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 ) 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
So--a whole city to explore, and only a few hours to find what I needed and get out of Dodge. I wasn't thrilled, believe me.
I thought about what Luke had told me--the need to strike the balance between letting my powers work and keeping them from distorting reality instead of feeding me information, and I blinked hard as I remembered: I've seen examples of both from before I ever walked the Pattern It was true--I lost my Slayer powers when The Master drowned me, but partially came into my Pattern abilities due to the stress. That meant that all of the Slayer dreams I had after that were actually Pattern-driven, as were Angel's return from hell and the magic snowstorm (as Fiona had determined). The dreams came without my wanting them, but the actual changes occurred because I wanted them to happen very, very much (in effect if not in form). Tir-na Nog'th is sensitive to the desires of Amberites--if you stress you'll just make everything wonky. Just relax and see what appears.
Relieved that my conclusions seemed to agree with Luke's more experienced judgments, I turned back to Luke, nodded, and just started walking along, eyes wandering as if I was taking a tour of the city. Luke backed my play, following about five feet behind me and to my right.
For quite some time, nothing of interest happened. Occasionally, a ghostly person would slip by without noticing our presence, but none of them looked familiar and I noted that Luke wasn't reacting either. We slipped through empty streets in the moonlight, through a lovely plaza whose counterpart I had often admired in the true city, and back up stairs until we found ourselves entering Castle Amber, the ghostly guards not interfering as we moved inside.
"Going down to the Pattern?" asked Luke. I looked back and saw him frown, and I remembered that he had come into his own abilities by traversing that eerie version of Amber's Pattern.
I shook my head. "No--and don't ask me why. It just doesn't seem right for some reason." I chuckled and commented, "Maybe it's because I don't want to walk up and down fifty trillion steps when we're on the clock. . .no, I just think that the info we need is somewhere else."
Luke nodded thoughtfully and followed me as I walked into the main hall. The real one usually had some form of activity going on--this one was eerily empty and silent, except for the lone figure standing near the main staircase. Luke chuckled, and I smiled: it was Droppa, Random's court jester--definitely a fun guy to have around at parties (I even refrained from kicking his ass when he showed up at a formal event in one of my old Slaying outfits and delivered a drunken, rambling rant about the rough life of an ex-Slayer in Amber in fluent ValleySpeak. The fact that he woke up the next morning covered in itching powder and nothing else--in a Tibetan yak-herder's hut on Shadow Earth--was sheer coincidence. Honest.). I was about to head up the stairs past him when I blinked, and looked again. Unless Droppa had gone in for some serious plastic surgery, that was an old friend sitting in for him. I turned back to Luke--who seemed to have noticed the switch as well--and suggested, "Might be a good time to ask some questions."
Luke nodded in agreement and handed Werewindle to me hilt first. I held it in my right hand--feeling the tingle from its power go through my body--and walked up to the ghostly figure. I carefully touched the tip of Werewindle's blade to its collarbone, then stepped back as the figure seemed to gain color and solidity. After a moment, he blinked and seemed to see me. I smiled at him and said simply, "Hello, Xander."
Xander shook his head in confusion and replied, "Buffy, what--?"
I interrupted Xander, and spoke quickly: "Xander: Hellmouth-Scooby-August, 2000-vital events only."
Xander blinked, and his eyes hardened. He spoke rapidly, hardly pausing for breath and following my instructions with an efficiency that impressed me, even considering his imprinted soldier abilities and any additional training my family might have given him since the time I had last seen him from his POV. He finished just as the silvery tint began to return to his body, and I watched sadly as his eyes went blank and he went back to looking out at something unseen in the main hall. "Good-bye, Xander," I whispered, then turned back to Luke and handed him Werewindle.
Luke raised an eyebrow and commented, "That was weird--care to explain how you did that?"
I smiled and replied, "After hearing Corwin's and Merlin's stories--along with some less involved ones from Dad and the others--I decided that being out of touch for extended periods of time, with possible accompanying loss of memory, was a real risk for one of us. I came up with a code with my friends back in my shadow for a quick way to clue them in that I needed a summary of events past a certain date. What you just saw was the short version--if I'd had more time, I'd have said 'comprehensive' instead of 'vital events only' and Xander would have gone into deeper detail." I paused, then added, "It's also a good way to spot imposters or shadows--anyone who doesn't know the code isn't really one of my friends, or they've been tampered with in some way."
Luke frowned, then nodded. "Not a bad contingency plan. What did he tell you?"
"He's from about five years in the future--Amber time is pretty much in sync with my home shadow, so that's not a complicating factor. He said that about three years from now, some big crisis caused Random to ask the family to bring their most loyal allies to Amber to serve the crown. Whatever the crisis is, it's still going on at the time he's from. It was all kind of vague--but he said that he'd seen me recently, and he didn't mention any deaths in the family." I shook my head and commented, "If there's a big emergency going on, I'm not sure why having Xander do Droppa's job would help."
"It might just be symbolic, Buffy. Tir-na Nog'th plays funny games with reality. From what Merle told me, a lot of your friends are shadows of our family—assuming that Xander is one of those shadows, he'd definitely be useful in some capacity in Amber." I nodded thoughtfully to confirm Luke's comment, and he added, "Xander replacing Droppa might simply mean that there have been a lot of casualties among the general population, or that most of the able-bodied men are in the field fighting. We can't be sure—Corwin and Fiona can give you some ideas based on their own experiences when we get back to the ground. In the meantime, we'd better keep looking while we still have time."
I nodded, and closed my eyes for a moment, trying to get a sense of where to go. A memory of Corwin standing in a window looking out at the harbor appeared to me, and my eyes snapped open. I felt a sense of uneasiness that I knew was not my own and I flinched—I had forgotten that Corwin had been in peripheral Trump contact with me all along. I smiled sadly and let that emotion flow through the link between my brooding uncle and myself. I felt him relax, and I turned to the staircase and charged up it without hesitation. Luke followed silently, Werewindle in his hands.
Though the color scheme was completely different, the halls were the same, and I found the room with no trouble. The door was ajar, as the one in the real city had been when I had found Corwin there, looking out at the harbor and thinking of the younger sister who had always been there to see him when he had returned from the sea. I cautiously moved to the open doorway and peeked in. I was not shocked to see a figure standing at the window, looking out at the pale sea in the clouds. I –was- rather surprised that it was not the cloaked figure of my Uncle Corwin standing there, but a tall woman who appeared to be wearing light armor. Her hair flowed down her back without visible restraint—I could not see her eyes.
I moved into the room and reached behind me: Luke placed the hilt of Werewindle in my hand without saying a word. I crept behind the ghostly woman and gently touched her shoulder with the tip of the blade.
Immediately, color began to flow into her form. Her limbs were covered in black silk, and the leather armor protecting her torso was crimson. Her hair was black, and it whipped around as she reacted to the change in herself, turning on me and drawing a rapier almost too fast for me to see. Vivid green eyes widened in surprise, and she stared at me for a long moment before whispering, "Buffy?"
An unfamiliar face—one that clearly recognized me: I had a plan for dealing with this too. I intentionally directed a "deer in the headlights" look at the woman and recoiled slightly before whispering in what I hoped was a frightened tone: "Buffy—is that my name? I found myself wandering the halls of this place, without memory of where I am from or who I am. You are the first person I have encountered, and you seem to know who I am. This frightens me, and I sense that I am dangerous when I am frightened. Could you tell me who I am, please?"
The woman gave me a searching look, and I saw suspicion flicker in her eyes. I resisted the temptation to assume a poker face—the usual defense against a relative's scrutiny—and concentrated on radiating fear and a touch of anger as I looked back at her. After a moment, she frowned, and concern was audible in her voice as she replied, "Your name is Buffy: you're my cousin—the daughter of my Uncle Bleys. You are the Battle Maiden of the House of Amber, and you have been away for six months at war. I have not seen you in that time, and you have been missing for two months, our time. We were beginning to think that you had died, as you did not answer Trump calls."
I frowned in apparent confusion. A truly convincing act would require me to feign ignorance of what Trumps were, but my time was limited and I did not need to fear that an uncovered deception would get me killed. I stared at my "cousin" and asked quietly, "Then we are family? That's a start—what is your name, cousin?"
The woman smiled for the first time, and I got some vibes from her that I rarely received from my relatives on the Amber side—this one was young: maybe younger than me. I saw a mildly fond look in her eyes as she replied, "My name is Caitlin—we met for the first time about two years ago, Amber time. I am the daugh—"
The world flickered, and I felt a sudden shock that sent me staggering back a couple of steps. When I recovered, I saw a ghostly version of myself, busily engaged in conversation with Caitlin. I stepped forward and touched Caitlin with Werewindle again—she flickered, but did not solidify. The world flickered as well, and I realized that we had problems. Corwin's mental voice quickly confirmed the problem: "Clouds just came in from nowhere: you need to get out, right now."
I turned to Luke—who nodded and pulled out a Trump—and sighed as I replied to Corwin, "Coming, Mom." I felt a brief reaction of amused tolerance as I watched the connection solidify and saw Corwin's hand reaching out. I grasped it without hesitation as I felt the floor begin to melt away beneath my feet, and was relieved at the sudden change of viewpoint as Corwin pulled me through to the peak of Kolvir. I took a deep breath as Luke shimmered in nearby, and commented, "That was seriously annoying timing—where did those clouds come from? I was about to get some real info from Caitlin when we lost contact."
"Weather on Kolvir can be tricky—I had some hairy moments when I was walking the Pattern there for the first time." It was Luke who replied, and I handed him Werewindle as he made the comment and frowned. He turned to Corwin and asked, "How long did the clouds take to form and begin to obscure the moon?"
"A minute—maybe less. That's pretty damned fast even for nasty Kolvir weather, barring a guest appearance from the Jewel of Judgment." Corwin's expression was calm, but I could see a flash of anger in his eyes as he added, "You seemed to be on the edge of something important, Buffy—I let it go as long as I could while still remaining safe: no use getting you killed."
"Hey—not getting on your case here: I don't want to take up a cliff diving career at this point in my life, thank you very much." The two men snickered, and I looked back at Corwin with a mildly suspicious expression. "Black hair and green eyes—do you have any more children floating around that we don't know about, Uncle?"
Corwin scowled. "Not as far as I know—though given Dara's past activities, I can't ever be sure someone hasn't pulled a fast one on me." Luke winced in sympathy, and I smiled apologetically at Corwin as he continued, "Eric, Deirdre, and I all came from the same gene pool—and the mother plays a big role in hair and eye color, as the redheads proved: three redheads coming from a black-haired father and a red-haired mother would have caused Mendel to raise an eyebrow, even accounting for recessives. Caitlin could be a surprise from my past, a missing child of Eric or Deirdre—or even a missing child of one of the others. No way to know, really."
I nodded. "At least we got two good hints: war is coming to Amber, and at least one new relative will be arriving. One is coming soon, the other we don't know the time frame of, since the war might go on for years." Corwin nodded, and I sighed and added, "Looks like it's time to talk to Fiona and Benedict again, after we get some sleep. I'm wiped."
"That's my cue," Luke called out, reaching for his Trumps and shuffling one out. "I'm even with Fiona, but I'm still keeping my distance from her until my life depends on not doing so." Corwin smiled in empathy, and Luke grinned at his uncle before turning back to me and saying simply, "Hope I was some help up there."
I looked up at him and locked eyes with him before replying, "I don't trust just anyone to watch my back—thank you. When things calm down a bit, would a tour of your kingdom be too much hassle?"
Luke looked back at me and smiled with a guileless manner that I knew damned well was a well-practiced act before he responded, "You're always welcome in Kashfa, Buffy—and I'll make sure you get the red carpet treatment if you come to visit." He bowed to me, nodded to Corwin, and stared hard at the Trump in his hand for a moment before vanishing in a rainbow spray.
Corwin glanced over at me and asked quietly, "I don't need to give you the speech, do I?"
"You mean the 'family members are not to be trusted as far as I'd trust Willy the Snitch with naked pictures of me' speech? Nah—I kind of get that." Corwin raised an eyebrow—I had told him some of the more "interesting" stories involving Willy over a bottle in days past—and I chuckled and added, "I get it. Your son gave me fair warning about him—he's a first-rate bullshit artist. He's Merlin's best friend, and Merlin doesn't trust people lightly—I'm sure he wouldn't trust me worth a damn if my background wasn't an open book. If he's holding a grudge about the blowup between his father and me, he's doing a great job of hiding it—doesn't mean I won't watch my back."
Corwin smiled at me. "Good girl. Let's get out of here—those clouds don't look like they'll stop at thwarting your expedition to the City of Dreams." He pulled out his Amber Trump, and took my hand and led me through the connection just as the first raindrops began to hit Kolvir.
Two weeks after we came down from Kolvir, I had settled into my old routine of training and travelling—after Benedict and Fiona had debriefed me about my experiences in Tir-na Nog'th, there wasn't really much else for me to do. Both warned me—as had Luke and Corwin—that experiences there were not necessarily to be taken literally. War might be coming to Amber, or something far more prosaic. As for the possible arrival of missing relatives—that was par for the course here.
I was walking through the main entry hall with a large meal on my mind when a familiar voice interrupted my thoughts: "Buffy."
I turned and saw Fiona watching me, a neutral expression on her face. We had not spoken since my debriefing, and for her to approach me outside a scheduled meeting or an official function was unusual enough for me to take immediate interest. I walked over to her and smiled. "Hey, Fiona—what have you been up to lately?"
"Thinking, actually," Fiona managed to look rueful as she inclined her head to indicate that I should follow her. As we walked, I saw her brow furrow, and a glowing opening appeared in front of us. I followed her through the opening with only a moment's hesitation.
I found myself on a patio, overlooking a deep gorge whose bottom was obscured by crimson mist. The sky above was green, with purple clouds. Fiona had already found a seat at the small table next to me, and she summoned drinks for both of us with the wave of a hand. "Sit down, Buffy."
I knew her well enough to know it wasn't a request. I sat, and sipped the drink—which was nothing I recognized, but very good: a fruit nectar with a solid bite. I looked around and commented, "Nice place—it must have taken some doing to get it placed just right."
Fiona met my eyes, and I shivered slightly as she replied, "It took some work for me to –find-, yes. You still need to grasp the exact nature of the powers we command, Buffy. We desire—we seek—we find." I flinched, and she raised an eyebrow. "Is something wrong, Buffy?"
I forced myself to look at her, and responded softly: "I was remembering something Faith told me not long before Bleys found me—her philosophy of life as a Slayer: want—take—have. A day later, she killed a man accidentally and refused to take responsibility for it: it wasn't until I came into my birthright that I realized it had started a downward spiral for her—and it was only with my new abilities that I was able to bring her back to being at least conditionally trustworthy. I had to threaten to do terrible things to her, Fiona—it scared the hell out of me that I was capable of that. I've gained some perspective since then, but it still bothers me."
Fiona studied me quietly for a moment before speaking again with a quiet intensity that commanded my absolute attention: "Buffy—the moral lessons you were taught before you met your father have served you well. Power corrupts—and the failure to acknowledge that fact would have been a catastrophe for you as you faced the dangers of your world. However, you must realize from your history that simply rejecting the use of your power is also a poor option. Your destiny chased you down and dragged you back every time you tried to abandon it." I nodded involuntarily, and Fiona smiled slightly and continued, "You're in the same situation now, Buffy—your horizons are just a lot wider. Benedict has trained you in the martial arts, and you are a match for almost any being in Substance or Shadow who isn't a Prince of Amber or a High Lord of Chaos. I have tutored you in the mystic arts, and you have proved to be a gifted pupil. But you are of the Blood of Amber, Buffy Summers, and your greatest potential is in the command of the powers granted by the Pattern of Amber itself. Each of us has taken our own path in studying and mastering those abilities—and now it is time for you to seriously embark on your own path. You will be walking a precarious balance—I sense that your potential is great, and that if you chose to abuse those abilities, you could become a threat to the All, as was your Uncle Brand. If you instead turn away from your heritage and simply concentrate on your martial abilities, I fear you will be exploited by others who can perceive your potential." I raised an eyebrow, and Fiona smirked and bowed slightly as she concluded, "Or—quite possibly—by me. I am not impervious to ambition, and I cannot guarantee that I will forever forego the chance to exploit an untrained innocent for my own ends."
"I've been called a lot of things in the last few years, Aunt, but 'innocent' is not one of them." I relaxed a bit—it was just going to be more training: how bad could it be? I blinked, then locked eyes with Fiona again and replied simply, "Can't have me being a danger to the universe—we should get started."
Fiona nodded solemnly, and began: "The most important secret to mastering the power of the Pattern is to start with yourself. . ."
As always, comments are welcomed and desired.