It gets kinda rough on the puck...
Chapter 11: "It gets kinda rough on the puck... "She was back in that dismal abandoned warehouse where they'd tracked Angelus, just after first Angelus and then Jasmine's minion, the Beast had taken their turns beating her almost to death. Coughing up blood and scrabbling backwards in a futile attempt to back away from the Beast.
"So this is a Slayer," the Beast was looking down at her with those almost human eyes, that deceptively gentle and compassionate gaze fixed on her. "I was told that the Slayer possessed great strength."
She spit blood at him, watching Angelus laughing behind him. Laughing at her with Angel's face. She tried to lever herself up, fell back gasping from the pain of shattered ribs. "This is all that you are?" The Beast looked down, shaking his head in disgust, "There is no power here. I had heard the slayer possessed great strength, but there's no real power here. My master's power is beyond all limits, beyond your petty imagining. You are weak. You're nothing. You cannot even defeat me." He stalked forward as she edged back shaking her head in denial, "Is this all that you are? Is this really all that you encompass?"
She tried to say 'No', and the words wouldn't come out. All she could so was shake her head wordlessly and try again to come to her feet and keep fighting. Try once again, and fail.
The Beast raised its arms, preparing to strike what she knew was going to be her death blow. "Is this really all that you are?"
Her voice wouldn't come, and she was going to die. She tried to force out the words, and then heard them coming from elsewhere... in a voice that was her own but wasn't. "No. It's not."............................................................................
She swam sluggishly back to wakefulness, hearing her own voice repeating over and over, like some defiant mantra, "It's not. It's not all. It's not
... " Before she ever reached the surface of the waking world, darkness swam up and claimed her again, dragging her back down...............................................................................She was drowning in sunlight, that was the first thing that struck her mind. Sunlight and trees. She picked herself up off of the ground and leaves, brushing forest mold and bits of twig from her hair, looking around. Trees everywhere. Huge trees, as far as her eyes could see, with golden beams of sunlight slanting down through the canopies above like something in one of those fantasy paintings.
She felt a pain shoot through her side, like a small, hot knife, and groaned, reaching to press her palm against her ribs. Hard leather met her fingers, cool and smooth. She looked down at herself in surprise to find herself covered from neck to toe in gleaming black and gold leather and steel. She recognized it: the armor she'd worn at the Battle of the Pit. No longer slashed in a hundred places and covered in gore and ichor, but the same.
Faith raised her hand before her face examining the leather gauntlet encasing it and flexed her fingers, wondering. "No. It's not," she spoke back to the echo from the previous dreaming. "It's not all that I am. It's not."
"Of course it isn't," the voice came from behind her and off to one side, some distance away and she whirled, startled. "It never was."
A female voice, attached to a female type person, naturally. There was no threat in the other woman's posture or demeanor, and Faith relaxed, giving her a wary nod that was returned in kind. She looked the intruder to her dreaming mind over carefully, and curiously.
Short, wavy chestnut hair with a slight auburn tinge. Bright blue eyes - the blue of the hottest part of a flame - in a sharp face that managed to be both striking, elegant, and obscenely cheerful at the same time. Shorter than Faith. Hell... shorter than B even, but no one looking at her would ever make the mistake that 'small' meant 'pushover'. Not twice, anyway. She was wearing a lacy bloused shirt over flowing dark blue pants tucked into high leather soft-soled boots. There was a long knife in a beaded scabbard at one hip under an elaborately embroidered dark green vest, and a tooled and engraved leather satchel depending from a shoulder strap. Several smaller tooled pouches hung from the embroidered sash around her waist. She was leaning casually on a quarterstaff some foot or so taller than she was, watching Faith examine her back.
Faith grinned and ambled over like a lazy cat, stopping when the smaller woman had to angle her head back slightly to look up at her.
"So... " she said, looking down. The other woman's eyes twinkled. "I'd have been expecting Cordy."
"Guess not," the small woman shook her head. Her voice was deeper and huskier than Faith would have expected from someone that size. "She must've had other callings."
"Ah. Powers That Be still not interested in this, then?" Faith cocked her head slightly.
"Nope. Not a sent vision. This one's entirely yours."
Faith nodded, slowly. 'Uh huh. Slayer dream? I thought... " She made a vague gesture with a gloved hand.
"They're not all about demons, apocalyptic visions, obscure warnings, and visions of past slayers, Faith." The other woman grinned. "Sometimes, they're just a place in your head for you to get away for a bit and sort things out."
"Cool. Take a vacation and never leave the burg," Faith snickered. "What about that bit earlier? The Beast... ?"
"Normal dreaming. Nightmare. Your subconscious playing games with your soul while you're unconscious."
"Good. I think I've grown a bit, but I really don't want to face that again right now."
The other woman nodded, and glancing around, took a step over and settled comfortably on a fallen log, laying her quarterstaff to one side of her. She gestured at a boulder across from her and a few feet away. "You don't have to. Have a seat."
Faith nodded again and wandered over a bit to sit with her back leaning against the moss covered rock. She groaned as she settled down and reached to rub at her left shoulder with gauntleted palm.
"Still hurt?" Those bright blue eyes were sympathetic.
"Yeah. No... kinda. Mostly itches something fierce," Faith changed her mind part way through. "And can't scratch it. Fucking figures."
"You could lose the armor," the other woman cocked her head. "You really don't need it as much anymore."
"Yeah... " Faith felt a sudden reluctance to divest herself of the mail, but the itching was driving her nuts. She levered herself up again, searching for the buckles and catches that had to be there. They weren't. "Oh, fucking great. It won't come off."
"You could will it away," the small woman suggested, eyes merry.
"Just like that, huh?" Faith snickered, then froze and fixed her gaze on the dream woman. "Waitaminnit. This armor's one of those metaphor things, right?" She snorted. "Smart ass."
"Hey - it is a dreaming. Of course it's filled with metaphors," the small woman grinned infectiously. "They might be prompted by the Slayer Essence, but it's your head."
"Yeah, and it's using whatever building blocks they can find in the trash heap," Faith laughed, but it was a sour laugh.
"Lots more up there than trash," the woman said in a matter of fact tone. "But you know that already. Trashing yourself is an easy habit, isn't it?"
Faith glared at her, then snorted. "Yeah. I even know why I do it. Doesn't help."
"I know," there wasn't anything sarcastic or condescending in the reply, and it took the steam out of whatever Faith had intended to follow up with.
"Yeah." She looked down at the armor again, then over at the other woman and cocked her head slightly. "Just will it away, huh? You make it sound so simple."
"Simple. I didn't say it was easy, did I?"
"No. You didn't." Faith agreed. "Y'know... if this is made from a metaphor, then there's reasons why I built it for myself, right?"
The smaller woman nodded. "Good ones, too. But... do they really still apply, when you think about them? Do you really have to keep everything out still? Or haven't some of the only good things you've seen over the past years come only once you dropped the armor a bit and let things come in and touch you?"
"Huh." Faith folded her arms across her chest and regarded the other woman, getting back only an impassive and uncomfortably sympathetic gaze. She leaned her head back and looked at the inside of her eyelids instead, thinking. Finally, "Where only the things that you've touched can save you... Yeah." She opened her eyes again and looked over. "Guess the Pit didn't teach me that hard enough, huh?"
"It did. You're just still processing it," the other woman said, softly. "Simple, not easy, right? Takes awhile for change to go from the head to the core of your Self."
"Right." Faith closed her eyes again and thought about the gleaming black armor, and how damned comfortable the leather and steel felt. How... natural, walling her off. Then she thought about Blade, and King, and Abby. And about Wes, Dawn, and Angel... how letting them in past the defenses hadn't hurt the way she'd been afraid it would. She nodded and started to picture herself, in something else. Something less... forbidding.
A sudden thought struck her and she cracked one eye open and gave the woman a suspicious look, "This isn't just some way to get me out of the armor and get yourself a freebie peek show, is it?"
The other woman started laughing so hard she almost fell off of her log. "Damn, you caught me. Almost worked, too," she snickered. "No, it's not. Sorry - I don't swing quite that way. Goddess - you're so damned suspicious."
"Hey, it's kept me alive a few times," Faith grinned, then went back to what she'd been doing. Simple, not easy, huh? She didn't use them as often as she probably should - she just wasn't a meditation kind of girl - but Sensei Kanno and Master Caine *had* taught her meditation techniques, including visualization. So had Diana, along with lucid dreaming, before she'd been... before she'd died. Faith forced that particular visualization out of her mind. She'd also learned centering exercises - those had been actually useful to her at the time for combat.
Hokay... center. Deep breaths. Regular breaths. Calm. Visualize what you want, see yourself as you want to be right now. This is a dream, after all... Faith gathered a clear mental image, finally, of herself as she was, covered head to toe in gleaming thick black leather and golden steel. She carefully erased the armor, replacing it first with an image of what she saw in the mirror naked, then... hrrrm. What did she want? Something comfortable... ok. Black much-washed wife-beater, so comfortable it's almost falling apart, but not quite. Loose cutoffs, not the skin tight and spray painted on ones she'd wear to get male - or female - attention: the type you'd wear to lounge around the house in, if she had a house. So faded they're almost worn through in places from too much washing. Shoes? The forest floor had looked comfortable... but Faith had been in woods enough to know that that was deceptive. Shoes then. Not running shoes... she finished off with a pair of old tennis shoes, comfortable black Converse like she'd had as a kid.
Now hold that image - fix it in the mind's eye, so that it doesn't fade away. Hold it until it becomes a natural part of the dreaming...
Faith opened her eyes and looked down. Coolness - just like she'd pictured. She felt like she'd dropped about forty pounds and gained a LOT of freedom of movement. Well... almost cool. There was a huge purplish black bruise covering her entire left shoulder and down into her upper ribs on that side. Ow. And it still itched. She scratched fiercely at her side for a few minutes, reveling in the escape from the itching.
"ow." Faith worked her shoulder gingerly, and looked over at the small woman, meeting the brilliant eyes. "Guess I'm hurt pretty bad, back there, huh?"
The other woman nodded, "Yeah. But you're getting better."
Nod. "Any idea how long... ?"
"How long you've been out?" She shook her head, "No. Sorry... no idea how long before you drew me here, and it's kind of a timeless place."
"S'allright. Just curiosity." Faith nodded and settled in cross legged back against the warm boulder, stretching. "As long as nothing kills me while I'm unconscious."
"I think that you're being guarded while you're out. Friends... ?" The small woman looked distant for a moment, then shook her head. "Your subconscious doesn't feel threatened. Wary, yes, but not afraid. I don't think you're in danger right now." She paused for a bit, then, "It's always a concern, but not at the moment."
"Wicked. I could use the break," Faith said, with a bit of a sour tone. "Huh. Ok... so, who are you?"
The small woman cocked her head and grinned, eyes dancing. "I think you know already."
Faith gave her an even sourer expression. "Yanno? I got real damned tired of that game the last time around. If you want to play it, go ahead. Clean the ceiling when you're done jerking off." She looked around, spotting a broad trail through the trees, "Me, I'll go take a hike through the woods and see what else is out here that's like, entertaining and enlightening and shit."
The other woman's expression became immediately apologetic. "Peace. No game - I'm not jerking with your head. I'm no Walter Slovotsky to be a sarcastic ass and screw with someone in the middle of something important." She gave Faith a rueful look, "It really is better if you figure it out, but if you honestly can't I'll tell you. Promise."
"Huh." Faith studied the other woman a bit, glaring, then jerked her head in a nod. Her shoulder hurt, her side itched something fierce, and her head hurt. She really *didn't* want to go stomping off through the woods all pissed off instead of sitting here comfortable and shooting the shit. But she would... she really wasn't in a mood to want to get jerked around by dream people. "All right. Done - peace."
Faith studied the small woman carefully, then closed her eyes, sifting through several years of encounters and assorted debris. That outfit did feel familiar somehow. So did the eyes and hair... someone she'd met, once? Maybe. That didn't feel right, somehow. Digging deeper, letting random memories and associations flow through her mind's eye, a connection hit suddenly and she examined it. Then rejected it... only to draw it back up and re-examine it carefully.
She opened her eyes and gave the woman a curious look. "Tail-kinker to Ennien."
"Got it in one." The small woman grinned. "Evan Wilson, at your service."
*snicker* "Huh." Faith cocked an eyebrow. "I'm going to owe Abby and Vi an apology."
"Oh? Why?" The other woman lifted an eyebrow.
"I told them that the only people I see in Slayer Dreams are real ones, living or dead, except for the ones I drew to me for the Pit battle. Guess I was wrong."
"Ah." Evan nodded, then looked thoughtful. "Not wrong, maybe. Not... complete?"
"Mind explaining that?" Faith gave her a puzzled look.
"I'm not sure I can." The other woman's turn to close her eyes, frowning. "Ok... maybe. 'Real' and 'Unreal' aren't quite as solid as people like to think. Like these 'Slayer Dreams' of yours. They encompass real people and real memories that the Slayer Essence sends you, right? Real events, even if they haven't happened yet, or metaphoric echoes of real events mixed to send a message?" Faith thought about that for awhile, then nodded.
"Yah. I think I'm with you so far. I see past Slayers in some and the events they lived through and died from - teaching dreams. They're 'real' in that they actually happened, but they're 'unreal' in that they happened in the distant past. And the echo of B - Buffy - that I see in my head is a metaphor of my impressions of a real person mixed with a bit of her essence left over in my head. Not 'real', but she is 'real', too."
"I think so, if I understand that right." Evan grinned. "I'm feeling my way through this too. I'm not one hundred percent sure how it all works."
"Join the club. Apologies - it's not a real exclusive one or anything." Faith grinned, and the other grinned back.
"It's ok. I've never been all that exclusive a person," she remarked. "The Multiverse is a huge place, and the lines between imagination and 'real' aren't always that clearly marked. The Sea of Dreams touches everything in the Multiverse, and in places like this, it can allow them to flow both directions."
"Sea of Dreams?" Faith frowned.
"Sea of Dreams. The... what flows out of the Mind of the Dreamer. The One Who Dreams." Evan made a frustrated gesture, "For all of this to exist, Someone had to Dream it all up into existence. The One Who Shapes and Creates."
"Sounds like God," Faith's frown grew even deeper. "Yanno? Might sound funny coming from someone who kills vampires, fights demons, and who's seen Hell and knows that it exists... but I don't believe in God. Gods maybe, but not God."
"I don't either," Evan laughed. "Not in the sense that you mean it or a lot of people mean it."
"All powerful, all knowing, all seeing, all loving and shit?" Faith snickered. "Haven't seen much evidence of that." Her brow furrowed, "Prolly a good thing, too. If I had seen hard evidence of some omnipotent Being who set all of this in motion, knowing how it would go, and who causes - or allows - all of the crap I've seen to happen just because it fits some Cosmic 'Plan'... I think I'd be forced to find some way to hunt Him/Her/It down and do a Dell Ammo on its ass."
"Hah." Evan nodded, "Have to say - I'd be inclined to help you."
"In the hands of Infinite Power and Infinite Sadism, yeah," Faith gave her a wolf's grin. "That just doesn't work for me. It's not that I can't believe that's the way the universe works - it'd fit reality - I just don't believe it."
"I understand. I agree with you, even," Evan nodded again. "No... there *is* a Will to the Universe, but it's not a conscious one, I don't think. Something set the Dream and the Great Wheel in motion and everything flowed out of it, and there's a beginning and end to things and an inevitable conclusion. But the Dreamer doesn't watch the show and manipulate the parts to make things happen or flow any certain way. They just... flow. The Sea of Dreams - the essence of the mind of the Dreamer if you would - gives shape and cohesion to the flow, and connects it all together."
"'Cohesion'. If you're going to go using big words at me and shit, I'm waking up," Faith said in a sardonic tone. Even snickered.
"Yeah, right. You're about as stupid as I am, pretenses to the contrary," she said.
"Hey - I'm just a mindless thug, din't they tell you? Beat, rend, kill. Party much after." Faith grinned.
"Right." The smaller woman shook her head, smiling. "That's kind of a bad thing in a way, that 'Unconscious Will'. It leaves an enormous amount of room for various Powers, the Source, Elders, smaller gods, and so-called 'Ascended Beings' to set themselves up as arbiters of how the flow should go, and as shapers of it."
Faith snorted, "Yeah, so I've noticed." She lifted an eyebrow, settling herself in more comfortably. This really wasn't giving her any insight into her waking world problem, unlike a lot of slayer dreams, but hey - she wasn't in any hurry to go anywhere, and it was proving interesting. Besides, the idea of waking up to pain and unhealed injuries didn't really grab her much. "So... multiverse. That means, I guess, that you're real somewhere, just *here* you're a fictional character. Which is why I was able to draw you into a slayer dream of mine for whatever reason."
The other woman gave a startled look, "Right. I did get kind of off track there, din't I?"
"No worries. Didn't mind the detour or I'd have grabbed the wheel."
"Ha. Yeah... basically. Real and Unreal aren't all that discrete. Some things are just fiction.... but sometimes, an especially strong dreamer or an especially lucid imagination can dip into the Sea of Dreams and pull out an impression of things from elsewhere along the line, and it influences and shapes their imaginings."
Nod. "Multiverse. Multiple worldlines?" Faith's brow furrowed again.
"Yes." Evan nodded. "There's not just one Universe. There's a not quite infinity of them. Some of them are reflections or minor variations of each other - places where the possibilities took branching paths; some of them are so strange that they'd be unrecognizable as 'reality' to someone from a different set of probabilities."
"Huh." Faith was quiet for some time after that, gazing off into the depths of the trees. Her companion let the silence gather and fall between them, not breaking it.
"You know?" Faith stretched finally, wincing when her shoulder twinged at the movement. "When I was in that eight month coma, I had a lot of dreams. Different lives... none of them mine, but I was in all of them. My lives... but not?"
Her companion nodded, "Yes?"
"Kinda like Harmony's bank of TV's," Faith closed her eyes and leaned her head back. "There was one... it came back over and over, even after it played itself out. I came to Sunnydale to try and find a place, like I did here, and found one. Not some 'Faith version' of Buffy's Scoobie Gang, but friends, hunting partners... family. Things still went bad at points between me and B and the Watchers an' all, but... it didn't go quite as bad as it did here. And I didn't do it by myself until it all crashed in on me."
"Bad kind of goes with the territory sometimes," Faith couldn't see the other woman's sympathetic expression, but she could feel it in her tone. "It doesn't always have to be crushing bad, though."
Faith nodded, "Yeah. Bad I can deal with - I never knew 'good' growing up. Crushing bad.... there's only so much you can take, you know? Before you start giving in to it and feeling that's all you rate. And start creating more of it."
"This... this Faith though, that didn't happen to her. She managed to pull herself back from it, with help, and did something else. Became something else." Faith paused for a time, not opening her eyes.. "What I'm asking, I guess, is... was that a reality? Or was it just something my head made up while I was out of it?"
"Does it matter?" Faith thought about the question for a long time, and Evan let her.
Finally, she looked inside of herself, searching, and came up to the surface. She met her companion's eyes evenly. "Yes. It does. I need to know if there's places out there where I didn't fuck up, where things went right or at least better. Versions of me where things didn't go all to shit just because I was a part of them and that's the only effect I was capable of having."
Evan considered that for a time, and looked off into some distance, then nodded. "Yes. It was real. This worldline is an Anchor Line: a number of realities and reflections flow outwards from the choices and events here, like ripples from a rock."
She paused, then added, "The other 'you' wasn't you though. She was a different person after all that happened, and she became something different."
"That's ok, really. She started out the same... same influences," Faith shook her head. "Not like I'm going to try and find some mage to insert me over there and go take over her life or nuthin'. I'm all past that. I just... wanted to know that I wasn't kidding myself all those months and years, that things could have gone different if I'd made different choices, found different people, y'know?"
"I know." Faith's companion smiled, nodding. "You know also, or you need to, that this wasn't as bad as it could get. There are reflection worldlines where the choices you made were worse, and worse came of them. You haven't done all that badly, in spite of all that you've been through. And you have the opportunity to become something even more than that other Faith did."
"Yeah." Faith regarded her thoughtfully. "I'm not looking to escape this life. Been there... I'm done with the fantasies of how 'all this was did to me' and shit. Happened, sucks, and I had a lot to do with it too. I've put paid to all that and accepted that it's what is. I'm just... trying to figure out how to get from here to where I'm going without having to do all of that again. Or without becoming one of those 'something worse' lines you mentioned." She paused, "I didn't have to dream about any of those to see how I could have gone there, how I still can. Scares the shit out of me sometimes." Faith gave a rueful sounding laugh, "Sometimes? Try: all of the times."
"Yeah. The darkness is still in there, isn't it?"
"Always will be, I think." Faith shuddered. "There's a part of me that likes what I was, and longs to give in to where it almost took me."
"You don't have to give in to it. I think you know that now," Evan said. "That darkness isn't necessarily a curse. It's a source of strength, too. You just don't have to become it to use it." She cocked her head slightly, "You'll be ok, Faith. Just keep going the directions you are, and make the best choices you can when you get to them."
"'S'all about the choices, yup. Ones we make, the ones we don't," Faith nodded. "Angelus said that... probably the only worthwhile thing that bastard ever gave anyone."
"Just because someone's an evil, sadistic bastard doesn't mean they can't make a difference," Evan laughed and Faith joined in.
"Yeah. Gots that right," Faith quirked a half grin at the other woman. "I know that he really *was* an evil bastard, but that's something I learned from Mayor Wilkins. He helped to fuck me up a lot, but he also made a difference, too. He showed me that someone really could care, beyond just what I could do for them or because I was a useful tool to them." Faith held up her hand to forestall an objection the other woman wasn't making, "Yeah, I know that there was a lot of that, too: I'm not an idiot. I was a useful tool. But he didn't have to do all of the other stuff he did, the little stuff, not just to use me, aim me, and fire me. I'd have been a weapon for him without all that by that point, just for a paycheck and a bit of attention, and a chance to matter to someone. He didn't have to care, too."
"It's never just black and white, is it? Good, Evil, care/not-care, love/hate. It's always all mixed up together in everyone, isn't it." Evan said finally.
"Yeah, I think so. Maybe less for some people," Faith's eyes were distant. She came back to the clearing and looked at the other woman curiously, "So... why are you discussin' all this with me, anyway? It doesn't seem to really have much to do with the current sitrep, y'know?"
"Maybe because the current situation's not all that big in regards to what's going on with you?" The other woman grinned. "You're stronger than your enemy. As long as you keep your head and use what's at your disposal, and within yourself, she really doesn't have a chance at you. Just don't die." Faith snorted, and Evan went on, "All of this though... you have a lot of paths ahead of you, and choices you'll make that will shape things, including yourself. You're going to be... large once you get there. I think that's why you drew me here, out of all of the possible choices you could have drawn. I know about large, and about choices."
Faith regarded her critically, measuring her. "You're a bit of a Power yourself where you come from, right?" The other woman seemed to look into herself briefly, then nodded. "A trickster spirit?"
"Not a spirit, but definitely a Trickster," she said. "Your closest analogy here would be your Coyote or Saunaday."
"Not mine - I don't think I'm Amerind anywhere in me. But... "
"I'm not setting you up for anything, Faith. Or playing some elaborate prank on you." The woman met Faith's eyes straight on, not flinching away from the searching gaze.
"Not quite where I was going with that, but we can run with it," Faith's lips curled in a half smile. "Why not? Isn't that what Tricksters do?"
Evan's voice was full of laughter, "Well... yeah. But I don't think I'm going to prank you. You've had about enough of that, hey? More... " She spread her hands, obviously searching for words. "If you hadn't drawn me here, I probably wouldn't ever have noticed this worldline, or your situation. But since you have... I that find a lot of things here... " She trailed off, then found what she was searching for: "Offend me."
"Know that feeling," Faith's tone was ironic.
"Yeah," those blue eyes sparkled. "So... Tricksters are beings of Change. We like to shake up the status quo. Especially when there's a chance that something for the good might come out of it, if we're inclined that way. Especially if it gives us a chance to kink the tails of those who like to style themselves as 'Powers' and mess with people's lives for reasons that really aren't their business or under their purview."
"Purview?" Faith's brow furrowed.
"Ah," Faith nodded, filing it away. Increase your Word Power, the deamwalker's way. "Isn't that kind of hard on the playin' pieces they kinda consider under their 'purview'? If they notice and object? Not sure I like the idea of being some kind of multiversal hockey puck gettin' kicked around so you can joke off the PTB. Gets kinda rough on the puck."
Evan shrugged, "Then don't play. When you get to those choices, follow the ones that take you in the direction this 'PTB' has laid out for your 'Destiny'."
"*snicker* I could hear the air quotes around 'destiny' like you wrote it in fire," Faith grinned. "Take it you don't think much of that concept?"
"To quote a certain wise young woman I've met: 'It gets kinda rough on the puck'," Evan grinned, and Faith laughed. "No, I don't think much of the concept. Our destiny is what we make of it. The flows of the Sea of Dreams aren't graven into stone channels, to mix some analogies. Trying to make them so often screws up more than it helps.... only the Dreamer really has 'authority' to reshape the Dreaming. And He/She/It doesn't."
"And you know this becuz... ?" Faith's voice was dry, but her eyes were delighted.
"Becuz I'm a product of the Sea of Dreams, and I've been around for a long time. Hundreds of Names, hundreds of faces. I've traveled those Seas to and fro a long way, and observed a lot," Evan said. "Maybe not quite as much or for as long as the Shrugger of Thunder has... but I get around," she winked.
"So... " Faith pursed her lips with a thoughtful expression, "We come back around again, and the circle's back where we started."
"So... " The other woman shrugged. "When you come to those choices that others have laid out for you, if you don't like where they take you or where you see them taking you - Choose and Choose Again. You are what you Choose. Simple as that."
"Simple, not easy, right." Faith snickered again. "Got that part."
"Yup, to steal a phrase." Evan inclined her head, eyes merry. "I'm not a fan of making other people's choices for them. No one has that right, nor that authority. No one, not mortal nor immortal, has that right. It renders free will and autonomy irrelevant, and that's an offensive thing." She paused, considering, then... "Since you drew me here out of the Sea of Dreams by whatever touched you in the book you found me in... I made a choice to let you know that there's broader choices out there than any 'Destiny' you're being force fed. Offer you at least some of the knowledge that might help you pick the choices that are right for you, when the time comes - not 'right' for some idiotic Powers. For you." She met Faith's eyes evenly, "But I'm not going to trick you or force you into it. Choose and Choose again. Whatever you choose - you'll become more than you are. But you might choose to become all that you are."
"But you won't tell me what that is," Faith remarked.
"I can't." Evan's eyes became sad. "I'd like to, but on this... I can't. Telling you might remove those choices from you."
"Heisenberg's?" Faith suggested.
Evan raised an eyebrow. "Presence of the Observer? I'm impressed."
"Hey - I read a book, once." Faith snickered. "Go figger, huh?"
"Whoda thunk it," she laughed in return and examined Faith carefully, with a newer respect. "You don't use that just to put yourself down, do you? There's really a lot more to you than meets the eye, isn't there."
"Thanks ever so for noticing," Faith said. They both laughed. Faith cocked her head sardonically, "I'm really not stupid, you know. But... it helps to have people still think I'm ignorant. Shows them what they want to see - what they expect to see."
"I can see where that would be useful, yes," her companion said, gravely. "Hrmmm... maybe I do have something to offer on your current business."
Faith lifted an eyebrow, "Yes... ?"
"Your opponents will give themselves to you, if only you'll let them. Just be careful that you don't give yourself to them, first." Evan looked thoughtful, "I suspect that you were already figuring that out, and how to apply it to the problem. Maybe this will help you shape your options."
Faith looked at her, then into the distance, running that through her mind's eye in connection with the half-formed ideas she'd been assembling for dealing with her vampire issue. She came back to the discussion and nodded. "Thanks. I think it did make a few things click, or it will."
"No problem. Its source is from something you haven't encountered yet, but you will at some point. I don't think it'll hurt to draw the reference back to the here and now." Evan raised an eyebrow, "It's a good operating principle for a Warrior."
"'Warrior'." Faith rolled the word around on her tongue and tasted it. "That's just a ten dollar word meaning 'Killer'."
Evan regarded her, then pursed her lips and lifted an eyebrow. Not quite granting the concession, but not contesting it, either. "That's not all that it encompasses."
"S'ok. That which I am, I fucking am. I'm all right with that, now," Faith regarded her back. "I'm just a lot pickier about what I kill and why, these days."
"And therein lay the entirety of the difference," her companion stated. "Warriors choose, and they kill - or don't - for something more than just battle lust and convenience. Killers don't have that anchor."
Faith was silent for a time, thinking that one through carefully. She considered her past, and then the Pit and the things she'd seen and felt there and the insights that had come from that darkling place. She nodded. "Point taken. I'll remember it."
"It's a good distinction. There's others, but that one is a good one to hang on to, if you need an anchor," Evan said. She trailed off after that, and they sat together in a more or less companionable silence for some time. Finally, after a long while had passed, the smaller woman sighed and stood easily, picking her quarterstaff up from its resting place and settling it firmly in her hand.
"Leaving already?" Faith asked.
"It's been longer than you're aware of, and I believe that your Reality is beginning to intrude upon your awareness," the woman smiled, looking down at her. Faith felt a... rippling around her, that was the only thing she could think of to describe it.
"So it is," Faith drew her feet under herself and stood easily, regarding the smaller woman. "Will I see you again?"
"Maybe... " Evan cocked her head, considering. "Maybe not. It's hard to be certain." She sighed, "You drew me here because you needed me, or someone like me. It's hard to know if you'll have that need again, or if you'll reach into the same places again if you do."
"Yeah... " Faith nodded. "If not... take care of yourself, y'hear?"
"You too," the Trickster regarded her, eyes soft. "Choose well, Faith. And Be Well, also."
"Will do," Faith nodded as another rippling sensation came and went. "By the way... you ever end up in a dreaming with a guy named Andrew Wells... if you ever even breathe to him that I once read a Star Trek novel, I'll find a way to hunt you down on the dreamways and hurt you badly, got it?"
"Got it," Evan replied solemnly, eyes twinkling. She grinned suddenly, blue eyes fierce, "And when you get back, kick that broad's tail for me, hey?"
"Ha!" Faith nodded, eyes bright. "Damn straight." She grinned back as the rippling came again, dissolving the dream ways around her... "She's gonna give herself to me, because I'm going to sucker her in and let her."
And then there was darkness, and pain, and a heaviness to her that she hadn't felt in that other place. "... sucker her in and let her, damn straight,"
she heard herself murmur.