In The City Of Dreams
by M. Scott Eiland

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.


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. . .


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. Gérard 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.



I stepped in front of Corwin, stood up straighter than usual, and gave Rinaldo my best level stare as I asked quietly, "King Rinaldo, are you here to challenge me?"

Rinaldo blinked, then smiled at me with enough force to make me tingle a bit--Merlin had warned me about Rinaldo's inherent charm, and he hadn't been lying. I managed to keep my poker face, and Rinaldo waited for a moment before speaking: "I got a Trump call from Fiona, telling me that you were taking a journey to Tir-na Nog'th and that you would need an experienced guide. She asked me to serve as that guide, and I agreed."

"Really? I would have thought that my banishing your father back to the Abyss would have been a dealbreaker for that sort of arrangement." My voice was calm, but I know that my eyes were flashing anger at him--the experience of facing Brand still haunted my dreams at times.

Rinaldo sighed, and I could see sadness in his eyes as he replied, "Buffy, my father died on that precipice in Chaos--Caine did the honors, and I put paid to that debt. I'll admit that if his scheming had managed to get him back, I might have welcomed him with open arms--I'll never really know. As things stand, he failed, and you beat him in a fair fight, in which he made the mistake of underestimating you." He shook his head sadly, and added, "If you'll recall, you have reason to seek vengeance against me, for my attempt on Bleys' life. Fiona has indicated that if I help you in this matter, she is willing to forget that indiscretion on my part-- if you'll do the same, that would be more than enough reason for me to lay aside whatever ill-feelings I might have about you thwarting my father's return."

I turned back to Corwin--who nodded once--and back to Rinaldo. I studied him carefully: Corwin had warned me more than once about trusting members of the family unreservedly--himself included--and this man had tried to kill my father. After a few moments, I sighed and extended my hand. "Welcome to the expedition, Rinaldo."

Rinaldo stepped forward, and I felt a moment of anxiety before he clasped my hand firmly, then released it. We were silent for a moment, and I coughed nervously and asked, "So, how do you recommend we proceed?"

Rinaldo looked over to the stair, which was still silently waiting, extending up into the now fully visible ghost city, and replied, "We can go whenever you are ready--I will keep my mind clear, to attempt to avoid distorting whatever visions your own mind might produce. I have my own means of escape should the city fade, so Corwin can simply monitor you through your Trump and give you escape if need be." He took a few steps away from both me and Corwin and drew his sword, looking at it and commenting, "Also, Werewindle should come in handy if the visions prove uncommunicative at points."

I nodded, remembering Corwin's story of his trip to Tir-na Nog'th during the Patternfall incident. Rinaldo sheathed his blade and nodded to Corwin before suggesting, "It might be best if I lead the way--and please, call me Luke--these days I save 'Rinaldo' for formal occasions."

I had no problem with that, and turned to clasp arms with Corwin. He smiled at me, then pulled out my Trump and stared at it for a moment. I felt the contact come, and I opened my mind to it, feeling Corwin seem to sit in a corner of my thoughts, watching but not otherwise intruding. I smiled and released his arm, then turned to follow Luke.



I led the way, keeping a steady pace as we progressed up the ghostly staircase. It was a clear night, so I wasn't particularly concerned about a sudden fade derailing our plans. The stairs--in spite of their appearance--behaved like actual stone steps, allowing me to hear the gentle whisper of Buffy's shoes scraping against them as she followed behind me.

I hadn't just run over to Amber on a moment's notice when Fiona summoned me and told me what was going on--she gave me a day's warning, and I used it wisely. As soon as she broke the Trump connection, I had Merle's Trump out and was calling him. He responded almost immediately: "What's new in Kashfa, Luke?"

I don't know how he always knows it's me these days, and I'm afraid to ask. "Pull me through--I need some information about a relative, and fast."

He reached out and clasped my hand, and I found myself in the mouth of a cave looking out over a cloudbank. Merlin was sitting in a comfortable-looking chair, next to a glass table with a Mai-Tai sitting on it. He gestured, and the ring on his left hand flashed briefly before a second chair and Mai-Tai appeared across from him. He smiled and invited, "Sit down, take the load off--you look like you've just seen a Fire Angel."

I sat down, sipped the Mai-Tai--which was excellent--and replied, "Worse--Fiona called me up to ask for a favor."

Merlin winced: "That's never fun--what did she want you to do?"

I shrugged, "Bleys apparently got a daughter from somewhere, and Fiona wants me to hold her hand while she takes a tour of Tir-na Nog'th--" I saw Merlin smirk, and snapped, "What's the joke?"

"Fiona wants you to take Buffy on a trip to Tir-na Nog'th." Merlin's expression was impassive, though I could see a slight twitching at the corners of his mouth.

"Yeah, her name is Buffy--so what? Some parents should be banned from naming their own children, but I don't see what the problem is." I was annoyed, and a bit edgy about why Merle seemed so damned amused by my situation.

Merlin sighed. "I've got a story for you, and it's a doozy." He gestured again, and two more Mai-Tais appeared. I raised an eyebrow, and he added, "Trust me, you'll want them."

I shrugged, took another sip from the first Mai-Tai, and listened as Merlin began to tell the story as he had heard it from Buffy--and again from Corwin to confirm some of the details. At first it was simply interesting--I've often wondered whether the laws of probability are more or less suspended with regard to the royal family of Amber, even with regard to things that they are not trying to influence--but when he revealed the identity of the mysterious force who had been manipulating Buffy's shadow, I paled and began drinking the Mai-Tais more energetically. Merlin noticed, and his tone was more gentle as he described the climax of the conflict between what was left of my father and the newly discovered member of my family. When Merlin had finished, I blinked and looked up at Merlin for a moment before whispering: "My father was defeated by a wet-behind-the-ears teenager who had walked the Pattern for the first time less than six hours before?"

"Makes your head spin a little, doesn't it?" Merle was being damned supportive, all things considered--he had no reason to feel any love for my father. "Apparently, Brand helped the process along a bit by feeding all that power into the Hellmouth while Buffy was there and her abilities partially activated by the stress of her brief death-- she soaked it up like a sponge. Once she walked the Pattern, then realized that Brand wasn't all powerful in that time and place, she had the confidence she needed to defeat him. Not quite as difficult as defeating him when he had access to all of his powers, but impressive nonetheless."

I nodded absently. I wasn't inclined to hold a grudge--Dad screwed up and paid the price, and he had certainly forced Buffy into the situation. On the other hand, there was a remaining practical problem. "So, Fiona's sending me to see someone who has not one but two reasons to hate my guts? Nice lady--suddenly I wish I had gone after her instead of Bleys."

Merlin snickered. "Bleys has been willing to let you off the hook-- Fiona would have you serving as a harem eunuch somewhere." I shuddered, and Merle added, "I've had a long talk with her--she wanted to meet someone closer to her age for some perspective, and Dad sent her my way. She knows you're not gunning for her father any more, and she's nowhere near as vindictive as a lot of our relatives are. Turn on the charm, let her know that you're not after her, and that you'd like to make peace with her. Worst case scenario--she charges at you howling for blood. You're older, more experienced, twice her size, a fully trained sorcerer, and you're lugging around Werewindle. No worse than even money you'll kick her ass."

"Your confidence in me is heart-warming, Merle." I took another slug from the third Mai-Tai, then looked back at Merlin. "She's been a professional demon hunter since she was fifteen? Before she walked the Pattern?"

Merlin nodded. "She's good, even with her limited training from our end of things. Random sent her out on a diplomatic mission a while back, involving single combat to secure a trade deal. She KO'ed a woman taller than you and almost as strong with her bare hands, in less than fifteen minutes, without either of them being seriously injured."

I whistled. "Not too shabby. So Fiona and Benedict are tutoring her personally?"

Merlin nodded. "You know Bleys--he's not around much, and Fiona and Benedict like talented prospects, particularly ones who don't mind training hard. Compared to what she's already been through, even Benedict probably doesn't intimidate her all that much. She's like her dad--above average at almost everything. Once she's fully trained, she's going to be a powerful ally--and a very dangerous enemy." He raised his glass to me and suggested, "If I were you, I'd make sure she ends up the former as far as you're concerned. Cheers!"

Merle can be a pain in the ass, but his judgment is generally spot on when he's got good information--and he apparently knew Buffy almost as well as anyone in Amber did. I prepared for the journey, and was about to leave when a sudden matter at home diverted my attention and almost made me miss Buffy's departure. It took a convenient Trump and a five minute sprint to get me there in time.

I was taken aback when I saw her--Merle had described her as petite, but the young woman scowling at me was little larger than Fiona: hardly the image I had expected for the person who had become the de facto Battle Maiden of the House of Amber. A moment's study dispelled any doubts I had that she was all Merle had described her as, though--she had the same confident look that one of my uncles would have before facing a dangerous battle.

I followed Merle's advice and turned on the charm, and Corwin did me a favor by not nudging her in the direction of paranoia--which, to be fair, is not an unreasonable attitude when dealing with family members. I still appreciated the fact that Corwin had not simply dispatched me when we were forced into fighting one another--he is a man of honor, and his rather significant role in my father's death does not change that in my eyes.

In any event, Buffy consented to receiving my assistance, and we bade Corwin farewell and began to ascend the ghostly stairway. I've been in Tir-na Nog'th more than probably any other Amberite other than my father, and the key to getting there--if you don't have a handy Pattern or friend to get you up there fast--is not to look down. Even an experienced warrior who can receive a charge from twenty bloodthirsty barbarians with an amused smile on his face can find it a bit unnerving to ascend the ghostly stair, which shimmers and seems to distort distances on the way up. At one point, I glanced over my shoulder and saw that Buffy's eyes were carefully fixed on the center of my back--Corwin had obviously briefed her well. I smiled reassuringly at her, and we continued our ascent.



He looked back at me once, to make sure I was all right. I suppose that one of my aunts or uncles might have chosen to take offense at the implication that I couldn't handle a little stair climb without being checked on, but I thought it was nice of him; admittedly, I wouldn't want to face Corwin after I did a thousand foot header off the staircase if I were him, either.

Climbing the staircase was weird--Corwin had warned me that the experience would be different from any similar climb I'd had before, but I hadn't been prepared for the actual experience. I tried listening to my heartbeat and measuring my steps, but my senses felt muffled, and I found that I had a hard time keeping count of my steps, though my feet fell and rose regularly as we continued to climb. Before I knew it, we had reached the top, and Rinaldo stepped aside and let me see the view: a shimmering, ghostly image of Amber City as it would appear from the great seaward stair on the face of Kolvir, which Corwin and my own father had fought on so ferociously many years ago. It was beautiful, and I just stood there and looked for what felt like a pretty long time before Luke cleared his throat. I turned, and he commented, "I know how it feels--I had never seen Amber in person when I first came up here, and I couldn't stop looking. . .but we're on the clock."

I nodded and asked, "All right, you're the expert--what now?"

Luke frowned and his brow knit for a moment before he replied, "Your dream didn't give you any blatant clues other than to come here, from what Fiona said. There's no time to search the whole city, and even the most important locations will take more time than we have. . .we need to narrow our search down, somehow."

"OK--that's the what, now what about the how?" I wasn't coming up with any ideas, and I glanced edgily at the full moon as it continued to cross the cloudless sky.

"You'll need to enter the right state of mind--block out everything but your purpose for being here, without overly obsessing about it, and allow your instincts to guide you." Luke replied, walking next to me and smiling reassuringly as he explained: "Blocking out other concerns will cut down on the number of irrelevant visions you have-- not getting obsessive about it will keep your own mind from distorting the message that you're supposed to be getting." I must have looked puzzled, because he seemed to think again for a moment before saying, "It's like how dowsers--water finders--with real power have to work. They need to concentrate, but if they're too fixated on finding water, they'll start picking up readings that aren't real, or true readings that don't do them any good--like water a thousand feet down in solid granite or over the horizon. Your Pattern abilities work in somewhat the same way--they give you the detection ability you need, but you have to keep it from being distorted by their ability to actually warp reality and destroy what you're looking for. . .am I making any sense here?"

I smiled at him. "As much as I'm going to make of it without giving it a try--you'd make a good teacher, Luke." I looked at Werewindle hanging at his hip and asked, "How much help can we get from that sword if the visions decide to be dodgy?"

"Two, maybe three times in the course of the evening, and only for a few minutes each--it's not an exact science." Luke looked down at his sword and frowned before looking back up at me and shrugging. "You'll have to pick your spots, which means trusting your judgment. Didn't you used to make a living using your abilities to kick ass and have divine flashes of inspiration?"

I laughed bitterly and waited a moment before replying, "Yeah, that was me--Intuition Girl. I don't suppose you ever made love to your significant other--who just happened to be a vampire--and caused them to lose their soul, after which they murdered one of your best friends and tried to destroy the world, did you?"

Luke blinked, then thought a few moments before saying quietly: "No, actually. On the other hand, did you ever have to have your marriage to the woman you'd been promised to since you were eight years old annulled when it turned out that she was your aunt, and that she'd been knocked up by your favorite cousin--who you'd just recently reconciled with after trying to kill him for years and imprisoning him in a crystal cave?"

I blinked, then stared briefly before studying my fingernails for a moment. Merlin left out a lot of the good parts I looked back at Luke, smiled, and said simply, "OK, maybe I don't have the worst intuition in all of creation--why don't we give this a shot?"

Luke grinned and bowed slightly as he inclined his head to the path into the city. "After you, milady."

I shook my head in bemusement--it had already been a long day--and took a moment to clear my mind before looking ahead and walking briskly towards the center of the city.



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. . ."


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