Summary: Buffy visits Tir-na Nog'th and receives hints of her destiny.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for violence and themes.

Time Frame: Post third season BTVS (alternate timeline), and a few months after the events in "Diplomatic Measures." Fourth story in the "Unicorn and the Slayer" series.

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


IN THE CITY OF DREAMS


Part I


I stood at the peak of Kolvir, staring across the ocean at the setting sun. I had a few moments to collect my thoughts before I would be able to continue. Behind me stood three stone steps that apparently served no purpose, and until I actually saw the ghost stairs form in the moonlight, I was going to be skeptical.

I heard a chuckle behind me, and Corwin moved up next to me, his own gaze fixed on the horizon as he murmured, "So commonplace, and yet so lovely. . .a sunset is a good way to prepare for a journey to Tir-na Nog'th, which can also be lovely but is in no way commonplace."

I rolled my eyes and turned to regard my enigmatic uncle as I replied, "Does living for centuries make everyone so damned cryptic? You still haven't given me much of an idea about what I'm going to find up there."

Corwin sighed, and his voice was level as he responded, "Other than the basics, everyone's experience in Tir-na Nog'th is different, Buffy. . .I don't know what you'll find there." He saw my irritated expression and held his hands up in mock self-defense, commenting, "I'm not the one who started having prophetic dreams again. . ."

Damn him, he was right. I was here of my own free will. . .more or less.


* * * * *

It had been a few weeks back. . .I was visiting home. Mom's gallery was doing great, with the increase in the local population due to the really massive drop in the local death rate bringing in a lot of potential customers, and I mostly had the house to myself. Faith still patrolled nightly, and was complaining loudly about the lack of action. From what Giles told me, there were still scattered reports of demonic activity, but they were few and far between, and my little trick of dumping a backpack full of uncut diamonds on the boardroom table of the Council of Watchers guaranteed that funding would not be a problem if they needed to ship Faith somewhere fast to deal with a problem.

I was staying in my old room, and one night I got that old feeling. . .the one I hadn't had in a really long time. I was having a dream: not the fun kind where I run off and elope with Angel, or even the really scary kind, like where I run off and elope with Snyder (don't ask, please). It was clearly a business dream, and I seriously considered waking up and not dealing with it before I decided to go along for the ride.

I found myself wandering through the hallways of Castle Amber. . .there's no way to describe the feeling you have walking around in a place like that. It feels OLD. . .like something that has been there since the beginning of time, and that will be there whenever the End of Everything comes. Anyway, I just walked along, admiring the beautiful tapestries on the walls, when I saw her. Tall, incredibly beautiful, long black hair, blue eyes, and wearing a suit of black and silver armor that looked like it had seen some serious action over the years.

Deirdre.

I caught my breath, knowing what she had meant to Corwin, and noticing how much she looked like Faith, the differences in eye and hair color aside. Feeling rather frumpy at that moment, I walked over to her and greeted her: "Hello, Aunt Deirdre."

She regarded me for a long moment, and I could feel her icy blue eyes staring into the depths of my soul. I shivered until she replied, "Buffy. . .you have proven worthy to call yourself a scion of the House of Amber." I allowed myself an instant of pride before she continued, "However, the fates will call on you to do far more in the not so distant future. . .are you willing to answer to the call of duty yet again, knowing that it might mean your doom?"

I sighed. * Been there, done that * I locked eyes with my deceased aunt and replied bluntly, "To protect my family, I would do that and more, honored aunt."

Deirdre looked at me, then gave me a respectful short bow before she continued, "Very well, then. . .Seek your destiny in the City of Dreams, Slayer. Farewell." Deirdre vanished, and I had only a moment to blink in confusion before the scene blurred, and I found myself standing on a grassy plain, flat as a pancake all the way to the horizon. I shrugged and chose a random direction to walk. After a few minutes, a figure came into view. I watched carefully as the figure became discernable: dark eyed, dark-haired, wearing garments of green and black, topped by a three cornered hat belonging to an age long gone. . .

Caine.

I instinctively moved my hand near my dagger: even if I didn't have my old Slayer's instincts still whispering in the back of my head at times like this, running into a dead relative who was none too trustworthy when he was alive would have been quite enough to trigger an outburst of paranoia. I locked eyes with him, then greeted him with far less enthusiasm that I had Deirdre: "Uncle."

Caine directed his cold gaze at me, and I felt a chill as he studied me for a long, silent moment before laughing and commenting, "You look as if you expect me to stab you in the back, niece. . .I see that Bleys and the others have taught you well."

I blinked, then replied, "I was paranoid before I ever met my father. . .part of the job I had." My comment caused Caine to smile, and I was getting a bit tired of the cryptic: "Was there something you wished to tell me, Uncle?"

He looked at me gravely, then nodded and responded, "The City of Dreams is dangerous to those who do not know its secrets. . .you will need a guide." He paused, then locked eyes with me as he intoned, "Seek guidance from he who sprang from your most dangerous foe." Caine nodded, then turned away and vanished. I blinked again, then found myself staring up at the ceiling of my room.

That had cut my visit home short, and I made a beeline for the relatives who had spent the most time supervising my education: Benedict, Fiona, and Flora. Flora begged off almost immediately; apparently, her one experience with Tir-na Nog'th had been a bad one, and the second she heard "The City of Dreams", she confirmed my conclusion that the ghost city that appeared above Kolvir in moonlight was what Deirdre and Caine had been referring to. Not used to seeing my carefree aunt looking so disturbed, I took my leave of her and sought out Benedict.

Benedict, unsurprisingly, was rather brief in his advice: "Recent events have shown that the visions one has in Tir-na Nog'th can indeed be of value, Buffy. . .but they can also be misleading, even treacherous. I would advise extreme caution, and that you receive as much assistance as you can." I saw him briefly glance down at his right arm, which had only recently regained full functionality, before I thanked him and departed.

To my relief, Fiona had more direct and comprehensive advice: "Buffy, your background as a Slayer probably leaves you more open to precognitive experiences than the rest of us, though most of us have had such dreams at one point or another. That gift should allow you to gain more from a visit to Tir-na Nog'th than would ordinarily be expected. Benedict is correct: you will need assistance. Someone will wait on the ground with your Trump in case the moon is obstructed, which will cause the city to fade and you to. . .well, no use dwelling on the obvious. Caine's comment about a guide is puzzling to me, and I will think on it further. Since your father is away, I would suggest that you seek out Corwin and ask for his assistance in this matter. . .he should prove most helpful."

I hadn't needed that last bit of advice: I would have sought out Corwin in any event. With Dad gone so much of the time, I had made a point of spending time with my other relatives in Amber when possible, getting to know them. Julian and Llewella were the hardest to seek out for this purpose, as they tended to stay in their own realms, but I had come to enjoy their company far more than I would have expected when I heard Merlin describe them: perhaps the aftermath of Patternfall had allowed them to relax their guard against the potential unpleasantness of family interaction. GĂ©rard was gentle and polite, and definitely fun to have at a party. Benedict could seem as hard as stone, but I had seen genuine affection on his face while he watched me go through the grueling training programs that he had set out for me. Flora was fun to gossip with, and a remarkable amount of useful knowledge was mixed in with the apparently trivial comments. Random had never quite gotten the hang of acting like a monarch in non-emergency situations, and at times he felt more like an older brother than an uncle: Martin was much the same way, only without the burden of authority his father had to deal with. Fiona had always been very helpful to me, though I knew enough from speaking to the others that she had a way of collecting on favors, and I never lost sight of that as I listened to her usually very useful advice. . .but particularly since my successful mission for the Crown in Andon a while back, Corwin and I had spent a lot more time together than I would have ever imagined when I first heard his story from Dad (and later from Merlin). His life had been marked by terrible pain in recent years, to the point where the things I had to deal with in Sunnydale felt rather trivial by comparison, and I had not been surprised when I noticed that even when he was in residence in Castle Amber, he seemed removed from the others.

After I returned from Andon, Corwin had actually started to seek me out when I was in Amber, inviting me to lunch in town, for hunting trips in Arden, or even for sailing in the harbor, which was always beautiful. More importantly, he listened patiently as I vented my frustrations about trying to adjust to a whole new life in all too short an amount of time, and volunteered some of his own experiences from youth, which reassured me somewhat that it wasn't just my problem. After this had gone on for a while, I decided to ask him bluntly about it: "Corwin. . .why have you taken such an interest in me? I mean, I know my particular part of the family has caused you a fair amount of grief in recent years, and it's not like I'm lacking for guidance, what with Benedict and Fiona both treating me like some kind of special project. Don't get me wrong: I've enjoyed our time together. . .but I'm still trying to get a handle on what it means to be part of this family. . .and I'd like to understand you better if I can. Of course, if I'm being a nosy bitch you can tell me to go to hell, but I'd really like to know."

Corwin laughed, then replied, "Yes. . .you are a nosy bitch. . .if you weren't, I'd begin wondering about your bloodline, your successful completion of the Pattern be damned." I laughed and smiled at him, and he shook his head and continued, "Buffy. . .I told you before that I had great hopes for the next generation. . .there aren't many of you yet, but the ones I know have been showing great promise, in spite of a few missteps. I guess that I identify a bit more with you than the others. . .I've heard your life story: you were going along minding your own business, then some great destiny appeared and totally disrupted your life. . .after the events of Patternfall, I can certainly understand how that felt to you. . .and while both of us have had experiences that have made the other recoil and say to ourselves 'how could they go on after that?', I think we both understand how we managed it. . .sometimes, you just have to grit your teeth and go on in spite of everything, no matter what the cost to us, because there are things that just have to be done." I nodded, brushing away a tear, and Corwin smiled softly at me and concluded, "In any event. . .Merlin is well established in his own right, and my nephews are well-advised without my help. . .it seemed to me that my efforts would be best directed at you. . .and it is simply a fortunate bonus that I happen to enjoy your company so much." At that point, I had hurled myself at him and hugged him, and I left him that day with the knowledge that I had someone watching my back should the current friendly situation within the family deteriorate.

Corwin had listened to my story with interest, and frowned momentarily before commenting, "The best time to visit Tir-na Nog'th is during the full moon. . .the margin of safety is greatest, and I strongly suspect that the light from the full moon improves the quality of the visions experienced within the City. The full moon will not come for two weeks. . .that will give you time to prepare yourself, and for Fiona to try to figure out what Caine was saying." He snorted, then commented, "Amazing. . .that bastard is still about the most irritating of my relatives, even dead."

I gave him a reproving look, and Corwin smiled at me and chuckled, then gave me a list of preparations to make before the actual journey to Tir-na Nog'th. A few meditation techniques, a minor spell or two. . .just the kind of thing that a novelist would omit to avoid boring the reader before moving on to the interesting stuff. . .anyway, the two weeks went by quickly, and Corwin and I hiked our way up to the peak of Kolvir without anything new coming to light about Caine's cryptic comment. Corwin looked at me and asked, "Are you sure you want to go through with this right now? There'll be another full moon this time next month. . .and going in without proper guidance might be problematic, assuming that this whole dream was actually prophetic, and not the aftermath of a poor choice of cuisine."

I laughed bitterly, then replied, "I have to know, Corwin. . .you're down here backing me up, and I can pass on whatever I see here to the whole family before I actually do anything about it. . .other than that, how much trouble can I actually get in up there?" Corwin frowned, then nodded, and I turned from him to watch the Sun disappear below the horizon, then looked up at the full moon and then to the three stone steps. For a tantalizing moment, nothing happened, and the cynical side of me was ready for a good laugh when suddenly the air in front of me began shimmering, and a ghostly staircase appeared, attached to the three stone steps and extending far up into the sky. I craned my neck and saw that far up in the sky was a shimmering doppleganger of Amber City. . .Tir-na Nog'th. I turned back to Corwin and nodded at him, then stepped forward to begin the lengthy ascent to the City of Dreams.

Abruptly, an unfamiliar voice shattered the silence: "Wait!"

I whirled, instinctively reaching for my weapon, noting that Corwin had also turned to face the intruder. He was a tall redhead, wearing light armor and a cloak clasped by a Phoenix pin. I blinked, feeling an odd sense of recognition but uncertain as to its origin. . .until Corwin bailed me out by smiling at the new arrival and calling out in greeting, "Hello, Rinaldo."

I blinked. Rinaldo, otherwise known as Luke. . .son of Brand. . .King of Kashfa. . .things just got interesting.



As always, comments are welcomed and desired