| I stopped Keladrian before he could begin changing to the Luggage.
"Before we continue there are a couple of things that I need to get
Keladrian looked at me intently and then nodded.
I took a deep breath. "In all the time that we have spent together, not once have I tried to read your thoughts." I waited for his agreement.
"What you just did was without my consent, but would not have been possible without my permission." From his expression I could see that he did not fully understand what I was talking about. Maybe I had overreacted to the situation.
He chose his words carefully and slowly. "Anytime one quests for the truth of another's statements, it requires their permission. Last I knew you were with your father, who has reason to dislike me. I would not wish to walk into one of his traps."
"That is understandable. But to continue, what I need to know now, is how do you feel about me?" The answer to this question was vital to me in several ways. I had burned bridges with my father to be with Keladrian. I was about to put myself into serious jeopardy with Corwin, Fiona and Mandor, and who knew how many Chaosian warriors. If I couldn't trust this man or he didn't trust me . . .
"I do not feel you did what you did through any desire to cause harm to the others of your party. But realize what you did was break Drake's word that no harm would come to Merlin."
He made a point that I had not thought about. I knew how much Drake's honor meant to him. I could see where my actions might have caused him some concern. It was strange and a little difficult to think about my actions from a non-Amberite viewpoint.
Keladrian continued. "And you acted for all of us without our
consent. Myself, I am not greatly angered. I understand perhaps somewhat
of your nature and your desire to take advantage of an opportunity.
However, for Drake whose word has been compromised, he has reason for
anger. And as for your cousin, it seems the closer to the family tree
of Dworkin you lie, the more likely you are to fight." He paused
briefly then continued. "And I would say given your parents, it's
more than enough reason to cause enmity."
"It stays as it is." He agreed.
"Yes, both my father and my aunt are quite determined to do each other in as soon as the opportunity presents itself."
"And do you wish to use your time and energy doing similar actions?" he asked me.
"There have been times, yes." I smiled grimly. Isabeau was too much like her mother for me to think of her as ever possibly being an ally, much less a friend. "But she is a mere irritation. She is much like her mother in many respects."
"And I would say you are somewhat like your father." Keladrian said.
"More than you can imagine." I said softly. That was one area that I did not want to think about right now. I still did not know the full implications of my discovery and I had no time for it to consume my thoughts.
"Your actions were as his have been, preemptory, arrogant even, and assuming that you knew what was best for all involved." He was direct and brutal in his assessment. But I could clearly see my father in all that I had done in the light of Keladrian's worldview.
"That is a fair assessment." I was compelled to agree with him, though it was difficult for me to admit this.
"So perhaps the friction is understandable. But do you wish to start another war, as it were, and spend time and energy on it rather than following your own desires?" Keladrian's tone was measured and calm. I beheld only sincerity in his tone and bearing. I would not have listened to this from anyone else.
"My world view and goals have recently changed drastically." I told him.
"Indeed." He seemed like he wanted to know more, but he didn't push. For which he endeared himself to me even more.
"At this point, I don't really know what I want." I took a breath and forged ahead. "Other than our friendship." I waited for his rebuff.
The silence stretched almost too long, then he said, "I too would like to continue our friendship. I have not seen nearly as much as I have wished of the shadows."
My heart soared. I was willing at this moment to go anywhere and do anything that he suggested. I had a friend. It was a source of hope in the darkness that had settled around me in the past few days. "I have a feeling you have a lot to teach me about teamwork and honor, both of which have been lacking in my education and experience. I have come to discover that I have seen their value in you."
"Thank you." He said simply. "I would welcome the opportunity to instruct you."
"And I would welcome the opportunity to show you shadow." I smiled warmly at him. I let the moment last for a brief time before I brought us back to the current reality.
"In the meantime, we have a job to do."
"Saving said shadows." He smiled in response.
"Yes. You become the Luggage and then we can continue."
"Very well, but as we do this, you remember that I have a concern with Prince Corwin." He reminded me.
"Your friend Derrick." I sobered at the implications.
"At some point, I will to attempt to convince him that he should do the right thing."
"It has been mentioned that his Pattern may be influencing his actions and his mind. He is not quite sane at this point." Keladrian agreed with my assessment. "If we can fix his Pattern, or destroy it, we have a better chance of getting him to help you with your friend."
"I agree, but if this attempt fails and he is still living, it may be that I will not have a better opportunity."
"You will need him alive and his cooperation." I did not want his plans for Corwin to put our newfound friendship at odds, but I did not want my Uncle harmed.
"I have no desire to kill Corwin." He assured me.
I waited a moment for him to continue. When he did not, I said. "That's good to know. Crazy as he is . . ." I was at a loss for words to describe my feelings for my Uncle Corwin. "Well, he's really very charming if you get to know him. But that's probably not possible at this time." I ended lamely.
"Just so we understand each other." Keladrian stated firmly.
I nodded and stood back while Keladrian began changing into the Luggage. It took most of an hour for the change to be complete and meet my rigid standards. I adjusted his shape here and there till I felt he would pass a close inspection. I flashed briefly on the similar episode between Fiona and Mandor. In my quest to not be my father, I certainly did not want to become my Aunt.
After he finished the change, I sat astride the top. He didn't quite fit my backside like the real thing, but it was close enough. "Whenever you are ready, I think we've got it down."
Keladrian as the Luggage started off and began his shift through shadow to take us to Corwin's Pattern.
We could see the shadow storm hovering on the horizon in the direction of our travel. It seemed much worse than when we were here last. Strangely it seemed to take less time for us to get to the cliff overlooking the plain where Corwin's Primal Pattern lay. Maybe that was because Keladrian was moving us rather than Isabeau.
I indicated to Keladrian that I wanted to move down the switchback path and just out onto the plain before I tried to contact Corwin.
As we moved down the switchback my clothes started to change. Only this time I was not dressed in the formal brocade gown as before. This time my clothes changed more to fit the disheveled appearance that I had arrived in. The skirt was long as before and had a small corset about the waist, but it was dirty and ragged and the material was coarse. The blouse, what there was of it, was off the shoulder and also torn and dirty. I had to hold the front of the dress to keep from bursting out of the top while Keladrian's Luggage gait bounced us down the path.
The psychic noise was worse than before and the Pattern appeared to be a house of cards. A flimsy construction built on a faulty foundation. How it could remain standing was a mystery. But it didn't appear that it could contain the weight of it's own power for much longer. I wondered how big a whole in the universe it would create when it collapsed. Perhaps it would suck the entirety of shadow down with it when it went. I was even more determined to resolve this problem.
We stepped out onto the plain and the ground sparked around Keladrian's Luggage feet. I slid off the Luggage and landed on the sparking ground. The electrical shock was not inconsiderable but it was bearable. I removed Corwin's Trump from my pouch and tried to call him.
The Trump felt very odd here. And when I tried to contact Corwin it was as if the force for the call was being skewed. I did not like the implications and wondered if the power leakage of the pattern across the plain was responsible. I stepped back onto the path hoping that some insulation from the effects of the Pattern would stabilize the Trump. I tried again.
The Trump skew was noticeably less but I still received no response to my call.
I looked down at Keladrian. I was used to speaking out loud to the Luggage so it shouldn't seem strange for me to be talking with it. "Corwin is not responding. My next thought is to go to the tree." I surveyed the plain in front of me. "It seems like a long walk over very dangerous ground, but it is the only thing I can think of at this point." I took a deep breath and stepped out onto the plain and headed to the tree.
Keladrian followed closely. I had the desire to stay as far away from the Pattern as possible. Too close and my skin crawled. I had my mental shields down tight as the level of background psychic noise was so intense that the bleed through was making my teeth vibrate.
As we neared the tree I could tell that it was not happy in this environment either. The leaves were trembling and many were on the ground green. There were several bare branches and I could see places were the bark was shaken away from the core wood. Even though I didn't want to open up my mental defenses to confirm Isabeau's impression that the tree was sentient, I did get that impression. The tree's roots seemed clenched into the ground like it was hanging onto a cliff edge.
I moved up as close to the tree as I could and tried Corwin's Trump again. The sensation of skewed contact was even worse here but it seemed to be helping. I poured as much energy into the Trump contact as I could. It took several minutes of concentration with all my skill when suddenly I felt a response. It was just an open channel with no connection at the other end, and then slowly the Trump figure of Corwin started to distort as well. Corwin's voice finally arrived but it was also distorted. I finally recognized my name through the distorting effect.
"Uncle Corwin." I spoke slowly and distinctly in case the distortion was happening on the other end. "I need to speak to you. Can you bring me through?"
"I . . . mm. . . b . . s. . . y." The words were choppy and took concentration to sort out.
"Amber is in danger. It is important." I insisted.
"R . . . u. . . lone?" he responded.
"Yes." I assured him.
I got the impression of his hand extending towards me, but through many dimensions and distortions. I was sure the trip through would be most unpleasant. For every twist in his arm I anticipated an unpleasant sensation going back.
I touched his hand and the trip was worse than I had imagined. There was a sense of an intermediate stretch of space. It lasted an eternity. My body screamed in protest. We finally stepped out in a pastoral delight for the senses. The tree, however, had not changed its stressful appearance. It was still in bad shape here and mirrored its counterpart at the Primal Pattern. Corwin seemed oblivious to its condition. The rest of the shadow was in sharp contrast. There were white puffy clouds in a pure blue sky. The grass was an amazing shade of green and there were fat wooly sheep grazing in a nearby pasture. I can only describe it as idyllic.
The castle wall was higher than the last time I was here and Corwin stood before us with the loaded ballista in his hands. Corwin was not in idyllic condition, far from it. There were large dark circles under his eyes and he had lost a lot of weight. 'My dear Uncle, what are you doing to yourself and the rest of the universe with you.' I thought as I saw him.
"Zhelan." He greeted me.
It was time to play my role. "Corwin." I sighed. "I am so glad to finally find you. It's crazy out there. I told you before that Amber was experiencing some problems." I paused as confusion spread across his features. "Remember our last conversation?"
He started to shake his head then said, "Oh, yes. We spoke."
"We talked about some of the time stoppages that Amber was experiencing?" I hoped that his mind was not too far-gone.
"Who's with you?" he suddenly demanded.
This surprised me. Surely he could not have sensed Keladrian. "Just the Luggage." I indicated the trunk beside me. "You remember my Luggage?"
He seemed unsure for a moment then said, "Yes."
"Things have gone down since I last spoke with you. Chaos has sent hit squads to Amber. Caine is dead." I paused between each revelation to make sure he had heard, and hopefully understood what I was saying. "Random is in hiding." Pause "Bleys and Fiona's status is unchanged." Pause "I don't know. . . Julian is not in Arden."
"Where's Benedict?" he asked a little more like the Corwin I knew.
"I don't know." I told him truthfully. "I haven't seen Benedict, or Gerard. The last I heard Random was attacked where he was in hiding and injured." I waited for this to sink in. "Amber needs you Uncle Corwin."
"It's not complete. It's not done." He indicated the work around him.
"I barely escaped from Arden to bring you." I sighed and put a waver in my voice. "To Help." I looked up at him with a beseeching expression. "Caine is dead. They killed Caine. Julian is nowhere to be found." I modulated my tone to sound distressed and exhausted.
"Well that's. . ." he snorted but did not continue. I knew that he had issues with both Caine and Julian but he should know as well as I that those two would defend Amber before all else.
"Benedict is missing. Gerard is gone." I dropped my tone off into hopelessness.
"This sounds familiar." He said suspiciously. I don't know what he referred to, but he lowered the ballista. "But who will guard this." He indicated the castle behind us. "I can't leave this alone, unguarded."
"I don't know. I don't know, do you have. . . I don't know. There is no one to help Amber right now. I don't know who I could get to guard this." I could offer to remain myself but I doubt that would convince him and I needed to be his guide on this red-herring shadow stroll to ensure that he would be gone from here long enough to give Fiona and Mandor a chance.
"Do you know anyone?" I finally inquired.
"No, I wouldn't trust any of those bastards." He said. And I knew he referred to our family.
"Amber in danger you say?" he turned his attention to me as if this was a different person and different conversation. His mercurial moods frightened me. I needed to play this just right. Here was a ticking bomb waiting to explode on me.
"Yes. Chaos, as far as I know, is in control of Amber right now." I assured him.
His eyes swept up to me and his presence descended on me. I had been prepared for this. I had carefully reconstructed my recent experience in Amber. No hounds, no Morgenstern or Julian, no hawks the dead quiet of Arden and then being surrounded by the Ihendron hit squad. I powered it with all the color and vividness of my art and all the emotion, fear, adrenaline rush that I could stir up and used it as my shield.
The force of Corwin's mind hit me like a sledgehammer. So different
from Fiona's surgical clean slicing and father's warm wave of overwhelming.
Corwin in his better days was not a sledgehammer. I took advantage of
the situation and feigned a faint to the ground. The full damsel in
distress with the heaving bosom. Which thanks to the attire that Corwin
had provided me, there was plenty to show. My teeth hurt and my head
was ringing but I concentrated on my performance. Stanislavski eat your
He stopped a moment and then looked at me very confused. "Let me help you up, Lady Zhelan." He held out his hand and lifted me to my feet easily. "Pardon me, let me get my bolts." He turned away and I hid a smile of satisfaction. I had judged his reactions correctly.
When he returned he not only had the ballista bolts, but Greyswandir
at his side. I had not seen it earlier but was not surprised to see
I was surprised somewhat at this. We had bypassed his Primal Shadow. I wondered if he was unaware of what truly transpired there. I knew he could see it from our previous encounter, but was he fully aware of the chaos brewing there?
He looked around at the battlefield and the banner cracking in the wind. Then turned and raised an eyebrow. What could I say? We both knew who was responsible. I shrugged indifferently and he said. "Take me to Random."
"The last I knew he was in Rebma. I don't have a way to reach him there. Perhaps you can shadow walk us there?" I suggested, letting him make the decisions.
"Rebma is a long distance from here." He started to turn back towards his Pattern.
"I can get us to Amber, but I'm not sure Amber is safe." I distracted him back to our purpose.
"Then we will make it safe." He asserted.
"Uh, the castle library?" I suggested. I had so much luck going there recently. When he didn't say anything, I pulled Dworkin's Trump from my pouch and concentrated on the stable environment depicted on the card. When the card became active I brought the three of us through.
As we stepped into the library Corwin immediately dropped to a fighting crouch and began to pull Greyswandir. I started to look around when I saw Corwin's head snap forward as if he had been hit from behind. It was a significant blow. I could still hear the reverberation of two solid surfaces meeting soundly.
Keladrian, still in the form of the Luggage, started moving around the room at a rapid pace. In the meantime Corwin was still trying to pull his sword out when his head snapped back as something impacted his jaw. The blow must have been incredible as Corwin stumbled a few feet to the side.
Suddenly the Luggage lifted into the air and headed towards the window.
I couldn't feel or see anything, but something was attacking Corwin. Fortunately we were in the library and the walls were adorned with weaponry. I headed for the closest implement of destruction. Behind me I could still hear the sound of several meaty thuds. At least Corwin was out of his Pattern for a while. Ahead of me, Keladrian hit the window and the glass shattered outward taking Keladrian with it.
I grabbed a basket-hilted cavalry sword off the wall and turned around. Corwin was down on the ground completely out. It was obvious that he had been hit repeatedly around the head and shoulders with some blunt object. He was breathing but his jaw was probably broken. Greyswandir lay next to him with blood on the blade. He had at least made an impact on his attacker.
I looked around briefly then heard a familiar voice say, "Put it down Zhelan."
The dead man spoke. It was Caine's voice but I could not discern him in the room in any other manner. He was a true spirit of Amber.
"Caine?" I inquired with a hint of awe in my tone. No reason to let him suspect that I knew he wasn't dead.
"Put it down." He continued to order. I dropped the blade and stood there wondering what to do next. The body of Corwin rose from the ground and slumped forward as if he were being picked up.
"Go do your thing." The disembodied voice ordered. I'm not sure what my thing was, but obviously I could do nothing against Caine even if I could perceive him.
I turned and went to the window. Looking out I could see Keladrian changing from the Luggage about two and a half stories below me. I stepped up on the sill and jumped down. When I landed on the grassy slope I bent my knees to absorb the impact.
"Do you know what happened?" Keladrian asked as I moved towards him.
"It was Uncle Caine. I need to contact Fiona." I told him.
"Very well." He stated, somewhat unsure.
"You are welcome to participate in the conversation with Fiona." I told him, "But I'm not sure how advisable that is. My Aunt is . . ." I sighed. "Not one to be taken lightly. I would prefer to keep your existence as far from her as possible."
"And Prince Corwin?"
"Prince Corwin is alive, but unconscious." I told him.
"You do not seem too worried about it." Keladrian obviously did not understand our family.
"If Caine was going to kill him, he would have done so and not revealed himself to me. I feel that my goal was to get Corwin away from his Pattern long enough for Mandor and Fiona to view it. I was to give them an hour. Whether we are out running around in shadow, or he is unconscious, an hour is an hour."
He thought about that a bit then said, "You said you wished to contact Fiona?"
"I want to make sure that she and Mandor are in there, and how long they will be. I also find it interesting that Caine was waiting for us. I want to find out if she was part of that."
"And you think she'll tell you?" His question was valid.
"Whether or not she will, at least I can ask." Her answer or evasion from it could tell me much. But Keladrian could be useful. "I intend to contact Fiona. If I need pulling out of it . . ." I left the statement hanging not sure if he knew enough of Trump to understand what I would be facing or if he could tell what to do. "Do you know what to do?"
"I will be able to break the contact." He assured me.
I nodded and pulled Fiona's Trump from my pouch. It took but a moment to concentrate and the contact was immediate.
"Corwin is unconscious in Castle Amber." I told her.
"Great work." She replied.
"Caine was waiting for us. Was that your doing?"
"No." she stated curtly. "Let me know where he takes him."
"I'll do my best. But you have your hour. I take it that you are there?" I was dying to know what they had discovered.
"Yes. Garbage." There was a lot of emotion that leaked through from her.
"Pretty screwed up, isn't it?" I felt somewhat smug having been to see Corwin twice to this her first time.
"This is definitely not good." She agreed.
"I will contact you if I find anything." I told her. I wasn't too concerned about Trump spies while talking to Fiona. I don't know anyone who can best her in mental prowess. "Let me know when your hour is up."
"Oh, of course." I didn't feel any sincerity to her affirmation.
I broke the contact and turned to Keladrian. "Fiona wants us to keep an eye on where Caine takes Corwin." I told him.
"As we cannot see your Uncle Caine, that may be more difficult." He glanced back up to the window. "The question is does it matter?" I wasn't sure what he meant by that.
"Where he takes him?" I asked for clarification.
"It's important to me, but for other reasons."
"Important to you for?" I had my mind on other things and could not understand why he needed to know where Corwin was.
"Corwin will be important to me as I will need his services." When he mentioned this I remembered Keladrian's friend Derrick. "However more important is what is happening at his Pattern." I could see that we were pulled in two ways. Should we follow Caine and Corwin? Or check up on Mandor and Fiona. While I did not trust Fiona, I thought that Mandor might be able to keep her in check and I could contact them by Trump later. Caine I did not trust at all. And what if Corwin regained consciousness and escaped from Caine. The hour wasn't up yet.
"Fiona and Mandor are there now checking it out. I have no idea what's going to happen from that, whether they will get the information that they need, whether they can do anything about it. We have but to wait. Fiona said she may contact me when they are done." Putting it that way didn't sound as hopeful.
"Or we go there." Keladrian stated simply.
"Or we go there." I agreed. "However, do we want to find out what Caine is doing with Corwin first?"
"We can try." He finally agreed.
I looked at the wall and judged that I could scale it back to the broken library window. It would be faster than walking around. There was a third option. I could Trump back into the Library, but I had become somewhat leery of that after what had just happened. I headed over to the wall and started to climb.
"Zhelan that will not work." Keladrian started after me.
"Do you have another suggestion?" I said as I halted my climb.
"Allow me." He said and he started up. I continued after him determined that we would stay together. If he decided to go into the Library I didn't want to start the climb at that point. I can hang around on the wall for quite a while without getting tired.
Keladrian stopped short of the window and started extending body parts up to the window. I decided not to look. I wasn't that comfortable with shape shift yet. As we waited there on the wall I heard the sound of armed men coming around the corner of the castle. They appeared to be normal Amber Imperial Guard, chain mail and helmets with surcoats in Green and Gold.
"Hey, you there. Off the wall." I heard a shout from below.
I started to search the library for mental signatures when Keladrian reached down and grabbed me. I found myself flying towards the broken window and rolled tightly in a ball to avoid any glass fragments. I hit the floor and rolled to my feet in a defensive position. Outside there was the sound of an alarm whistle.
Keladrian was quickly behind me. The library showed signs of a scuffle but none of Corwin or Caine. There was a heavy gold candlestick on the bloody carpet that had several revealing dents in it.
Keladrian changed into his dragon form while I grabbed a rapier and main gauche from the wall. Weapons that I was familiar with.
Keladrian moved around the room and then headed to the fireplace. I admired the play of color across his scales. He turned to me and said, "Is there a passage here?"
I remembered the series of passages that Bleys had thought important that I learn. I approached the fireplace and pushed and pulled the sequence of levers and ornamental work. The back of the fireplace moved to reveal a narrow opening. Behind the walls there was a circular shaft with a ladder leading down into darkness. Keladrian changed forms to negotiate the ladder and I thrust my weapons through the corset Corwin had provided. I hoped that Keladrian would hurry as I could hear guards coming up the main stairwell. We just managed to get the secret passage closed before they arrived. They probably thought we were a Chaosian hit squad.
When I thought about it, I realized that I had probably been more effective than the Chaosian hit squads. After all I had been instrumental in getting Corwin knocked out, and both Random and Bleys injured. Fortunately I don't think any of them associated my actions with their injuries. I tried not to dwell on that.
We descended the ladder for quite some time. I wondered how far down Caine would go. Below us were the dungeons and below the dungeons father had warned me never to go. Things moved down there and unless you can walk through solid rock, not a good idea to go there.
We stopped a couple of times to check out passages off of the ladder well. Keladrian would turn to his dragon form to check for the scent of Corwin and Caine. I wondered if Caine was taking Corwin to the dungeons. The dungeons had been able to hold Corwin for four years before someone had helped him to escape.
The third passage we came to was the one. It was pitch black and I could see nothing. This was not a portion of the castle that I was familiar with.
"They went this way." Keladrian's voice came to me from the darkness.
"Which way?" I said, letting him know that I was completely blind in this environment.
We were past the parts of the castle that were used. The air was dank and stale and the smell of decay and long disuse was strong here.
"This way." I felt something scaled touch me and I stepped down off the ladder following that support. My skirts were a bit of a hindrance.
"Go ahead." I told him. "I'm fine here and I'll follow as I can. But don't lose them on my account."
"It would be simpler if you rode." He offered.
I reached out to feel for a seat. It felt a bit strange touching him in the dark this way when he was in this dragon form. I decided that with the skirt and his ridge scales that it would be easier to ride sidesaddle. It was not a comfortable seat and with the undulating motion of his body beneath me it was difficult to keep my perch in the dark. We continued down the hall. I was completely dependent on Keladrian's sight and senses though my hearing and smell seemed to sharpen now that I could not rely upon my eyes. Before long we heard footsteps briefly. As soon as we heard them they stopped.
Keladrian stopped and I tried to still my breathing and the sound of my heart. It was probably too little too late.
"He comes." Keladrian said quietly.
"Shit." I whispered back as I slid from his back. If it came to a fight, Keladrian had no chance against Caine. Even less so if I were hampering his movements. I found the wall and tried to become part of it.
Now what do we do?
| As I stood in the dark I had a sudden thought. I hoped that Caine didn't
know too much about my Luggage and I was betting he didn't know anything
about Keladrian. He had seen me in the Library with the Luggage; maybe
he would believe that the Luggage could shape-shift. I stepped away from
the wall and held my hands out to my sides, shoulder height and palms
"Hold, Luggage. Don't attack." I told Keladrian. Then, "Caine, I know you're there, it's Zhelan." And I waited for his next move. I could hear the footsteps get louder but there was no other response.
I counted the seconds as I listened to the steps in the dark. Judging the rate of walking by the amount of time that passed, he would have traveled about 50 to 60 feet. It wasn't like Caine to make this much noise. The sound of the steps changed in tone as if the person had been walking down another corridor and had just turned into the same corridor that we were standing in. I wished that I could see what was going on.
I could feel Keladrian's body next to me; muscle's tensed and ready to spring suddenly into action. We waited in the dark for what seemed like endless minutes. I thought that perhaps Caine hadn't heard me the first time so I said again, "Uncle Caine, its Zhelan."
We stood there another few seconds in the dark waiting for something to happen. Keladrian suddenly whirled around in the corridor facing back the way we had come. As he turned back around he somehow swept me up onto his back.
"What?!" I protested.
"The dungeons are flooding and that is not an Amberite." He stated, as we started moving down the corridor.
"Do you want us out of here quickly?" I asked. Even in the dark I could use a Trump memory to take us out of these dark tunnels.
Keladrian loped quickly through the dark and now I could hear the sound of water rushing towards us, the feel of moisture saturated the air and the roar of the water was so loud that I knew that we could not hear each other talk. Suddenly we skipped forward with the in-shadow Spin that he could do. The sound of water lessened only slightly behind us, and I felt that it was gaining.
A quick turn nearly unseated me from Keladrian's back. I held tightly as we turned down a side passage and water splashed over my left side.
The water nearly enveloped us then we Spun forward again. The sound of the water diminished and I yelled to Keladrian, "What now?"
We Spun again and were still in the dark, but there was no sound of water.
"We've moved." I asked Keladrian for confirmation.
"Yes, it was not your Uncle, it was a mannequin with his clothes." He told me.
"But he was down there?" I hoped that we hadn't been on a wild goose chase.
"Yes, but somewhere down that passage and where I Spun us ahead of the water, his scent disappeared." He seemed frustrated. "Do you know of any other passages in there?"
"There are other ways of tracking Corwin, other than following Caine, which doesn't seem to be working real well." I realized that it had been a silly idea from the start to think that we could follow Caine in territory of his choosing. "With your conjuring, and my Trump, we can construct something that could track down Corwin. So I think we should go someplace where we can make other plans about what to do next."
"Very well. Do you have a suggestion?" He acquiesced.
"What about my home in Amber?"
"Do you think it is safe?"
"It is Bleys' estate, I doubt he'd be there." I thought about that statement a moment. It sounded a bit too much like, 'no one ever goes to the Library'. "Or we can go to Ssalesh." I offered.
"I believe Ssalesh would be better."
I used a Trump memory to take us from the stygian dark of the tunnels to the warm dry air of Ssalesh. I was still atop Keladrian's back as we appeared in the courtyard of the Goddess. There had been a few more repairs done and there was a suspicious pile of leaves in front of my statue in the courtyard. Obviously the Ihendron body that I had left behind from my last visit.
"This is probably not the best place to go, but it is one of the few places that I could take us to while we were in the dark." I explained.
I sat there atop Keladrian dripping wet and bedraggled. We needed to go someplace with facilities and food. I hadn't realized that I'd said this aloud until Keladrian added that he would like someplace with a high magic level.
I opened my pouch and leafed through my Trump.
I had one place that would satisfy all the requirements. I had only been there a few times and it was far to the Chaos side of Shadow, but it would do. We arrived on a disk that was covered with black and white squares. Around us were other floating plains of geometrical shapes. The floating shapes had no three dimensional structure. It was like looking at two-dimensional shapes set in a three dimensional area. The air was thin and cold but a sense of magic permeated the place.
I slid down from Keladrian's back and asked, "So, what do you need?"
"You tell me." He responded.
"You said that you needed someplace with high magic."
"You said you wished me to do conjuring." He countered.
"I said that was one way we could follow Corwin. What we needed was someplace where we could talk about what to do next." I indicated the plain around us. "What I had in mind was creating some sort of messenger that we could follow to where Corwin is. But before Corwin's Pattern is fixed it is pointless to find out where Corwin is. So I think that is something that we should hold off on. In the meantime, perhaps someplace to sit. " I thought of comfortable chairs and they appeared from the ground. "Something to eat." A table with food appeared next to the chairs.
"I'm not so sure we should leave Corwin outside of our control." Keladrian protested.
"If Caine was going to kill Corwin, he wouldn't have hauled him down into the dungeons." I assured him.
"Unless he wanted to do it slowly."
"No, that is not Caine's style. If it needed doing, Caine would do it, but he would do it expeditiously. He has other plans for Corwin, which don't include killing him. I am pretty sure that we can assume Caine will put Corwin someplace where he will be out of the way but available. In the meantime, I am expecting Fiona to call about the Pattern. If she doesn't call soon, we need to contact them."
"It will take some time to conjure a method to track Prince Corwin." Keladrian explained. "I would think that is something that we should obtain now. Even if we do not use it right away."
"All right." I agreed. "What do you need for that?"
"If you could provide me with a Trump sketch of Corwin, that would shorten the time that I would need to do the conjuration."
I concentrated a moment and a drawing table appeared complete with paper, pen and inks. I turned towards Keladrian and he had stretched out his dragon form in a bed of warm sand.
"How much time do we have? Does this need to be done right away?" I was extremely uncomfortable in my wet ripped dress and peasant blouse. It was cold and I really wanted a bath and clean clothes.
"It depends, how soon do you think your Aunt will be calling you?"
I had no answer to that question. She should have contacted me already. "You can't start your conjuration until I get the sketch done." I told him. I would just have to go ahead and draw the damn Trump and then while he was conjuring, I could bathe and change.
After half an hour at the drawing board I had a sketch of Corwin. I stood, stretched and went to where Keladrian was napping in the sand. I handed him the sketch and without a word turned and thought up a huge tub filled with hot water and bubbles. I quickly divested myself of the grubby clothing and sank gratefully down for a good long soak. The nice thing about this place was that the water would remain hot no matter how long I was in the tub.
An hour seemed to be an adequate bath. I thought up a big fluffy towel and stepped from the tub. Cosmetics and clothing appeared as I thought about what I wanted to wear. Something a little more durable. A nice pair of tight black leather pants. Sturdy, yet fashionable black leather hiking boots. A backless halter-top made of silk in cobalt blue. I thought up a full-length mirror and admired the look. The halter-top showed less cleavage than the peasant blouse, but more midriff. A few thin straps across the back accentuated my shoulder blades.
I brushed my hair dry and added a long black leather duster to the ensemble. Very technopunk. To this I added a weapon belt, a rapier and main gauche. This shadow would not support more advanced weaponry. I was adjusting the hang of the weapons when I heard a solid thump behind me and a very grateful piece of wood bumped into the back of my knees. The Luggage had returned.
I turned around and sank down and hugged my Luggage. I was so happy to see that it had arrived back with me safely. I opened it up to find out what might be waiting inside. I was relieved, but also a little disappointed to find no new bodies in there.
There was still time before Keladrian would be done with his spell casting, so I set about doing inventory on the Luggage contents and cleaning the outside of the Luggage. I made sure that all the dirt and grit were cleaned out of its feet, the brass fittings were polished and the leather straps were oiled.
As I worked on the Luggage I noticed that it had a tendency to try
to keep itself between Keladrian and I.
It was too bad that I had only made a Trump sketch of Mandor as I would
have preferred to contact him. With a sigh of resignation I took out
Fiona's Trump and tried to contact her. She had to know it was me, but
she was being stubbornly unavailable.
After about 45 minutes Keladrian stood up, finished with his task. I would have had the time to make that sketch of Mandor. As I started towards him, the disk below us just sort of popped out of existence. I noticed several of the disks around us disappearing as I started to plummet downward. I had never seen the ground in this shadow and wasn't sure there was one. The Luggage was close by but not close enough to send me the parachute in the inventory. The Luggage seemed resigned to its fate, as it had been thrown through too many windows lately. I was sure I could maneuver towards the Luggage and then use a Trump memory to take us to Ssalesh. So I flipped over in the air and spread out my legs and arms and started to adjust my angle of descent towards the Luggage, Keladrian grabbed me in his claws, then grabbed the Luggage. Must be nice to be able to fly.
There seemed to be a pattern lately where he was rescuing me from some dire circumstance. In all my travels through shadow, I had not had this many adventures so close together. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something. Or maybe not.
He set us down on another disk and handed me the Trump sketch.
"I think it's time to leave here. I don't know what the hell just happened but I tried to contact Fiona and she wasn't responding." As I was saying this I noticed that we had started sinking through this disk.
"I believe that we should return to Corwin's Pattern. I think it may be affecting the reality of this shadow." Keladrian stood calmly discussing our options as we sank further through the disk.
"Can you get us there?" I tried to sound as unconcerned as he seemed to be.
"I am hesitant to take us directly there, but I can get us close." With that he Spun the three of us to the plain of the dead army. I was getting really tired of this shadow since this was the fourth time I had seen it in the last few days.
There was a major difference this time however. At one moment it was the dead army as I remembered it complete with the smell of rotting corpses. The next it was an empty plain, then again we stood in the midst of the live soldiers preparing for battle with all the sounds and smells which accompany men on the march. We seemed to be shifting around in the time of this shadow. At one moment we were before the army had arrived, the next after the army had died and then again we were there after the army had arrived but before they had died. It was very confusing and disconcerting. Keladrian had mentioned once that he heard the song of a shadow. I couldn't imagine what this song must be like for him. Whatever was happening at Corwin's Pattern seemed to be accelerating.
"Can you take us from here?" I asked Keladrian trying to focus on him and ignore the chaos around me. That thought caught my attention a moment, but I put it aside to concentrate on Keladrian.
"The whole point in coming here was so that I didn't Spin into the Pattern shadow."
I could understand his reluctance to show his powers in front of Mandor and Fiona, but he was the only one who could get us to where we needed to be.
"Can you change into something that uses another form of shadow travel?" I knew he could but felt he should make the decision to do so. This teamwork idea was hard work.
"Yes, but it will take me a couple of minutes to do so." He had barely spoken this when there was an immense bright flash of light that seemed to permeate not only through the shadow but through my body as well. It left me in total deprivation of my sense of sight and hearing. There was a panicky moment when I realized that I was also head blind. I could not sense anyone or anything around me. It was like a switch had been shut off in my mind. It was several moments before I realized that I still possessed my sense of touch as I felt the luggage pressing against my legs.
I called out to Keladrian but couldn't hear my own voice. I reached out and touched his face. He was breathing and awake and still in his dragon form. I stood in the darkness holding onto him waiting for my senses to return.
The silence lifted slowly and the first sound I was conscious of was Keladrian's breathing.
"Can you see anything?"
"No, but my hearing recovered a short time ago. I guess yours has now."
"Yes." I smiled at his attempt at levity. "What the hell was that?" He probably had no more idea than I did or maybe just as much.
He chuckled then said, "Mandor and your Aunt?"
"All they were suppose to do was look, but they have been there for an awfully long time." I agreed.
"They would not just look." He stated the obvious.
"When they thought they only had an hour, that's what they said they were going to do. We need to get there and find out just what the hell they are doing. As soon as we can move we need to." And maybe sooner. "Can you change yet?" I asked him.
"Until our sight returns, no."
If only he could change into something that didn't need sight to shadow walk. Then I realized that the answer was pressed against my legs.
"The Luggage." I told him.
"Could your Luggage take us?" He asked hopefully.
"The Luggage has never been there. In order for it to go there, it would have to follow me. It wasn't with us the last time." I reminded him.
I felt Keladrian begin to change into the Luggage and I suddenly wondered how the real Luggage would take this. It had seemed to be antagonistic towards him earlier. If it thought that I was replacing it with Keladrian. . . ? I slowly sank down to the level of the Luggage and began to stroke its lid and speak to it in soothing tones. I still could not see but realized suddenly that I could sense the presence of the Luggage. I was relieved that my mental powers had returned.
The Luggage did not take the transformation well. It uttered a low growl. "It's ok, he won't stay that way for long." My efforts to soothe the Luggage were only having a minimal affect. It was not happy that there was another Luggage in my life.
I felt Keladrian send a thought towards the Luggage that he was not happy with this situation either. The Luggage refused to be mollified.
I wondered how this would work with two sets of Luggage and a blind
Amberite. Oh well, I consoled myself with the thought that the Luggage
was back and I was with Keladrian.
| As I waited for Keladrian to change to the Luggage I tried blinking
my eyes and concentrating on my vision. No luck, I was still unable to
see anything. Besides being blind there was another problem.
"I still can't see, so we have a problem. The last time we were here, I rode on you to get to Corwin's Pattern. If I try that now, I'm sure that the Luggage will attack." I waited a moment and then realized that Keladrian's change must have been far enough along that he could no longer converse with me. "I could try riding the Luggage, but I seriously don't think it would follow you. And I don't think the ground is even enough for me to walk around with my hand on your lid."
I could get no indication from Keladrian but the Luggage growled and pressed against my legs. It shifted around my legs and I assumed that it was trying to keep between Keladrian and me. We needed to try something else.
"Luggage, a rope, please." I heard the lid open and I held out my hands and got a coiled rope.
"Keladrian, can you take the end of the rope and then try leading me that way?" I knew that I would have to throw the end of the rope past the Luggage in order for Keladrian to reach it. "The Luggage keeps trying to stay between me and you so I don't think I can just hand you the end. Can you try to line up on which way I am facing and catch the end of the rope when I throw it? Try to make some noise with your feet and I will aim for that."
I had thought that the blindfold exercises were stupid when Bleys had made me practice them. After all who would go into a fight blindfolded? Now I was thankful for the practice as I listened to Keladrian's footsteps and tossed the rope to him.
I felt a tug on the rope and wound the end I held around my forearm so that I wouldn't accidentally drop it. I rested one hand on top of the Luggage to steady myself and started walking in the direction of the pull of the rope.
We had only walked a short while when vision returned fully. It took a moment to adjust to seeing again, which was made more difficult by the fact that the air was full of flying grit. I could see that we had arrived at the cliff overlooking Corwin's Pattern. The light from the Pattern was more dim than before.
I could still sense Corwin's Pattern but it was like it was being blended over or muffled. The impression was of a bad drawing that was over blended until the colors were muddied. This was hardly an improvement. Down below I got the strong impression of Logrus in use, but also Amber Pattern in full force. My skin crawled with the conflicting impressions of the two powers in play at the same time.
"Perhaps you can change back to some other shape besides the Luggage." I said to Keladrian. I thought we needed to decide on a plan of action and it would be easier if we could talk. The Luggage seemed very subdued and was no longer trying to attack him directly.
Keladrian stretched up from the shape of the Luggage into his human form.
"If you chose not to continue here and go down and meet Fiona I would understand." I wanted to give Keladrian the chance to leave gracefully. I knew that his amulet would prevent Fiona from reading his mind, but if he was here, Fiona might try to find out about him through me. I knew too many of Keladrian's secrets to be around Fiona if she were interested.
"The shadows we walked through were wiped clean." He told me. "Perhaps calling them shadows is a misnomer."
Which means that the only way he could leave here was by Spinning. With Fiona and Mandor nearby he wouldn't do that.
"Well, I guess that means that we need to find out what the two of them are doing."
"The three of them." Keladrian contradicted.
"Three?" I questioned. I tried to sense by the Pattern to see if I could tell if there was another person down there.
"Do you know what it is?" I asked him, shielding my eyes from the grit.
"I am sensing a third power source besides the Pattern and the Logrus." He replied.
"Could it be Corwin's Pattern you are sensing?"
"No, I am sensing three distinct powers in use." He was looking down onto the plain.
"Well, I guess if we are going to go, we better go." I started for the path.
"Can you tell what they attempt?" He followed closely behind me.
"They just seem to be muddying the waters. It's like taking a chalk drawing and smearing your hand across it." I shouted back over my shoulder.
"It feels muffled." He answered back.
"They are taking a poor drawing and making it confused. I can't see that this is helping." I said more to myself rather than fight to yell back over the wind.
"Then we descend and see what we can learn."
We started down the incline and this time my clothing did not change. I was thankful that I didn't have to fight a skirt this time. I had worked really hard on this look and if it had been changed I would have been really pissed. At the first switchback the wind was pushing us back against the cliff. The sense of pressure was building. Down the second switchback there was a sensation of a lock opened or a switch thrown and winds rushed outward from the Pattern and pressed me hard against the cliff. Dust and grit were flying everywhere. It was impossible to see through it. As suddenly as it had picked up it was gone. It was utterly, eerily silent. My ears rang from the lack of the howl of the wind. There was no motion to the air at all.
I wiped the grit from my eyes and brushed myself off. The hair would have to stay dusty for now. It was a shame as I had just washed it. The tree could be seen clearly now and there was a figure in black leaning against it. I recognized Mandor. He was looking out over where Corwin's Pattern was. There were only parts of it showing.
Fiona, dressed in green, was walking in the space between the Pattern lines. As she walked beside it the lines of the Pattern subsided and disappeared.
I wanted to get to Mandor. It appeared that Fiona was busy and couldn't be interrupted without danger to her. At the middle of the switchback I jumped down to the next level and then from there to the plain of the Pattern.
There was no sense of the electrical discharge from the plain this time. I looked towards Fiona and she was fully engaged in her task but was laboring. She did not seem to notice me. Mandor was equally concentrating on Fiona. The two of them were oblivious to us.
I sprinted out over the plain to Mandor and the tree, which was bare of leaves now.
Mandor was obviously stressed, he was leaning heavily against the tree and his hair was wind-blown.
Corwin's Pattern was very muffled now and Fiona was almost to the center
of the Pattern. She was limping and I could tell that it was only her
stubborn will that was keeping her on her feet. I hoped that she could
last, as stopping now would probably be the worst thing that could happen.
"Stay with Mandor." I told Keladrian as I approached the edge of where Corwin's Pattern used to be. I stopped as I neared that edge as I got a feeling that there was something still there. It seemed a bad idea to step across it. Fiona made the final spiral and the last of the light from the Pattern ceased. She stood a moment and then collapsed.
The minute she fell Mandor stepped from the tree and cried out, "Fiona." Before I could react he ran towards the Pattern edge only to be hurled backward with great force. It was like an explosion. I instinctively raised my arm to protect my eyes. I heard a meaty thud as he hit the tree behind me.
"I said, watch Mandor!" I yelled at Keladrian.
"I did watch him." Keladrian replied calmly.
"Can you go get Fiona?" I asked him. "You can fly out there and pick her up without touching anything, can't you?" I turned towards Keladrian. Damn the bitch. I needed to rescue her ass again because I didn't know what she and Mandor had done and how permanent it was. What if it was just putting a lid on the Pattern? Containment could cause the pressure to build and the subsequent eruption could be catastrophic.
"I'm not sure that would be sufficient, but we will try." He said as he switched to gargoyle form and headed out over the Pattern. I headed over to Mandor to see if he was okay. He was still breathing and nothing seemed to be broken, but I was sure there were serious internal injuries. I glanced over to Keladrian and he had picked up Fiona in his claws. She hung as limp as a rag doll.
He flew back over to where I was kneeling next to Mandor. As he neared I took out the Trump of Shangra La and had it ready. Keladrian landed next to me cradling the shape of Fiona and I quickly activated the Trump and moved us through.
We appeared outside the gates of the Monastery. I went forward carrying Mandor and rang the bell. The monk who answered the summons did not look particular pleased to see us when he noticed Fiona.
I carried Mandor and Keladrian, who had shifted back to human form, carried Fiona. We followed the monk and he led us to rooms were we deposited Fiona and Mandor. There was nothing more we could do for them now. It was the monk's job to heal them.
I took Keladrian to one side as we left the two behind. "We can
get something to eat here and maybe . . . " I didn't finish my
sentence before Keladrian interrupted.
"Now? And leave these two alone?" I tried to reason with him.
"Do you think it would be wise to be around when they wake up?" he countered.
"I would kind of like to know if what they did was temporary or permanent. Or whether it will blow up and how soon. I really don't trust what they have done. It could be a pressure cooker and all of a sudden go . . . boom."
"I'm really concerned." I thought he was coming around.
Then he added, "Perhaps talking with Corwin would be a way to gauge."
I heaved a sigh and shook my head. "If you think that's best."
"It will take some time to track him down."
"Yes, it will." And in the meantime Fiona and Mandor could slip away from us.
"They are unconscious at the moment and I would rather have Corwin where we know where he is." Keladrian could not be swayed.
"Let me talk with the head monk." I could at least get some warning about when they woke up. For all the good it might do me. "I will get him to contact me when they wake."
I headed out to find the monk in charge and told him that we needed to leave on another errand. "I need to know immediately when Mandor and Fiona awake as I am sure you don't want them here any longer than absolutely necessary." I took out a Trump of myself and handed it reluctantly to him.
"I have an object that you can contact me through."
He took the Trump but looked mildly disturbed. I had hoped that since this shadow used magic in their healing that they would accept the Trump as another form of beneficial magic. I might be wrong, but I had to try. "It's a magic piece of paper. If you concentrate on it and think of me then you can contact me wherever I am."
"As you say, daughter of heaven." The Trump disappeared somewhere into the monks robes.
"Would you like to try it, just to make sure you know how it works?" I asked him.
"That will not be necessary." He assured me.
"When they awake, please contact me." I stressed. I hoped he would be able to do so.
"I hear your wishes." He smiled at me and bowed. I bowed in return and went back to where I had left Keladrian.
"I think we should start closer to where we left Corwin." I told Keladrian. He nodded and I asked, "To the library then?"
He raised an eyebrow at me. "No one ever goes to the Library." We hadn't had much luck going to the library, but what the heck.
"Well, maybe this time it will be true." I smiled as I pulled out the Trump.
As we stepped through to the library I crossed my fingers.
The only one we disturbed was a workman repairing the window. He dropped his tool as we surprised him. He stooped to pick up his tools and bowed to me.
"Continue on with your task. Ignore us, we were not here." I told him.
Keladrian took out the Trump sketch of Corwin and handed it to me. I held it out and realized that it pointed out from Amber. Corwin was not in Amber any longer.
"He's not in Amber any longer and in order to shadow walk from here we would need to be mostly through Arden. That is a long trek from here."
I had a thought. I wondered if I could use Trump spanning and the conjured Trump sketch to triangulate the shadow that Corwin was in. The only problem with that idea is that it took two hands to Trump span and one to hold the shadow-seeking sketch of Corwin. So much for that idea. It would have been a great idea if I could shape shift a third arm. Keladrian couldn't sense the shadows in the Trump span so he was unable to help.
"Can you take us to a shadow close to Amber so that we don't have to travel all the way through Arden?"
"Do you just wish to be beyond Arden?" he responded. When I nodded, we were quickly on the far side of Arden.
Keladrian changed into a strange mixed monster shape. He had the body of a serpent and the torso of a man. His head was like a large hooded cobra. He held the Corwin seeking sketch out in front of him and rotated around and then stopped.
"He's this way." He held out his hand to me. I took it and
we started moving through shadow in search of Corwin. I walked and Keladrian
slithered. The Luggage thumped along behind.
| We walked through shadow awhile in silence and I thought about what
had we accomplished? Fiona and Mandor had done something to Corwin's Pattern.
Whether that had fixed the problem with the time stoppages through shadow,
we didn't know. Then there was the Emergence. We didn't know what was
happening with that or the war in Chaos. I wondered what Drake and Isabeau
had been doing during this time. They certainly hadn't been working on
the problem of Corwin's Pattern.
As I thought about everything the pile of what we didn't know was getting
bigger than what we did know. It was very discouraging.
I turned to Keladrian. "There's something that's bothering me." I mused aloud.
"Only one thing." He smiled back and I wondered briefly what he was hinting at.
"One thing in particular." I chuckled. "The other things can wait. I can't figure out how Caine managed to be there at just the perfect time. It bothers me that he was there when we showed up."
"You don't think he was just waiting in the library for someone to come in?"
"I don't know. I don't think Caine would be waiting in the Library for the Chaosians to show up. That doesn't feel right to me." There was some nagging thought in the back of my mind that refused to present itself with clarity.
"It is the Library." Keladrian quipped and we both laughed at the joke.
"It just seems too coincidental for him to just be waiting there when we show up with Corwin. It just seems too . . . " I was at a loss for words to explain why it felt wrong to me, but it did.
"If he was not just waiting there, then he had to know that we were coming." Keladrian stated the alternative. "But we did not decide to go there until after we had talked with Corwin."
"He was either waiting for something else in the library, or somebody tipped him off that we were coming." I tried out those conclusions to see if they felt right.
"There would have been no one to tip him off, as we did not know where we were taking Corwin. We didn't discuss it ahead of time." Keladrian quickly pointed out the flaw in that idea.
"I know we didn't discuss it."
"He would have had to be at Corwin's shadow. If you think that he was not at the library waiting, then he had to be where we were when we decided to go there." Keladrian took the thought to the next logical step.
"Do you think he was at Corwin's shadow?" I hadn't thought of that before but it seemed right to me somehow.
"What other choice would there be? Unless there is someway to do more than listen to a Trump call. If there is a way to enter a Trump transport from a different point."
"Not that I know of." It was an intriguing concept. I wish I could discuss Trump theory with a true adept. But the only ones I knew about were not about to give away that kind of information.
"It seems to me that when you use Trump to travel that it has a definite connection between two points." Keladrian stopped while he tried to struggle with Trump theory. It was obviously foreign to him. "Can other people bridge the Trumps like you showed me?" He finally asked.
"I don't know." I told him truthfully. It had been something that I had discovered quite on by accident. Father had seemed to be unaware of that Trump ability when I talked to him about it. That didn't mean that others might not know the trick.
"Then it seems that he would have to have been at the start or the end as those are the two logical places for him to have been." He summed up.
Something that Corwin had said when we were there suddenly moved to prominence in my thoughts. "Corwin said something when we were there, do you remember? I thought he was referring to you at the time." I stopped and thought through the ramifications. Shortly after I had started talking to Corwin he had suddenly demanded to know who was with me. Maybe it was Caine he was sensing. But if Caine had showed up at Corwin's Pattern when we were there . . . "But if he showed up, then that would mean that he would have been . . ." he had to know that we were going there to try to get Corwin to leave. "That he would have had to have been . . . " My thoughts were racing. That little nagging thought suddenly sprang to full-blown revelation. When I was talking with my father I'd had a strong impression that there was someone else in the room. At the time I had dismissed the thought. Now it came together with other things. Bleys and Caine together playing war-games. Caine invisible. He could have been with my father when we had our talk and I had mentioned many things that I really didn't care to have my Uncle Caine know about me. "Oh Shit!!!" I said aloud.
"I'm not following." Keladrian looked at me with some confusion.
"I know where Caine took Corwin." I told him. "Which means that, oh shit!!!" I repeated. "Oh my god. Shit, shit, shit! We need to stop. We have to change our whole approach to what we are going to be doing. We can't just blindly follow that." I indicated the Trump tracker of Corwin that Keladrian was holding.
"Perhaps I should explain you look a little confused." I took a breath and looked at our surroundings. We had stopped in the middle of an asphalt parking lot. There were cars around us but all the windows had been broken. There was a store nearby with a large red G on it, the paint was peeling from the building, the awning was ripped and broken and the windows were broken or missing entirely. The sky above was an evil slate gray. Some disaster had happened here but it didn't look recent. The only sound was an occasional insect, no people, birds or larger animals.
Where to start in this explanation? "I believe Caine took Corwin to my father's shadow. Because I believe that's where he first overheard the discussion I had with my father."
"And what would that be?" Keladrian asked.
The question was how much of that discussion was I willing to share with Keladrian. It directly concerned him, but I wasn't ready yet to put myself into that emotionally vulnerable position. "After my father took me out of Tor, he essentially placed me under house arrest in his shadow and told me that I was not allowed to leave there. I needed to discuss with him my reasons for being able to leave." That was about as non-committal as you could get. "Which we had a very interesting discussion, unfortunately when I went into the room I thought I felt another presence, but at the time I ignored it. Thinking back on it now, that was probably Caine listening to that whole damn discussion." I was furious with my father for allowing me to go on when he knew that Caine was there. He could have said something, given me some indication, I fumed. "We didn't discuss particulars, but I think he heard enough to put information together."
I took a deep breath. Being upset over the past was getting me nowhere. "If we are going to go back and get Corwin out of there, how long would it take you to make me one of those?" I pointed to his amulet. "And also create something to make us as invisible as Caine is. If we're going in there, I want to go covert." I had no desire to confront my father, let alone my father and Caine. Can you say suicide?
I could see the wheels spinning in Keladrian's head as he thought about what I had just told him. "It's doable, but it will take time."
"We can go someplace where the time is quicker than Bleys' shadow, and high magic so you can cut down on your conjuration time." I told him.
"I've been known to frequent those types of places." His smile reassured me.
"You've been to Bleys' shadow, I know you have. My father was quite upset at your last visit." I laughed. I was beginning to get excited by the prospect of invading my father's domain.
"I can imagine."
"However, I do not believe that I can get in and out of there with any of the abilities that I have." I knew that my father had complete domination over all aspects of his shadow. Trumping in and out would not go unnoticed or might not even be permitted. But my father didn't know Keladrian well enough to guard against Spin. That would be our greatest secret weapon in this venture. "He doesn't know your abilities well enough to block them."
"And I want to keep it that way."
"Like I said, we need to go in covert. Which means totally cloaked and invisible."
I told Keladrian all that I could remember about my father's shadow. The level of the technology, the magic level, the type of mechanoids that he had as guards. They had been clockwork, which means that EM pulse would not work against them, but monofilament would.
"You can get there?" I asked to make sure that the first part of the plan was even feasible.
Keladrian grinned and nodded. Then told me that he thought that we should use the conjured magical items as a backup as he believed that they would be noticeable to my father right away. He suggested that we use technology to accomplish the cloaking that I wanted, believing that my father would not expect that of us. I was sure that he was right because it was not something that I had thought of right away. I think that those of us in Amber look down on technology because it is so fragile when travelling from one shadow to another and most of it does not work in Amber. It was a blind spot in the Amber gestalt that we could exploit.
I told Keladrian that whatever we used to conceal us would need to be activated before we got near my father's shadow. "He doesn't have a marker on me, but he has ways of tracking me." I told him. I was thankful that he didn't pursue that further
He decided that we needed a ring that he could base his conjuration on. One that had some type of switch. I asked the Luggage to provide my jewelry and we looked through it. Nothing in there appeared to meet his requirements so we went into the big G store across the parking lot. We found a ceramic necklace that would work, but it was questionable quality costume jewelry. Keladrian must have seen something in my expression as I viewed the jewelry, because he put it back and said. "Let's go someplace else. If the necklace is obviously not something that you would wear, it will be just as obvious that it has some other purpose."
He Spun us to a wonderful shadow marketplace full of sights and sounds. It was the largest bazaar I had ever seen, a true shopper's paradise. There were beings from many different worlds and shadows milling around us and the smells and noises were wonderfully overwhelming. Keladrian had been holding out on me. He knew about a place like this and proceeded to take me to barren uninhabited worlds? The worst part was that we were in a hurry and couldn't fully take advantage of all that was around us. I soaked in the essence of this place and made a note to put this on the list of places that I wanted a permanent Trump of.
We pushed our way through the crowd fending off the occasional pickpocket that was just too stupid to live. I refrained from breaking any hands or arms. No one bothered the Luggage or paid it much attention, as there were much stranger things for sale in some of these shops.
Keladrian led us to a semi-permanent structure that was filled with all types of jewelry. We approached the large green being behind the counter who was flanked by two larger green entities. The proprietor recognized Keladrian and I heard his thoughts, 'a repeat customer and he has brought his girlfriend this time.'
When Keladrian asked to see the rings I could tell that the owner immediately got the wrong impression.
"The poison rings look nice." I said pointedly to him.
"Ah the family that plays together, stays together." He smiled at us. I gave up trying to change his impression of our relationship or lack thereof.
We picked out a puzzle ring in silver and they asked if we would like it gift-wrapped. We declined and they asked if there was anything else that they could get for us.
Keladrian asked if they knew where we could get armor and a crossbow for me.
"I have a crossbow." I told him. "A very good one."
"High tech?" he asked me.
"Just a standard crossbow."
He asked to see it and I had the Luggage provide it. He looked it over carefully and then said, "We'll get you another."
"What do you mean that you'll get me another?" My father had helped me pick this one out and it was a killer crossbow.
"Do you have anything else that was given to you by Bleys?" he asked.
"What's wrong with this one, it's perfectly functional." How did he know that Bleys had helped me pick out the crossbow? In fact my father had helped me choose all of my weapons. Actually, thinking back on it I think they had been more in the way of gifts.
"It is very functional." He agreed. "But you say your father always knows where you are."
"It has nothing to do with the crossbow, because he knows where I am even when the Luggage is not with me."
"Agreed, but do you wish to take the risk?" he argued.
"Point." I conceded. "But I won't get rid of them." I told him.
"You don't have to get rid of them, they just won't be coming with us." I immediately got his implication and agreed in such a way that he understood that I got the point. The Luggage couldn't make the trip with us this time. I had told Keladrian that this was going to be a covert operation and the Luggage was anything but covert. It would be the first time since I had gotten the Luggage that I planned to intentionally leave it behind. I knew that the Luggage understood some of what was said so I was being very careful not to give it any verbal clues about our plans to abandon it.
"So it appears that we are going shopping." Keladrian informed the shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper himself did not have the equipment that Keladrian wanted but he did have a brother in law who could help us.
We spent some time getting new weapons; rapier, main gauche, crossbow, bolts and armor. After we finished our shopping Keladrian Spun us to another shadow. I could tell that the time here was much faster than Bleys' shadow and it had a very high magic level. It was another barren crystalline world. The large crystalline structures had some type of non-electrical energy sparking from the top of one to the other. While Keladrian began his preparations for the conjuring I set up the tent and checked provisions. I also set up my desk and chair. I knew that Keladrian would be taking a long time to do his conjuration and I could use the time to do a Trump.
We discussed options for Trump but couldn't decide on any particular person that I needed a Trump of. After Keladrian's insistence on my getting equipment that my father had no part of, I decided that maybe I should have a supply of shadow Trumps that Bleys did not know about. After all Bleys knew all of my favorite spots too well
I did some Trump spanning to find new shadows to sketch. I wanted a very high tech world with a good emergency medical facility. Never know when one of those will come in handy. I looked for a shadow that had good magical healing available as well. Technology can only heal the body. When you have psychic damage, give me a mage every time.
I did 15 new place Trump. I didn't waste time on drawing people as
they were too changeable for a sketch to be good for any length of time.
I definitely did a sketch for the bazaar we had recently visited. I
also did a Trump sketch for the shadow that we were trapped in back
at the start of our journey. Maybe I could give that to Keladrian. If
someone followed him there, he could leave and they couldn't. Might
be an idea. Then as an afterthought I did a Trump sketch of Tor. I looked
at it for a while and wondered again what Drake and Isabeau were doing.
I was somewhat annoyed that they didn't think that Corwin's Pattern
was important enough to be involved with.
I tried to contact Random but he still wasn't taking any calls. That concerned me and I wondered if he was still injured or if there was some other factor that had arisen that we were unaware of. I wish I knew everything that I needed to know. I hated having to do so much guessing about what should be done.
It turned out that I had a lot more time left to sit around. Keladrian's conjuring took about 40 hours. I used the time to catch up on my sleep. One of us should be fully rested when we started.
After the conjuring, Keladrian wanted to finish shopping for supplies. We needed a high-tech shadow to get the mechanical camouflage suits that he was thinking of.
We Spun onto a transportation platform and arrived on the 650th floor of the Saurian Corporation high rise where Keladrian was CEO. I usually didn't try to find shadows that were predisposed to me. When I arrive in a shadow I simply manipulated the minds of the shadow dwellers to be pre-disposed to me. Different methods, same results. The force bridge from one tower to the other was a bit disturbing as I don't have the ability to fly. I knew that it was perfectly safe but it didn't make it any easier to cross when you have no visible support beneath your feet. But I am a daughter of Amber and I would not show any trepidation in front of anyone. I stepped out with as much confidence as I could muster.
We entered a large room that had force walls so it seemed to be open to the outside. The furniture was low to the floor and seemed to be emotiotropic. Several staff members were waiting to assist the boss.
The staff was very solicitous and wanted to know what Keladrian needed. He informed them that he wanted the latest model of combat camouflage with high tech weaponry. The suits needed to include jet boots, communication equipment, perception cloaking, temperature control and telepathic dampening. He gave them a list of his requirements and they scurried off.
What we needed was enough magic to make the suits real so that they would function in another shadow. Keladrian's consultants told him that the technomages on Planet Garcia could help him with that. Since the mechanoids in Bleys' shadow were electron poor we opted for glue discharge bolts for the crossbows and monofilament blades. These items would disable any guards with a minimum of noise. Keladrian also picked up some flash/bang grenades and several other items. We wouldn't be hanging onto this equipment very long, but hopefully long enough. We took our small arsenal to the transporter and soon arrived at Planet Garcia where the technomages were more than willing to enchant the items for us. Being the CEO of an interstellar conglomerate greased the appropriate wheels and no unpleasant questions were asked.
We took great care in suiting up to position all of the equipment where it could be easily reached and did not bind or protrude. The last thing that we needed to do was to get hung up on something. We had decided to wear our armor under the combat suits and not activate the magical psychic barriers unless we needed them as a backup.
I felt slightly strange and awkward in all of this equipment. I wasn't sure if the butterflies in my stomach were from excitement or fear. I had never raided any of my family before. I looked at Keladrian and nodded that I was ready to go and then his Spin took us to the brass lined courtyard of my father's shadow. The Luggage was not with us.
I looked toward Keladrian for a clue. I figured his combat tactical abilities were better than mine and I was willing to follow his lead. He had activated his jet boots almost immediately, so I did also. I realized that the brass plates below must be pressure sensitive. Keladrian indicated that three of the rail gun ports had activated but had not fired. They had not yet acquired a target lock. So far, so good.
I used the Corwin Tracking Trump and was rewarded with the confirmation that Corwin was in this shadow.
"He's in the main building ahead." I told Keladrian.
"Watch the gun ports." He told me as he headed towards the main building in a serpentine pattern. As he neared the building he elevated 30 feet up to see over the wall surrounding the compound courtyard. The side gun was swiveling around trying to get a lock but hadn't yet.
Keladrian looked around a few seconds then indicated that I should join him. I had gotten the feel of the boot jets and moved smoothly up to his location.
As I got over the top of the 30 foot wall I could see that the brass compound was the extent of this shadow. No staging areas were available to assail my father's fortress. The main building stretched back over a thousand feet. Keladrian indicated that we should head for the dome over an atrium.
We inspected the glass-like substance that covered the dome and it had a fine gold strand running around the edge of each pane. It appeared that it was a broken circuit sensor rather than a motion sensor. If we cut out the center of the pane we should be able to enter undetected. We used two of the glue bolts to attach to the window to keep it from falling downward when it was cut. I held the window while Keladrian cut it with the monofilament blade. We were quickly inside. Despite the cooling systems in the suits the visors steamed up for a second making it difficult to see.
When the visor cleared I could see a garden below us that was a tropical paradise complete with clockwork birds. Father always did enjoy his garden. We descended to the floor avoiding the birds.
Using the Corwin tracking system we went out of the atrium and down the corridor. The variety and number of sensors and alarms throughout the corridors spoke eloquently of Bleys state of paranoia. There was no pattern to the security that could be anticipated so it was slow going to make sure we spotted them all before they spotted us. Thanks to Keladrian's foresight we were carrying a lot of equipment and were pretty sure that we hadn't missed any of the sensors. But with the level of paranoia displayed we could never be sure that we had really gotten them all.
We worked our way back through the complex and down one level following the Corwin tracker. The further we got into my father's complex the more relaxed I had gotten. This wasn't as difficult as I had imagined it would be. Now if we just didn't actually run into my father, it would be perfect. We reached a corridor that had a door open on the right hand side and I indicated to Keladrian that Corwin was in that room. We could tell by our sonic equipment that there was someone else in the room moving around. They were moving very quietly and stealthily like they were waiting for someone. If it weren't for the high tech sensors we would have missed them. It was a toss up whether it was Bleys or Caine in the room with Corwin. I hoped for Caine.
Keladrian slowly moved further down the hallway to get a view into the room. He stood there a moment and then Corwin appeared in the hallway at his feet. Corwin was unconscious and bleeding but very much alive.
"Is this Corwin?" Keladrian asked me. I confirmed that it was and I felt Keladrian Spin us from Bleys' shadow.
I landed hard and fell down on my ass with the equipment sparking and dissolving around me. I didn't see any sign of Keladrian or Corwin and I could tell I was in a shadow that'd had a recent upheaval. The grass was frozen and brittle and the sky seemed to end about 8 feet over my head. Breathing was very difficult.
I pulled off the equipment that wasn't working and discarded it. All my permanent Trump had been left with the Luggage. Which meant that I had only the new sketches with me. I pulled out one that seemed like a nice place to wait and Trumped out of the hell-hole that I had been dumped in.
I arrived in Bob's Cosmic Bar and I approached the bar and slid onto a stool. "I don't really care what you serve me as long as it's alcohol." I said.
The bartender sneered some comment and set a glass of some liquid in front of me then wandered off.
I wondered what had gone wrong. I hoped that Keladrian had made it
out with Corwin, but I would just have to wait for him to contact me.
I picked up the glass and downed the shot.
|The drink that I had been given was absolute swill. My mistake for just
specifying alcohol. The last thing I wanted right now was to have some
bar crawler trying to hit on me so I made sure I was putting out enough
psychic vibes to keep them away. Unfortunately it was also keeping the
"Bartender do you have anything better?" I demanded.
He answered slowly in the affirmative but I was out of patience.
"I want it here, now." I reached out to his mind to indicate my needs. He brought a bottle from under the bar and set it in front of me. It was hourglass shaped with something viscous and bright red. I uncorked the bottle and took a swig. It was a very sweet dessert liqueur but it was highly alcoholic, around the 170 range. This would do.
The bartender's eyes widened. "Oh shit, lady, you're not suppose to kick that back."
I gave him a dark look and he left me alone.
I had determined that if I didn't hear from Keladrian within a half hour, this shadow's time, I would move on and keep moving from shadow to shadow. I couldn't mask my presence by using the ring because I was expecting two very important Trump calls. But I was pretty sure that Bleys or Caine would be coming after us if the mission had been successful.
I was on my third double shot of the red liqueur when a Trump call came through. It was Keladrian and I answered it immediately.
Keladrian opened the Trump call and just stared ahead without speaking.
"Keladrian? Bring me through." There was no response. I reached out to him with my mind and encountered the very strong psychic presence of my father. I shut the Trump contact down quickly.
Shit, he didn't get out. He got me out but Bleys had Keladrian. And I didn't know what had happened to Corwin.
I used a Trump memory to move to Bleys' estate in Amber. The first thing I wanted to do was move from where the Trump contact had reached me. My second thought was that I needed some items if I was going to help Keladrian and the only place I knew to look was in my father's private rooms in Amber.
I would give myself half an hour here as well. The first thing I wanted to do was find one of the servants that would know how to get into my father's room and have him tell me. Unfortunately that information seemed to disappear from his mind when I tried to access it. The direct approach obviously was not going to work.
"Who cleans my father's room?" I asked him.
"That would be Julette." He replied.
"Then tell her it is time to clean my father's room now." I told him with a back up mental command to reinforce it. Then I followed him while he found Julette and gave her the instructions. I intruded in her mind only enough to reinforce the suggestion to clean the room and to mask the fact that I was following her.
Julette was very conscientious about closing the door behind her when she entered the room so I had to hurry to squeeze in. After entering the room, the first thing that she did was lay down on my father's bed and roll around a little, then went to his desk and sat in his chair. I tried to ignore her antics. I really didn't need to know what the servants did while we were away. I had one specific item I was here to find. If I could pick up anything else of interest while I was here, all the better.
In the nightstand by the bed I found what I had been hoping for. A complete set of Trump. There was not only a Trump of myself, but of Isabeau done in Bleys' hand. I was looking for a Trump for a certain brass covered clockwork shadow and was extremely pleased to see that particular card. I also had Trump for people such as Gerard and Benedict. They might come in handy at some point in time. I placed the deck in my Trump pouch and continued looking.
In the top bureau drawer there was a set of matched six shooters with pearl handles. There was some sort of enchantment on them. The guns intrigued me, as I knew that Corwin had found something that would fire a gun in Amber. Both guns were fully loaded so I took one. It seemed right that I should have one of the matched set and leave one for my father. It satisfied some sense of balance for me.
Hanging on the wall were several swords of different types. There was an empty spot that would just fit Helioventar. Which gave me an idea. The swords were all very nice but I decided that they were set to my father's abilities and not to mine. There was no point in taking any of them.
There was a carpet in front of the bed with a stunning Arabic pattern. It would occasionally ripple as I walked over it. It was a magic carpet of some kind, however without knowing the proper trigger words it was useless and I didn't have the time to waste on it. The same went for the Seven League boots I found in the closet and the brooch done in a flame pattern. The hand mirror that was laying face down on the vanity intrigued me and I decided to take it just because. I was careful not to look into it. You can never tell with magic items what can set them off.
In the closet besides the seven-league boots was a leather duster with a high tech chameleon fiber optic system built into it. That would come in handy immediately in rescuing Keladrian.
My self-imposed half-hour time limit was drawing near so I took out another of the new Trump sketches and moved on. I barely glanced at the next shadow, as my time would be fully occupied for half an hour while I drew a Trump sketch of Greyswandir.
Corwin had the blade with him when Caine attacked in the library. When we had returned to the library to follow Caine, it had been gone as well. There was an excellent chance that it was still in Bleys' shadow, or it could be with Corwin. Either place would work for me right now. Trump sketches of objects, like Trump of shadows, will take you to where the object is. Since Greyswandir was a unique artifact, in all of shadow there was only one place I could show up. I'd toyed with this idea before and it was one of the reasons that I had acquired the Luggage. It was impossible to make a Trump of it. For some reason the fact that it was sapient and motive precluded it from being sketched to, like objects or shadows. But on the other hand it didn't have enough intelligence to sketch to it like a person. No one could track me by Trumping my Luggage. The flip side of this was that if the Luggage and I got separated, I just had to wait for it to show up. I couldn't afford that luxury right now.
I finished the sketch and activated it enough to tell that it worked. The sword was someplace dark, warm and the time flow was quicker than where I was. I had guessed correctly about it being stored in my father's shadow.
With the restricted access into his shadow the timing would be critical. I had the camo duster that would help scramble some of the targeting of the guns. On the other hand I didn't have jet boots so I would be activating the pressure sensitive plates in the floor. (That magic carpet that I had left behind in Bleys' room was looking better right now. Oh, well.) I had the Trump sketch of Greyswandir that would get me out of the central courtyard after I got there, but it would take time to activate the sketch and move to the sword. The armor that Keladrian had conjured for me would have to hold up against at least one or two shots of the rail cannons in the courtyard. It was the knockback and the impact spread of the weapon that concerned me the most. I would just have to take my chances.
The next problem was what would happen when I got to the sword. It was in the dark. And at this point, so was I. I didn't have enough information to plan any moves after reaching the sword. I'd just have to take it on the fly.
I took out the Trump of Bleys' brass and clockwork shadow and held it in one hand and the sketch of Greyswandir in the other. I would need to be able to shift my concentration quickly and be dodging cannon fire at the same time. Not much of a plan, but it was all I had.
The gun ports opened and extended almost immediately on my arrival and activation of the pressure plates. I looked down at the hand with the sketch in it and dodged to the side. I was glad now that Bleys had made me practice just such a maneuver as this. The forward right rail gun fired a warning shot. A moment later the rail gun behind pegged me across the back just above the kidneys and I went flying forward and into the dark and up against a hard surface.
The area that I appeared in was warm and dark and I could feel Greyswandir next to me. If I'd had a trump memory instead of a sketch, I might have made it before getting shot. The sword had a very strong presence of Pattern even through the scabbard. Not being an initiate of Pattern, the feeling was uncomfortable but bearable. At times I wonder if my father put some sort of compulsion on me to avoid Pattern
Greyswandir not only felt strongly of Pattern but Corwin's essence was imbedded intensely within it. I got the distinct impression that it was a bad thing for me to have this sword, but it would be worse for Bleys and Caine to have it.
After finding the sword the next thing I needed was a way out of the storage area. My luck ran out as there did not appear to be a way out of this area and the air was becoming stuffy. There was nothing I could do for Keladrian from here. No way I could draw a Trump sketch to move me to another part of the complex. Even if I had drawn a sketch ahead of time, I would have been unable to use it in the dark. Reluctantly I had to abandon any rescue attempt at this point and leave this place. I brought up a Trump memory and left Bleys' shadow.
I arrived in Ssalesh with Greyswandir. My statue in the square had been pulverized and there were burn marks on the doors. Signs of fighting could be seen in the broken shards of pottery and general disarray of this usually ordered shadow. Definitely not a good sign. The sword made a movement in my hand and I wasn't sure whether it was trying to find Corwin or whether it sensed Chaos. I hated to see these peaceful people violated in this way.
I could sense movement in the buildings around me and it wasn't the light tread of the usual inhabitants. Then I heard the sound of steel being drawn. And then another. Whoever had vandalized this place was still here and they knew that I was. I was just about to do a scan to see how many attackers I would be facing when I got a Trump call.
I couldn't tell who was trying to contact me at such an inopportune time. I would recognize Keladrian and most of the rest of my family and it wasn't any of them. I reached into my Trump pouch and felt through the deck a moment. No one that I had Trump of was calling me. And then I remembered. There was another call I had been waiting for. Either Fiona or Mandor must be awake. I hoped like hell it was Mandor, as I didn't think I could face my Aunt at this point. I took the call
It was indeed the monk. His round peaceful face stared back at me. "Bring me through." I told him.
He looked confused.
"Reach out your hand to me." I did not force my will upon him. I needed the goodwill of these shadow dwellers for a time yet.
He tentatively stretched forth his hand to mine and I quickly seized it and pulled myself through into Shangra La.
"Whose awake?" I demanded briskly after coming through.
"The man." He informed me with just the slight ruffling in his eternal calm.
"Thank you." I told him as I strode to where I had last left Mandor. My back and hip were beginning to bother me as the adrenaline rush started to die down.
Mandor was sitting up in his bed eating a bowl of rice. He put the bowl down very carefully as I entered. Looking back on it now I must have seemed like some wild haired Valkyrie striding into the room in full armor and oversized leather duster, my hair in disarray and clutching Greyswandir. Mandor seemed to take it rather calmly all things considered.
"Duchess Zhelan." He nodded to me.
"I see that you are awake." I spoke the obvious.
"I am awake, would you remove that please." His nod indicated Corwin's sword in my hand.
"Oh." I awoke to the realization that I was holding a Pattern blade in the room of a Logrus Master. I was reluctant to have it out of my sight after what I had gone through to acquire it. "I kind of need to hang onto it. I need to find Corwin. I think that Bleys has Corwin and Keladrian. We were trying to go rescue him and it must have failed miserably. I got out but I don't think Keladrian did. He tried to contact me but Bleys had him." I explained in a rush.
"So. You're holding Greyswandir and you'd like me to approach Bleys holding Helioventar." Mandor said to me arching one eyebrow.
I didn't think that I had asked for his help in my explanation but he had assumed that was why I was here. "No, I don't think so. I really don't want to have anything to do with contacting my father." We may have parted on friendly terms when I last saw him, but too much had happened since then. "I was hoping to be able to find where Keladrian and Corwin are without actually having to go there. I just want to be assured of where they are and what's happening." I stood in thought a moment but the pain from my back was making thinking difficult. "I was sure that Greyswandir could lead me to Corwin." If only I could shadow walk.
I stopped my rambling and looked at Mandor for the first time. "By the way, how are you? How are you feeling?"
"I've been better." He seemed to be a little shaky.
"So, what did you do to the Pattern? I know my impression of it was that it was just covered over and waiting to blow through. Is it resolved, or is there a bigger issue?"
Mandor gathered his thoughts. "I wouldn't really call it resolved. Less threatening."
"So what happens when Bleys and Caine sprinkle my Uncle Corwin's blood on the muted Pattern? Does this sound like a bad thing to you?" I held onto Greyswandir but put it behind my back. I could see that as weak as Mandor was, it was having an effect on him.
"Locally." Was all he said.
"Globally?" I encouraged him.
"Globally we may have other issues."
"Like what?" Something else that we needed to contend with? More than what we had already uncovered? I didn't know how much more of this I could take.
"Things are heating up over the Abyss and others." He hinted.
"Have you been talking to someone?" Or was he getting his information like Ulris.
"Yes." He didn't elaborate.
"Might I inquire?"
"No." he was not forthcoming and I didn't feel I had the right to push the issue.
"I take it that Fiona has not awoken yet?" I changed the subject.
"I'm still here." He smiled.
"So, ok, I don't know what to do next at this point. I really want to go get Keladrian. I'm concerned about his general health and well-being."
"If you father has him, that's reasonable." Mandor's comment did not make me feel any better.
"But if you think that there are more urgent, pressing matters that we should attend to . . . I'm open to suggestions." I stopped and waited for Mandor to say it was ok to go after Keladrian. Please don't say I have to go save the universe somewhere else.
He put his head in his hands and moaned softly.
"Can I get you anything?" I was concerned that neither he nor Fiona were at their best when circumstances might require their expertise. "A new head?" I tried being amusing.
"A lead shield." He eyed the sword behind me. I had been moving closer to his bed as we had talked. I made the decision to put Greyswandir on the floor as far from his bed as I could place it and still have it in quick reach.
I started pacing up and down the length of the room. "If I could just get through to Keladrian. I'm almost afraid to try if Bleys has him, but I could try." I looked to Mandor for support and guidance.
"If he reaches for you, I'll slap him." He offered. "I will shield you as much as I can."
"All right." I moved over to the side of the bed and took out the Trump sketch of Keladrian. The room filled with the black power of the Logrus. My skin felt like it was attempting to crawl off of my body to avoid the touch of it.
It was hard to concentrate with that around me. And it made the presence of Greyswandir more vibrant and threatening.
I concentrated on the sketch. The contact was immediate and incredibly strong.
"Keladrian!" I was ecstatic
"Zhelan." He said with somewhat more than his usual calm.
"Bleys there?" I inquired quickly while I probed mentally for any evidence of my father.
"No, and you are not Bleys?" His reply was cryptic.
"No." I protested a bit much. He started to say something and I cut him short. "Bring me through?" I asked.
"A moment." He turned away and his contact faded slightly.
I turned to Mandor. "It's ok. I'm going to go through to Keladrian. I need to take the sword with me." I wanted to warn him so that he could pull in the Logrus before I picked up Greyswandir. "Give me a call and let me know when Fiona wakes up."
"With what?" he asked.
"Talk to the monk." I told him remembering that I had not yet retrieved my Trump. I figured that it was safe with Mandor. At least until he had other obligations.
"Glad to be of service, Zhelan." He chided.
"Thank you for your help. I do appreciate it." I told him. I felt awkward about this. I trusted Mandor when I had no business doing so. He had complied with all that we had requested of him and been a perfect gentleman. I almost wished that he was my father instead. I think I would appreciate him more than Isabeau seemed to.
The contact with Keladrian strengthened again. "A moment Zhelan. Gerard has something to do."
"Gerard?" I inquired. When Keladrian started to elaborate I cut him off. "No, don't tell me anything over the Trump." I cautioned. Keladrian needed to learn to keep his side talk separate from his Trump talk. I could hear him discussing things with Gerard. I could not hear Gerard's responses.
There seemed to be some problem with my going through to them so I offered to bring them through to me.
"No, he's at Dorad." Keladrian said aside to Gerard but it also came through the Trump contact.
Then he turned his attention to me. "Zhelan, do you have a Trump of Dorad?"
"Yes I do." I replied shortly and wished they would hurry up. I worried about the monitoring on this call and the time I had been here already. If Bleys was looking for us we couldn't afford to remain in one place so long.
Keladrian and Gerard came through my Trump contact.
I was so happy to see Keladrian was all right. I didn't know what he had been through but I didn't want to be separated from him again. As he stepped through into Shangra La I put my arms around his neck and kissed him. He was surprised a moment.
"My god I thought I had lost you." I said. Keladrian put his arms around me and returned the hug.
Gerard in the meantime had stepped through and taken Greyswandir from my hand. I barely noticed.
"I went back to Bleys' thinking you were there." I dropped my hold on him and stepped back slightly embarrassed by my lack of self-control in front of Mandor and Gerard.
"That was not smart." He just shook his head.
"I did pick up Greyswandir. I thought maybe it could help me get to Corwin." I decided to ignore his comment on the wisdom of returning to my father's stronghold.
"Corwin is in Dorad." Keladrian said.
"Oh thank god." I was relieved that what we had gone through had actually worked and that Corwin was now safe.
"As is your father." Keladrian continued.
"Oh shit." Harm can be done in Dorad, its protection wasn't foolproof.
"Impersonating you." Keladrian finally finished.
"What!!" I was shocked a moment. What had happened there? My father pretending to be me?
"I must apologize for not immediately recognizing him." This was a story that I needed to hear the whole of.
"I'll kill him." Was all I could manage to say.
Mandor seemed to be quite amused either by the image of my father impersonating me, or my attempting to kill my father. "Take pictures." He told Keladrian.
"You contacted me, but it was obvious you didn't see me. And I could feel Bleys' mind around you." I tried to express the concern and panic I had felt at that moment.
"The Trump call did not seem to go through to me." Keladrian explained. "We need to go to Dorad quickly as he has access to Prince Corwin. The question is whether he will pay the price to take Corwin out of there."
"Is that where you went when we left Bleys' shadow?" I asked confused.
"How come I didn't get there?" I wanted to know whether it was deliberate, an accident, or something Bleys or Caine had done that had caused the Spin to dump me short of the final destination.
"I surmise that the powers that be there, view taking someone against their will from that place, as harm." Keladrian said slowly looking directly at me.
"I suppose you could look at it that way." I was banned from Dorad? That hit me with more reality than anything he or the others had said to me about taking Merlin. There was no rationalizing it away. If I ever saw Merlin again, I might owe him an apology. But I would never admit it to anyone. "It appears that I cannot accompany you on this leg of the trip."
"Then wait here."
I nodded and took out the Trump for Dorad and handed it to Keladrian.
"Prince Gerard, are you ready?" When Keladrian addressed my uncle Gerard I suddenly realized that I had completely ignored his presence the entire time he had been here. I could not even have said what he had been doing.
I turned to him, "Gerard. Thank you."
"You're welcome, niece." He nodded.
"Take care of my Uncle Corwin."
"Me I trust." He winked at me and smiled.
They left and I was alone again with Mandor. He seemed to be feeling better now that Greyswandir had gone. I was not. I sank down to Mandor's bedside. "Now all we have to do is figure out what to do when Fiona wakes up."
"All hell breaks loose." Mandor seemed downright cheery for a man who had been recently killed by the same woman.
I looked at him and asked, "Do you want to be here at the time? And do we need her?"
"Always, that's why she breathes."
We sat in quiet for a while. I thought about the kiss and Keladrian's arms around me. I had to get my mind off of that, so I had to say something. "Have you heard from Drake or Isabeau?"
"Yes." His reply was short and it seemed that he didn't wish to discuss it.
"And they're doing ok?" I pressed.
"Well, yes. Isabeau's a little concerned. Considering reality's about to tear loose near her."
"Oh?! Where is she?" my curiosity was aroused. Which isn't too hard to do.
"Well, they're where reality is suppose to tear loose." I had done something to offend Mandor or there was something he didn't want to tell me. His answers were short and cryptic. Maybe he was just testing me. It was strange; I wasn't annoyed with him for it.
"At the Abyss?" I guessed. "That's not a great place to be at this particular time."
"Never a seasonal spot." Mandor and I laughed and the mood lightened a little.
"Are she and Drake together?" Isabeau did not strike me as someone who was ready to go out on her own just yet.
"I gather that they are." Mandor mused.
I was suddenly tired but I felt that there was something I should be doing. "Do you feel that there is more that we should be doing with Corwin's Pattern or is that issue resolved?"
"That issue is as about as resolved as Fiona and myself can do. If your Uncles care to take it further I would be curious to see the results." Mandor said. "From a safe distance." He added. "It's not going to be causing any of the disturbances that you have been noting in your fair kingdom while battened down like this."
"But how long will this last?"
The next was said so quietly that I almost missed it. "Until disturbed."
"Bleys and Caine." I said. "Let's go disturb the Pattern. Oh shit. We have to stop them." I gave a sigh and felt the sore muscles on my back stiffen in protest. "We were lucky. We got in there, we got Corwin out, we left. Thumbed our nose at Bleys and Caine. You know Random was right, nothing feels better than sticking it to one of the family. But oh, man, I don't know about a second time." The adrenaline rush had definitely died down and the pain from my back was starting to take over.
"What have they got here anyway? Where's the monks, I think I need a pain pill."
"They've got an excellent tea." Mandor indicated the tray of rice and tea that he had set aside when I first arrived. He picked up the small bell by the bed and rang it.
The monks brought in tea and we sat in silence. Mandor finished his rice and I drank the tea. It was quiet and peaceful and I felt at ease for the first time in awhile.
Then Mandor received a Trump call. "Would you mind some company?" He asked me.
"Your companions, Isabeau, Drake and I believe a guard." Mandor said quietly.
Drake, Isabeau and I had not parted on friendly ground. I felt the tension return and my muscles tensed. I would need to be on guard. But the last few days had given me a great deal of confidence. "As long at they don't try to kill me as soon as they come through." I said dismissively and hoped he didn't read the tension in me.
Mandor set aside his unfinished rice once again and pulled himself to his feet and held out his hand. I would have helped him but I wasn't sure that I could stand at the moment. The tea was taking affect and I was feeling somewhat lethargic.
Isabeau, Drake and Captain Vox stepped through. My hand moved to my sword at seeing Vox. I had no good memories of our previous encounter. I did not stand, as I did not want them to see that I was in pain and injured.
"Isabeau, nice to see you again." Mandor said to his daughter.
"Prince Drake." I acknowledged him with a nod then turned towards Vox. "Captain Vox." Both Isabeau and Vox ignored me. I ignored Isabeau.
"Zhelan." Drake said without courtesy or title I noticed.
Mandor sank back down to the bed.
"Are you well enough to receive visitors?" Drake inquired of him.
"Apparently so." Mandor sighed.
"He should be resting more." I smiled at him.
"We were just passing through, unfortunately we need to be making our way elsewhere, but I need to pick up mother on my way past." Isabeau told Mandor.
I was furious. Who had rescued Fiona from near death in shadow and brought her someplace to be healed. It wasn't her daughter. Who had convinced Fiona to make amends with Mandor long enough to deal with the Pattern that was endangering shadow. And who had collected Fiona and brought her back to be restored after she had spent herself on Corwin's Pattern. Who was Isabeau to come in here and take Fiona away from me? We might need my Aunt again. And there was still the matter about what she knew about the Emergence. Her obscure comments hinted at so much more. And what had Isabeau and Drake done but wake up the Empress. As far as I knew we were still at war with Chaos. Though Vox's orders at least seemed to have changed.
"She's not well enough to travel at this point." I said coldly to Isabeau.
"Is there a doctor that I could talk to?" Isabeau ignored me and spoke with Mandor.
"As long as you are gentle with them. They have been a bit rattled lately." Mandor rang the bell.
"I don't know how that could have happened." Isabeau said snidely. I was sure that she was blaming me for that when she needed to look to her own parent.
A young monk appeared in the room in response to the bell.
"The lady Fiona, is she getting close to traveling state?" Isabeau asked him.
"The other visitor not conscious yet." The monk told her.
"Well, let's take a look." Isabeau moved towards the door obviously expecting the monk to precede her. He looked at me in inquiry.
"This is her daughter, go ahead, it's ok." I assured him.
Isabeau left and the mood in the room brightened. At least for me.
"You've been busy." Drake had been looking at my attire and I'm sure he noticed the large burn hole in the back of the oversized duster. Something that I'm glad Keladrian missed.
"We'll have to exchange stories at some point." I carefully set the empty teacup down on the table besides the bed. I was glad that my hand didn't shake.
We persisted in awkward silence for a while. Drake and Vox standing in the room and Mandor and I on the bed.
"Your father was less than gentle." Drake began.
"Which time?" I asked him.
"The last time he arrived in my home." Drake continued.
I didn't want to talk about this; it brought up the point of contention between us. "That happened a long, long time ago." I told him. "In many ways."
"Not long enough for me to forget." I didn't know if Drake was alluding to the issue that had brought my father there. I was tired and didn't want to play the game right now. I was concerned about Keladrian. He had been gone a long time to Dorad.
"Needless to say that since then we have deprived him of a couple of possessions. Mandor and Fiona, working together, have managed to dampen Corwin's Pattern after I managed to get Corwin to leave his shadow. Unfortunately Caine attacked immediately upon our arrival in Amber and took Corwin with him. But not for long." I hadn't meant to tell this story now and not in this way. But it felt like a diversion was in order.
"Very good. It sounds like the problem with the Pattern is under control." Drake congratulated us.
"What have you done towards the emergence?" I challenged. I also wanted to know about the war between Amber and Chaos but I didn't want to mention it in front of Vox.
"The forces are arraying. The Emperor and Empress are well."
"You were successful at that? Did you do it yourself?" I
wanted the conversation to stay clear of certain topics until Keladrian
returned, or I felt better.
"How was the experience?" I didn't care to remember mine and I perversely hoped that Drakes was as bad or worse.
"Exhausting and scarring." Drake got a far away look. "Also illuminating. The emergence draws ever closer and the avatars are arrayed. Do you have news of the Unicorn?"
"We have been rather busy dealing with the issue of Corwin and his Pattern." I felt a flash of superiority in what Keladrian and I had accomplished with regards to our primary mission. "I have been unable to talk to Random. He would know more about that matter than I."
"The King is well?" Drake asked.
"I don't know. The last time I saw him he was unconscious." I didn't elaborate. We were back on unwanted topics.
"And you Mandor. Are you well, you seem different." Drake turned his attention from me.
"Allow me to introduce you to Mandor. This is Prince Drake." I gloated a moment in the warm knowledge that I knew that this was not the Mandor that Drake had met. "This is not the Mandor that we met earlier."
"Charmed." Mandor nodded his head in Drake's direction.
"Mandor, you have been a friend in the past. At least good to me. I hope that we can continue our association." Drake put on his best court manner.
"I hope so as well, Prince Drake."
"Is Fiona seriously injured?" Drake inquired of Mandor.
"It's hard to tell. She put a lot of effort into what she was doing." I answered for Mandor. "She was not in good shape to begin with when I came upon her and Mandor out in shadow."
"Princess Fiona has undergone some significant stresses recently." Mandor added. He didn't seem upset that I had answered for him.
"I got my Aunt back here to be healed before the task at the Pattern, but she was not in the best physical shape she could have been."
"Is this a permanent solution?" Drake asked politely.
"Mandor said that unless it is disturbed. Unfortunately Bleys and Caine are about to do that very thing. I am waiting for Keladrian to return so we can go and try to stop them."
"Then they are still intent on trying to destroy it?"
"Yes, when they had Corwin, they drained some of his blood."
"Though my thoughts have changed and I would not miss the Pattern were it gone I hesitate to . . ." Drake began and then trailed off.
"If you have some deeper meaning, please elucidate." I urged him.
"I believe that it was causing very deep disturbances in shadow even beyond what we had observed." Drake hinted.
"Such as?" I prompted.
"Such as an imbalance in reality." I wanted to get up and go shake him. Just come out with it and say what you mean. Why does everyone have to be so obscure?
"In what way?" I said with what patience I could muster. The lassitude imbued by the tea helped tremendously in this.
"It is conjecture that some other disturbances that have been reported from different quarters, that I will not go into now, are also tied to the Pattern." This sentence did not clear anything up for me at all.
"Other disturbances tied to Corwin's Pattern?" I gave up on Drake. "Mandor, what is your take on this?" He was, after all one of our experts. We should be consulting him.
"Well there was something else involved in that besides one mad Amberite." He offered. "Though it usually only takes one."
"Something else?" Why did I have to pull this out of them bit by bit?
"The Pattern was just leaking energy everywhere. Some of it was causing those unfortunate disturbances. And some of it was being drained." Maybe it was just a difficult concept to verbalize.
"Being drained by who, or what?"
"I can't really be certain, it's not my area of expertise, but by the Emergent. That would be my guess." Mandor finally came out with it.
"Do you think that the Pattern and Corwin were aiding the Emergent?" I asked them.
"I don't think it was consciously aiding. " Drake assured me.
"But you say the Emergence was using the Pattern."
"It saw a large powerful snack." Drake commented.
"If you feel that the Pattern's energy was contributing to the Emergence, would the dampening of the Pattern delay the Emergence?" Could we have indirectly helped in the problem of the Emergence also?
"I really haven't studied that many Emergences." Mandor hedged.
I turned to Mandor; "Well you and Ulris are ahead of the rest of us who have studied none at all."
"The last one was rather brutal." He agreed.
"This one promises to be brutal as well." Drake added.
"So is there something we should be doing towards that or should we continue to try and protect Corwin's Pattern from tampering?"
"Yes, there is that." Mandor agreed.
"Yes, we should protect Corwin's Pattern, but what is the other thing that we should be doing?" I asked.
"I think that one person or person's should be in charge of making sure that Corwin's Pattern is not disturbed. And you have been doing an excellent job so far, Duchess Zhelan, of that." I hated to be patronized. Especially by Drake.
"By all means continue to thwart your father. It is the highpoint of my life." Mandor smiled.
"Especially after what he did with Keladrian. That really pisses
me off." So it was the waiting game again for us.