Roberta Tower
Copyright 2001

Chapter 6
Lessons - Going Different Ways

We set out from the beach with Isabeau in the lead followed by Drake. Keladrian and I rode side by side with the Luggage trotting behind us. The move through shadow began again.

Keladrian and I engaged in idle chitchat as the traverse from shadow was going slowly.

"You should give it a name." Keladrian indicated the Luggage.

"It has a name." I replied, "its the Luggage." The Luggage perked up and moved up beside me at the sound of its name. I smiled down at my faithful companion.

"Do you have any pets at home?" I asked Keladrian.

"Something like that." Keladrian was an enigmatic as ever.

I tried a different line. "Do you have any siblings?"

"Lots of them." He said with no elaboration.

It was hard to keep a conversation flowing with him.

I wondered what it would be like to have siblings. The only sibling relations I had to compare to were my aunts and uncles.

"I am the only one, that I know of. At least the only one that Bleys has brought home." I wondered if there were others out there. It could very well be that there were some that even Bleys was not aware of.

Keladrian did not react one way or the other to this statement, nor did he pursue any questions of his own about Amber or my life. I wondered if he had given up trying to get any worthwhile information from me.

I didn't discuss much of import after that and there were periods of silence as we rode. Isabeau was not greatly skilled in shadow walking and the movement through shadow seemed jerky and painfully slow. But then I only had my excursions with Bleys, Fiona and Random to compare it to. They each had their own style of movement. For Isabeau's sake I hoped that this was just inexperience and not her 'style'.

It was almost an hour before we reached a spot that Isabeau indicated was where we would camp and rest the horses. We were still near the ocean but the trees had given way from palms to deciduous and the sky was now gray and the weather was cold and damp. Didn't any of these people travel to cheerful spots with people? There was a small creek coming out of the forest and into the ocean so that the horses would have a supply of fresh water. There was plenty of room to pitch the tent.

We all sat on our horses for a moment surveying the landscape until Drake spoke. "If you can have your Luggage aspirate the tent, I will set it up." Drake dismounted.

I called to the Luggage to provide the tent as I also dismounted. I had determined where I would hobble the horse and started to remove the saddle, bridle and pack. Isabeau, Keladrian and I wordlessly set about the chore of caring for the horses, grooming them, checking hooves and fetlocks and setting out feed and moving them nearer the creek for water. We seemed to fall into a practiced cycle and even took care of Drake's horse in turns without getting in each other's way. I could feel Drake using the Logrus behind us as he set up the tent. The smell of hot food finally drew my attention to his direction.

The tent was up and Drake was raising the side flaps. I left Drake's horse in the care of the others and followed the smell of curried lamb to the tent where Drake had been busy acquiring a dining table and 4 chairs. The contents of the table were beautifully arranged dishes on linen tableware all illuminated in the soft glow of many candles.

"Someone who knows how to camp." I said appreciatively. "I feel like I should dress for dinner." I presume that Drake had pulled this from somewhere in shadow with the power of the Logrus. It appeared that the Logrus had its uses.

"Your choice." Drake replied referring to my dressing for dinner comment. I contemplated for a moment and decided that my mouth was watering too much to wait.
The others came to the table very soon after that and there wasn't much talk as the food was passed around and the eating commenced.

Keladrian was the first to interrupt the feeding frenzy. He asked Drake how traceable the use of Logrus was in providing our repast. There ensued a discussion over what powers we should and should not be using to avoid detection by whatever powers were pursuing us in shadow.

Keladrian kept pressing the point about not casually using our powers. Isabeau stated that she didn't care how detectable it was at the moment as the food was very good and we needed a hot meal. I had to agree with that point, as the meal had been a definite morale booster for me.

The after dinner conversation began to become less serious and move to banter and Keladrian announced that he was going out on a brief scouting jaunt. Drake and I sat and sipped the wine and thought nothing of his leaving. Isabeau excused herself from the table and went outside the tent and sat on the ground. She had a pad of paper and was writing something.

"Tell me about the Courts of Chaos. I am interested as I have never been there." I asked Drake. He seemed in an expansive mood and I desired to take what advantage of that I could.

"Imagine children playing at being the court of Amber. Then compare them to the real thing. That difference is the difference between Amber and Chaos. Chaos is like Amber only older and larger." I felt many different emotions flow through him as he spoke of the Courts of Chaos. I continued asking an open-ended question here and there and used my best listening posture to indicate interest. I hoped to draw him out and gain an insight into his character.

He seemed only too willing to talk about his life at the courts. I discovered that he was an only child from a mother that was not welcome at the courts, as she was not considered a proper consort for his father. She went away while he was still young but his love of music and abilities in that he gained from her. I asked if his father had ever found a proper consort and he responded that his father had never married.

I pondered this and wondered how like or unlike his upbringing was to mine. I never knew my mother; Bleys never spoke of her. Not only to me but also to anyone else that I know of. Was she also not considered a proper consort for a prince of Amber? Was she even still alive?

"Well you at least had others of your age and station to keep you company as you grew." I asked.

His comments told me of a lonely childhood, teased and despised by the children and adults around him. A child barely tolerated and mostly outcast. I was finding much of sympathy for this man. Not trust, but a beginning of understanding of his demeanor and the events that brought him to be the man he is.

He continued speaking of his upbringing and being taught the courtly arts of riding, fencing, dancing and poisons.

"I didn't know that poisons were on the list for formal education." I remarked. This comment elicited an interesting look from Drake. Interpreted as, 'you have just eaten a meal prepared for you by a master poisoner. How are you feeling?'

He made another statement that intrigued me when he said, "I survived the Courts." I wondered if I would have. Had I been taking full advantage of what gifts I had been given? Did I push myself, test myself or just follow the easy downhill path. I had to admit I didn't live up to my own expectations at that moment.

"It sounds like you did not have a very happy childhood." I prompted.

"Children can be cruel when one looks different." He was easy to listen to. His voice was deep and melodious. It would be interesting to hear him sing. His manner of speech was more relaxed and not so pompous and he seemed at ease.

We had been conversing for some time when he asked if I could play chess. The thought of playing chess brought up brutal memories. Chess is not considered a recreational pastime in Amber. At least not the way it was taught to me by my father. It is a simulation in warfare and tactics and 4 dimensional planning. Bleys taught me what tactical nuances I had learned of the game but one did not play chess lightly. I could learn a lot about Drake's abilities in strategy and tactics by playing him in chess, but I had already learned a considerable amount by watching him against the creatures in the last shadow. On the other hand he could learn about my skills in that area. I believed he could learn more from the encounter than I could so therefore I had to decline.

"Not very well. I mean I know how to move the pieces, but I am certain I would provide you no challenge. Is chess your favorite pastime?" I asked him in return playing the vacuous damsel. And moved the conversation back to him. It had been the first time in our discussion that he had asked me a question. He seemed quite interested in talking about himself. He probably thought that he was not providing any information of import to me. But I was gaining a feel for this man and how his life had been molded. If I knew his past I might be able to anticipate his reactions to future situations.

He named off a number of games of which chess and go were included. I recognized several but not all of the games he mentioned. They were all games of strategy. He reminded me of Benedict. The games he named were not played for amusement but for purpose. Another insight about Drake that I filed away. I wouldn't take him on in swords and I made a mental note to not let him see me fight if I could help it. His lack of awareness of my abilities might prove useful.

Our conversation was interrupted when I felt a familiar gathering of power quickly followed by a shout from Isabeau and a flash of blue flame. She flung the pad that she had been drawing on away from her and the blue flame was easily spotted in the dark as it arced toward the creek.

I could tell that this had been a bad accident with Trump. But in all my learning I had never lost control of the energy to this extent. What was she playing at? Surely Fiona had the sense to teach her daughter better. I was angry for no discernable reason. I took a deep breath and asked. "Are you alright?"

"I have things to discuss with my mother." She replied, "If that experience is any indication. That was not an attack, at least not a direct one. " She seemed to be in shock.

"Don't attempt that again. " I warned her. Drake did not seem to be aware of what Isabeau had been trying.

"You should consider yourself lucky that Fiona didn't get to you." Isabeau told Drake. I wondered what this meant. The incident had broken the mood of the evening and it was decided that it was probably time to retire.

Drake did something with the Logrus and the table and its contents slid out of the existence of this shadow. Isabeau stood and started lowering the side flaps of the tent. I wondered aloud if this shadow was plastics friendly and Isabeau replied that it was not. I had the Luggage get a lantern, which I hung inside the tent as the majority of the candles had gone with the table. As we were moving around we suddenly realized that Keladrian had been gone and that approximately 4 hours had passed. Drake volunteered to do an aerial reconnaissance for him.

From comments that he had made earlier I did not think that Drake would find him in this shadow. He had probably taken the opportunity to complete those preparations that had been interrupted back in Amber. I thought that I would have better luck finding him with Trump so went outside the tent and prepared to do a Trump sketch to see if I could contact him. This was the perfect time, Isabeau was arranging bedding and Drake was gone.

I pulled out my paper and pen and gathered the energy. When I laid the pen to paper there was a loud pop and the energy shattered and twisted into something different and the energy released ignited the paper in my lap. I had no time to consider the burning paper but was thankful that I was wearing leather pants. The world spun around me and it was like all the nerve endings in my body misfired. My head spun and my stomach churned, I was left feeling weak and with an enormous headache like the Luggage had tap-danced on my brain. I was not immediately aware that Isabeau had grabbed my paper and put out the fire.

I remember only one coherent thought and that was that when father found out that Fiona's daughter now knew that I was a Trump artist, he was going to kill me.
The incident did open up a dialog between Isabeau and myself. We now had something in common. Neither of us could create a Trump. She wondered if our problem were somehow connected and seemed to be relieved that it wasn't just her that was having the problem.

Apparently Isabeau had believed that something Fiona had done to remove the Logrus from her had inhibited her Trump ability. It was at that same time that both Fiona and Bleys had been knocked unconscious.

I wondered if Fiona had caused this problem or had been in the backlash of what I was experiencing. Obviously my physical distress from the Trump accident was more severe than what Isabeau had experienced.

I wanted to try other facets of Trump power to see just how deep the contagion was and Isabeau agreed that this would be a good idea. We discussed how to do this and I mentioned that the easiest way would be for one of us to contact the other.

Unfortunately I do not have a Trump of myself, I lied to her. And I asked if she had a Trump of herself. She hesitated a moment before she answered in the negative, but that was enough to tell me that she did indeed have a Trump of herself with her. I was sure that I had not given myself away like that. But she was young and it had obviously taken a moment for Fiona's schooling to have kicked in.

By the time Drake returned I was feeling like myself again and we learned that he could not find any trace of Keladrian.

Drake mentioned that he had noticed something strange and asked me to take his hand.

I countered with "Why?"

He then asked if I could tell what he was thinking. I told him orange monkeys and he seemed startled. He then asked me to think of something. I did but he shook his head and turned to Isabeau with the same request. She also told him what he was thinking and in return he told her the color blue. We asked him to elaborate on what he thought he had found but he said never mind.

As I was not tired and had many things to think about I agreed to take the first watch. Drake asked me to wake him for the mid-shift and Isabeau said she would take the early morning watch.

I had no intention of waking either of them up until certain conditions were met. I was not tired and could go for several days with no sleep. I had done it before. I could sleep next time there was an opportunity. By the sounds of breathing I could tell that Drake and Isabeau had dropped off fairly quickly.

I played fetch with the Luggage for a while and thought through everything we knew. Back in Amber I had discovered that father's condition had something to do with the very nature of Trump itself. It occurred to me now after this evening that Fiona's did also. It was because of the severity of the reaction to the Trump problem between Isabeau and myself. I was sure that I was more advanced in the power of Trump than she was. There fore my reaction was more severe. I knew that Bleys was more advanced in Trump than I, more attuned shall we say. It stood to reason that since he and Fiona passed out at the same time that Fiona had advanced skills in Trump as well. The reaction being more severe the more adept you are with the power. That was my favorite theory at the moment. There was another possibility but not as likely. What if I had been in Amber at the time that Fiona and Bleys were knocked out. Would I also be comatose now? Was it distance or ability that had protected me? It had to be Trump connection as no one else in Amber was unconscious. I was pretty sure that no one else in Amber could draw Trump. There was one way to test my theory. I knew that people in Chaos could draw Trump as I had seen them. The question was, were any of them unconscious? Could I get Drake to call Chaos and ask without telling him what I suspected?

Another theory was that what had just occurred in this shadow was not connected to Bleys and Fiona but was a property of this shadow. I could check that theory when we moved from here. I wanted to check that right away but there was no way I could leave this shadow and return if the phenomenon wasn't isolated to this shadow.

The next question was 'who caused this?' Could Fiona have caused it when she was doing whatever it was with Isabeau and removing the Logrus? It was convenient that it happened at about that time. It could be that what Fiona had done had provided a conduit or might have just been coincidental. I don't believe in coincidence, but it could happen.

I pondered many ideas as I walked the beach under the double moons. When I started going around in circles on the subject I turned to the conversations I had with Drake and began logging salient points about him that I had learned through our discourse. Future reference. I reviewed what I had said and planned strategies, alternatives, possibilities and future responses to possible questions from the others. I wanted to leave nothing to chance. I had already let slip too much. Chess. I smiled. Chess with people is much more challenging Drake.

It was almost five hours after the others had turned in when Keladrian made an appearance. He surprised me because I did not feel him coming. Somehow he had acquired shields. I realized that I missed the background noise he had been providing.

"I see you have acquired some mental shielding." I teased him.

He mentioned something about my demonstration at the estate being an eye opener. He was carrying a large bundle with him and he apologized for taking so long and mentioned that the time differential was greater than he had anticipated. Then he said. "I guess they noticed."

"You could say that." I responded.

"It seemed an opportune time." He came back.

"For?" I questioned.

"Things." He replied. I guess our level of trust was not as great as I had believed.

"What's in the bundle?"

"Armor." His replies were short as always. Interesting. He was preparing for battle of some sort.

I brought him up to date on what had happened with the Trump. I did not mention any of the theories that I had been mulling over while I stood watch. Or the conversation with Drake since he seemed to be playing the secrets game again. I must admit that this hurt my feelings. But it was my own fault I had been fantasizing and building up our relationship in my mind into something that it was not. This was my reality check.

I also mentioned that I would like to do some additional experiments to see how much of the Trump power had been compromised.

We agreed for him to contact me via Trump. I responded to his call. His attempt was clumsy but I took the link and began conversing with him mind to mind. I kept my shields tight and did not attempt to breach whatever shields he had in place. I would not be able to judge the efficacy of his shields but then he wouldn't know either. I gained some small satisfaction from that.

I did mention to him that I wasn't sure if the Trump problem was a localized event or not. Keladrian said that was easily fixed and moved us to another shadow. I now knew where Drake had sent the dinner things. Keladrian asked how quickly I would know if the problem was widespread and I said very quickly.

I sat down upon the ground and took out pen and paper. The response here was just as immediate. The sick feeling was just as bad, if not worse, the second time. But my favorite theory on Bleys and Fiona was now strengthened.

Keladrian moved us back to the shadow where Drake and were Isabeau sleeping. I was frustrated by my inability to complete a Trump sketch. This would put a major crimp in my plans. It also left me feeling trapped.

I mentioned to Keladrian that I was only on this trip to help my father who was comatose back in Amber. He seemed surprised by this information and I realized he had missed that part of the conversation that took place in Benedict's room and in the hallway before we got to the library.

There was one other ability with Trump that I wanted to try. This was something I had discovered and I was pretty sure that Bleys was not aware that I could do this since I had never shown it to him. It was my secret. Keladrian would be the first person to see this.

I discovered this ability quite by accident some time ago. If you activate two land Trumps side by side then pull them apart, you can see the lands they connect to strung out between them like paper dolls. These lands can be searched for things you wish to find in shadow. I selected two cards at random from my deck and initialized them. Pulling them slowly apart I was relieved when I saw shadows begin to take form in the void between the cards.

Keladrian asked me what I was doing as he couldn't see anything. It was hard for me to believe, as the effect was so obvious to me. I had just assumed that others could see it as well. I explained about seeing different shadows between the two cards.

It was then that we noticed that Drake was up and I wondered how long he had been standing there listening to us. Keladrian went back to the tent with Drake and I headed to the creek to clean up and change clothes. The water was very cold, about 40 degrees but I stripped down and stepped in anyway. The sheer cold startled a yelp out of me that I guess woke Isabeau. I dressed in jeans and a loose shirt tucked into the jeans. I rebuckled the sword belt on, threw the dirty clothes into the Luggage and headed back to the tent, which Drake was taking down. The rest of us began packing the gear and saddling the horses. Breakfast was trail bars eaten in the saddle. Isabeau packed up the bedding and made sure the water bags were filled.

We fell into the same order as yesterday with Isabeau in the lead. Keladrian and I rode side by side but did not converse. We hadn't ridden very far when we almost rode into the back end of Drake's horse where he and it were frozen in place. It was very strange to see him sitting there unmoving yet obviously in motion. Isabeau had noticed Drakes condition and had turned her horse around. Keladrian and I moved up on either side as we discussed the best solution to the situation. Isabeau warned us not to touch him so that we would not be contaminated with Logrus. She volunteered as she had already been contaminated before. There was a sort of loud pop and Drake was moving again. He and Isabeau examined each other and declared that yes indeed they had been cross-contaminated with Logrus and Pattern though I was unable to tell the difference in them.

We continued on with our journey in slow methodical fashion. At this rate it would be years before we got to Ygg.

After about 5 hours Isabeau stopped for lunch and we discussed methods of getting to our destination quicker. I suggested that perhaps we should use different methods in a random manner and amount of time to try to throw off anyone who was looking for us. That still meant however that Isabeau would be taking a turn at moving through shadow. Keladrian tried to give Isabeau instruction on how to move through shadow more efficiently but found it difficult to communicate that concept.
Keladrian mentioned that he had a form that he could shift to that could travel to shadow. However he could not lead anyone but only take a rider as the form of the horse he was thinking of had that restriction. Isabeau could ride the horse but could not bring anyone through shadow with her. Drake could ride the horse and bring the rest of us through shadow but Keladrian would not let Drake ride him. Isabeau asked Drake if he could shape shift into a horse also and then the two men could take the ladies through shadow but Drake said that he could not change into the horse shape. Drake mentioned that he could turn into his dragon shape and take everyone through shadow except the horses but Keladrian was not in favor of that idea. I must say that I was a bit concerned about us putting all our eggs in one basket if there should be another instance of a time stop.

Keladrian finally suggested that at least he could take Isabeau on a quick jaunt through shadow on his horse form and she might be able to pick up the idea on how to travel through shadow faster. I didn't think this was possible because if she had traveled with Fiona and Bleys as she had mentioned, then she should already have seen how it was done faster. (She had mentioned during the trip that Bleys had taken her through shadow and at that time did not know she was his niece. I had a hard time reconciling that with my image of my father. Why would he take a mere maidservant through shadow? I had an idea that he knew she was more than a maidservant. But then why didn't he tell me that I had a cousin? More questions to ask father if we could ever get him out of a coma.) If she couldn't figure it out from them, how could she have figured it out from a horse?

But Keladrian changed forms into the fey horse anyway. It was strange to watch him go from a bipedal form to a quadruped and wasn't quite as quick as the other times I had seen him shift form. As soon as Keladrian had finished changing, Isabeau mounted bareback and they galloped off into the sky together and quickly disappeared. Neither of them uttered a sound as they left.

Drake and I sat there stunned for a moment about how quickly Isabeau had ridden off on Keladrian. We gathered up the equipment the two had left behind and waited. After an hour they hadn't returned so we decided that it would be best if we continued on the journey. Hopefully the others would be able to find us in shadow no matter where we were and at least we could achieve some progress while we waited for them.

Drake began to search out with the Logrus. When we actually started moving we were going through shadows much more quickly than Isabeau had been taking us. However there was always a long wait while Drake searched through shadows with the Logrus for a shadow to pull toward.

Our first pull brought us to an area next to the base of a high cliff. The trees had orange trunks and purple foliage. There was another long pause before we started moving again. I didn't have much to keep me occupied between the moves and I couldn't converse with Drake, as he was busy. I'm not sure that I was enjoying this method anymore than the previous one. The next stop brought us to a crossroads. There were wagon ruts of various sizes on the wide dirt road in all directions. A tall white wooden obelisk, approximately 12 feet high, stood at the center of the crossroads. But most importantly there was an Inn and people. The sign told us it was the Capital Inn at the crossroads. We could tell it was an Inn and obelisk but the details seemed to keep shifting as if we were experiencing them in a dream-like state where details flowed from one thing to another. The Inn was stone, or maybe wood. The tile roof, was thatch, or maybe slate.

Drake mentioned something about getting something to eat and resting and I said something provocative about other pursuits. He mumbled something under his breath about being forbidden by the Emperor. This comment obviously needed pursuing later.

There was a stable, pasture, corral that we led the horses to and then we entered the Inn.

The inside of the Inn was quite obviously larger than the outside and all manner of beings were enjoying themselves within. A werewolf and a unicorn were playing chess, badly. Two extremely lovely young ladies were sharing a bowl of sludge together using separate straws.

An older woman, young girl approached us and led us to a seat and then left. As we were looking around she returned shortly with exactly what Drake and I wanted to drink.

I opened up my mind and let the impressions of the people flood through me. It was good to have background noise again. I began picking up thoughts from around us and people were looking in our direction. I realized that they knew who and what we were. It seemed strange to them to see a Chaos Lord and an Amberite enter the Inn together. It appeared that we would be starting legends here today.

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Chapter 7
Lessons - Drake and Sword

I sat and sipped my drink and sifted through the reactions I was picking up from the beings around us. What the hell, Drake enjoyed chess, let's make an opening gambit and see what could be revealed.

I stood up and moved around the table to stand beside Drake, leaned down and kissed him on the lips. This close I could see the scales on his skin. He did not resist but also did not participate in the activity. I was amused.

I pulled away and whispered in his ear, "Check."

At this point my experiment was quite rudely interrupted.

As I pulled away there was a flare of light from the back of the room. A horrible light, bright and cutting through the dream of the place. A murmur of protest arose from several of the beings in the inn and from behind a pillar stepped a man-shaped creature composed of pure light. I received the impression of thousands of wings and eyes and that it was centered to the core of the universe somehow. The impression I received from the people around us was that this being, standing revealed in this way, was an affront. From the being itself I received the impression of righteous anger. I heard music that seemed familiar but I couldn't place the tune or why or where it was familiar to me.

In a voice that seemed to resound from the very fabric of the shadow around us, he intoned, "That's enough of that."

I don't like being told what to do. "So, who are you to tell me what to do?"

This comment elicited a reaction from the inhabitants of the inn. Most of them began moving away from the center of the action. I had seen reactions similar to this in Texarami right before a gun battle in the street.

Reality rippled around him, like looking through waves of heat across the desert. It was an uncomfortable sensation.

"Why do you debase yourself with this serpent?"

"Point taken." He did have a point and it was not my choice to be with Drake here at this moment. But it was not this creature's place to second-guess or command my motives, actions or place in shadow.

"Again, may I ask, who are you?" It was only polite to start with introductions; after all he seemed to know me. I still heard that distant music and felt I should know what it was.

"Daughter of the Unicorn, return to your lands before they are torn asunder, you make no friends consorting with snakes and endanger what little you have."

While this was all very interesting it was of no value or use to me. I wanted to know which armpit of shadow had sent this messenger of joy to us. I doubted very much that it or whoever sent it had any good will towards Amber or me. Return to Amber? I had spent less than five years time in Amber in the last 350 years, and as I had recently 'enjoyed' a lengthy stay at home, Amber was the last place I wanted to be.

At this point Drake decided to participate in the conversation. "You have delivered your message, now you are becoming tedious."

A quick flare of anger towards Drake shot through me. Did he know who and what this was? Was he trying to get rid of it quickly to prevent me from obtaining information?

"Either stay if they will have you as a guest, or be on your way." Drake added.

"You still haven't told me who you are." I needed to divert the conversation back to something more useful.

"I am who I am." Sheesh, again with the cryptic shit. But it seemed that the being was more inclined to respond to me than to Drake. I modified my thinking a bit. If not exactly an ally, the being was not outwardly an enemy. With careful phrasing and seeming concessions on my part, what could be learned from this encounter?

"That doesn't tell me that I should take your instructions over my King's." If this creature recognized the nobility of Amber and the Unicorn, what would its response be to the fact that I was on an officially sanctioned trip through shadow?

"If you value what your King reigns over, you will cease this prying."

"Who sent you?" was it Corwin? Forces of Chaos? Keladrian's people? Another faction that we were unaware of at this time? Who were all the players in this drama? I was unable to read any thing from the being before me except the music, the scent of fire, feathers, and eyes; there was nothing like thought coming from it.

"If you do not part now, my doom will be upon you." Now that was unfriendly. The creature had moved from vague hints at the disruption of Amber to direct personal threats. I don't like being threatened anymore than I like being told what to do.

Apparently Drake felt the same. He did something with that disgusting power of his and the creature pulled a sword of fire and attacked. It happened very quickly and I barely had time to move to the side.

The creature cut into Drake across the body from shoulder to hip. There was the flare of burning cloth and the smell of burning flesh and then the creature was hurled backward ripping through shadow. This was an interesting effect. Through the jagged hole in this shadow could be seen another shadow with a jagged hole in it and so on for about 4 or 5 shadows.

There was a momentary pause in the action, and then Drake drew his sword and leapt through the hole in this shadow towards the creature.

The entity bled light from his wound and the reality of this shadow shivered in response and the music in my mind momentarily became disjointed and jarring. The struggle in the next few shadows over was difficult to discern, but suddenly there was a howl and the white light disappeared. This shadow's dream like and shifting quality began to firm up and return. The rip in the fabric of the shadow drifted together and Drake became very hazy in outline.

I surveyed the mental state of the beings around me. Most were in defensive positions behind furniture. There did not seem to be anyone here who knew more about this than I did. Mostly less. I returned to our table, sat and picked up my drink. The flavor had flattened. I waited for Drake to return or someone else to show up.
Drake stepped back into this shadow, portions of other shadows clinging to him like mist curling away. This was also an interesting effect. At his reappearance the crowd murmur died down and people became intensely interested in their immediate surroundings.

He no longer looked impeccably dressed as his shirt and coat were slashed and his usually graceful walk had a limp interrupting it. He moved stiffly back to our table.
"Perhaps we should relocate." He sounded completely calm and assured.

"You came here for a purpose?" I remembered quite distinctly that he had mentioned getting something to eat and resting and I didn't recall having done either.

"I came here to rest." He gave me a look. "I don't think that's possible now. Even if that one does not return, too much attention…" it seemed too much for him to finish the sentence. His wound did not look good.

"So, what did you have in mind?"

"Let's go to the horses, that's where my clothes are." He seemed to take notice of the condition of his garb.

As we walked out to where our horses were tethered out front I remembered something that I had intended to discuss with him.

"There was something I had wanted to talk to you about before we were so rudely interrupted." I gathered my thoughts on how best to ask this without telling him what I had surmised.

"Just a thought. Obviously you have Trump." After all he had offered to Trump us to his home in Chaos. "Someone back in Chaos must have made this Trump for you unless you did them yourself. Do you know anyone back there who does the Trump a lot and is well versed in them? Have you talked with anyone back home to see if they also lie in a coma?"

"An interesting thought, but no, I haven't." He answered without asking additional questions.

"The next time you speak to someone at home, you might ask."

"All right, I'll consider it." Not quite the reaction I had hoped for. This information would provide me valuable insight not on who or how but on what the ramifications were. Another piece to the puzzle. I didn't want to press him and let him know the importance of this to me.

Drake paused and looked back at the inn. "Perhaps you ought not to do that again."

"But did we learn anything?" I teased him now.

"You made someone very upset." He seemed to lack a sense of humor over the matter, but in light of his wound I could possibly see why.

"Do you know who or what that was?" If he knew, would he tell me? Though he did not seem to have much more information on the attacker than I.

"It was either an angel or a construct."

"A construct of what. I mean who would have constructed such?"

"Someone in Chaos."

"Why would someone in Chaos. . . " I wanted to ask why someone in Chaos would want him dead and me back home but I let the sentence trail off for him to draw his own conclusions.

"Or perhaps the other side."

"Why would they want me to go home? I can understand why they'd want you dead, but I just don't understand why they would want me to go home." Again I subtly teased him. How well could he respond, did he have a sense of humor?

"I can't imagine." Obviously he had his own sense of humor as I felt the jibe back, followed by a stab of pain. "I grow fatigued, can we continue this conversation elsewhere?"

I ceased my questions and tended to the horses while he prepared to move us through shadow. After about 20 minutes we began sliding through shadow until we stopped on the street of a city. The lights and the sounds, the people, they were almost overwhelming after so long spent in quiet shadows. This was a town that took its entertainment seriously. There were giant neon advertisements for shows and gambling and the people walking the streets seemed relaxed and filled with a party atmosphere. Neither Drake, the horses, nor I were out of place here, with the exception of his torn clothing and wound. He seemed to take notice of the attention his appearance was causing and drew his cloak about him.

This would do very nicely. A good place for relaxation. "Come along Luggage, let's find a room."

I headed to the entrance of the Star Casino and Drake moved along with me. As I neared the entrance a doorman opened the door for us and we entered into an area full of light and life. The smell of food mingled with scent of cigar and other smoke. The sound of people laughing and enjoying themselves was punctuated with bells, dings and other electronic noises.

As we paused inside to take in the atmosphere a young woman with coffee colored skin, silver hair piled upon her head and a brief costume approached and asked,

"Welcome to the Star Casino, how can I help you?"

"I think we'd like some rooms." I'm sure that Drake would prefer separate accommodations at this point and I could wait to push him further.

"Certainly. Rooms?" She emphasized the plural.

"Yes, rooms." I responded politely.

"Would those be suites or rooms?" She queried.

"Suites, of course." No need to be cramped for space.

"May I have your credstick?" She inquired.

At this I looked to Drake. I could have handled the payment but no point in letting Drake see more of my abilities than absolutely necessary. Besides it would be interesting and informative for me to how he would handle this.

He rummaged around in his cloak and produced a stick, which the young lady took to a reader placed in a nearby wall. She returned shortly and said, "If sir and madam will follow me."

She was very good. At no time did she give any indication that we were out of the ordinary, nor had our treatment changed when she viewed the balance on the credstick. Very smooth. I appreciate good service in shadow. The Luggage did cause her some consternation but she valiantly concealed it. As we headed out across the large room I knew that we were being given the scenic route to appreciate the attractions of the casino. We passed the standard bank of elevators to a single elevator, which she opened with a key card. This elevator seemed to be an express to the 30th floor.

The elevator opened up to a short corridor with 4 doors and we were shown to our suites, which were the two doors closest to the elevator. The rooms were two story and contained hot tub, wet bar, fireplace and a spiral staircase that led to a loft bedroom. Drake stayed in his room and I headed for the bath. After a long soak, I dressed in a black jumpsuit with pink feathers on one shoulder and the opposite hip. It seemed garish enough for the circus downstairs. I obtained a small stake charged to the Suite and headed to the card tables. I wished to build a suitable bankroll to keep myself entertained while we waited in this shadow. I could feel that the time movement here was quicker relative to Amber and assumed that Drake meant to stay here long enough to recover from his wound.

After about 2 hours of gaming I had sufficient funds to enjoy myself for a few days. I wandered around and spent some time at other gaming tables but soon grew tired. It had been three or four days now since I had last slept and decided that rest would be appropriate while I had the chance.

I felt much better when I rose in the morning and ordered breakfast up from room service. I had heard nothing from Drake since we had entered our rooms last night but still did not feel inclined to contact him. I wondered briefly what Keladrian and Isabeau could be doing and hoped that Keladrian had not run into trouble. After breakfast I took a long soak in the hot tub and felt fully relaxed for the first time in over a week.

Drake knocked at my door during my tubing and I buzzed him in. He mentioned wanting to do some shopping for some weapons and armor and this interested me so I decided to join him. I stood up from the hot tub and grabbed a towel and headed to the bedroom to change. I was amused at Drake's expression as I stepped naked from the tub in front of him. It seems Chaosians are somewhat prudish.

We went to a place called the Suburban Commando and I picked up a monocular made of natural materials. I had needed to fill in my equipment with some vision enhancement. But most of the stuff they had available would not work in a lot of shadows. Plastic does poorly in low-tech.

After we finished at the Suburban Commando Drake and I parted company, as I wanted to go shopping for some new clothes.

When I returned to the Casino I was wearing one of the outfits I had picked up. It was a very nice pair of cobalt blue satin slacks with a backless halter-top. I found some nice low-heeled silver sandals to complete the ensemble. The rest of the items I put in the Luggage. I ordered lunch in the restaurant of the Casino and then returned to the gaming tables. I decided to try some roulette as I had plenty of cash to play with.

It was while I was sitting at the table that I suddenly felt the presence of Keladrian. I tilted my head back and there he was standing behind me. I must admit that I was very glad to see him except for the fact that I really needed to have a discussion with him about his clothing. He was still in the same outfit that he was wearing when I had met him in Quasmir, how many days ago?

"About time you guys showed up."

"Indeed. You are winning at the game?" He indicated the table in front of me.

"But of course."

"And is Drake somewhere about?" He glanced around the casino.

"He's here somewhere." I waved my hand vaguely around to indicate somewhere in this building.

"Very well." He started to say something else I could not hear due to the noise around us.

"Where's Isabeau?" With any luck, he lost her somewhere out in shadow.

"She is with a traveling companion who is not . . . fully up for traveling yet." I wondered just what they had been up to.

"Well, neither is Drake, but that's another story." I laughed. "I will have to tell you that story sometime. What took you guys so long?" He obviously had a story to tell also.

"There were complications."

"How'd you find me here?" We hadn't really arranged a meeting place and I had been expecting him to contact me via my Trump.

He held out a pen towards me. I could see the words 'Windjammer Casino' written in blue ink on the white barrel. No enlightenment was gained from this. "Well they do say the pen is mightier than the sword." He didn't seem interested in further explanation and I didn't press. Maybe later.

"We should perhaps meet and decide our next course of action." As usual Keladrian was all business.

"Very well." I indicated to the dealer to cancel me out of the game and turned to Keladrian. "Let's find Drake and let him know you have returned." I led Keladrian towards the Baccarat tables where I had last seen Drake and found him in the same place. He noticed our arrival and greeted Keladrian cordially.

"Good day, glad to see you're back. And Lady Isabeau is well?" Drake inquired.

"She's well. She is tending to one who is not so well."

"I understand. I hope there is no pressing need for us to move on immediately. I could use at least another sleep cycle." That seemed an understatement to me.
"We are not being pursued at this time." Keladrian stated and I could see that Drake was relieved.

"We felt that it would be good to come together and decide our next course of action. The two of you may be able to help with our current traveling companion."

"There is plenty of room in our suites, we could meet up there for dinner?" Drake suggested.

"Do either of you have training in dealing with problems of the mind? While the person we are with is not physically hurt, she is emotionally. She is wishing to die." Keladrian seemed to be fixated on this person that he and Isabeau had acquired somewhere in shadow.

Drake was the first to answer. "I have no formal training, but perhaps in speaking with her maybe we can lead her to a reason to live. Is it important to you?" The last seemed overly calculating.

"She may have some information. The circumstances of the situation we found her in bore some resemblance to the shadow we were trapped in."

"Interesting." Drake responded.

"A coincidence? Albeit a strange one?" I inquired.

"Coincidence or a reflection." Keladrian mused.

Back to the matter at hand. "Do you want to bring her over here?"

"It would probably be best for you to come to her, otherwise we would have to carry her and we have already discovered that the security in these hotels frown on carrying people around." That did sound like a story I would like to hear.

We followed Keladrian from the Star Casino across the street to the Windjammer, which had a tacky nautical theme. It was obvious that this hotel was not as new as the Star and when we arrived at the third floor room it was obvious that the credit they had used had not been as impressive. Keladrian and Isabeau together did not make a good traveling team it would seem. I could tell by Drake's expression that he was thinking pretty much the same. Funny that we should have that in common.

The inside of the room was no better and Isabeau was wearing a gray sweat suit with the name Windjammer printed across the front. On one of the beds lay a young woman with dark hair and almond eyes. She stared blankly at the ceiling.

Drake moved to the bed and took out a dagger. He took her hand and held the knife in her palm. Eventually her eyes moved towards his. He looked intently at her and spoke softly. "Do you want this?"

Her eyes drifted to the knife but it seemed too much effort to want anything. Drake continued.

"Are you seeking death, or merely running away from life?"

"Perhaps you are running away from memory." Keladrian added.

"Why do you care?" The words more breathed than spoken, were so faint I almost missed them.

"Tell my why I should." Drake responded. "Certainly something so important that has done this to you, should cause some concern in us. What is it that is so important?"

"They killed. ." It seemed for a moment that she would speak no more, then continued. "Killed Alenda."

"Who is Alenda to you?" questioned Drake.

She turned away from Drake at this and a sob wracked through her body.

"And is there no part of you that is not Alenda?" Drake pressed. "That his death should also kill you."

There flooded through her mind the story of 6 months of dread and terror as she and her lover were hounded from one realm to another. It was a sad and sordid tale, barring the familiarity with the experiences of the pocket shadow we had been trapped in; I would have paid it no further attention. Her pity sickened me. If it were up to me I would have simply planted a suggestion in her mind to get up and get moving.

"Would you not want to avenge Alenda's death?" Keladrian asked. How like a man. Bad thing happened, hunt and kill. This woman had been running from something for 6 months that her fairy lover couldn't handle and Keladrian expected her to want to fight back?

"There are parallels in your story to experiences we have had. It may be that whatever was pursuing you is responsible for other events." Keladrian continued like he expected this woman to care about anything outside her own misery. "And that knowledge, may help us and those we are allied with." The women's misery was so overwhelming she was incapable of caring about anyone else. While it was a good attempt it was too late for this woman.

Drake took the knife back from the woman's hand. He stood and moved to the rest of us and whispered. "I do not think that this is something that can be solved quickly. She spent a long time being hounded and has been through many traumas and I don't believe that talking to her is going to pull her out."

Isabeau spoke "If we do not get her help soon, she is going to die. She has not had anything to eat or drink or used the facilities in over 24 hours. And there is not much longer that her body is going to put up with this type of behavior."

"I don't believe that in this state there is much useful information that we can glean from her." Drake continued softly not wanting this conversation to be overheard by the woman.

"So we just let her die?" Isabeau's question seemed inordinately loud after Drakes whispers.

"No. I would suggest we remand her to trained professionals in this shadow or whatever shadow you choose." Drake returned.

"Trained professionals." Isabeau whispered. "So send her to a hospital?

"She doesn't understand the nature of shadow traversing so we can't return her." Drake explained.

"She doesn't have a clue where the heck she came from and from what I picked up from her earlier she was basically disowned because she ran off with a fairy prince. So even if we could return her to her shadow, her family would not be welcoming." Isabeau added.

Drake offered to send her to his home and have his servants take care of her, but there were logistic problems with getting her there and letting someone know that she was there. The problem with calling attention to us was also discussed. By using the Trump we could be bringing trouble down on us before we were ready to move on from here.

During the discussion Keladrian moved to the side of the woman on the bed and said to her. "Right now you do not care, but if you hear what is being said, plans are being made to take care of you. Please do not die. At some point in time, you will probably be thankful for this. But those plans are not all the same. There are ways to live and there are ways to live. You should have a say in what your life will now be. Death will not be a choice that will be allowed to you." It was the longest speech I had heard from Keladrian. There was something about this woman that touched him. I wondered what it was. She did not respond to him.

"By refusing to make a choice, she has thrust the choice upon us." Drake responded. "I have offered to send her to my residence, unless anyone has a better idea. . . "

Isabeau mentioned that with Fiona unconscious that her place in Amber was not a good idea at this time. Keladrian asked if King Random should perhaps be contacted about this since the woman may have information that would be of interest in our present pursuit. This idea seemed to be the solution that was most amenable to the group. Which meant that I would need to contact Random as no one else had his Trump. It figured that the person least interested in the problem would need to provide the solution.

When I made the contact, there was a strange shift in the Trump call. Almost as if it had been diverted from its course. I was aware of the possibility that the call was not secure and who and what was discussed over this line should be guarded. Another thought occurred to me. A dark thought. Was I really contacting my Random, King of Amber? Or was this a shadow of him? I had to proceed on the assumption that this really was Random. The alternative was much to frightening to consider.

I exchanged some pleasantries with Random and asked after his wife. He mentioned Vialle by name and something about the Kingdom. If this was a fake Random he had been well versed. I decided to accept him at face value and gave him a progress report. Mind you a severely edited version, just in case. He agreed to take the woman through and do what he could for her. Keladrian and Isabeau kept trying to give me information to share with Random while I was conversing via the Trump. Finally I reached out and touched Keladrian's arm so that he could speak with Random directly.

He mentioned that the fairy prince that this woman was grieving for looked like the Centurion from the pocket shadow. How interesting. Another clue to puzzle over.

We passed the grieving woman through to Random's care and then decided that we could probably afford to stay in this shadow long enough to enjoy a meal before we moved on. We would return to the suites that Drake and I occupied and order room service.

Back to Top

Chapter 8
The Worm Turns

It was decided to return to Drake's room to get some food before we left this shadow. Drake led as we left the room in the Windjammer, across the street to the Star and up the elevator to our rooms.

Drake keyed open his door and stopped briefly before entering. It appeared that there was someone inside and I heard a woman's voice say, "Please come in."

"Captain Vox, what an unexpected pleasure." Drake said as we entered. He closed the door and turned to do introductions. "Captain Vox, may I introduce the Lady Zhelan of Amber, Isabeau and Keladrian."

"Charmed." Her tone belied her statement. The woman standing there would have made a fine bouncer at some of the rowdier bars on Texarami.

Drake finished the introductions by saying, "Everyone, Captain Vox of the Emperor's forces."

Isabeau said, "Does this mean we don't get lunch?"

Drake looked inquiry at Vox and asked, "Do you have time for a meal?"

Vox replied curtly, "Yes."

Drake took care of the ordering while the rest of stood around. I was inspecting Vox and the others reactions. She was dressed in formal battle armor and had her helmet on her head. She was a 6-foot solid mass in silver and black. Isabeau moved to a chair by the door and sat. Keladrian walked forward, inclined his head to Vox, greeted her and asked what she was a captain of. She answered, "The imperial guard." Keladrian made some comment about not having met the imperial guard before. Vox made a cryptic remark about hoping that he would not met anymore of them. At this point a couple of barstools slide across the floor towards Keladrian and Vox. Both declined to sit, but Vox thanked Drake for the thought. Drake sat down near the kitchen facilities of the suite while we awaited our meal.

Drake began some seemingly idle banter with Vox, whether to gain information or put the rest of us at ease, I couldn't tell. He asked about the health and whereabouts of someone named Kyrie. Vox declined to answer the question. When she did not answer Drake asked if Vox was allowed to say. Again when Vox declined to respond, Drake said, "I believe I have my answer." That alerted to me that there must be something important about the whereabouts of Kyrie.

The next statement from Vox hit at many levels. She said, "You must think highly of your companions, Prince Drake." From Duke to Prince? There had been a death in the Courts of Chaos. Drake gave no indication that he was aware of the change in his status. Instead he replied that he believed he knew his companions.

The conversation at this point turned as Vox said, "That was real useful." And Drake replied, "Intelligence usually is."

I usually try not to pry into people's minds. But this situation had become of intense interest to me and I tried to reach out and read the content behind the words. I discovered that there was some sort of barrier to that ability. A shield had been erected. If I hadn't believed that this was a trap of some kind before, I was assured of that fact now.

Drake moved the lagging conversation along by asking Vox to divulge the reason for her being here while we waited for the food to arrive.

The conversation drifted off that subject before it even started as Vox did not reply to this, merely shifted her position and raised an eyebrow at Drake. Drake then asked about chronal difficulties in Chaos and Vox informed him that there had been manageable ones. He stated that he'd hoped that it wouldn't go that far.

It was her next statement that brought out her mission. She said, "That was our hope also, unfortunately Amber confirmed that for us, didn't they." There was one question burning in my mind at this point. 'What about coma victims?' But I would not give this woman any information by asking any questions. In fact I resolved not to speak to her at all.

"Your duty involves a change in where we are suppose to go? Be open and straightforward with it, I will not be offended." Drake said to Vox.

"The warlord appreciates that Drake, that's why she sent me to deal with this matter personally. It is the Emperor's consideration that the realm of Amber has violated it's treaties and as such will now render, to the Courts of Chaos, measures of guarantee in the form of two of it's inhabitants." This statement by Vox had me completely stunned.

Drake asked if this was a formal declaration. I was assuming he meant of war. And was further stunned when Vox answered in the affirmative.

Keladrian entered the conversation at this point by asking if the declaration dispatch was to arrive in Amber before or after the hostages were arranged. Vox neatly sidestepped that issue by disavowing the responsibility for the timing of the missive.

Drake asked if the 'guarantees of behavior' had names.

"The treaty was open ended on both sides." Vox did not get time to add more before Isabeau interrupted by asking how the treaty had been broken.

Vox continued, "Prince Drake, it is my desire to make this unfortunate situation as smooth as possible for yourselves. You must be aware that I am not privy to the Imperial Council, its decisions, it's policies or it's interpretations of it's own treaties. My orders are straightforward though I do have some latitude. However your companions are to come with me."

I did not like the sound of this and I believed that Keladrian was the best bet I had of getting out of here and not in the direction of the Courts. I started to move closer to him. I had a bad feeling that I would not be able to use my Trump to help myself. They had been acting strangely lately and I knew from recent experience that they could be interfered with by members of Chaos.

"You know that this will interfere with resolving the problems that at the very root of this conflict." Drake argued.

"If you have valid concerns regarding the efficacy of this situation, I'm sure the Emperor will be glad to discuss them with you." Responded Vox.

"Were the hostages named by name? You said things were open-ended." Countered Drake

"It is the Emperor's express orders that Duchess Zhelan of Amber and her companion be escorted to the Imperial palace." Vox replied.

"Well, then we shall be able to speak to the Emperor and be that much closer to our destination." Drake stated. He did not seem concerned about going to the Imperial palace, in fact he had made offers a number of times to Trump us all to Chaos. He must have known something about this the whole time.

"This smacks of a Chaosian . . . plot." Isabeau spoke up. "I was trying not to use the term plot."

"We are being open and forthright." Keladrian added somewhat caustically.

"Well, I'm being open and forthright over the fact that this stinks." Isabeau retorted.

"Though it is not what I would have chosen, orders from the Emperor cannot be . . . " Drake's comment was drowned out by Isabeau's protest about this being just another delaying tactic.

I finally had to interject at this point. "Hey, I barely listen to orders from my King, why should I listen to your emperor?"

Drake ignored us and turned to Vox who was stonefaced throughout this exchange. "Am I allowed to examine the orders, Captain?"

"Absolutely, Prince Drake." And she handed him a small, round, black item. Drake perused the message and then handed it back to her.

I was relieved to find that my Trump were still cold when I checked them. I doubted that they would be much help but they seemed to be functional.

"Is this an exchange of hostages?" Drake asked Vox.

"It could be at a future time." She replied. "Again I am not privy to policy."

There was an additional exchange of cryptic remarks between Vox and Drake and then an awkward silence. Drake moved to the phone and asked that the kitchen send up whatever food they had ready immediately.

Drake obviously saw that I was not at all happy with this situation and I must confess that I muttered something unpleasant. He turned to me and said, "You understand Duchess that my choice here is between my companions of a few days and express orders of my warlord and Emperor."

"I understand your predicament." I replied.

There was another five or six minutes of strained silence before a chime indicated that the food had arrived. Drake went to the door and a young dark-skinned woman with silver hair pushed a cart laden with food into the room. Drake indicated that she move the cart to the kitchen area, tipped the women and she left. I doubt highly that any of us had much appetite remaining at this point. Any interest in food that I might have had was gone with the pronouncement of our imminent imprisonment in Chaos.

It just wasn't fair. First I have to suffer through being stuck in Amber during most of the last year and half. Then when I finally get away to be free in shadow, these problems occur. I find myself back in Amber with Random and Benedict giving the four of us marching orders to leave Amber and go on a quest. That part wasn't as bad as discovering that I had lost the ability to create Trump. That left me trapped to a limited number of shadows. I don't like the feeling of being trapped. I was feeling intensely claustrophobic to begin with and then this further development of being taken prisoner to Chaos. . . I could barely function; it was difficult to think. There must be someway of escaping this impending disaster. But the shield that was up was blocking all ability for me to read the people and the environment around me.

Isabeau and Keladrian drifted over to the food and began to fill plates. For lack of a better occupation I did likewise.

When things started happening, they happened quickly. Keladrian had moved back over to the center of the room when he turned and charged Vox. I said to the Luggage "M-16" and waited for it to respond. Isabeau started to fade out of sight, so I assume that she had started Pattern walking. I felt a brief tug from her direction on me and then it ceased and Isabeau snapped back into view. All the while Keladrian had continued to grapple with Vox, Drake remained seated on the barstool by the kitchen sipping his tea.

Keladrian and Vox continued their struggle in the middle of the room and it was obvious that Keladrian was the stronger of the two. Isabeau kept fading in and out of this shadow and finally the Luggage coughed up the M-16. It arched gracefully through the air and I snagged it, locked, loaded and ready to fire. I thumbed off the safety, then held the rifle up and swept it overhead on full automatic. I was pretty sure that I wouldn't be able to hit Vox without shooting Keladrian and I didn't see any other targets immediately available. Drake was getting the benefit of the doubt at this point as he had not done anything overtly sinister. If I were Vox walking into this situation, I would have had a back up. And the back up would have been on the loft above us. If there was no one in the loft, maybe the sound of the weapon fire would distract Vox enough for Keladrian to get an edge.

Drake became active at this point. He reached out with the Logrus and grabbed the barrel of the M-16. "Put that away." he said as he pushed on the rifle. The bullets ripped through the plaster and lath of the ceiling, swiftly followed by a curse from up above and Isabeau disappeared from this shadow.

At this time the windows exploded outward and Keladrian yelled something about the back up being airborne. Drake's Logrus tentacle slid down the rifle and hit the clip release and the M-16 stopped firing. If this stupid shield weren't up, Drake's mind would be toast. That was direct interference in the outcome of this conflict. As long as he was staying out of it, I could forget that he was a Prince of Chaos. Now he had my attention. Not that I could do anything about it currently.

I yelled to the Luggage for my sword and bent over to pick up the clip for the rifle. As I reached for it, Drake's Logrus moved it out of the way. I refused to play that game with him. Keladrian had managed to throw Vox and she was headed toward the broken window. Whoever had yelled from above was making no further moves or sound. Suddenly Drake's Logrus tentacle moved from the gun to me and I felt myself being pushed from the shadow.

I missed a lot of what happened next in the room, as I was not there. I found myself in a near shadow where the room was dark and in the middle of a remodel with plastic tarp and half painted walls. I immediately pulled a Trump for Random from my pouch and tried to contact him.

I started to get through and felt that funny shunt again. Before I could make contact I could feel the Logrus tendril that Drake still had around me, start to pull me back. I immediately focused on a Trump memory of Ssalesh to try and prevent being pulled back.

I was unsuccessful and found myself back in the shadow where much had changed. There was more damage in the room and Keladrian was wielding a marble counter top that he was shoving through the ceiling up into the loft. Large flying creatures had starting to enter the room through the broken windows. Drake wrapped me tightly with the Logrus and said, "Don't go anywhere." As he headed for the door. The Luggage growled at him and he threatened to throw it out of the window.

The minute that I was free of this mental blinding, Drake was sooo dead. He dragged me out of his suite and across the hall to mine. He used another Logrus tentacle to push the doors open and dragged me inside. From across the hall I heard the Luggage growl menacingly. I yelled out, "Attack whoever it is."

Keladrian yelled back that he was trying to carry the Luggage and I yelled back to the Luggage not to attack Keladrian. I don't know if he heard me as Drake shut the door of the suite.

We had moved halfway across the room before Keladrian and the Luggage appeared in the doorway. Drake shouted to Keladrian, "Idiot, go help Isabeau, she got away."

Struggling against the bonds of the Logrus I yelled to Keladrian, "Help me, Drake is kidnapping me."

Keladrian said, "Luggage, there is your enemy." And threw my Luggage at Drake. Who dodged it and sent it flying past me, through the window and over the balcony railing with another tendril of his Logrus. I hoped no one was standing below when the Luggage plunged the 30 floors to the ground because it would be pissed.

Keladrian leapt toward Drake shortly after throwing the Luggage. My vantage for this fight was not the best as Drake kept jerking me around in his Logrus tentacle as he dodged the Luggage and then Keladrian. Keladrian's leap had taken him past Drake, when he disappeared and reappeared behind Drake. When he slammed into him, Drake was dropped to the floor. The Logrus no longer held me and I turned to see Keladrian pick Drake up and hold him in a Full Nelson. I had an urge to punch Drake in the nose but realized that it would probably have no affect.

"The only reason you are still alive is that I have some doubt as to which side you are on." Keladrian whispered in Drakes' ear.

"I don't," I said as I moved nearer.

"Prove it to me." Keladrian continued.

Our discussion with Drake was interrupted by sizzling sounds from nearby. "We need to get out of here." I stated the obvious.

We move to another shadow by way of Keladrian's now familiar spin. We were standing in a hotel room; not quite as grand as the one we had left. This one was done in a Hawaiian motif complete with waterfall and bamboo bar. I realized that I could now read Drake again and that he is feigning unconsciousness. Something that I would most certainly do in his place.

I started picking up Drake's surface thoughts. He expected to be more disoriented by the move through shadow and was puzzled that he was not. Anger at the whole situation was prominent in his mind. Not just that he has had to fight Keladrian but that they had to bring these orders. The order to arrest the two Trump artists that he was traveling with. And on top of it all a sense of upset about the death of his father.

So he was aware of that change in status. I sensee Drake's feeling about the source of the Order's. This felt more to me like the relationship I had to Oberon than my relationship to the King of Amber. To me the King of Amber is Random, a drinking buddy, and an old friend. I saw Drake's decision of the last few minutes in a new light. Would I have disobeyed an order from Oberon? Damn Drake. I had no desire to feel any sympathy for this man. And yet. . .

"Now what?" I ask Keladrian

"We find Isabeau, if we can. We try to find out what Drake's plans were. And we get some distance between them and us. Any comments?" This last was directed to Drake.

"I regret that it has come to this path." Drake said.

"Yes, I'm sure that you regret that you didn't succeed in ratting out your companions." I replied. I tried to convince myself that I had good reasons to hate this person.

"Are you more loyal to your father or to me?" He replied. Damn him again. How could I respond to that? We obviously were the victims of conflicting loyalties and goals. I had not found Drake to be a bad traveling companion over all. "You think I have no honor." He continued driving another nail point home.

Leave it to Keladrian to take an entirely different tack. "What about your loyalty to your mother?"

"I haven't seen my mother since I was five." Drake said.

"Tell me very quickly what you can of her. As if your life depended on it." Keladrian continued. Now I wish it were his mind I could probe. Much as I appreciated the fact that he had managed to get shielding for his mind, I felt isolated from the one person that I felt I could count on right now. The lack of that mental contact was eroding my some of my trust for him.

As Drake spoke, I could see images of a graceful, sad woman in his mind. (Her looks oddly similar to the woman that we recently sent to Random's care. I wondered at the coincidence. Keladrian seemed to have a special concern for that woman.) Drake felt a lot of affection for his mother and respect for her abilities. There is unresolved sorrow at her loss that I'm not sure that he is consciously aware of.

"She was beautiful, although all in Chaos are beautiful when they choose to be. She had incredible creative spirit. Music flowed through her like blood. If I have any inspiration or insight beyond Line Sawall or Hendrake's ways of war, it is due to her."

"How did she come to be in the Courts?" Keladrian continued.

"She was of a defeated line. I suppose it matters not that she is gone these several centuries and my father is now dead. But she was a bondservant who my father, with more romance than common sense, wooed and won. And I was the unwanted result of that match. He still had some influence at court so she was kept around for my early raising but soon after she departed court and my father spent centuries manning some wretched distant outpost or other." This story of his mother touched me more than I would care to admit. At least he had known her, if only for 5 short years. He had those memories of her and took something of her with him. I wish I had known my mother. One of these days father, we will have to talk.

"As punishment?" Keladrian clarified.

"Yes. One does not punish, too severely, the son of an Emperor, but you don't parade around a sentimentalist who had a bastard on a slave."

"Are there others of her Line in Chaos?" Keladrian continued. I did not need to read his mind to understand that there was a keen interest this line that Drake's mother was part of. Was this the Line that Keladrian was from?

"Yes." Drake stated.

Keladrian muttered something under his breath that I did not catch, then asked, "And your intentions now with your father dead?"

"I intended to return to the Emperor as I was commanded. However that decision has been temporarily taken away from me."

"I wonder if we should give Random the hostage in this situation." Keladrian stated. I wondered how difficult that would be under the circumstances. I doubted highly that we could count on Drake's cooperation in this.

"I would not have been in any position to bargain if I had lost the hostages. I saw an opportunity. That one could escape. . . " Drake left the thought unfinished.

"Perhaps we should send him back to Chaos and continue without him." I knew as I said this, that what I had learned of Drake, that this would mean dire consequences for him to return a failure to the Courts. I tried to tell myself that I didn't care.

"Yes, but he knows what we are about." I had a feeling that this was not Keladrian's true reason. It seemed that everyone knew about the quest and I said as much. I think the real reason was that Keladrian was forced to use his abilities in front of Drake. And Drake didn't strike me as stupid. Keladrian's recent line of questioning had to have meant more to him than it did to me.

"I'm not sure how we'll find Isabeau." I thought I could do a Trump span and search for her, but that would take enormous amounts of time and leave us open to those that could sense my use of the Trump.

"I think it were best that she find us." Keladrian offered.

Drake tried to use his Logrus to contact Vox. Unfortunately for him, he forgot that I was still monitoring his mind.

"Stop that. Immediately." He didn't seem like he was heeding my warning.

"He's trying to use the Logrus to contact people." I told Keladrian.

Drake ceased his efforts and drew in his Logrus to block me from his mind. How could we trust this man ever again? Our objectives had diverged irreparably.
"He's stopped search through shadow with Logrus, but now is using it to block me." I told Keladrian.

"Would you want her in your mind?" Drake asked Keladrian.

"No, but I haven't done anything to piss her off, have I?" Keladrian responded.

Keladrian and I discussed options. We decided that we had no means of tracking Isabeau and holding onto Drake. Drake obviously tried something again that Keladrian had to warn him against. This was going to be a constant battle. Drake had no reason to cooperate with us or we with him. We were on opposite sides of a very large chasm. If we could not find a bridge to cross. . . The alternatives were not looking good for anyone at this point.

Drake reminded us that Keladrian had made the first offensive move by attacking Captain Vox. He thought we could have talked our way out after we had reached the Courts of Chaos. I must say that he does have an inflated idea of himself.

He stated that the Emperor and Empress were his grandparents and that it was a diplomatic situation until blows were exchanged.

I did not believe that he could have talked the Emperor of Chaos into letting Isabeau and myself go after we went to the Courts. I just couldn't imagine anyone talking Oberon out of anything that he had set his mind on and from what I had picked up of Drake's life in the Courts, as the outcast bastard son of a slave, I doubted he had the clout in the Court's to affect our status once we were there.

Keladrian stated as much when he told Drake that he would not trust to the mercy of House Sawall, someone he'd promised his protection.

We got nowhere arguing with Drake. The bottom line is that we did not feel that we would be bargaining from a position of power if we were to go to the Courts of Chaos. And Drake felt an obligation to obey his family Line. He restated his cause that he could not betray his word to his Emperor.

"We both have the same goal." I told Drake. "We both want to find whatever is causing these disturbances in Amber and Chaos and fix them."

"None of that is being done." He replied. Point, counterpoint. We wasted time and energy here but I could not get out of the circuitous thinking that was leading to this impasse.

Keladrian agreed that the decision should be diplomatic but should be done from a position of strength. Our going to the Courts was not a position of strength. I asked if he thought we should return to Amber until this was sorted out.

That's when Drake presented the next bombshell. He said that it might not be a good idea as even now Amber might be under siege from the forces of Chaos. Several things that had been said earlier suddenly clicked into clear focus for me.

"Snake." My loathing for this creature came full front. He knew that Chaos was going to be attacking Amber. I wondered how long he had known.

Back to Top

Chapter 9
Destiny and Destinations

We stood there in stalemate for a while. Inwardly I was furious with Drake for betraying Amber. Keladrian asked Drake if he wished the destruction of Amber. Drake denied that. He said that he didn't agree with the reasons that Vox gave for the attack but he did not know all the details. Then he asked Keladrian what his position was on Amber.

Keladrian responded, "Where have my cards fallen? You are the wild card. In the recent events, you did not do all you could to aid Chaos, yet you seemed to be trying to take Zhelan to the Courts."

Drake protested his 'good' intentions to remove me from what he perceived as an area of harm. I certainly didn't feel like I was being protected when he grabbed me.

Keladrian stated also that he did not believe Drake when he claimed to be trying to 'save' me. Also that since Drake left in our company, Chaos might believe that he was now fully on our side.

Drake countered that he was our prisoner. Keladrian countered that Chaos did not know that. Drake reiterated that the orders to take Isabeau and myself to Chaos were to Captain Vox. His last orders were to act as Ambassador to Amber, so therefore he was not constrained to try to take us back to the Courts. He was just seeking a diplomatic solution. It seemed we had covered this ground before.

I tried to get Keladrian's attention. At this point I wanted a private conversation about our options for dealing with Drake.

Drake pointedly asked me. "I am curious as to why you are letting him call the shots?"

"Who says I am?" I responded.

"I do." He replied.

"That is your perception." I dismissed. Drake was not privy to the information that I had on Keladrian and my own goals and objectives.

Keladrian pulled us back on track by demanding that Drake convince us that he meant no harm. To which Drake replied that his actions spoke for him. I found that amusing. We must not have been viewing the same actions.

Keladrian must have shared my amusement or amazement as he responded that Drake's actions were ambiguous.

More to the point he asked Drake, "Do you truly believe that Zhelan and Isabeau would be in no danger by going to the courts?"

Drake replied that we were in danger everywhere.

Keladrian challenged Drake to allow us to verify his veracity on these issues. Drake agreed and there was a slight lessening of the shield he had built around his mind with the Logrus.

In searching Drake's thoughts I could see that he believed that he came from a civilized environment where hostages were not shot. They might be poisoned at dinner, as that was accepted social etiquette. Keladrian decided that I should take over the questioning as I could determine the truth and conviction behind Drake's replies.

I asked Drake if he considered himself an honorable man. His reply was immediate and backed up by a very forceful conviction that he was honorable. I was surprised. I'm not sure that I have ever felt that much passion on any subject, let alone duty and honor. I was reminded that there were depths to this man that I had come to respect in our time together. I reminded myself that he knew that Chaos was going to attack Amber and he had not said anything. On the other hand, if I had known that Amber was going to attack Chaos, would I have told him? Did he owe us more allegiance than we owed to him? I didn't know whether I was trying to convince myself to continue hating Drake or give him another chance. Sometimes I can be obtuse even to myself.

I asked him what it would take to make him break his word.

He first said "More than you can offer. My sworn word to the Emperor is very important to me." He then continued that if we were at Corwin's Pattern and he discovered that only breaking his word to the Emperor could save all of shadow, he would have to consider it.

Drake was quick to point out that with Amber and Chaos involved in their own concerns, there was no one else who was dedicated to resolving the disruption being caused by Corwin's Pattern. We had an obligation to carry on. He challenged us to make a decision to either let him go, knock him unconscious and leave him behind, or to kill him.

I was not ready to make that call yet. I told Keladrian that killing Drake was not an option for me. Thankfully Keladrian agreed with my sentiments. I found it amusing that Drake was trying to appeal to my sense of honor and duty to Amber.

It was at about this time that there was a knock on the door of the motel room. I mentally checked to see who it was and it appeared to be room service.

I turned to Keladrian and indicated that it was time to move on. We had stayed in this place too long.

Keladrian quickly 'spun' us to a different hotel. We were lower in elevation and in a much shabbier establishment. But we had moved and hopefully would be safe for long enough to make a decision.

Keladrian asked Drake if he would give his word that he would help us to correct the problems that we were having with shadow. Drake agreed. Then he asked Drake if he would promise that he would not take any action against any of us, without telling us that he was experiencing a conflict of interest. Drake agreed to this also.

We asked him to clarify whether he was currently under any orders that would cause a conflict of interest in working with us. Drake answered in the negative. All this I confirmed by examining his thoughts. I was concerned that he had agreed too swiftly. Surely there were ramifications and permutations of previous obligations from someone as tied to duty and honor, as he seemed to be. It did not seem that he could be so easily unencumbered from it. But his thoughts showed that he firmly believed that he could make this claim in good conscience.

Keladrian then asked Drake not to initiate any contact with the Courts. Drake seemed somewhat hesitant on this issue. I got the impression that his view of the Courts was not as precise as my view of Amber. It seemed to be this shifting amorphous entity. But he agreed that he would make no contact without first obtaining our agreement. I was satisfied that he believed this to be true.

Even with these agreements that we had obtained, neither Keladrian nor I were fully ready to release Drake from control. Keladrian asked how Captain Vox had found our location at the Casino. Drake's answer regarding tracking his use of the Logrus seemed reasonable. Drake did indicate that he was not sure about whether they could track Keladrian's abilities. He was definitely fishing for more information about Keladrian and his method of shadow movement.

I asked Keladrian if he felt confident that with these agreements that we could trust Drake to continue on with us. Keladrian wanted to know how I felt about Drake's word of honor.

"I am more sure of my word than you are of yours." Drake said to me. I was amused. I wondered where he got the impression that my word was honorable. I wanted to ask him how much surer of his word he was, than he thought I was of mine. The statement really didn't fill me with confidence. If I hadn't seen how important his honor was to him, his statement would have concerned me.

As I was pondering this, there came a knock on the door. How did anyone find us so fast? No one had been able to prepare for Keladrian's form of transport or his abilities before. I made contact with the mind outside the room and found it was the hotel clerk. He had a message to deliver to this room. He did not know what the message was, so I suggested to him that he open the message and read it.


Through his eyes I saw a neatly calligraphed letter on fine parchment. There was the emblem of a black serpent down the side of the page. The letter was direct and polite. It said only 'May we please speak. M'. The M was elaborately calligraphed. I directed the clerk to wad up the note and go back to his desk.

I turned to Drake. "Who's M?"

Both Drake and Keladrian returned blank stares to my inquiry.

"Someone wants to talk with us." I told them.

"Not all the forces of shadow and Chaos are arrayed against us." Drake offered.

We continued our discourse on the state of Drake and finally Keladrian and I agreed that we could release him. I hoped that we would not later regret this decision.
We then had a discussion about whether we should talk to M. And we finally agreed to talk to him. I searched for the mind of the clerk and found him at the front desk. I directed him to re-deliver the note to our room.

A short time later there was a knock at the door and Keladrian answered it. The clerk handed Keladrian the waded up parchment and then held out his hand for a tip. Keladrian being a gentleman gave the obnoxious entity some money.

We looked at the parchment and waited wondering how we would arrange to speak with M.

Finally I said, "What are we suppose to do now. Say, 'yes, you can speak with us' to the paper?" As soon as these words were out of my mouth, there was another knock on the door.

Keladrian again answered the door. The man who entered was very handsome, dressed all in black with white hair. It was a striking dynamic that I had seen before on the Trump cards of the man who attacked us in Texarami. He turned to Keladrian and thanked him and then turned to Drake and inquired about his health.

Drake's response was to ask who our visitor was.

"I am Mandor." He said, as if that answered all questions.

"It's always nice to have a name with a face." I replied. I am sure the others recognized him from my drawings as well.

"I believe I have something of yours." Mandor told Keladrian as he produced a small white bubble that held a small dragon with a message tube strapped to it. I had seen one like this before when Keladrian had conjured them on the beach before our trip to Amber.

"I didn't mean to injure it, but it ran into one of our shields." Mandor added as the bubble moved to Keladrian.

"A shield around what?" Keladrian inquired. I remembered something about alarms set around Keladrian's home. Had they increased the activity around Keladrian's home because they found he had gotten out?

"Our situation." Mandor replied vaguely

"Which situation?" Keladrian continued.

"A rather explosive encounter around a casino." Mandor clarified.

"I did not send any messages out from that shadow." Keladrian let slip.

"On its way back actually." Mandor told him. "The message is for you."

The bubble popped open when it reached Keladrian and he removed the message tube from the lizard and set it aside. The lizard scurried to the back of Keladrian's neck for safety.

Drake asked Mandor why he had wanted to speak with us. Mandor said that he was merely offering his condolences to Drake and wanted to assure himself of his safety. They spoke briefly about Drake's father. Mandor mentioned something about overwhelming odds and stubborn Sawall men. Drake pressed Mandor about his possible actions against the members of our present company.

Mandor said, "I would suggest alacrity on your part. Vox will not be fooled for long."

Keladrian asked Mandor how Vox had found us and he mentioned that he owed Drake's Aunt a favor. Then he asked if we could adjourn our conversation to a more pleasant place. Something more comfortable. Keladrian agreed only if it was going to be more comfortable for all of us.

"I have no intention of pursuing Kyrie's course of action at this time." Responded Mandor. At which point he brought up the Logrus and moved us to another location. His use of the Logrus demonstrated a mastery that was now obviously lacking in Drake's own manipulation. It was still disgusting stuff, but he used it with flair and style. I knew then that this man was very dangerous.

We moved to a large open area with platforms at various heights about the room. Some of the platforms were floating. The red light seemed cheerful and the buzz and hum of insects enjoying their repast provided a pleasant background accompaniment. The maitre d' did not seem the least surprised to see 4 mammals appear in front of him and he clicked something to which Mandor replied in kind.

Mandor informed us that this was one of his favorite shadows and asked if we would care to get a table. When we indicated in the affirmative, Mandor turned back to the maitre d'. The insect flew off towards one of the platforms along the wall and Mandor stepped off into the air to follow him. Drake looked briefly at Keladrian and I, and then stepped off to follow Mandor. I was wondering if Keladrian would shape shift to his gargoyle form when I found that we were standing on the platform. I had forgotten his ability to shift within a shadow. We sat down and I told Keladrian that when we got the chance that we needed to talk about things that I had learned from and about Drake. Keladrian agreed that we needed to speak later just before Mandor joined us. I have to admit that I gloated a little bit that we had made it to the table before Mandor. When dealing with those more powerful than yourself, you take your triumphs were you find them. But I was also surprised that Keladrian had used his ability openly in front of a stranger.

Mandor offered to order for us, and since I didn't see a menu of any kind I was not adverse to him doing so. I have dined on many strange foods in my travels through shadow and I was pretty confident that if Mandor could eat it, so could I.

While we waited for our food Drake asked Mandor for news of home. Mandor mentioned something about Terellia's hijinks. I don't know who Terelli is but this must have meant something to Drake as he asked Mandor what hijinks. Mandor told Drake that he was in the Castle when it happened. He mentioned something about the Barrowman's and Terellia's hobbies. It didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time.

Then Mandor turned to me and asked how my father was.

Being perverse I told him that Father had been fine the last time I saw him. Which was the truth. The last time I had seen him was at the meal in Texarami. It hit my suddenly what my father's current state was and I concentrated on my food. I thought of my father lying comatose in Gerard's care. It bothered me that I hadn't thought of him more often in the past few days.

The discussion had continued about Amber redheads and the trouble they could get into. Drake asked Mandor what had caused the problem. To which Mandor replied that he hadn't been there. This seemed pointed at Drake.

Pieces began to click into place. Remembered portions of conversations and explanations came to me. Drake had mentioned a time stop in Amber. He and Isabeau had been cross-contaminated with Pattern and Logrus and Fiona had been working on a cure when 'bam' she and Bleys had fallen into comas. I was starting to see a connection. Fiona liked to experiment with things that were best left alone. I felt that she, more than Bleys or Brand, had been responsible for the fiasco that had cost Amber so much.

It appeared that Chaos had also had people fall into comas, and they were blaming Amber for the problem. Drake protested innocence of the problem and stated that the real blame lay with Corwin's Pattern. Mandor agreed that Corwin's Pattern had been an incredibly bad idea. I glanced at Keladrian. I remember him expressing the same sentiment back in Castle Amber.

Mandor mentioned something about experiments with signal transmission. I think he was talking about what Fiona had been trying to do when the Trump problem had been caused. Trust Fiona to go overboard.

Mandor eyed Drake and mentioned something about Drake's appearance. I assumed he was referring to the Pattern that Drake supposedly had been contaminated with when Isabeau unlocked him from the time stop on the road. Drake told Mandor that considering what had happened when Fiona tried to rid Isabeau of the Logrus; he hadn't rushed out to get his problem taken care of.

"Cure worse than the disease?" Mandor quipped.

Then Drake asked Mandor if there was a full-scale invasion taking place against Amber. I noticed Mandor failed to answer. To cover the awkward pause I told Mandor that we were given a mission to take care of Corwin's Pattern. Drake added that we needed Isabeau. Mandor let us know that she would be joining us shortly.

Mandor was interested in how we thought we would 'take care' of Corwin's Pattern. He reminded us that mixing Pattern and Logrus was a dangerous combination.

"If the dreadful doodle needs to be erased. . . " Drake let the comment fade out for our own thoughts to supply the end.

Mandor stated that he couldn't really recommend using a combination of Logrus and Pattern against Corwin's inkblot. When Drake asked what he would suggest, he suggested we discuss it with Suhey. I remembered the picture on the card and wasn't sure I liked that idea.

"Perhaps Corwin would best know how to correct his Pattern." I added.

"Prince Corwin can be a focused individual." Mandor added.

Keladrian asked Mandor if he intended to inform the Emperor about the actual events that led to the current state of contention between Chaos and Amber. Mandor mused that it was an interesting interpretation of events but it was not his intention to mention it to the Emperor. Keladrian suggested that Mandor arrange for the Emperor to find out. Mandor mentioned that the Emperor was plagued with a number of issues at the moment and that this information would only distract him. He added that he hadn't decided yet whether he would distract the Emperor or not.

He then asked Keladrian if he were going to read the note. To which Keladrian asked Mandor if he made a habit of reading other people's mail.

"Absolutely" Mandor replied. He then added that the note writer was almost on the right track. Keladrian opened the note. It was at that time that the Maitre d' came by. Mandor informed us that Isabeau had arrived. Drake waved to someone and extended his Logrus tentacles. Shortly Isabeau was lifted to our table. I could see by the expression on her face that being held in the Logrus was no more pleasant for her than it had been for me.

Introductions are made and Isabeau mentioned that the horses were waiting outside. Mandor arranged with the maitre d' to care for them as they were currently in violation of the parking regulations where they were.

Keladrian began talking with Isabeau and inquiring after her health. I really must insist that I wasn't the least bit jealous, but I turned to Mandor and mentioned to him that I had seen his Trump in the possession of a young man. I described the man we had questioned in Texarami. Mandor did not seem to know him. Then Drake mentioned that the man also had a card for Dara, Mandor told us the young man must be Merlin and that he wasn't around much anymore. This told me nothing new, but I filed the name away for future reference. If I could ever draw Trump again, I had several subjects to start with.

Keladrian and Mandor then began discussing the contents of Keladrian's message. Mandor seemed to know the writer of the message and claimed that he was not the theorist that Keladrian's message writer was. I must admit that the conversation on the theory of Corwin's Pattern was a bit beyond me.

Out of the blue Mandor asked Isabeau how her mother was. Isabeau responded that she was sure Mandor already knew. He was quite polite and told her that he would like to know how Fiona was.

I thought it odd that everyone in Chaos seemed to know that Isabeau was Fiona's daughter, but we in Amber had just learned of this.

Mandor offered to help Fiona. He seemed very genuine in his concern for her. The fact that people from Chaos seemed to know and like my Aunt was not lost on me. I suppose someone had to like her.

Keladrian brought Mandor's attention back to the missive that he had received by asking him if he agreed with the conclusion. Mandor mentioned something about time and certain personages. When Keladrian asked Mandor to clarify he said. "Great upheaval. Occupying certain people, very sharply, very soon. Thus affecting the fortunes of your people. Is that clear enough for you boy?"

Keladrian didn't seem insulted by this but added. "There are many considerations."

Keladrian asked Mandor if he knew where Corwin's Pattern was and someone else asked him if there was anything he could do to help us get there sooner. Mandor reminded us that Corwin would be with his Pattern and that he was very narrow minded and highly protective of his creation.

Drake asked if Corwin would let us get close to his Pattern. Isabeau added that Corwin might not know what damage his Pattern was causing. I said. "I haven't seen my uncle in some time. I look forward to meeting him again."

Mandor looked at Keladrian and said, "You're the quiet one, therefore you've escaped attention. He is very protective of his Pattern and he has been alerted now." Mandor went on to say the Corwin's rationality was hard to pin down. He seemed to not be bound by courtesy, honor or fair warning.

Apparently Mandor's insinuations to Keladrian had not gone unnoticed by other as well as Isabeau asked if someone of Keladrian's family had attacked the Pattern.
Keladrian turned to me and said. "Derrick would not have attacked." I found it interesting that Keladrian felt it important to make that point to me. I believed him but I wondered how Corwin would have viewed it. I had not been around my uncle since he had returned from the dead. Bleys had mentioned that Corwin had changed but hadn't elaborated on particulars.

Drake asked Mandor if he knew others of Keladrian's Line. To which Mandor replied. "Yes, it's fascinating."

The conversation digressed rapidly from there. We were all thinking about continuing our mission. I wondered aloud where my Luggage might have gotten off to. After all Mandor seemed to be able to find us, Isabeau and Corwin's Pattern. Surely the Luggage would not be that big a stretch for him. He only mentioned that the Luggage would catch up. He seemed to know a lot about all of us. Kind of frightening really.

I mentioned in an aside to Isabeau that I thought it interesting that Mandor seemed to know that Fiona was her mother when it had been a secret in Amber.

Isabeau agreed and asked Mandor directly how he knew that Fiona was her mother. To which Mandor replied that she bore a strong resemblance to Fiona. He always seemed to have a glib and ready answer. Isabeau had obviously inherited her tact from her mother.

"Fiona has contacts in Chaos." Isabeau stated. Mandor only smiled. Made me wonder what Fiona had been up to lately. Or was Mandor only referring to the recent war?

Drake then asked Mandor if there was anyone of his family that he shouldn't trust, and then changed that to should trust, as it seemed it might be a shorter list.

Mandor said something about Drake's Aunt having the best intentions but the current situation might have ulterior motives for her, as she had wanted to take 'him' since Lintra. I could only think that it was Benedict that she might want to take. I believed that the 'Aunt' that Mandor referred to was the Warlord Kyrie that we had been learning so much about lately.

We had finished our repast and decided we needed to leave soon. As we stood up from the table a door opened in the wall and we saw our horses at the end of a short tunnel.

Mandor agreed to help us get close to the shadow where Corwin's Pattern was.

Drake thanked Mandor for his assistance and Mandor said, "I am not your ally, but I am not your enemy." He had been a complete gentleman throughout. I hoped that we did nothing to sway him from neutral to enemy. He would be a formidable foe.

We took our leave of Mandor and went to retrieve our horses.

Apparently Isabeau had little time to gather the horses. There was no equipment for them and only her horse had a saddle and a crude saddlebag fashioned from a couple of knapsacks roped together. I was confident of being able to control my horse without the aid of bridle or saddle and the others did not seem to consider the lack to be an obstacle. We mounted the horses and rode out of the storage area towards the desert.

Mandor had provided a small white bubble to guide Isabeau and she began shifting us through shadow to follow it. With the bubble to focus on, Isabeau made much better time moving through shadow. She also had started releasing control over other items of our possessions which allowed them to change to fit our surroundings.
We rode mostly in silence as the lands changed around us. I mentioned the cold once as I was still attired in the backless halter-top that I had been wearing in the casino. Keladrian gave me his jacket and conjured it into a cloak. He said that he was not affected by weather changes as much. I assumed it was because he was using his shape shifting abilities to compensate. Shape shifting seemed like a convenient ability to have.

We rode for many hours stopping ever so often to rest the horses. We managed to find enough small game and vegetation to appease our hunger and liquid to quench our thirst. The shadows that we rode through grew increasingly darker in coloring until we eventually reached a place where the sky showed signs of different colored stripes. I felt that we had passed Ygg and were well on our way to the Chaos side of shadow.

After about 36 hours the bubble showed signs of slowing down and we agreed that we must be near Corwin's Pattern. We began to discuss what we might do once we reached there. Of the four of us, I believed I was the only one who knew Corwin and that Corwin would also know. Isabeau confirmed that she had had no dealings with Corwin since he had returned in the last few years.

What I most remembered about my Uncle was that he was a marvelous storyteller and ballad writer. There was one story that I had been longing to hear from him since I had first learned of the incident. I knew that only Corwin would be able to tell me the story the way that it needed to be told. It was a story that only mattered to me. One, because he had been there, and two because it involved my father Bleys. I felt that I might be able to safely approach Corwin with a request for a story. But only if I was alone. I did not mention these facts to the others. It was not important for them to know.

We rode through several more shadows on the way. Two of them were time-stopped places that the horses had difficulty negotiating. We started coming into lands that smelled of carrion and then we entered a shadow that was the aftermath of a massacre.

There were small bodies strewn everywhere. They had been hacked and clawed into pieces. Those that were more whole were recognizable as purple shaded, slightly furry humanoids. They looked vaguely familiar to me.

The next shadow we rode through had recently been engulfed in a volcanic eruption. The ground still smoldered and smoked in places and skeleton hands and other debris poked their way above the solidified lava.

We continued on to another shadow of destruction but there were fewer purple corpses and most of the bodies were large red skinned humanoids. I suddenly remembered why they were so familiar. Corwin's troops. The ones he had in Amber with the rifles. I had assisted with the communication with the troops during the battle of the black road. I had seen these troops under Corwin's command. I didn't know whether this meant that Corwin had been repelling an attack against his Pattern, or if he had slain the troops himself.

We had arrived at a landscape that was devoid of all elevation and color. We rode across the flat white expanse and the line of the horizon was stark. Something very bad had happened here and left no trace.

I thought I was thankful to leave that shadow but the next one offered a battering wind. It was a struggle to see through tearing eyes and the wind snatched the air away almost too quickly to breathe. We had arrived at the edge of a cliff. Down below us on a flat plain was a mature apple tree marking the entrance to a silver drawing that I knew had to be Corwin's Pattern. When Mandor had told us that he could get us close, this wasn't what I had expected.

There was a certain beauty to the Pattern; it was raw and filled with strong emotion. But it was also obvious that the artist's attempt had outstripped his ability. It compelled and repelled me all at the same time. I remembered my father telling me to leave the Pattern alone, that it wasn't for me. I had never actually seen the Pattern in Amber, after seeing Corwin's, I had little desire to see Amber's if I would feel this way about it.

I pulled my eyes away from the Pattern and looked to Keladrian and noticed that he was looking down over the edge of the cliff. There was a strange look forming on his face. I looked down to see what was affecting him and saw the form of a blue sinuous dragon supine at the base of the cliff.

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Chapter 10
Conversations with Corwin

The four of us sat on our horses viewing the shadow that we were in. We were on the edge of a precipice that dropped about 300 feet to a plain below. Behind a mature apple tree was Corwin's Pattern gleaming silver. The Pattern was large. I had never seen the patter in Amber so did not know if this was larger or smaller than that. But its size was impressive and unexpected.

The wind on the plain was a maelstrom of fury and had scoured the area flat and clean. There was a trail leading down the sharp obsidian cliff in three switchbacks. The lone figure of the blue dragon at the bottom of the cliff was perhaps 50 feet away from the end of the path.

As we sat in silence surveying the land Drake asked if we wished to risk the horses. I assume he meant taking them down the very steep trail to the floor of the plain. We all agreed that it would not be a good idea and dismounted. The horses showed their displeasure for this area by moving quickly away from the edge of the cliff. As soon as I dismounted and relaxed the mental effort I had been spending on calming my mount, he bolted.

Keladrian meanwhile had set off down the trail back without a word to the rest of us. Looking over at Isabeau and Drake, I saw that Isabeau is arranging her gear. I quickly followed after Keladrian.

This was not going very well to start. This was Corwin's Pattern and we needed to plan our approach. I felt that I alone should have gone on from here if we had any chance of talking to Corwin. Perhaps Drake and Isabeau would remain at the top of the cliff.

Keladrian was making good time down the path and I tried to keep up with him. He was gaining slightly on me when I felt the clothes that I was wearing begin to shift and change. It was a strange sensation. There was some agency at work here and I reached out mentally to see if I could find Corwin. As I extended my mental awareness of this place there was noise. The best way I can think to describe it is as mental static. There were roaring sounds and voices fading in and out. Nothing solid and permanent could be heard or maintained. It was as chaotic and transitory as the wind that buffeted us.

We continued down the trail to the first switchback. Before we reached there my clothes had finished changing. I was now wearing a low-cut formal gown with a corseted waistline. The bulk of the material of the dress became uncomfortable under the cloak. The layers of taffeta slips and brocade dress were blown about my legs by the wind to the point that walking was becoming difficult. Fortunately the shoes and the cloak that I was wearing were not altered. I was not happy with this change of attire; I reached down to the skirts and ripped them up the front so that I had room to move my legs. The sound of tearing fabric must have reached Keladrian as he turned around to look at me.

For some reason I was embarrassed by his scrutiny. I could see that he was unsure of what to think about the change in attire. "Why are we stopping? Keep moving." I told him. He looked as if he wanted to say something but fortunately thought better of it and continued on down the path.

I had my head down to protect my face and eyes from the wind and was concentrating on negotiating the steep path down the cliff. Keladrian was ahead of me and moving more surely and swiftly downward. Over the noise of the wind I thought I heard Keladrian say something that sounded like a curse. I raised my head to look in his direction and saw Drake in his full dragon form bearing Isabeau on his back. Keladrian was looking at them also and then picked up even more speed down the steep slope. The rock that we were walking down was some black glass like material that looked much like obsidian. I took a deep breath, lowered my head and tried to increase my speed fighting the damn dress. The fool. Drake should be shot. Didn't the man ever use his head for thinking?

I finally reached the first switchback and turned and headed the other way. I had not gone very far down this direction when I heard Keladrian yell something. The wind blew away the sounds and I was unable to tell what he had said. I risked looking up. Drake was still in the air but seemed higher than before or he was smaller as Isabeau looked larger on his back.

We continued down the path. As I reached the second switchback and started to turn, I looked out over the plain and saw Drake and Isabeau. Drake was not much larger than Isabeau now and he was diving straight for the ground. Just before hitting the ground he pulled up and started to fly forward then dropped from the air and hit the ground. Isabeau and Drake tumbled in a roll of green and yellow skirts and black dragon scales across the plain. I tucked my head down against the wind and continued down the path.

I needed to reach the plain and find Corwin before they pissed him off too much. I continued down. Keladrian was now about 30 to 35 feet ahead of me on the path. About half way through this second switchback, I saw a large ballista bolt hit the cliff face below. I looked up again and Isabeau and Drake were standing on the plain. It appeared that the ballista bolt had been fired at Drake as he was standing in a manner that suggested he had just dodged.

There was nothing else I could do but hurry down the path. The dress that I had ripped to ease walking had mended itself. I picked up the layers of skirt and held them up. My legs were still covered in bloomers. The stays in the corset kept poking into my side. I did my best to ignore all that and tried to concentrate on what I would say to Corwin when and if I could speak to him.

I reached the third switchback and changed directions once again. The last section of path was before us. Keladrian was yelling something again and I looked up. Drake had dropped to all fours and was struggling to move across the plain. Isabeau was also struggling against the wind, but she was on her feet.

I continued down. I saw ahead of me that Keladrian had slowed and was approaching the end of the trail down the cliff. He was looking out towards where Drake and Isabeau were standing on the plain. I glanced up in time to see Drake snap open his wings and launch into the air. Then he disappeared from this shadow. What had the idiot done now? I was hoping that whatever it was would not ruin my chances of speaking to Corwin. If Drake had done that, I vowed right there to kill him.

I was close enough to Keladrian now to hear him. He was standing on the end of the path and facing the tree. "Lord Corwin, King Random has sent two messengers to talk to you." He stood there waiting a moment then continued. "You know the Lady Zhelan. She is coming to talk to you."

It took a few more minutes for me to reach the end of the path. I moved past Keladrian and out onto the plain. The wind seemed a bit calmer here. I moved out about 10 feet then sat down on the plain. I had no desire to fight the gusting wind and be blown around.

I reached into my pouch and shuffled through the Trump until I had Corwin's in my hand. I looked at his picture on the card. Dworkin drew this card and I concentrated on the image there. He stood there in his black and silver. Greyswandir at his side. Black hair and cloak slightly windblown. I looked into the green eyes. As I concentrated on the Trump I tried to build an image of myself and identity and send it with the Trump call. I did not know if this would work. Most Trump contacts are anonymous. But I thought I would at least try.

The picture on the card changed so abruptly that I had a moment of vertigo. The Corwin that I saw before me was more gaunt with dark circles under his green eyes. The black hair was longer. Corwin has always been an incredibly attractive man. I recalled the crush I had on him as a young girl and felt some of that emotion for him even now. He was not unkempt but he was in one of his poetic moody phases. Father did not spend much time with Corwin when he was like this and consequently neither did I. In the last few months I had only seen Corwin briefly in Amber. He had seemed a changed man. I hesitated to say it, but it seemed that he had lost his edge. He was not the same man I knew growing up. I missed that uncle dearly.

The Trump showed Corwin standing next to the tree and in his hands was a loaded ballista. Our minds connected. His mind was stronger than mine, older, more cynical and ruthless. He looked out from the card and there was a sense of waiting.

'Uncle Corwin.'


'I am so happy to see you. I didn't get a chance to speak to you when I came back to Amber, with the battle of the black road and everything. For many years we all thought you were dead and I never really did get to say welcome back.' I put as much feeling of sincerity into my contact as I could and what I truly felt.

There was a pause before he responded. 'Time drags us all onward, whether we will or won't.'

'May we speak a moment?' I asked taking his answer as an opening.

The hesitation worried me but then he answered, 'Yes.'

'Will you bring me through?' and I held out my hand to him.

'Certainly niece.' That answer came much more quickly which I took for a good omen. He reached forward and took my hand. I found myself standing next to him. He was taller than I remembered. Maybe 6' 4". The shadow that I appeared in was idyllic. The scent of apple blossoms were in the air and the sky was blue, the grass green and the beginning stonework of a castle foundation surrounded the Pattern on the ground. I would have approached Corwin and greeted him with a hug but I felt that he was not approachable in this way.

He no longer held the ballista up but it was ready at his side. Twelve bolts for the weapon were propped against the tree ready at hand.

"What news of the family niece?" Family gossip always took precedence in encounters.

"Some good, some bad." I tried to organize my thoughts as to what order I should present the information in.

"Your father?" He prompted.

"Well Dad and Aunt Fiona are both in comas right now." I wondered how he would take this news. I paused before I continued. "Apparently Fiona was playing around with her usual stuff. She touched off something and out they both went."

"Hmmm." Corwin commented non-committedly.

"It took out some people in Chaos as well from what I understand. Chaos wasn't too happy about that so they're attacking Amber again." I added. Corwin had always loved Amber and if I could make him feel that she was threatened I might be able to reach him.

"Ah well, Benedict will take care of that." Corwin waved it off.

"Hopefully. I haven't heard from Benedict." I went back to the family gossip. "That's pretty much it. Except we've been having some problems with time stoppages." I watched his face to see how this information would affect him.

"Time stoppages?" He inquired.

"Apparently it is prevailing through shadow. Random is struggling being King, I guess."

"He may have it in him. Who would have believed it?" Corwin's thoughts became distant and I was sure that he was remembering Random as a boy.

"It was definitely a surprise." I hesitated wondering what to say next.

"The changes I've seen." Corwin said softly to himself as if he had forgotten that I was there.

"He has changed, he has matured." I brought the conversation back to Random. I wondered briefly what Corwin had been thinking of. I dared not try to see for myself what he was thinking.

"The unicorn chose well." He was back with me once again.

"There was one particular thing I wanted to talk to you about." I thought a change of topic would be best at this point. Corwin's moodiness disturbed me. "I wasn't there and father refuses to mention it, but I know it is a story that only you could tell. I've heard rumors of the battle up Kolvir a few years back in which my father unfortunately took a dive over the side. I'm sure that you could do the story more justice. That's what I remember most fondly of you was your stories. When I was younger I loved to listen to you."

Corwin's face softened and he said, "It was your father's finest hour, he was a true hero of Amber. I believe his only error was in moving first."

With that he began to sing the Ballad of Bleys and the ascent of Kolvir. It was powerful, moving and poetically magnificent. I stood there transfixed. I hung on every word and note and committed them to memory. His imagery was powerful and I could see the battle as if I had been there myself. No one else can tell a story like Corwin. He had not lost that portion of himself.

As he concluded his ballad I felt tears in my eyes. "I wish I could find some way to help him. I really want my father out of the coma." I composed myself and reigned in my emotions. "If only we were not being plagued by these time stoppages. Some young man I met in Texarami. I was told his name was Merlin. Anyway he indicated that you might have something to do with these." I waited expectantly for his reaction.

"Merlin is my son." That was a bombshell. I was not aware that Corwin had a child. But then I hadn't known a month ago that Fiona had a daughter. Another cousin. Only this one with ties to Chaos. "But not raised by me."

"Oh, I didn't know. I will have to say hello differently the next time we meet." I thought back to our encounter where we had bound and threatened him and wondered if Merlin knew who I was in relation to him.

"Niece, he was raised by his mother in the Courts of Chaos."

"That explains a lot."

"I knew him briefly. . . " I thought I detected a note of regret in his unfinished sentence.

I continued on interrupting the awkward pause. "Why do you think he would accuse you of meddling with shadow?" There was a long pause in which Corwin did not speak. I grew somewhat nervous and asked, "Have you been experiencing any problems like that here?"

"Much to be done, the work of my life." He said. I had lost him to other thoughts. It was disconcerting to see him like this.

"It seems to me that you have started well. The land is beautiful and your castle is under way." I tried to stay with the thoughts that he was having now.

"Much to do, but . . " He mumbled something that I didn't catch.

"Do you have help here, any assistance?" I was probing for information and not offering my assistance. Truthfully, this Corwin troubled me. The violence was near the surface and the mind was not present to control it.

"A new world is being created here. A new universe." His voice was becoming softer and his thoughts farther away from me.

"We saw your Pattern in another shadow. This tree was there. But that area seems much more disturbed." I wanted to bring him back to more pressing matters.

"Where was this?" I had his attention back again.

"On our way to that place there were many shadows where troops had been slaughtered." I told him.

"That was unfortunate but necessary." His matter of fact tone was chilling.

"I seem to recall those same troops as working for you during the battle of the black road."

"Working with me." He emphasized.

"They worked for someone else?" I asked.

"Didn't they." He looked at me strangely. What was I missing here?

"Are you saying someone sent them here to attack you?" I tried to get enough information to alleviate my confusion.

"When someone sends an armed force against me, I am going to assume it is to attack me." I was sure there was a note of warning in that statement.

"Hmm. Well there are many strange things happening out in shadow, in Amber and in Chaos. It is somewhat confusing. And several people have been trying to contact you." I left that as an indication.

"I'm busy." He returned.

"I see that."

"It is nice of you to come visit but I have no desire to involve myself in my siblings squabbles." I felt that I was beginning to wear out my welcome with Uncle Corwin. I tried once more.

"They are saying that the Pattern you have created is unstable." There I had said it out loud, what would he say to that?

"Why would it be unstable?" His question seemed genuine. "It's the same as the great Pattern in Amber was." I caught the use of the past tense. He couldn't be unaware that the Pattern in Amber had been repaired could he? "There could be any number of reasons. My charming sisters and brothers would care to cast aspersions on my efforts."

"It is more than that. There is Chaos and another group out there that are having concerns about the effect of your Pattern on. . . "

He interrupted me to say. "Now there's a reliable source.

"But it seems that everybody is up in arms about this. They sent several groups to take care of this Pattern." There I had told him. I couldn't be plainer. I waited for him to blow.

"Indeed." He tightened his grip on the ballista. "They can take care of their own areas. I can take care of my own Pattern. And you can inform whoever sent you of that."

And there it was back. We had drawn our lines in the sand.

"Actually I wanted to visit you, but Random also asked me to come with a group of people to look over the situation and find out what it was like. "

"If there is a disturbance out in shadow, mayhap its source is somewhere else, or someone else. Random is a good king, but young. I think he may be less than wise about some of his siblings motives."

I nodded and then changed the subject. "So this here is not your primal Pattern?"

"It is the first reflection." There was pride in his voice as we talked about his Pattern.

"Have you been to the primal Pattern lately?"

"I travel to the Primal Pattern daily, Zhelan." At the use of my name I was aware that I was now on dangerous ground.

"It doesn't feel right to me." I hesitantly said. "This shadow feels wonderful, and idyllic but there, I don't feel this sense of peace and calm.

"Have you been to the primal Pattern in Amber?" He countered.

"I've never been to the Pattern in Amber." As soon as I had said this I knew it was the wrong thing. I should have lied.

He laughed. "You should go there before you make comparisons."

I knew that I had been defeated on that line. "Well, I am glad to see that your are well and that you are obviously doing something that you enjoy."

"Thank you." He said graciously.

"I guess we will have to continue on with our quest to find what is causing these difficulties in shadow because it is disturbing Amber herself whatever it is." I tried another tack of attracting his feelings for Amber.

"Trust no one from Chaos. Your pardon but no one with red hair." He smiled briefly at me.

"Well, all the ones with red hair seem to be in comas at the moment."

"If you risk it." He began then paused. I dared not speak in fear of putting him off track. He continued saying, "For concerns with shadow and Pattern, really your father and Aunt are the best sources. Maybe you should seek some way to aid them in order to gain their knowledge."

"We thought at one point that the problem with the time stoppages and what was happening to them were related. Now I am not so sure. If you have a moment sometime, if you could look around and see if you see anything out of the ordinary as this has reached into Castle Amber itself. We recently experienced six months of being frozen in time."

"Hmm." That seemed to draw his attention. "Not much breaches Amber." Without the aid of an inside force I thought to myself.

"Even Amber's security. . . " His words were soft, I barely made them out. He was off in his own thoughts again then snapped back once more. "I will keep my eyes open. I cannot return to Amber at this moment Zhelan. I am in an important stage here and I still feel there may be some hard feelings amongst those in Amber." He paused and thought a moment. "If Amber becomes truly endangered, then Random need only come here and I will certainly listen to his council."

These last statements of his gave me an idea. It would be dangerous, but maybe worth it. Only time would tell. "I know that you may not have much trust and reliability on others in Amber but if you ever need someone to talk to. . ." I opened my pouch and pulled out one of the Trumps of myself that I had created. There were only three in existence that I had made. One was with Keladrian, one I would keep, and the last I handed to Corwin. Not without some drastic feelings of misgiving, it was an impulsive act. But one that came from my heart. "This is a Trump of me that you may use." He had after all thrown his own Trump to my father as he plunged from Kolvir. I was returning the gesture.

He gazed at the Trump and said, "A fair hand. Your father's?"

"Yes." I lied.

"I will return to my companions now, if I may. If you could send me."

"Where did you come from?" He seemed distracted again.

"From the Primal Pattern." It was interesting. I had thought that from actions occurring there that he had been aware of us.

"Oh certainly." Corwin gestured. It was not a Trump gate but a power I was not familiar with but I was sure that his Pattern was involved because that feeling came with it.

I was back on the windswept plain standing beneath the apple tree with Corwin's Primal Pattern behind me. I looked over to the cliff face and Keladrian was where I had left him. Isabeau had moved over to the blue dragon and Drake was back standing near Keladrian.

We had the information that we had come for and now it was time to leave. I started walking across the plain to Keladrian. The wind was still whipping heavily around me. A new addition was the gathering clouds, flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. As I crossed the plain the lightning became larger and closer.

I was about 50 feet away from Keladrian and Drake when a bolt of lightning hit the ground nearby. The plain shook and the air sizzled. The sound of thunder briefly deafened me and I blinked bright spots.

I could almost hear Keladrian yelling to me. "Zhelan, we need to go now."

"Who's leading?" I asked wondering how we would be going. I could create a Trump gate but Isabeau would be out of reach.

"You are, up the path." He answered.

"We're going up the path?" I was incredulous. We needed to leave here quickly and not wait. The time it would take to walk up the path would continue to put us in danger as long as Drake was with us.

"Why is Isabeau over there?" I indicated where she was standing next to the blue dragon form. "If we are leaving why is she over there?" Things had been happening while I had been talking to Corwin and I was confused.

"Where are we going?" No one was answering my questions, so I just kept asking more.

"More to the point, " Drake interjected. "If we haven't accomplished anything why are we going?"

"We need to see what Zhelan has learned and this is not the place for it." Keladrian finally answered. Perhaps he could not hear me over the noise of the wind. He had answered Drakes' question.

"Now Isabeau." Keladrian yelled towards Isabeau. Isabeau bent down to the still form of the blue dragon and did something.

Suddenly the world went dark around us. I could still leave here and take Drake and Keladrian with me. I was close enough to them now that a Trump gate would get us. Isabeau was too far. I had two locations memorized. It would be a tremendous drain on my energies but I hadn't extended myself for a while and was not tired.

Before I could act I felt the familiar grip of Keladrian's spin. It is not the most pleasant experience I have had but this time was worse. It was a jagged jolting ride to another shadow.

We arrived on a flat plain but this was covered with pinkish saw-bladed grass. Blue and pink clouds drifted across a lemon colored sky. There were no trees or hills. Large dragon fly insects flew through the grass.

It was most noticeable for what it lacked, the wind and lightning.

Keladrian sprinted off in the direction of Isabeau and Drake turned to me and said. "Come along so you can tell us what you learned." Drake turned and started walking towards Isabeau as well.

I was curious as to what this blue dragon creature was that Keladrian and Isabeau were concerned with. Keladrian had brought it with us from Corwin's Pattern. I reached out with my mind and discovered the same blankness that Keladrian had recently exhibited. I quickly checked Keladrian and found him as open as when I first met him.

'Keladrian, who is this being?' I didn't want to shout over the 50 feet that separated us.

'He is a friend of mine. When I left to travel towards Amber, he left to travel towards here.' He replied back to me mentally as well.

I had forgotten what Drake had said so I turned to him again and said, "Now what was that you asked, Drake?"

"Let's walk over there so you can tell everyone at once what you learned." He seemed somewhat perturbed, whether with the offhand way I called him Drake or something else I was not sure and didn't care enough to pry to find out.

It was then that I noticed that the sword that he had in his hand was ugly. It had been infused with the Logrus and I knew that I didn't want it anywhere near me.

"You've been busy while I've been gone." I commented.

"Yes." He said simply. We walked over to the others and I kept as much distance from Drake and his sword as I could get.

When we reached Isabeau and Keladrian they were talking.

"How hard is it going to be to trace where we went to?" Isabeau asked.

"I'm thinking we may want to get moving along." Keladrian answered as Drake and I walked up.

"So we're running away?" Drake accused.

"Do you have a plan for destroying the Pattern because I sure as hell don't have a friggin clue." Isabeau stated. She seemed upset.

"I'm not sure that destroying it is the right course." Keladrian interjected. "It needs to be balanced."

"Patterns don't balance, they exist. You can't add to it, you can't subtract from it. You can damage it but there is no way that Corwin is going to be able to add to his Pattern." Isabeau stated quite strongly.

"Wasn't the Pattern in Amber corrected when it was damaged?" I asked.

"Yah, that was because it was damaged. This Pattern isn't damaged." Isabeau snapped back. I did not like her tone. How dare she talk to me like that. "The Pattern was flawed to begin with." She finished.

"Are we sure of that?" I countered.

"We do not know how to destroy it." Keladrian said. "Or whether it can be corrected."

"The first reflection of the Pattern is peaceful and idyllic." I tried to state calmly.

"It was alright where we were except for the bloody wind." Isabeau practically yelled.

We were all quiet a moment and I could see that Drake and Keladrian did not agree with her either.

"No. No, there was very much wrong there." Keladrian insisted.

"What are you talking about?" Isabeau seemed to be becoming hysterical.

"The land was not land." Drake stated. Leave it to a Chaosian to confuse the issue with some strange metaphor.

"Huh?" Isabeau looked confused.

"There was something wrong with the ground." Drake tried to clarify.

"No there wasn't, it was perfectly fine." Isabeau practically stamped her foot.

"The Pattern itself was . . . " I tried to speak but Drake continued.

"It smelled of formaldehyde." He said.

"What, excuse me?" the pitch of Isabeau's voice raised an octave. "It had a honeysuckle scent."

Interesting. I had smelled Apple blossom. We must each have viewed the Pattern differently and Isabeau did not understand that.

"Remind me never to pick flowers with you." Drake muttered.

"It was a good attempt, but it was beyond the ability of the artist." I told Isabeau trying to convey to her my impression of the Pattern in words she might relate to.

"That's not the impression that I got but you're the art critic not me." She retorted sarcastically.

"Well you have little experience in these matters." I replied in kind and regretted it, as that did nothing to win her to my argument.

"Yah, well, your so experienced with Pattern." She had to have the last word. She reminded me very much at that moment of her mother and why I don't like to spend time with my Aunt Fiona.

"So, he would not let any of us near except you. So what did he say? Did you tell him his Pattern was causing difficulties across shadow?" Drake stepped in to break up the storm brewing in this shadow.

"Corwin did not see the problem as being caused by his Pattern." I answered.

"Then he must be removed so we can take care of it." Drake replied. This statement by Drake did not endear him to me. My Uncle might not be in full control of his faculties at this time, but to so offhandedly mention killing him did not earn any points with me. I still loved my Uncle.

"I don't think you have the ability to do that, but if you want to go back there and try, be my guest." I knew that Corwin would be waiting for him and Drake would not survive.

"Attacking one who is attuned to a Pattern in his place of strength is suicidal." Keladrian interjected a voice of reason.

"Then we draw him out." Drake responded.

"I told Corwin that there were problems affecting Amber and he showed concern." I pleaded on Corwin's side.

"Whooptedo!" Isabeau was just being childish now.

"He suggested that Fiona and Bleys were the two people most likely to be of help in this situation." I continued.

"They're unconscious right now." Isabeau stated the obvious.

"They are not unconscious because of Corwin's Pattern." I replied.

"We don't know that. We don't know squat." Isabeau screamed at me. "We have no idea what's causing any of this."

"They are unconscious because of what Fiona did." I spoke to her calmly and slowly to get her to calm down.

"Which was a direct result of the time stoppages." Isabeau fired back.

"No, it was an indirect result." Drake jumped in.

"We need to find out what Fiona did and fix that." I explained.

"So we're going to go tromping all the way back to Amber so we can go do some prying into Fiona's lab." Isabeau reply dripped with sarcasm.

"We do not need to tromp back to Amber, we can get there very quickly." I stated. I was growing weary of Isabeau and her childish outbursts.

"I don't agree with this strategy at all." She stated in a calmer tone. But not an attitude that made me feel secure on her cooperation. "I think Corwin told you what he wanted you to hear to make you want to leave his precious Pattern alone."

The affront from this woman. She could not know Corwin as I knew him and she most certainly did not know me. "I did not say that Corwin's Pattern needed to be there. I said that Corwin is firmly convinced that there is nothing wrong with his Pattern. We are not going to be able to get Corwin's assistance to help correct his Pattern because he does not see it as flawed."

"Going back to Amber and prying into Fiona's private business is somehow going to convince Corwin to fix his Pattern?" Isabeau tried to put ridiculous words into my mouth. Was there no reasoning with this person? I was ashamed that she was related to me.

"I didn't say that we were trying to convince Corwin of anything." I tried to reason with her.

"If Fiona or Bleys knew how to fix this don't you think they would have gone instead of sending us?" Now Drake was being silly. Did he forget that Benedict and Random sent us on this mission? Come to think it, it was after Isabeau presented herself as Fiona's daughter and told us that Fiona had told her to come here. And this was done while Fiona was unconscious. We had no proof or evidence that this trip had been Fiona's idea. We might have come this far based solely on the word of this hysterical young woman. Could this somehow have been her idea from the beginning? Something to try to do to show her mother that she was worthy?
"They didn't send us, they are unconscious." I reminded him.

"Fiona sent me, you guys are Random's afterthought." Isabeau stated.

"What were her instructions exactly?" Keladrian asked Isabeau.

Isabeau explained that Fiona thought that the problem had something to do with Corwin's Pattern and that she wanted Isabeau to go find it and deal with it. From this I surmised that Fiona was referring to the time stoppages and not her being unconscious. If we could trust Isabeau, that this conversation with an unconscious Fiona happened at all.

"We could try to contact them to see if they are still unconscious." Drake suggested.

Isabeau withdrew a Trump and concentrated a moment then told us there was no response. If Fiona were still out then Bleys would be also. I wished that I could speak with my father right now; he might have some insight on what to do.

"We get all the way there and we just chicken out and run away." Isabeau started up again.

"What would you like to have done? Take a ballista bolt through the chest perhaps?" Keladrian replied. Good for him.

"The only person who got any information at all was possibly her." Isabeau pointed in my direction. "And from what you have recounted of your conversation he's convinced you that his Pattern is beautiful, there's nothing wrong and we should go back to Amber."

We were back to that song and dance again. How many times would I have to explain this before she listened to me?

"You are the one that keeps saying there is nothing wrong with his Pattern." I tried again to make my point.

"No, I said there was nothing wrong with the area that we were in but obviously everyone seems to have different perceptions of what we just experienced which considering the source isn't too surprising." Isabeau stated. The insult was clear and I chose to ignore it for the time being. I was sure that Drake would take offense if I slapped the silly bitch.

"The first reflection of Corwin's primal Pattern was idyllic. It was a beautiful world. What I'm saying is that Corwin is convinced that there is nothing wrong with his Pattern. I did not say that he had convinced me." This was the last time I was going to say this.

"So, now what do we do. Do we go running back to Amber with our tail between our legs?" Isabeau kept insisting that we had failed at something. There wasn't anything about my encounter with Corwin that I was ashamed of.

"You may do that if you wish. I am going to try to find out what I can do to wake up my father." I stated. "What you do about your mother is up to you."

"How are we going to figure out how to wake up your father out here?" Isabeau said. Was she dense on purpose, or just being obstinate. Could I get away with strangling her before Drake killed me?

"We're not." I said.

"So we're going back to Amber?" Isabeau stated.

"Perhaps, perhaps not." Keladrian stepped in.

"Where do you want to go?" Isabeau challenged. "I'm open to suggestions, why not. We're all the way out here half way to Chaos."

"If we go to Amber, what are we going to attempt to find out?" Keladrian turned to me.

"How the elders have become unconscious." Isabeau butted in. "I also thought there was the possibility that Amber was under attack right now. So going back to Amber at this point in time might be a one way trip."

"Which is why I do not intend to go." Drake stated.

"I believe we need more information." Keladrian offered. "Regarding the nature of the Pattern and what is wrong with it."

"So far, the person who has been most helpful, Mandor, suggested that Lord Suhey would know how to deal with it." Drake added.

"And who is Lord Suhey?" asked Keladrian.

"He is to Mandor as Mandor is to me." Drake replied.

"Well that tells us basically nothing, Lord Drake. Could you be a little more specific? Is he a high mucky muck in the Courts?" Isabeau's waspish tongue would soon alienate all of us.

"He is the Logrus Master." Drake clarified.

"Contacting him would not be acceptable." Keladrian added.

` "Considering the fact that Corwin's Pattern is not based on the Logrus, how could he help us?" I asked Drake.

"Because it seems that Corwin is most interested in keeping powers other than Pattern away from his." Drake answered.

"True he was most offensive against the non-Pattern users in the group." Isabeau stated.

"Which leads me to believe that the solution lies somewhere there." Drake finished. This did not make sense to me. It did not appear to me that either Keladrian or I had been attacked. And neither of us were Pattern users.

"We obviously do not have the ability to fix or erase Corwin's Pattern. Therefore it seems logical to find someone who does." Drake argued.

"Or finding out enough information that we can." Added Keladrian.

"Where do we find the information?" Drake asked.

"There are sources we have not tapped yet." I told them. "There are places that I would like to check."

"Such as?" Drake asked me.

"Back in Amber." I told him. There were other places as well, but not ones that I would reveal to him.

"You asked me to let you know when there was a conflict of interest. I feel that going back to Amber would create such for me." Drake said.

"I would agree. Returning there now with Amber possible under siege would not be advised." Keladrian agreed.

"I could go, by myself, check something out and you could bring me back here." I offered.

"If the courts are attacking Amber, would they be able to block Trump." Keladrian asked.

"Possible." Drake answered. I did not agree as I had no problem Trumping into and out of Amber during the time when it was besieged by the black road. But I would not offer that information to them.

We were arguing in circles and none of us seemed to want to give an inch. We were deadlocked and unless something changed, there would be no forward movement from here.

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