| All too soon our time together was over. I could tell through the psychic
rapport that I had established with Keladrian that both of us felt time
pressing. Obligations and commitments.
"Is there that which you need to do before we are finished in this place?" Keladrian was the first to break the silence.
"I can't use anything from the Luggage because I didn't have it open during my time with Lady Verain. So I will need to replace anything that I might have to use; clothing, weapons. And we need to get you suitable clothing for a meeting with Incarnations." I listed what I thought was important.
Keladrian looked puzzled. "I have acquired the weapons that I need, however I need to spend sometime with them to imbue the nature I wish in my staff. If you require weapons I know someone that we can go to."
"How long is it going to take you do your conjure thing on your weapons?" I asked him thinking about the items I would need to acquire.
"Well while you are doing that I can go do shopping for those items of clothing that I need. Shall I pick you up something appropriate to wear, or do you choose to make them in some other form?" I hinted again.
"I had not thought of it. I had envisioned myself as bodyguard and feel that the armor will suffice." It was clear that Keladrian did not quite understand the role of Ambassador.
"Your master has called you his Ambassador. That will be your role. As Ambassador, you can't wear what you have been wearing. The coat and pants are just not appropriate for that status." I explained.
"I would not be something other than I am, or that my people are. We do not put great stock in frippery." I was amused by his choice of words. I have always considered attire to be part of my arsenal. But then Keladrian had never met Flora.
"However you will be meeting with the Emperor of Chaos and Chaos does put stock in those things. You've seen Drake." I tried to make him understand my viewpoint about garb.
"And I have no need or desire to impress them. We need to make a statement that we are no longer a line of Chaos. We are not what we once were and perhaps what they expect us to be." Keladrian had drawn his line and was not backing off. I knew this was a battle I was not going to win.
"I think you are making a mistake by not dressing the part." I shrugged.
"Your point is well taken and the armor will be clean."
"So you plan on wearing your armor?" It has always been difficult for me to learn when to leave well enough alone.
"That's the statement you want to make?"
"I pretty much think so. They tried to exterminate my people in our last official encounter."
"So you wish to go in as an antagonist to this meeting?"
"No I wish to go in letting them know that we are not easy prey and that the Hunter can become the Hunted. I appreciate your opinion but I must make my decision on the value and judgments of my people and in this we will negotiate from a position of strength. They are the ones that come for our assistance. We can ride out this storm much better than those who still reside in Chaos." Keladrian never seemed to lose patience with me. His explanation was firm but he did not seemed annoyed with my nagging.
"I still think you are making a political error." I moved to the closet to find something to wear.
"I do not wish to make friends with them."
"I understand." There was nothing in the closet that I would wear. I looked at the Luggage and decided against getting anything out of it.
"Do you wish to acquire weapons?" Keladrian changed the subject.
"Why don't you do your conjure thing and I'll go shopping." I said as I started getting dressed in the outfit that I had removed earlier.
"If you need weapons . . . " He started an explanation and then simply finished. "It may be difficult."
"You call me when you are done and we will go there together." I wasn't worried about getting weapons. I figured that we would have an adequate amount of time while Drake and Isabeau were going through their tag removal.
"The weapons may take some time if you want anything of worth or special nature." I wasn't sure what he was hinting at. If he thought we should go now, why didn't he just say so.
"You're talking archaic weapons? Regular guns and things of that nature are easily accessible?" I asked him.
"That's what I will get first. I like to have something usable in all venues. I know the essence of the place where we will be meeting and I know what will work there." I finished dressing and gathered up the communication device.
I left Keladrian to do his magic and The Luggage and I went shopping. Besides getting new clothes, I picked up a sling and several projectiles for it as well as a bodkin and a garrote. I also picked up several styles of handguns and rifles, some anti personal mines and grenades. Everything the young urban commando could possibly want. They did not have swords, bows or crossbows. Archaic weapons seemed to be taboo.
I returned from my shopping and found Drake in the main room practicing throwing shuriken at the wall with his Logrus. I ignored him and went to the kitchen to get a cart of food. I included items that I knew Keladrian would like. He had not contacted me yet and I had been out shopping for 4 hours. After the previous exercise and the conjuring, he would be hungry. I knew I was.
I took the cart into the room and sat on the bed next to where Keladrian was still doing his magic. I filled a plate and began eating.
Keladrian finished up his conjuration fairly quickly. I don't know if he was almost done or if the food distracted him.
When he finished his spell he moved over next to me and took something off the cart.
"So, did you get everything you need?" he asked.
"Everything but the weapons you said that you would help me locate." I leaned back against him. "A rapier and main gauche are really all the weapons that I would need. They are what I am most comfortable with."
We continued eating for a while and then Keladrian asked, "You did something to Prince Corwin when we were opposing him in that dessert shadow."
I thought back to our recent experiences with Corwin and the incidence that he was referring to. "Um huh."
"You stopped him in his tracks." He pressed.
"Yes." I continued eating.
"Do you think it possible to enchant that power in an item?" Trust Keladrian to come up with the unusual.
"I don't know." I couldn't conjure so I didn't see how I
could do that. It wasn't a spell, but a power word. By the nature of
power words, they were fleeting. Enchanting them to remain would require
them to be more sorcerous in nature. It was not something that I could
do, but it was an interesting concept. I shook my head to indicate that
I didn't think it was possible.
"Do we have the time?" That was a more important question than if we could.
"I already have a shop in mind. Or we can contact Richard and put him on it." Keladrian said and then spoke into his communicator and made arrangements with Richard for a technomage. Then turned to me. "Let's go get weapons."
"Are we going by cab or were you going to fly there?" I asked. "Which would be quicker?"
"Neither." he stated as he spun us to the promenade.
We made a quick stop to purchase some grav belts. He had me attach one to the Luggage and activate it and the other he handed to me to wear. I raised my eyebrow in question.
"A prudent back-up." he said and smiled. I had to agree and as it didn't clash too badly with my outfit, I put it on.
We made the trip in several short spins the Luggage hanging in the air beside us. It didn't seem pleased with the travel arrangements but at least it wasn't falling.
We arrived in a run down area of the city. It reminded me of some of the grubbier sections of Texarami except that in Texarami the garbage didn't get 2 stories deep.
It was dark down here, even though it was midday.
"How did you manage to find this place?" I put my hand to my nose to block out some of the stench.
"A local contact." he shrugged.
We approached the door and waited. After 15 minutes waiting in the doorway I decided to speed things up.
"Should it take this long?" The smell was not pleasant and I didn't want to be here much longer.
"Perhaps my previous commission strained his resources." He thought a moment then said. "Or perhaps we needed to let him know we were coming. I think the cab driver called last time."
It figured. "Do you have a name or phone number?" I asked him.
He shook his head so I decided to check and see if there was anyone inside.
There was a minor psychic barrier but it wasn't any hindrance to me. I found a person inside and suggested that he answer the door. Well I might have been a little more forceful. Patience was never a virtue that father was able to impart to me.
"Oh look, someone is home." I acted surprised when the door opened so that Keladrian wouldn't expect that I had anything to do with it.
We entered into a rather cluttered workshop. It actually reminded me of Ulris' lab at the Abyss with its eclectic mix of strange objects that were seemingly strewn haphazardly in precarious stacks around the room. Though I hadn't gotten the same impression of grubbiness from Ulris' place.
There was a small person crouched behind one of the stacks. He was watching us.
"I have another commission for you and your previous one was most satisfactory." Keladrian paused and waited for a response. The creature did not move. "You may come out now. No one will harm you."
The top of a head appeared to the eyes over a stack of debris.
"What did you wish?" Keladrian asked me.
"Rapier and main gauche." I addressed my response to the top of the head.
"How much?" the dwarf asked.
"How much what?" I countered.
"You tell us." Keladrian added.
"Really?" the dwarf perked up.
"It's not as if money were a problem." I said nonchalantly inspecting my manicure.
"Will you go away?" the dwarf asked.
"As quickly as possible." I agreed.
"Your work was most satisfactory last time, that is why I came back. However if you wish us not to return, then one more commission, most satisfactory and we will not." Keladrian added.
A dwarf in coveralls edged out from behind the case. He seemed a little awkward at first but once he got into it he seemed competent enough. He checked reach, wrist strength, flex.
"I have a main gauche that will work but will need to tool the sword." He said after finishing his measurements.
"May I see the main gauche?" I requested.
The weapon smith left the room and there was the burst of a small spell. He returned with a case from which he took the blade.
It was a nice blade and had been well cared for. The pommel was weighted with liquid mercury. It had an interesting pull to it. It was very plain and only had a ring guard. There were many better in my father's armory in Amber, but I had wielded worse.
I took several practice strokes with it. It was difficult to do quick thrusting maneuvers, but it was wicked at pulling through arced sweeping cuts.
"How long would it take for you to add a triangular guard to this?" When fighting Florentine the protection of the hands was very important, as well as providing a striking surface. I described what I was looking for to the smith.
The dwarf thought a moment. "Not long, maybe an hour."
"Good then take the ring guard off and replace it."
"Don't put anything like this on the sword." I pointed to the weighted pommel.
"Of course not. At least one should thrust." The weapon smith agreed.
"We should go." Keladrian urged.
"Sai?" I asked ignoring Keladrian.
The dwarf seemed confused a moment then nodded his understanding.
"I prefer to fight two handed." I explained.
"I have Sai." He said.
"Any ranged weapons?" Keladrian asked me.
"I picked up a sling and with that I think I'll just stick to my power words. That shadow is not conducive to abrupt missile fire." I explained.
"True." Keladrian nodded.
"We will return in a day." I told the dwarf.
"A whole day." he insisted.
"A whole day?" I asked for clarification.
"Not tomorrow morning." He held up his hand and indicated a full day.
I nodded my understanding and we left.
We stepped back into the debris filled corridor. "I take it that you also got a report from Lady Verain. Was there anything that could not be removed that would be of concern to the upcoming meeting?" I wanted to share this information before we were with Drake and Isabeau.
Keladrian thought a while. "I do not believe so."
"There is a possibility that I have two tags that did not get removed. However I don't think either of them will affect the outcome of the meeting. Because one of them was from Thenaroth and since he will be at the meeting, I don't think it matters."
"And the other, if I might ask?" Keladrian didn't push but was clearly interested.
"Possibly Random." I held my breath waiting for his reaction. He knew that I had contacted Random while he was getting his tags removed.
"At least it's not Corwin."
We laughed at this private joke. "I believe all of the others from my family were removed and amazingly enough I had none from Chaos." I assured him.
"Now what would you like to do? We have a day." I asked.
"Perhaps we should see what the others are doing and coordinate any plans."
"Let's use my Trump sketch to get back closer to the hotel. I don't think we can get a taxi from here." We moved through the Trump.
We arrived on a street in a better section of town. "We can take a cab from here or do you want to Spin?"
"We should take a cab it will be less conspicuous." Keladrian looked around at the people looking at us.
We arranged for a cab. When we arrived at the hotel Isabeau was in the main room drawing Trump sketches. She looked up and said "Good afternoon." And seemed to be in a cheerful mood.
"Lady Isabeau." Keladrian nodded to her. I just wanted a bath and a change of clothes. I could imagine that we must smell somewhat from our recent visit to the more fragrant parts of Garcia.
"So how stand our endeavors here?" Keladrian asked her.
"I'm as clean as I'm going to get and Drake is in the process. He has been summoned and has not returned." She explained.
"Then we have some time yet." Keladrian thought aloud.
"Most likely." Isabeau agreed.
We stood around in uncomfortable and awkward silence and Isabeau returned to her sketching.
Fortunately Drake teleported in soon after.
"Maybe we should sit and come up with a plan while all four of us are here." I said when Drake arrived.
"What is there to plan?" Isabeau asked.
"Timing. Who comes first, from what direction." I started listing the things that I could think of.
"All right, I guess." Isabeau sighed and put her tools away.
"One end for one camp and the other end . . . " Drake said
"Well Isabeau has a Trump sketch for one end of the room and I have a sketch for the other." I reminded them.
"As far as timing?" Drake raised an eyebrow.
"As far as timing, we can contact each other and Trump in at the same time. Because there is the possibility that the Trump sketches will not work after the Incarnations arrive. So if we don't use them at the same time . . ." I didn't feel it necessary to go into further detail. " I would suggest that you and Drake go get Ulris." I spoke directly to Isabeau. "And Keladrian and I go to get Thenaroth. And then we can keep in touch at that point and Trump in simultaneously."
"Very well, do we need a meal first or shall we get going?" Drake asked the group.
"I'm good. But you are the one that just went through the cleansing which for me at least required food afterward." Isabeau stated.
"I'm fine." Drake informed us.
"The question I have is. We have discussed this." I indicated Keladrian and myself. "Is there any tags that were not removed that will be a hindrance to the upcoming meeting?" I looked at Isabeau and Drake especially.
"I can not guarantee that there aren't any that would be a hindrance to the upcoming meeting. She did all that was in her power." Drake replied a little too quickly for my comfort with his answer.
"There was one Chaosian tag, which due to its nature was quite . . ." Isabeau started to explain
"It came from the highest level." Drake interrupted.
"Yeah I think it was when I appeared in the Emperor's bed chamber
that I probably got hit with that one. It's a total crap shoot whether
that one got removed." Isabeau casually tossed out the information
that she had been in the bedroom of the Chaosian Emperor.
"I'm just telling you what I know." Isabeau seemed a little abrupt.
"Perhaps you were not aware of it but regrettably the Empress is dead." Drake cautioned me.
"Yeah, un huh." I called his bluff. That one hadn't fooled me for a minute.
"What of other powers in the Courts that are not of his camp? That would be more of a concern." Keladrian stepped in. "For they are already arrayed against your line."
"And have been dealt several serious blows recently." Drake waved off our concern.
"Ihendron?" I asked for clarification.
"Frankly only the four of us know where the meeting is taking place. And if done with alacrity, ambushes are quite unlikely." Drake dodged the question. "One other thing. The Emperor's caveat to allowing Ulris to attend this meeting was that a guard would accompany his most loyal servant. One who is completely loyal to the Emperor and quite discreet."
I looked to Keladrian. If there was a problem with this arrangement it was up to him to respond. I remembered when Drake had appeared in Shangra La with Vox in tow. Hopefully the guard for Ulris would be less intrusive. The others declined to make any further comment on this new information and the conversation continued.
"What's the possibility of us being followed there?" Isabeau asked.
"Or that we already have been?" Keladrian picked up the line of inquiry.
"I believe the nature of the place would make it difficult to hide an entrance there. There is only the great hall." Drake seemed intent on making light of any interference in our plans.
"What about exits?" Isabeau seemed to have forgotten the nature of the final Library. "If something does go wrong in the meetings."
"That was the nature of the place. Two entrances but you may leave from anywhere." Keladrian reminded her.
"Ok, but my question is should we have any plans as far as exits? Rendezvous' if something goes wrong, we deal with Ulris and you deal with Thenaroth." We had mistaken Isabeau's intent.
"I presume that you would deal with your allies and I mine." Keladrian told her. "After that a Rendezvous point or method of contact would be. . ." Keladrian was interrupted.
"I would imagine that we could just Trump each other unless the problem that arose was of a nature that we didn't want to talk to each other afterward." I said thinking back to recent events.
"Perhaps we plan to Trump each other but as a back-up we consider a place that we all know, and can get to." Keladrian added as an afterthought and looked at me. "We also do not wish to be predictable."
"The Amphibi - Inn?" Isabeau suggested somewhat tentatively.
"The Bazaar?" I asked her.
"That will work. It was a minor stop on our previous journey. Not one that would stick out for anyone." Drake nodded.
"We've been here for quite awhile and more recently, plus the fact that this was were tags have ceased to function. This would not be a good place to come back to for awhile." The Inn at the Bazaar had some appeal as a Rendezvous.
"No." Drake agree with me. "I would recommend that none of us go back to the shop where the tags were removed."
I thought of the business that we were still conducting with Richard for the technomage. "Why not?"
"I've taken some steps to obscure our path. We would be fresh again in the minds of those there if we were to return. And their recollections are suspect." It seemed that Drake had already taken steps to obscure some of our tracks here.
"So the back-up rendezvous is the Amphibi-Inn?" Isabeau brought us back to the original question.
"That will work." Keladrian agreed.
"First order would be to Trump and if that doesn't work we meet at the Amphibi-Inn." Isabeau restated and everyone agreed. "Alright so that's a plan. You guys are the tactical geniuses, have we forgotten anything? Or is it time to pack up and go?" Isabeau.
"We have a commission in place that is not yet ready." Keladrian told the group. "Although . . ."
"We could forego it." I finished for him.
"It's up to you guys." Isabeau shrugged clearly wishing to move on.
"We could go with out that." I told Keladrian referring to the weapons. "If we are ready to go, let's not wait for it."
"What were you waiting for?" Drake seemed interested in what we had in the works.
"Weapons." I told him.
"She did not have her items inside the Luggage de-tagged." Keladrian didn't need to explain anything to Drake but it really didn't matter if he knew.
"I could procure some weapons after we leave here. I'm sure they would not like me Logrus searching from here but if you describe them to me I could search for them. I merely shopped because it was an enjoyable experience." Drake offered. I didn't accept his offer.
"So from here we're are going to go directly to the individuals we wish to secure?" Isabeau looked at Keladrian.
"I would suggest that we don't go directly."
"What I was trying to ascertain was whether we needed to be meeting ready when we left here." She clarified.
We all agreed.
"Then I need to change." Isabeau said as she left the room.
"And I also." And Drake also left.
I raised an eyebrow at Keladrian but didn't say anything; I didn't have to. He knew what I was referring to. "So are you going to put your armor on now?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Keladrian seemed amused.
"I mean are you going to change now or wait to when we get to Thenaroth."
"I will change now." Keladrian started for our room.
"What do you think I should wear? Being on your side of the table." I had already picked out my outfit but I was interested in Keladrian's viewpoint because it usually surprised me.
"What is appropriate for you?" Keladrian answered my question with a question. "I chose what is appropriate for me as a representative of my people."
"I am not there representing anyone."
"Precisely. So what is appropriate for you?" I wasn't sure what his point was so didn't know what response he was expecting.
"I haven't had a lot of experience with the appropriate garment for not representing anything." I laughed.
"Well, suggesting that you wear the armor is not going to do anything worthwhile so, perhaps a typical garb of Amber. That way it would appear to both parties that Amber as yet has remained neutral. There would be one scion of Amber on either side."
"The armor was in the Luggage and I can not guarantee that there are no tags on it. That and the fact that there is a hole in the shoulder where Caine's knife went through would make it an inappropriate choice."
"Perhaps I should take care of that at some point." I enjoyed the humorous banter that we had achieved between us.
"Do you have anything that is ready for travel?" Keladrian
asked. "That would not be tagged."
Drake appeared shortly after in a stylish black outfit that had a hint of military cut to it, complete with emblems of rank. It appeared to be full ambassadorial attire.
I'm sure that Keladrian had never experienced such concern over attire. He shook his head and went to the bedroom to get his gear.
When Keladrian returned the armor had changed. It was not the working armor that I was familiar with but more formal embellished armor. The scales were deep cobalt blue shading to a burnished bronze. It would actually do quite nicely for presentation and made my own choice of attire even more appropriate. This might actually work. Keladrian seemed to be avoiding my eye contact and he did not seem as much at ease in his current finery.
Keladrian took care of closing down our business here, tying up loose ends and paying bills. We removed the communication gear and left it behind in the hotel.
"So Zhelan, you and I are contacting each other when we have the necessary parties?" Isabeau asked me directly.
"I don't have your Trump. I have Drake's." I told her.
"I have your Trump, but it would perhaps be best if Zhelan were to do the contacting." Keladrian interceded.
"Drake and I do not have a Trump of Zhelan." Isabeau protested.
"Is there a Trump of either of you that you would wish to share?" Drake raised an eyebrow at the ladies.
"I respectfully request that if you ever do acquire a Trump of me that I would like to know about it and I would like it never to travel into the Courts." Keladrian dropped into lull in the conversation.
"I'm not real excited about a Trump of me traveling into the Courts either." I tried to explain my reluctance to giving either Drake or Isabeau my Trump.
"Don't worry a Trump of you is pretty low on my list of drawing things right now." Isabeau huffed.
"Well then you can contact us when you are ready." Drake compromised.
"I suspect that it will take us longer as we must pass through the Cauldron." Keladrian began.
"To get to Thenaroth." I finished. No way in hell would I give either of them a Trump of myself. I was glad that Drake hadn't insisted.
Drake opened a large scroll case and unrolled a drawing. It was a bit ostentatious for a Trump sketch but I imagine it would be easier to deal with when you were a 30-foot dragon.
Keladrian stopped Drake and Isabeau before they used the sketch and suggested that they not go directly to Tor from this shadow. Drake agreed and brought up the Logrus and they disappeared from the room.
"So who is driving?" I asked Keladrian.
"Actually why don't you."
"Alright." I shuffled through my Trump to find someplace appropriate. I stopped at the Trump for Nippon. I hadn't been there for a long time. I had accomplished the task that my father had given me there and had lost interest. Nippon had been my training ground for leadership and troop movement tactics. I smiled at the thought of Bleys and his fondness for large amounts of troops.
I activated the Trump and we moved through into medieval feudal Japan. We appeared in the courtyard of a large compound. A gong rang three times very slowly and sonorously and a hologram rose from the tiles in front of us.
"Welcome honored overlord and honored guest." The hologram spoke.
"Are we staying or not?" Keladrian asked.
"I thought you just wanted someplace so that we did not go directly there. This place I have not been to in a long time so I thought was safest."
"Do you wish to give them any instruction?" Keladrian indicated the servant.
"Continue on as usual." I told the hologram and we Spun out.
We did a couple of short Spins and Keladrian changed into an elf and shadow walked awhile. We did the last move into Caer al dare by the Trump sketch I had as the shadow walking and Spin were more difficult the closer we were to that shadow.
When we arrived in the Cauldron I asked Keladrian. "You should see if the Tree Mistress is available. She doesn't seem to like me."
"I do not think that 'like' is something that she worries about." Keladrian seemed more at ease now that we were finally moving.
"Well they did have to remove a tag from here." I told him.
"And have you decided on what to wear?"
"Yes, I know what I am going to wear, but I knew that we would be traipsing through shadow and then through the woods to get Thenaroth. I thought the long train on the dress might get a little messed."
We Spun a little closer to the shieldwall and were wondering what to do next when Thenaroth appeared in front of us.
He looked up and around and seemed a little bit amused. I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one getting the boot out of a shadow.
"I assume we are leaving?" he said.
"That would seem to be the crux of the situation." I told him.
Suddenly there was another poof and Mandor had joined us.
"You're still here?" I asked him in surprise.
"Not anymore." He replied.
"An interesting place of which you have only scratched the surface." Keladrian greeted Mandor.
If they were concerned about not getting more time in Caer al Dare I reminded them, "I don't know there are certain people here who have obligations to the Tree Mistress."
"An interesting woman." Mandor looked around.
"Not a word I would have used, but yeah that works." I told him.
"I like interesting women." There was a far off look in his eyes. I really didn't want to know what he was thinking about because I was sure it had something to do with my Aunt Fiona.
"That's how you got in trouble last time, my boy." Thenaroth rumbled.
Keladrian looked from Thenaroth and Mandor and raised an eyebrow. "The meeting has been arranged."
"Very good, I'll look forward to it." Thenaroth's attention turned back to his kin.
I needed to have a talk with Keladrian about covertness. I would have Spun us away from Mandor before mentioning the meeting.
"Meeting? What have you been talking about?" Mandor's attention was also on Keladrian.
"Very well, we will be going." Keladrian Spun the three of us, sans Mandor, out and away but not directly to the final Library.
"Shall we go back to that shadow to get ready?" Keladrian asked me.
"Yes, we could probably go there." I told him as I pulled the Trump for Nippon out once again.
We arrived in the courtyard and were once again greeted by the hologram.
"Are my rooms ready?" I inquired of the servant.
I left Thenaroth and Keladrian in the courtyard and went to change. I wondered what the reaction would be when they saw what I had chosen.
The dress that I had chosen was a chemise of a deep bronze that matched the color favored by Keladrian. Over this I added an overdress of cobalt blue worked with silver threads and beads. My colors. The over dress had a scooped neckline and was open down the front to display the chemise. The sleeves of the overdress were sections that were tied on with silver cord. I pulled my hair back and did a quick braid with a red and orange ribbon, a token for my father. The final touch was the embroidered cap upon my head. The ties down the front of the gown had silver unicorns hanging from the ends. A nod to Amber's heritage. Each portion of my dress was designed to make a statement, some subtler than others.
I emerged into the courtyard and was satisfied with the reactions I received from Keladrian and Thenaroth. We left immediately.
The first Spin was a long one. When we arrived I noticed that Thenaroth was very still. I looked down and realized that we were standing in the middle of a very small town. One step and we would take out hundreds of their population. I remained very still and wondered what the people below us thought of the sudden appearance of giants among them.
Keladrian quickly Spun us to a featureless white plain. The sky was sere with few stars and it was very cold. We could see a curved horizon so we might have been on a planet or a large moon.
"Shall we contact them from here?" I asked Keladrian and took out the Trump when he nodded.
Drake answered fairly quickly when I Trumped him. "We are ready on this end."
"Very good." Drake replied.
Keladrian wanted to be the first to enter the final Library from our group and of course since I was the one activating the Trump sketch I would have to be last. Thenaroth and the Luggage would need to go between us.
We coordinated our entry with the group from Chaos with my Trump link to Drake. I activated the Trump sketch while I maintained the link with him. The effort of opening a sketch and maintaining the Trump contact with Drake who was also moving through a sketch was a stretch for me but not impossible. It would have taken less energy if I'd had a real Trump of the final Library. I looked at Thenaroth and realized that he had little experience with Trump. I gritted my teeth and put forth a burst of energy and opened a Trump Gate instead. I hoped that the meeting would go smoothly and allow me to recover from this.
The contact with Drake was awkward as the Courts were moving faster than the shadow we were currently in.
We all arrived in the Library. Keladrian, Thenaroth, the Luggage and
myself at one end. At the other there was Drake, Ulris who was dressed
impeccably. Long white robe with a blue panel down the front, Merlin
and Isabeau hung back behind the others. There was something else. A
presence of some kind. I could only assume it was the guard that Drake
had mentioned. At least it was not a visible presence. But if I could
feel it, I'm sure Thenaroth could. I hoped that Keladrian had had a
chance to warn his mentor about it.
| The weight of the beings assembled here distorted and distended the
shadow. A few patches of plaster gave up the fight against gravity and
headed for the floor. It was very doubtful that we would be able to hold
the second meeting between Thenaroth and the Emperor at this location.
We would be fortunate if it were to survive this one.
The unseen entity that existed on Drake's side of the meeting was a large presence in this shadow, only eclipsed by Thenaroth. Ulris formed a lesser presence and myself and my companions barely made a ripple. There was a shifting sensation of the fabric of this shadow as the big players in the room unconsciously jockeyed the reality for position. These were beings that were used to molding the stuff of shadow around their desires. A few more chunks of plaster crumbled from their place in the ceiling.
Thenaroth's aura was wry humor and the presence from Chaos seemed to be going for cold and majestic. That seemed to sum up the stance of the others in the room as well and I mentally made two columns - wry-humor and cold-majestic. I began to place the participants.
Under cold-majestic I would have to list Drake, Merlin, the unseen entity and Keladrian. Under the wry humor I would list Ulris, Thenaroth, myself and surprisingly Isabeau. I guess Amberites have a hard time taking things too seriously.
The sides were not matched up very well and I remembered why the Amberites didn't tend to gather in large groups very often.
The two groups stood and eyed each other for a while. Obviously no one had figured out who was going to moderate this production. Merlin and Isabeau sat down in chairs behind Drake and Ulris and Isabeau pulled out some needlework.
Ulris finally reached for a chair and plopped down. Merlin cringed.
Thenaroth looked down at the table then looked over at Keladrian. Keladrian seemed puzzled.
Thenaroth sighed and said, "Does this meet with your approval, Ambassador?" with an emphasis on the title. I had tried to get Keladrian to understand that he would not just be a bodyguard at this meeting. I held my tongue and thoughts and determined that I would not say anything. Keladrian had to learn sometime and I'm sure he would accept it more willingly from Thenaroth.
"Indeed." Keladrian said still confused and stepped back from the table.
Thenaroth did a sort of odd coiling motion and settled down around his side of the table. I moved back to flank Keladrian on the opposite side of Thenaroth.
Ulris shifted around in his chair and Merlin cleared his throat. Ulris sat up a little straighter. It seemed that Merlin had worked out some sort of code with Ulris to keep him from doing anything too embarrassing. From Ulris' body language I would say that Merlin had just prevented him from putting his feet up on the table.
Drake finally stepped in and rescued this sorry excuse for a diplomatic meeting.
"May I present Ulris of House Sawall." Drake went on to name several more meaningless titles. His presentation was flawless.
I held my breath and hoped that Keladrian would take the cue. Just as I was about to step in and give him some mental direction he spoke.
"This is Thenaroth of the dragons of Alcedon." His presentation was in diametric contrast to that of Drake, it was short, precise and to the point. It included no 'frippery' but his voice echoed through the hall magnificently.
Thenaroth looked at Ulris and chuckled. "So you are the young man with the interesting hobbies."
Ulris perked up and got very excited. "What was it like?"
Thenaroth rumbled something under his breath that I didn't catch and then continued on, "So you dive in the Abyss?"
"Yes sir." Ulris seemed considerably subdued.
"And you survive?" Thenaroth was looking at him closely and I was glad that piercing gaze was not on me.
"Sometimes." Ulris whispered back.
"Have you been down there recently?" Thenaroth seemed unsure what to make of the man in front of him.
"Yes sir." Ulris beamed back cheerfully.
"And what lurks there?"
"An Angel." Ulris seemed transfixed. "She sings sir. Her voice is pure . . . like solid sound."
"I would agree with the solid." Thenaroth waited for Ulris to continue. After a few minutes of silence he turned to Drake. "And what is the Courts position?"
Drake stood more erect. "The Courts position is that it will vigorously defend its existence."
Ulris and Thenaroth spoke at the same time. Thenaroth said, "They feel threatened?" and Ulris "There's a problem with their existence?"
Drake assumed his best lecture stance and tone. "The Emergence arises from the Abyss. The Abyss borders on the Courts. The Emergence will therefore come through the Courts."
Didn't sound like much of a problem to me at that point.
"By all reports an Emergence is a destructive thing. Therefore the Courts do feel there is some danger." Drake finished.
"But they've been through it before, right?" Ulris looked up at Thenaroth as if for confirmation.
"On some occasions, yes." Thenaroth answered back.
"Yes but since there are no written records of what the Courts were like before the last Emergence and no one is forthcoming with any oral records, we have no idea how the Emergence altered the Courts. They are still there." Drake paused and Thenaroth smiled. "We do not know what the effect was. However others are."
Ulris looked back to Thenaroth and again asked, "So what was it like?"
Thenaroth was quiet for several moments and then spoke slowly as if to ensure our understanding. "The nature of keeping records and histories is a recent occurrence due to the last Emergence. When an Avatar arises it changes things. Before the last Lady rose, we did not concern ourselves with history or records."
The Unicorn brought history and records. Interesting.
"The Emergence prior to the White Lady was not one concerned with sequence. This incarnation is . . ."
Ulris interrupted. "Not sequence so much as tradition."
Thenaroth nodded. "I would be concerned about her world."
I wondered what a Deirdre shaped world would be like.
"As is the Courts." Drake took advantage of the opportunity to reiterate the Courts stand on the Emergence. "They have no wish to have the visitation take place.
"Yet certain lines move to support. When you say the Courts, you mean Sawall?" Thenaroth phrased it as a question but it was clearly more of a challenge.
"Let me say the Empire then. Those who are rightfully the leaders of the Courts." Drake amended. "Those of course who would prefer to grab the reins of power will take the opportunity when it presents itself."
"So Sawall seeks a status quo?" Thenaroth cut through the rhetoric.
"The Emperor has suffered enough loss of late." Drake answered back. That statement was layered with meaning. And I only knew part of it.
"So you want to stop the Emergence?" Thenaroth seemed to be pondering other matters.
"I want to stop the Emergence from harming the Courts and the rule. I do not welcome the potential death of millions and the changing of reality."
"Are you purposefully thick?" Thenaroth was obviously not addressing those of us visibly present. He must have been addressing the unseen entity. What he said was perceptibly puzzling to the rest of us.
"Are you saying that the Emergence cannot be stopped or opposed?" Drake asked, unsure of whether Thenaroth had spoken to him.
"Before the White Lady we did not think in terms of records or history. Before the Black One there was no separation between mind and being. Before the one of Fire there was no birth. Before the one of Wind there was no shadow. Before the Lady of Steel there was no conflict. Before the Great Snake there was no hierarchy. It is hard to even think beyond that and speak it in a way that you would understand." Thenaroth gave us his version of history.
I could only recognize the Lady of Steel as Line Hendrake and the Sword Maiden and the Great Snake had to be the Serpent of Sawall. It figures that right after hierarchy should come conflict. I didn't understand the reference to the Wind, the Fire and the Black One. I wondered where Dworkin's line fell in the order.
This was not the conversation that I had expected between Thenaroth and Ulris but it was certainly enlightening. I wondered how much of this Bleys and Fiona were aware of. Someday I would have to ask father, if we survived the current crisis.
"And yet you are concerned about what will be after her chord
is added to the mix." Drake's response was part question and part
"You've expressed unease. Is that your official stance?" Drake asked.
"I do not speak for my people." Thenaroth stated.
Drake raised an eyebrow. "My apologies."
"Remember hierarchy came later." Thenaroth practically loomed over Drake. "You are looking for someone to tell you what is right and what is wrong. How old are you?"
"I believe we are merely looking for the perspective of age and experience." Drake fired back.
"They are unpleasant and a danger to the temporary. They will change all." Thenaroth looked around at all of us. He abruptly changed the subject by turning to Ulris. "So, how long have you been diving in the Abyss, boy?"
The question seemed to take Ulris by surprise as well. "Only the last twelve hundred years. Off and on." He stammered out.
"Would it be possible to create some type of enclosed suit to enter the Abyss?" Keladrian spoke up and asked Ulris.
"To what purpose?" Ulris seemed confused by the whole concept.
Keladrian put forth his idea of perhaps guiding the Emergence to an uninhabited part of shadow where she would do the least amount of damage.
Ulris proceeded to explain in excruciating detail why this would not be possible. The whole upshot of that conversation was that it didn't matter where the Emergence arose from the Abyss, since the Abyss bordered all of reality the affect would be equally appalling throughout. Ulris likened the Abyss to the skin on the body of the Universe. It was ubiquitous.
That pretty much settled me on the appropriate course of action and I couldn't see the need to debate the subject further. I personally wanted to become less 'temporary' before another Emergence.
"The Avatars come from beyond the Abyss. It is merely their avenue." Thenaroth clarified Ulris' ramblings.
That gave me an idea. If the Abyss was the avenue, could we march down it like the forces of Amber marched down the Black Road back to the source? The tricky part of this was how could you follow something that was so inimical to our life force. But then again Deirdre and Drake's father Valens seemed to be doing ok. I had to think about that a bit more. That just sounded wrong.
"My apologies but I was raised as a Hendrake. Therefore the battle lines are being drawn in my head and that is why I asked where your people stood, Elder." Drake stated his position to Thenaroth.
"I cannot speak for my people. That is the job of our Ambassador." Thenaroth turned to Keladrian.
There was a brief whispered interchange between the two of them. Thenaroth said something about being pre-hierarchy and believed that his people should choose their own course. Because he was who he was, he had to be here now. But the rest of his people were most likely still back home trying to decide what to do.
"Thenaroth, do you know of any way to prevent this rising?" Isabeau spoke for the first time. Her voice was quiet and level and Thenaroth responded.
"Destroy the Avatar. After they Emerge they can be vulnerable before they find their Consort and their focus. It seems there is an indication from what we have learned that that vulnerability may be lacking in this incarnation."
"You make it sound simple." Drake said.
"It wasn't simple." Thenaroth returned.
"The change that the Emergence brings. Does it happen before or after the creation of the Incarnation?" I spoke for the first time emboldened by the response to Isabeau's question.
"It begins slowly. It grows. Most often it is a growing change and the application of the focus by the incarnation solidifies it into reality." Thenaroth was finally being straight with us. How refreshing.
"So until that point, we have a chance to stop it?" I hoped for further enlightenment.
"From becoming fully realized." He agreed. "I don't know if it would reverse changes that had already occurred. These are deep mechanics. I'm a tinkerer." I was elated. My next question had been answered without the hassle of having to actually ask it. So it seems the quicker we stopped the Emergence the less the collateral damage. Some collateral damage could be expected. The question was how much were we willing to live with, or could live through.
"Her wingtips are showing Drake, but I'm not sure you could get to your father or the lab." Ulris suddenly piped up.
"Do you think her focus will come from the lab?" Drake turned to his cousin.
"She may have been provided everything she needs right there in the Abyss." Drake sighed.
"Yep that's what I'm worried about. She could come out fully equipped to change reality." Isabeau didn't look up from her needlework.
"She may even be capable of giving birth in the Abyss." Drake said.
Ulris and Thenaroth exchanged looks and seemed pretty skeptical about that idea. Which would provide a vulnerable time after the actual Emergence. That was probably part of the Consorts job, to protect the gravid Emergence.
"The prerequisites are there. She has a Consort." Drake pressed.
"There is a Consort available. Whether she will choose him or not, there is another one on the way." I thought of Corwin and hoped that Bleys could catch up to him in time.
Thenaroth looked at me in question.
"Corwin is heading to the Abyss." I clarified.
Everyone started talking at once trying to explain the situation to Thenaroth.
"This is significant because the last person . . . " Drake stopped when he realized that Isabeau was also talking.
"Deirdre is who we think is the core of the rising. Deidre and Corwin had a very strong connection. So if this being has not made a connection with whatever was left of your father, Corwin would be an alternative.
"And this Corwin is?" Obviously this explanation was not sufficient for Thenaroth.
"Oberon's son." I explained.
"Another Amberite." Isabeau "The owner of the Dreadful Doodle."
"That would compound the order." Thenaroth did not seem pleased by this information.
"If we had a choice between the Consort being his dad or Corwin and we wanted to try to keep it down. Yeah his father would keep the order thing down a little bit." Isabeau added then went back to her needlework.
"Though he is a child of hierarchy." Thenaroth reminded us.
"I have sent my father off to try to stop Corwin." I revealed.
"How many Amberites were you planning on dropping into the Abyss?" Thenaroth snorted.
"Not a place I plan on going back to visit." Isabeau said and Ulris seemed to cringe. "Dropping the lab sure didn't help." She added a little more loudly than was absolutely necessary. It was clear that she was making sure that everyone knew that she was not responsible for that little faux pas.
"It took me forever." Ulris sighed. "To build it."
"Building a lab over the Abyss could not have been a simple process." Isabeau looked up from her stitching.
"No." Ulris agreed.
"Dropping the lab was simple. It just took a small release of energy." I wasn't trying to boast about destroying Ulris' lab. "Just open a Trump Gate in the middle of it."
"You opened a Trump Gate in the middle of my lab?" Ulris seemed appalled. "That wouldn't be good. That would set off all of the dynaclasms."
"It seemed like a good idea at the time. And there weren't any
signs." I protested.
"I'm going to have to replay that. I want to see the collapse. I'm pretty sure the dynaclasms would have gone first but then the invertices. Would they have gone first or the clyclomats?" Ulris was lost in theory. "I need to replay that. I have to see."
"Which are those, the ones that make the holes in reality?" I could only remember those clearly as I had a backward view at that time.
"Those are the clyclomats." Ulris corrected.
"Well they were dropping before the lab." I was trying to be helpful.
"All of them?"
"Well not the ones that were chasing us."
"Oh that would be Fred and Ginger."
He named them? Thenaroth seemed somewhat amused by this whole exchange.
"You had clyclomats caged in there? And invertices? You have dangerous hobbies, boy. You managed to suspend an invertices over the Abyss?"
"Yes." Ulris finally came alive and the two of them were off on very technical subjects. I think they were speaking Thari. The words sounded familiar, most of them, but they weren't being used for anything remotely familiar. I can remember some conversations like this between Brand and Fiona.
I moved back from the table and assumed a guard position similar to Keladrian's. This was the meeting that I had expected. I tried to stay alert and attentive but it was incredibly boring. I found my mind wandering. I wished that I had brought something to do like Isabeau. I couldn't abide embroidery but some sketching would have been enjoyable. I glanced over at Keladrian. He was as rigid as a statue. Of course in the full armor he could be asleep and no one would know.
After two hours of the shop talk Isabeau picked up her backpack and pulled out a sandwich. My stomach growled a complaint. Isabeau handed Merlin a sandwich as well. If I got really desperate there was food in the Luggage. I didn't want to open the Luggage in this location though because of the possibility of tags.
During the course of the conversation Ulris had crawled up on top the table and he and Thenaroth had been busy scratching equations and technical drawings into the wood.
At the point that Ulris crawled up on the table, I figured the formality was over. I asked the Luggage for some food and sat down on the top of the chest and ate. No sense in remaining uncomfortable. I offered some to Keladrian. (Don't know if he would take some or not. Maybe we can retcon this)
Thenaroth reared back from the table. "Very interesting theories boy. Good work. You keep on those tracks and they will do you well."
Ulris looked up. "I've got to get the replay on the lab. Merlin." Ulris got down from the table and moved rapidly over to Merlin. He inundated his significant other with the most horrendous amount of technobabble and Merlin did an amazing job of pretending to be interested.
Ulris and Merlin stepped through a bookshelf and walked off. The presence quickly left also.
It was time to abandon shadow. It had been the presence of these powerful entities that were holding this shadow together as well as sheer entropy. I had figured that we would all have to leave together because the last person left here would probably go out with the shadow.
Keladrian took the situation in and quickly Spun taking Thenaroth, the Luggage and I with him. I saw Drake and Isabeau fade as we left.
We arrived in another of Keladrian's barren desert wastelands, too tedious to even bother describing. I turned to Thenaroth.
"Did that meeting provide you with the information that you had hoped?"
"Yes, indeed." He practically purred with satisfaction.
"So, do you wish to continue on with your meeting with the Emperor or do you wish to take a break?" Keladrian wasn't saying much so I stepped in.
"We will need another location. The library will no longer be usable. We will need to find another secure location. They have no way of contacting us so we will need to contact them to let them know when we are ready for the next meeting."
"In the meantime, I merely move towards the Abyss." Thenaroth looked off into the distance.
"The discussion with Ulris and Drake, have solidified my personal opinion that the Emergence should be opposed. How this is to be done, I have no idea." And was getting no assistance or clues from Big Blue.
"The playing field takes shape. I will not be the only Incarnation on it." Thenaroth finally spoke.
"How may I be of assistance?" I decided that I should start finding out what was expected of me. Not that I had to actually do what was intended, but at least I would know what people expected.
"A battle brews. Confusion to the enemy."
"That's easy to do."
"I know, project girl." It was clear that the best way that I could help Thenaroth was to provide distraction to the opposing forces. We just needed more information about who they were and what would be distracting to them.
"Can the position of incarnation be passed on?" I asked him since we seemed to be having a dialogue.
"I have not known a case."
"In the case of the unicorn, since Oberon is no longer holding that position, does Random? Does he represent Amber at this time?"
"The unicorn has very strange ways. I do not know if that would be one of them."
"She emerged from the Abyss with the Jewel of Judgment and bestowed it upon Random after Oberon's passing. Would that signify the passing of the Incarnation?" The question was more to myself since Thenaroth had already indicated that he was unsure of the answer. The symbology struck me as significant that the Unicorn had come from the Abyss with the Jewel before presenting it to Random.
"The focus is separate from the Incarnation. It's an expression. The Incarnation is the one who wields it typically."
"Random would speak for Amber in this decision as we are after hierarchy. Would you like to speak with Random?"
Keladrian started to protest. (insert your comments here.)
"Why?" Thenaroth interrupted him.
"Just as another player in the game. As an offer if you are interested. No particular reason. Random would come away with more from the meeting than you would."
"Of course, everyone does that."
My immediate thought was that the dragon avatar must have brought self-awareness, Ego.
"Do you think he could influence your Avatar?" Thenaroth asked.
"He is the chosen of the Avatar."
"Has he spoken to her recently?"
"I haven't been around so I can't say. I know that he has spoken to Dworkin recently."
"Such a funny little man."
"If he can influence your Avatar. . ." Thenaroth left the question hanging.
"The only way to find that out would be to ask him."
Thenaroth nodded and I pulled out the Trump of Random.
Keladrian said. "Wait, we should go somewhere more secure." Then we Spun and moved to several different shadows by several different means. Finally Keladrian was satisfied when we stopped at an underground ice cave.
I looked at Keladrian and activated the Trump of Random.
The usual shunt occurred and I was assaulted by a massive hangover headache. Random was a mean drunk. The contact was not really verbal. "Random?" I thought as quietly as I could. There was a distinct impression of sheets that felt like sandpaper and a foot that was misplaced, or Corwin had taken it and there was a great deal of anger. Sleep fuzziness. The world was full of bright lights and loud noises even though it was dark and quiet.
Then there was a sense of acknowledgment.
"I know you are not particularly pleased with me right now, and I'm sorry for whatever I did, which I don't know what it is, but I have kind of an important question that I hope you can answer." I waited for a response.
I received an impression of a bottle being thrown at my head. Not a good sign. I forged on anyway. "What can I do to apologize? I know you are mad at me. I'd like to fix that if I knew why."
There was a sense of incredible loneliness, the sword of Damocles, the weight of the world and Random in Amber alone. He was the king of Amber, and this was his job. It was depressing.
"If there is anything that I can do, I am doing what I can, it may not be what you would have me do but I am doing what is best for Amber. If you have a specific mission for me, tell me." Me and my big mouth, but I had been overwhelmed by the emotions coming through the Trump.
Random was sick and not thinking coherently.
"Can you speak for the Unicorn?" I asked him.
"I have an incarnation here who wants to know if you can speak for the Unicorn."
"Are you now the Incarnation for Amber? Do you speak for the Unicorn? Do you influence her? Does she follow your lead?"
"We're having this conversation over Trump when I'm drunk? What is going on?"
"Perhaps you should bring me through."
"Yeah." Random pulled me through.
It was dark in the room and there were tequila bottles everywhere. There was a drunken odor in the air. I moved close to the couch and sat in the chair next to the sofa where Random was sitting. He was in need of the hair of the dog. I searched mentally for a servant and made my request. I told the servant not to knock loudly when he returned.
Random tried to pull himself together. "You were talking to an incarnation? Which one bitch?"
"The dragon." I ignored the bad manners and language.
"The dragon. Like Sawall is the Serpent. I was talking to Thenaroth who is the incarnation of the dragon."
"Never heard of him."
"Apparently he predates Sawall."
"Excuse me." Random staggered up to the bathroom and proceeded to vomit.
While he was gone I made sure that the path back to the couch was free of any obstructions underfoot. Random was in a mood to throw things and I didn't want to be the target.
The door at the end opened briefly and Vialle peeked in and then withdrew.
This was really the last place that I wanted to be.
The servant appeared with the concoction and I had it ready when Random emerged from the bath. At least he was not staggering when he returned. I handed him the stuff after he sat down. He chocked it down complaining the entire time.
He sat with his head in his hands for several minutes before he looked up at me again. He lit a cigarette and the glare was incredible bright in the dark room.
"From the beginning."
"I'm not sure where that would be."
"You were talking to this incarnation I've never heard of."
"Right. And he was talking with someone from the Courts about the Emergence and I thought that since they were trying to decide whether they were going to support or resist the Emergence I asked him if he would like to discuss with the person in charge of Amber what our stance on the Emergence would be and he asked me if you could influence the Unicorn." I rushed through the explanation quickly.
"If I could influence the Unicorn?"
"And I said I didn't know and that I would ask you and now I am here to see whether you wanted to talk to another incarnation because I don't know if you are the incarnation or not. Since the Unicorn passed the focus to you."
"What pile of shit have you been smoking?"
"I really wish I had been."
"What is this crap?"
"Incarnation, Avatar, consort." Random looked puzzled. "Ok, An Avatar rises from the Abyss. The Unicorn was the most recent Emergence. The Serpent of Sawall was an Avatar. The dragon was an Avatar. There've been Kraken's and Sword Maidens. . ."
"Big, blue monsters from Shig na goth?"
"Something like that. But anyway when each of these Avatars rise from the Abyss they take a consort and an incarnation comes from that union and they also get a focus like the Jewel of Judgment is a focus and Oberon was the incarnation and Dworkin was the consort. Now that Oberon is gone and the Unicorn came out of the Abyss again and handed you the focus."
"I do not sleep with unicorns, Zhelan." He glared at me.
"No, no, no the incarnation doesn't sleep with the unicorn, that's the consorts job."
"That's what that insane bastard was talking about."
"Fuck." Obviously he had just put together something that Great-Grandfather had told him in their last meeting.
"You've met another incarnation. The woman who came to Corwin's pattern is Lintrel who is the incarnation of the sword maiden." Random shuddered. "Hendrake. She is an incarnation."
"So, I've met . . ." Random held up his fingers.
"Two incarnations, Lintrel and Oberon. Anyway each incarnation provides something new like there was no history or writing before the Unicorn." I seemed to be losing Random. "It's a long story, so what can I help you with?"
"Well now that Julian is off somewhere thanks to you, you can look after Arden."
I remembered Derek. "Do you wish to meet with this incarnation? Do you speak for the Unicorn?" I ignored the request to babysit Arden for now.
"I might be able to. Maybe. It would be dangerous though."
"What, to influence the Unicorn?"
"I'm not sure I could influence the Unicorn, but I could influence someone who could influence the Unicorn, maybe."
"Dworkin? Wouldn't the Unicorn listen to you since you are her choice?"
"You have the relationship a little wrong there. I don't know what she was thinking."
"But she chose you. Have you ever tried to talk to the Unicorn?"
"Just the once. She doesn't exactly pay house calls."
"Ulris did mention that the Unicorn was far away. I'm wondering what he meant by that?"
"Someone from the Courts." The look on Random's face made me realize that the explanation was insufficient. I added, "Drake's cousin."
"Anything like his Aunt?"
"Kyrie? How is Kyrie by the way? She still hanging around with Benedict?"
"She is not!"
"Yeah, I'd be curious to what this incarnation has to say." Random brought the conversation back to the original purpose.
"Do you wish to have a chance to recover a bit more before the meeting?"
"Oh you don't think I'm presentable enough, is that it Zhelan?" he snapped at me.
"I never said that, Uncle. It will take me some time to get a Trump sketch to contact him."
"Fine, get out."
I left and went to the Library. On the way there I realized that I
had just told Random that I was a Trump artist. This day just couldn't
get any better.
| The library remained empty while I worked. However Random entered just
as I was putting the finishing touches on Keladrian's features.
He had cleaned up and was looking much better. The yellow and brown outfit made him look more like I remembered from Texarami. He had that 'I'll kick your ass' attitude.
"Ok, bring on the incarnation." He said as he approached.
So much for him not remembering my comment about drawing Trump. He could simply watch me do one.
I ignored him.
"Oh, you're young man. I hope he's good in bed." He glanced down at the sketch as he hovered over my shoulder.
Several thoughts crossed my mind. One, it didn't bother me that people thought Keladrian and I were together. That issue had been resolved. Two, I didn't know how Keladrian was in bed; we hadn't actually made it to the bed yet. And three, it was none of Random's business.
I ignored my uncle and finished the drawing then immediately activated it.
There was a slight pause before Keladrian answered and he had a large blue presence looming over him.
"I have Random here with me. Shall I bring him through to your location, or do you want to come here?"
"How curious." Thenaroth interrupted.
"Thenaroth seems to be quite closely in contact with you." I mentioned.
"It seemed prudent, given the nature of these calls." Keladrian replied.
"Yes, it might not have been me." I was glad that Keladrian was becoming more careful about Trump contacts.
"Do you think it prudent for us to come to Amber?" Until he actually started mentioning place names.
"It's dreadful there." Thenaroth's thoughts boomed through the Trump link.
"A moment." I released the contact slightly, enough to have a private conversation with Random. "Do you wish to go there where Thenaroth is?" I asked my uncle.
"I thought that was the deal."
"All right." I turned back to the Trump contact. "Bring us through please." I reached out to Random with one hand while Keladrian reached out to pull me through.
Keladrian was still in his ceremonial armor and I was still in the dress I had worn at the meeting with Ulris. It was cold and windy on the open plain where we ended up.
"King Random, may I present Thenaroth. An elder of my people." Keladrian introduced the large blue dragon who began hamming it up for the Amberite. He loomed, he puffed, and he preened.
I shook my head. But Random seemed impressed despite himself and he
Thenaroth seemed amused.
"Something under Random's shirt glowed red and Thenaroth raised an eyebrow.
"So you are the little architect." Thenaroth asked.
"No, no that was my brother, Corwin." Random explained.
"Corwin?" Thenaroth cocked his head.
"He's a busy young man." Thenaroth sighed.
"What, you've got a bead on Corwin?" Random asked me.
I hesitated a moment. I didn't really want Random to know that I had anything to do with Corwin getting out of Amber. "Uh, yeah. Bleys is after him." I stuttered out.
"Oh god." Random swore. "The last time those two, I mean . . . Zhelan." He protested.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time." I said thinking back on the battle up Kolvir that Corwin had relayed to me at his Pattern. Bleys and Corwin, probably not a good idea after all.
"Those two together are never a good idea." Random shook his head.
"No one else was available." I protested.
"That's because Julian's busy." He reminded me. I kept my mouth shut. I hadn't told Keladrian about that yet.
"Bleys and Corwin." Random shook his head. "By the time they're done, half of Chaos will be pregnant."
Thenaroth seemed amused by this debate.
"King Random, House Sawal has approached both our people's regarding the upcoming event and wishes our backing." Keladrian quickly stepped in to divert the conversation. "Zhelan and myself felt it would be beneficial for us to . . ."
"Screw them behind their back?" Random interrupted.
"While that may be something that would be nice to do from a historical standpoint it may not necessarily be prudent at this time." Keladrian was very diplomatic. He glanced at Thenaroth.
"The Unicorn." Thenaroth spoke to Random directly. Random shrugged his shoulders as if a cold chill had run up his spine.
"Can you speak for the Unicorn?" Thenaroth continued.
Random tried the same on Thenaroth that he had used with me. "I only take the calls. She talks when she wants to. Just the once."
"Her presence will be necessary. Sawal's defense is inadequate. Speak to whoever you need to." Thenaroth cut through the crap.
"Would Dworkin know?" I asked my uncle.
"I just got back from there." He protested. "We might have a little avatar problem ourselves."
"What's wrong with the Unicorn?" I asked him.
"Well, it seems she doesn't take too kindly to Oberon being dead. Dworkin says she's a little shook up."
Thenaroth looked at Keladrian. "Unfortunate. It seems both our allies . . ." He left the thought hanging.
"Well at least we still have the Unicorn, the Serpents gone." I defended Amber.
"Really?" Random seemed surprise.
"Yes, the Emperor and the serpent are gone." I explained.
It appeared that my Aunts and Uncles really didn't know everything. "When did this happen?"
"Several years ago." I explained patiently trying to keep the hint of superiority out of my voice.
"But I've been treating with the Emperor." Random protested.
"Um, somebody who looks like the Emperor."
"They maintain the fiction." Keladrian added.
Random started pacing. "Fiction, huh."
"They still have power, both real and political." Keladrian responded.
"No wonder they're so . ." and Random made suck up kissing noises.
"Exactly." A smile played across Keladrian's lips. "And while both of us have reasons that we would like to see Sawal's downfall, that won't help."
"Its also why they were so eager to help Brand and Fiona with their ambitions towards Amber." I very carefully left my father's name off that list.
Random's face clouded over. "Bitch."
"I think she knows more about what is going on than she'll let anyone know. Mandor mentioned something about her messing with the scale of the serpent which is what caused the problem to begin with that put us on the road initially." Random needed to know what I had learned from and about my Aunt.
"The incapacitation of the Trump artists?" Keladrian asked me.
"Yes." I confirmed.
"I'm going to have to have a talk with him before . . ." Thenaroth muttered something that I didn't quite catch.
Random growled, "That bitch."
"She seemed to know about the disappearance of the Emperor and the Serpent and also about the Emergence." I added "If you can get the information from her, it would be a valuable source but I doubt you are going to get it easily."
Keladrian turned his attention to me. "Is it conceivable that she would know how to contact the Unicorn?"
"Yes, if anyone apart from Dworkin would, she would." I answered.
"Yeah, but she's not doing it again." Random was adamant.
"No." I agreed. "Fiona's the last one that you want to have contact with the Unicorn."
"I meant that she could tell you how to contact the Unicorn." Keladrian explained.
"Well the thing is she won't do that." Random was angry. "Because she's already been playing that game and it wasn't for King Random."
"She's been talking to the Unicorn?" I shouldn't have been surprised but I had missed his earlier allusion.
Random wasn't paying any attention to me. "That's what the old man was babbling about."
"I wonder who she was planning on putting on the throne this time?" I mused aloud not paying attention to him.
"That probably doesn't knock off half of Chaos." Random focused on me. "The only thing is I don't think it went down too well. Which is why we're a little bit." Random held his hand up and indicated shaky.
"Perhaps you could acquire the information on how to contact the unicorn from her." Keladrian continued.
"My sister is a very layered woman. She has taken rather extreme precautions to make sure that no one gets anything from her that she doesn't want."
"Where does she stand on the Emergence?" Keladrian asked.
"At my best guess, where she stands is 'Oops, didn't mean for that to happen'" Random sneered.
"The consequences of the Emergence, this time, from our perspective would seem to be rather severe." Keladrian continued when no one said anything. "Amber is much more stable than Chaos."
"I suppose that depends on where you live." Random laughed.
"I'm speaking more of the nature of the shadow."
"Not the inhabitants." I added knowing where Random's comments
were coming from.
"This Emergence takes that stability by several orders of magnitude and would apply it to all us."
"Bad, how can I prevent that?" Random responded immediately.
"Anyone who wishes to manipulate shadow for their own interests would not wish that." Keladrian agreed.
"This goes no further. I am not letting that bitch have another crack at the Unicorn." Random was inflexible on this point.
"I am not asking that. I am merely hypothesizing that the Lady Fiona might see it in her best interests to tell you how to contact the Unicorn." Keladrian continued to try to persuade Random.
"You misunderstand my sisters relationship with the Unicorn. She was talking to it all right. Trying to talk it into laying its head on her lap."
I suddenly understood what Random was trying to say, Fiona was trying to become a consort and create another incarnation.
"She's not getting a crack at that Unicorn, even through a tool." Random added when he saw understanding on our faces.
"That makes no sense. She would be part of the destruction." Keladrian shook his head. "Wind her up and throw her at Chaos."
"Or the Many armed one. Isn't that the Kraken?" I added.
"Yes. The problem is she's more like a boomerang." Keladrian didn't know how accurate he was.
"Dworkin should know how to contact the Unicorn." I brought Random back to the most probable solution.
"Yeah, but he's all busy with the Nightmare." Random protested.
"The Nightmare is the Avatar of the Tinkerers, line Bariman." I was confused. "Why would Dworkin be involved with the Nightmare. He's not the incarnation of the Nightmare. When he became a consort of the Unicorn why would he continue to be involved with the Nightmare?"
"Project girl. What would ever replace the project in your heart?" Thenaroth asked me.
Keladrian would but I wouldn't tell them that.
"Busy in what way with the Nightmare?" Keladrian wanted to know.
"Well, he seemed to be excited about the upcoming war." Was all Random would say.
"So does he know where the Nightmare stands?" I prompted Random for more.
"On four hooves." Random wasn't giving anything up or else he didn't know. "He's not real easy to talk to."
"So the question I guess is, now what?" I listed our options. "Somehow we need to try to get a hold of the Unicorn and make sure she makes an appearance. We have to figure out what we are going to do about the missing Serpent and Sawal and in the meantime what we are going to do about the Emergence. Just a few things."
"I would think that contacting the Unicorn would be your problem, King Random. As far as making House Sawal into an adequate shield for us, we can pursue that. However perhaps you can enlighten us as to the nature of the upcoming conflict." Keladrian turned to Thenaroth
"Shall we bring a broadsword or a toothpick?" I was becoming exasperated with the inability to get a straight answer on anything.
Keladrian must be feeling the same frustration as he elaborated on
my question. "What shall be the battleground? Will it be the Incarnations
and Avatar's only? Or the armies that they can bring as well. Will it
be a contest of physical strength or combat? I would assume the answers
are somewhat changeable depending on whether we can influence the location."
"I know Hendrake is on Seawall's side. The many armed one, Ihendron?" Finally, facts that we could take action on.
"Yes." Thenaroth answered.
"The Luggage is doing pretty well with them." I glanced down at the Luggage who had been quiet during this conversation. "Who chooses the battlefield?" I urged.
"The Emergent." Thenaroth seemed amenable to answering direct questions. We just needed to know the right questions.
"Is there someway that we can choose the field instead? Do we know what her strengths and weaknesses are?" I pressed.
"She is an order based, audio being." The large blue dragon explained. I think he had mentioned that before.
"So we need something that is chaotic and quiet if we go against her strengths." I think there was something here but I just didn't know if I was headed in the right direction.
"She would not Emerge then, unless we can force her." Keladrian disagreed.
"Unless we change the field after she picks it."
"Exactly. Perhaps we can work on a shadow that she will be drawn to and one that we can change the nature of when she arrives." Keladrian and I worked well together as a team. We always seemed to be able to generate ideas from each other.
"Typically shadows do not matter to an Avatar." Thenaroth warned.
"If they do not care about shadows, what do they care about?" Keladrian demanded.
"Emerging." I answered flippantly before Thenaroth could.
"They are coming through from the outside to here. A place where they are expressed." Thenaroth explained slowly and carefully.
"Is there a way to make that passage from the outside easier in one place more than another?" Keladrian was obviously working on a theory. "In relation to how we perceive shadow."
Thenaroth shook his head. "It does not matter how you perceive shadow. It is how they perceive shadow."
"I understand. But we will be using our perceptions."
"Perhaps that's where you're limits are." Thenaroth tapped a claw on the ground.
"What I am asking is if there is a way for us to alter the nature of the barrier they must cross?"
"They are not penetrating a barrier they are becoming, they are emerging. Blossoming. As I understand." The two Alcedonians were at a perceptual conflict. I could easily understand what Keladrian was thinking but it was more difficult to try to visualize where Thenaroth was.
"Yet they will not be blossoming everywhere." Keladrian argued.
"No. The ones I have seen begin in Chaos. What you call Chaos. And reach out from there. Blossoming into our perception."
"So there is something in the middle of Chaos that makes it easier or draws the Avatar?"
"I think that because they emerge here that is Chaos." Thenaroth explained.
"Chaos exists because that's where the Emergence occurs? Yet it is still a rather comprehensive place."
"Because it is at the center of existence."
"And would we be able to guide within that and somehow influence the battleground." Keladrian tried again to get an understandable answer to his question.
"Exactly." I think we were both relieved when Thenaroth agreed.
"So at this point we still need to meet with the Emperor." I changed the subject just to keep my brain from spinning out of control. "If that meeting is still going to take place, we need someplace for that to happen. We need to have Random talk to Dworkin to find out how to talk to the Unicorn, we need to figure some way . . ."
"And perhaps some way to sway the Nightmare's position." Keladrian interrupted.
"And find out some way to confuse, baffle, whatever the Ihendron's so that they get their army to the place late." I continued.
"And to see if there is someway to make the battle occur in a place that plays to our strengths." Keladrian finished the list.
"Chaos, if there was someway to manipulate the area, surely there is someone who would know. It seems to be a fairly malleable place. Somebody should be able to manipulate the battlefield. The problem is to make sure that it is . . . "
"Someone from our side." Keladrian finished. "Perhaps all we can hope for is early identification of the battlefield. And for that I think the best person is Ulris. He wants to have a close view perhaps he can determine the whereabouts of the final emergence."
"I already fought on the edge of the Abyss once, I'm not looking forward to it again." Random spoke for the first time in awhile. I had almost forgotten he was with us. "Bad things happen."
"Yeah, this is the outcome of one of those bad things. Perhaps I should get a hold of my father and find out what his progress is on that errand." I suggested.
"Can't we just stick a knife in some people?" Random shook his head.
"Which one, who would you like me to stick? Point me in a direction, give me a knife. I would love to have a clear cut, plan of action." My frustration boiled out.
"What about these Ihendron's you were talking about?" Random offered.
"The only contact I've had with the Ihendron's are the dead bodies I've pulled out of my Luggage." And the one I killed in Ssalesh, but no need to go into that.
"Ok so sic them with the Luggage." Random laughed.
"You suggested another tactic which we didn't discuss which was to attack them prior to the Emergence, which we do not have much time." Keladrian turned to Thenaroth.
"Pre-emptive defensive maneuvers." Thenaroth agreed.
"Ok where do we get an army? I need my dad. He always seems to have one stashed away someplace."
"He's good at that." The King agreed. "Of course we won't talk about Fiona around him." Random made sure he had eye contact with me when he said that.
"No." I agreed. Too late Random, I already gave dad the heads up on that issue.
"Do you think he can get an army?" Random asked.
"Oh, I'm sure he can get an army." If anyone could raise an army, it was Bleys. I think he could do that even better than Benedict. Benedict could direct them better, that was his strength.
"We need to talk to Benedict." Random stood more erect and I could tell he had made some decision.
"Shall I contact my father?" I wasn't sure how I felt on that at this time.
"Not from here." I was relieved when Random suggested a delay. "Not with that." He indicated Thenaroth.
"Nor myself." Keladrian added.
"Oh that's right. He's not real fond of you right now." I smiled at my lover.
"You've got promise boy." Random also smiled at Keladrian.
"We actually parted on fairly good terms last time. Not like the previous time." I could still feel the cold steel at my throat and my father's blazing fury. I rubbed my throat.
"What about you guys, aren't you forming . . .?" Random motioned at Thenaroth
"We are not warriors." Thenaroth quickly denied.
"Fine, are you knife stickers?"
"We will see about knives." Thenaroth bared his fangs.
"Just breathe on them." I said under my breath. "So do we have a plan of action?"
"We have several, that's the problem. It sounds like we are in consensus that the Emergence is going to occur in Chaos. Since we cannot find a way to guide the Emergence then the next best thing is to identify the location as quickly as possible so we can try to ready for it. Get there early, armies, beings of power, whatever else we want to bring. Prevent the Emergence; tromp on the powers supporting it. We are also talking about pre-emptive strikes on the positions of the powers that we know about. Trying to recruit the Nightmare and the Unicorn. Trying to strengthen Sawal so they are more than a paper shield but not so strong that they are once again a plague on both our peoples." Keladrian did the sum up uninterrupted this time.
"So what would strengthen Sawal? What could we do that would do that?" That had been mentioned several times as needing to be done, but with no mention of how.
Keladrian and Thenaroth did not answer. I knew that Random didn't have the faintest idea.
"Let's talk to Bleys and Benedict and see if we can get an army." Random said instead.
"So you're going to talk to my dad, so I don't have to?" I felt relieved.
"I believe I'm putting my sanity at risk contacting Dworkin. I know what. Get your girlfriend to contact Benedict and sic Benedict on him." Random told me.
"My girlfriend?" I was confused. I couldn't think who he was referring to.
"Isabeau. Isn't she around here somewhere anymore? I mean I sent her with you guys."
"I don't have a way to contact her." I lied.
Random just gave me a look. "Call Isabeau and tell her to sic Benedict on Bleys."
"Ok. Sic Benedict on Bleys?" I queried. When I repeated the order I didn't like the way it sounded.
"If anyone can get Bleys to get an army together and go kick some Chaos butt it will be Benedict." Random explained.
"Oh that kind of sic."
"And of Corwin?" Keladrian asked Random.
"I don't know where Corwin is. I could get to him in about half an hour." I offered.
"He was not exactly rational the last time we saw him." Keladrian reminded me.
"Well, I certainly wouldn't want to do it by myself."
"Do you consider him a liability at this point?" Keladrian asked.
"Yes." Thenaroth answered for the group.
"He was definitely not rational. I don't know if that was a normal state affairs or a result of his . . ." Keladrian began.
"The Emergence is based on Deirdre. And is looking for a consort." I explained. "Corwin would be who she would want as a consort, would you not agree?" I said this last to Random
"Which brings up the other loose end. Drake's father." Keladrian interrupted before Random could respond.
"Valens." I had forgotten about him.
"Who is also in the running for a consort as he may already be in the Abyss."
"Wait a minute. Get Isabeau to call Benedict to get Bleys and an army to kick ass on the Ihendron's." Random tried to restore some sort of order to the discussion.
I suddenly remembered that we might have more than the Ihendron's to worry about. "There is another line that Drake mentioned. Me. . Methan - something."
"Methandros." Keladrian filled in.
"Yes. I think they're with the Ihendron's. So it would be Methandros and Ihendron's we would need to prepare for. Those are the only two that I would know of. You said that Ihendron's would come with an army, what about Methandros?" I turned to Thenaroth "What is their battle tactic?"
"Methandros are the beast masters." Thenaroth answered.
"Hum. Julian." He was the only beast master that I knew personally.
"He's busy." Random snapped at me. "So are you going to hit Corwin or not?"
"We will take care of Corwin." Keladrian stated and I nodded. "You can ask Caine where to retrieve him when you are ready if we survive it."
"Better that you do it than she." Random told Keladrian. It was a moment before I realized that what he meant. If it came down to killing Corwin, he didn't want the family blood on my hands. "You're going to take care of the knives?" he looked at Thenaroth. "You've got your early warning system out on the battlefield. Anything else?"
"No I think we need to start putting plans into motion." I was anxious to be on with the plans now that we had some.
"Oh, Paper shield." Random reminded us.
"Yeah, how do we strengthen Sawal?" I didn't expect Keladrian or Thenaroth to answer.
Keladrian looked at Thenaroth and then said. "Leave that to Drake, it will have to come through him."
"Keep me informed. I'm not marching my men out there with nothing." Random said.
"Agreed." Keladrian nodded.
"Ok." Random pulled a Trump out.
"And you have a way to contact me?" I asked before he could disappear.
"Why sure. Let's rock and roll. Nice meeting you." To Thenaroth. "Nice meeting you again." To Keladrian and he Trumped out.
Thenaroth shook his head. "Such a kid. Impetuous."
"Do you think you can gain access to the knives?" Keladrian said enigmatically to Thenaroth.
"Yes. They won't be in council."
"They'll take a little bit of retargeting." Thenaroth smiled.
"So shall I contact Drake first?" I interrupted this fascinating conversation that I was sure that the two of them would not elaborate on.
"We need to compare notes with Drake." Keladrian agreed.
"He was with Ulris the last we knew."
"Right. And I assume that you will have to return home to do that final bit, though perhaps not. But there is the proposed meeting with the Emperor." Keladrian turned to Thenaroth.
"I said I would meet with him." Thenaroth sighed
"I will ask Drake if that is still his wish."
"So, you are leaving? I was just wondering how we were going to contact you?" I had this thing about communications today. Maybe it was the fact that we were planning for battle and that takes a bit of coordination that I suddenly felt we didn't have.
"I wouldn't." Thenaroth eyed me.
"Wouldn't?" I said innocently.
"She has a point." Keladrian told his master. "We will need to contact you."
"I can contact you, we have already established that." Thenaroth dodged the issue.
"That may have been somewhat weakened. And that does not help with my contacting you."
"You need to contact me, come get me." Thenaroth was not making this easier.
"And will you be?" I asked.
"Moving that way." Thenaroth nodded Abyss ward.
"Very well." Keladrian gave up then turned to me. "I will be able to contact him."
"As long as we have some way. I don't want to get out there and have to stop and go 'how are we going to meet up. Can you hear me now?' Shall we contact Drake from here or shall we move again."
"Just to keep up tradition, I think we should move."
While we were discussing our next move, Thenaroth walked off into shadow
I pulled out a Trump sketch and moved to a desert shadow.
|We stood in the desert and I looked at Keladrian and raised an eyebrow.
Keladrian spun us through several shadows and then I pulled out the Trump sketch for the Bazaar and we stepped through to the fountain where we disturbed a small group of blue bat children who flew off hurling curses at us. We ignored them and processed straight to the Amphibi Inn. Keladrian was still wearing his formal armor and I was in the dress gown from the meeting. We drew a few stares but the inhabitants moved quickly from our path. We needed to change to working attire.
The staff at the Inn were very efficient. The door opened as we approached and they seemed to be falling all over themselves to meet our expectations before they were expressed. We were led to a nice room that had all the facilities and accouterments that we needed. I noticed that there was a brush and comb this time.
"I think it would be better if I were out of sight while you are contacting Isabeau. I think she would be more receptive if I wasn't around." I started to undress.
"I think out of sight would be fine, out of the room not necessarily. If I stop talking and start drooling I expect you to do something about it."
"Just make sure you are facing me and then I will be out of her sight." I dropped the gown to the floor to make sure I had his attention.
Keladrian smiled then activated his Trump and concentrated a moment. "No answer."
"No answer? I have a Trump of Drake we could try." I offered as I pulled clothes out of the Luggage.
"Do you think she would still be with Drake?"
"They were together the last we knew. We can try contacting him and if they are not together, he might know where she is. If we cannot contact him they might be in Tor and they might have the Trump shut down." I took out Drake's Trump and got the same results. No answer.
"I do have a Trump of Tor." Actually it was only a sketch but it should still work. As I finished changing into the cobalt blue silk blouse and the black leather pants I pulled out the armor for Keladrian's inspection. "I'm going to need that armor repaired at some point, it's not much good with a hole in the shoulder." I reminded him as I pulled on a pair of good hiking boots.
Keladrian examined the damage. "It will take some time to fix this. Perhaps an hour."
"Well, lets see if we can get through to Tor first." I pulled out the sketch and activated it. "I don't think we should take the hour here."
I was falling and there was a large, angry air guardian in my face. Keladrian shifted to his gargoyle form and scooped me out of the air. The Luggage fell past us. It appeared that it would reach the parapet before we did. When it did it sounded like several flagstones shattered.
The air guardian backed off as Keladrian spiraled down to the castle.
There seemed to be Imperial guards standing on the ramparts and they moved in on the Luggage with weapons drawn. Keladrian and I watched with interest as we made our descent more slowly.
It seemed to be a standoff. The guards were unable to damage the Luggage, which in turn was unable to get close enough to harm them.
Keladrian landed us in a less occupied portion of the roof. "If you are done trying to slay our Luggage we would like to continue on to meet with Lord Drake."
I was so proud of Keladrian at that moment. I didn't realize that he had such a wonderful sense of humor.
"These two are here by my sufferance." Drake said to the
Captain of the Guard as he approached. "And the Luggage belongs
to her. It can be harmed in self-defense but needent be hunted."
There were a few dirty looks from the Guards and the Luggage was sulking trying to decide whom to blame.
Drake seemed to take it all in stride and announced. "Well you've missed dinner, would you like to join us for an aperitif?"
"A generous offer, perhaps . . . " Keladrian began.
"Another time." I finished.
Drake led off into the castle to the main hall in front of the fireplace. The Captain and several Imperial Guards followed.
Drake offered refreshments and I noted that one of the Igor's produced a mug of cocoa for Isabeau.
"Excuse me for a moment." Drake said and turned to the Captain. "Captain, what are your specific orders regarding your attendance on my person?"
"That is between me and the Emperor my lord."
"Do they include latitude for a bit of privacy with my friends?"
The Captain gestured for the other guards to leave but he remained behind. I did not feel comfortable discussing this business in front of him but it looked like we had no choice.
Drake offered the Captain some cocoa and he declined.
I waited for Keladrian to begin. I had mentioned that I thought Isabeau would take the message from Random from him much more easily than if I were to deliver it. I nudged him briefly and he began.
"There are several issues to discuss. One would be after the conclusion of our meeting, do we need to pursue arrangements of another meeting at this time or not? There are many tasks at hand and we need to prioritize them."
"I am aware everyone is busy but I would like to schedule it before the end of the Universe however." Drake flipped back. "But there might be more pressing matters."
"What was the intent of the meeting? What subjects did you wish to discuss?" Keladrian asked.
"Normalizing relations, I believe." Drake responded.
"Thenaroth is still amenable to the meeting, but other issues have come up." I had no intention of enumerating those issues in front of the Guard and I hoped that Keladrian would not air Amber's business here either.
"There are several issues to be dealt with." Keladrian glanced in my direction. "I believe that we can say that at this point that both of are lines are in agreement that the Emergence should be opposed."
"Very well." Drake nodded.
"To that end there are several tasks that shall be required. One would seem to be the raising of an army because we have information that the Ihendron's will be doing so." Keladrian listed one of the points that we had discussed.
"Whose army?" Drake asked.
"I believe that may be taken care of." I answered. "We'll be bringing one but Sawall should also contribute."
"The blades of Hendrake always stand ready to face its foes." Drake postured. "Am I correct in assuming that Prince and General Benedict will be leading the forces?"
"He will be if Lady Isabeau contacts him." Keladrian neatly segued to one of the reasons we had come here.
"What?" Isabeau said surprised.
"We bring a message from your liege." Keladrian bowed slightly to my cousin. "He requested that you contact Prince Benedict and. . ." Keladrian was taking too long to get to the point.
"Would you like some help?" I asked Keladrian, then turned to Isabeau without waiting for him to verbalize an answer. "Essentially Random said 'Sic Benedict on Bleys, get an army together and kick some Ihendron butt."
"Random wants me to call Benedict and tell him to get an army together to kick Ihendron butt?" Isabeau repeated slowly and incredulously.
"Get Bleys to get one his armies." Keladrian corrected.
"What was Random thinking?" Isabeau protested.
"The King was probably thinking that Prince Benedict would confirm these orders." Drake assured her.
"That would be a logical assumption." Isabeau still seemed in shock. "Ok, I'll try. I'm not sure Benedicts' going to listen to me. That's an interesting concept." Welcome to the family cousin.
"That will pull Prince Bleys off of . . ." Keladrian started
"His mission." I interrupted remembering the Captain of the Imperial Guard standing in the room. He had already heard more of this conversation than I was comfortable with.
"His mission to . . ." Keladrian began again.
"Well, we need to take care of that. No point in going into it. Not in front of . . ." I smiled at Drake as I dug an elbow into Keladrian's side.
"Yes. It leaves another loose end that we need to take care of." Keladrian finally got it.
"Let's just say that you got the easy job." I told Isabeau.
"Any other requests we should be aware of?" Drake raised an eyebrow.
"Determine if we can, where the Emergence will occur." Keladrian answered.
"I believe we will have a definitive answer on that within a short period of time. My cousin Ulris is setting up another laboratory here and he will be studying the Emergence more closely. If anyone can determine the location. It might not be very far ahead of the actual appearance. However I did quiz Ulris about this earlier and he essentially said that it will appear wherever in Chaos that she wants to. Since it all borders the Abyss the Emergence is kind of a coming into being and the location is basically ineffectual. He was even more vague than that when I tried to pin him down on the time and place." Drake shrugged.
"Yes, he was real clear." Isabeau said sarcastically
"He was mildly oracular." Drake smiled at Isabeau.
"But everybody we talked to has been oracular so it's not as if anyone else has been more specific." Isabeau snorted her disgust. I could empathize with her frustration if I had a mind to.
"Well Thenaroth was but it was couched in terms that only Ulris could understand." Drake offered.
"Well, it sounds like I need to contact Benedict and I need to do that before you move on to your other tasks so we know what is what with that." Isabeau didn't sound any clearer than anyone else right now. "Can I call out from here?" Isabeau turned to Drake.
"Yes, basically instructions to Prince Benedict are unnecessary about joining formations with Chaos. He will know who to contact regarding that." Drake told her. "He knows who to coordinate with."
"Is that what you call it." Keladrian and I said together.
"Where shall I tell Benedict to look for Bleys?" Isabeau asked.
"Bleys was on his way to the Abyss the last time I checked." I told her reluctantly.
Isabeau muttered something about contacting Benedict and I ignored her and turned to Drake. "Is there someway we can guide the Emergence to come out in a particular part of Chaos?"
"It's looking for its consort. So if you know where its consort is going to be you have a pretty good chance of figuring out where it will come out of the Abyss." Isabeau answered for him.
"Chaos borders the Abyss." Drake stated.
"Isn't the Abyss everywhere?" Keladrian asked.
"Not precisely. I spoke with Ulris about that. Chaos is the rind of the fruit." Drake explained.
"And what is the pit of the fruit?" Isabeau piped in.
"I believe that Amber is the pit." Drake quipped back with a look in my direction that I couldn't quite figure out. "From what I can comprehend of the cosmology I believe that the fruit didn't have a center until after the Pattern, which was so concrete as to define the concept of a center in and of itself. It viewed itself as the center of everything and therefore the concept of center became concrete."
"To get back to the question, yes Keladrian I do think we need to be in Chaos somewhere with the potential consort. If we take all the potential consorts that we have identified away from the Emergence it will find a new one. But if we keep the ones that it wants close we have a chance of it arising where we want." This was the longest and most intelligent thing I think I ever heard my cousin say.
"So where is this location that we want?" I turned to Drake. "Because we need to be able to prepare the battlefield."
"I must consult with the Emperor to determine if any action has been taken on that. If the Emergence is a sound based order then we need to find somewhere where sound would be impossible would be a likely battlefield."
"That makes sense." I had essentially mentioned the same idea to Thenaroth.
"If we make the location too inimical to the Emergent, she may not chose to go there even if the consorts are there." Keladrian cautioned.
"We had somewhat of this conversation also. We were thinking the battlefield could be selected and made attractive and then have it changed once she arrived." I summed up the conversation with Thenaroth. No need to drag on another technical discussion.
"Another possibility." Drake nodded. "There is also those who have control of areas of the Courts much as I have control of Tor that could make it destined that she be there. For example I believe that was done with the shadow of the transparent scorpions. It was placed in our path."
"We were destined to run into it?" Isabeau asked.
Drake nodded. "There's the possibility that an area of Chaos could be affected in that manner."
"Since our message has been delivered to Isabeau shall we continue on with our assignment?" I moved to Keladrian. I was anxious to move on.
"I would have Isabeau contact Benedict before we depart." Keladrian suggested.
"First I should contact the Emperor and find out if a battlefield has been chosen." Drake added.
Even though I was anxious to be done with our task, the dominoes needed to be set so that they would fall in the correct order "That would be important." I conceded.
"Tag, you're it, you call the Emperor." Isabeau told Drake.
Drake stepped to one side of the room and pulled out a Trump. His conversation was brief and then he turned back to us and said. "The Emperor says the Pits of Never will be the staging area. It's not the final battleground that is being prepared. The Pits of Never will serve as the staging ground for the forces."
"Is this someplace that everyone knows?" I asked.
"Well not everyone knows where this is, but I know." Drake answered.
"Oh, that's so helpful." I said somewhat sarcastically. "And you will be there so when we contact you by Trump we'll be able to find it?"
"I might not be there but let's see. . ." Drake thought. "I could take you there on your way out, so you knew where it was."
"That's got potential." Isabeau accepted for the rest of us.
I turned to Keladrian. "It's up to you. Deeper into Chaos?"
Keladrian thought a moment before making a decision. "I think
it would be good to know."
"Would you like to know as well?" Drake asked Isabeau.
"Then let us all take a shortcut to the Pits of Never."
"We probably should warn Merlin that we'll be leaving for a little while." Isabeau reminded Drake of his other guests.
"That would be a good idea." Drake beckoned to one of his servants. "Igor we will be going for a little while. Do you have a backpack for the lady?"
"Master a moment please." Igor left and returned with a backpack. Then whispered something to Drake.
Drake turned to us. "Excuse me." He turned back to the Igor.
"There are two issues, I will be brief. There is the unfortunate
decoration of the upper parapet?" The Igor lisped out.
"See what you can do about keeping it happy and quiet." Drake smiled toward us
"It has been most disturbed recently." Igor insisted.
"Uhh a sedative may be appropriate. I'll deal with it when I return."
"Yes master." The Igor left.
Drake came back to the group. "Captain, we are going to the Pits of Never. Whoever you feel is appropriate to accompany us, please tell them to assemble on the parapet."
The Captain nodded his understanding.
We started up to the parapet when word came through that the shadow was under attack. Drake communicated with his air guardian about the nature of the attack.
"Air Squid?" Drake asked out loud.
The Captain of the Guard moved nearer to Drake and Isabeau put her backpack on.
"Igor prepare to repel squid." Drake said. Then gave his servants further orders. "Send a message to Merlin and Ulris and make sure that they are aware. Who knows how distracted they are."
"Actually they may be the targets of this raid." Keladrian suggested.
"Possibly." Drake was distracted. My guess was that he was trying to see the attack through the eyes of his guardian.
"I trust the daughter of the Serpent can deal with some air squid." Isabeau said.
"This is my home so I must see personally to it." Drake said as he moved to the stairwell.
"Methandros." I said "Thenaroth said something about their method of attack would be the beasts. "
Drakes attention centered upward a moment and then there was the sound of a massive stroke of lightning striking near by as he ran up the stairs.
"Stand by." Keladrian said to me. "We need to stay close to Drake. Follow me."
"Luggage, rapier and flintlock." I said and the Luggage spit out the weapons. I caught them on the fly and followed up the steps. Isabeau grabbed a sword from the wall and followed as well.
We met the air squid coming down about half way up to the parapet. We could hear the wet slapping sound of the squid landing on the parapet and Drake's roaring challenge.
"Be ready to leave this place." Keladrian yelled back as he engaged the first squid.
They were transparent and swimming through the air. And they seemed to be multiplying rapidly.
Keladrian changed to gargoyle form and released a blast of fire. I fired the flintlock. The resounding blast echoed through the stone stairwell.
The flame caught several of them. It made them hesitate and slow down but they continued coming. My ball shot took one in the eye and it careened out of control and crashed into the wall.
Isabeau's sword connected with a squid. It didn't penetrate the skin but the creature was knocked to the ground and it didn't move. She moved in to finish it off.
We had taken out three of the creatures but more were coming down. "We are not going to win this through force of arms." Keladrian shouted back to us.
"This is a delaying tactic. We have other things of more importance to do." I agreed.
"This way." Isabeau said as she turned and opened a door off the stairway. We continued fighting off the squid as we backed through the doorway.
We could hear the squid beating against the door as we held it shut.
"Drake can possibly change the nature of his shadow so that these things cannot live here but I can't tell enough about their nature to tell him what that is." Keladrian said.
"Make it really heavy?" Isabeau suggested.
"I don't know, they are floating on the air if he made it heavy enough maybe they would no longer be able to move. I don't know." Isabeau had no better idea than the rest of us. "It looks like the battle is starting and we need to get moving. This looks like the first wave against Sawal."
"This is from Methandros." I reminded them.
"Ok, I'll take your word on that." It didn't seem important to Isabeau who was responsible for the attack.
"Perhaps Benedict knows the location of Pits of Never. We don't have time to wait for Drake to show us." I urged Keladrian. If the other side were already on the move we might be too late.
"Do you have a Trump of Merlin." Keladrian asked.
"Yes." Isabeau said. I didn't remind them that I also had one of my cousin.
"Try to contact them and tell them that we are leaving."
Isabeau pulled out her Trump. Hopefully he would take her call. She concentrated a moment and then said. "Come on through guys. Something is going on with the castle. Come through with me or do you want to go somewhere else?" Isabeau held out her hand. I looked at Keladrian.
"No, let's go through. Because where he is, Ulris is." He took her hand and I held onto him. The Luggage snuggled up to my legs and followed us through.
We stepped through to something that looked like the lab that we had dumped into the abyss. It seemed powered down at this time and there were no invertices or cyclomats moving around. Ulris was sitting on a lab stool looking concerned.
We found ourselves surrounded by a dome of cold presence. One of the lab tables had a viewer focused on the castle, which was surrounded by squid and being nibbled out of existence.
Merlin looked very unhappy to see Keladrian and I and he moved to stand behind Ulris.
"Lady Isabeau." Ulris beamed at her. "A curious phenomena."
"Methandros is the theory right now." She replied back.
"It does seem like them. It's rather crude."
"Opening salvo." Isabeau said.
"Where's Drake?" Ulris asked.
"He's dealing with the squid, I'm assuming. He went charging up the stairway and we haven't seen him since. It's his shadow, I'm assuming he's doing something with it."
"We need to contact Benedict." I gently reminded my cousin.
"Yes, might as well do that now. You know Benedict loves hearing about a fight." Isabeau pulled out her deck of cards. She patted a pocket quickly as if checking for something and then took out Benedict's Trump and concentrated on it.
"Do you plan on staying here?" Keladrian looked at Ulris and Merlin.
"We don't have any choice right now." Merlin seemed unhappy and placed a hand on Ulris' shoulder.
"No choice. I don't understand." Keladrian said then indicated the globe surrounding us. "You cannot leave because she won't let you?"
"And is she holding up?" Keladrian again indicated the daughter.
Ulris answered this time. "Oh yes."
"Very well." Keladrian nodded.
Isabeau glanced up from her Trump. "That went better than I expected. One army set on the loose. I would not want to be in the way of that little juggernaut."
"Bleys and Benedict. Hhm." I wasn't sure that was a much better duo than Bleys and Corwin.
"Benedict's got to find Bleys first, but when I told him he got to go kick some Ihendron butt you should see the wheels start to turn." Isabeau smiled.
"I'm not so sure that Bleys will be as excited about that."
"I don't think Benedict's going to care." Isabeau snapped back.
"At least it wasn't me that sent Benedict after my father."
"I did not mention that the orders from Random came through you at all." I wasn't sure if she was being sarcastic or not. I hoped not.
"Ok, we've heard what we needed to hear." I turned to Keladrian. "It's time to . . ."
"Move on." He nodded.
"Fast time shadow." I recommended.
"You need anything. . ." Keladrian turned to Isabeau
"Call? I'll try assuming you guys are reachable. I can call you. If I have time to draw, I can call her."
"How can you call him?" I asked wondering when Isabeau had had time to draw a Trump of Keladrian.
"It won't be immediate. I can draw. I can try." Isabeau stammered out. "That's about all we have right now."
I looked at Keladrian and then contacted him mentally. 'Should I give her a Trump?'
'Things are happening apace.'
'We don't need a half hour delay' I agreed reluctantly.
"Very well. When the end of the Universe is over with, give it back." I told Isabeau as I handed her my Trump. It was difficult to let go of it when she moved to take it from my hand. My first impulse was to snatch it back.
"Be careful of your settings so that the call can go through." Isabeau indicated Keladrian's amulet.
"Likewise. We cannot call you here." Keladrian reminded Isabeau.
Isabeau hesitated a moment and then said. "Good point. I don't know how much longer we are going to be here."
"How much longer here is going to be here." I glanced at the monitor at the rapidly disappearing castle.
"Boy he's going to be cranky if he has to make a new shadow." Isabeau was also looking at the monitor but I got the feeling she was more interested in the master than the castle.
It was time to leave and I could tell that Keladrian was not willing to Spin out in the middle of the daughter of the serpent. I pulled out my Trump deck and flipped through the sketches looking for the fast time shadow that I had used when I had completed the Trump for Merlin, Drake and Mandor.
Meanwhile Keladrian turned to Merlin and Ulris "If you need anything, call."
Ulris thanked Keladrian. Merlin did not respond.
We stepped through to the crystalline world. It had silicon based plant
life with wire skeletons and a crystalline formation. The plants were
purple growing out of ground covered with a fine powdered glass-like
substance. There were mesas in the distance, but no intelligent life.
The Luggage produced the tent and Keladrian helped me get it set up
to protect us from the crystal shards that were blowing abrasively.
I had decided that a sketch of Greyswandir would not be adequate. If we needed to make more than one attempt or if Corwin were moving rapidly through shadow to evade Bleys' pursuit, it would be best to have an actual Trump of his sword. This shadow moved at a relative time of about a year per day that should give us enough time as I would need two days here for a full Trump.
Keladrian asked about how a sketch of an item worked differently than a place or a person. I told him that I could reach through the and move to the item and explained that I was going to have to spend the two days to make a real Trump instead of just a sketch. "I have a Trump of Corwin. What I need is a Trump of Grayswandir. Because we need to go to Corwin without him bringing us to him, so I am spending two days here. Have fun."
I spent two days working on the Trump of Grayswandir. I didn't distract myself with thoughts of what Keladrian was doing. He mentioned that he only needed about an hour to repair my armor. I expected he would spend the rest of the time in some sort of battle preparation.
After two days I stood up from the drawing table and noticed that Keladrian was still working on my armor. I was somewhat surprised. Maybe he had done something else first.
I was gritty, tired, hungry and thirsty and had no idea how much longer Keladrian would be. I decided to go to another shadow and at least take care of the hunger and thirst. I didn't want to eat and drink anything here with the crystalline grit on everything.
"I'm going to get food. I'll be back." I told him as I pulled out a sketch of another fast time shadow, one that had more amenities than here. I stepped through.
After I had eaten and quenched my thirst, I ordered food for Keladrian. I made sure that the containers had good seals so that his food would be edible when he was ready for it.
Keladrian was still conjuring when I returned. At a quick estimate I would guess that at least three hours had passed here. I placed his food next to him and asked the Luggage for a cot and blanket. I lay down and covered my face with the blanket. It was bad enough I had inhaled this stuff the last two days while I had been drawing. I wanted as little as possible in my lungs while I slept.
"Wake me when you're done." And I lay down.
The next I knew Keladrian was shaking me awake.
"You ready to go?"
"Perhaps. I'm wondering if perhaps when we grab Prince Corwin are we going to be setting the final wheels in motion?" Keladrian didn't seem in a particular hurry to leave.
"I don't know." I said as I sat up on the cot.
"I planned to take him to the bubble shadow and leave him there. But we may need to take him to where the Emergence occurs."
"We really need to get him to the staging area, or find out if the staging area has moved. Or if they finally found a location for the Emergence." I agreed.
"Well, I'm not tired per se, but if we are going to be going non-stop from this point on I should perhaps rest a bit also."
"Do you want to go somewhere else or is this fine?" I asked him.
"Actually this will feel rather good." And he shifted to
his dragon form and curled up on the floor of the tent.
| Keladrian had been conjuring for hours after I was finished with my
Trump and now he had curled up in dragon form and was going to sleep.
I had already rested and eaten and this shadow was not one made for comfortable
lounging. I Trumped out to someplace where I could get a hot bath and
my hair clean before I had to put on armor and prepare to take on my Uncle
I figured I would give Keladrian his 6 hours of sleep but I didn't want to spend six hours waiting for him. I chose a nice shadow that was a little slower so that I had a good hour soak and primp.
When I dressed I put on the padded garments that would go under the armor. I also took a silk scarf out of the Luggage so that I would have something to cover my hair and face when I went back to the crystal shadow. No sense in getting more of that dust on me after I had just managed to get it all off.
Keladrian stretched and stood when I Trumped in.
"So do we go from here?" I asked him.
"Food would be in order."
"Where to for food?" I wasn't sure what his dragon form would like. I was trying to think of what shadow I knew of that had medium sized animals that wouldn't take too long to catch.
Keladrian resolved the problem by shifting into his human form. "Anywhere were we can get something fairly quickly. We are running out of time."
I flipped through my cards and pulled out the Trump for Quasmir while Keladrian gathered the gear together.
"I'm going to the leave the tent here its toast. I'll have to get another one." Everything else I had out had already been put away into the Luggage. The last time we had been in Quasmir there had been an earthquake and the Trump had stopped working briefly.
"Your armor is ready and repaired." I could tell from Keladrian's tone that he thought I should put it on immediately.
"I thought it was only going to take an hour? Did you work on something else besides the armor during all that time?" I was a little reluctant to put it on not knowing what he had done to it.
"Perhaps. We will see if it works." He held up the armor getting it ready for me to put on.
"Why don't we change in Quasmir." I insisted. I didn't want to get all this crystal dust inside the armor. It was like spun glass and start causing irritation almost immediately.
"Of course we were attacked in Quasmir." He was just as insistent.
I resolved the discussion by Trumping us out.
When we arrived in Quasmir I tried to be more diplomatic. "Why don't you go order food and I'll get into the armor." I would have preferred to wait until we had eaten but I didn't think I would be able to push the issue that much longer. I was willing to compromise to keep him happy.
There was a crack in the wall where it was damaged in the earthquake. It had been repaired and I could tell that some time had passed since then. I could hear Keladrian speaking to Hajij in the hallway. Hajij's voice was deeper and more grown-up. I picked up the breastplate and started strapping pieces of the armor on. When Keladrian came back into the room I turned to have him help me. The armor seemed to fit much better. The hole was repaired and the armor was pristine. The large burn spot on the back was gone and all the dents and scratches were removed. The straps were new. Keladrian's assistance was gentle but firm. He made sure that everything was secured and the armor was more comfortable.
"We should perhaps come up with a plan before we step through the Trump. When I activate the Trump and reach through I will be grabbing Greyswandir."
"I assumed as much."
"I don't intend to let go, however . . ." A polite clapping at the door interrupted me and several young men brought in platters and tureens. The young men all bore some resemblance to Hajij. It had been awhile since we were here.
I looked over the food. The smell of curry and good strong Turkish coffee blended and made my mouth water. I waited until the servers left before continuing the discussion.
"Besides reaching through and grabbing the sword, I don't have much of a plan." I picked up some bread and soaked it in a green curry sauce.
"Do you have to grab the sword or can I?" Keladrian asked between mouthfuls of spiced beef.
"I thought it might be better if you were actually there to take on Corwin. I would think that with activating the Trump, reaching through and then moving us through, I don't think that you could do that as well as I could."
"I'm certain of it." His smile reassured me.
"Therefore I would think it would be better if I do that and you would tackle Corwin as soon you came through."
"Tackle him, or do we immediately leave?" He paused.
"Good question. Where would we go? If we could immediately to take him someplace else, that may disorient him for awhile, but where are you going to take him where . . ." I stopped as a thought occurred to me.
"I know exactly where we can take him. . ." Keladrian began.
"The beach." I interrupted. My father's trap might work for us. "I am hoping that if it knocked Isabeau unconscious that it will take out Corwin. If I'm not moving that will be okay. You can move there and hopefully Corwin will be out. Hopefully."
"But I have also heard that Corwin has great stamina." Keladrian didn't seem as sure.
"His ability to recover quickly, yes, but even if he only staggers slightly, it will give you some advantage. So can you Spin to there, or do you want me to Trump there?"
"I think it would be best if I were to Spin there."
"Hopefully Corwin will go unconscious, we can secure him more permanently and then take him to the Pits of Never. Wherever that may be. Since we had to leave before we found that location." I began flipping through my Trumps. "I have Drake's Trump and you have Isabeau's. Fancy that. I have Merlin's Trump and I could also try contacting Mandor but that would probably be a waste of time. I wish I had Benedict's Trump, but I do have Bleys'. There are several people we can contact who might know where the Pits of Never are. I'm sure Bleys has been there." The plan would be worthless if we couldn't get to the staging area.
"And you think that taking Corwin to Bleys or Benedict would be good?" Keladrian's sarcasm was good natured.
"Well, I thought the idea was to get the consort to where we want the Emergence to come to."
"Possibly, but as I understand it that was just the staging area."
"Right, but unless we get to the staging area we're not going to know where to take the final stand at." We ate in silence for a while. It seemed like there was be something else we should be doing but I couldn't remember now. "Is there something else we needed to do? I thought this was it other than you mentioned something about beefing up Sawall. Making them a better shield." It was difficult to remember all of the things that we had thought needed to be done. We should have made a list.
"I am unsure how to do that."
"And then what else was it? We had a whole list of things that needed to be done. At this point, getting Corwin is the only thing that I can think of to do. So where do you think we should put him, because I don't want to leave him in that scorpion shadow, look what happened with Caine. That was not a good plan. So leaving him that unfettered someplace is not a good idea. Short of poking out his eyes and sticking him in a dungeon in Amber, I don't know."
"We do not know if anyone has yet arrived at the Pits of Never." Keladrian brought us back to the matter at hand.
"That's true. Do you want to contact them first before we go after Greyswandir? Unless you want to take him to Alcedon." I couldn't help getting a dig in.
"You wouldn't want him to be late to the Emergence."
"The late Corwin? Yeah. At one point I was not interested in having my Uncle harmed, but lately I can't seem to give a shit." I folded the napkin I had been using and moved back from the table.
"I believe he's still less than rational."
"Well of course. That's why I say grab him, make him unconscious, truss him up and take him to the Pits of Never and become Benedict's problem."
"All right well, we might as well do it then." Keladrian stood up from the table.
I stood up and pulled the Trump of Grayswandir. "Once I activate this Trump there is no backing out."
Keladrian nodded and I could feel him start to activate his Spin.
I concentrated on the drawing of Grayswandir and reached through with an armored hand.
There was no time to notice if he or the Luggage had made it through as Grayswandir was out of its sheath and in use when I arrived at Corwin's location.
I briefly held onto the basket hilt but it was quickly pulled from my grasp. I backed away and noticed that we were on the edge of the Abyss. A step in the wrong direction and I would have joined Brand and Deirdre. The sky overhead was half dark, half painted and revolving. It was slightly disorienting. I had a moment to notice that Keladrian and the Luggage also made it clear of the Abyss though it had been a close call with the Luggage. I was glad we hadn't provided a focus for the Emergence.
The sound of swordplay drew my attention back to Corwin. I recognized the sword that had struck against Grayswandir. At the other end of Helioventar was my father. I don't think anyone knew which of the two of them were the better swordsman. They could have been at this for hours, or even days. They could be at this even longer.
My first thought was why was Bleys here and not with Benedict, then I remembered why we were here. "Now! All of us!" I yelled to Keladrian.
It was a long difficult Spin. Not as bad as when we had left the middle of Corwin's disintegrating Pattern, but worse than most. We landed at the beach. I only realized that I had still been holding the Trump of Grayswandir when it fell from my hand. The most I could do was watch the action around me. My mind was too convulsed to participate.
Bleys saluted Keladrian with his sword and then lowered it. Keladrian moved Greyswandir away from Corwin with his staff.
"How goes the army?" Keladrian asked my father.
"Army?" I think that only I could have told that my father looked confused by the question.
"The one King Random requested Prince Benedict obtain from you."
"Benedict needs an army from me?" and surprised.
"Do you know where the Pits of Never are?"
"Of course, I'm well traveled." Bleys regained his poise.
"You and Prince Benedict are to be staging there with an army."
"We are, are we?" I could tell by the tone of my father's voice that this conversation with Keladrian was not going at all well. If only I could talk I might be able to salvage it.
"Indeed." Keladrian moved the sword a little further from Corwin and bent to check on his condition. "Any idea how long he'll be out? I'd like to restrain him before he wakes up."
"You would, would you?"
If only I could talk. My frustration was mounting.
"It's good for a young man to have ambitions." My father sneered. I hoped that Keladrian could tell he was playing with fire.
"I think you'll find that are a little behind the times on information that you would find most illuminating." And he seemed to be fanning the flames.
"Illuminate me." I always hated it when my father said that. It was a danger signal for when I had pushed too hard on something.
"The Emergence is coming. Your king has entered into an alliance with Line Sawall and my own people in opposition."
"Your people." Please let me be able to speak soon. It might already be too late.
"The Emergence will be happening soon. In fact it has already begun."
"I don't feel illuminated yet, Keladrian."
"You know it really doesn't matter." Keladrian apparently had reached the conclusion that he wasn't getting anywhere with my father as he spun himself and my father out over the ocean. Keladrian changed into Gargoyle form and headed back to the beach as father fell towards the water.
That was really going to piss him off. And I was still unable to move but my thoughts were becoming a little more cohesive.
Caine wasn't the only one that was fond of throwing knives it seemed. Three of them came from my father's direction towards him. He spun to the beach and avoided them easily. That really had to piss father off. Was I in trouble now. It would seem that father and I would need a cooling down period before our next visit. I wondered if 10 years would be long enough.
Keladrian was almost back to where I was standing next to the body of Corwin when I mustered up the ability to speak through clenched teeth. "Shazaam." I felt much better immediately. Too late to keep my father and Keladrian from burning bridges though. He was going to be sooooo mad at me.
The headache came back almost immediately but I was no longer paralyzed. I picked up Greyswandir and put it in the Luggage. It seemed that I was starting a collection of my family's weapons, but only the ones that had been used against me.
Keladrian landed and wanted to secure Corwin. All I had was some climbing equipment in the Luggage. There was also some chains but no locks or manacles. The rope would have to do.
Keladrian hog tied Corwin and put a bag over his head. If he couldn't see what was going on and couldn't move, we would have some time, but the ropes would only hold him while he was unconscious.
We kept an eye on the water to see if Bleys would show up.
"Now where?" I was anxious to get out of here. "Are you driving?"
"Yeah." And we spun out. There was the smell of diesel fumes and hot metal in the air. Rust was everywhere and we seemed to be standing on a plain of iron plates bolted and riveted together. There was a chain link fence off in the distance and a crevasse in the other direction.
There seemed to be mechanical crows aloft.
Keladrian picked up Corwin. "Finding things in a shadow is not my forte." He looked at me expectantly.
"If I had half an hour I could draw what we needed and go to it." The hair in my nose tingled. The air must have some chemical trace that wasn't good. I coughed.
The plate shivered a little under our feet. A real stable place. "Let's get what we need and get out of here quickly."
The ground tremored more violently. A few rivets popped loose and on the neighboring plateau the chain link fell over and the crows flew off. The plates rippled under our feet. The effect seemed to be shadow wide. There was a vaguely familiar feel to this. I thought back to the Crossroads where Drake had fought the construct.
"Oh my god, do you think the Emergence is coming for Corwin? I think we need to get to the Pits of Never. I think that wherever the army is, we need to be there." I pulled out the Trump of Drake and concentrated.
There was no answer. "Dioscuri." I said to create a burst of mental energy. I was hoping to penetrate any barrier that was preventing the Trump from going through. "Answer damn it." No luck, but I could tell that the Trump wasn't blocked in any way; Drake just wasn't taking my call. Damn him anyway. You just couldn't trust a chaos lord.
I shuffled through the Trump. I had over two dozen land Trump but only a handful of people. Mostly dead people. I put useless at the back; Brand, Eric, and Oberon. Then there was Fiona and Bleys. Two people that I really didn't want to be within striking distance of right now. Merlin, Mandor, and Drake on the Chaos side. The only one left was Random. Keladrian had taken out his Trump of Isabeau while I was looking through my deck. I concentrated on Random.
I could tell that Keladrian had made contact so I shut down the call to Random and put my hand on Keladrian's arm. "What's going on?" The next thing I knew we were moving through Isabeau's Trump. We entered a shadow very near Chaos. There was a massive waterfall near by and Isabeau was looking very flustered.
This shadow was not at all what I expected of Chaos. It was a beautiful blend of natural colors, almost surreal But parts of the landscape seemed to be crumbling away.
Drake was laying on the ground nearby in a tangle of cape and wing. He had the Logrus up and seemed to be reaching for something. Next to him was a frozen corpse that bore some family resemblance. His father, Valens? I wondered.
"Where did you dig him up at?" I indicated the corpse.
"Where do you think? Hello." Isabeau snapped back testily.
So that was Valens from the Abyss. Interesting. That meant that we had both of the possible Consorts here in one spot. It suddenly struck me that this might not be a good thing.
The whole shadow suddenly froze solid with a sharp pinging sound. The air was solid and the trees stopped moving.
"We need to go now." I said to Keladrian.
Keladrian nodded and Spun us all away while Drake's Logrus snapped back like a rubber band. There was a high pitch squeal that tingled along my nerves and settled into a ringing in my ears that wouldn't go away.
The seven of us landed in a shadow that had a sense of movement like the floor would become the wall and then the ceiling. Like we were standing on the inside of a smallish dyson sphere.
"Does somebody have a quick way to the Pits of Never." I yelled over the ringing in my ears.
"I think I can tell when she has figured out where we are." Keladrian answered.
Isabeau pulled out her Trumps and I could see Benedict's card in her hand.
"For some reason Benedict did not manage to contact my father about raising an army." I told my cousin.
"He's looking for you by the way." Isabeau said back.
She looked up from the Trump and said "Going." And we were pulled through to another shadow.
Drake put his Logrus tentacle on his father. "It might not be good to have these two together, it gives her one focus."
When we saw my Uncle Benedict the four of us all started talking at once.
Lady Isabeau turned to Benedict; "In fact the Emergence should be emerging here any minute now."
"Are you ready?" Drake inquired.
"She will be coming for these two. Do you want them together or separate?" Keladrian asked.
"The question is, how soon do you want her to come and where.
If you want her here, right now, then let's leave them together. If
not, we should head in opposite directions." I noticed that I had
gotten the most amount of words out before I shut up and waited for
my Uncles reply. Probably making up for not being able to say anything
to my father.
"Spires?" I asked.
"Take Valens to the Sea of Blood and back." Benedict continued speaking to Drake but did motion to one of the Hendrake guard.
While I waited for our answer I looked around and noticed that The
Pits of Never were ragged rock valley bowl that seemed to go on forever.
On every ledge there were standing forces of all kind. Mechanoids stood
next to a blend of spandex-suited superheroes and Robin Hood and his
merry men. There were creatures and humanoid monsters and regular cavalry
and infantry. I recognized the purple and red guys intermixed with creatures
that were not remotely human. I was sure there was a logic to their
formation but it was defying me.
A Hendrake guard stepped up and nodded to Benedict. She was about 8 feet tall with a head full of green spiny things sweeping backward. "Follow me." She said and Keladrian shifted to his Sidhe shape. The Hendrake brought the whirling blade like effect of Edgefall, a power I was familiar with having watched Merlin.
"How are we supposed to follow that?" I asked.
Keladrian looked just as confused.
"Well that was certainly worthless." I announced and a moment later the woman returned.
"You are impaired?" she asked us.
"No. Can you shadowwalk?" Keladrian snapped back.
"Travel that way." Keladrian ordered.
She cleared her throat and then set off. We followed her.
"Nothing like sending us with someone who is unfollowable."
"I'm sure there are clues there but. . ." Keladrian shrugged
as we followed the Hendrake.