Disclaimer: I own nothing. All Buffy the Vampire Slayer characters and Pirates of the Caribbean characters/settings are the property of their original owners.
The floor unexpectedly shifted under the Key’s feet, causing a startled Dawn to lose her balance and drop to her knees. The shock of these hitting the hard surface there, accompanied by automatically throwing out her hands to break her fall sent the object she’d been holding flying away horizontally until it hit the ground and kept on sliding. This small magical book skittered along weathered wooden planks, traveling past the toes of a pair of boots. Rona crouched down from where she’d been standing besides Dawn, and using her free hand not holding the video camera, the Slayer neatly snagged the other one of Willow’s gifts.
Straightening up while effortlessly maintaining her footing on the pitching floor, Rona looked around, and her jaw dropped in her absolute shock at seeing exactly where they’d just been transported by a witch’s spell. Instead of the Scottish castle conference room where she and Dawn had been a few seconds ago, the two young women were now aboard the upper deck of a large sailing ship in the middle of the ocean sometime at night. Out past the railings of the vessel, there was nothing but heaving water as far as the eye could see, with these waves gleaming in the light of an exceedingly bright full moon shining overhead in a cloudless sky.
Glancing down at where a bewildered Dawn still on her hands and aching knees looked up in sheer bogglement at her friend, both participants in today’s Scooby Scavenger Hunt hastily checked out their surroundings, with each peering in the opposite direction. From where they were in the center of the big boat, Rona stared at the front of this floating thing. The Slayer vaguely knew she should be using the proper names for whatever was in view, but, hey, it wasn’t like a girl from Detroit was some kind of sailor or anything, okay? She’d do the best she could, so…from here to the pointy end, nobody but her and Dawn was around. This was seen by Rona’s superhuman eyesight easily penetrating the deep shadows cast by the big sheets of fabric rustling overhead as they hung from their poles. Except for the swaying ropes dangling from those horizontal and vertical poles, nothing moved on the floor filled up with confusing pieces of wood and metal, all connected by these miles of rope.
“Psst!” came in an anxious hiss from lower down. Rona twisted her head to see where Dawn was frantically pointing a finger towards the back of the boat. Following the line of her game partner’s gesture, the Slayer instantly dropped to her own knees by Dawn, with both of these New Council members now hiding behind a raised door laid flat on top of the deck. This was necessary to keep them from being seen by the guy there standing on another, higher deck and gazing ahead with a sleepy stare plastered upon his untidily-bearded face. That person was standing behind a big wooden steering wheel, his hands casually gripping the end spokes of this. Waiting with bated breath, both Dawn and Rona silently hoped the stranger hadn’t noticed them.
Fortunately, Miles Thatcher had been a seaman for years. He’d long ago picked up the knack of comfortably dozing during his duties on those truly boring times of the midwatch when it was safe to do so, with tonight being a perfect example of this. There wasn’t any land to wreck onto for hundreds of leagues, no other vessels were anywhere in sight, and the weather was ideal. Even the Caribbean trade winds were cooperating, with these sea breezes having been so steady for the last couple of bells that the other crewmembers hadn’t had to touch a sail or line since sunset. Which meant those lucky sods were turned in below, slumbering snug in their hammocks but ready to turn out at a moment’s notice if Miles shouted for them.
Not that there seemed any chance of this in the first place, with nothing interrupting Miles being half-asleep on his feet. Any remaining awareness was muzzily focused onto keeping the ship in its proper course, with only an occasional twitch of the wheel being done to adjust for the waves. In between, Miles continued to enjoy the peaceful night, all without realizing that his vessel had just acquired two new passengers from seemingly out of nowhere.
Still warily eyeing the weirdly-dressed dude at the wheel, Rona began to relax at seeing him doing nothing to show he’d spotted them. The dreadlocked woman’s attention was abruptly distracted by a quick poke in her ribs. Irritably glancing over at where Dawn was pulling back a sharp finger, Rona heard Buffy’s sister whisper to her, “Rona, check out the book Wils gave us. There’s gotta be something in it to say why we’re here -- or even where
“Yeah, okay,” shrugged the black Slayer in an equally low voice. Passing over the video camera she’d been carrying in her right hand ever since picking it up from the conference room table back at the castle, Rona fumbled with the little book in her other hand, thumbing open the covers.
Absently putting the camera into her front pants pocket, Dawn watched her game partner read whatever had been written there by the most powerful witch on Earth. A very wide grin now flashed white teeth in Rona’s dark face, while she chuckled to herself, “Oh, girl, you’ve outdone your redheaded self!”
Dawn’s patience lasted up until Rona wouldn’t stop snickering under her breath. Finally, the Key hissed, “What’s the big joke?”
Smirking at the annoyed woman lying on her stomach next to her, Rona excitedly waved the book around in a quick gesture taking in their entire location, “You wanna have another peek at this boat, just so’s you figure it out on your own?”
Without actually thinking about it, Dawn did what she was told, but after one more searching gaze covering all she could see, this Sunnydale survivor grumped, “Look, I’ve never gone sailing before! Much less in something this big! Why would I have any idea about what’s beginning to make me feel seasick?”
“Oh, you might not have been here before, honey, but you’ve damned well seen it!” chortled Rona. Continuing to a baffled Dawn, the Slayer told her, “This is nothing other than the one and only Black Pearl
from all those Pirates of the Caribbean movies!”
Dawn’s eyes widened when she gaped at a thrilled Rona, just before gurgling, “We-- We’ve really gone back in time and landed in the film, sailing with Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom…?” Trailing off in the middle of her question as Rona eagerly nodded in answer, Dawn suddenly poked her head above the hatch, to frown dubiously at the sleepy steersman at the stern. Not taking her eyes off the pirate there, Dawn began again in a more doubtful tone, “…and some other guy I don’t recognize?”
Lifting up her head by Dawn’s to make her own unsuccessful try at picking him out from the crew of the Black Pearl,
Rona wryly suggested, “He might be an extra, or somebody who didn’t get shown on screen. Does it matter?”
“No!” giggled Dawn, elated over actually being in one of her very favorite movies. Ever since the first Disney film, she hadn’t missed a single chapter in this appreciated series of pirate epics. The Key now demanded in an excited whisper, “So, what does Willow say we have to do? Meet with Captain Jack Sparrow and William Turner? Get their autographs? Have a swordfight with them? What?!
Just barely keeping from laughing out loud at her game partner’s fervor, Rona showed the open book to Dawn, tilting it so that the bright moonlight would illuminate the written words there for the younger Summers sister to easily read these. The Slayer’s cheerful mood abruptly changed into confused unease at seeing how Dawn’s face altered just as quickly then, turning as pale as the silvery light around them, while an expression of ultimate horror also appeared there.
Rona concernedly started, “Hey, what’s the matter--,” except she was interrupted by Dawn jerkily turning her head to fearfully stare straight at something, beginning to shudder in absolute terror. Following her scared-stiff friend’s gaze, Rona saw nothing alarming there save for the tall column of wood at the center of the ship holding up the biggest set of sails for the whole craft. The Slayer’s growing alarm only increased further at hearing the frightened whimper escape from Dawn’s throat.
Placing a gentle hand on the Key’s shoulder, Rona advised, “Dawn, calm down, okay? I’m here, and I’ll beat the crap outta anything trying to get you. Just please tell me what’s wrong!”
Twisting her head back around to stare ahead with a haunted gaze, Dawn slumped flat on the wooden deck. She then muttered, without looking at Rona, “You can’t fight what’s in my head, but thanks for trying, Rona.”
“Huh?” came from the uncomprehending woman, who now heard a heavy sigh from Dawn, and then a fumbling attempt at an explanation.
“It…all goes back a ways, before Sunnydale collapsed. Years even, at our big fight with Glory, and how it ended. You know the story?”
“I’ve heard some of it,” cautiously answered Rona. “Didn’t Buffy, uh, die like for the second time?”
Dawn morosely nodded. “I was there, held hostage at the top of the tower where I was going to be sacrificed by Doc to open up her trip back home for Glory. Until my big sis took him out, and then jumped off the tower to take my place and get rid of the portal which was going to destroy the world. I had to watch Buffy fall, all the way down.” She sniffled at having to remember this, causing Rona to reach out and give the other young woman a strong hug.
In the Slayer’s embrace, Dawn chokingly went on. “Ever since then, none of the other Scoobies found out I can’t stand being high up anymore, like in a skyscraper or a mountain. Airplanes are complete torture too, and I go on them only when really necessary, without ever looking out the window. So, when Willow said we’ve got to climb to the top of the Black Pearl’s
“Hey, we’re not gonna do that, all right?” promised a shocked Rona. When this didn’t get a reaction from Dawn, the other woman urgently continued, “Willow wouldn’t have asked you to do what she wrote down if she’d known how you’d be scared about it, so we’ll just skip it and go onto the next challenge--”
“No,” interrupted Dawn in a very flat voice, all while pressing her forehead against the wooden planks of the ship’s deck.
Rona paused, not sure exactly what her companion had intended by this adamant refusal. Eventually, she ventured, “Uh, you mean, you want to meet the pirate guys? Jack Sparrow and the others? Sure, why not--”
“No,” repeated Dawn in another weary sigh. This time, she finally turned her head to meet the eyes of the anxious friend lying at her side, presenting Rona with a growing expression of apprehensive purpose upon Dawn’s drawn features. The Summers sibling then enlightened her baffled game partner, “First, I think we can’t do anything except what Willow directed, unless we want to risk forfeiting. Or, we might skip ahead to the next task without meaning to, but even if we decide on our own to do that, I still won’t.”
Dawn gulped, before speaking again. “I…have to get through this. Sooner or later, in our weird lives with the New Council, you can bet I’ll have to deal with my acrophobia someday. The way things work out for us, it’ll always be at the worse possible time. Probably when other people’s lives are at stake. But, now…it’s just a scavenger hunt. I can give it a try, and if it doesn’t happen, no big deal. Does that make any kind of sense?” She finished with a note of raw appeal in her voice.
“Yeah, Dawnie,” comfortingly answered Rona, who still sent a worried look at this Sunnydale comrade beginning to have beads of nervous sweat emerge on her forehead at the realization of what she’d just agreed to now struck Dawn. The Key was soon distracted by Rona’s next reassuring words: “Look, let’s just see how it goes. We head over there, and you check it out. If you still don’t want to, fine, no problem. We’ll do what Willow said, use her book to travel to the next challenge. Anybody asks after the game, we’ll come up with some excuse for not doing this one. I won’t say a word regarding your thing about heights, not when you trusted me enough to tell me. That okay with you?”
A tremulous smile momentarily lifted the corners of Dawn’s mouth, and this time it was she who reached out to give Rona a grateful hug. Breaking apart, the two women then crawled along the deck to stay hidden from the steersman. They soon arrived at the bottom of the thick mast hewn from a single mighty tree, and rearing up at over a hundred feet from near the center of the Black Pearl.
Dawn glanced up at the towering mast, only to jerk her head back down and away from the lengthy, terrifying distance from the deck to the crow’s nest high overhead in the night sky. Keeping her eyes firmly fixed onto the planks a few inches away from her face, her stomach started to churn at the very thought of even trying to climb. Dawn then heard Rona’s soothing voice coaxing her, “I’m here, Dawnie, ready and waiting for whatever you decide. You wanna leave, we’ll leave. You wanna go for it, I’ll be right behind you. You know Slayers better than anyone but the other Scoobies, right? Nothing’ll happen, Dawnie, but you know to your very bones how fast and strong Sineya’s daughters are, how much we look after our own. I’ll be up there, closer than your shadow, quicker than lightning with a grab. Check out the ladder there, see if you’re okay with it.”
Ladder? Dawn lifted her gaze from the deck, and she peered through the darkness of the sail’s shadows to notice among the set of lines raising diagonally from the deck to finish just under the crow’s nest, horizontal lengths of rope had been interwoven in the vertical lines to provide a means for climbing there. Staring with increasing trepidation at this, Dawn’s mouth opened in a beginning objection, only to abruptly shut again when she realized what would’ve come out of her throat was nothing less than an actual whine. Inside her mind among the overpowering state of dread over even attempting to scramble up that ladder, another emotion materialized, which was even harder to bear.
Dawn Summers had lived all her life (however strange it’d begun with those stupid monks of the Order of Dagon changing the Key into a young girl) among other people ranging from pure human to demon to anything at all in between. Yet, each and every one of her family by blood and acceptance had in the past confronted their own fears and terrors. Whenever asked by those they loved and trusted, these same brave individuals would willingly confess at the moment of their tests, they’d have much rather done anything else at the time. If only because a spare set of underwear usually wasn’t on hand. But they’d still persevered, no matter how scary it’d been for them.
Could she do any less?
Getting up onto her knees, Dawn shudderingly scooted forward on these until she was face-to-face with the rope ladder. Clutching at the closest rung at hand, the woman yanked down as hard as she could managed in her panicky grip. The ladder barely budged; indeed, the length of horizontal, sticky line Dawn was grasping only flexed slightly-- Wait. Sticky?
Abruptly distracted by this unexpected discovery, Dawn peeled her fingers off the ladder rung. Turning her hand over, the New Council member squinted in confusion at the smear of black stuff left there across her palm. Bringing it up to under her nose, Dawn sniffed, to then smell…tar?
Dropping her hand to her side, Dawn blinked at the rope ladder entirely coated with the substance she’d just touched. She quickly decided the rope had been tarred to help the people normally climbing this ladder to hold onto it during their ascent. Which, for someone who’d never been on an old-time sailing ship before, was a pretty good guess. Still, in her present mood, it was fortunate Dawn didn’t think of the real reason, given how the tar had been applied in the first place to keep the rope from disintegrating too quickly under the corrosive influence of the tropical climate and salt spray of the Black Pearl’s
Ignorant of this, Dawn swallowed hard, and then she grabbed the ladder rung again with both hands, using it to get up on her feet. Standing there, the Key kept her faze fixed straight ahead through the spaces of the ropes making up the ladder, concentrating on nothing but the mast shown there. With a quick yank, she freed her right hand to grope for the next rung higher up. Seizing onto this, Dawn brought up her left foot and after another short search, she placed this on top of the lowest rung. A simultaneous convulsive downward push with her muscles then started Dawn’s climb up the ladder.
Rona had remained silent ever since her last encouraging words, to let Dawn make her own decision. As the other young woman had indeed done, however tentatively, causing a wide smile of approval to appear on the Slayer’s face. Getting to her own feet, Rona moved forward while vigilantly watching Dawn slowly make her way upwards, rung by rung.
Waiting until Dawn had clambered high enough for the backs of her knees to match the level of Rona’s head, this warrior of the night also mounted the ladder. Closely monitoring Dawn’s every careful motion, Rona took a moment to softly call upwards, “Dawnie, I’m right below you, so don’t kick back with your feet, okay? I don’t want your boots to hit my face, so just keep going slow and easy, like you’re doing now.” After saying this without receiving any acknowledgment from her companion, spoken or otherwise, the Slayer leaned to the side to catch a glimpse of Dawn’s pale face overhead.
Moving robotically with identical deliberate movements by her limbs for every ladder rung, this Summers sister was fixedly gazing at the mast before her, refusing to look anywhere else during her unhurried progress. Not to the sides past the mast, down at Rona following after, or even directly above to her objective far and away. Most of all, she did not
think of how the ship’s motion was making everything, including her own body, sway in all directions. At least that damned Sunnydale tower had stayed nice and still.
Rona started to offer some more encouragement, only to hastily decide against this. Dawn was doing just fine at this point, with there being no good reason to risk distracting the Key. Except for a quick glance to note that the sails on the rear mast were now shielding them from the guy at the steering wheel, Rona continued her watchful climb, patiently staying behind during the two women’s protracted ascent.
Right hand up, hold on. Left foot up, and push. Left hand up, hold on. Right foot up, and push. Don’t look anywhere but ahead.
Right hand up, hold on. Left foot up, and push. Left hand up, hold on. Right foot up, and push. Don’t look anywhere but ahead.
And again, and again, and again--
Her right foot wouldn’t move. Dawn tried lifting this repeated times, until the exasperatedly hissed words from beneath finally penetrated her concentration. Along with the sensation of the firm Slayer grip around her right ankle holding her in place.
“--Dawn, Dawn, dammit, pay attention! You made it! Look up already, before you bash your head!”
Startled out of her total preoccupation, Dawn unthinkingly glanced upwards, only to flinch at seeing just a few inches away the underside of the rectangular platform forming the bottom of the crow’s nest for the Black Pearl.
Her gaze also found the narrow opening created by the absence of a several planks closest to the mast carrying this lookout position perched just above the top of the rope ladder.
Rona also observed this, as shown by the Slayer then advising, “Okay, I’m gonna let go. You get through that hole and grab onto the mast. I’ll wait down here until you’re safe, and then I’ll join you. Understand?”
Dawn just numbly nodded her head, and she made her cautious way up the topmost rungs of the ladder. Poking her head and shoulders up through what she didn’t know was called the lubber’s hole, Dawn thankfully saw the mast rising another ten feet or so through the planks of the crow’s nest. A second set of diagonal lines were attached to the edges of the platform, with all of these ropes coming to an end at a metal collar just below the very tip of the mast.
It took the last of her courage, but Dawn managed to detach her right hand from the final rung, and she hurriedly reached out with this to clutch at the now-slender wooden column. Keeping a truly determined grip onto the pole, Dawn did the same thing with her left hand, and while desperately holding onto the mast, the rest of her torso came scrambling up and out from the gap. Curling herself onto the planks there, Dawn wrapped her entire body around the mast, staying on the far side from the lubber’s hole. The young woman next started to pant heavily over what she’d just done, while also steadfastly squeezing shut her eyes to keep from seeing how high she was now.
Actually, doing the latter was the absolute right thing for her to perform at this point, since observing what then happened wouldn’t have done the Key’s already shredded nerves any good at all. Once she was satisfied her charge had made it safe and sound up there, Rona waited for the proper moment. This soon occurred, when the ship’s pitching movement sent the mast leaning away from her. Judging everything to a nicety, the Slayer casually let go of the rope ladder as her body remained in a perpendicular position. Right after, superhuman leg muscles shoved downwards, and Rona shot straight up more than twenty feet in the air, past the crow’s nest and the other unheeding New Council member sprawled onto the floor of this small platform. Effortlessly twisting her body in mid-air to snag with her right hand the very tip of the mainmast when this pole came sweeping back, Rona glanced down in the middle of her acrobatics.
Yeah, there was just enough room to stand there without stepping on Dawn, so the Slayer allowed herself a few horizontal one-handed spins around the mast, just for the sheer fun of it. Finally, with the same superb judgment, Rona lessened slightly her grip and these gleeful gymnastics finished with the black woman avoiding the crow’s nest ascending lines to instead land lightly onto her feet atop the wooden planks. The tips of her boots were an inch or so from Dawn’s head firmly pressed face-downwards there. Smirking at this, Rona now glanced around, and she froze in utter astonishment at what she’d at last noticed.
As for the Key, she just barely felt through the floorboards the faint thud of Rona’s arrival. Lost in the misery of her severe acrophobia, Dawn ignored the other’s silence for the next few minutes, until this Slayer announced in a genuinely awestruck tone, “Hey, Dawnie, you’ve got to see this! Just open your eyes, will you?”
It was clear Rona had finally lost it. There was no
way Dawn was going to do that, taking a gander from their spot all waaaaay high in the air. Keeping her eyelids firmly clenched shut, Joyce Summers’ youngest daughter snarled out at length her refusal, adding to this various profane details in several human and demonic languages over exactly what torments should be inflicted upon Rona for even daring to suggest such a horrid thing.
“Not bad,” Rona admiringly stated when Dawn finished, adding, “I especially liked the one about the cheesegrater and the spoonful of horseradish. Gotta try that on the next vamp who pisses me off. Now, move your butt! Just hold on to the pole and use it to pull yourself up. I’ll stand behind you and hold on to, so you’ll be safe inside my arms, with no chance of falling. But you are
gonna do it, or I’ll start prodding you with my boot toe! Your big sis says you’re really ticklish under the short ribs, so unless you get moving, I’m gonna see if she’s right.”
Inside her head, Dawn grumpily swore at Buffy over revealing her sibling’s secret weakness. Rona would do it, too. Slayers had a tendency to use that identical tone in their threats when they really meant it. Reluctantly squirming around on the planks of the crow’s nest during still keeping her single-minded clutch onto the mast, Dawn got up onto her knees while sliding her clenched hands along the weathered pole, and then she straightened up to stand there. As promised, Rona had pressed her body against Dawn’s back to hold them both securely in the other woman’s own grip onto the ship’s mast. At no point in all these maneuvers had Dawn opened her eyes.
With a faint puff of air brushing at her left ear, a blind Dawn heard Rona reverently say, “It’s just so…beautiful.
Now, that wasn’t what she’d expected. In her sudden surprise, Dawn released her eyelids’ closure, and she looked out into absolute grandeur.
Overhead, the full moon shone with utmost brilliance, casting a sheen of silvery light onto the entire surging ocean, reaching out hundreds of square miles around the Black Pearl.
The famed pirate ship was leaving its own gleaming wake in the disturbed waters’ phosphorescence. But most magnificent of all were the stars revealing themselves despite the powerful radiance of a glowing satellite.
In a time centuries before the Industrial Revolution began to pour into the night skies the pollution which would eventually dim from mankind’s sight the multitude of suns out there in space, these innumerable stars were now clustered in the heavens above a sailing craft, glittering brightly enough to provide their own proud splendor. Yet, what truly put Dawn Summers and Rona Nichols into their enthrallment was how else nature had given them both a glorious gift tonight, in the sheer colors twinkling there from light-years away.
Icy blue, blood red, sullen orange, even a flash of violet…
The Slayer and the Key gazed up in companionable silence for an unknown while, until a whisper drifted through the air, as if anything louder would shatter the wonder of what they were seeing. “Hey, Dawnie, you feeling better?”
“Oh, my acrophobia, you mean? Funny, but it doesn’t seem so important now.”
“Great. You know, Willow didn’t say in her book we had to do anything more, so we can leave and go on to the next challenge.”
“You’re right, we should do that.”
The pair of young women kept on looking at perfect glory, while the crow’s nest swung in its grand gyrations.
“…fifteen more minutes, Rona?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Author’s Note: As far as I know, there’s no canon reference for Rona’s last name, nor have I seen any accepted usage in BtVS fanfiction. In that case, I’ve decided to refer to this Slayer as ‘Rona Nichols’ in homage to the actress Indigo who played her on the show, since this woman’s own real name is Alyssa Ashley Nichols. The same will be done for the other Slayers in this series who were never given last names in the tv episodes.