DISCLAIMER: I own neither Buffy the Vampire Slayer nor the Wheel of Time; they are the property of their respective authors, publishers, and probably a half-dozen other entities woven together in a more complicated weave than the Age Lace. If I could figure that out, I'd be a good IP lawyer. If I were the author, I'd be making you pay to read this. Unfortunately, looking around my rather Spartan apartment, I think it's safe to say that I'm neither, or I'd be driving a Tesla Roadster. Don't sic the Trollocs on me.
SPOILERS/BACKGROUND: All Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel through Season 4 (no secondary sources, however); all main books of the Wheel of Time through Knife of Dreams. Of course, the WoT-verse is sufficiently complex that I'd be hard pressed to get everything right.
SISTERS AND RIVALS
Dawn was suddenly aware of cold stone beneath her body, and gentle but firm hands on her shoulders, shaking her awake. She bolted upright with a start, and Kennedy fell away from her, concern melting suddenly to wariness in her eyes.
"Dawn? You all right? You looked like you were having a nightmare."
Dawn forced her breathing to steady as best she could. "I guess I was," she admitted. She kept her hands inside the sleeves of her sweatshirt, willing herself not to look at them, hoping that Kennedy had not noticed the rope marks on her wrists.
"Buffy ever talk about Dawn much?" Kennedy asked.
"Not really," Rona replied. She, Kennedy, and Vi were seated near the base of the stairs heading up to the stone platform, arranging rocks as best they could to get something to sit on. "Never really had much of a chance."
"I know she was almost killed a couple of years ago," Vi offered. "Some god or cult or something."
"Yeah ... I'm starting to think we don't know the whole story there. Like why her of all people?"
"Well, because she's Buffy's sister? Someone wanted to get to her?"
"Maybe," Kennedy replied. "Or maybe not. You know we can sense trouble, right?"
"Sort of," Rona offered hesitantly. "I mean, I know Buffy and Faith could ... I don't know, they like ..."
"... knew when something was coming up behind them? At least sometimes?"
"Yeah, they said that. Didn't work too well in the cave, though," Vi said sadly. Too many of their sisters had been felled from behind. Even Buffy had gotten struck from behind there; the chaos had simply been too overwhelming.
"Yeah, well it's less crazy here now," Kennedy continued. "Now-where is Dawn?"
Rona and Vi looked around. "Um, I don't see her."
"You don't have to," Kennedy continued. "Just feel it. Just sense and take a guess."
The other two Slayers with her took a deep breath, still not quite understanding, more humoring Kennedy than actually obliging, but then, suddenly, both of them pointed at the same instant to the same tent, on the far side of the camp. Giles' tent.
"Whoa," Rona mouthed softly.
"I could point to her with my eyes shut, and it actually makes the skin on my back prickle whenever I'm facing the other direction from her," Kennedy said. "Like some part of me is warning the rest of me not to turn my back."
"Dawn?!" Vi asked incredulously.
"Tell me I'm wrong."
"I ... just, wow."
"That's nothing," Kennedy said. "You should have seen her when I found her earlier."
Giles was losing his struggle to keep his eyes open. Books in Latin, Old English, Sumerian, and a largely-forgotten ancestor of Welsh lay scattered around him, including the one he had been trying to read. It was an old Celtic epic about mythic heroes and villains emerging from stones and vanishing into them again; it probably had little, if any, connection to the mysterious stone not a hundred yards away, but he was grasping at straws. He only hoped that Dr. Burkle was having more luck.
He extinguished the portable light and lay down on the bedroll. The flap of his tent parted a moment later. In walked Dawn. He couldn't see much more than her silhouette and some of her hair where the moonlight from outside caught it. He sat up.
"Hello, Dawn," he said, fighting back a yawn. "Sorry, I was just about to turn in ..."
"Buffy's alive," Dawn cut him off.
Giles sat bolt upright. "What? Is she back?"
"No," Dawn repeated. "She's still in the other world, but we met in the middle. In our dreams."
Giles' eyes narrowed skeptically.
"You sure it really was her?"
"Oh, it was definitely her."
Giles listened for any hint of doubt in Dawn's voice. There was none. He couldn't read her body language very well in the darkness, either, but what he could see betrayed no uncertainty. In fact, she barely even seemed uneasy, which was a rarity for Dawn. She was serious.
"Is she in trouble?" Giles asked.
Dawn gave a low, coughing sob that might almost have been a laugh had Giles not known better who uttered it. "Yes," Dawn said slowly. "She is."
"I understand," Angel said. "Good to hear. Not great, but good."
"I know." Giles' voice cracked from the far end of the speakerphone. Angel had gathered Wesley and Fred to hear the news all at once. Spike had somehow managed to barge his way into the meeting as well.
"I'm sending Fred back to you with a field arcanist unit," Angel said. "As soon as I can get the choppers moving."
"All right, boss!" Fred's eyes kindled with excitement. She all but danced from the room. The team was still settling into the uneasy role of management team of the most evil lawyers to ever practice law or evil, but the size of the research budget here had been quickly assuaging Fred's unease. Even the professor who had banished her to slavery in Pylea never had a tenth of the resources she had here. The Portal Stone could be the biggest find in interdimensional arcanophysics since the Key itself, and she had been told in no uncertain terms that the latter was not an available research subject.
"Wes, book time," Angel continued. "Dreamworlds, Portal Stones ..."
"Already on it," Wes said, quickly following Fred from the room.
"I may be getting old and paranoid, but I'm not sure Dawn was telling me everything."
Angel was silent for a long time. More surprisingly, so was Spike. The two shared a long, considering gaze.
"Angel?" Giles' voice crackled again.
"Just keep an eye on her," Angel said after another long pause.
Buffy couldn't remember losing consciousness, but she became suddenly aware of her awareness returning, her thoughts swirling irresolutely like colors in a kaleidoscope.
She flexed her arms, and a distant, primal part of her reminded the rest of her mind that her hands were free.
Awareness crystallized between one heartbeat and the next, fueled by adrenalin and preternatural self-preservation reflexes. She shot forward, taking a blindingly fast first stride that should have been impossible for someone in her prone position. She was ten yards away from Faith before the feel of sand underneath her bare feet and the crisp, natural chill of the nocturnal desert breeze brought her brought her conscious mind back into alignment with her instincts. She was awake.
Faith, who had simply been nudging Buffy awake, had leapt to one side and rolled into a tumbling dodge. The dying embers of the campfire cast half of her face in faint crimson light and flickering shadows; concern and surprised were etched on every feature Buffy could see.
"B? You all right?" Faith asked. She seemed confused.
Buffy's eyes widened, and she cast a quick glance at her wrists and ankles. They were unmarked. She could tell that her back was unmarred as well, though she could not see it; she knew the difference between pain that was a physical wound and the stinging aftermath of the memory of a dream.
But oh, what a memory ...
She collapsed to her knees and covered her head in her hands. She did everything she could to hold back the sobs that threatened to choke her; she failed miserably. God, Dawn, what did I do? Do you hate me that much? But of course she did. Buffy had no right to expect anything less, not after the unforgivably harsh lesson that she had visited upon her unsuspecting sister.
She was dimly aware of Faith coming and laying out Buffy's bedroll beside her, and easing Buffy back down into it. A moment later, Faith joined her, resting Buffy's head on her shoulder and cradling her gently from behind. Buffy felt Faith's hand gliding gently through her hair. She curled up even more tightly.
"Don't let me fall back asleep," she breathed.
"I won't," Faith promised. "Don't sleep. Just rest. What the hell happened, anyway?"
Buffy choked back another labored breath in reply. "Tell you in the morning."
Faith clearly burned with the need to know more, but held her tongue. Buffy sighed and enjoyed the warmth of her sister Slayer's arms for a while longer. How long, she could not say. Eventually, however, she felt the tears beginning to ebb, perhaps as much from exhaustion as anything else. Her eyes stung. She rolled away from Faith, though.
"You get some sleep," she said. "She ... what happened to me won't happen to you, I promise. She's only mad at me."
"Just ... if you find yourself floating in what feels like stars-dreams-don't get too close to any of them. They can suck you in."
Faith processed that. "You mean you spent all night in someone else's dream? Is that where you were?"
"But ... what happens to you there doesn't follow you out? I mean, you're not bleeding or ..." Faith trailed off as she caught Buffy's eyes. "I'm just saying-it could be bad, but spending all night in someone else's dream might be better than being somewhere where some dream-sword can kill the real you."
"No," Buffy shook her head angrily, wishing her eyes would stop stinging. "I'll take the sword."
Faith didn't press the issue. "You going to make it to morning?"
Buffy nodded. "I'll be fine. Just ... need some time. Get some sleep. I'll be good to go when I wake you up."
Faith gave Buffy a long, silent look but then nodded, half to herself. Buffy guessed she might have said something had she had more energy, but it was after four in the morning, even Slayers needed sleep, and neither of them were getting the quantity or quality of it they needed sleeping only half of every night on watch against the Aiel Waste and the other half trapped in the Aiel dreamworld. Faith was asleep within seconds after allowing her head to touch the tiny pillow they shared.
The soft, ambient unlight of the dreamworld, now familiar to Faith, let her know that she had fallen asleep. She looked quickly around, but appeared to be alone, and her Slayer-sense was mute. The tents and the wagon, so temporarily in one place, made almost no impression on the dreamworld here; while they occasionally flickered in and out of her vision like afterimages seen after turning from a bright light, the land was for the most part as empty as it would have been had she been walking the desert alone and on foot. Even of the earth-elemental horses, probably the most solid things in the camp, there was little sign-where the conjured horses stood in the waking world, here sat only the two large boulders from which they had been formed.
She looked up at the sky. The stars burned there as brightly as they did in the waking world-possibly even moreso, as brightness and darkness were hard to judge in this place. She considered the possibility that Buffy had meant to sound some kind of warning against trying to fly into the night sky, but dismissed that out of hand. Whatever Buffy had meant, if she had meant to sound a warning against trying to go excessively airborne, she would have been much more direct about it. Buffy was no cryptic sensei. If she had something she didn't want you to do, she made it very clear that you understood what it was.
She turned once, scanning the horizon, though inwardly she was starting to come to terms with the fact that that was probably a useless gesture; dangers here could literally materialize out of thin air, and just because you couldn't see something in no way meant that it couldn't see you. In fact, if you were careless with your thoughts, you could create it yourself. She forced her thoughts away from the direction that led.
Moments later, she was sleeping in the basement of the Hyperion again.
In the morning, they bade farewell to Hurac and the Shaido in the grey light of morning before the sun crested the mountains far to the east. It would have been foggy in the green suburban community of Sunnydale at that hour, but there would be no morning mist for the sun to burn away in this parched desert. Willow noted that the Shaido had somehow disposed of the corpses of the draghkar while she slept; how and where, she didn't ask. She checked the wagon as best she could and fed a little extra earth energy into the conjured horses pulling it; this was not her forte, and the spell animating the horses leaked energy from the seams where she hadn't sealed it against loss as well as necessary. Without occasional maintenance, she and her Slayer companions would find themselves with a wagon hitched to two giant boulders in the middle of nowhere, and reanimating them here would take far, far more effort than in the wellspring of raw elemental power that was Rhuidean. She still shuddered in frightened excitement at the memory, and instinctively ran a hand through her hair, looking for blossoms. There were none.
Faith looked as rested as could be expected on the short sleep hours that the Slayers had been getting. Buffy, however, looked almost worse than if she hadn't slept at all; she had known Buffy to pull all-nighters in high school, and she seldom looked that haggard. Something had happened, though the summer-haired Slayer did not appear to be wounded.
"You want to talk about it?" Willow asked as soon as the Shaido, moving in the opposite direction, were just a speck on the eastern horizon.
Buffy started. "Talk about what?"
"Whatever happened last night."
Buffy took a deep breath. "Not really."
Willow bit back the urge to say talk to me about it anyway. She forced herself to take a deep breath and simply murmur, "OK." She put her arm around Buffy's shoulders. Buffy actually flinched for a moment, though she relaxed a moment later, the faintest touch of red staining her cheeks.
Willow took a deep breath and turned her gaze to the far horizon again. There wasn't anything to see, of course-or at least, nothing that she could see; the Aiel seemed to be able to merge into the rocks and sands as if by magic. She tried to concentrate on rock formations and sand dunes, but the scenery was simply nowhere near up to the challenge of distracting her from the swirling, rushing river of invisible light at the edge of her awareness.
Saidar, Egwene and the Wise Ones had called it. The energy or force that powered magic as it was practiced in this world. There was nothing else it could be. It was nothing like the more normal mirages visible out of the corner of her mortal eyes; she wouldn't have mistaken it for that even had Egwene and the Wise Ones said nothing of it. Egwene had also told her that those who began to touch it on their own, untutored, had only about a one in four chance of surviving a year if they didn't find someone to teach them-which basically meant finding their way to Tar Valon. Egwene's warning had been convincing, and she had resolved not to try to touch it at all before they reached Tar Valon.
That resolve was fraying.
It wasn't just that saidar was always there. It was more than that. That river of invisible light was like a living thing, and calling to her. And unlike the great tree of Rhuidean, she couldn't get in a wagon and drive away from this.
"That stupid stone," Buffy spat. "Save one world, get sucked into another one."
Willow laughed, more loudly than the remark probably deserved, grateful for the distraction. "No cosmic justice in either cosmos," she noted.
"Tch. One unfair world I could deal with. Two is just too much."
"We'll be back in our own unfair world before too long. Don't worry. Just don't get killed in the meantime."
"So how far to Tar Valon?"
"More than a thousand miles. Even being able to travel twenty-four hours a day, it's a week trip, and that's assuming no unpleasant surprises."
Buffy sighed. "So it goes. All right, I'm going to try sleeping again. Wake me if it looks like something's trying to kill me or you."
"Isn't something always trying to kill you?"
Buffy wrinkled her nose. "Well, wake me if it looks like they're succeeding." She clambered back into the wagon and settled into the little nest of softer ter'angreal and bedrolls that they had made for sleeping on the march.
Faith climbed out of the wagon and seated herself where Buffy had just vacated. Willow's eyes widened. She had a quiver of arrows on her back-and in her hands, she carried the silver-enruned longbow Willow had seen her hefting back in Rhuidean.
"Um, you sure you should be playing with that?"
"I'd rather have this than a sword if any more of those bat-thingies show up."
"They gave us regular bows, you know."
Faith grinned. "Tch. Boring."
"You have no idea what that thing does."
"Pretty sure it shoots arrows."
Willow rolled her eyes exasperatedly. "You have no idea what else it does."
Faith nodded sagely. "You know, good point." Before Willow could utter a word of warning-not that it would have done her any good, she reflected, knowing Faith-the raven-haired Slayer drew and loosed an arrow at an unoffending rock some distance to the right of the wagon.
She missed badly, but nothing else happened.
"I'm not pulling this wagon over to go get that back."
"No worries!" Faith smiled. She hopped off the wagon, trotted back to where the arrow lay in the sand, and ran effortlessly back to the wagon, leaping up onto the wagon tongue with no visible difficulty.
"You about gave me a heart attack."
"My aim wasn't that bad. I was trying to attack that rock in the heart."
"Was that your first time ever shooting a bow?"
Faith nodded. "Pretty fun, actually!" She drew again and loosed, this time at a rock some distance in front of them and slightly off to the right; this let her jump from the wagon and retrieve the arrow quickly as they passed. She still missed, the arrow driving into the ground a few feet short of her target, but her aim was much improved.
Willow shook her head helplessly. "Just remember that every single one of these things does something, somehow, with the Power. Magic."
"Well, hopefully, they didn't design this thing as a booby trap to shoot the person firing it," Faith said. "But if I were designing a magic bow, I'd probably make it better at shooting targets, not shooters."
"Doesn't look like it's that great at that, either."
"Oh, ye of little faith," Faith grinned. "I'm a Slayer. I'll get the hang of it."
Willow had no idea what the normal learning curve was for mastering the longbow, but she was certain by the time they woke Buffy up for lunch that Faith was climbing it more quickly than normal. She was hitting rocks, even some that weren't all that big, at fifty yards more often than not. She had tested the maximum range of the red-enameled bow and found it to be many times that, but she hadn't been able to hit anything much smaller than a sand dune at that range. Willow had offered a quick restorative charm after she had fired a few shots, but Faith had demurred, and Willow had not pressed the issue; even after a hundred shots, Faith's hands and shoulders didn't appear to be giving her any trouble.
Buffy, predictably, was less willing to let Faith's experimentation slide. "Faith, what are you doing with that?" she asked, seeing the bow in Faith's hands.
"Target practice," Faith answered with a smirk, drawing and loosing an arrow at an innocent boulder a ways in front of the wagon.
"Faith! Do you have any idea what that thing does?"
Faith grinned. "Pretty sure it shoots arrows." Willow rolled her eyes.
"Pretty sure we already have normal bows for that," Buffy noted. "As in, the kind that aren't three-thousand-year-old who-knows-what-kind-of-magic bows."
"Exactly!" Faith grinned. "You've got a boring old normal bow, and I've got a three-thousand-year-old magic bow."
"Faith, you could get yourself killed using that thing."
"Yes, but you'd still have me beat by one death if that happens."
"Seriously, it's a bow. Until I see something to make me believe that it's not meant for shooting things, I'm going to guess that whoever made it had shooting things in mind. We're carrying around however-many-thousand-year-old magic swords, remember?"
"All they are is extra sharp and hard."
"And you know this because Egwene told you that? Suddenly you trust her? For all you know, she could have given us Nerf swords."
"Well ... we know she wanted this load of stuff safe. But she didn't say we should just pull stuff out and start using it."
"Didn't completely say not to, either, though."
"Do you really think she'll be cool with it?"
"Do you really care?"
"I care," Willow interjected. It was true that she didn't completely trust Egwene herself, but she believed that Egwene was ultimately on the side of "the good guys," whoever they were here, and just as importantly, Egwene was their best link to any shot at getting home. Didn't Faith and Buffy realize that doing anything to antagonize her was probably not the best idea?
"We've been here five days and we've already been attacked by our own shadows and soul-sucking bat-thingies," Faith pointed out. "Unless you really think this thing's booby-trapped, don't you think we ought to be loading up? You're pulling out a few new tricks yourself, you know. And from what I can tell, you're going to be picking up a few more whether you like it or not."
Willow's breath caught. That was too close to what she had been thinking about before she had managed to let Buffy and Faith distract her earlier.
Faith must have noticed something in her eyes. "Started happening already?"
"No!" Willow replied quickly. Too quickly.
Buffy's attention turned from Faith to Willow. "Will?"
"I haven't touched it yet," Willow clarified. "But I can sense it. Heck, I can practically see it."
"Son of a ..." Buffy trailed off.
Willow nodded. "Yeah."
"What Egwene said about, you know, channeling it even if you don't want to?"
Willow sighed. "I'm holding it as long as I can, Buffy, but it's going to come out eventually."
"You make it sound like going to the bathroom," Faith observed sardonically.
"Eh, pressure, building up, all that," Willow replied dryly. "But really, not kidding."
"Well, even if it happens, she said that most people make it at least a year, and some people figure it out all on their own."
"Only one in four," Willow reminded her.
"You're one in a million, Wills," Buffy smiled. "One in a billion. We'll make it to Tar Valon, and even if we don't, well, you'll figure it out."
"What she said," Faith added.
Willow laughed, and her spirits lightened a little. What had she done to deserve friends like this? They were plodding across a barren, almost featureless desert in an alien world. They had been captured, then befriended their captors, then left them. Their own shadows had tried to kill them, and someone they had never even heard of had already tried to assassinate them. The sun burned overhead as if twice as close to this world as to their own, and the desert sand radiated the heat back at the sky-and anything traveling upon the sands-as if in anger. Yet somehow, she couldn't help but feel that everything would be all right. She had her friends. She forced herself to remember, against her more modest instincts, that she was not as helpless as she had been her sophomore year of high school, when Buffy Summers had arrived on the campus of Sunnydale High. She was all too aware of her own mortality, but she was also one of the most feared witches on the entire planet from which she had come, and probably from several dimensions beyond. They would make it.
She cast her eyes on the distance. There was a power there, dark and brooding, like nothing she had ever seen. High above the horizon it rose, stretching across the entire horizon. It was remote and distant now, but they were heading right for it.
"Let Faith use the bow," she said.
"Um, huh?" Buffy's eyebrows raised. She was certainly not used to the redheaded Wiccan taking Faith's side over hers.
"And start practicing with it yourself. And the smaller ones the Aiel gave us. We're going to have to fight again before we're out of here. I don't want you to be the best ammunition in Faith's arsenal."
Buffy made a face. "If I turn into a toad the moment I shoot this thing ..." she warned.
"... then I'll change you back," Willow finished with a gentle smile. "You've always had my back, Buffy, but I've got yours, too, you know."
Willow wondered if her words had the same effect on Buffy that Buffy's and Faith's had on her. She shook her head in resignation, with a soft smile. Then, having made a decision, she turned to Faith. "All right, give me that thing," she said. "You go get some sleep. We both probably need that more than fancy new weapons."
"Now that, you're not kidding about," Faith replied.
"That reminds me," Buffy said. "Something I ... something I thought of the other night, and I can't believe I forgot to ask until now. Will ... this goes under 'got our back' ... is there any way you can make us sleep without dreaming?"
Faith gave a start and turned back to Willow just as she was about to step back into the shaded interior of the wagon. There was a sudden hunger in her eyes, which impressed on her more than anything else just how vulnerable the two Slayers felt sleeping in the World of Dreams.
She sighed. "Actually, working on it," she said. "I learned a little bit in England, but it's like all the rules here are different somehow. Or more like, there was no Tel'aran'rhiod there, or at least, I never learned about it. I learned a little about controlling my own dreams, but not dreamworlds. You saw me with Egwene." She choked on the last sentence and blushed at the memory; they had seen all of her with Egwene. "I was actually working on it last night in my own dreams."
"I saw that!" Buffy said, a wondering expression suddenly coming over her face. "You were at the high school."
Willow was stunned. "Wait, you saw me? Like, you were watching me?"
"Just for a moment," Buffy added quickly. "But ... yeah, Willow, even when you're just inside your own dreams here, you're apparently right up against Tel'aran'rhiod. Or maybe even really in it, just in some different way. I could see in. It was like looking in a window, or maybe a crystal ball ... hard to describe, but you get the point."
"Oh, Goddess ..." She wasn't about to ask if Buffy had also seen any dreams she had had about Tara. Buffy wasn't saying anything. Discretion was the better part of preserving any possible scraps of dignity.
"Guess you'd better add dream-warding or dream-cloaking or whatever to your to-do list," Faith added with a grim laugh. "But yeah ... you want to try what you've got so far on me?"
"Like I said, it's really not ready."
"What's the worst that could happen? It just doesn't work, right?"
"Or it traps you in some nightmare forever, or until something in it rips your heart out. You really want me to use you for guinea pigs before I'm ready?"
"Yes," Buffy and Faith answered in unison. Willow's eyebrows raised. Things were bad.
"Sorry," she said flatly. "On this, trust me, I've 'got your back' more by saying 'not yet.'"
Faith looked at her for another moment, then nodded. "All right, well, same deal as before, then. I'm going to have to keep working on getting the hang of this dreaming thing. Just hiding every time isn't going to work. Something will find us there eventually."
Willow nodded. "I know, Faith. I really know. Good luck. Hey," she forced her smile to brighten long enough to send the raven-haired Slayer off on a more positive note, as best she could. "If I can get the hang of a whole new kind of magic, you can get the hang of kicking ass even while you're asleep."
Faith laughed then, a rich, predatory laugh that momentarily banished the weariness from her voice. "Damn straight," she agreed. She gave a quick smile to Buffy, as if to make sure that Buffy had heard the message, too, then clambered back into the wagon.
The soft unlight of Tel'aran'rhiod welcomed Faith again. The burn of the sunlight was almost so harsh as to drown out the soft unlight of the dreamworld, but she recognized where she was nevertheless. Edges were softer, reality slightly less distinct, save for herself and the clothes that she had dreamed for herself. She found herself in her tan desert camouflage again, with the dagger Mayor Wilkins had given her at her side. She frowned at it. It kind of disturbed her that that thing kept coming back to her when she felt the need for a weapon close to hand. She had a new weapon now, and one far better than any ordinary dagger, no matter how artfully forged. With a thought, the dagger morphed into the Power-wrought blade Egwene had given her at Rhuidean.
She surveyed her surroundings again and gave a start. Strands of misty energy in a hundred pale colors floated in the air not far from where she stood, spiraling gently like sparks caught in a swirling wind, only in slow motion. She brought her blade up, but whatever it was made no move to attack her. In fact, it was moving slowly away from her.
Temporarily forgetting fleeing to the Hyperion, she followed it westward for a minute before she realized what she was seeing. It's the wagon! More accurately, she reasoned, her mind leaping into overdrive, it was some effect that that massive pile of magical doohickeys in the back of the wagon was having on the World of Dreams as they passed. Many of those little trinkets, those ter'angreal, had appeared full and solid at Rhuidean, where they had lain for who knew how many centuries, after all. Apparently they didn't completely vanish when on the move. At least, not with such a massive trove of them piled together. Well, if she ever needed to find Buffy and Willow's corresponding location in the real world, she knew where to look.
Her blood froze as she realized the implication of that. If I could do that, then anyone could do that. We might as well be wearing a sign that says "hey, over here.." She turned to scan the horizon again.
What to do? She couldn't just walk alongside the luminescent wisps until she awoke. She needed real sleep. There was only one of her. Also, the point wasn't to guard the wagon, it was to hide it so that no one could follow them across the desert from the dreamworld. Could whoever sent those draghkar even reach this dreamworld? It seemed to be the way to bet, with everything else going on.
She took a breath and began to try to form a vision in her mind of nothingness, of empty sand where the treasures were. It didn't work. Was it because she just couldn't wrap her mind around the concept of empty air where she knew there was something? She glanced down and willed her sword to vanish. It did. She brought it back. Apparently these magic whatever-the-hecks couldn't be simply willed out of existence here.
She thought briefly about trying to hide the trail of sparks in the middle of a sandstorm, but anyone watching them would know very well that a sandstorm that barely moved was hiding something.
Have to ask Willow about that. Gotta be something she can do, but I need to sleep.
A woman's voice spoke not three feet behind her. "So the rumors are true. Sineya's spirit walks the dream again, in new flesh."
Faith spun, the heron-mark blade rising to riposte off the golden-orange blade of the woman behind her. A shower of sparks erupted in all directions from the clash. The other woman flowed away from the blow effortlessly. She did not step. Her form simply shifted. One moment, her blade was locked against Faith's; the next, she was five yards away. Faith's eyes narrowed. This was someone who knew how to manipulate the dreamworld the way she and Buffy did. The way the Aiel did, possibly.
Her features were vaguely Asian and vaguely European, though of course, neither of those continents existed in this place. Faith had no idea what land that made her from here. She looked as though she were maybe ten years older than Faith and in the prime of health, but her eyes were far, far older than that, and spoke of someone who knew how to use the sword in her hands as well as Tel'aran'rhiod itself. Gold and orange highlights in her hair gave the appearance that the woman and blade were part of a set, as though they had been forged by the same master craftsman.
The woman laughed as the sparks from the meeting of their blades fell to the ground. The impact had produced ten times as many as it should have. "Definitely her," she mused. "That was Sineya's most common way of saying hello, too."
Faith's grip on her weapon never softened. "You were the one who appeared behind me. And my name's Faith."
"So Hawkwing told me. You really have no memory of being Sineya, do you?" Faith was about to respond, but the woman shook her head. "I can see it in your eyes. Amazing. Well, the Wheel has not brought you even to the dreamworld, much less the waking world, in two thousand years; who can say what happens to one of us in that span of eons?"
"You know that guy Buffy was talking about? And what do you mean, 'one of us?'"
"So there really are two of you carrying Sineya's soul," the woman mused. She smiled wanly and shook her head. "One was enough to deal with."
"Not funny and not answering me."
The woman laughed. "You don't remember me, either, do you?"
"I remember you," the woman answered. "Or who you were, at least." Her tone shifted subtly as she spoke, growing stronger, less casual. "In a hundred legends, we fight side by side as sisters against the Shadow, light and darkness aligned in balance, a dual-edged blade against the chaos that would engulf the world. In a hundred more, we challenge each other, in single combat or at the heads of armies, handmaidens and generals of day and night in their eternal struggle for mastery over the other." She lifted her sword, and it was suddenly limned in pale golden flames that gave off no smoke, like faint waves of sunlight. "In every tale, I carry this, the Sword of the Sun, though the way I come to possess it might be different with every telling. Sineya's arsenal shifted as the moon, though, and almost to the last nail, they were of her own making. In some tales, she carried a simple sword like you carry now, if any heron-mark blade might be called simple. In others, she carried a mighty scythe with the handle wrought into a short spear. She built it to absorb the power of the sun during the daylight hours, and work itself into the steel to cut deep into Shadowspawn who could not bear its touch. In yet more, she carried a shortsword that separated into a chain whip with razor edges. In the last tale the Wheel wove her into, she carried nothing but a curved dagger, set in the pommel with a ruby. She designed it to absorb the darkest, most primeval passions and instincts of everyone in her city and focus it into power for the blade."
The most disturbing thing to Faith was that as the woman talked, she could see some of the unfamiliar weapons that the woman spoke of. The Scythe, she knew all too well, though it had been a stake for stabbing vampires, not a true spear, at the end. The shortsword that extended into a chain whip had had a safety catch to keep the chain from being released accidentally, and it was important to keep the internal compartment oiled in order to ensure that the chain would unfurl smoothly when released. The curved dagger's quillions had been golden-scaled serpents, their fangs bared to strike. The ruby did more than merely absorb the emotions and urges of those nearby, too; it fed them, like a farmer tending his field in anticipation of a greater harvest. She almost felt that she could hear the name of the woman in front of her, too, even though the woman with the burning sword had not yet identified herself and she had never met anyone remotely like her before in her life.
Almost. "Who are you?" she asked.
"Do you really not remember?"
"Already said that."
The woman gave her a searching look, then nodded. "I go by Amerasu."
It clicked into place in Faith's mind, and she nodded. Then she grinned. She was overcome with a sudden impulse to remind this woman-and herself-that she was still Faith. "Talk about a mouthful. Think I can call you Amy?"
Amerasu crooked an eyebrow at her. It was a very humanizing gesture. Faith grinned.
"I have borne many other names in my days," she noted. "I suppose one more won't hurt. Although I can't recall one quite so ... familiar."
"Hey, first time for everything, right, even for you guys who get reborn every now and then, right?"
Amerasu chuckled. "Perhaps, though Sineya's irreverence for social conventions might not be entirely new."
"Hey, guess I come by it honestly."
"That you do ... Faith," Amerasu replied, saying Faith's name as though experimenting to see how it sounded.
Faith nodded. "So, Amy, what brings you to my neck of the woods?"
The woman laughed, and gave Faith a look.
"Me?" Faith asked. "Seriously?"
"Of course," Amerasu replied. "It's been six hundred years since the Wheel spun me forth to renew my legend. Even in Tel'aran'rhiod, existence can grow tedious in that span of years."
Faith's eyes widened. "You're six hundred years old?"
Amerasu laughed grimly. "I remember dozens of lifetimes more than that, and even longer stretches of waiting in the dream for the Wheel to call me forth again. The Age of Legends is twenty-five centuries past now, and I remember several lives in those yoregone days. Beyond that, the mists of time are thick even to us."
Faith shook her head. "Wish I could say the same, but like I said, Sineya's just a name to me. I'm twenty. No plus-a-couple-centuries of extra memories from previous lives."
"And yet the fact of being reborn into the living world again and again is not foreign to you. The suggestion that you might be is not foreign to you."
Faith shrugged. "There's a whole lot going on right now that's pretty damn foreign to me. But that? Not so different than what I've been told about us where I come from. Only unfortunately, we'd don't get the whole extra-lifetimes of memories. Kinda sucks, actually. Might have been really handy."
"Neither do we," Amerasu noted. "When the Wheel spins us forth, we come into the world as all other men and women do-babes in our mothers' arms. We don't remember Tel'aran'rhiod, or our former lives. In my last life, I died never even having heard of the dreamworld."
"Tch. What a rip."
Amerasu was silent for a moment as she tried to process that turn of phrase. A light breeze caught her hair in the silence, and the diffuse, omnipresent light of Tel'aran'rhiod reflected off the highlights in her hair as though they were polished metal.
"You don't remember the blademaster's sword forms, either, do you?"
Faith thought about that for a moment. "Guessing not," she answered. "Don't get me wrong, Slayers just kind of get fighting-it's kind of in our blood-but I never had lessons or anything. Just lots of practice." Actually, even that wasn't completely true when it came to an honest-to-goodness longsword. Stakes, bare hands, and one familiar dagger were most of what she had used during her Slaying career.
"Then I suggest we work on that," Amerasu replied.
Faith was stunned. "You want to teach me? Swordfighting?"
"The Last Battle approaches. If you bear Sineya's spirit, you will be there, I have no doubt of that ..."
"Ugh. Thanks, Amy," Faith cut her off.
"I have no idea what this other world Hawkwing mentioned has been your home is like," Amerasu replied pointedly, "but am I wrong in guessing that battles seem to seek you out there like bloodhounds?"
Faith scowled. "Well, I never said you were wrong." She had said the same thing to Buffy not so long ago, in fact, but it sounded different coming from a near-complete stranger like Amerasu.
"In which case, you will need to be ready."
"Did you say that half the time, when we're both in the living world, we're enemies?"
"Not against the Shadow," Amerasu replied. "Sineya was often as brutal in fighting the Shadow as the Shadow itself ever was, particularly in her last incarnation before she vanished, but she always did fight it."
"Hm, the more I hear about this girl, the more I kinda like her."
"That may change," Amerasu replied. "And I would be cautious about letting anyone know that you were part of the fall of Aridhol. The people renamed it Shadar Logoth after its fall, and even though it has now been utterly destroyed, it was an accursed ruin for two millennia, and common men still shudder at the name."
"Well all right, then," Faith replied lightly. "Looks like I at least don't have a high bar to clear to do better than last time."
Amerasu laughed mirthlessly. "True enough," she admitted.
"See? All about looking on the bright side."
"Now that's a side of Sineya I admit I never saw."
"Hey, new person here, remember? I might be her magical uber-great-great-whatever granddaughter, but I'm not her."
"So you said," Amerasu noted, taking a few strides away from Faith. When she turned back, the Sword of the Sun was sheathed at her waist, and she held a wooden replica of it in her hand. "And with most of the weapons from Sineya used over the years, I can't help you relearn what she knew. If you've chosen the simple sword as your weapon in this incarnation, though-well, that I might be able to help with."
Faith couldn't help shaking her head. The contrails of energy from the whatzits-the ter'angreal-in the wagon were still floating in the air near where they stood, but there was apparently no helping that for the moment. She entertained the notion for a moment that Amerasu was trying to lure her into lowering her guard, but she had had the best opportunity she was likely to get before Faith ever knew she was there, and instead had just stopped in to chat. She was sure Amerasu was playing some kind of longer game, but she could work with that in the meantime.
"I think I've got some time to kill," Faith replied. She fixed the notion of a wooden replica of her own sword in her mind, and the heron-mark blade morphed in her hand to match. At least this girl probably knows a thing or two more about this than any of my Watchers ever did, she thought. Way cuter, too. "All right. Let's see these blademaster's sword forms of yours. Maybe I'll even learn something."
Amerasu grinned and lowered herself into a fighting stance. "First form," she began, "River of Light."
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Well, at least this chapter came faster than the last one, right? Thanks to everyone who has stuck with this story since its inception, and to all of the new readers as well. I hope I can keep you entertained until A Memory of Light arrives.
Nimbus Llewelyn: Thanks! I was going for both of those, so I'll consider that a very positive review. :-)
J. Palmgren: Maybe the end was annoying because I find Dawn to be annoying. As for amazing plot devices-it's not mine to judge whether they're "amazing," but I have a few devices lying here around the apartment that I hope to share.
mastigo & Guest: It's good to be back!
Mr. Cardona: It's fun to be working on this again, but as for understanding all aspects of the tale: the WoT world is so complex that I'm guessing the authors themselves had/have a problem keeping it straight at times. Nevertheless, I'll hope to both get it as accurate as possible and make it as accessible as practicable.
COMING SOON: Chapter 11, "Across the Emptiness." Dawn is dutifully obedient to her sister's warning never to attempt to foray into the dreamworld again. The Slayers learn to dream peacefully and uneventfully.
Um, yeah. Right.