and Dawn is all, "Screw you, my sister is dead," but the woman is totally insistent and Dawn finally just looks at her and says, "Dude, eat some cheese and go to bed," and the woman disappears.

Behold the power of cheese, thinks Dawn. Willow had a dream about cheese once; she told Dawn she wasn't sure what the cheese meant but now she always makes sure to eat some every day.

When Dawn wakes up, she's still flying, wind in her face, the air smells like death. She eats some cheese and an apple.

Rati lands on a giant mesa, and it's hot out, Dawn is, like, bursting out of her skin. She kisses Rati's nose and hangs an earring from his ear, and rubs his one tooth.

There's a guy standing here.

"Am I supposed to be meeting you? I'm still new to this whole Unholy Quest stuff." Dawn pulls the iPod buds out of her ears and sticks out her hand. "Dawn the Key. I only accept live tribute."

"You're a human," the man says flatly.

"I--I'm the Key," says Dawn. She feels nervous; the man's face mutates and shifts. She squints at him and concentrates and he turns into Riley. Her heart is going to explode.

"What is your quest?" demands the man.

"I'm looking for Iblis. You know, the Muslim devil? I'm not sure what he looks like, cause Muslim art is all geometry. Maybe a triangle?"

"Why aren't you dead?"

"I dunno. Lots of humans aren't." Dawn shrugs, digs through her pack for more cheese. "Cheese?"

"So you admit you're human?"

"That's a pretty insulting thing to ask," she says, and takes a bite. It looks like swiss but tastes like gouda. Oh well. The Hell Mouth can't get everything right all the time.

"Humans." The man stares at her witheringly, turns on his heel and walks away.

Dawn's alone on the mesa, under the hot sun, dust everywhere.

She forgot to bring water. She eats another apple instead.


Maybe she will sit under the sun until she turns to dust.


For nine days and nine nights, the Unholy Key did sit upon the highest plain, under the brightest sky, asking blessings on the worshipful demons until her skin was black with sin, and glowing.


The only thing Dawn wants in the world is for Xander to gather her up in a big hug and help her with geometry homework.

It's starting to sink in that everything is gone.

She walks across the plain as far as she can go but she never reaches the sloping end of the mesa. She just gets more and more tired. She can't cry, there's no water left in her. She's drying out, just a husk, like the world, like Sunnydale, everything gone from inside her except sadness.


There is compassion in demons for the Great and Evil One True Key.

They gather around her, slit her open, suck out the human parts.

She only took live tribute; they entomb her with nine live humans, nine live animals, nine live fish, nine living coins, nine books of living words, nine keys each of a different living metal, nine scrapings from the Hell Mouth she helped bring to life, nine blankets to warm her on her journey all woven from living fabric, and nine fires to burn eternally.

They bow nine times, and when she wakes up in nine times nine hundred years, she will be proud of them and know they came when she called with her living blood, to make her life interesting.


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