Roberta Tower
Copyright 2001

Session 31
Truths and Consequences

Keladrian suggested that Drake and Isabeau talk to our hosts about transportation to the Shadowed lands beyond the Shield Wall Mountains. "And I would suggest that you ask for a means of contact so you may return." He reminded them.

The Luggage had been staying between Drake and I. It had obviously decided that Drake was the greater threat, though it was none too happy with how close Keladrian was to me. As Isabeau and Drake left the area in search of transportation it growled a final warning in Drake's direction.

I turned to Keladrian. "You've been walking around enough for this morning. You have two choices, bed rest or hydrotherapy." He acquiesced to the hydrotherapy.

I turned to an elf and requested a nice heated pool of water in a private glade. Fortunately there was one not too far distant as Keladrian was leaning more heavily on me now. He was obviously tired from the walk to the Glade of Supplication though would be much too stubborn to admit any weakness. Men.

"I think a nice soak in the heated water will do you a lot of good. It will relax your muscles and aid in your healing." I cajoled.

"Indeed, that does sound rather appealing." He surprised me.

The Luggage tensed and seemed a bit agitated. I would need to deal with that issue sooner or later.

We stood at the edge of the water a moment in awkward silence.

Finally I said to him. "Do you need assistance?"

"It would probably be . . ." He began and indicated the armor that he was wearing.

I didn't wait for him to finish but turned and began unfastening the clasps on his breastplate. I eased him to the ground and between the two of us removed the rest of his gear. His clothing was caked with dried blood and sweat. Thetherin surely would appreciate this out of his home. I gathered up the armor and clothing and turned to the Luggage. The Luggage actually backed away from me. Too much too soon I guess.

"Look, I know it doesn't smell real good right now. I was hoping you could care for it and have it come out nice and clean." I coaxed. The Luggage seemed to indicate that if he was forced to take Keladrian's items that they might not be returned intact. At least that is how I read its mood. Of course since the Luggage is not truly sentient it is difficult to tell. I placed the items on the ground next to the pool.

"I guess we'll have to clean it the old fashioned way." Keladrian joked.

I disrobed and helped Keladrian into the warm water then moved up behind him and began massaging the muscles down the sides of his spine. I knew enough to avoid the large scar down the middle but I had been on the receiving end of most massage. There was much to the technique that I still needed to learn. I was most concerned about the sacrospinalis, which lies in a groove on the side of the vertebral column and supports it. I thought back to my medical training and tried to follow the muscle group from the tendon that attaches it to the sacrum and up the vertebrae to where it splits into three muscle groups. I just wasn't sure on Keladrian if I had it right. At the time I had been more interested in identifying muscle groups when someone else touched mine. After I felt his muscles loosen somewhat I asked him to check my injury and let me know how it was healing.

He turned and ran his hands down my back. "Perhaps next time you should consider not getting hit."

"I went back because I thought you were still there." I told him as I held my hair to one side.

"I understand why and I appreciate the concern, however." He left the sentence unfinished as he began to run his hands down my back and rub the skin.

"You're not looking too good yourself." I gasped as his thumb pushed a sore spot. "I don't care what it takes, or how long it takes, Seclar will pay."

"In that we are agreed." His massage was unskilled and I began to realize just how much power Keladrian possessed. He could quite easily snap a rib by applying too much pressure. I refrained from saying anything. I didn't wish to break the mood.

"There is the other issue that since Seclar is the second born of the first Empress and Swayvil, he is higher than Drake in the succession to the throne. I doubt that it would be a good thing for him to take over the reign of Chaos. Especially considering his obvious feelings towards your people and his knowledge of them." I winced as Keladrian's thumb poked a kidney. "When this issue of the Emergence is done, I think that he should be the top of our priorities." Keladrian seemed distracted and not paying attention to what I was saying. I turned towards him and discovered that he was sexually aroused.

I put my hand on his thigh and leaned into him. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable.

"This would not be the time or place." He gently removed my hand.

"Where would?" I asked.

He chuckled. "I'm pretty sure we'll know it, when we're there. Here there are eyes and ears." He looked around at the trees around us. "And I am not that way."

"I'm sure that you are aware that from the moment I saw you in Quasmir, I was physically attracted to you." I remembered my embarrassing loss of control and blushing like a virgin.

"You attribute much perception to me that may be unwarranted." He protested.

Not what I wanted to hear. Hopefully he was just being polite. The strength of that first physical attraction had put me off my guard. How could he have missed it?

"Since I have known you, that attraction has broadened to other facets of your personality and character. But the physical attraction is still very much there."

"Well obviously, " and he glanced down. "It appears I find you attractive as well. Which is interesting for me, for this form has been one I use, but for my people not one commonly used. Physical attraction is not appreciated in this form." He seemed ill at ease in talking about these things. Could it be that he was a virgin in this form?

"Then it appears that you will need to teach me to shape-shift." I teased him.

He paused a moment in thought. "An interesting challenge. In us, the ability is innate. And while you are descended from Chaos, I understand that your family does not."

"I know Dworken does and I believe Oberon knows. None of his children have shown ability in that area that I am aware of. Or any interest."

"Given the nature of where you live any tendencies towards that may be muted by the Pattern." He suggested.

I had turned down a perfectly good offer of sex last night and now would not be getting any fulfillment from Keladrian. I sighed and reconciled myself to conversation. I turned away from him and rested my back against his chest. "I have another issue. I was thinking about the nature of powers and the Pattern. The Pattern being tied to the blood of Amber." I organized my thoughts. "Only a person with the blood of Amber can walk the Pattern and gain its power. Was that done to protect the Pattern? For example 'spin'. Can anyone not of your home learn that power?"

"An interesting question. One I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer. And one I know I would not answer here." He again looked at the forest around us.

I felt a need to explain for fear he thought I was interested in learning 'spin'. "The reason I'm asking is because I was wondering if any other powers were linked to specific groups the way the Pattern is. From what I've heard, the powers I've known about, it doesn't seem that is the case. I wondered if Pattern was unique." I was thinking about the upcoming Emergence. Each Avatar had founded a new power, some were unique and some were derivatives of others. Did major powers come into existence without an Avatar? And what would the new Emergence bring to the game?

Thinking about powers reminded me of something that I needed to share with Keladrian. "There is something I need to tell you. For the sake of privacy do you mind?" I turned toward him again and indicated that I wished to share this with him mentally.

He nodded and dropped his shields. Not really necessary, but I let him have his allusion of granting permission. 'Isabeau has drawn a Trump sketch to your home.' I didn't want to drop it all on him at once so paused for affect.

'And?' he urged. He knew me well enough now to know that I had more to say than this.

'Drake knows about it.' I dropped the other shoe. 'Drake knows that it is to where Thenaroth came from. The problem has escalated.'

He was silent for a long while. 'I would rather that none who had the ability to draw such things had seen the place.'

'I don't know how Isabeau got there, but she said something about Mandor being there and pulling her through. It was the Mandor that was taking care of Fiona.' Mandor knew about Keladrian's people, he had hinted at that much. He knew Thenaroth. I so much wanted to talk to Keladrian about the message Mandor had given him but knew that he was not ready to share that much yet.

'If she can draw a Trump of something that is there, she can get there.' For not knowing about Trump a short time ago, Keladrian learned quickly. 'Until they are able to ward against it.'

'However, your admonition to not go there, did not stop her from drawing a Trump sketch of it.'

'When did she draw it?' he asked.

'When we got here, and she was thinking she would send Thenaroth home to be healed by his own people.' I admitted.

'A logical reason, however I would prefer she had not done so.' He sighed.

'It still remains that before she was finished it became clear that it was not needed. She finished it anyway and Drake became aware of it.' What was done was done. It was up to him how he wished to deal with the issue. It was another breach that I am sure his people would blame him for. I moved on to other matters. 'There are many things I would like to discuss but you obviously do not feel this place is secure enough.'

He hesitated a moment then responded, 'This shadow, as you may have surmised, is not a shadow. And it has remained neutral. I would not say that we are allies. But I would say that their nature and my own tendencies are somewhat harmonious. That is why I thought to come here. That and because it is also difficult to find and come and go. And given who we just encountered.' He shrugged.

'A good choice.' I had to agree. 'I would not have liked for them to have followed you here.'

'But no, as much as I think I would like them as allies, it is not necessarily a given that they will become so. And much more time, experience and information would need to be exchanged before that day of need would come. But it is truly a fascinating place. One that I had planned to return to and one that I was invited to return to.' He was much more talkative on this subject. I relaxed in the warm water and let his deep stillness fill my thoughts.

'I take it that it is a place that you came to before you left your home on this recent excursion with your friend?' I asked and he agreed.

'So they did let you out a little bit?' I teased him.

'One cannot learn to travel shadow, without actually traveling shadow.' He replied with humor.

'A field trip?' I continued to tease.

'I was perhaps somewhat over exuberant.' He laughed.

'Well, we'll have to bring that trait out in you more.' A little at a time, my dragon. A little at a time.

"So what next?" he asked out loud, breaking the mood.

"I'm afraid that I am going to have to leave here while you are recuperating. There are people that we wanted to contact and I feel that I would be the best qualified to do that rather than Drake or Isabeau. Random, I believe owes me a favor at this point." I grew serious and I hoped that he would understand the implications of what I intended. "I would redeem that favor of Random by having him put pressure on Corwin to do what is right by your friend."

"I would appreciate that greatly but do not expect it of you. To expend a favor from the King of Amber and one that is perhaps not easily replaced."

"This is the best bet that I could hope for. Because as a favor I can have Random not ask reasons, or give him more information than absolutely necessary. Random might do it for me as a friend because of our past but not without many questions." I paused to assure that he understood the implications then continued. "He was also one of the people we thought might know how we could contact Dworken. Not that I relish talking to my great-grandfather as it might be very dangerous to do so."

"That I would wish for you to wait to do until I was able to join you."

I was touched by the concern I could feel he had for me. "I still need to find out where Dworken is and if it is possible to contact him. Random would know that more than anyone." I looked away and said. "Much as I would like to remain here with you at this time, I think I need to go."

"I understand, just as I must stay."

"If you leave here before I get back, please Trump me and let me know that you've gone." I chided him.

"I will keep you informed." He smiled then grew serious. "I do not know what orders my master will have when he wakes. And there are certain . . ." he paused searching for the right words, "oaths that I must obey. Yet I do not think that he will force me to return with him."

"He has seemed reasonable." I began.

"He is very enlightened for my people." Keladrian interrupted.

"He was not at all what I expected after all your dire warnings." I moved back to teasing Keladrian again. "However I did find it interesting that he used Nmimnis name out loud in front of Isabeau."

Keladrian looked somewhat taken aback. "I was unconscious at the time but I imagine that he was not aware of his surroundings due to his injuries."

I nodded. I was sure that Keladrian was right. "He seemed very easy to contact mentally at that time. I expected one of his age and station to be more formidable." I caught the look on Keladrian's face and added. "Not that I pried. I did refrain." I told him.

"I see that my contact was less than ideal." He stated somewhat cryptically. "The paralysis left him wide open. Even I could have plumbed the depths of his mind in his condition. And I tried to convey that to you in the hopes that you could somehow protect him."

"Well, I didn't get that." I told him.

"I know, when I woke up I still had my medallion."

"Sorry, that didn't come through." Where the hell did he think I could have put his medallion on an 80-foot dragon anyway? "I did what I could to rouse him which unfortunately put me out of commission for a long while."

"And what was that?" he asked

"A simple form of magic that my father tried to teach me many years ago. Which I pretty much ignored, but I thought it was the appropriate time to try something. And it worked." I remembered the extreme feelings of euphoria. "And boy did it work! He did mention my needing to pay more attention to the nature of the ambient magic in a shadow before using power." Damn I hated it when Bleys was right.

"Again that would be a valuable lesson for shape-shift. It is much easier to take a shape that is in tune with the shadow."

"Well that is something that you can teach me. Since you also do conjuring you could probably help me become a little more discerning about the nature of magic in a shadow." I could tell that it stroked Keladrian's ego to feel that he had something he could teach me.

"Again, you ask an interesting question, one that I take for granted because of my perceptions. And I believe we perceive things quite differently."

"But that is why we are such a good team, the diversity of our power bases." I smiled slyly at him.

"I would agree." He paused a moment then asked, "So, when do you leave?"

"I should leave immediately."

"Then I will help you don your armor." He stated.

"I hadn't planned on wearing my armor." I told him.

He looked at me strangely. I perceived that he was thinking very strongly that he would not allow me out of his sight without being as protected as he could prepare me. Thoughts of the bruises on my back were uppermost in his mind.

I was going back to Amber and I had every intention of making a statement. Wearing the armor was not the statement I intended to make. "The armor will be in the Luggage with me and at the first sign of need I will put it on, I assure you." This did not truly seem to mollify him. "Right now it is in the Luggage getting where it smells better. One can only sweat in armor for so long before it becomes intolerable."

"Indeed?" he seemed to find this attitude strange.

I could see that we differed in our approach to a challenge. Keladrian saw it as something to be met with defense and attack. Whereas I saw it as needing to be met with manipulation and presentation. He had a point. If something were to go wrong, I would be left wide open for attack. But my ability to know and manipulate my betters had proved more effective than armor. I decided to go with my strengths. Wearing the armor would simply be a red flag for my family. But I was touched by his concern for my well-being.

"That is very sweet." I told him as I kissed him. "But I think manipulation will serve me better than armor at this point."

"You know your family." He acquiesced.

"Oh, Yes!" I heartily agreed as I climbed from the pool. The Luggage immediately spewed forth a towel without being asked. It seemed that it wanted to prove its importance to me.

I surveyed several outfits and finally decided on the designer slashed blue jeans. The ones what made it obvious that you were wearing them sans underwear. With that I paired a cobalt blue button-up silk blouse that I left unbuttoned and open down the front. I left it hanging loose and not tucked into the pants. I chose a comfortable pair of platform sandals. I was going for shock value. I wanted the staff at Castle Amber to think, 'how dare she wear something like that here'.

It was a statement of independence. I didn't know who was resident at the Castle at this time, but I knew that at least my father was. I had matters to discuss and I didn't want Keladrian aware that I was planning on confronting my father. I had never overtly disobeyed Bleys before, but I knew what kind of temper he had.

I had the Luggage produce all the jewelry and I went over it carefully. I picked out one necklace and put it on. The rest I returned to the Luggage. The necklace was made of beaten brass. I was hoping that the statement would not be lost on Bleys.

Keladrian watched my preparations carefully but I don't think he understood the significance of the jewelry. Just as well, he was already not pleased that the armor was remaining in the Luggage. And I was effectively making a declaration of war by my attire.

After dressing I went to search for an elf to help me leave this place.

Keladrian came with me to make sure that when I left this place that I was placed were I could leave the Shadowed land without having to travel a great distance. I was given a necklace with a small glowing stone or seed on it. This necklace would allow me to more or less knock on the door and ask for permission to return. Whether I actually was allowed to return would be decided at that time. I wanted to kiss Keladrian good-by but realized that his comfort level would not permit that sort of open display yet.

I was led away from the general community area into deeper old growth forest. There was a feeling as if I had left a lovely scene but now was entering an area of real majesty and grandeur. Compared to this, Arden was a nice patch of woods. Eventually my guide led me to a Redwood tree. It had incredible 'treeness' about it, as if this was the pattern for all other trees throughout shadow. The detail was sharp and crisp and full of life and vibrancy. I still had that odd impression that the trees were the real people here. Which Keladrian's statements of not being alone had only reinforced.

My guide went into a deep and respectful curtsy to the tree. I nodded my head and when I looked up I was in the area by the shadow storm. I pulled forth my Trump of the Amber Library. No one was there and all the signs of recent conflict had been cleared away. Maybe it wasn't so recent. Events had started to blur together and I wasn't sure how long ago it had been since Caine had attacked Corwin in here.

I opened the door and went into the hallway. I stopped one of the servants that passed. "Is the King in residence?" I demanded.

"No your Grace." He responded with a total lack of expression. I did receive the proper mental response that I had expected. So far, so good.

I would have to move Random down on my list of contacts. I went to the rooms my father had in the Castle and tried to the door. They were locked and there was no response to my knock. I pulled out my father's Trump and could tell that he was sleeping. Two down. I was briefly annoyed.

I took out Random's Trump and tried for contact. There was no response. I shuffled out Corwin's Trump and only got the impression that he was unconscious.

I thought a moment and then headed to Random's rooms in the Castle. There were two guards posted out front. "Is Vialle in residence?" I asked.

"Yes, your Grace." The older one replied.

"Please announce that I would like to have an audience with her." I waited while the guard stepped inside.

He returned shortly and bowed. "Your Grace. If you would follow me." And he opened the door for me. I followed him into a sitting room.

Random's drum set was in the corner. There was an odd blending of styles here. Random's southern Reb style was much in evidence. Over this was laid touches that made it look casual without looking campy. I admired the skill that this took especially with Random's stuff. We moved through this room to a door on the left. He opened this door for me but did not go through it. Instead he raised his voice to presentation level.

"The Duchess Zhelan of Amber."

There was a rustle of fabric from inside and I heard a sweet, low voice reply. "Please come in."

I entered the room and looked around. It was a long narrow hall and it was well lit though Vialle did not need it. The walls were cream but the dominant features of the room were the many pedestals adorned with sculpture. The work was in many mediums such as clay, fabrics and wood. There was no metal work, which I thought sensible for a blind person. Most represented human figures. She had an elongated style that I admired, one artist of another.

In between the pedestals were a series of backless settees. The floor was not carpeted and as I moved down the room I could hear my own footsteps but they were not loud or echoing. At the far end of the room Vialle was just placing a floor harp back into position. Musically talented as well. I was beginning to feel dislike for this woman who had taken my uncle from me. The fact that the blue dress she wore was simple, elegant and fit her perfectly to showcase her beauty did little to change that. Her hair was swirled up on top her head.

She was facing my direction and it was clear that she could hear me approach.

"Thank you Gregory, you can leave." She said to the guard who was standing just inside the door. He nodded and pulled the door shut behind him.

I nodded to Vialle. "Your majesty, I appreciate you seeing me on no notice."

"Quite all right. I don't believe we've had the pleasure." Her smile was warm and welcoming.

"No. And I have been looking forward to meeting the woman who has caused such a change in my uncle." I hoped that the venom of my current thoughts were not too blatant in my tone. By her next statement I knew that I had failed.

"Do you resent that?" She asked me quietly.

"In a way." I was honest with her. "In others, I see that he is happy and that makes me happy. But I do miss our time in shadow."

"It wasn't I that stole that from you. It was the unicorn." Her voice was wistful and she looked away briefly. I felt that we had a common loss. While I could not instantly like this woman, I disliked her less. She still had more access to my Uncle than I.

"That's true." I agreed.

"I miss those times with him as well." She was good. But I would not let her manipulate me.

"Well, I had that which I needed to discuss with him. Do you know when he might be returning from his current mission?"

She stood up from where she had been sitting and wandered to a pedestal. "I don't know even if he will be returning." There was real loss in her motions and tone and I felt an answering response in myself. I was beginning to understand loss.

I decided to see how much Vialle might know of current events. "How much are you aware of what is taking place with the Emergence."

"I don't know Duchess. How much are you aware of what is going on with it?" Her response was interesting. She seemed suddenly unsure of herself and even slightly nervous and confused. The composure of earlier had been cracked. I felt more at ease with this woman.

"We are at a point where we are trying to decide what . . ." I stopped at a loss for words. "And who to support, what the nature of it is. I am here on a fact-finding mission at this point. The question is, Chaos seems to be against the Emergence."

"Certain factions of Chaos." She interrupted me.

"Because of the shake-up in their power structure." I continued. "I have met one of the players in that game and would deem that what is there now is better than what could be. How the Emergence would affect that is unknown. I was hoping that Random would know how to contact Dworkin." I left it there and waited for her reaction. It was evident that she was aware of the politics of Chaos. How knowledgeable was she on our family?

There was a long pause. "Yes, we are looking at whether Random knows how to contact Dworkin as well." Her response indicated that the pause had been needed to decide just how much she could trust to tell me. Or how best to phrase a lie.

"I take it that that is where he is now?"

"I didn't say that." She confirmed. I have noticed that people always deny that they said something when I restate the truth.

"It would be where I would go in his position." I mused.

"You and Random share many traits." That warm, welcoming smile played across her face again.

I turned away in frustration. "It seems that everyone I need to talk to at this point is unavailable."

"Who did you need to talk to?" Vialle asked.

"I need to talk to my father and Random and I'd like to talk to Corwin." I told her.

"Prince Corwin and Bleys are resting right now." She moved over to a chair and sat.

"Corwin is here?" That would solve numerous problems for me. But not for Keladrian.

There was a slight hesitation on her part and then she admitted. "Prince Corwin is in residence."

"Well that makes it easier. I just need to wait for one of them to wake up." But the time involved. I hated losing the time. "Would you let Random know that I need to talk with him if you hear from him?"

"Yes, I will convey that to him." Her voice was soft and far away.

I felt that I had done all that I could here and did not wish to overstay my welcome. "Thank you, your majesty. Sorry to take up your time. It was nice meeting you." And I realized that I genuinely meant the later.

"It was lovely meeting you too." Her tone and demeanor only indicated distance. Her thoughts were no longer with me in this room. She was concerned for Random's safety.

Dear Uncle, be safe. For Vialle's sake as well as mine. I nodded in the Queen's direction, turned and left the room.

I returned to the library. Time to fan the fire. I was nervous about my next decision but had a perverse need to pour some salt in open wounds. I sat and took out pen and paper and began to draw a Trump sketch of the inside of my father's rooms here in the Castle. Those I was well acquainted with. No one entered the library during the half hour that I was occupied. I guess I needed to come here by myself to be alone in the Library. If I had brought someone with me, we surely would have been interrupted.

I finished the sketch, stood and activated it. I was standing in the dark with a knife at my throat.

I remained calm. I did not expect to be able to sneak up on father. "I'm glad to see that you are awake."

"What do you want?" He was really pissed. I had never had this tone used on me before. It was daunting.

"Several things." I tried for levity.


I decided to try for concern. "How are you feeling?"

"Murderous. How are you feeling?" The knife pressed more tightly against my throat. Sorry Keladrian, the armor wouldn't have done me any good against this.

I steeled myself and replied lightly. "I'm feeling fine."

"What do you want?" His breath was hot on my ear.

"Information." Father himself had trained me for situations like this. I remained calm and didn't flinch.

"What do you offer?" The tone did not soften but the knife pressed less against me.

"What do you want?" I countered.

"I want out of here." He could not hide the disgust in his voice. I know how he felt. It hadn't been that long ago that I was sitting in a beaten brass cage of his devising.

"What's stopping you?" I challenged him. The memory of my recent imprisonment at his hands hardened my resolve.

"The orders of the King." He spat.

"Random's kind of out right now. If he were here, I would see what I could do." I told him. I would not use my favor with Random for him. My obligation to Keladrian was the deeper emotional connection now.

He did not respond to that. "So why did he order you here? What does he think you've done so awful that you are under house arrest again?" I pushed. The word again was probably a mistake.

"I think you should go, Independent party." Intense dislike and spite emanated from him in waves. I had pushed too far. And the worst part was that his rejection actually hurt. I had lied to Keladrian and myself. I did care what my father thought of me.

"So you are not interested in my help in getting out of here?" I said lightly.

"You have indicated that you have nothing to give me."

"When Random returns." I began.

"When Random returns." He finished for me.

"Do you expect him not to?" He didn't reply. "Would Vialle be able to release his orders?" I offered an alternative.

He considered a moment then "Yes."

"Then I will speak to Vialle for you. I believe we have reached an accord."

The knife left my throat. But there was no lessening in the hostility. I heard him move away and a moment later I felt a burst of magic and the room's lights were ignited.

Father was not in pajamas. He was bare foot but clothed. His red shirt was hanging loosely opened. A similar look to my own. The knife at my throat was actually a long sword that he held loosely in his right hand. He walked to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. He did not offer one to me. He turned and leaned against the cabinet and waited.

"Some day, at some point, I hope that we can heal this breach between us." I offered.

"Perhaps when you decide what I am to you Zhelan." He took a sip of the brandy.

"I'm not sure what you are to me." That was the crux of my recent ambivalent feelings to this man who I had called father. I was awash in mixed emotions, anger, disappointment, despair, betrayal.

"I'm your father." He spat.

"And my mother." I accused. Damn this was not what I wanted to say or how I wanted to say it. My father could always bring out the venom in me faster than anyone else.

"Is this what you've come to ask." He seemed resigned.

"Science or Magic Bleys?" I could not bring myself to call him father right now.

"Yes." Was his only response?

"Both? Why?"

"I wanted a child. Should I take myself to every whorehouse in shadow until some woman sprouts seed?" he sneered. "Or should I bring forth an heir?"

"This information. . ." I couldn't speak. I was so conflicted. "I don't know what to think. I don't know what to feel about this. I wish you had told me rather than my finding it out on my own."

"And if I had told you, what would you have thought?"

"Maybe if you had explained your reasons. Am I the first? Am I the only one? Are there others like me out in shadow?" Was I just a casual experiment that he regretted?

"No, there are no others. And no you are not a beta test." He looked directly at me and his tone indicated the sincerity of his words. "You are my child. My only child. The only child I could ever have."

"I'm sorry if I have been a disappointment." I said bitterly. This had gone so wrong. I had misjudged too many things. His reasons; and my existence. Then what he said about an heir hit me. Had he had designs on the throne of Amber that long? More of my training and our dealings together made sense in that light.

His voice and demeanor softened. "You have not been a disappointment." Then turned hard again. "But I am not a bank for you to draw on." Even more than when we had the talk in his office in shadow, I felt that tearing sense of loss. What had I done? I loved my father. There was silence between us for a while. "Perhaps this is my own fault for not reinforcing the consequences of your actions to you. I don't think of myself as an overly protective parent, but somehow a lesson was missed."

Consequences? It was strange, I had just told Keladrian that I had lacked the concept of consequences until recently. "Well you did try to warn me." I thought of our conversation in his office in the brass shadow. "Of the consequences recently."

"This is not a shadow game we play here, Zhelan. Not for our amusement."

"I have been trying to. . ." I hesitated and decided to choose my words with more caution. "Learn to play the game. I'm sure I'm not playing it the way you would prefer."

"As long as you are breathing it's fine. But there are consequences to your actions. And I will not sacrifice my life for yours."

"I don't believe that I've asked you to." I must have missed something along the way. Something had happened that I was not privy to. Something that he blamed on my course of action. Unless he was referring to the ordeal at Corwin's Pattern.

"It has come close lately." He took another sip of brandy.

"We've just had a difference of opinion about how things should be done." I offered.

"That's to be expected. But I think you have tried my patience as well as my resources. And offered me nothing other than 'I want to do it my way'." He put down the glass then turned back to me. "And I want my deck back."

No point in denying I had it, I silently flipped open my Trump pouch, pulled out the deck and sorted out my own cards. I placed his deck on the table at the side of the room. "You'll have to get one of them back from Gerard." I told him as I moved back from the table.

"Thank you." He strolled over and picked up the deck. He thumbed through them briefly then slipped them into a pocket.

"Keladrian and I intend to continue together. I would appreciate your respect in that." And here it was. This was the true cause of the breach between us. If not for Keladrian . . .

"What do you mean? I haven't killed him yet." He returned to the brandy snifter and picked it up, the sword still in his hand.

"No more markers, no more traces." I watched the sword hand and the way he held the glass. They were my indicators of his thoughts. "No more trying to find out what his nature is."

"No." His patience had been pushed too thin. "Your young man is fascinating Zhelan. And I will direct my studies where I choose. I won't harm him if he doesn't harm you or threaten me."

"And there again." I said. He had warned me of consequences. If I tried to tell him that knowledge of Keladrian was dangerous, would he consider that a threat? Don't make me choose between you father. "To you also, there are repercussions to actions."

"I'm aware of repercussions, Zhelan." He gestured around the room.

"So have you been out to the estate?" Or was that another time bomb waiting to explode.

"No. I just knew these were missing." He patted the spot where he had placed his Trump deck.

"How did you know they were missing?" Why didn't you teach me useful things like that? Oh yah, I think he tried.

He set the glass down and rubbed his fingers together, there was a spark. "It looks like you've been practicing." He half accused.

"A little. I've had some interesting events happen." I so wanted to share my new abilities with the power words with him, but this was not the moment for that. I changed the subject. "Would you still like me to speak with Vialle for you?"

"Of course. After all it was your half of the deal."

"Very well. Another time perhaps." Did I get the best of that deal? I doubted it. But if his goal was to teach me the consequence lesson, I would say that he had been successful. Not that I would admit it to him. Not yet anyway. We needed more time for that.

"Perhaps." His response was faint.

I turned and moved to leave the room. I opened the door into pandemonium. Guards were rushing down the hall. I hesitated a moment and was almost bowled over by father who, sword still in hand, rushed by me and into the hall. I ran after him. We easily outstripped the guards. As we passed the library and neared the central stairwell I saw the door to Benedict's room lying on the floor. That couldn't be good.

From inside the room emerged the sound of swordplay. "Luggage, The Gun." Whatever was in there would have two of the best swordsmen in all of shadow confronting it. I wanted a projectile weapon.

I reached the open doorway and it took a moment to even see what was happening as the swordplay was so fast. Benedict and Kyrie were facing off Seclar. I assumed it was Kyrie. I had never met her before but she felt Chaosian and who else would Benedict hang with but the Warlord. Bleys was trying to jockey for position. Seclar while not gaining an advantage was holding off both Benedict and Kyrie. Neither of them Benedict and Kyrie were wearing armor but dressed in somewhat casual attire. Benedict did always go for the warrior type. Seclar was armed and armored. I took carefully aim and thought of Keladrian's scar. Bleys had been moving into position but when I chambered the first round, he moved aside.

Seclar looked up and noticed the gun. His eyes indicated he was aware of the implications. After all Corwin had defeated Chaos here with these weapons. My first shot took him somewhere in the chest and knocked him back enough for Kyrie to find an opening. My second shot was to the head, taking advantage of the recoil. But he was ready for it and the bullet struck the wall past his shoulder.

I had felt protected with Benedict, Kyrie and Bleys between us, so I could take my shots at leisure. Then somehow Seclar managed to throw a boot knife at me with deadly accuracy. Bleys flicked his sword out to deflect it but the knife shattered his blade. That was one hell of a boot knife. Father glanced back in my direction. I didn't need to read his thoughts to know that he was thinking that the only one who would take me out would be him.

Benedict and Kyrie took advantage of Seclar's distraction to score hits upon him. There was a swell of Logrus in the room and Kyrie stepped back and tossed her sword to Bleys. Who caught it expertly and moved in to assume her position.

I got another shot to the torso on Seclar during the exchange of fighters, which allowed my father the opening to move in against the Chaos Lord.

Bleys was fighting very well. The sword that Kyrie had tossed to him wasn't Helioventare, but it was a power sword of some sort.

Then Seclar started to fade. "No!" I shouted. Don't let him get away. I wanted him dead. Dead here and now. Seclar slipped in some blood and flailed in a very unswordsman-like maneuver. I sent a third bullet into him. It hit his right forearm and threw it to the side. Benedict took advantage of the opening and disabled Seclar's left arm. It was hard to say who struck the deathblow. There was a flurry of blades from Benedict and Bleys and I squeezed off at least two more shots that hit their mark, but it was soon over.

The minute Seclar slumped to the floor; Kyrie took her sword back from Bleys' hand. She and Benedict dashed from the room. They seemed to be pursuing something or someone.

I moved into the room and held out the gun to my father. No hope in hiding this from him any longer. "Thank you, father."

"Thank you, daughter." He took it from me with a cold stare. Then indicated the body on the floor. "Who is this?"

"That is Prince Seclar, second born of Margette and Swayvil." I told him.

"Swayvil." He said at the same time. He said under his breath, "He's certainly beefed up." Then more loudly "He's bleeding on Benedict's carpet."

"That's Benedict's problem. I am so glad to see he is dead. We just had a recent run in with him and he injured several of us." Keladrian and Drake would be sorry to have missed this.

"He won't be doing it again."

"For which I am very grateful."

"Crown Prince, Seclar?" Bleys eyes lit up. I could see the wheels spinning in his mind. The Crown Prince of Chaos was dead in Benedict's room. Where Benedict and the Chaosian Warlord had been in casually residence. There must be some advantage for him in all of this.

"You are surprised at Benedict and Kyrie." I chided him.

"One moment, Zhelan." I felt his mental power swell out around us. "You're dismissed." He told the guards that were standing gape mouthed at the door. He turned casually to me. "Will you pick up the door, Zhelan?"

I set the door back in its place and turned back to where Bleys was stripping the body of Seclar.

"Stoke the fire, dear."

The hacked apart pieces of body and bloody carpet all became ashes. Along with the cloak and clothes with which we used to wipe up the blood. Seclar's own sword was used to cut up the body. Bleys would not allow me to touch the sword and he looked uncomfortable using it himself. I could tell that it was a Logrus blade more powerful than the puny thing that Drake wielded. All went to the fire except for the head, which Bleys stuffed down an urn. And the armor and sword, which Bleys passed to his estate via Trump. It was as if nothing had happened here.

We worked quickly in silence. Bleys was good at this.

We reached a point where I knew that my services were no longer needed. "I think you can handle this from here. I will go talk to Vialle." "My real objective here was to talk to Corwin and Random, but neither are reachable at this time." I offered this information to father as a parting token. "Good luck, father."

"The same." He said softly.

"Thank you." And I meant that. The bridge had been scorched badly, but not burned. There was the possibility for reconciliation. I least I hoped so.

I returned to Vialle's area and asked to be announced. And was led to the same room. Vialle was standing by one of the sculptures and she was running her hands over it.

"Duchess Zhelan." She greeted me warmly.

"Your Majesty, I am here to speak on behalf of my father. Apparently Random has left instructions that he not be allowed to leave the Castle. I do not know what he is being held here for but I assure you that he acted strictly in the best interests of Amber in all that he has done. And I would appreciate it if you would consider lifting his restrictions."

"It is refreshing to hear a child speak for her father." She paused and then said tenuously "I'm afraid you'll have to forgive me. This may seem terribly Machiavellian of me. My husband's influence, I'm sure. I will make you a trade Duchess Zhelan."

"What conditions?" I was becoming used to this by now. I think I would have been disappointed if she hadn't asked. She would make a worthy Queen for Amber.

"I will trade you your father for your Uncle Caine."

"He hasn't gotten out yet?" My surprise overpowered my judgment. Damn too late now to say differently. For a moment I had forgotten that I was suppose to believe that Caine was dead.

"Out of where?" Vialle picked up.

The best that I could do was to try to create a façade. I was good at playing the airheaded damsel in distress. I would go with that image. Better for the Queen to think I was a silly, easily manipulated child. "Well, the last time I saw him, he was in a shadow where Pattern didn't work and Trump didn't work. We thought sure that he would be able to get out fairly quickly."

"We did, did we?" She arched an eyebrow.

"Yes. Well, it was to prevent him from killing Corwin." I said justifying our actions.

"Your Uncle Corwin is fine. The Crown would appreciate if its faithful servant were returned to us." She said reproachfully.

"Um. You know, I'd like to help you with that, but as I said, Pattern doesn't work there and Trump doesn't work there." I wasn't going to promise anything.

"Then it will require some effort." Neither was she.

"I will see what I can do." I finally offered.

"Thank you. I will forget that I heard most of this." She was gracious and seemed to have bought the airhead routine. Let her think me nothing more than that, but one with the wherewithal to take down Caine.

"I don't know if I will be available for Random to contact." It was my turn to gather information. "By the way, how did Random get a hold of me last time?"

"Excuse me?" The tone of her answer aroused my suspicion.

"When I was at Corwin's Pattern I called for his assistance. He Trumped me back. I was not aware that there were Trump for me." I lied.

"You know the King. He has his resources." She countered.

"Well, since he can get a hold of me, can you please ask him to try to get a hold of me? I think I have to leave now since I am unable to contact either him or Corwin. At this point there is no reason for me to stay here longer." I hoped I would be someplace that Random could reach me.

"We will miss your company." She seemed genuine in her sentiment.

"I hope that sometime in the future we have more time to talk. Random did suggest that you could show me how to install that Trump shunt thing that he has." One last try for information.

"He did, did he?" And a score. Her tone definitely indicated something to be interested in.

"Yes, he did." I stated slowly emphasizing each word.

"Hmm. " She paused and seemed to be thinking about what to say. Then finally added. "Perhaps when you have time we can talk."

"I would like that very much." I told her truthfully. "Thank you for your time and I will see what I can do about Caine."

I bowed and then left. I needed to return to the library and draw another Trump Sketch to the Shadowed lands inside the Shield Wall Mountains. Once again I was undisturbed in the library for the half hour needed to create the sketch. Once I had finished I did a quick check to make sure I was unobserved, activated the sketch and stepped into the meadow inside the Shield Wall Mountains.

I took the necklace and spoke to it. "I wish to be reunited with my friend. With your permission."

I looked up and saw Keladrian standing in the clearing that we had originally come to. The singing had stopped and Thenaroth seemed to be awake. There was no one else around except for the trees.

I nodded to the elder and said politely. "I see that you are awake. I hope you are feeling better than when we last spoke."

"Much thank you." He gazed down on me. Even though he was recumbent, he was still a massive creature.

"Zhelan, did your trip go well." Keladrian was standing with more ease and grace. I wondered how much time had passed here while I had been gone.

"Better than I could have expected in some ways. And you will be so happy." I thought of the demise of Seclar, then of my confrontation with my father. "And yet failed miserably in other ways." Why couldn't we be alone? I want you to hold me and let me tell you about what happened. My soul aches and I need you to care about me.

"Would you care to enlighten us?" He urged.

"You know that problem you had with Crown Prince Seclar? It's been resolved." I put aside my needs and concentrated on bringing more joyous emotions into play. I smiled slyly at him. I would not blurt this story out. I wanted to savor giving it away.

"Resolved how?" He was patient. I will give him that.

"Well he's mostly ashes in Benedict's fireplace right now." I said with undisguised glee.

"He would be the Swordsman." Keladrian explained to Thenaroth.

"Sawallian?" Thenaroth asked and Keladrian nodded in response. Then turned back to me.

"Benedict's Fireplace?" He queried for further explanation.

"Yes." I did not elaborate.

"He was in Amber?" Keladrian was resigned to the guessing game.

"Yes." I wanted this to be a private story. Would he just quit asking questions.

"Why would he go to Amber?" Keladrian didn't take the hint.

"I don't know, Kyrie was there, Benedict was there. They were being casual. I think that he was after one of them or the other, maybe both." I glanced up at Thenaroth to see if I could judge any reactions. No luck. I guess I need more practice reading dragon expression. "It didn't really matter when they finished slicing and dicing and I shot him several times."

"You shot him? At the Project?" Thenaroth seemed amazed.

"Yes." I affirmed.

"Hmm. A loophole." He pondered.

"And Balak and Lila?" Keladrian pressed.

"I did not see them. They are still fair game for you. For us." I amended. Had Keladrian told Thenaroth about us? "It is too bad you were not there to witness the demise of Seclar. It was glorious."

Keladrian seemed wistful. "Indeed. I wish I had been."

"I see you are feeling better." I wasn't sure that was a good thing. His openness to me had come during his time of dependence. Would we go back to the way it was before? I hoped not.

"Yes, I am well recovered from my wounds." Then he gestured towards Thenaroth. "We were discussing our next moves."

"About the Emergence." I asked for clarification.

He nodded. "As usual, no path is clear."

"I was unable to talk to Random. He was unavailable; therefore I was unable to find Dworken. Corwin is not yet awake so I was unable to discuss with him about your friend." I summed up my visit to Amber.

"You went to Dorad?" He did not sound as if he thought this might not be possible for me.

"No. Corwin is no longer in Dorad. Apparently Gerard brought him back to Amber when he returned to attend King Random." I told him.

"Do you know if he had awakened?"

"No, he has not woken yet. I was assured of that much." I thought back to what I had overheard in Amber. The time flow must be faster here, which gave us some time. "I do need to speak with Random concerning that matter and I still intend to. However Vialle has asked for the return of Caine. Unfortunately I was unable to assist her with that considering where he is."

"Could you not draw it?" Keladrian mentioned more than I cared for him to in front of Thenaroth.

"To what purpose?" I hedged.

"It blocks on the way out."

"On the way out yes, but do you want to go in there? Going into there is one way." Then I realized that he was thinking of what Isabeau had done with Mandor. "Do you think I could contact Caine there? If it was possible to do so, someone would have tried that by now."

"Good point."

"Since neither Pattern or Trump works out of there, drawing a Trump sketch would simply be trapping another person there." Now I was saying too much in front of Thenaroth. Keladrian and I had become much too careless when conversing to each other in front of others.

"I'm surprised you haven't already thought of that." Keladrian accused in a teasing manner.

Who says I haven't. My hand automatically dropped to the pouch where I keep my Trump.

"I suppose you wish to go there?" He asked me.

"Not necessarily. I just told Vialle I would think about it. She asked for that in exchange for what I asked of her."

Keladrian did not ask what I had requested of Vialle, which was a good thing. "We did not intend to leave him there permanently."

"It was my assumption that he would be able to alter that shadow enough on his own to get out. That may not be the case." Whoever had set the trap for us might have reeled in Caine in our place.

"Or perhaps whoever built that trap. . ." Keladrian began.

"Were aware of those abilities or . . ." I continued.

"Planned for those. . ."

"Contingencies." I again finished his sentence. It was uncanny how we had become so tuned that we could finish each other's thoughts.

"Did we ever figure out who that was?" He queried.

"No, but I believe it was the . . ." I began.

"Ihendrons." And Keladrian finished.

"Aimed at Drake and our party. But we have no proof that it was them. Except for some bodies found in my Luggage." Did it matter now? Only if they had Caine.

"So before us we have several things to consider." Keladrian gave the short list of options. "The investigation into your Uncle's whereabouts. Which may or may not be due to the nature of that shadow."

"That's true." I nodded.

"I need to check on Derrick's condition. And there is the matter of the shadow where you were attacked." He turned to Thenaroth. "You implied that we could go and finish what was started. Did you plan on going there or back to Alcedon?"

"No, I'm not going back to Alcedon." Thenaroth denied.

"So have we gained any insights on what we should do about the Emergence?" I quickly changed the subject. I suddenly realized that both Thenaroth and Keladrian had inadvertently named their home to me. Alcedon. I rolled the name around in my mind. I liked the sound.

"My master suspects that it will be an . . .Audio based order force." Keladrian looked to Thenaroth to check for confirmation.

"Huh?" I said.

"One that will make Amber look as malleable as clay." He explained.

"So would this be bad?" I guessed.

"I'd find it unpleasant." Thenaroth elaborated.

"It would be unchanging." Keladrian clarified.

"So essentially it would anchor a point in shadow beyond the reach that Amber has. Would it impact Amber and how? How would it impact your home? Would it impact your home?" Give me details that mean something to me. Would it destroy anything that I cared about?

"Of course anything that rings through shadow rings through all." Thenaroth offered.

"Then essentially this Emergence should be opposed?" it was half statement and half question. If we could ever make the decision about whether it should be opposed or supported that would bring up the next big decision. How to.

"It has an impact. That does not say that it can't be dealt with. It would depend on how close. . ." Keladrian began.

"Is a simple yes or no too much to ask for?" I protested.

"It would be nice but apparently unrealistic to expect. If there was a region of shadow that was fixed and no longer truly shadow." He shrugged.

"How large of a region of shadow are we talking about? How many shadows impacted, how many shadows destroyed?" Again give me facts I can relate to.

"Would they be destroyed or just fixed the way they were? There are many unknowns." Keladrian tried to be patient.

"So what is next? What do we do next? You and I, that's it. What are we going to do?" Let's just break it down into manageable components. I didn't want to think about the universe and everyone in it just now.

"I will need to briefly visit Dorad. Then we should go see to your Uncle Caine because it was not our intent to leave him. And Amber may have need of him." Keladrian relented and listed our course of action as he saw it.

"Should be go to another shadow than here since it is so difficult to come and go from here?" I didn't want to wait here for him to return from Dorad. At least let me sit and wait where I could go shopping or some other activity. Maybe someplace where Keladrian and I could get some privacy.

"Yes." He agreed.

"Then I would wait there while you go to Dorad." I agreed also.

"I am uncomfortable. . . " He turned to Thenaroth. "There are those hunting you, if you are not returning to Alcedon. Where will you go?"

"I go to the Abyss eventually." Thenaroth said philosophically.

"Eventually." Keladrian pressed.

Thenaroth just looked down at him.

"And that is where all the incarnations and avatars go?" Keladrian continued when he got no response.

"At this time, yes." Thenaroth agreed.

"Reluctant to leave you alone . . ." Keladrian began.

"One little incident and you feel I need protection." Thenaroth chided him.

"I would hate to think that the Emergence would take place without you." Keladrian objected.

"Is there someway that if you need assistance that you can let us know?" I asked Thenaroth. If we could arrange something Thenaroth would go his own way and I could be alone with Keladrian. I was willing to do almost anything to achieve that.

"Well grabbing you would be rude." Thenaroth almost sounded embarrassed.

"But you could." Both Keladrian and I said together.

"And if you needed assistance, I would not mind." Anything to be rid of encumbrances and be just Keladrian and I.

"You're really. . . Hmmmn." Thenaroth began. I might have been too overt because I thought he said 'Project girls' under his breath with a note of disgust.

Back to Top

Chapter 32
Dance Steps

I was losing all patience with both Thenaroth and Keladrian. Really, how long could we stand here and debate whether Keladrian was going to let Thenaroth go off on his own. Finally I could stand it no longer. "I don't think we are getting too far on this discussion about what to do."

I turned to Keladrian and said. "Thenaroth is a big boy and he can take care of himself. If he decides to go off into shadow on his own, it's probable ok. However," and I turned to the large blue dragon that towered over me. "I see that believing that you don't need help is a racial trait. So perhaps if you could assure us that you will at least contact Keladrian if you need assistance, then he will feel better about letting you go off on your own."

I waited a moment for what I had said to sink in. I couldn't believe I was talking this way to the two of them. Especially Thenaroth. All he had to do was move wrong and I would be squashed. And he probably wouldn't feel a thing. The recent run-in I had with Bleys was making me testy and very bold. "So, I will leave it to you boys to work it out. I am going to get changed." The two of them stared at me in silence. I shook my head and then turned and left.

It didn't take long to find someone to assist me. "Can you show me where Keladrian has been staying?" I asked a nice looking young elf with long blonde hair.

"I'm afraid I don't know." He seemed embarrassed and quite apologetic.

"Oh" I wasn't sure if this was actually true or a Dorad type thing where they respected people's privacy.

"I do apologize. Perhaps there is some other desire of yours that I can fill." He offered and then waited expectantly as if my desires were the most important thing in his world. It was quite flattering actually. I need to keep it in mind as a manipulation technique. The trick was to appear sincere. That part I would have to work on.

"I would like to go someplace private as I need to change." I requested.

He nodded and began to lead me through the trees. We arrived at some moss covered stone ledges that led to a place where a lush grass lawn was overhung by a large branch from which ivy hung down on all sides like a curtain. Even though the area was completely covered and private it was still very well lit.

"Will this be appropriate, my lady?" My elf escort asked politely.

I looked around and decided that this would do for what I had in mind. "Yes, thank you." I answered graciously.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" He continued being solicitous.

I had everything I needed. "No thank you. If Keladrian is looking for me please let him know where I am."

"It would be my pleasure." And he was gone.

I turned to the luggage and began pulling out the armor and items of clothing that I would need. Underwear, gambeson, boots, etc. The luggage seemed happy to be of use and to have me to itself. I examined the armor. The Luggage usually sent back damaged items from its interior in pretty good condition, however the armor was not new looking anymore. There were several significant dents and scraps and the large black burn mark on the back and it smelled faintly of lavender. It would have to do.

I next took out a full-length mirror and set it up. I took the puzzle ring off and set it on the lid of the Luggage. Then I undressed and stood in front of the mirror. It was time to experiment with more power words.

"Énoncér." I said while looking at my reflection. This power word was designed to reveal anything that was purposefully hidden.

Several things happened next. It became much darker and the glamour was removed from my surroundings. The ivy was revealed to be more like brambles and instead of standing on moss there was slimy mud beneath my feet. There was the hint of small skeletal remains tangled in the brambles. In the mirror I could see clearly the cast of my father's features in my own. This was not unexpected. But what I was most interested in was the mark that was revealed around my throat where Bleys had recently held his sword.

When I saw the mark I tried another power word. "Evanésco." This was meant to disrupt the magic and try to remove the tracer that my father had placed on me. The mark flickered momentarily then brightened.

The power word was not strong enough to remove the marker. That was slightly disappointing. But now that I knew where it was, I could do something about it. It was time to get dressed.

I picked up the puzzle ring and was putting it on when I heard Keladrian call my name on the other side of the ivy curtain. I told him to come in. It didn't bother me that I was naked, as I have no body shame.

Keladrian took my lack of attire in stride and said, "He would not agree." Referring to his recent discussion with Thenaroth.

"I didn't think he would." I said as I started getting dressed.

"He did not want to put us in danger. That does not mean that we cannot put ourselves in danger. So we will have to endeavor to keep track of him." He continued.

"Well I have an idea but it will take me a couple of days to do that." I sorted through several pairs of pants and shirts. I didn't want anything that would pinch or bind under the gambeson and armor. I finally settled on something fairly innocuous.

"I believe I know what you intend." He nodded.

"Can you give him some trinket that is unique that he would hang on to?" I pulled the gambeson over my head, "That way at any time, half an hour... "

"We will have to do what we can." Keladrian said noncommittally.

I picked up the breastplate. "Here help me with these clasps."

Keladrian moved over and began fastening my armor as I held my hair out of the way. "So we need to see to your uncle Caine and I need to check on Derrick."

"Neither of those activities are ones that we need to involve Drake and Isabeau in." I was still not comfortable with having them around.

"They are not here." Keladrian shrugged.

"How much time has passed for you since I have been gone?" He seemed to be much improved physically.

"It has been 5 days."

"Drake and Isabeau could be back at any time." I didn't know what they were doing or whether we would have time to take care of things before they returned.

"We can leave word about what we intend and whether we intend to return or not. It's the best we can do." He didn't seem too concerned.

I decided to change the subject. "I have found a mark that my father placed on me but I was unable to get rid of it."

"Is it new or old?" This topic aroused his interest.

"New." I told him remembering the sword blade at my throat.

"Do you think he has marked me?" Keladrian asked as he finished the last fastenings on my armor.

"Probably." Though I couldn't think when he would have had the time or opportunity since we had gone through that anti-magic shadow to rid ourselves of the last marks. "Would you like me to check?" I offered.

"I don't think he has had a chance." Keladrian had obviously been thinking along the same lines. "But why don't you check."

"I'll check just to make sure that the shadow we went through really got the marks off. If you still have any marks, I might be able to get it off if it has been weakened." I noticed that his armor looked a lot better than it had and better than mine. There was no evidence of the violence committed by Seclar. Which reminded me.

"I didn't have time to get the armor on before the battle with Seclar." I mentioned casually.

"I do recall somebody telling you to wear it on your way there." He scolded.

"I didn't need it. Between him and me were Benedict, Kyrie and Bleys. Why would I need armor?" I replied back. "Except for that boot knife." I added under my breath and then pronounced the power word to reveal hidden items and moved around Keladrian looking for marks.

There was a brief overlay of his dragon form, but I didn't see anything else amiss. "It looks like you are clean. But personally I am not."

Keladrian seemed startled by the effect of the magic that I had used. "What was that?"

"A power word." I explained. "Kind of like sorcery, only quick and dirty."

"There are plenty of sorcerers here if you wish it removed." He referred back to the mark that I had mentioned.

"Yes, I probably should try to get it taken care of." I agreed.

"Then that should be the first order of business." He seemed like he was ready to move on.

I wanted to tell him what happened in Amber. Now would be a good time. There was just the two of us. "Like I need another reason to piss off my father some more."

"He is angry?" Keladrian seemed surprised.

"I spoke with him when I went back to Amber." I began. "He was less than thrilled with recent events."

"Such as?" Keladrian prompted when I didn't continue.

I found it suddenly difficult to say more on the subject. I had so wanted to pour out the whole thing to Keladrian earlier and now when the moment was here I couldn't do it. As we both stood there in our armor I found that I had walls built around my emotions as well. Five hundred years and I didn't know myself. Five hundred years of guarding my thoughts and emotions was hard to overcome. I tried several times to say what was in my heart and finally failed. "Let me say this, he phrased it that 'the bank of Bleys is closed.' That I had taxed his resources and threatened his life and he was not exactly thrilled about that." I settled for levity.

"And of us?" Keladrian asked.

"He said that you are not dead yet." I quipped back.

"Observant of him." Keladrian smiled at me. "But I suspect from what you say that he will not leave us be."

"I asked him to drop that line of inquiry and he said no. He did say that as long as you don't threaten him or harm me that he would let you live." I tried to make a joke of it. Damn me, by the Unicorn's horn why couldn't I let my guard down. Was I afraid that Keladrian would find that a weakness in me? I thought I was ready for this, but I was wrong.

We stood in silence. For a moment it seemed that he expected me to say more and I tried to, I wanted to, but I waited too long and missed the opportunity.

"Well, we should see to getting this removed." Keladrian broke the silence. "Did you say that Corwin is in Amber?"

I agreed.

"I am trying to decide if I should go to Dorad now or . . ." Keladrian began

"Go to Amber to check on Corwin." I finished for him. "Didn't you say that the doctor at Dorad did not want to leave Derrick unconscious and that the next time you returned they would need to wake him up?"

"Pretty much." He agreed.

"The alternative is to bring Derrick to Corwin."

"He is in need of healing that I do not believe can be provided in Amber."

"Whether we can get Corwin to go to Derrick in Dorad is another issue. I'm not sure that my Uncle Corwin would go anywhere with me right now after the last excursion."

"If your King Random ordered him?"

"Random isn't available. Vialle was not even sure if he would be able to return. He has gone looking for Dworkin. However with the Avatars and the Incarnations meeting I have this feeling that Random is the Incarnation instead of Oberon. That might have been what was meant by the Unicorn is weak, because Random has not yet stepped up to his job as Incarnation. Something that Thenaroth said when he was talking about Random and the Jewel of Judgment at Corwin's Pattern has made me reevaluate my belief that Incarnations don't transfer." We had assumed that the Serpent was missing because Swayvil was dead. Maybe it was the other way around.

We were interrupted with the sound of Isabeau saying "Knock, knock." Came from the other side of the ivy curtain.

"Well that at least answers one question." Keladrian said as he moved to admit Drake and Isabeau. "You have returned. Enter."

I thought again of missed opportunities as Isabeau stepped in and to one side. Then a low growl from my Luggage alerted me that the Luggage and Drake were in much too close of proximity. I decided to occupy the Luggage by putting the full-length mirror away.

"Has your master recovered?" Drake asked as he entered and received confirmation from Keladrian. "That is good. Has he indicated a willingness that I might have speech with him?"

I could tell by the look on Keladrian's face that he had forgotten to discuss this with Thenaroth. I am sure that they had more important things to talk about at the time. "It did not come up." He admitted. "I am willing to ask."

"Thank you." Drake replied graciously.

"What is it that you wished to talk to him about?" Keladrian asked for clarification. I realized that Drake had caught him at a bad time. When the subject was first discussed we had just returned from the trek to the Glade of Supplication. Solomon was not aware that Keladrian had not been at his best at the time and also five days had passed here since that encounter.

"Diplomatic relations between your people and the courts." I interjected when Drake did not respond. "We spoke about this at breakfast the day we left and I asked Drake if he had the ability to broker such a deal." I added to remind Keladrian of the incident. It was a lot closer in the past for me than for him.

"Yes." Drake finally spoke.

"And that's what he said last time. We had just walked back from the Glade of Supplication and you were a bit tired." I reminded him.

"Apparently." Keladrian shook his head.

"Was your mission to restore Mandor successful?" I inquired of the Lady Isabeau to break the awkward silence between the men.

"Yes, thank you for your concern." She replied hospitably to me.

"I like Mandor and I'm glad to see that he has gotten a hold of himself." I joked to hide my amazement over Isabeau's response.

"His opinion of the Avatar rising is hunker down, hunker down, hunker down." Isabeau continued, "You gave us the job of finding out what the elders thought, that's what he thinks. Duck and cover time is basically what he had to say."

"I was unable to receive much information on that myself." I told her, pleased that we seemed to be having a civil dialogue.

"They seem to be quite reticent to talk about it." Isabeau seemed frustrated.

"The elders of Amber weren't around at the last Incarnation." I reminded her.

"There is that." she agreed.

"I did discuss this some, or perhaps I should say I received some information from my master. Not really a discussion. I think all elders are less than forthcoming in that regard, but he did say that the emergences have always been contested and he wasn't sure what would happen if one went unopposed." Keladrian added to our conversation.

"Well the chances of that happening are rather slim." Isabeau replied.

"Trying to get all of the Avatars and Incarnations to agree would be like trying to get the four of us to agree on anything." I added.

"Some must oppose by their sheer nature." Drake finally joined the conversation "As there is past history that caused friction."

"I can approach him and see if he will talk with you." It seemed that Keladrian had interpreted Drake's last statement to refer to their situation between the Serpent and the Dragon. "I will be back shortly."

During this discussion the Luggage had been trying to inch around the room to get to Drake and I had been moving to keep myself between the two of them. It was making the room very crowded.

The others decided that more space would be better and it was decided to wait in the clearing where we had eaten breakfast.

We followed Keladrian to the clearing and waited for him while he went to speak with Thenaroth. As we were waiting a picnic began to form around us. I took some food but kept apart from the rest. I didn't wish to press the limits of the new tolerance that Isabeau was showing towards me. She and Drake helped themselves to food also and Isabeau accepted a dance from one of the elves.

Keladrian rejoined us shortly and we all went to see Thenaroth, who was reclining in the clearing where I had seen him last. Drake executed a deep bow and Isabeau did a court curtsey that Flora would have been proud of. I stood. Thenaroth would just need to get used to it.

"Master, you have already met the Lady Zhelan and Isabeau." Keladrian began introductions. "May I present Prince Drake."

"I am pleased, honored elder that you have recovered from your injuries." Drake greeted the large blue dragon.

"Thank you." Thenaroth inclined his head toward Drake.

"I thank you for your efforts in maintaining the stability of shadow in the recent upheaval, and I further greet you in the name of the Sovereign of the Courts of Chaos. Not only did I wish to speak to you on my own but I have also of late been told that he is open to dialogue. I am particularly interested in seeing an end to the enmity between our people. It may not be an end that can be accomplished in my lifetime but I and my Emperor, who is not the man that you once knew, are willing to put our feet upon that path." Drake was really pulling out all the stops and I could see why he had been sent as an ambassador to Amber. He could really shovel the shit. I especially liked the part about the Emperor not being the man he once was.

Thenaroth seemed amused. "Did you practice long on that, son?"

"I merely spoke what was in my heart." Drake replied smoothly.

"What makes you think there are peoples to reunite?" Thenaroth responded. Which was interesting especially in light of what I had just learned from Keladrian that the human form was not one that his people used often.

"I did not speak of reuniting as I know that the choice of most of your line would be to remain apart." Drake's answer was quick.

"And how do you know that?" Thenaroth challenged.

"From the examples I have seen. It's not difficult to deduce that your line wishes to remain hidden and I agree that it had reason."

"How many examples of my line have you seen, Prince Drake?" Thenaroth's voice dropped in volume. If Drake couldn't recognize dangerous ground, I could.

"At this count, four."

"Four? Whom?"

Drake thought a moment and then said, "Yourself, honored elder, Keladrian, his friend Derrick and a woman named Fung Wei."

"And how do you know Fung Wei?"

"She was my lady mother." Drake named the woman that I had seen in his thoughts.

"Does she live?" Thenaroth continued his inquiry.

"I have not had report of her death. But I have not seen her since I was an infant."

There was a sustained moment of silence. Isabeau and I knew enough to stay out of this conversation. This was between Drake and Thenaroth. Though I did wonder how well Thenaroth knew Fung Wei and what his relationship to her was. As Incarnation of his people, he must be related to all of them as Oberon was related to all those of Amber.

"My people have no ambassadors." Thenaroth finally broke the silence.

"Your pardon, honored elder, but perhaps they already do." Drake inclined his head towards Keladrian.

Thenaroth eyed Keladrian a moment and then turned to Drake, "He's young. And I would not throw him into a serpent's nest."

"He is young, but I have seen him wrestle snakes." Drake countered.

"And what do you think of this?" The large dragon suddenly turned to Keladrian.

Keladrian paused a moment to consider his answer. "I think it depends on what your line wishes with the emergence." He finally said to Drake.

"Is the emergence then the deciding factor in opening dialogue?" Drake replied to Thenaroth and not to Keladrian.

"He's the ambassador." Thenaroth redirected Drake back to Keladrian.

"You make the claim that the Emperor of the Courts is no longer the man he once was, the man who did his utmost to hunt us into extinction for the power that we had and denied him. How will this changed man respond to this new power? Must he own it or destroy it? Is it black and white again?" Keladrian challenged Drake.

"We defend our home. If the emergence could live somewhere in an idealized pasture without disrupting reality and upsetting the balance of things, we would not oppose it. But from what I have been told emergences are never such tame affairs." Drake responded in a calm and reasoned tone.

"And I do not imply that I think it will be without violence. But that does not prevent you from attempting to, instead of destroy it, just protect that which you value. And let it go, perhaps even guide it. Offer it a path of least resistance. And in doing so, your actions would add sustenance to your words."

"I do no believe the tactical decisions regarding the opposition to the emergence have been made. I believe that there is a possibility that such a defensive and channeling tactic might be adopted. I do not have the ability to adhere to such a strategy." Drake offered hope of support but not really. He was very good at the diplomatic twisting of words.

"Of course this presumes that that which arises is not inimical to all." Keladrian added.

Isabeau and I stood back from this discussion. We were not players or of major influence in the court of Amber. Random should be here for this discussion.

"Is there a chance that such a path of least resistance to an unknown location would be efficacious?" Drake finally asked.

Thenaroth watched this dialogue with interest.

"And do you have a final destination in mind." Drake added.

Keladrian shook his head. "I cannot presume to know its wants and needs."

"How disruptive will it be to the area that it goes to?" I had to ask.

"It will make its own reality, and the reality that was there will no longer be." Isabeau answered. So much for the two of us staying out of this discussion. Now that it had turned from negotiations between the Dragon and the Serpent to matters of the Emergence, it did affect us.

"So we don't want it camping out near any of us." I stated the obvious conclusion.

"That seems to be the main gist of the problem, no one wants to have their backyard taken over into a new reality that isn't like the old." Isabeau said then seemed to realize that she was talking and tried to fade into the background.

"Its existence will affect all of reality." Thenaroth finally spoke.

"Even if it's defeated?" I asked him.

"If it's defeated it will return." Thenaroth told me.

"Return to what?" Isabeau couldn't stay in the background for long.

"The abyss." I explained.

"The general consensus from the honored elders, who are not nearly as knowledgeable as this honored elder, is that no Avatars have been defeated who have come this far." Isabeau had moved closer to Drake while she was talking.

"There is less unanimity with this emergence." Thenaroth nodded.

"When you say that it will affect all reality do you mean that it will then be real for any who come into contact."

"The last one was the project. What did it do to reality?" Thenaroth replied with a question. "It is an audio based order form." he explained, "Extremely order based."

"Audio based order form?" Isabeau had the same reaction I did when I first heard this.

There was a long pause while we digested all of this information.

Enough of this verbal fencing. I turned to Thenaroth and asked point blank. "Do you intend to oppose it?"

"I would find it uncomfortable. One is enough." He evaded a direct answer.

"Do you know if the unicorn is opposing?" I tried from another angle.

"I have not spoken to her recently." Thenaroth seemed incapable of a simple answer.

"I don't think Random is aware enough of circumstances to make an informed decision." I shook my head.

"Random?" The elder raised an eyebrow.

"His majesty the king of Amber." Drake replied

"The one who patched the shadow." Keladrian offered something a little more relevant to his master.

"Interesting potential, that one." Thenaroth nodded.

"We do not know whether his father lives." Drake added.

"Oberon." I clarified for Thenaroth.

"Hmmm." Was all the large blue dragon said.

There was another significant pause in the conversation. I think we were all waiting for Thenaroth to elucidate on his Hmmm.

"So you would actually oppose this new power?" Keladrian finally asked Thenaroth.

I thought it was time to break the mood. "Well, that would give you common cause with the courts to begin with in your ambassadorial duties." I tried to joke.

"I would hear his response." Keladrian was very serious.

Thenaroth pondered a moment and then said, "I would need to see the battlefield."

"Is the battlefield created by the emergence?" Drake asked him.

"I would need to see where others stood." Thenaroth clarified. "This is not a decision to be made lightly."

"I don't see how it can be made at all." Isabeau said in obvious frustration. "Until the emergence has emerged."

"So we get a big table at the edge of the abyss and everyone sits down." I continued joking. Someone had to keep the mood light. People tend to discount a jester. I could play that role while I listened and tried to make sense of all this.

"I have seen enough of the abyss for quite awhile, thank you." Isabeau said. "I don't want to be that close to it when the Avatar arises unless I am given very specific orders by someone who can."

"The most vocal supporter of the emergence is the Kraken for its own reason it hopes to advance." Drake spoke up. "To take the opportunity of the emergence to gain preeminence."

"To regain preeminence." Thenaroth corrected.

"The Kraken is of line Ihendra." Drake clarified.

"I guessed that." I said. "I have had enough of them in my Luggage to recognize their little spiral pattern."

"Your good friends and close allies of Amber." Drake was sarcastic then continued. "Others are non-committal. However the Phoenix follows the Kraken."

"The Phoenix." Thenaroth mused.

"What line is Phoenix?" I asked Drake. I still didn't know exactly how many lines of Chaos there were. I knew Sawall, the Serpent, Kraken for Ihendra, Hendrake was the Sword Maiden, there was line Barrowman where Dworkin came from. I think they were the Nightmare, which made sense that Dworkin would go for the Unicorn. Both of them being loosely horse based Avatars. Those were the only ones I was sure of not counting Thenaroth's people, the Dragons and Amber, the Unicorn. Chaos would number us among their lines, but I don't believe that Keladrian's people considered themselves a line of Chaos any more than Amber did.

"Methandros." Drake answered.

"I've heard that name before." So now I had another one to add to my collection. Phoenix and Methandros.

"Griffin opposes Phoenix and sword maiden opposes Kraken." Drake continued and now I had a new one. The Griffin. What line were they? Next I would need to start the power association with the lines and their Avatars.

"Sword maiden opposes Kraken?" Thenaroth practically purred. "That would be an e ticket. I'd pay money for that one. Sword maiden against Kraken, are you sure?"

"Positive." Drake affirmed.

Thenaroth nodded and then said, "And what of the serpent?"

"It waits to see if it is opposed by dragon." Drake answered with pure bluff.

I think we all knew that Drake was bluffing and were holding our breaths to see if Thenaroth would let him get away with it.

"Say that again, ambassador." Thenaroth seemed coldly angry.

"It is my fondest hope that it is waiting." Drake modified.

No one spoke for a long time and then Thenaroth turned to me and asked, "Seclar is dead?"

"Yes." I assured him.

"What?!!" Isabeau burst out but Drake only raised an eyebrow.

"This one is Swayvil's last male heir." Thenaroth indicated Drake. "And Mandor's involved in solving your little game."

"Mandor?" Isabeau asked, surprised.

"Mandors." Drake emphasized the plural. "I expect that is Mandor's to tell." He added.

Thenaroth inclined his head to Keladrian and said, "Fetch the Logrus Master."

"Very well." Keladrian agreed and then turned to me. "Do you have a Trump of Mandor?"

"I had a sketch, but he's moved since then." I explained. I didn't like talking about Trump in front of Thenaroth. I suppose it was ok to talk about it as long as the big guy didn't see the power in use. We needed it as our ace in the hole against him. "However there is one here who I would wager has one." I looked at Isabeau.

"This would speed up the process immensely." Keladrian turned to her.

"It was my understanding that it does not work from here." Drake interceded on her behalf.

"No, she will have to go to the Shadowlands beyond the Shieldwall Mountains in order to contact him and then return here." I offered. "Or we leave here and go . . ."

"We will return shortly." Keladrian decided. "Lady Isabeau is that acceptable?"

Thenaroth became bored with our plans and said. "I need another herd of reindeer. You are excused."

Isabeau bowed deeply and Drake bowed, then we left the clearing to move our discussions elsewhere.

"Congratulations on your promotion." I teased Keladrian.

"You will note that I have not yet accepted." He smiled back at me taking the teasing in stride.

"I didn't really expect a battlefield promotion, however . . ." Drake joined our conversation.

Isabeau moved up beside Drake and added her observation. "I don't think accepting is one of those things that you do."

"Allow me to have my illusions." Keladrian responded.

"I think you were appointed." I continued to mock him.

Then Drake changed the subject. "Seclar is dead?"

"Yes, quite dead. He's in pieces." I laughed.

"Thoroughly scattered pieces?" Isabeau asked eagerly.

"Yes, up in smoke." I said enjoying the attention.

Drake seemed quite pleased by this turn of events. "This is indeed, welcome news."

"It is quite a story, at some point . . . If only I could tell it like Corwin." I sighed.

Drake then brought us back on task. "So we must once again obtain permission to return? Or if we are with you?" he asked Keladrian.

"We still have the necklaces, or do we have to get new ones?" I asked for clarification. I didn't know if they were one shot or were still workable.

"You are the closest to an expert on this place." Drake turned to Keladrian for confirmation.

"I need to see the tree mistress." Keladrian announced. I think he was hoping that she would just appear.

We all rolled our eyes but fortunately nothing happened.

"I think we have to go to the glade of supplication." I suggested.

So it was decided that we head there and the path obligingly led us.

Once again we went from the manicured forest to an area that was more wild and free, but also dark and alive. And then we arrived at the tree. Isabeau moved closer to Drake and the Luggage moved closer to me.

"Tree mistress. My master has requested that I leave this place and bring back another of power to join our discussion. I would have your leave to do so." Keladrian announced to the tree.

It didn't take long for the tree mistress to appear.

"Shit." I heard Isabeau whisper.

"So how many more of these guys are you going to be bringing?" The aged woman demanded.

"Just one of him." Keladrian replied and I knew him well enough by now to know that he meant that as a joke. One I'm sure the Tree Mistress would not understand.

"Caer al dare is not going to be your staging area Keladrian." She shook her staff at him.

"I do not expect it to be, yet I think it some advantage to you to hear these discussions." Keladrian offered.

"Nice if your big boy would stop the static." The old woman protested.

"You have not heard what we discussed?"

"I hear everything." She told him

"I will ask him to stop that."

"It gives me a headache and I get cranky." The Tree Mistress snapped. I bite my tongue and refrained from response.

"Another one." She sighed.

Keladrian did not reply right away but gave her thinking time before he said, "He is not of my people."

"It is my father tree mistress." Isabeau added for clarification. Like that was a recommendation. The Tree Mistress did not know Isabeau at all.

"I've met her father, he's a fine man." Drake again moved to Isabeau's defense. It seemed that the two of them were becoming close also, though not as far along that path as Keladrian and I.

"Is he cute?" The old woman surprised us with her question.

This I could answer. "I think so."

"Not a great heaping reptile?"

"No." Several of us answered at once.

"Well dressed?" she continued.

"Quite." Isabeau said.

"Silver hair, limbs of a dancer." Drake added. Odd that he would notice that sort of thing.

"But well dressed and polite?" The Tree Mistress emphasized.

"Yes, he is very polite." I assured her.

"And I do not believe it would be not in your interest. He is one I would think that you would do well to know." Keladrian offered her more reasons to allow this admission.

It took awhile for her to think it through and we all refrained from interrupting the process.

"It seems like it would beneficial for you to be in on these negotiations." I finally broke the silence. I have no patience.

"All right bring your big boy in but he's going to owe me and you're going to owe me." The old woman pointed her staff at Keladrian. I just hoped that Keladrian's obligation was something that I could live with.

"I will make them aware that there is an obligation." Keladrian agreed.

We were suddenly in the shadow bowl by means of that curious translocation method.

"Oh man you are in so deep shit with her." Isabeau said looking around.

"Perhaps, perhaps not." Keladrian shrugged. "I truly do believe it is in their interest."

"We can contact Mandor from here." I told Isabeau.

"I'm not sure you should contact him from here." Keladrian said before Isabeau could pull out Mandor's card.

"He will need to come here eventually." Drake said.

"If he agrees to the debt." Keladrian reminded us. "And if he knows not of this place, contacting him from here would make him aware."

Isabeau nodded. "That is a good point."

"And if he does not agree to the debt then we have violated our agreement." Keladrian continued. "I will take us someplace from here."

"Whatever I feel like a bloody pinball." Isabeau sighed. No, I could talk to you about bloody pinballs, this wasn't it. This spin was very smooth comparatively. We arrived at a new shadow full of sand dunes. It was hot and there were no habitations in site. Two suns were in the sky. A big red one and a little white one. The sky itself was kind of green and zebra striped. And then it was orange and then cobalt, then yellow.

"Very changeable." Drake commented.

"Hard to match your outfit to the environment, black and white would do well here." I said as I looked around.

"Dark brown." Isabeau said and then the sky became dark brown. Interesting. I wondered if it was a psychotropic environment. Isabeau pulled out her Trump of Mandor and started to concentrate.

"Explain to him the conditions." Keladrian interrupted her.

"Trying to figure out how to word this." Isabeau glanced up from the Trump.

"Tell him that my master would speak with him. They know each other." Keladrian reminded her.

"Yes, I know they know each other. I pulled the Mandors out from underneath Nmimnis and him. Not very long ago that was." Isabeau responded.

While Isabeau was busy trying to contact Mandor, I decided to try and contact Random. There was no answer. Then I tried Corwin. It was difficult at first, there was a moment of resistance and then Corwin's picture resolved into the image of Corwin laying down in bed and his eyes were kind of a feverish witch fire green and then they focused on me.


"Uncle Corwin, how are you?"

"I've been better. I've been worse."

"You know that your Pattern has been destroyed." I began.

"Bring me to you." As if I had a choice. He grabbed my mind in a hammerlock and pulled himself through the link.

Corwin and Mandor arrived at almost the same time. Mandor's foot hit the ground first.

And then there was Corwin standing in front of me. Black cloak, silver rose, Grayswandir. He drew his sword.

"Uncle Corwin, please. This is a diplomatic mission here. Please." I held out my hands. He had dropped his mental hold on me. This was not good. Corwin was looking pretty hostile, Mandor was looking defensive, and Isabeau, Drake and myself were standing between the two.

"There is no need for violence." Keladrian moved closer to where I was standing.

Corwin ignored us all and threw me to the side as he hit me with the bell of his sword. I was thankful that I had put the armor on this time. His goal was Mandor and he didn't seem to care who stood between them. Drake reached out and grabbed Isabeau's arm to pull her from Corwin's path. Keladrian stepped forward into my place and Mandor began backing up. There was no feel of Logrus. This situation had caught both Drake and Mandor with their power defense down.

I had seen Corwin fight before. This was slow for him and it was apparent that he was not at his best. Probably the only thing that saved us because Corwin on a bad day was more than a match for any of us.

Corwin ignored all of our protests and moved towards his targets, which appeared to be Mandor and now Drake. Keladrian was just a body in the way. It was obvious that reasoning would not work on him at this point.

Corwin slashed at Keladrian with Grayswandir and I flinched as the sword sliced through his armor and into his arm. The cut began to bleed. Great and he had just healed from his last encounter with a power sword.

Isabeau yelled "No" before Drake pulled her around out of the path between Mandor and Corwin.

I yelled out a power word "Corwin Stalt" to halt Corwin's momentum, as Keladrian and Corwin disappeared. I figured that they had Spun to another location and I looked around until I spotted them at the top of a dune. I didn't know if the power word had been effective or not.

I got up off the ground and was trying to decide what to do next. Would a power word be effective from this distance? It was the only thing that I could think of. For some reason the Luggage full of projectile weapons never entered my mind.

"That was an accident, wasn't it?" Mandor asked somewhat shakily.

"It was not my intent to bring him here." I was angry. I was mad at Corwin for not being sane and I was annoyed at myself for not handling it better. I should have just asked him how he was and let it go. This would not have been the right time to attempt a fix for Derrick anyway. Why did I seem to have a perverse need to goad people?

"I just hope your little friend can keep him away as I have no desire to tangle with Grayswandir." Mandor smoothed his robes.

"Do you and Corwin have a history?" I asked him. Once again I said the wrong thing. I really needed to examine why I had to push buttons and pot stir.

Mandor muttered something under his breath and then I could feel him bring the Logrus up. I guess that answered my question.

I was looking up at the top of the dune and I could see Keladrian trying to talk to Corwin but could not hear what they were saying. Corwin's cloak came off and he was using it in conjunction with his sword to move in on his opponent.

Then Keladrian disappeared and reappeared behind Corwin.

"This is getting to be a rather intemperate place." Mandor said.

"How long before we can leave here?" Isabeau asked her father.

"How odd." Mandor seemed puzzled but I didn't take my attention from the scene playing out at the top of the dune.

"What?" Isabeau asked.

"It's difficult." Drake replied. His Logrus was also being used. Something here must be interfering with their power.

Corwin wheeled almost immediately towards his opponent and then Keladrian vanished yet again and reappeared to the side. Corwin began circling around Keladrian who abruptly dropped out of sight.

I yelled out Corwin's name to try and distract him. I was too far away to do anything else.

Then Keladrian appeared in the air some distance above Corwin and began shifting into his gargoyle form.

Suddenly I felt the Logrus around me. It was gentle but it was still the Logrus and I was not going anywhere without Keladrian.

"Mandor, deshaga." I pronounced a power word to disrupt the Logrus tentacle. I could tell that it was Mandor's power and not Drake's. There was definitely a flavor of the owner to the Logrus.

"Have you got it yet?" Isabeau asked Drake.

"Yes." Drake replied.

"I see." Mandor said. "She slapped my hand." Indicating the power word I had used on his Logrus tentacle.

"Leave her." Isabeau seemed angry. "Keladrian knows where we are going he can get there."

"I'm not leaving without Keladrian." I tried to explain to Mandor. He had seen us in Shangra La, he must understand.

"Ok, let's go." Mandor replied.

"Do you know where we are going?" Drake asked.

"No, but you've got a hand on it don't you?" Mandor replied.

"Yes, I do." Drake confirmed.

"Then let's go."

"All right." Drake replied to Mandor and then to me he said, "Later." And the three of them faded from the shadow.

Keladrian had finished changing to gargoyle form and had started flying in my direction. Corwin saw this and began running down the dune to intercept.

As Corwin descended the hill I waited for him to get up a good head of steam up and then yelled, "Corwin, stalt." He stopped moving and then began to tumble down head over heels giving Keladrian an edge in the race.

I took a moment to find my Trump sketch of Caer al dare, while the Luggage had moved between Corwin and I. It didn't seem to think Keladrian was the greater threat this time, so it placed itself between the charging man with a sword in hand and me.

Corwin rolled to his feet from his tumble, Grayswandir still in hand and kept heading towards me. Then he disappeared again and reappeared at the top of the dune as Keladrian landed next to me.

"Obviously he is not in a talkative mood." I told Keladrian.

"I would say that the healing is not completed. He is not fully rationale." He agreed.

"I was just going to see if he was awake." I explained. "While we had some time."

"And I would say that he did to you what you had done to me."

Suddenly we Spun to another dune. I looked back to where we had been standing a moment ago and saw a knife lying on the sand. Keladrian must have seen it coming and moved us from danger. At least he had remembered to bring the Luggage with us this time.

"I suggested that he contact his brothers or his son and he did not seem too inclined to talk to any of them." Keladrian told me.

"No, Corwin doesn't trust his family." I told him. He didn't know my Uncle's history. This last episode was just one in a long line of familial treachery.

"I'm not sure that trying to talk to him further at this point would have much effect." I said as I watched Corwin pacing on top of the other dune. "A nice long walk back to Amber might do him a world of good."

Clouds began to form in the sky quickly. Too quickly to be natural and then I remembered the changeable nature of the sky.

"We will leave." Keladrian agreed.

"I have a Trump sketch." I offered.

He shook his head and then Spun us to the shadow bowl.

"We should ask permission to enter." I began.

"Tree Mistress." Keladrian said and we were standing in the clearing with the rest of the group.

Back to Top

Chapter 33
Caine Revisited

Mandor seemed pleased to see Thenaroth. He greeted him by name and then walked forward and actually hugged the giant dragon. So much for Keladrian wanting to keep his master's name a secret.

"Good to see you my boy." Thenaroth greeted him in return. "So, thought you weren't playing politics." Which made me wonder. Was Mandor related to Thenaroth in some way? Which would make Isabeau related to Keladrian? Interesting concept.

"I'm not." Mandor denied.

"But you are aiding the son of Margarite?" Thenaroth challenged.

"But of course." Mandor replied as if there was no question that this wasn't natural and expected.

"What are you aiding him towards?" Thenaroth was not buying the charm.

"Certainly not his rightful due." Mandor quipped back then looked at the disapproving expression that Thenaroth stared down at him. He shrugged and said, "If the field has cleared a little, I would find that refreshing. My position hasn't changed."

There was a pause and I could feel the psychic competition between the two. I didn't really want to know what they were up to but the power struggle was too obvious to ignore. They finally ceased their contention and Thenaroth seemed somewhat mollified.

"So what are your intentions?" Thenaroth asked again.

"I thought I'd hunker down and ride this one out." Mandor replied.

"As usual?" Thenaroth chided.

"Well, I am still here." Mandor seemed pleased with himself.

"I see your daughter." Thenaroth indicated to Mandor with a nod of his head in Isabeau's direction.

"Noted." was all that Mandor replied.

"And if your daughter becomes involved?" Thenaroth continued when Mandor did not seem inclined to elaborate.

"Bunkers big enough for two."

The blue dragon would not let Mandor off so easily, "You may not have that luxury this time."

"And I may." Mandor was not caving in to Thenaroth's pressure.

There was a pause and Thenaroth gave in and changed the subject. "Mandor there is a little discussion about an indiscretion that we will need to be having."

"We can certainly discuss that at some other time old man." Mandor said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

"Very well. If it is the bunker for you, then enjoy your non-view." Thenaroth practically snorted in disgust.

"I will. I think I'll go take a walk. Anything before I go?" Mandor turned to us.

Isabeau did not respond to her father but Drake replied. "A pleasure to see you again as always."

"As always." Mandor agreed then added, "Look me up sometime."

This was not a person that I wanted pissed at me so I quickly added, "No hard feelings for that little indiscretion with Corwin? It was really not my intention to bring him there."

"I tend to hold Corwin's improprieties against Corwin. And yours against you." He assured me.

"Thank you." I could accept that.

"Enjoy your time here." Keladrian said when his turn came.

"Thank you, I think I shall."

"We will see." Keladrian nodded as Mandor strolled off into the woods.

We turned back to the large blue dragon who was watching Mandor's departing back. Then he turned to Keladrian and mused. "Hopefully you will grow past that."

"Past what?" Keladrian asked.

"You still have your voice." Thenaroth replied cryptically.

There was a long pause while we waited for Thenaroth to clarify. Finally Drake broke the silence. "Do you have a message you wish me to speak?"

"Perhaps a meeting can be arranged." Thenaroth was still looking off in the distance. Whether after Mandor or just thinking, I couldn't tell. After a pause he turned his attention back to Keladrian and added, "If a suitable area can be arranged. You will of course attend, Ambassador."

"Of course." Keladrian agreed.

"Prior to the Emergence?" Drake asked for clarification.

"Hmm." Thenaroth shifted his attention to the Chaos lord.

"Probably would be best." I said somewhat sarcastically. "If you want to discuss the Emergence."

"If you want it to be a 'this reality' type meeting." Isabeau added.

"A suitable location." Keladrian restated.

"Someplace that is not inhabited by people wanting favors." Isabeau put in her requirements.

"Maybe somewhere where you can do no harm to one another." Drake added helpfully.

"Dorad?" I asked hoping that wasn't what the others had in mind.

"That would rule out certain members of the group." Isabeau sounded pleased at this idea.

"It is not that you can do no harm, just that you won't be returning." Keladrian pointed out. "That is small solace to someone who has been harmed."

"Would you care to suggest a time and a place?" Drake asked Thenaroth.

"I will leave that up to my Ambassador." Thenaroth seemed completely uninterested. There was a long pause and then Thenaroth focused on Keladrian. "You are going to stand there all respectful and not ask anything?"

"I've already asked all the important questions." Keladrian seemed to be thinking out loud.

"Yes, but have the answers changed." Isabeau mumbled in the background.

"I take it that you will want this conversation and to survey the final battlefield before a decision is made?" Keladrian asked his master.

Thenaroth agreed. "I am uncomfortable with the emanations I am receiving. She seems overly structured." He paused as if listening to something. "I don't think she has found her focus yet. She may."

"Her focus?" Keladrian asked. "What do you mean by her focus?"

"For her power to be passed on, it must be imbued into a focus." Thenaroth said.

"Like the Jewel of Judgment?" I interrupted.

Thenaroth agreed.

"She was connected to Corwin's Pattern for awhile." I said quietly, partly to myself. A thought was beginning to form. I had been toying with this idea off and on for sometime but kept getting distracted from ever finalizing any formal theory.

"What?!" Isabeau said surprised.

"Part of Corwin's delusional behavior of late has been caused by his close relation with the Emergence." That wasn't really how I wanted to phrase it but it was hard to describe what I was thinking. "With her tapping into his power source."

"And Corwin would be the one who built the pseudo Project?" Thenaroth turned his attention now to me. It was a bit uncomfortable but I tried to return his gaze.

"That happened prior to the Emergence." I told him. "And I'm wondering how much . . ." I didn't finish that thought as a question distracted me. "What causes Emergence? Is there something that precipitates them?" I asked the Incarnation of the Dragon. "A couple of people have said that this one seems to be early or out of sequence." I thought of things that Ulris and Mandor had mentioned.

"Umm, yes." Thenaroth nodded.

"Could someone of power, who got dropped into the Abyss, cause this to have happened early?" I continued.

"You dropped someone of power into the Abyss?" Thenaroth seemed shocked that anyone could have done something so resoundingly stupid.

"They were still alive." I clarified.

"Two." Drake corrected.

"I think Brand was dead, I believe he had an arrow in him, but I don't think Deidre was." I turned to Drake.

"They were both injured but neither of them may have been dead when they toppled into the Abyss." Drake continued.

I shrugged and turned to Thenaroth. "Whatever. Two Amberites, about a year ago, or six months depending on your time shift, took a dive into the Abyss."

"And have not returned." Isabeau added.

"Yeah." I gestured towards Isabeau to acknowledge her contribution. "And were still alive." I added to acknowledge Drake's contribution. "Could that be why this particular Emergence is heavy on the order?" I asked Thenaroth.

"That would be a reasonable hypothesis." Thenaroth still seemed disturbed by the thought of two people going into the Abyss. "Usually the Chaos Lords know better than to drop things of power into the Abyss." He snorted.

"It was a war." Isabeau protested.

"And that makes it alright." Thenaroth nailed her.

"It wasn't the Chaos Lords who dropped them into the Abyss." Drake defended the Courts.

"But if it was Deidre, I could see her trying to contact her brother. They had a relationship." I explained to Thenaroth.

"That's a frightening correlation that I had not thought of." Isabeau considered.

"Deidre to the Bitch?" Drake asked.

"No Deidre to Corwin." Isabeau and I said together.

"What if the Emergence were somewhat Deidre?" I added.

"That is not a good thought." Isabeau agreed. "That would explain why the construct attacked you when you dared to touch an Amberite." She said to Drake.

"It was the other way around." Drake protested.

Thenaroth had been observing the interaction then when there was a lull in the dialogue asked, "Was there anything of power dropped into the Abyss recently?"

"Yes." Drake admitted.

"The Jewel of Judgment went with them, but the Unicorn brought that back." I was trying to think back over the last few months to see if anything else had gone in that I knew about.

"However. . ." Drake made a motion with his hand to indicate something dropping.

"Oh!" I remembered our recent escapade near the Abyss. "Part of Ulris' lab." I put my hand to my forehead.

"Many things of power." Drake added.

"Have gone into the Abyss just recently. Half of Ulris' lab." I shook my head at the memory. If only we had known then what we were aware of now.

"Ulris' lab?" Thenaroth looked at each of us.

"Ulris and I went into the Abyss just recently." Isabeau added.

"Oh this just gets better." I laughed nervously.

"Yes, things of power have fallen into the Abyss recently. I think you would have to say that." Drake looked somewhat sheepish. "Ulris is a tinkerer. Give him a few millennia and he would definitely give Dworkin a run for his money."

"I thought that old coot was one of a kind." Thenaroth sighed.

"Well, once you have a kind. . ." Drake laughed.

"You kids are in trouble. No wonder it's early." Thenaroth didn't seem to be so amused. "Deidre and Brand, how far are they down Oberon's line?"

"Father and children." I told him.

"Direct." Drake said at the same time as Isabeau said "One generation."

"And their parents?" He asked.

"Clarissa was Brand's mother and Fiola was Deidre's." I offered.

"And their providence?" He prompted.

"Providence?" Isabeau and I asked at the same time.

"Where do they come from?" Thenaroth elaborated. Then added when we looked confused. "Clarissa, Fiola, what is their providence? What house do they come from."

"We do not know where Oberon acquired them." Isabeau shrugged.

"They weren't around by the time I was born." I didn't see the importance.

Thenaroth just stared at us and Isabeau explained. "We're not big on Family research in Amber."

"It's just not really done." The dragon, Keladrian and Drake seemed stunned by this lack of genealogical fervor that Isabeau and I displayed.

"Well at least we built that one right." I thought I heard Thenaroth mutter.

"That is a distinct possibility. What I am hearing is order-based. Extremely order-based." Thenaroth gazed off into the distance mulling over this information. "Which is not to say that this Emergence will be congenial."

"That would be Deidre." I said. "The only one she would be congenial to would be Corwin."

"You do not speak highly of this Corwin though. Would you be safe with him?" Thenaroth asked me.

Isabeau snorted and I shook my head.

"I thought not."

"At another given time, maybe. Right now. . ." I thought of the madman that we had recently faced. Not the Uncle that I had spoken to a few days ago that sang me the Battle of Kolvir.

"He's off his rocker right now and just tried to kill us a little bit ago. Hiding with Corwin would not be a good idea." Isabeau told Thenaroth.

"He is disturbed due to the loss of his Pattern." Thenaroth concluded.

"He was disturbed when he had the Pattern." Drake stated.

"Not as much." I protested. I had spoken to Corwin, these others had not. "He's really disturbed now. At least you could talk to him before."

"He hasn't been with an Avatar he doesn't have the ability to imprint an item of power." Thenaroth seemed to be thinking aloud.

"He used the Jewel of Judgment." I disagreed.

"Which is not his." Thenaroth focused on me.

"It is those who have been with the Avatar who supposedly create the item?" Drake asked Thenaroth.

"Yes." He agreed.

"What if those who are with the Avatar are beyond life?" Drake asked.

Thenaroth eyed Drake and did not answer right away, then said. "An interesting concern. You should speak to your Logrus Master. After he's done messing around with the trees."

There was a long uncomfortable silence while we each pondered our own thoughts. Isabeau was the first to break the silence. "Don't look at me. I didn't dump her into the Abyss."

"I wasn't there either." She probably blamed me for it. She seemed to think I was personally responsible for everything that had gone wrong lately.

"Must the Avatar have her incarnation before she can create her focus?" Keladrian spoke for the first time since I had asked Thenaroth about things of power falling into the Abyss.

"The Avatar being born from the Abyss are usually not focused enough to imbue their power into an item." Thenaroth explained.

"The consort of the Avatar. . ." Drake began.

"Channels their power, yes." Thenaroth anticipated his question with an answer.

"If the consort is already in the Abyss?" Keladrian asked. But I really couldn't see Deidre choosing Brand as her consort.

"Not a place I would choose to consummate." Thenaroth shook his massive head.

"But if it has happened. As many other things have fallen in." Keladrian countered.

"Usually your people keep a better watch on this." Thenaroth turned to Drake. "Then we have the potentiality of the Emergence coming out at full power. Which is significant to the battlefield."

"Because there is consummation in the Abyss, there are items of power that have fallen down that can function as foci and the incarnation could be born there." Drake summed up.

"All of which the arising normally needs to come out of the Abyss to do, we've managed somehow to shove into the Abyss and make it just snap time." Isabeau looked around at the rest of us in accusation. She hadn't been with us when we managed to drop Ulris' lab into the Abyss and I think she somehow thought the whole Emergence was our fault. Our probably just mine.

"So what Consort is down in the Abyss?" I demanded. Surely they couldn't believe that it was Brand. Deidre would never allow that.

"We don't need to discuss that." Drake demurred.

"De we know that there is a consort down in the Abyss?" I pushed.

"We know that there is one." Drake hedged.

"Who, what?" I was becoming frustrated. Obviously it was someone of Drake's acquaintance. If it had been an Amberite he would have told me the first time.

"Lady Isabeau, did not Ulris speak of someone who could be a potential consort for the Avatar?" Keladrian asked.

"Valens." Isabeau replied to Keladrian.

"Valens?" I raised an eyebrow at Drake. I remembered the name of Drake's father. "I thought he was dead?"

"Yes." Was all Drake said.

"Hence the previous question about someone beyond life." Keladrian reminded me.

"Uh huh." I looked at Drake again.

"It could also possibly be Brand." Isabeau added quickly.

Both Drake and I shook our heads and immediately discounted Brand.

"You are talking about people who went into the Abyss recently." Isabeau protested.

"We don't know how Valens got into the Abyss." Drake protested. "We know he died, we don't know how that is related to him being in the Abyss. I have been a little distracted to do the Dad hunt."

"Do you have a Trump of him?" I asked Drake.

"It wouldn't work if he's dead." Drake answered in an exasperated tone.

"When did you last try?" Keladrian asked then added, "Not that trying from here would do any good."

"It's been sometime." Drake admitted.

"Anybody have a Trump of Deidre?" I tossed out.

"If we had to I could make one." Isabeau replied.

"I do have a Trump of Brand." I offered in return just in case that might be a possibility. God I hoped that that particular crazy Uncle was truly gone.

"The Abyss does affect things." Isabeau got a distant look in her eyes. I couldn't imagine what it had been like to go into the Abyss.

"Well we can't do bugerall unless Ulris can whip us up some Abyss deep suits." Now it was Drake's turn to be frustrated.

"You are not seriously considering that we go fight this arising in the Abyss?" Isabeau seemed shock.

"I'm considering it." Drake said quietly.

"Cut it off before it reaches a point where it can do damage." Keladrian agreed.

Isabeau turned away.

"I didn't say I was planning it, I'm just not ruling it out." Drake offered.

"What would it take to . . . " Keladrian began and then said, "As Ambassador to my people, I would formally like to request that an audience be arranged with Ulris and my master." I do believe that Keladrian surprised us all with his phrasing.

"He seems like a fascinating young man." Thenaroth nodded.

"One with much more information of the Abyss than any that I know. It was his lab that was dropped into the Abyss." Keladrian explained to Thenaroth.

"I'm getting a headache." Isabeau complained.

"A side effect of the affect that inconvenienced many people of power recently, he was also inconvenienced and in rescuing him . . ." Keladrian explained for Thenaroth's benefit.

"Oh the previous one." Thenaroth finally figured out what Keladrian was referring to.

"A chain reaction was started which did not bode well for the abode. But I think at this juncture . . ." Keladrian was interrupted by Thenaroth who was responding to his own thoughts.

"Who knew that they were going to be so much trouble." The large dragon shook his head.

"Perhaps there is not enough order." Keladrian replied.

"Who was so much trouble." I asked only to be ignored.

"I'm going to have to talk to her. She was the one who was 'free will this' and 'free will that'." Thenaroth continued to mumble.

"Ulris would probably welcome getting away from the Courts." Isabeau changed the subject and Drake horridly agreed with her.

"The question is where to have the meeting." I changed the subject again to something that I felt we could at least reach a consensus on.

"I would like you to formally ask your Sovereign." Keladrian began only to be interrupted by Isabeau this time.

"He's going to have to formally ask his Sovereign as Ulris is under house arrest."

"Because your Sovereign needs to demonstrate good will." Keladrian finished. "And it would be a good prelude to any subsequent meetings."

"In preparation for such a meeting I believe I could convince my Sovereign into releasing Ulris for this." Drake concurred.

"He's straight-jacketed?" Thenaroth asked.

"He's not mental in that way, Thenaroth." Isabeau used the dragon's name for the first time. "He's just gazed into the Abyss a little long."

"Strange hobby." Thenaroth mused.

"Odd young man." I agreed.

Keladrian turned to my cousin. "Your pardon Lady Isabeau." Then turned back to his master. "As you may have sensed a bit of the Abyss in her, she is but a candle to what is in the one called Ulris."

"Ulris is of the Abyss much like Mandor is of the Logrus." Drake added.

"I doubt it." Thenaroth disagreed with Drake's comparison.

"He has made it his power source." Keladrian explained. "And uses it as his power as others use the Logrus."

"No that is not right." Isabeau protested. "That is not what he does. He studies it but it is not his power. If the Abyss is his power he would not have been sucked in and we would have been able to return at his will. So I disagree with that analogy."

"Perhaps I am wrong but from what I have seen of his use, it's nature is very close if he is not drawing from it." Keladrian disagreed. I had to go with Keladrian on this. Any power could turn on it's wielder. Hadn't father spoken of the many children of Amber that had died on the Pattern?

"There is a relationship, obviously one that we do not fully understand." Drake compromised.

Looks were exchanged around the group and then Keladrian changed the subject. "A place to meet."

"I believe we've exhausted the possibilities here." Drake gestured around us. The lack of the elves presence had not gone unnoticed. We had obviously outstayed our welcome.

"Perhaps while Prince Drake is discussing this meeting with his Sovereign, we can search out a location. We can contact Drake when we find one." I offered Keladrian.

"That would be acceptable." Drake nodded.

"Better hop to it kids." Thenaroth urged. Isabeau curtsied as we turned to leave. Thenaroth stood and stretched and seemed to be moving slowly still.

As we started walking away we were transported to the bowl without having to locate the Tree Mistress.

We stood a moment looking around. We were closer to the trees than to the shadow storm.

"So we need to find a neutral place for Ulris, Thenaroth, any other dancers to this party?" Isabeau asked.

"I assume that I will be bringing Ulris and Keladrian will be bringing his master." Drake responded. "They are the only ones required to be there."

"There are other things that we should do as well, for other interests." Keladrian told them. "We have not yet had time to follow up on Queen Vialle's request."

"No." I agreed. Though that was not an expedition that I wanted the others to accompany us on.

"Which I believe maybe prudent of us." Keladrian began.

"I guess we could stop by there on the way to wherever we are going. It wouldn't take long." I interrupted him. I didn't want the others to know any more about the purpose and reasons for this particular mission. Not that Keladrian knew them all.

"The Queen has asked that we look into . . ." Keladrian began again.

"The disappearance of Caine." I finished for him. I tried to give him a look to let him know to drop the explanations, but he wasn't paying any attention.

"As we knew his last whereabouts." Keladrian finished.

"Oh you did? You two seem to be making your way through the elders with a great deal of alacrity." Isabeau raised an eyebrow in my direction when she said this.

"Oh it was the least we could do in return for several things he had done to us." Keladrian explained.

"Actually, we pulled his butt out of trouble." I tried to put a more positive spin on things. I didn't know how Fiona, and by default Isabeau, stood in relation to Caine.

"That too." Keladrian did not seem bothered by my constant interruptions. "And inflicting some minor inconvenience on him we felt the shadow bubble where we were trapped . . ."

"We just dropped him off there." I finished for him.

"And for one of his power that should not be a problem." Keladrian continued.

"Unless someone found him there." Isabeau added.

"Caine can take care of himself." I felt I knew my Uncle better than Isabeau did.

"Well you can say that about a lot of the elders and that has not proven true." Isabeau protested.

"Perhaps we overestimated his ability, but at the time holding him down seemed prudent. But he has not yet returned and from my understanding, that may or may not be worrying." Keladrian explained.

"Caine always goes his own way." Isabeau shrugged.

"No one saw him much before that." I said thinking about Caine being invisible.

"If we go to this place, how would we know whether he was there or not?" Keladrian turned to me.

"There is a way I can tell if he is there." I could draw a sketch of his daggers and activate it from inside the bubble. If I could get a lock he would be inside the shadow trap with us.

"Here we go splitting up again." Isabeau sighed.

"I don't really want to split up. Actually that might make an interesting place to meet." Keladrian said. "Of course we don't know who created it and if they are still there."

"So if he is still in there, what are we to do?" Isabeau asked him.

"I would assume, bring him to Amber." Keladrian shrugged.

"How. I mean we've already dealt with one pissed off elder, I'm not really looking forward to popping into a shadow universe where lots of things don't work and trying to find Caine and going, 'by the way, we're here to take you back to Amber. Come on Uncle'. " Isabeau said mockingly.

"Nobody wants to go there." Drake eyed Keladrian. I think that he had figured out by now how we had actually gotten out of there last time.

"Prince Corwin is not sane. I do not expect his affliction to continue." Keladrian changed the subject.

"You do not expect Caine to be hostile?" Isabeau seemed confused by the change of subject.

"Oh, I expect him to be hostile, but rational." Keladrian explained. "If he can not get out on his own, killing us will not help him get out."

"If we tell him that King and country need him back in Amber, he will go." I hoped anyway.

"He might not know who put him there." Keladrian looked at me.

"We're hoping." I agreed.

"Ok. Do you object to that side trip before approaching your emperor?" Isabeau asked Drake.

"No." Drake answered.

"Are you saying that we are all going to go when you approach the Emperor?" I was concerned about going to Chaos. The only time I had been there was when we had rescued Ulris. I was not eager to make another appearance.

"No, I think that she is saying that we will all go to Caine and then we will see to setting up the meeting." Keladrian assured me. "But I believe it is prudent to get. . ."

"Obligations out of the way. The Queen has asked for this to be done." Isabeau finished the sentence for Keladrian. She also seemed to have taken on this trip as a mission for Queen and country.

"I would not squander any good will." He agreed.

"Then let's go." As usual I was eager to just get things done. Too much thinking things through. "If that's what we have decided to do, let's go."

Keladrian nodded and began his spin. Isabeau took a step closer to Drake. The Luggage wasn't sure what was going on but it was pretty sure it didn't like it. It tried to press between Keladrian and I but couldn't and growled in frustration.

We did not move there directly but took several short jumps. At the last location Keladrian said that the next jump would bring us to our destination and asked if everyone was ready.

I turned on the ring and Drake brought up the Logrus. Isabeau brought up the Pattern. I stepped away from Drake and Isabeau. I had no desire to be next to two flamboyant power sources. Keladrian had turned on his amulet and with my ring on we were invisible. Drake and Isabeau had become large power targets. I didn't want to be near them when we encountered Caine.

We spun onto the plain looking down towards the ruined fort. The breastplate of my armor slipped oddly off my shoulder binding one arm and pressing against my throat on the other side. Then the Luggage started to attack Drake. I couldn't figure out how my armor could have slipped that way. It was highly improbable. I grabbed the breastplate and tried to pull it back into place but it seemed to resist my efforts.

I reached into my trump pouch and pulled out the Trump of Caine that I had moved to the front. A gust of wind blew it from my hand as it emerged from the pouch. I have never lost grip on a Trump in my life. I have been falling through the air and haven't lost a Trump. It was obvious that Caine was at work here. I tried to yell out my Uncle's name and inhaled a mouth full of insects.

Then the movement of my coughing caused me to begin sinking into the swampy ground that I didn't remember being here the last time. It seemed that everything that could possibly go wrong, was. There was a conversation, more like a lecture really, that I had with Brand once in one of his saner moments. It was about Pattern Probability. Shortly after that father told me I was not to have any more contact with my Uncle. It was also when he started teaching me Trump. But maybe Pattern Probability was what I was experiencing now.

I started looking around for stable ground, my uncle and what was happening to the others. The swarm of insects that were buzzing around my head made all of those activities nearly impossible. I could tell that Drake had grabbed the Luggage in a Logrus tentacle but that was mostly by the feel of the Logrus. I really didn't want to try to talk again but said "Keladrian, can we go airborne?"

I didn't get a response to my request and I was sinking deeper into the bog. The bugs were everywhere. They were in my hair and starting to work their way down into my armor. The sludge that I was sinking into was oozing through the joints in the armor and my feet felt warm despite the chill of the slimly bog water. That couldn't be a good sign.

The scent of methane was getting stronger and the sky was darkening. I suddenly had a terrifying vision of lightening igniting the methane bog gas. It was now impossible to see because of all the bugs around my head that were getting in my hair and eyes. My only defense to all of this was taken away as I knew that I couldn't Trump out of here.

The temperature started dropping which drove the bugs even more into my hair and clothing to get someplace warm. As I sunk into the bog past my crotch I could feel something moving inside my armor.

"Get us out of here, now!" I screamed. But there was still no response from the others. They must be battling their own problems. I tried to turn off the ring, maybe I could mentally call to Caine or the others. If Caine knew that we were here to rescue him, maybe he would stop attacking us. Maybe.

I should have been able to simply rotate the ring but for some reason it seemed a bit too big for my hand and bobbled a bit and started to slip off my finger. It took all of my concentration to hold onto it. I was not about to lose the ring into the bog.

Suddenly the familiar feeling of Keladrian's spin surrounded me and then I was slammed into the wall of the fort. The impact was jarring but I managed to hold onto the ring and remain on my feet. At least I was no longer sinking into the bog, but it seemed that we had either brought the insects with us or picked up some new ones here. Since the temperature had been dropping rapidly there were fewer around my eyes and I could see more of my surroundings, except for now it was hailing.

The hail quickly built up to golf balls size and was beginning to hurt. I felt the impact of them even through the protection of the armor. The wind blew in gusts that picked up debris from the burned out fort and the bugs clouding my vision was replaced by soot and wood splinters. The lightening strikes increased as the bugs lessened. I can't remember that last time I was this miserable.

Then a green handled dagger seemed to sprout in my right shoulder. It went right through the armor. It missed the collar bone but tore through the deltoid muscle. My arm went limp and then the pain hit. This was almost too much to deal with along with the leeches under the armor, the hail crashing into me, the bugs going into orifices and now the pain of the dagger in the shoulder. I dropped to my knees and fought to remain conscious.

After an eternity of seconds I reached up and pulled the dagger from my shoulder. It was just as painful coming out as going in and I again had to fight to remain conscious.

I became more aware of the plummeting temperature, the wind blowing soot and grit from the wall of the burnt out fort and the hail had become the size of baseballs. Isabeau had been beside me but now she wasn't. I think Keladrian was on the ground nearby. The only consolation was that the cold had caused the bugs to go away.

I held onto the dagger and slid to the ground my back against the timber wall of the fort. I was still feeling a little grey around the edges when I heard a thump near me, followed shortly by Isabeau.

Then Keladrian spun us to someplace warmer and drier. A desert. It was bright and warm and I could feel the moisture being sucked out of my skin. I was sitting in sand and Isabeau seemed to be wrestling with something invisible.

I started crawling towards Isabeau with the intention of returning Caine's dagger to him.

As I got closer to where Isabeau was struggling I felt the Logrus. It seemed that we were all here. But my focus was on Caine. He might not be visible, but focusing on him was keeping me conscious and moving.

Then I became aware of Keladrian's presence and allowed his thoughts to enter my mind. His mental speech was mostly visuals. I got the impression of brief bursts of life for me and for him. I stopped crawling and shook my head to clear it. Of course, power words. I had been too distracted to remember my newfound ability.

"Zhelan, Shazam." I said and immediately felt much better. I renewed my movement towards Isabeau and Caine with much more clarity of purpose.

Then Keladrian interrupted to tell me that the luggage was about to attack Drake. Oh well, I had my issues, so did the Luggage. If it could take a bite out of the Chaos Lord, payback's a bitch. I was sure that Drake couldn't damage the Luggage, so there was nothing to be concerned about.

Isabeau had ceased struggling with her invisible opponent. It seemed that between Isabeau and Drake they had managed to subdue Caine. Isabeau was tightly wrapped around with a rope and was trying to get herself free.

I moved up beside her and several things went through my mind. I would have no better opportunity to rid myself of my obnoxious cousin who had declared that she was going to kill me at the first opportunity. My Uncle who had caused me so much discomfort, pain and frustration was also near at hand. I only had one dagger.

I hesitated for a moment and then the homicidal insanity that seemed to run in my family subsided. If I stabbed Isabeau I would have to deal with Fiona, and more immediately Drake. However, the biggest deterrent was the thought that Keladrian would be upset with me. If I stabbed Caine I didn't think anyone would mind, but Vialle might not release my father.

I reached out with the dagger and cut the rope holding Isabeau down.

Isabeau did not stand up but reached into a pocket. I was more concerned that Caine stay down now. I reached out and felt around his invisible body and found his throat. I placed the dagger on his carotid artery and waited for reinforcements. He was unconscious but breathing heavily.

"Excuse me!" Isabeau said and grabbed onto Caine. "Zhelan get out of here." She ordered.

I stomped down hard on an angry response. "And what do you intend?" I didn't need her lousing up my plans for my Uncle after deciding not to kill her.

"I'm taking him back to where he was suppose to be. Do you mind? Either kill him or get out of the way." She stated this with an emphasis on the singular pronoun. It seemed that she didn't wish any of the rest of us to accompany her. So much for her stated intentions of not wanting the group to separate.

I started to object but was struck by the diabolic symmetry of this. Isabeau, who currently despised her Uncle Bleys for actions that he had recently taken, was going to deliver Caine to Vialle to fulfill a contract that her hated cousin Zhelan had made to release the aforementioned despised Uncle. The only thing I regretted was that I wouldn't be there to enjoy the moment. I let her go.

Isabeau stood and picked up the invisible body of Caine and activated the Trump card she had pulled out. She stepped through.

"Are you sure you want to go alone?" Drake tried to ask before Isabeau left but she ignored us all.

Keladrian landed next to me and shifted to his human form. He had changed to his gargoyle form sometime during our encounter with Caine. I think we would have fared better if he had gone airborne sooner. I reached out to him and said "Keladrian, Shazam." To help with his healing process.

Drake moved up the where Keladrian and I were standing. Both of us were holding green handled daggers. I could tell that Drake had a Logrus tentacle off into shadow somewhere and I quickly guessed the reason.

"How far is the Luggage away?" Keladrian asked Drake realizing that he was responsible for the missing artifact.

"Not far. If you can control it you may have it back." He seemed very agitated. Maybe agitated was too mild of a word for his mood.

"Let it come back and I will see what I can do." I shrugged. Drake raised an eyebrow at this. "I can't tell if I can control it till you bring it back here. I can't make promises when it's not here." I was in no mood for games with Drake.

I think it was a look from Keladrian that finally made him return my Luggage rather than anything I said, but the final outcome was the same.

The Luggage came into the shadow and immediately headed for Drake. "Look dear, I have a pretty for you to hold for me." I held out the dagger to distract its attention. It was only sapient and sometimes I could get it to change a course of action with enough distraction. The Luggage trotted up to me and I held out the dagger. It kept shifting around towards Drake and making growling noises. "I need you to stay here because I need clean clothes." I cajoled it.

The Luggage reluctantly opened its lid and Keladrian and I both tossed Caine's daggers inside. Let my Uncle ask me for their return.

I began removing the armor. I needed to get the leeches off of me and see what other damage had occurred.

"Do you think we should move?" Keladrian asked.

"This should be good. No on is really looking for us and the only ones who knew we were here just left." Drake responded.

"And perhaps we'll hear back from Isabeau." Keladrian agreed.

"I hope she gets through ok. It is only her against Caine. If he were to wake?" Drake shrugged. But there was nothing we could do at this point. This time it had been Isabeau that went off on her own.

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Chapter 34
Loose Ends

I wasted no time after Isabeau left. I turned to the Luggage and said, "Water, towels, med kit." Then I started trying to get undressed. It was difficult to unbuckle the straps of the armor with one arm hanging useless at my side. Keladrian, who was still in his gargoyle form, moved up to my side and began helping me get undressed.

Drake shifted to a dragon form more in keeping with the landscape and settled down in the warm sand.

After Keladrian finished helping me he removed his own armor to rid himself of the leeches that were still on him. Meanwhile I used the water supplies I had in the Luggage to try to remove as much bog slime as possible.

"We are being observed." Drake said as he lay in the sand and was looking across the dunes. "Indigenous, subterranean." He pointed with his chin. "We may have as little as a few minutes or as much as a half hour before it decides to investigate closer."

Since he pointed it out I could see the faint v of a disturbance in the sand.

"I suggest we complete the ablutions and move on." Drake shifted position to keep the sand v in sight.

Keladrian nodded and began helping me wash off. There were too many leech bites to deal with here. While I dried off he began cleaning and dressing the stab wound in my shoulder, his movements quick and efficient. It still hurt like hell.

I couldn't decide what to wear. I really wanted to wear my leather pants but didn't think that would be a good idea over the leech bites and bog slime. I asked the Luggage for several items as I tried to decide. Keladrian was trying to put things back into the Luggage, which refused to open for him. He finally came up with the idea of tossing things in when I asked for things out. He had pretty good timing.

Drake brought up the Logrus and seemed a little anxious.

"Where are we going?" Keladrian asked.

"Shangri La?" Drake suggested.

Damn I couldn't wear the outfit I had in my hand there; I threw it back in the Luggage and asked for something else. There was a loose silk caftan that might be acceptable.

"They have medical facilities and it is someplace that Lady Isabeau would know about." Drake suggested.

"All right." Keladrian agreed as I got the silk caftan out of the Luggage.

"Now would be good." Drake urged.

Keladrian spun us out as a large head with many teeth spewed forth from the sand nearby.

We did not appear in Shangra La, but on a large grassy sward in a mountainous area. There were no people or buildings to be seen. I finished dressing and Drake and Keladrian changed to humanoid forms.

As I was straightening out the caftan Keladrian asked if I was ready.

"Yes, would you like me to Trump us there?" I asked in return. I thought it might be a good idea to change up the transportation methods in case we were being followed.

"If you wish." He nodded.

I took out my Trump of Shangra La and opened the portal. Drake went through followed by Keladrian, the Luggage and finally myself. We arrived at the door of the monastery and I hit the gong. Shortly the small window in the door was opened and while the young monk was doing his best to be inscrutable I could tell he was wondering what the monastery had done to accrue so much bad karma.

We were admitted into the main hall of the monastery and the monk bowed politely and said, "Welcome travelers."

"Thank you, we are in need of your assistance in healing." I replied.

"It is our mission." The monk bowed again and led us to the central communal bathing area. Part of the reason I had chosen this shadow for healing was the wonderful natural hot springs. Very restorative.

I disrobed and thankfully sank down in the hot water. Keladrian and Drake followed quickly behind me. Several monks appeared with rice, fish and hot tea but otherwise remained out of the way.

We had just started to relax when Drake said, "I am getting a call, stand ready." He got a blank look on his face for a moment then stood up, turned towards the edge of the pool and reached out a hand. Isabeau stepped through. She looked a mess.

She glanced at us briefly, and then looked down at herself. "I should have stopped and gotten clean clothes."

"I am sure they have garb here you can use, would you like to join us?" Drake gestured to the pool.

I was raised by Fiona for a while so was surprised when Isabeau only hesitated a moment before disrobing and stepping into the pool. She was in better condition than I was at the moment. She had more bruises from the hail but there were fewer leech bites and no stab wounds.

I moved closer to Keladrian. "We probably should discuss what we are going to do next."

I heard a little rumble from Keladrian, which developed into a hearty laugh. "How do we top that?" We were all soon laughing over our recent run in with Caine.

While the laughter was somewhat therapeutic, time was moving and we had decisions to make. "We need to find a location for the meeting. We could probably discuss here, as well as anywhere, what the criteria for the location should be." I brought everyone back on task.

"Someplace we have not yet been." Keladrian offered half-jokingly.

"That would be a good start." I smiled up at him. "There's a lot of shadow out there and we have certainly been to a lot of it."

"But you have been to much more. Have you been to where none of us have been?" Drake asked Keladrian. "Or maybe one that Zhelan knows of." Obviously Drake did not know as much as he thought. I had been to hundreds more shadows than Keladrian.

I tried for a moment to think of the places that I knew. None of them would serve our purpose.

"It needs to be reasonably close to Chaos." Isabeau said.

"Why?" I challenged her.

"Because you are asking the Chaosian Emperor to go there, correct?" she replied.

"Neutral." Keladrian tried to say something and Drake interrupted.

"I thought we were asking Ulris there."

"It doesn't have to be in the same locale but it needs to be neutral ground." Keladrian answered and I agreed.

"Where neither side has a clear advantage. It needs to be someplace protected from outside interference." Sure we were asking the Chaosian Emperor to go there, we were also asking the leader of a race that had been hunted into paranoid seclusion by the Chaosians to go there also.

"At least difficult to approach unseen." Keladrian amended.

"Something with only one or two entries. Like the brass shadow." I said looking back and up at Keladrian. "That was pretty difficult to get in and out of."

Isabeau and Drake didn't know what I was referring to but Keladrian was thinking about it.

"Something like that as there was no approach outside of the fortress." I continued. "The only way in was into that courtyard. Something like that."

"I think something more like where we went with the floating platforms." Keladrian disagreed. I didn't agree with that, too many entrances and besides the obvious drawback of it being easily accessible, there was the issue that the place might not currently exist after what Fiona did to Corwin's Pattern.

"Someplace where you have to approach openly. Someplace that near the edges you can enter but within the shadow the only way you can move is openly." Keladrian seemed to want open space in the location. With the size of Thenaroth I could see why.

"I think that if you had one or two entry points and then open area where anyone coming into the entry point is clearly visible to the other people in there." I hadn't ever really stopped and thought about wanting this much detail in a shadow. Drake should be better at this; he had his own shadow that he could manipulate. I just didn't have the background in the mechanics of shadow manipulation. It was an area that required study and I'm not very studious.

"I don't know." He shook his head. "It has somewhat the feel of a trap. There are enough enemies that two entrances could be easily blocked."

"There are shadows where the entrances are limited but the exits are not." Isabeau offered.

"You can leave from anywhere in the shadow but with limited entrances, you only have to guard one or two locations." I hadn't considered exits as I could leave from anywhere in a shadow with a Trump.

"So then we have two paths to enter. One for each side." Keladrian nodded in understanding.

"Basically a corridor." Drake mused.

"There's an interesting shadow concept." I thought about a shadow entry at one end of a long corridor leading to an entry at the other end

"But with entrances on the way out like doors along the length of the corridor." Drake elaborated.

"Nothing ornate." Keladrian specified.

"I don't know." Isabeau said getting interested in the concept. "I think an elaborate grand ballroom with a few steps going down each end and exits to a patio along the sides. I can see this grand corridor."

"We all have ways of locating shadows of desire." Drake looked around the pool.

"We need to be at the same one." Isabeau began.

"No we just need the person who is there to be able to contact the others." I corrected.

"If you can communicate to me as completely as possible what you are looking for, then I can reach for it with Logrus." Drake offered.

"In the meantime you are suppose to go talk to your sovereign." Keladrian and I were supposed to be able to get away from the other two for a while. It seemed that everything that Keladrian and I were suppose to do together, Drake was including himself and Isabeau in. "So when are you going to be doing this?"

"Or, we relax and heal while he is doing that." Keladrian's voice was calm and soothing. Maybe it would be ok this way.

"I was thinking that we should have a place to meet before I . . ." Drake began.

Isabeau continued for him "We need to have a place to meet before . . ."

Drake interrupted her. "Either that or I just pull Ulris and he comes with us to sit around while we look for shadows. But then that would give. . ."

"Anybody who is possibly tracking Ulris time to home in on him." Isabeau finished.

"So I thought I could find the shadow, you could go there and prepare while I contact Ulris." Drake explained.

"You go get Ulris and I go get Thenaroth." Keladrian nodded.

"Since we have a reasonable idea of the shadow that we are looking for, why don't you start looking and if it seems like it's taking way too much time we'll reassess. But let's not make anymore problems for ourselves than we've already got." Isabeau said. "Our plate is already bloody full."

Drake settled back in the warm water and closed his eyes. I could feel him reaching out with his Logrus. Even though I had been around this effect quite often lately, I still didn't care for the feeling.

We had been sitting in the water long enough that my skin was starting to wrinkle. My muscles had relaxed and I felt clean again. Now I wanted the monks to speed the healing of the many lacerations and bruising from confronting Caine. I excused myself and stepped from the pool. I could also get away from Drake and his Logrus.

"Do you wish company?" Keladrian asked.

"Sure." I said surprised but also pleased. Then I thought his motive might be to get away from the Logrus sensation as much as to be with me. I wish I could just believe that Keladrian liked me and not second-guess or look for ulterior motives. The Family's trust issues were still heavily ingrained.

Keladrian stood and nodded to the others. "Lady Isabeau, if you will excuse us."

We were shown to a small room by one of the monks and I lay down on a straw mat. The monks applied healing unguents to my wounds while Keladrian sat in the corner and worked on his armor.

After a few minutes the monks finished working on me and left. I lay still on the bed enjoying the serene atmosphere, the quiet sounds of Keladrian in the corner, the smell of incense burning nearby and the sound of running water from the fountain in the courtyard.

I sighed and stood up. Time to dress for the next activity. This time I did choose the black leather pants and blue raw silk blouse. I quickly applied makeup and picked some bronze jewelry to match Keladrian's coloring. I suddenly realized that I wasn't wearing any silver. Would he recognize the statement, or was I being too subtle for him?

"Did we get all the information that we needed from Thenaroth?" Keladrian moved to assist me in dressing and I noticed he was wearing a tunic and pants that fit in with the décor of his surroundings and not the usual shirt and jeans.

"Information we did get, understand it?" he shrugged. "Perhaps not."

"I keep wondering about that letter that you received from Thenaroth that Mandor read." The letter had been so long ago, prior to the resolution of Corwin's Pattern. I didn't know if it still applied or not. "The one you had the discussion about back at the dinner. He said that he didn't know if it was on the right track but he wasn't the theorist that Thenaroth was. Do you remember that letter?"

"Yes." He agreed.

"I always wondered what was in that one."

Keladrian looked thoughtful.

"There are things that I understand and that I know that you don't know. I think that we need to share that knowledge a little bit more because I think that I have parts of the puzzle and you have parts of the puzzle and if we were to discuss this we might be able to put our pieces together." I finished dressing and moved to sit across from him.

He began to search through his armor and pulled out a folded and stained piece of parchment.

"Did it deal with the emergence, or did it deal with Corwin's Pattern? Because at that point we were more focused on the Pattern, but I'm wondering if Thenaroth knew something about the emergence at that time and maybe there's a clue in that letter." I looked at the paper in his hand. He slowly opened it and looked on it's content.

"I think perhaps you put more hope into this than is warranted, but you are welcome to read for you now know more than you will learn from that." He handed it to me.

I took the parchment and read the bold hand of Thenaroth. The first part of the letter dealt with the consequences of Keladrian's actions by leaving Alcedone. Thenaroth basically told him that if he returned he would be confined and punished. The next statements told me that Keladrian had a sibling he had been writing home to. That sibling had shared Keladrian's letters with the Incarnation of the Dragon.

The end of the letter did indeed deal with the Emergence but did not tell me anything more than I had heard from Thenaroth himself. The wording was more technical but equally vague. I did not have the background in the mechanics involved to understand what it was talking about. Fiona would understand, Dworkin, maybe Bleys. Mandor apparently did. Keladrian and I would not. But the trust in being handed the parchment was more valuable than what it contained. I carefully folded it and handed it back.

"Not very damn helpful is it." I agreed.

"Par for the course for information from the elders." Keladrian put the letter away.

"Is there anything that you wish to ask me? I know there are many things that I have learned that I haven't exactly shared with you. I can't exactly remember what is important at this point."

"That would be the problem. I am sure that each of us has much knowledge, but knowing what is a critical piece, or gem hidden in the countless untold grains of sand." He laughed. "At this point I really do not have a plan beyond seeing what develops. And weighing it and deciding how to react."

"Ulris and Thenaroth talking, I wish Random could be there also for this meeting because I feel there is some importance to having Amber represented. As Amber and Chaos have already started forming an alliance, then a triumvirate would be more powerful in the upcoming conflict." I wondered just how many Avatars and Incarnations there would be. Drake would know much more than either of us. "If there was some method of making Random aware of this meeting, but he has continued to be unavailable." I finished with a shrug.

"I think a meeting with Random would be agreeable with Thenaroth but one step at a time."

"One step at a time." I agreed with him. "Another issue, apart from any relevance to the Emergence or anything else at this time. You had mentioned my likeness to my father." I hesitated then decided that it was time I pushed myself to share this with him. Call it a return show of trust for the letter. "At the last meeting I had with him he admitted that I have no mother." I paused to see if he understood the implication. "Through means of science and magic he had me created." It sounded strange to say that about myself, but not as appalling to admit as I thought it would be. I watched for Keladrian's reaction. "As an heir. Which puts a whole different spin on my relationship with my father. At least for me."

"But you are not your father." He stated simply.

I was relieved that he did not seem repulsed by this revelation. "No." I agreed emphatically. "But my upbringing in the light of my being designated as his heir makes a whole bunch of sense in retrospect."

"I can not say I am surprised for when he did portray himself as you the likeness was more close than . . ." he left the thought unfinished.

"What I would have given to be there to see that." I laughed. "I don't think I could have pulled off the same. I don't think anyone would have believed I was Bleys. But give me a few years." Then I changed the subject. "You haven't spoken of your family, do you miss them?"

"I miss them, I miss my home. It is a fondness. They are a part of me that will never be lost, but at the same time my home and my people can be very closed. And at this time I desire more than that." Keladrian seemed resigned to being away from his home.

"You do have a sibling that you have been writing to, according to the letter. I assume that your sibling is quite close to you. One day perhaps as Ambassador to Chaos, you may return to Alcedone." I deliberately used the name of his home.

"While the title may hold some weight with your people and with the Courts, change my position with my people it does not." He said nothing about my use of the name Alcedone. No dire warnings or protestations. Was that an advance or a retreat in our relationship?

"Thenaroth has not that ability to enforce anything? Is he not as Oberon would be, absolute ruler of your people?" I found it difficult to imagine Oberon allowing any of his children to overtly express an alternate opinion.

"My people were persecuted by an absolute ruler. They would not tolerate such. Which is why taking action into one's own hand is in and of itself not generally looked upon well. There must be good reason for it if it affects all of our people. And while my master and I may be in agreement that action was required there are those who would disagree among my people and who is to say who is right?"

"Well, I for one am glad you made the decision to leave Alcedone. And come out in shadow."

"As am I."

During this discussion we had drawn closer. I was about to lean forward and kiss Keladrian when a young monk with a laundry basket hovered at the door and cleared his throat.

"Yes?" Keladrian asked.

When the monk did not answer we both did a quick mental scan. The poor monk, who had taken a vow of silence, had been asked to come get Keladrian and bring him to Isabeau. And he was in a quandary about how to do that and still keep his silence.

"I take it that some result has been reached and we are needed back there." I regretfully rose.

We gathered our things and returned to poolside where we found Drake still soaking in the tub. Isabeau, now dressed in simple tunic and trews was sitting at the poolside with a sketchpad in hand.

"Keladrian, I have had a Trump call from Vialle in which I talked with Random. He really wants to speak with Fiona right now." She told him.

I looked at Keladrian. We both knew where Fiona was. I could tell that Keladrian was wondering whether Fiona would be recovered by now.

"How good is Nmimnis?" I asked him.

"Very good, but perhaps not as knowledgeable about mammals as she could be." He replied. "She knows more now than she did."

Which was what I was afraid of. I had hoped that we could use Trump to get in and out of Alcedone if the need arose. If they were aware of the ability then they would guard against it. "Have you tried Trumping your mother?" I asked Isabeau.

Isabeau pulled out her Trump. "I haven't had time."

"A moment." Keladrian stopped her. "If you choose to extract her by that means, I would be fast."

"Ok." Isabeau agreed but seemed confused.

"While Nmimnis may not know of that power, she will feel it. She has felt it before and she will feel it again. I would expect her to sense it in use and if she has not been given leave for your mother's departure, which perhaps has been held up due to Thenaroth's absence. So the other way would be to see if Thenaroth wished to request . . ." Keladrian explained quickly leaving out parts of sentences.

"Request her to leave." Isabeau seemed to follow his dialogue and finished the sentence for him.

"But do we have the time? If we wanted to do that we would have to go back and talk to Thenaroth." I protested.

"No, I really don't want to run back to him anymore than we have to, because, well . . . elders. . ." Isabeau agreed.

"He does not necessarily wish the encumbrances that may come along with Nmimnis or a discussion with her." Keladrian explained.

"I think involving Nmimnis as little as possible would be a good thing." Isabeau nodded and held up the Trump.

"Then bring her through quickly." Keladrian said.

"Oh gosh, not here." I said under my breath but Isabeau heard.

"She's been here once, what do you care?" she snapped.

More than once but I didn't correct her. I wanted to slap her but I didn't rise to the baiting.

"Perhaps we should not do this here." Keladrian stepped in to forestall any argument between us. "If it goes badly it would not be good for this place."

"That's true. Sanctuaries are few and far between." Isabeau nodded. She would agree with Keladrian.

"Let's not burn anymore behind us." I suggested.

"Speaking of sanctuaries. I have a lock on what I think would be a good meeting place." Drake roused from his searching.

This presented an additional problem. I was becoming familiar enough with the use of Logrus to know that this would preclude us from leaving here before we went to Drake's location.

"Can you bring us partway there?" Keladrian asked.

"No, I think if he's got a lock, we need to go there now or we're going to loose it." I said before Drake could respond. "I think that needs to be done first before we contact Fiona."

"But I would not want to bring her to there." Keladrian protested.

"No, no, absolutely not." I said and the others nodded in quick agreement. Fiona knowing where the meeting was taking place would be a bad thing.

"We go there and I go somewhere else to contact my mother." Isabeau suggested.

"So we all know where it is." Keladrian said.

"You may need assistance." I told my cousin. "If you mother is difficult . ." I paused hoping that the others would catch the double meaning. "to reach, we can help."

"Or if my mother is back to her full powers I'm not going to have any chance of a friggin conversation." Isabeau knew her mother also. "I may not have much choice in bringing her through or her bringing me through."

"You will need help. I would not like to see you do this by yourself against Fiona." Not that I was concerned with the safety of my cousin but of the information that she contained about Keladrian and myself. Information that would quickly be Fiona's.

"I think that the confrontation with Caine has proved that when dealing with elders it is best to be together." Drake reminded us.

"To have a unified front." Isabeau added.

"Let's go to your location, so that those of us with Trump ability can sketch to it later and Keladrian can get a lock on it with Spin. We'll look at it, and then go someplace else. A throwaway shadow, which I have several of." I offered.

"Be prepared." Drake said as he stood from the pool fully clothed. Isabeau's eyes widened slightly. She apparently had not been aware that the shape shifter's clothing was part of him and not separate. With Keladrian I had gotten used to this concept sometime ago. It was the perennial jeans and shirt that had always been clean that had been the giveaway.

"Wait a moment." Keladrian said as he started putting on his armor. I automatically moved to assist him. I had decided that I would not put on my armor for a while. I had realized that every time I put my armor on, I had been attacked. I reasoned that if I were not in armor I would not look like a target. It might seem strange reasoning but it made a perverse sort of sense to me.

After Keladrian was ready I felt the Logrus gather us up and the shadows began to move past.

It was a long crawl. Wherever Drake had found was an extended distance through shadow. Then we stepped into a cathedral like vaulted chamber. The first thing that I saw ahead of me at the far, far end was a stained glass arch with several panes missing. The ceiling had large holes through which sunlight filtered through in dusty light columns. At one time it had been a library. There was a feeling of incredible age, the musty scent of paper that has decayed. There was the squeak of rats in the corners and shelves and shelves of books that I knew were too fragile to touch. A few shelves had fallen over a long time ago strewing volumes of knowledge across the cold marble floor that was covered with ages of dust and desiccated leaves. It was too bad that we couldn't get someone in here to do a stasis spell of some kind that would allow the information from the books to be retrieved.

The Trump power level was very low. I could only assume that it was the same for the other powers as well. This was an old dying shadow.

Then I thought, if the Emergence goes bad, would someone be standing like this in the Library of Amber wondering what had happened to its inhabitants? Drake had chosen an appropriate ambiance. The place was perfect.

I turned and looked back at the end we had entered. It was a mirror of the opposite end. The tall arched stained glass was different in composition but matched in architecture. It was perhaps a quarter-mile down to a transept and then another quarter-mile to the other end.

"This seems to meet all the criteria." I was the first to break the silence and I found myself wanting to whisper.

"Indeed." Keladrian nodded.

I closed my eyes and tried to absorb enough of the essence of this place to do a Trump sketch. It was difficult as the power of Trump was faint and the essence of this place was leaking away.

"One at either entrance." Keladrian said. "You might as well get it done before we leave here." Indicating that Isabeau and I should do our Trump sketches now.

"We may not have the time later." Isabeau nodded.

"Luggage, desk, drawing supplies, chair." I said as the Luggage began to spit forth my tools.

"The sketch should be good as long as the place does not change?" Keladrian asked and Isabeau concurred.

"If the essence of this place does not change."

"Which we can guarantee only up to the meeting." Keladrian expressed.

Isabeau started walking down to the other end. "Once the powers have entered this place, I do not think the Trump sketches will work."

"Just their presence alone will affect the essence of this place." Drake nodded.

I sat down at the desk and put pen to paper. Isabeau continued walking down to the other end while the men moved to the center to see what they could do to make the shadow ready for the upcoming meeting.

I became oblivious to everything else, as I was absorbed into the ambiance of the library. I chose colored charcoals to begin filling in the light pencil lines of the draft sketch. The strong architectural lines and shafts of sunlight were a joy to capture on paper. Then came the task of imparting the essence of the place into the drawing, weaving threads of its reality into the color flowing from the charcoals. The power of Trump drawing has always been something that I have taken great pleasure in. I felt centered and in control. I much prefer drawing full Trump to just sketches. Sketches are fine if you are in a hurry, but only a full Trump made me feel completely in control. I had felt more and more of late that I could manipulate those strands of reality as I embedded them into the art. I had no time now to appreciate that.

I was just putting the finishing touches on the sketch when I had to make room for Drake as he entered the library with a large dark wood, oval conference table and two overstuffed chairs.

I began placing items back in the Luggage and then followed Drake down to the transept, the Luggage thumping along behind.

As I moved up from my end of the library and Isabeau approached from hers, Drake and Keladrian were finishing the placement of the table and chairs.

"So, where did we want to attempt to contact Fiona from?" Drake asked

"I have several throwaway shadows I made when we were trying to get away from Bleys. Speaking of which we need to get rid of some things before the meeting." I looked at Keladrian and pointed to my throat. "Ya think?"

"We'll want somewhere that is not inimical to psychic support." Drake suggested. "Because you were saying that you might need some bolstering if there were any difficulties on the other end."

Of course there was going to be difficulty on the other end, Fiona was on the other end.

"There is a place where. . . " I began. "There is this nice beach. This might be the place to go. This is where Bleys would have taken your mother." I told my cousin.

"What is the nature of the beach?" Drake asked.

"Actually it has sort of an off psychic resonance." I remembered the only time I had been there. "If you are there and you can adjust to it, you have a much better chance than someone who is just coming in."

"That does actually sound good. If it is disconcerting to step into, and to use psychic ability but once you are there and adjusted to it." Drake pondered. "Anything that would give us an edge if anything went wrong."

"All right fine." Isabeau agreed reluctantly.

"If we don't like it we can always leave." Drake assured her.

"Like I said, my father had a special place in his heart for this location and thought that it would be perfect to bring your mother to if he needed to." I couldn't help getting in the dig at Isabeau. Father would absolutely kill me for ruining his surprise for his sister. I wondered what he was doing now that he was free to leave Amber. I probably didn't want to know.

"Do you wish to use my amulet?" Keladrian offered Isabeau.

"No because my mother would consider that an attack." Isabeau declined.

"Not if it was not on." Keladrian countered. "However if you were incapacitated, we can break the link no matter how strong she is."

Isabeau thought about it awhile but then declined. "No. Thank you very much for the offer."

I brought out the Trump sketch of the beach and Keladrian held up his hand.

"Now do we wish to take care of any other matters first?" I believe he was referring to the tags. "There was some sense of urgency."

"No, if I try to contact Fiona I might come up with nothing, in which case we will have to come up with alternative methods of contacting her." Isabeau declined. "Or Thenaroth. There's no way that I am going to get a hold of her any other way. There is but I don't think it would be very prudent. Let's try this and if I can't contact her, we have a whole nother ball of problems on our hands. Let's not make life any more complicated than it is."

"We've already spent the time finding this place and getting the Trump sketches." I was concerned about the passing time. How long we had before the Emergence we didn't know. There was still a lot to be done before then.

"If I cannot get a hold of her we can move on." Isabeau finally acquiesced.

"There are other ways." Keladrian agreed.

"It concerns me what it is that Random ran across that he needs your mother for." I activated the Trump sketch and Drake stepped through first, followed by Isabeau, Keladrian then the Luggage and myself. Drake was down on one knee and Isabeau was laying face down on the beach when I stepped through. Keladrian was bending over her. The Trump sketch dropped from my nerveless fingers as the pain in my head exploded. I didn't remember it being this bad. I was in a lot of pain but I had some muscle control. I slowly reached down and turned on the ring. It had no affect.

I stood perfectly still for a minute hoping that the throbbing would diminish. After about eight minutes the pounding in my head began to abate and I could slowly move to pick up the Trump sketch.

"We have a choice, we can . . . " I stopped to gather my thoughts. It was very difficult to even think here. "Do we want to stay here, or . . ."

"Is this too much of a shock?" Keladrian asked. He did not seem incapacitated by the off psychic resonance.

"Try to Trump someone." Drake gritted out in obvious pain.

I pulled out my Trump of Drake and contacted him. The Trump was not the problem. "Trumping doesn't bother me, does it cause you any extra pain?"

"No, but stand ready." Drake exerted himself psychically and I could tell through the Trump contact that the pain increased for him.

"It seems to be a shadow meant to prevent psychic attacks and manipulation but it doesn't bother Trump." I said as I put Drake's card back in my pouch.

"The thing is we cannot use our psyche to resist Fiona's psyche if something happens. This is great if she were here, she'd have the world's largest headache." Drake was obviously in a great deal of pain.

"No, she'd be unconscious. And I'm not sure that is a good thing after all the mental trauma she has been through recently." Especially if Random needed her for something important. If we damaged my aunt when Amber needed her . . . it was obvious that this would not work. "I think we should leave."

"This is certainly a shadow of some use." Drake concurred.

"I will keep this one in mind." When I could think clearly again.

Drake winced in excruciating pain. "I don't think it's appropriate for our current purpose."

Before Isabeau woke up Keladrian spun us to another location. We were still on a beach but the psychic immobilizer was left behind us.

Isabeau sat up. "Nice beach, this will work." She seemed to be unaware that we had moved to another location.

"I think we are ready to contact your mother." I said hurriedly.

Isabeau stood up and brushed off her clothing.

Drake activated his Logrus, "Do you want our support or do you just want us to stand ready?"

"Just stand ready." Isabeau said as she drew out Fiona's Trump.

"A moment." Keladrian interrupted yet again. "So if your mother takes control, what do you wish us to do?"

"I don't think that if we are not in contact at the time that we will stand a chance of doing anything. I think we should really be in contact." I insisted.

"If you are in contact, Fiona will know." Isabeau was just as insistent.

"Do you know where she is calling?" Drake asked Keladrian.

"Yes." Keladrian said.

"Then we spin there if she is . . ." Drake began and Isabeau laughed as Keladrian shook his head.

"Yah, like that's a good plan." I added.

"Is there a reason tactically why this wouldn't work?" It was clear that Drake was the only one who didn't know where Fiona was and hadn't figured it out.

"Yeah." I shook my head.

"The last location of my mother was being healed by an acquaintance of Keladrian." Isabeau delicately explained.

"Oh." Understanding dawned on Drake.

"And it was made quite clear that I was not welcome there again." Isabeau continued.

Drake thought a moment and then said, "Then I guess we have no recourse."

"If the Trump is taken from your hand," Keladrian stopped in mid sentence to consider, "What happens to the contact?"

"It's broken." I replied for Isabeau.

"Is it?" Isabeau seemed unsure.

"If it is just a Trump contact and the Trump is obscured, the contact is broken. However, with Fiona it would not be just a Trump contact." I explained further the Trump theory behind their questions.

"And if Fiona has grabbed me in any way, it would not just be a Trump contact." Isabeau nodded in understanding. "I am worried that if I have you in tow, she will know."

"Probably true." I agreed. "If you have your amulet on she might not." I turned to Keladrian an idea forming.

"You would be somewhat invisible." Isabeau was getting the picture.

"Yes, if he was in contact with you with his amulet set at neutral, at least we would have some advance warning." I hesitated to ask this of Keladrian, but he had the best chance of any of us. His powers and abilities were unknown to Fiona and I really wanted to keep it that way. I tried to convey that nonverbally to him.

"I accept that." Keladrian nodded.

Isabeau pulled another Trump out and held it next to the card for her mother. "If possible I would like her to go back directly to Amber. I do not want to be dinking around."

"I agree." Drake concurred.

"I can get us back there immediately." I offered.

"I'm sure that Isabeau and Fiona could also get there immediately but I believe your king's name should be invoked as early as possible." Drake stated.

"If that will do any good. Fiona doesn't have much use for Random. She doesn't really care that he's king." I said quietly and I don't think the others heard.

Isabeau took out her mother's Trump and with it the Trump for the library at Amber. Keladrian turned his amulet to the neutral setting and began to position himself so that he was not visible from the viewpoint of the Trump. He touched the bottom of her hand and the rest of us moved from the card's line of sight. I stood just beside and a bit behind Keladrian. When Fiona came through I wanted some protection.

"When you contact her, tell her this will be noticed and that it may only work once and that Random needs her to come now." Keladrian kept offering advice.

"Zhelan, if I have the Trump side by side and I pull her through, can I immediately go to the Library?" Isabeau asked me.

It was an interesting question. Could you pull someone with you through a place Trump at the same time you were bringing them through their Trump? I knew that I could activate two place Trumps at once, but I doubted that Isabeau could do that yet. It was not an easy skill to learn. I just might be able to do it though I had never tried before. It was an intriguing concept and one that I now wanted to try. But not one that I thought we dared experiment with while dealing with Fiona.

"You have to activate the Library." I simply told her.

I felt the Trump contact begin and suddenly Fiona was standing between Keladrian and Isabeau. Keladrian stepped back and I turned on the ring and moved more behind him.

Fiona was steaming. She had to be pretty healthy to have that much of a mad on. "God damn it." She spit out almost incoherently.

"King Random has requested your presence." Isabeau was unbelievably calm in the face of Fiona's rage. But she'd spent more time with her mother, she might be used to it.

"Why?" Fiona spat out.

"I think it has something to do with the Emergence, my lady." Isabeau dropped into formal courtesy on pure defense I'm sure. "But I am not sure. I did not ask him details, I just acquiesced and said, yes, my Liege."

"Consider the message delivered." Fiona snapped back haughtily while she tried to compose herself.

"I do not believe that a delivery of a message was your King's intent." Drake stepped forward and confronted Fiona. Brave fool.

With the ring on I could not tell if Fiona did anything to him, but I'm betting she mentally smacked him for that remark.

"That's enough of that, where's Mandor." Fiona was quietly furious.

"Uh, taking cover." Isabeau stammered out, her composure slipping slightly.

"Where's Mandor?" Fiona demanded more sharply.

"Pick one!" Isabeau shouted. Fiona glared her down. "The last time I talked to him he was taking cover because of the Emergence." Isabeau modulated her tone only slightly as she yelled at her mother. "You want to find him, go dig."

"Aren't you getting snippy?" Fiona retorted but seemed taken aback by the vehemence of Isabeau's response.

There was the pot calling the kettle black.

"I keep having people tell me what to go do, ok. When Random asked me to find you, he was scared." I moved to see around Keladrian. I didn't want to miss this show. "Before you go off an any binges, I advise you to go find out what the hell his problem is, because he was very specific that you were the one he needed." Isabeau was running out of steam while the rest of us held our collective breaths to see what Fiona's reaction would be. The silence stretched on as mother and daughter glared at each other. Then Isabeau spoke again in a calmer tone. "Mandor's gone to ground, it's not like your not going to be able to find him."

"Yeah, I know where he lives." Fiona said through clenched teeth.

"Lady Isabeau, perhaps you should tell your lady mother whom Random was going to see the last time you spoke to him." For an ambassador Drake did not know when to keep his mouth shut.

"The time before, when I last saw Random, he was on his way to meet with Dworkin." Isabeau informed her mother.

"All right." Fiona pulled out her Trump deck and started shuffling through it. I could tell she was still very pissed. If she had her Trump deck and was unable to leave, Nmimnis must have been doing something that kept Fiona immobilized. I wouldn't want to run up against Nmimnis. No wonder Fiona was in such a bad mood.

Keladrian was looking over Fiona's shoulder as she continued shuffling through her Trump. Suddenly Fiona spit out a curse and wheeled around in Keladrian's direction. Oh shit. His amulet was only on neutral. My first thought was to protect Keladrian. If only I could reach around and adjust his amulet to full before Fiona fried his mind. Then Fiona was launched airborne by a Logrus tentacle.

Drake pulled his Logrus blade and moved over to catch Fiona on the way down. But she did a Spin blip and hit the ground. Drake quickly changed the arc of his blow and brought the flat of his blade down squarely on my aunt's head.

Fiona lay stunned on the sand, her hands out flung but her Trump deck was firmly clenched in her fist. I saw a rainbow effect and realized that Isabeau had brought up the Trump of the Amber Library. I lunged forward and scooped up my aunt as I dove through the Trump portal into the Library.

The others joined me very quickly. The Luggage thumped through last just before Isabeau closed down the portal. While the others were coming through I pulled out Random's Trump. At least Fiona would not be able to do any Pattern tricks on us here in Amber.

I handed Fiona off to Keladrian as soon as he came through, and then turned off my ring so that I could use the Trump. Isabeau came through and headed out of the library at a full run. Drake had his Logrus up and had also pulled his Logrus blade to cover Fiona if she should manage to get away from Keladrian.

I felt the Trump call go through the shunt then it was snapped shut. Shortly after that Random slammed into the Library.

Random was a vision of efficiency. "Put it away son, put it away." He pointed at Drake's blade. "Vialle, get the collar." He yelled back over his shoulder.

"She's a little miffed at Mandor right now." Isabeau followed Random into the library and was trying to explain.

"Fine, that's really good." Random's focus was on Fiona slumped in Keladrian's arms. Then he turned to Isabeau. "Lady Isabeau, thank you very much, would you mind checking to see if. . . " He paused trying to find some reason to send her from the room. "Something, bye bye. Please." And made shooing motions for my cousin to leave the room. What did my uncle have in mind for Fiona that he didn't want her daughter to see?

Isabeau looked somewhat confused and concerned but could not obviously ignore a command by her king. "See you guys at the library." And she backed out of the room.

Vialle came in quickly with her arm on the bicep of the Captain of the Castle Guard. He was holding a small purple velvet bag with something round and hard in it. This must be the collar that Random was calling for.

Random then turned to me. "Zhelan, scoot."

I stood my ground. "Any particular reason?" I had stood by him at the brink of Corwin's dissolving Pattern. What was so dire that I could not remain here?

"Oh sure. Am I going to tell you, no. Get!" I knew my Uncle well enough to know that there was no arguing with this tone of voice. But I had other ways of finding out what was going on. I strode from the room.

The door shut behind me and I activated my library Trump to look through. It was blank and I could not activate it. Damn, What was Random doing to Keladrian? I pulled the Amber courtyard Trump and stepped through. There was a secret passageway from the first floor sitting room to the Library. I headed that way at full run.

I burst into the sitting room and activated the doorway to the secret passage. I was about to step through when I felt a Trump contact. The call was the familiar music of Keladrian. I opened contact immediately. Please let him be okay.

"What?" I snapped out annoyed.

"We are outside the library. And feel that it would be best to leave." He informed me. I was relieved that he was ok.

But damn it, I wanted to see what Random was doing to Fiona. "What's going on with Fiona?"

"King Random has restrained her and she is unconscious." Keladrian returned simply.

"Pull me through." It was obvious to me now that the reason Random had asked Isabeau and myself to leave the library was not because of something he was going to do to Drake and Keladrian but something that involved the 'collar' and Fiona. The others seemed highly agitated and wanted to leave. They would not wait for me to indulge my curiosity.

I came through and held onto Keladrian's hand. "I was concerned about your safety when Random asked me to leave." I told him. He merely nodded.

"We need to leave now." Isabeau seemed upset.

I looked around the group, "Then hold onto me." I said as I called up the Trump memory of Ssalesh. The last time I had been here there were still inhabitants and my statue in the square had been toppled. There had also been Ihendron hit squads lying in wait and the place was in disorder.

Currently it looked neat and clean. The buildings were in good repair and my statue had been mended and righted in the courtyard. However, it was uninhabited. The people had moved out leaving behind a place that was warm, inviting and very empty. It was not a hovel and it was not Amber.

Drake raised an eyebrow at me when he saw the statue.

"Sorry for causing that, but your mother. . ." Keladrian began.

"Do not apologize, Keladrian no more needs to be said. She was going off on her own way like she always does." Isabeau waved off Keladrian's apology.

"Actually she was going here." Keladrian held out Fiona's Trump to me. "Do you recognize it?" He asked me. Then he showed it to Isabeau when I shook my head. "Lady Isabeau?"

She shook her head and asked "Keladrian, do you have the rest of her deck?"

"Yes, I do." He agreed as he pulled them out of his armor.

"You probably should. . ." I started to say, give it to her daughter and yet part of me wanted very badly to look through and see what Fiona had in there. I had to console myself that I had seen one card and I would recognize her style if I were to see it again.

"My guess would be either a lab or Mandor's." I said thinking about the location of the black light world in the card.

"Could be Mandor's." Isabeau pondered.

"She said she knew where to find him, where he lived. My guess is that she was going there or going to someplace to prepare to go there."

"I would think that she would go to consolidate her power base first." Isabeau agreed with my second theory. Keladrian handed her the rest of her mother's Trump but she did not look through them.

"She could have been going straight there, she had a pretty good mad on." But I truly didn't think I had ever seen Fiona so angry that she acted without a plan. But then I had never seen Fiona that mad before either.

"Interesting." Isabeau said as she put her mother's Trump away.

"I think your king is capable of making her see reason at this time." Keladrian assured her.

"If that's his intent." I snorted. The thought of anyone making Fiona see reason was laughable. Clarissa's brood bordered on crazy. I know, personally.

"Extended vacation, that's my theory." Isabeau announced. "Chaos is looking better and better all the time. Now if we can just deal with this Emergence thing."

"At this point, do you go get your Sovereign and you go get Thenaroth?" I looked towards Drake and Keladrian.

"No first we make sure there are no traces on us from your father or anyone else we've been in contact with." Keladrian reminded us.

"Yes, the first stop, let's go get cleaned up. But remember that time is of the essence." I reminded them, probably unnecessarily. We thought a moment about where to go.

"Someone knowledgeable and well-meaning." Were Drake's criteria.

"What about the techno-mage shadow?" I asked Keladrian thinking of Planet Garcia where we had abandoned the Luggage.

"That would work." He agreed. "We could probably acquire devices there to do it ourselves."

"That's true and we could probably get something to fortify the defenses of the place." I suggested.

"Keep in mind that the shadow that we were at is eroding away." Isabeau said.

"I don't think techno-magery will work very well there." Drake agreed. "Let's call it the Grand Library."

"Well the thing is that the techno mages were on Planet Garcia but there were other technologies in that shadow to choose from. Some form of technology might be of use where it might not be expected when people are used to using their powers." I remembered our successful assault on my father's brass fortress.

"Simple technology, but I would not expect anything beyond what currently functions in Amber." Drake said.

"But I do like the idea of possibly getting some items that can work." Isabeau thought about the possibilities. "But the problem is that as soon as you take them out of the shadow they begin to disintegrate."

"You have to make them real." Keladrian told her. "Which can be done."

"Shall we go there?" I asked Keladrian.

Keladrian did not wait for a group consensus but Spun us there in one trip.

The world was full of tall, gleaming spires, black glass and worked stone. Hovercrafts and griffins mixed in the air. The collection of different beings on the street was eclectic to say the least. They varied from small little pixies to eleven-foot cameloids. The air was strongly magical with a sense of mystery, age, wonder and illusion. This was a place of style over substance, but the style was strong enough that it did not seem shallow. It was modestly populated so did not feel crowded.

Drake and Isabeau seemed impressed by their surroundings.

"Tasty." Commented Isabeau.

"It has possibilities." Drake assumed a more sophisticated demeanor.

"Rather convenient when equipping for a . . ." Keladrian began.

"Covert operation." I finished for him.

"Lots of toys." Keladrian looked at me and smiled. "Speaking of which."

"We need to be examined and cleansed." Drake looked around at the myriad number of shop signs around us.

"Actually what we have need of, we have people we worked with before but not in this vein of equipment." Keladrian explained to the others.

"No, I think we should probably not go there." I said remembering that was where we had abandoned the Luggage.

"We need to remove tags first, correct?" Isabeau asked as she looked around.

"What I think we need to find, to desire is a good, reputable, honest dealer in technomagical devices for tag removal." Keladrian clarified. We were beginning to see the possibilities of Pattern probability manipulation. We saw how Caine had used it against us. Now we needed to hope that Isabeau could figure out how to make it work for us.

"One thing we ought to do is see if there are any of them on us to begin with. I know you were clean the last time I checked." I looked around the group.

"Am I still?" He raised an eyebrow at me. He had been touched by Fiona and been in the library with Random and Vialle since then. He had also been with Thenaroth.

"Or do we just need to find someone who can tell us that?" Isabeau seemed uncomfortable with the idea of accepting anything from me.

"I can do it right now." I told her.

"Perhaps we should do it ourselves." Keladrian turned to me.

"That way we're not trusting to someone telling us, oh, yes you are full of tags." I focused on the essence of this place and the power words came easily here where magic flowed so strongly.

"Keladrian, enoncer." I watched him closely and could not see any tags but could tell that his dragon nature had been reinforced. Thenaroth must have done that, hoping that Keladrian would turn back to his own kind and away from the troublesome 'project' girl.

I turned to Drake. This should be interesting. "Drake, enoncer." Drake was like Keladrian in that there was a dragon revealed beneath the surface. It was not as strong an image as Keladrian's but it was definite. There was an overwhelming sense of Chaos about him, which I took to be his Logrus power. Beyond that, Drake was an interconnected individual. There were so many strings running off of him I was not sure that I could see them all before the power word faded. Everyone seemed to have strings on him.

I shook my head "He is lousy with crap." I told the others. "You have so many strings on you that I don't think you have a square inch of skin that isn't covered with something."

Now it was Isabeau's turn. "Isabeau, enoncer." There was more than one tag from my father on her. There was an overall golden glow that I was sure was from Fiona. There was a dark pearl of blackness in her chest that stunk of the Abyss. She also had a pen in her pocket that was of interest. Isabeau appeared to be a multifaceted being of power. There was Trump and Pattern that I was sure of. I also saw tags that I could recognize of Mandor's, little round bubbles. There was a Logrus string attached to her as well. She must have picked that up from her visit to the Courts. There was another tag that I didn't recognize at first then identified Uncle Random's signature about it. She had fewer than Drake but more than Keladrian and I.

I could tell that both Drake and Isabeau had several Trumps drawn of them but there was hopeful only the one of Keladrian. His Trump signature was significantly smaller than the other two, but I could not yet determine the exact number. Much more practice was needed in that area.

"You and I seem to the cleanest of the group." I said to Keladrian.

"Reliable, honest techno mage, was that what you said." Isabeau asked Keladrian as she started walking down the concourse. "I think that we'll go over here." She walked down a few shops and stopped. "I think this establishment will fit our needs."

We stopped in front of a very nice storefront with a sign that proclaimed this to be Scheherazade's.

"Prepare to get out that CEO's bank account." I looked at Keladrian.

We entered the shop and there were a few tasteful displays and very few customers. The shop exuded an air of refinement.

A young gentleman dressed in a very nice business suit of black silk approached us. "My lords, my ladies. How may I be of service?" he bowed slightly, his voice modulated to be soothing and pleasing.

"Yes, we are looking for a specific removal assistance. We have people here who have been tagged by individuals so that they may be followed and we would like to eliminate those tags." I spoke for the group.

"Why certainly, we can arrange for an appointment." He started to pull out an electronic scheduling device.

"Allow me." Keladrian said as he stepped toward a credit authentication machine. He placed his hand on the pad and said. "We need this rather soon."

I will give the clerk credit, he didn't bat an eyelash at the amount displayed on the screen. "Thank you sir, I will see if Madame Verain is available."

"Thank you." Keladrian nodded.

"Would you like to have a seat? Tea, coffee? Anything we can get for you?" He said as he pressed buttons on his handheld device.

"Pettit fors." Isabeau requested.

"Something a little stronger for me." I said. "Champagne."

Drake seemed to hesitate a moment. It was clear he wanted something that he didn't think appropriate to order here.

"A little O positive for the Lord." Lady Isabeau told our host.

"Any particular species, my lord." The clerk said without missing a beat.

"Not sentient, please." Drake requested.

"La Froche." Keladrian ordered scotch.

Our clerk left the room and the place seemed to become friendlier. A young woman wearing the same style black silk business suit glided into the room carrying a tray with our requests. I must say that the petit fors that they brought in for Isabeau were more substantial than I had expected. I took a few of the small sandwiches with the champagne. More food started to come out. Soon all of us were converging on the food. It had been some time since we'd had a real meal. You couldn't really count the rice and fish in Shangra La. As we ate more food started coming from the back room. The small sandwiches and petit fors were replaced by skewers of some kind of meat and deep fried shrimp with a dipping sauce. Little things started appearing. Never a banquet or a spread but it was clear that they understood they had hungry wealthy customers.

No other customers had entered the shop while we were there. Their timing was impeccable. We had time to take the edge off and rest, but before we had time to become bored, the curtains parted and a really young woman came through into the room.

She was perhaps 5 foot 6 in height, pale waist length hair. She skin was pallid and it was only the little bit of color in her eyes that told me she was not an albino. She was humanoid in structure but her fingers were slightly webbed. She was wearing a blue robe under a cassock of slightly darker blue.

She smiled at us and pulled up a chair and sat down. One of the servers brought her a cup of something clear that looked like water but probably wasn't. She helped herself to one of the lighter snacks and then said, "I am Lady Verain. Welcome to our establishment."

"Thank you. You have made us quite welcome." I told her. "You think you can take care of our problem with the tags?" I came directly to the point.

"Richard did mention you were looking for tag removal, my lady." Her voice was light and she pronounced Richard's name with a bit of accent.

"Tags, strings, you name it." Isabeau said.

"Yes, we have many sundry, various assorted different kinds. These two in particular have a large quantity. Myself and Keladrian have fewer but still have some that we need to make sure are removed." Keladrian looked questioningly at me. "I couldn't spot any but there may be some I don't know about." I told him.

She leaned forward and her eyes went solid gold. No pupil or iris, just solid color. She looked around the group, and then blinked once or twice and her eyes returned to normal. "This is a very serious matter, my lord. Not inconsequential." She looked at Keladrian. "Not inconsequential at all."

"In more ways than you perhaps realize. Are you speaking financially or in making enemies?" He asked her.

"My lord is very acute." She inclined her head to him.

"I have no objections to you taking whatever precautions you deem appropriate to keep your identity secure." He assured her.

"Well, beings such as thee have already come. It means that when the gods set up shop in your front room, it is already too late to hide." Lady Verain countered. "I would ask that thee send no more."

"That I think we can assure you of." I told her, and then added. "Also my Luggage. If you can take care of him also." I pointed to the Luggage at my feet.

She got a strange look on her face but nodded her understanding. "It would be best if I worked with each of thee alone."

"Do you want to start with the worst or the least?" was my only question.

"With the lord, if that is alright." She said indicating Keladrian. Her eyes turned gold again for a moment. "Time frames are difficult to estimate."

"We are under a bit of a time constraint." I told her.

"I would have no doubt of that my lady. And I will work with as much dispatch as I can but I do not wish to compromise the performance by unduly rushing."

"I understand, this needs to be a clean job." I acknowledged.

She sighed and looked at us again.

"Can you recommend a lodging establishment?" Drake asked.

"That would be wise my lord." She agreed. "I can recommend the Sheraton."

"I am seriously in need of clothing." Isabeau had lost her backpack in the shadow where we had confronted Caine and seemed to be missing its loss.

"We'll go shopping." I told her expansively.

"The grand promenade is very well suited to that." Lady Verain said as she stood. "I will have Richard arrange your rooms and establish your entry into the promenade. Whenever you are ready to begin."

"And who would you like next?" I asked her wondering how much time I would have before and after Keladrian would be finished.

"Thyself, my lady." She nodded to me.

Good that would give me the time that she was working on Drake and Isabeau to be with Keladrian. And the time she was working on Keladrian to take care of some unfinished business.

"You have means of contacting me when you are ready." I looked to Keladrian.

"Do you need communication devices while you are here?" Lady Verain asked us.

"Actually, yes we do." Keladrian answered for the rest of us.

"When in Garcia, do as the Garcians do." I said.

"Make littler waves than we already are." Isabeau laughed.

"Do not fool thyself, my lady. Beings such as thyself are noticed." Lady Verain informed us.

"We will let you commence, the sooner the better." I said to the Lady. "Let's talk to her assistant and get those rooms and communication equipment." I got up and turned to Drake and Isabeau.

"Thank you, my lady. I look forward to seeing you." Isabeau also stood and nodded to Lady Verain.

"Myself as well." She nodded to Isabeau then turned to Keladrian. "My lord." She stood and indicated that he should follow her through the curtains. Keladrian and I exchanged looks as he left our group.

Richard moved up to us and was carrying several ear beads on a tray. They were very small and were clipped into the ear and worked through a sub dermal mike. He gave us a brief demo on how they worked and showed us the eyes up menu and the map feature. On the map he showed us where to contact Suzanne who would show us to our suites on the 57th floor of the Sheraton.

We heeded out of the shop to wait our turn for the tag removal.

Back to Top

Chapter 35
Sex and the City

As we left the shop a stern faced saurian in a chauffer uniform was waiting and opened the door of a limo for us. As we entered the large hover vehicle I told Drake and Isabeau, "I don't know about the rest of you, but I think I'll just go to my room. Since I'm next up, I think I'll use this time to sleep." They did not respond.

The vehicle was large enough to enter without stooping, and the interior was only a little smaller than the lobby of Scheherazade's. There were several comfortable chairs around a small table and a fully stocked bar. The door closed behind us. The scenery passing the windows was the only sense of movement.

We sat and rode to the hotel in silence. A few minutes of travel brought us to a tunnel and private parking area. As the vehicle came to a stop a soft, feminine voice politely asked if there was any resistance to being teleported. I smiled at the request and we all answered in the negative.

There was a brief sense of the chair fading and then a black velvet sofa replaced it. We were sitting on two semicircle coaches that formed a conversation nook to one side of a very large room. The teleportation method had been very smooth and appeared to be sorcerous in nature.

The room was vast in proportion, probably around a hundred-foot square. A crystal chandelier was suspended over the middle of the room from the sixty-foot high ceiling. In our conversation nook there was a large marble topped coffee table with gold scrollwork around the edges and a large fruit basket on top. I could see a neatly lettered card that said 'Compliments of the Management'.

I sat a moment and looked around the room. There were many different activity areas strategically placed. In the far corner was a musical instrument that resembled a grand piano; another area had a library ensemble complete with comfortable chairs, reading lamps and a fireplace. In the far back corner there appeared to be an office workspace. I counted six doorways around the room. One on the wall behind us that must lead out to a hallway as it was the largest and most ornate in the room. Across from the entry was a window wall looking out over the city below. To my right were two doors and the wall on my left had three.

I stood up and headed to the three doors on the left. Isabeau stood and headed to the doors on the right.
The first door opened as I approached and the light increased. It was a large well-appointed kitchen. I did not wait for the room to activate but moved to the next door.

This was a holographic projection room. No sense bothering with the third door as I could see a pattern here. Certainly a hotel of this caliber would not put bedrooms next to common areas such as kitchens and recreational facilities. Which meant I had to go to the other side of the room where Isabeau had entered one of the two doors on that wall.

She emerged from the room and announced, "There are two behind this door and two behind that door." She pointed to the door she wasn't standing in. I assumed she meant bedrooms.

My temper flared up and I realized that I was angry because she had found the bedrooms before I had. I quickly suppressed my anger. Really, I was four hundred years older than she was, I shouldn't allow myself to be goaded into competitive feelings over something so trivial.

During this time Drake had remained sitting where we had arrived, he seemed to be concentrating on the fruit basket.

I ignored my cousin and moved to the door she wasn't standing in. Through that door was a smaller, more intimate sitting room. The ceilings were still sixty feet high but the room was only about twenty feet by fifty. The furnishings seemed to have the feeling of mutability about them. They could probably mold themselves to the desire of the occupants. I had no time for experimentation. There were two more doors in this room and I went directly to the nearest one and opened it. This was the bedroom.

I entered the room and closed the door behind me. I paused briefly then pulled out a Trump and quickly stepped through to Bob's Cosmic Bar and Grill.

There were several things that I hoped to accomplish. Some of them required that I contact members of my family. If I were to do that, I wanted to do it before I had tags removed. No sense in wasting all the effort of getting the damned things removed and then go out and collect some more.

The Luggage and I appeared in the bar and the music and conversation stopped briefly then resumed as the inhabitants went back to their drinking.

I took out another Trump and moved on quickly. I thought a series of Trump jumps would help to throw off anyone who might be tracking me.

The next stop was Shangra La. I hadn't had a chance to finish my business here while Drake and Isabeau were with us. I stepped up to the door and rang the gong.

The small view hole in the door opened and I saw the face of one of the young monks peer out. The peephole closed quickly to be followed by the main door being opened. At least I hadn't burned through bridges here yet.

I bowed to the holy man before me and requested an audience with the head monk. He bowed and without a word led me to an area outside the walls of the monastery where there was an overlook down the side of the mountain into a steep crevasse.

The old monk was seated cross-legged on the cold ground and seemed to be meditating on the depths of the abyss. The symbology of the image did not escape me. The reverberations of the Emergence were being mirrored here.

The monk who had been my guide, bowed and left. I did not wait for the old man to acknowledge my presence. "Holy one, I am sorry to disturb you, but I would like to collect the item that I left with you."

He seemed relieved to pass over the Trump that I had forced on him several days ago. I quickly took the card back and returned to Bob's Cosmic Bar.

The pause in the music was shorter this time. I took out Random's Trump and attempted contact. I felt a great sense of relief when the call went through. It appeared that my uncle was willing and able to talk to me. After the recent incident with Fiona and the Emergence and treaties with Chaos, I wasn't sure he would be available.

Random looked like hell. I'd seen him looking worse but not often. There were dark circles under his eyes and his hair was unkempt. There was more beard growth on his face than our short jaunt to Planet Garcia could account for. I could tell he was exhausted and more than a little drunk and seemed to be in pain.

"If you've got ten minutes, I'd like to take you up on that offer of a conversation." I asked hoping that he wasn't in one of his ugly drunk moods.

He listlessly held out his hand to me. I reached out and felt myself pulled through to Amber. I was standing in the room where I had met with Vialle to bargain for my father's release. The touches of civility that Vialle had carefully arranged seemed stripped away. We could have been in any number of bad Mexicali dives, the kind of places that Random used to like to go when he was in a brooding mood. My foot kicked an empty Tequila bottle and I noticed there were several of them strewn across the floor along with several empty beer cans. Not an auspicious beginning.

Random flopped back down on the couch.

"You look like hell." I joked, trying to recapture some of our old camaraderie.

He snorted and took a swig from the bottle in his hand. "I feel like hell. What do you want?"

This was going to be harder than I thought. Maybe I should start with something less controversial. I strolled over to his drum stand and touched the top of the cymbal holder. I fondly remembered long bouts of drumming and drinking. Random never let anyone touch this drum set. I quickly took my hand down realizing that I was bordering on the profane.

"There are several things that I need to discuss with you, but totally off the wall, do you love Vialle?" I turned to watch him. The light that went through his eyes and the goofy, 'I'm no good for her' expression on his face was all the answer I really needed.

"Yeah." He said softly.

"How did you know?" I urged.

"It kind of grows on you, Zhelan." His reply was not much help. I wanted someone to tell me what I was feeling for Keladrian. Random was the only family that I knew that cared for someone. No sense asking father about love, I already knew everything about love of self.

"Hmmm, I don't know." I turned away from the drum set and moved closer to Random. Time to get down to serious business. "We have learned something about the Emergence and I had a theory which someone thought might be possible." I wasn't sure I had Random's attention. His eyes were somewhat glassy looking and he wasn't focusing on anything in particular. "Do you know about the Emergence?" I asked him.

He nodded distractedly and I continued. "My theory is that it is Deirdre."

I waited for his response, which took some time in coming. "How much Deirdre do you think is left in that?" His question surprised me. He must have already gotten this information from some other source.

"Probably not a lot, but enough to choose an Amberite over a Chaosian, enough to be seeking out Corwin." I thought back over my recent experiences.

"I never got along with her." He admitted.

"Who did, except for Corwin?" Which wasn't really fair. The only ones in my family that I ever got along with were my father, Random and Gerard, but he hardly counted as everyone got along with Gerard.

I changed the subject since there seemed to be no further conversation forthcoming on that topic. "Another issue, you remember my friend Keladrian?" Random nodded. "He had a friend of his who stumbled across Corwin and his Pattern. Corwin attacked him. Keladrian's friend is currently in a coma in Dorad, because Corwin did something to his mind."

"Well that is the right of a Prince of Amber." Random shrugged clearly uninterested.

Friend to friend this did not seem to be going well. I decided to change tactics. "I would formally request from the King of Amber, a boon."

I had Random's attention a little more, though possibly not his empathy. "I'll formally hear it." He slurred.

"Keeping in mind that recently I got Corwin away from his Pattern so that something could be done about it." I began ticking of the things I thought might be in my plus column for requesting a royal boon. "When you and Bleys were fighting off what was left of Corwin's Pattern I brought help from Chaos to aid you." Random twirled his finger around to indicate I should make it short. I continued anyway, " I rescued Caine from the middle of Corwin's disintegrating Pattern and returned him to Amber. And helped return Fiona to Amber. I think I've done enough for Amber to warrant a small request be granted. My request is this, if at all possible if something could be done to alleviate the damage that was done to Keladrian's friend. Without any ulterior motives, or going in and putting in other programming, if something could be done for Keladrian's friend." I waited for his response.

"Is Keladrian's friend like himself?" Random asked carefully.

"I have never met Keladrian's friend. " I hedged. I had promises that this bordered on breaking.

"But is he like Keladrian?" Random pushed.

"He was in dragon form when we found him." I offered and hoped that Random would drop this line of inquiry.

"I'll talk to Julian." Random offered.

"I'm not sure that anyone could go see Keladrian's friend in Dorad without Keladrian being there to allow them access." I wasn't sure if Random knew Dorad. It seemed that Gerard, Fiona and Bleys knew about it, so why wouldn't Random? "I'll see what I can do about that if you can find someone to assist."

"Right now I think that Julian would be your man if you can stand him." Random tipped back another swallow from the bottle of tequila.

"You know that of all my Aunts and Uncles you are the only one that I've ever been able to tolerate." I laughed and hoped that he would share this joke with me. "But I am sure that if you told Julian to do so, he would comply."

"So you want this done before the universe ends?" Random snapped back. He wasn't in a humorous mood.

"Well, I don't know that we have time, but I would like it to be made a priority at some point. If it can't happen before the Emergence, as soon as possible after the Emergence would be a good thing." That obligation taken care of I had one more item to cover with Random. "One other thing, there is a meeting taking place that I feel would be of benefit if you were a part of. You might want to talk to the Chaosian Emperor to get an invite."

"The Chaosian Emperor is throwing a shindig and you think I should crash?" He raised an eyebrow in my direction.

"I think it would be in Amber's best interest." I responded mistaking his expression.

"Get out." He ordered abruptly.

I realized that I had trod too closely to an issue that smacked of machinations made by Father and his siblings. Now he probably thought I was making alliances with the Courts of Chaos. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I didn't need Random calling for a collar for me. "Some other time?" I nodded to him wishing that I had phrased it differently, that I should say more. He was clearly in pain, mentally and physically and I should have been more solicitous.

"Yeah." He snapped and turned away from me. I had been dismissed.

I took out a random Trump from my deck to disguise the fact that I was using a sketch to return to Bob's Cosmic Bar. No need for Random to know that I was a Trump artist.

The music didn't miss a beat when I popped in this time. Damn it all. I didn't want to burn bridges with him. Why hadn't I been more sensitive to the current political map of Amber? I should have read the signs better. Random exhausted and drinking and just recently imprisoning my Aunt, possibly because of alliances made with Chaos. And I run in and remind him that I brought help from the Courts and that there is a meeting that the Emperor of Chaos is going to. I wasn't used to guarding myself around Random. That would have to change.

I took a deep breath and pulled out another Trump. I wasn't sure how the reception would be even if he chose to answer but I initiated a call to my father. After the fiasco with Random, I couldn't do much worse. Bleys did not answer too quickly or too slowly, which I took as a hopeful sign.

My father's Trump image became animated, but the background would not solidify. Nice trick dad. I would have to learn that one.

He outlasted me in the stare down and I broke the silence first. "Feel like conversation?"

"Why are you calling me this time, Zhelan." There was still an edge to his voice but not nearly as bad as when we last spoke.

"Just wanted to bat around some family gossip." I knew that was one topic of conversation that most of the family could not stand to miss out on.

"Speak, daughter."

"Can you guarantee that this Trump call is not being listened to?" I wanted to be sure that this information was not shared.

"As much as I can." His assurance was anything but.

"Well you can either come through here and have a drink with me . . ." I began.

"At Bob's!" He interrupted. He clearly recognized where I was and didn't approve.

I didn't reply, just glared at him. He held out his hand and I pulled him through. I turned around and walked over to a booth in the back of the bar and sat down. Father hesitated a moment before joining me.

"Your Uncle has been a horrible influence on you, Zhelan." He said as he looked around the bar. I realized that this place was definitely Random's style, not Bleys'.

"I was feeling kind of nostalgic when I picked this place, I guess." A sleazy looking barmaid briefly interrupted us.

"No thank you." Father said politely waving her away.

I didn't know how to start this conversation so just jumped in with the big news. "Fiona is back in Amber." I told him.

He looked at me intently a moment and then asked. "Is she alright?"

That was a loaded question. "Well, Random called for something called 'the collar' and wouldn't let Isabeau and I stay in the room. He was very upset and wanted her back in Amber immediately after he spoke with Dworkin." I paused a moment trying to read my father's expression. He's a very good poker player. "If I were you, I'd stay away from Amber and Random for awhile." We both knew where Bleys had been in the intrigues with Chaos, the damaging of Amber's Pattern, the Black Road.

"Thank you." Father seemed genuinely sincere. "It's time for a jaunt. I've been feeling a little closed in anyway."

Father's request for a jaunt fit neatly into my plans. I just needed to make sure he didn't suspect I was manipulating him. "Stay safe from the Emergence." I warned him. "I have a feeling and Random confirmed that it probably is Deirdre." I paused for a beat and then couldn't help getting a barb in. "Consequences. Never throw your siblings into the Abyss."

"I did not throw her into the Abyss. That was your other Uncles." He smiled at me and it almost felt like old times. Then he looked down at the table, slowly shaking his head and said softly, "Deirdre." Then looked up at me and asked. "Where's Corwin?"

I was pleased at this question; he had made the same connection. "I don't know where Corwin is. He's not in Amber any longer." I waited a moment, then added as if in afterthought. "I think Corwin is trying to find her as they were linked somehow through his Pattern." This would be easier than I thought.

"Oh yeah, through his Pattern." He scoffed.

"When Corwin's Pattern was still active, the Emergence was drawing power from it." I paused dramatically, just a beat, not too long before I continued. "Corwin may be trying to find her. He's less himself than usual."

"Who is Corwin these days?" Bleys said somewhat facetiously.

"I don't know." I answered it as a serious question because I had my suspicions that Corwin was not entirely Corwin right now. "He's certainly not the Corwin I ever knew." I changed the subject quickly. I think I had his attention directed in the right place but didn't want to belabor the issue. I didn't want him to know that this was the reason I had contacted him. "Caine's back in Amber."

"Good." He paused a moment and then asked. "Who else does Random have?" Despite everything that he had done that made it look contrary, I felt he still had the best interests of Amber at heart. Mind you, that interest was more directed to ascendancy to the Throne, but one had to have an intact kingdom to rule.

"Benedict and Julian." I was trying to think of who I knew for sure were available to Random.

"What about the girls?"

"I haven't seen them, Flora, Llewella." I shrugged. "Who knows."

"Benedict?" He fired off another question.

"From what I understand he's either with Kyrie or in Amber." The last I saw Benedict was right after the battle with Seclar.


"I don't know where Gerard is. Random didn't mention him." We sat in silence for a while and I was conscious of the time passing. While this shadow was a little faster time stream than Planet Garcia, Shangra La and Amber were not and Keladrian may be finished and wondering where I was. "I have things to take care of, so this conversation will have to be brief."

"Hmm. I have something I need to take care of also." He paused in concentration. I wondered what he was concentrating on. "Anything else?" His attention came back to me briefly.

"No, thank you very much, father." And emphasized the word father and then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Take care." He said softly and I was pretty sure that I had made the right step to rebuilding this bridge.

I stood up and took out the Trump sketch of Planet Garcia. No sense in wasting any more time with side jumps, father's attention was no longer on me

The Luggage and I emerged into a crowded plaza. I wasn't sure where I was in relation to Scheherazade's or the Sheraton. I got my communication ear bud from the Luggage and requested a connection to the shop.

"Is Keladrian finished yet?" I asked when a man answered.

"Your pardon, my lady?" he seemed confused.

"I was just wondering if Lady Verain was finished with Keladrian yet." I spoke a little more slowly.

"I do apologize for the inconvenience but Lady Verain is not available at this time." He replied.

"Is Richard there?" I asked.

"This is Richard." Another voice answered.

"Richard, do you know if Keladrian left and went back to the Sheraton?"

"I'm afraid I have not been informed ma'am." He answered politely with no information.

"Thank you." I disconnected and called the Sheraton.

"Santa Clarita Sheraton." A pleasant female voice answered.

"Yes I need a cab to pick me up and bring me back to the hotel."

"Your name ma'am?"


"One moment." The connection terminated and a cab drew up next to me. Very admirable service, but then Keladrian's credit account in this shadow was impressive.

I got into the cab and headed back to the hotel. The routine was similar, we arrived in the underground parking area and I was teleported to the main suite. I could smell the odor of food and muffled sounds across the room indicated to me that Keladrian was at the dining area eating.

I headed across the room and draped my arms around his neck as I came up behind him. He seemed to be reading something but I couldn't see anything. I hoped that he hadn't been waiting long and that I hadn't missed my appointment with Lady Verain.

"Anything good?" I asked indicating the remains of the repast in front of him. There weren't very many dishes so I didn't know whether he had just started or was on a second round.

"I haven't ordered my second round yet."

"Oh, ok. Do you want to go out? I take it that I'm not going to get called right away to Lady Verain's?"

"I would expect her to need some time."

"The sorcery thing or whatever she is doing is probably draining. She is after all just a shadowling." I said.

"What do you mean?" Keladrian turned around in his chair. His tone was terse. I took my arms from around his neck and stepped back.

"Well she wouldn't have the constitution of you or I so she couldn't carry on like one from Amber, your people or even Drake. She would tire more quickly." I said trying to figure out what I had done wrong.

"What truly differentiates a being of shadow from a being from one of the places of power?" I had done something or said something that had touched some point with him. I resisted the urge to read him to find out what he wanted me to say.

"We're real." I guessed.


"They're not." By his expression I could tell that answer wasn't cutting it. It wasn't fair. I had done so well with father. "You think that they are the same as us?" I countered.

"Of course they are not the same, but do they have less rights because they do not have the strength to oppose us?" He was on a crusade.

"I didn't know we were talking about rights. You asked me what differentiates us. I said we were real and they are not." I didn't want to talk about rights of shadowlings. I was quite sure that my opinion on that subject would not please him and I couldn't figure out how we had gotten from 'Lady Verain needs rest' to 'equal rights for shadowlings'.

"I think that may be the crux of the problem, that definition." He continued.

"Is there a problem?" I asked him. I didn't want to continue this topic but I needed to know what the full extent of it was so that I could avoid it in the future.

"I would not say a problem, but it is apparent that many beings of power feel that they can do what they will to those of shadow. And that does not sit easily with me." What could I say, guilty as charged. "Do you enjoy this place?" He changed his questioning and threw me off balance a moment.

"Yes I do, it's a lot of fun." I smiled hoping that we were on more familiar ground.

"And if it were destroyed."

"I would probably . . ." I paused; desperately thinking of what would be the politic thing to say. "It would probably be a loss." I was actually thinking that we could find another one in shadow that was similar.

"To me it would definitely be a loss. It is unique. So to me the inherent value of a place or being is not based on its relative strength or power. There are places or persons that may not be 'real' as you say, they still have significance and value. In my opinion." He lectured.

Thankfully this discussion was interrupted by the appearance of Drake and Isabeau emerging from their room. Isabeau was in a hotel caftan and Drake was wearing a black robe with a monogrammed crest.

I moved away from Keladrian and sat down at the other side of the table. I nodded to them. "Good morning we were just about ready to order some food."

"Exactly what we came out for." Isabeau said.

"Or were we going out?" I looked to Keladrian.

"I had shopping on my mind. I think I prefer to eat in and then go shopping." Isabeau answered my question to Keladrian. "I don't have anything I really want to wear here."

"Eating in is suitable for me." Keladrian answered.

"Everything go well?" Drake asked Keladrian. I assumed he meant the tag removal.

"Most comprehensive, but draining for our friend. She is resting at the moment."

"Oh, good that will give me time to shop." Isabeau seemed uncharacteristically cheerful.

"We'll probably have a lot of time, she needs to rest and then do Zhelan and then rest again." Drake told her.

"Oh good, I'll have time for shopping and other things." Isabeau was annoyingly perky. The fact that she had gotten sex and I hadn't yet was not lost on me.

Isabeau wandered over to the kitchen and the doors opened and the room powered up. "Breakfast food, protein, a little carbohydrate but mostly protein. Enough for . . ." She turned and looked at the rest of us.

"Twelve." Both Solomon and I said at the same time. I noticed both of us had been sizing up the remains of Keladrian's repast.

Soon a holographic waiter pushed a cart into the room filled with breakfast dishes. There wasn't much talking for a while.

"So what do we do upon completion of our sojourn here?" Keladrian asked between bites of food.

"Have you contacted the Emperor yet?" I asked Drake.

"No, I have not yet extended the invitation."

"For the meeting with Ulris?" Keladrian asked for clarification.

"Yes, I need to talk to the Emperor to get permission for Ulris to leave the Courts." Drake explained. "I would inform him of both meetings."

"But the one with Ulris is the preliminary test." Keladrian reiterated.

"I would suggest that you talk with the Emperor before you have the tag removal done." I interrupted.

"Not a bad idea." Drake nodded.

"Indeed." Keladrian looked strangely at me then turned to Drake and said. "I am sure that all of our elders have placed tags upon us. And the more powerful the person placing the tags increases the possibility that the tag cannot be removed."

"That's an interesting thought." Isabeau commented.

"There is a limit." Keladrian had not shared the results of his tag removal with me. I wondered what he still had on him.

"Ok, so even though we are hoping that things are being removed, there is a chance that they are not?" Isabeau asked.

"The small tags and light touches will be removed. The ones that grab on to your essence and have for a long time are not so easy. They can be lessened maybe attenuated . . ." Keladrian shrugged.

"It will be interesting to see which ones are left on me. I have my suspicions at least on two." Isabeau concentrated on her food.

"If they are lessened, then perhaps . . ." I thought of the power word that I had for disrupting things of power. If the tag could be softened up I might be able to take it out the rest of the way.

"So Drake needs to contact the Emperor, pre tag removal." Isabeau continued on the previous discussion.

"Not too far in advance. Maybe after Zhelan is called." Drake looked at her.

"Or while Isabeau is having her turn." I offered knowing that the two of them had been busy while I was gone.

"I'm not sure that it matters as I fully intend to go to the Courts to collect Ulris." Drake referred back to the tag issue

"It would be rather tacky to just Trump him out." Isabeau punctuated her comment with her fork.

"Safer." I offered.

"Well I don't have a Trump of Ulris." Drake started to say.

"Not a problem." Isabeau and I said together.

"I know we can contact him at the courts. I've already done it once." Isabeau continued without acknowledging me.

"I see." Said Drake thoughtfully.

"It depends, you may need to travel to the courts to talk to the Emperor, I don't know." Isabeau began when my ear bud chimed.

"One moment. I think I have a call from Lady Verain for me." I told the group as I accepted the call from Scheherazade's.

I told Richard that I would be there shortly and stood up. "Well, it's my turn. I need to go."

"Do you wish an escort?" Keladrian asked standing also.

"Thank you." I accepted.

"Well that definitely moves up our timetable." Isabeau told Drake.

"Perhaps not too much." Keladrian said to her. "It does take some time and they are not removed all at once. The more there are, the longer it takes."

"So it's definitely going to take awhile." Isabeau seemed pleased.

"That's not saying that she won't learn how to do it faster." Keladrian misunderstood Isabeau's concern.

"It would probably be polite to make the request in person." It took a moment for me to realize that Drake was talking about the meeting with the Emperor. "And then I can make arrangements about when to bring Ulris over."

"You have my Trump, you can always contact me." Isabeau told him.

"That would get him here." Drake explained.

"Do we have any objections to Ulris coming to Planet Garcia?" Isabeau asked. "Or do we want to wait?"

"We need to bring him straight to the library." Keladrian began.

"Lady Verain said not to bring anyone else here." I reminded her, finishing his thought.

"I would prefer to do that anyway." Drake nodded.

Keladrian and I teleported to the cab waiting to take us to Scheherazade's. We rode in silence for a while and then I asked, "So, how was the cleansing?"

"Enlightening." Was all he said.

"I take it, that it's survivable." I smiled cheerfully and tried to lighten the mood.

"Oh yes, not comfortable." Was all he would tell me.

"Will you be waiting when I am done, or do you plan to . . .?"

"It may be sometime." He started to protest.

"I didn't expect you to wait there, but you weren't going to leave the shadow, were you?" After all, I had, but that was before my tags were removed. The last thing we needed was for him to get himself marked.

"It depends if I can obtain what I am looking for here or not." He shrugged noncommittally.

"While you were with Lady Verain, I did contact Random on behalf of Derrick." I decided that he knew that I had left the shadow. Maybe that was why the current distant mood. I decided to tell him most of what I had done while I had been gone. "And he has offered the assistance of Julian to help your friend. He did want to know if you wanted to do it pre or post Emergence. I told him that we probably wouldn't have time before the Emergence."

"Do you think this Prince Julian would be able to help? The doctor said that the one who had done this would know exactly what they had done." I was disappointed that he didn't sound more appreciative of the efforts that I had gone through on behalf of his friend.

"Corwin is not . . ." I tried to think how to explain Corwin's current condition and gave up. " I would not count Corwin as one of the stronger members of my family in the mental pursuits. Random would know better where Julian ranks to Corwin."

"I don't know that it is a matter of strength but rather a matter of knowledge." He disputed.

"Random seemed to think that Julian would be the one in the family who could do it." There just wasn't anyone else. He had already tried contacting his own people with no success. He should at least consider the offer.

"I believe that we will only have one attempt." He explained.

"I understand that. The thing is that Julian could go and ascertain whether he could do it or not before we wake your friend Derrick." I tried to put it in a positive light. He still had the choice, but should at least try.

"And in discussing his condition with the doctor perhaps force her hand because she has said that she will not keep him that way indefinitely. You think that Corwin will not . . ." His words faded off.

"I doubt Prince Corwin will be sane in time to help your friend. I believe he is on his way to the Abyss to join with Deirdre." I didn't think Keladrian could think rationally on the issue of his friend. How would I feel if it was my father or Random in this condition? What would be my response? He seemed suddenly like a little boy lost and I wanted to reach out and hold him. I refrained. He wouldn't appreciate it. Instead I changed the subject. "But I have set something in motion hopefully to prevent that."

"Do we not believe that her consort has already been chosen?" He asked, confused.

"We don't know, it's an unknown. But I believe that if there is enough Deirdre left in the Emergence that she would wait for Corwin as long as possible. Which if we could make her wait, and then she would not have a consort in order to activate any item of power. Or produce an incarnation." That was my reasons. If it was Deirdre, and she couldn't have Corwin? How long would she wait?

"I appreciate the offer." Keladrian referred back to the offer of having Julian look at Derrick.

"I thought I should get those items taken care of before seeing Lady Verain so that her work was not for nothing. There was not time to discuss this prior to doing it. If you will forgive me for preemptively taking action, I know that you are not happy with me when I do that but occasionally you do it yourself."

"I have no desire to control you or prevent you from going where you will. I just ask that you consider the consequences of those actions."

"Consequences again." I sighed. Why was everyone so concerned about my understanding of consequences? I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the subject by now.

"A heavy burden indeed." He smiled.

"Your requests mean more to me than orders." I told him and realized that it was true. That disturbed me slightly that I would give someone that kind of power over me.

"I appreciate what you have done on Derricks behalf. I am undecided on whether Julian could be a help or not." He ignored my last comment, or chose to ignore it.

"It is an option. I asked Random for this boon in exchange for service to Amber that we have provided. He is willing to offer Julian as the best resource that he has."

Keladrian nodded, "If it comes to that and the person who has done the damage is not available, then the next best would be that person most adept at discerning damage."

"Julian is a great healer, at least among his animals. I have no idea about his other traits. He was not one of the Uncles that I was allowed to hang around." Along with Caine, Brand, Eric, Benedict, Julian, the list just went on.

"I will consider it."

"When I am done at Lady Verain's I will call you on the communication device." I said as we drove up to the shop.

Keladrian stayed in when I got out of the cab and went into Scheherazade's. I noticed that it was strangely empty of customer's when Richard greeted me. I didn't have long to wait before Lady Verain appeared and led me behind the curtain. We went down a long walkway as I asked her, "Do I need to be awake for this?"

She seemed startled by the question. "No, your consciousness is not required but many find the process too uncomfortable."

"I've managed to sleep through quite a bit." I told her.

"I'll arrange a chair." She offered.

"Thank you."

We arrive at a round platform in the middle of a chasm. The room was a narrow walkway to the middle of a circle surrounded by a vast echoing space. A sling chair made of wood and leather was in the middle of the circle. I sit down and began to do deep breathing and meditation.

"Please my lady be sure to sustain your identity." She told me as she stepped off the platform and floated over the chasm.

Sustain my identity? Which one, Bleys or me? I concentrated on my Trump essence and tried to focus on what I was sure was me and not my father. I was briefly aware that the Luggage was trying to crowd onto the platform and was unable to do so. Then I must have slept because the next thing I was aware of was that I couldn't breathe or move. Then there was a horrible piercing note and the air shattered around me. The Luggage lunged onto the platform and slammed into the chair. I had to stabilize myself quickly to keep from being swept off and into the chasm.

Lady Verain remained floating off the platform and looked very tired.

"Who would you like next?" I asked her, "My Luggage?" I indicated the artifact at my feet. "Or Lady Isabeau?"

"The Luggage is complete." She replied.

"Oh, you took care of it at the same time." I was pleased that I would not have to wait for the Luggage to be done. "Very handy. It does not like to be parted from me as you can see and it is very protective. I appreciate your efforts and will let you rest. I will let Lady Isabeau know that you will call her when you are ready."

Her voice was very faint and strained. "You are most gracious."

"Thank you. I'll just find my own way out." I said as I stood from the chair and walked back the way we had come in. "Luggage, this way."

I activated the communications device and requested to be connected to Keladrian.

"Yes." Keladrian answered.

"Hi, I'm finished with Lady Verain."

"A fun experience."

"I slept through most of it."

"Indeed." He seemed surprised.

"I thought I would take the opportunity to get some rest."

"Probably a wise idea. I am about 35 minutes from Scheherazade's and about 20 from the hotel."

"Why don't I meet you at the hotel." I offered. That actually suited my plans better anyway.

"Very well." He agreed.

I stepped into the main area and Richard was waiting for me. "Oh Richard. A cab to the hotel please."

"Waiting, my lady." He also indicated that he had uploaded my report to the communications device. I thanked him and stepped outside. The large limo was there and the saurian footman had the door open. I stepped inside and sat down.

The experience with Lady Verain had left my skin feeling too clean. All of the essential oils had been removed and the skin was exfoliated. I could use some conditioner. I settled back in the chair and continued napping on the way to the hotel. I should arrive there several minutes ahead of Keladrian.

I arrived in the suite and saw no one. I went directly to the smaller suite and into one of the bedrooms. The one I had not really seen earlier. The bed was large and round and slightly concave in the center. The Luggage moved to the side of the bed and made itself at home.

I passed through the bedroom and into the bath. I asked the room for a variety of oils and lotions as I removed my clothes and began applying them while I read the report from Lady Verain.

The report for the Luggage was shorter, so I started with it. There were a number of sorcerous tags from Planet Garcia, probability of removal 100%. One of the tags was from Lady Verain herself. The only other tag on the Luggage was one that I assumed was from Bleys. The probability of removal was in the upper 90%. The scan did not get into the Luggage so nothing in there had been cleansed. I would have to keep that in mind when using items from the Luggage. My report was somewhat longer. There was a recent tag, sorcerous in nature, chance of removal 95%. The report identified two other tags from the same source, older and partly decayed, 97% chance of removal. Those had to be from father. The next listed tag was recent and very powerful, but from a different source. Chance of removal was only 70%. I pondered that one awhile and then determined from the analysis that it must be from Thenaroth. Keladrian and I had asked him to contact us if he needed assistance. There was another tag, fairly recent from a similar but different power source from the first three. With an 80% chance of removal, I guessed it was from Random. There was an identity ward tag. Not active, passive. Lady Verain had been unable to remove. That had to be from Dorad. That's how they could keep people out of there. I would have to work on the removal of that myself. Perhaps something with Trump could do it, now that I knew what it was. I found it interesting that the report mentioned cleaning a tag from the knife wound. It was a minute trace and they gave it a high probability of complete removal. There was a tag from Fiona with an 85% chance of removal. I was surprised to see a tag from the elves of Caer al dare. This had been completely removed. The report mentioned each Trump and Trump sketch as a power source and identified that there was a high probability that I was the source of some of them. They also identified the ring as being magical in nature.

I was finished reading the report and was almost finished with the skin treatment when I heard a chime. I reached out mentally and felt Keladrian's essence. Damn, I should have let the room know that it was ok to let Keladrian in. "Come in." I brushed some conditioner through my hair. It would need to be trimmed soon. Too many disasters had badly damaged the ends.

Keladrian rapped on the bathroom door. "Zhelan?"


"May I come in?" Keladrian asked politely.

"Sure, how was the shopping, did you get what you needed?" I asked him as I continued brushing my hair.

Keladrian entered. "Yes. I will require time to enchant my staff, till the next time I lose it." He seemed to be in a better mood.

"Well we should have plenty of time while Isabeau and Drake are going through treatment. The Luggage and I have now been finished." I put down the brush and moved over and placed my hand on his arm. "Perhaps we can find that right place now."

"Indeed." He raised an eyebrow. "A place other than here?"

"This works." I told him.

Keladrian looked over his shoulder out of the bath and I realized he was checking for the location of the Luggage. Then he turned back to me and closed the bathroom door.

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