Roberta Tower
Copyright 2001

Chapter 41
The Battle is Joined

This shadowwalk with the Hendrake was different than the ones that I had been on with my relatives. It was not so much that she was moving from one shadow to another as she was creating shadows to step into. The universe here was fluid and seemed very reactive. I reached out with my mind to Keladrian and locked onto him as one of the few solid and real things around me.

The very fabric of the universe seemed to whisper in my mind, questioning my existence and mocking me into confirming that I was indeed myself. Occasionally I caught glimpses of things that were central to my being manifested in the landscape, not restrained in any way by natural sequences.

We walked through a room of bathtubs that contained deserts, past circuit boards composed of strange rock formations. We walked for three minutes and an eternity. Then the Chaos Lord in front of us stopped and turned. She was feeling particularly lonely and smelling of red wind. We found ourselves standing on top of a series of formations that were shaped like spires. We stood on the edge of a crevasse that went down forever. In the depths I could hear more whispering voices, despair and desolation echoed around us.

During our journey to this place I had been walking behind Keladrian keeping an eye on my Uncle Corwin. I knew that Isabeau had woken right away after we had left the beach. I had no desire to have to fight with my Uncle on top of dealing with the Emergence.

"Your Uncle wakes." Keladrian told me. I hefted the mace that I had taken from the Luggage for this purpose and smacked Corwin in the head. It took a couple of stiff blows to make sure that he was out and there was a smear of blood on the bag covering his head. I felt no guilt whatsoever; after all Corwin had attacked Keladrian and would have done the same if he had been in my position.

The Hendrake woman raised an eyebrow and then began the shadowwalk back to the Pits of Never, the trip back was much the same as the trip out.

When we arrived the Pits were deserted except for Drake, Isabeau and the corpse of Valens.

"Captain, where's the army?" Drake asked as we arrived.

"Army, my lord? What army?" She raised an eyebrow to the Prince.

Drake seemed to catch on. "We are alone without an army, we are totally defenseless. Ah me." I thought the drama a bit overdone.

"Oh hon, I can't wait to get you in a parlor drama." Isabeau sighed and shook her head. "I see that is a court entertainment you specialize in." The moment of humor was a much-needed relief for all of us.

Isabeau became more serious. "Just a moment ago we were out and about and it was obvious She was interested in the corpse here."

I noticed that Valens seemed frozen in a more awkward position, like he had moved his appendages and then froze in a new position.

"We had no indication that she was following us. Corwin started to waken." I indicated the limp body that Keladrian still carried over his shoulder.

"Are you sure it was Corwin?" Drake asked.

What a stupid question, I hadn't waited around to find out. "I don't know. He's unconscious now."

"Ours was dead to begin with and since he had no mental activity, when he started moving I kinda thought that was a clue that it could possibly be the Bitch." Isabeau explained.

"Corwin had some mental activity, not much." I tried to think back to see if I could place when and how much of Corwin I had sensed.

"So you sensed it was Corwin, inside the bag?" Drake asked.

"The whole point was for him not to become mental." I protested. "We have armor, what sort of weapon do you think?" I asked Keladrian trying to change the subject. If we were standing here with both of the Consorts we could expect to have the Emergence descend upon us at any moment. I wanted to be prepared.

"A sound-based being? I don't know, silence." Isabeau snarked.

"You're the one doing all the talking." I snapped back.

Keladrian and Drake moved slightly to create a barrier between my cousin and myself. "In truth I have no idea." Keladrian said as he shifted his crossbow off his shoulder.

The nature of the place was changing rapidly around us and I decided that more primitive weapons would be the most reliable. "I have the daggers in the Luggage and Greyswandir."

"If in doubt, pull it out." Keladrian smiled. "But I would recommend that you save it for later. Don't tip your hand too early."

I nodded and asked the Luggage for Caine's daggers. I favored a Florentine style of fighting so a matched dagger in each hand would work well. And Caine's Emerald hilted daggers were better than any of the swords in my collection with the exception of Corwin's blade.

I told the Luggage to have Corwin's sword ready for when I called for it.

The shadow started changing around us faster. We stood upon a foundation of Hendrake certainty but the rest of the shadow was falling away. Images began to smear in and downward around us like we were caught in the middle of a whirlpool.

The colors faded into a chiaroscuro effect as they twisted and drained away below our feet. Drake shifted to his large dragon shape. I moved away as his Chaos blade floated in the grasp of his Logrus tentacle.

Keladrian began to shift and became harder to see. I really had to get him to teach me to shape shift.

An incredibly overwhelming sense of impending doom settled firmly upon me. Intellectually I was aware that this was just part of the whole Chaos thing being reactive to the will of the Emergent, emotionally and intuitively I knew we were all fucked.

The Chiaroscuro effect increased and the plain around us swirled into a large checkerboard of black and white, or perhaps a chessboard. The feeling that I was an expendable pawn increased. I could feel the Hendrake woman near by working hard to maintain the certainty that there was stable footing beneath us.

"I fight best mobile." Keladrian said to me. "During this I may be moving a lot. Do not be disconcerted."

Reality stretched out around us, the horizon was an infinity away. Arising from one side of the chessboard was a massive red and pinkish squid head. The form of the Kraken loomed over the chessboard and it was on such a scale as to make the squares on the board seem small in comparison. Line Ihendra had arrived.

As the Kraken arose on that side of the chessboard a wave of cold swept over us accompanied by a low basal note that ran up my spine making it hard to breath.

"The deepest Leviathan is still seafood when it meets the right fire." Drake said before he took to the air.

I was so focused on the massive form of the Kraken that it took awhile to notice the army that had arisen beneath. The army was larger than the forces that we had seen with Benedict and it was full of slimy creatures from the depths of the sea; creatures that couldn't possibly exist anywhere outside of the worst nightmares.

From behind us a pure shing of metal responded to the tone of the Kraken. The Hendrake straightened considerably. Turing in that direction I saw a statuesque woman, maybe 8 feet tall. She was dressed in armor and radiated the cold of absolute purpose. She was armed with a simple long sword. Around her was an army of maybe two to three hundred.

We seemed to be situated midway between the two sides. Not an enviable position.

"I think perhaps an expeditious retreat to the side of the forces aligned with us." Keladrian suggested.

"They do know that we are aligned with them?" I asked eyeing the highly trained warriors of the Sword Maiden.

"We'll leave that to Drake to inform them." Keladrian suggested.

Isabeau didn't wait for an answer but picked up the body of Valens and set off in the direction of the Hendrake forces.

"Are you going to carry Corwin, or would you like me to strap him on the Luggage?" I asked as Keladrian and I followed Isabeau's lead.

"At this point I will carry him to save time, but that may be a good idea. I will be dropping him at some point." He said looking back at the army of the Kraken.

I was really tempted to stuff Corwin in the Luggage. After all he had survived Morgenstern attacking him. The only thing that prevented me from doing so was that Corwin would be out of sight and if there was a way out of the Luggage, Corwin would find it. Not to mention that he would also have access to Greyswandir.

I didn't want to turn my back on the Kraken's army so moved in a side stepping motion towards the Hendrake line.

"Just run." Keladrian ordered. "Drake warn us if something comes behind us."

We reached the Hendrake fighters shortly before the Ihendron charge hit the Hendrake wall. The sound of the two armies meeting was the stuff of nightmares. The Kraken forces were composed of squid-like beings and stuff dredged from the depths of the oceans throughout shadow. They squished and burbled and smelled of brine and salt-water and things much worse. It became disordered, bloody and dark very quickly.

We settled into the center of the Hendrake formation. I took the body of Corwin from Keladrian and the Luggage and I formed up on each side. I had one of Caine's daggers in each hand and the Luggage at my back. Isabeau placed Valens near her and took a defensive position over the other consort. Drake took to the sky to provide offense from the air.

"Zhelan, be safe." Keladrian said and then faded into the forces around us.

'If you get yourself killed, I'll never talk to you again.' I thought, wishing that we had a moment to say more before he disappeared.

The sea creatures were everywhere. The smell was unimaginable and the pieces of dead Ihendron's were everywhere, My armor was covered in slime and ichor, it was in my eyes and I swore I could taste it in my mouth. They came and they died and they died. The Hendrake warriors were not unscathed by any means and the holes in their ranks became noticeable when more of the Ihendron's got through.

It became difficult to move as I was up to my knees in slime, body parts and ichor. I glanced around to keep track of Corwin and noticed that the bag covering his head was going under. I thought about pulling him out and placing on top of a dead Hendrake, which was a little more solid, then changed my mind. Heck, Ssalesh could use some good fertilizer after the attack of the Locust. I used my Trump memory to there to open a gate to clear the debris.

I was completely covered with the battle wreckage. It was difficult to breathe and I was sticky and foul smelling. All I wanted right now was to be away from here in a nice hot bath. I had the sudden thought that If I died here, I would make a rotten corpse. I shoved the vision from my mind and concentrated on the next stroke of the blade.

The battle continued unrelentingly. I narrowed my focus to the area of control around me and used the Trump memory to clean out my area several more times. I was glad now that we had taken the time to eat and sleep before coming here.

It seemed that I had been standing here forever but actually it was probably only around twelve hours when I noticed that Isabeau was fatigued. She had several wounds; a cut on her forehead, her wrist was gouged and she was limping from a cut on her hip. Her sword movements weren't as crisp. Drake dropped down to our position. I widened my focus and realized that the armor though dirty was undamaged. I hadn't taken any wounds that I was aware of.

"Does it look like the wave is starting to thin?" Isabeau asked Drake hopefully.

"No, I just needed a break." Drake sighed. I realized that he was running low on stamina as well.

"I need a nap." Isabeau declared as she took a sandwich from her backpack. She flicked something off the bread and took a bite.

I was grossed out. I don't think I could have eaten anything in the middle of this battlefield with the smell of decaying fish mixed with blood, intestinal gases and worse.

Isabeau continued fighting between bites of food.

"You have a Trump of Benedict, if you think that we are spinning our wheels here. . ." Drake suggested to Isabeau.

We could tell that the Hendrake forces were fighting a defensive battle but unaware of the reasons behind it.

"The question is, do we want to continue to be part of the delaying force, or do we want to go somewhere else?" Isabeau said between thrusts of her sword and consumption of her food. "I vote for somewhere else because I'm getting really tired of this battle."

"The final battlefield, this chessboard that we are standing on, is it going to move when we move?" I asked them. My thought was that the final battlefield was here because that was where we had the consorts. If we took the consorts elsewhere, the battlefield would shift with us, so what was the point in going through all that again. The feeling a dread and impending doom were still with me, so I don't know if it was that which was influencing my thoughts on the subject or not.

"Good point. What do you think about taking the battle to big, dark and ugly over there?" Isabeau replied.

"The Kraken?" I asked surprised.

"If we are going to attack an Avatar directly, I'd rather save it for the Bitch." Drake answered. "Frankly as annoying as the Kraken and the Ihendron have been, they've been around for eons. I don't care if any of the Avatars stand after this except for the Bitch. That's the one that's got to be put down."

"I was just wondering if there was a way to stop this wave of army?" Isabeau shrugged as she skewered something that looked like a cross between a Lamprey eel and a Portuguese Man'o War.

"This isn't like in Tor where creatures were being sent through. These are people." Drake reminded us. "As people as you or me."

"How come there are so many of them?" I complained.

"How many creatures exist in a shadow?" Drake responded. "Chaos is big. There are millions of beings in Chaos. And you know those fast time shadows?"

"They are reproducing as we speak." Isabeau conjectured. "My theory is that this is a distraction and we have to stay here and be a distraction, I guess. We haven't gotten any other orders."

"Where is the Emergence? Is she not going to Emerge until all the battles are done?" I asked.

"Yep, that's my guess." Isabeau agreed.

"Hoping that forces supporting her will have weakened the opposition to her Emergence." Drake added.

I looked around at the Hendrake forces. Of the original three hundred it appeared that they were only down to about two hundred and sixty. They were doing better than I had thought.

There seemed to be no reduction in the opposing forces.

Keladrian appeared near us. "Have you decided on a different course of action?"

The sound of his voice lessened the despair that I had been plagued with since the arrival of the two armies.

"We are tired of the this defensive action. Tired is the primary word there, defensive is the secondary." Isabeau told him.

We continued our fighting through the discussion. Isabeau continued eating.

"Can you toss me one of those?" Drake asked her.

"How can you eat at a time like this?" The mere thought was enough to sour my stomach.

"If I don't eat, I'm going to collapse from exhaustion." She replied honestly.

"But it stinks." I protested.

"It ranks right up there, I probably won't be eating seafood again in this lifetime. But, ya know, I'd like to have a lifetime after this, so I'm going to eat."

"Call for me if you decide to change tactics." Keladrian brought us back to the important matters.

"I'd love to change tactics, we just can't decide on what." Isabeau told him.

"I was thinking after we lose half our forces . . ." Drake began.

"When we get down to about a hundred and fifty?" Isabeau clarified.

"That's when we should think about doing something else." Drake finished.

"Great, in another twelve hours." Isabeau complained.

"Is there another side to the Ihendron army?" I asked Keladrian. It was difficult to think strategically with this depressive funk I was in. It was not natural and must be imposed from without. I was wondering who was causing it and how much longer I would need to deal with it.

The other's looked at me strangely.

"Here is big, hulking Kraken on the horizon." I did my best large monster imitation. "Here is large amounts of troops." I indicated the slithering, slimy Ihendron forces. "Is there any space between the two of them? Can we like get to the other side?"

"You mean like between the Kraken and the troops?" Keladrian asked.

I thought that was what I had just said. "Maybe we can just go there and attack it."

"I was talking about possibly attacking the Kraken." Isabeau glanced over at Drake.

"How many people can you Spin at once?" I asked Keladrian ignoring Drake and Isabeau.

"I had proposed taking the battle to the Kraken." Isabeau reiterated.

"No, I'm thinking about taking it to the backside of the Kraken's troops." I explained.

"I don't know, I didn't look when I was up in the air." Drake shrugged then focused on Keladrian. "That is a good question Keladrian, do you know the limits of your Spin power within a shadow?"

"One thing is that I will not be spinning potential possible enemies." Keladrian seemed loathed to discuss the issue here.

"It's just a thought. If we Spun all the way over to the edge of the board and we made the Ihendron run over to us and then Spun to the other side, maybe we could just tire them out." Drake laughed at the image he'd described.

The rest of us joined him in laughter at his graveyard humor.

"That would be amusing." I said as I skewered another squid. "If this battle has just started and you two are already tired . . ."

"We've been battling for fourteen hours, Zhelan, hello." Isabeau snapped.

"And?" I raised an eyebrow.

"I'm glad you're feeling fresh and perky." She sneered.

"We went from fighting a rain of translucent squid in Tor, to pulling my father out of the Abyss." Drake defended their exhaustion.

"To this battle for little miss Bitch. So we've pretty much been running for awhile now." Isabeau added.

"Can you cycle them through a fast time shadow?" Keladrian asked me.

"Yes." I agreed.

"I'm afraid if we take the corpses . . . " Isabeau started to protest.

"You do not take the corpses." Keladrian explained. "That would disrupt whatever is going on. We cycle through one person at a time."

"That might be the best." Isabeau agreed.

"Okay." I took out the Trump sketch to the crystal shadow. It was splattered with ichor almost immediately.

I scraped it off.

"Figure out how you are going to get back." Keladrian warned.

"She has a Trump of me. She can let us know when she is ready to return. And I can haul her ass back here." I told him.

"Or you can Trump me and say get back here, whatever." Isabeau's sword was drooping further and she needed to get rest soon.

I activated the Trump sketch and sent Isabeau through. Drake assumed Isabeau's place over the body of his father.

It seemed like only about five minutes later when I got a Trump call. I concentrated a moment to see who it was. I turned to Drake. "I've got an incoming call from Isabeau. Can you watch my back for awhile to keep me from being overrun?" I opened up to the Trump call when he nodded.

"Hello." I could see behind Isabeau that she was inside a tent. There was a nice bed and a samovar. It seemed that she had gotten some accoutrements for the shadow, but a bath hadn't been one of them. The inside of the yurt was very stylish. I wondered who would be helping Isabeau out who had that much style. The last I had seen of Mandor was when we had ditched him at Caer al Dare.

"Ready to come back?" I asked my cousin as I held out my hand to her. "Say hello to your father for me."

"Uh huh."
She said non-committedly as she took my hand and stepped through. "Here we are back at the war." She looked around.

"You've been gone less than five minutes." I told her. "Are you ready to go through Drake?"

"A moment." He was looking around the battlefield and then seemed to find what he wanted. He and Isabeau had a discussion, something about a sword. I was a little busy fending off Ihendron's to get the details.

Then I heard Isabeau say, "Can we drag the corpse over here next to dad?"

"Yes." Drake agreed and picked up a Hendrake body. I couldn't figure out what they were doing.

We didn't have enough bodies here, we needed another one? Then Drake introduced Isabeau to the fallen warriors sword.

"This is Isabeau of Amber and Chaos." He turned to Isabeau. "This is not something that you will find hanging on my wall, but it will definitely help you in this battle."

Isabeau raised an eyebrow and reached for the sword.

Drake hesitated a moment and then addressed the sword again. "Hello, this is your Prince speaking. Hendrake's are sworn to Sawall and you're not?" He glared at the sword a moment and then handed the blade to Isabeau.

Isabeau took some practice swings with it. I had to admit that my cousin was perhaps somewhat better in her fighting skills than I, but the sword made her better yet. She held up the sword and spoke to it.

"Our duty is to guard this corpse and make sure that it does not get carried away." She enunciated each word and indicated the corpse in question as if she were lecturing a child. "Okay? Stop pulling me to the front lines."

It seemed that her rest had not done her much good mentally. I tore my attention from my cousin and turned to Drake. "Are you ready now?"

"Yes, after they got acquainted." Drake indicated Isabeau and the sword.

"You may run into Mandor while you are there." Isabeau told Drake as he moved up next to me. "If so, get him to give you food."

I opened up the Trump and sent Drake through.

The fighting continued. After sometime had passed Isabeau yelled out to me. "All right, Zhelan, give."


"How are you staying uninjured? You just got slashed across the forehead five minutes ago and you're not even scarred."

"I'm wearing armor and your aren't." I was honest with her. But there was no reason to actually tell her anything that she couldn't see for herself.

"Bullshit, you don't have armor over your face. Hello." She didn't seem happy with my response.

"Did I get hit in the face?" My hand went up to my cheek. I really didn't want to have my features marred. Who knew what it would take to get a mark removed. I looked at my hand and didn't see any blood.

"Yeah, it's the armor, un huh." She wasn't buying it. "I don't get it, you've been getting stabbed, poked, slashed and whatever and you are not bleeding."

"Maybe my defense is better than yours." I continued the game. Actually I didn't know what Keladrian had done to my armor. He hadn't told me, but there was no way in all of shadow that I would ever tell my cousin that.

"Sorry, I just don't buy it. That story is just not flying. I wonder if it has something to do with the nature of Chaos and reality." She started muttering to herself. "She thinks her armor is invincible, so therefore she's invincible. I'm invincible." She fought for a little longer. "No, that didn't work."

"Why don't you try moving around while you use your Pattern." I told her.

"I was moving, I was stabbing." She replied.

"You have to move your feet." I explained. While not a Pattern user myself I had been around them my whole life. I knew what Bleys and Random could do. Recently I had seen what Caine and Corwin could do.

Isabeau started shuffling and I could feel the power of the Pattern. I smiled at her invincibility dance. Who knows it might actually have some affect, but it would certainly make a good story when we got out of here. My amusement was cut short as a feeling of dread, more potent than had been plaguing me up to now, swept over me.

I felt that not only was I going to die, I would never have existed. No one would remember me. It was overwhelming and my blades faltered. I tried to focus on Keladrian and tried to find some will to continue.

The noise of the battle diminished until there was an unscream like the absorption of sound, and then a flash of gold. The Hendrake forces shifted and tightened up. The Ihendron's froze in place a moment.

The Hendrake forces locked up tight around us, bringing their dead with them. I pulled out my Trump. I had done this in my father's fortress. Perhaps that was my best defense against whatever this unmaking was. I concentrated on the essence of myself that was in the Trump. 'I am me, I am here and I am still standing. I am important.' I continued the litany and focused on the Trump.

The Hendrake fighters turned inward and crouched down. Keladrian was suddenly at my side and he suggested that we do the same. We ducked and covered. The Trump concentration seemed to be helping.

The sound of the unscream came louder and a wave of unmaking rolled across the plain.

I concentrated harder.

The wave smashed into us and the slime and ichor disappeared from around us. I could feel it leave my hair and face.

After the wave passed the Hendrake forces stood up, the Captain held out her hand for the sword that Isabeau was holding. When Isabeau surrendered it, they saluted us and in a flurry of Edgefall, they disappeared. There was no sign of the Kraken or the Ihendron's either.

Isabeau pulled out her Trump deck. "It's time he got back here."

"What the hell was that?" I said

"Obviously the second round is about to occur." Isabeau flipped through her deck.

"But what was that thing that rolled past. I don't mind the tidy, but I didn't like the feeling of it." I shivered.

"Something Chaosian, I don't know." Isabeau stopped shuffling Trump long enough to pick up her old sword.

"A ripple from the Emergence." Keladrian speculated.

"No." I disagreed. That just didn't seem right to me.

"I would have expected sound, not taking it away." Keladrian agreed.

I suddenly had severe cramps. "At least we seem to be getting a small respite between the battles."

"It is coming." Keladrian warned.

"I just wished I felt better." The abdominal cramps seemed to be getting worse.

"You do not feel well?" Keladrian seemed concerned.

"No." I wasn't about to tell him what the problem was.

"The next two are Griffin and Phoenix. Griffin is on our side I think." Isabeau had found her Trump of Drake and began concentrating on it.

"Do we know who won the last battle?" I asked.

"We did. Were still standing." Isabeau said distractedly.

"I suppose you could look at it that way." I looked around. "You gonna do that invincibility dance again?" I couldn't resist the jibe.

"Kiss my ass, Zhelan."

Back to Top

Chapter 42
Mandor Chooses

The golden orb in the sky did not seem to be getting any larger. Isabeau was still concentrating on Drake's Trump but stopped a moment to say, "Phoenix and Griffin are next I think. I don't know what manifestation they will assume."

Movement on the ground diverted my attention from the orb above. I looked down to see the ground begin to bubble like oatmeal coming to a boil; it wasn't hot, just bubbling. I looked to Keladrian. "Should I stick with the daggers, or move to another weapon?"

"Consider that your ace in the hole." Keladrian advised.

"By the way, whatever you did to the armor seems to be working." I hinted trying to get him to tell me what he had actually done. He didn't say anything. "You mind telling me what you did sometime?"

"Sounds like you already know." I could hear the smile in his tone even if I couldn't see his face.

"Exactly what is it doing?" I was more direct.

"If you blow another hole in the armor it will repair itself. It will also repair you. It seemed prudent since you keep breaking it."

"Not my fault." The brief moment of humor was necessary to relieve the tension of the situation. "I put the armor on and people start attacking me." There seemed to be a slight break in the action and I took the opportunity to stretch a bit.

The ground began to boil more aggressively. The bubbles were growing larger and they started popping and the stench was highly reminiscent of the smell of the Kraken's forces. Then very quickly the bubbles became larger and instead of gases there were pieces of dead Kraken forces being spewed forth.

Keladrian grabbed the two bodies and began moving.

"Are you sure you want those bodies together?" I was a bit concerned about the bodies being that close.

Then I noticed that the bits and pieces being spewed forth were moving on their own and not just because they had been belched forth with the gases.

"Keladrian, these bits and pieces are moving." Isabeau stated.

"Would you quit fooling around and get a hold of Drake already." I snapped at Isabeau. I was concerned that we would be facing the Ihendron army again but this time without the Hendrake forces.

"Zhelan, you call Drake. Lady Isabeau, we need to start moving and we want solid ground." Keladrian took charge.

Pulling out Drake's Trump, I grabbed Keladrian's arm. I could walk and Trump at the same time but I felt better about having someone else watch my footing in this place.

After a few moments of concentration I let the others know that I wasn't getting any response from Drake. "It shouldn't take this long."

"I wasn't getting a response either. Hello, I think there's a problem here." As usual Isabeau had to jump in with a snide comment.

"Should I try someone else?" I ignored Isabeau and asked Keladrian.

"I don't think you'll get an answer, but yeah, sure." Isabeau answered anyway.

I took out the Trump sketch of the crystal shadow and tried to activate it. Nothing happened. Either the shadow was gone or it had changed somehow making the Trump worthless. "Something's happened to that shadow." I told the others. "That may mean that something has happened to Drake."

"Either he'll catch up to us or he won't." Isabeau said.

I thought she was in denial She needed to realize that Drake might not be coming back. "If I can't get a hold of him and something has happened to that shadow, it might mean that he is no longer alive."

"We are in the end battle. Drake will either come back or he won't. And it looks like it will be on his time schedule and not ours. Let's worry about what we can control which is where we are."

"Just to let you know that we no longer have that place to go to for a rest break." I had to admire Isabeau's pragmatism. I wondered how I would have reacted if it had been Keladrian instead of Drake who was missing.

"Fine, ok." Isabeau sighed. The loss of the rest shadow seemed to have more affect on her than the loss of Drake. Maybe they hadn't gotten as close as I had thought.

The pieces of Kraken army being spewed forth were getting larger and we now had to defend ourselves from them.

"Let me take one of those bodies from you so that you can be more mobile." I told Keladrian.

He agreed and passed Corwin to me. "Are we going to keep moving, or stay in one spot?" I settled Corwin's limp form over one shoulder as I kicked at a chunk of squid that was trying to attack.

"The point of moving is to keep the ground solid." Keladrian replied over his shoulder.

"The point of moving is for me to use Pattern to affect our surroundings." Isabeau explained.

She really hadn't gotten the hang of this yet. "Well we can stay in one spot and you can circumambulate us." I told her.

Isabeau stopped a moment. "That would probably make it easier for Keladrian to defend. Fine, put them on the ground there and just make sure nothing erupts underneath them."

"We can always put them on the Luggage." Keladrian suggested fighting off a larger regurgitated blob.

"Luggage, rope." I said. Then I stacked Valens and Corwin on the Luggage and tied them to the top while Isabeau paced around us and Keladrian fought off the bits and pieces of Kraken blobs.

"The next two powers are already present." Keladrian said as we were pressed more heavily on all sides by attacking sections. It seemed that whole bodies were being expelled now from the ground around us.

"I figured as much." I said as I spun and slashed through a tentacle that had attached itself to Corwin's leg.

"Are they going to get more strong or is this it. Do we continue until one of them gets tired?" Isabeau's sword smashed an octopus shaped blob into pulp as she walked around us.

"Until we are either unmade and our side declares victory or . . ." Keladrian left the thought hanging.

I realized then that I could still feel that sense of unmaking. I remembered that one of the powers supporting the Emergence had brought birth to the universe. I couldn't remember whether it was Phoenix or Griffin but I was betting it was Phoenix. Which meant that our side was the unmaker.

"That sucks." I said

"It does not appeal to me either." Keladrian agreed.

"Until we get unmade." I complained. "How did that get to be our side?"

"A very good question. I cannot say I would have chosen this."

"What if we just leave, then we are not here and we win." I suggested hopefully.

"No because wherever we are, we have what the Emergence wants." Isabeau added.

Leaving would only change the location of the battlefield, not solve anything. What a dilemma. I really didn't want to be unmade.

"Their power is that of life and they are generating it. Our side is opposing it with nothingness." Keladrian explained.

"So we are going to ride our steeds of non-existence across the plains of utter nothingness." I suggested quoting from a book of mystical poetry that I had once read.

"Perhaps we should not try so hard to maintain order." Keladrian said.

"I'm not maintaining any order." I objected.

"Ok, fine." Isabeau said and stopped near the Luggage. The roiling of the ground increased around us when Isabeau stopped moving.

"Let's try to all stay in physical contact." Keladrian said.

We backed up around the Luggage and tried to maintain contact.

"And now all of us concentrate on just us. We are here and that is all." Keladrian continued

"How strong do you want us to do that?" I asked him.

"My main way of doing that is to walk the Pattern in my mind." Isabeau answered. "And I don't think that would be a good choice here."

Keladrian agreed.

"My main way of doing that is to concentrate on my Trump image." I told him.

"Which I don't think that would be a really good choice here." Isabeau repeated.

"I believe that you should just use the strength of your mind." He told us.

I concentrated on myself and then Keladrian interrupted us. "No, you are Isabeau, that is Zhelan, this is Keladrian, that is Corwin. . ."

"Oh, you want me to think about you too?" Isabeau seemed surprised. I was also but at least had the sense not to say anything out loud. "You want us to concentrate on the whole group? Why didn't you say so."

"I said concentrate on US." Keladrian shook his head.

I focused on each one of the people in the group. Keladrian was easy to bring to mind, as was the Luggage and myself. It was harder to concentrate on Corwin and Isabeau. Valens was the hardest one to focus on.

Keladrian shifted to his dragon form so that it was easier to maintain contact. I could hear Keladrian begin to sing. I couldn't hear the words, it was mostly sub vocal but It became easier to focus on the members of the group. I began to feel the presence of the others filtered through Keladrian's perceptions. It was an odd sensation. I realized that my perceptions were strongly visually based. Keladrian was auditory based. I began to pick out the music of the group. Corwin's tone was a brass fanfare, the corpse was a dirge, I think I was a jazz tune.

As our concentration sharpened and focused the feeling of unmaking became much stronger. I discovered that is was easier to focus and blend with the others when I started humming. Then Isabeau's song hit a strange sour chord as if something was distorting it. I tried to ignore the disruption and continue to focus on the group.

Keladrian sang in tune with our blended song. "This would probably not be the best time for him to arrive."

"You don't want him here?" Isabeau asked.

I wondered whom they were talking about.

"That's not what I meant." Keladrian sang back.

"Huh, what?" I asked.

"Just sing dear." Keladrian told me. Which totally blew my concentration. It took several beats to regain my focus. Dear? He just called me dear? What the hell was with the pet names? Did he think that's what I expected, or did he pick that up from Drake and Isabeau?

I struggled to pick back up the rhythm of the group song. I missed what was happening to Isabeau but couldn't afford any more distractions.

"Communicate with him, can you?" Keladrian continued talking with Isabeau but his speech pattern was slipping back to what it was when we first met.

The power of the unmaking was keeping the boiling of the ground down. The song settled around me again and then Keladrian spoke to Isabeau distracting me once more. "Are you communicating with him?"

"I told him to wait." She answered. "Do you want him here or not?"

"It would just be one more person to save from unmaking." I protested. It was hard enough to focus on the ones who were here. Concentration has always been a weakness of mine. At least that's what father complained about. I could hear his voice now, 'Zhelan, if you would just learn to concentrate . . .'

I snapped back to the present and focused. This was difficult. "I think we are just doing good holding our own at this point." Whoever was trying to get Isabeau to bring them through could just wait.

"A way out he may provide." Keladrian sang. "If leave here we must."

"Where we go it will follow." Isabeau replied back in song. "We are the battle."

"It could be that this battle would be done if we moved." Was his response.

"But wouldn't that mean that we would lose?" I tried to sing my question, but it was difficult to match their song.

"Maybe, but the next battle would ensue." Keladrian seemed as eager for this to be over as I was.

"And the next battle is?" Isabeau asked.

"Any better?" I questioned.

"Force it to end, I would not suggest, but if it looks as if we lose or become undone, then perhaps we leave." Keladrian explained.

"I can tell him to come or I can tell him to go." Isabeau sang.

"Tell him to wait until we see whether he should come here or we should go there." Keladrian replied melodiously.

We went back to concentrating on our group identity song.

Isabeau interrupted our concentration again by saying, "It's going to be Nightmare and Unicorn next or Dragon and Serpent."

"Who knows whether Random got to Dworkin in time to convince Barriman to . . . " I began before Keladrian interrupted.

"We might have preempted things by grabbing the two consorts and having a premature war."

"If you think it is time to leave, tell me and we will go." Isabeau sighed.

"It would be nice to know if Nightmare was going to oppose Unicorn or not." I mused. That battle would be personal for Isabeau and I. "What are the horses going to do? What is the Nightmare's power base?"

The other two didn't seem to know. "Thenaroth said something about the Nightmare bringing the separation between mind and being." Isabeau offered.

"So it sounds like we will have dreams versus reality." I said forgetting to sing.

"That doesn't sound much different than making and unmaking." Isabeau snorted.

As our concentration faltered the waves of unmaking began to buffet us. "We need to concentrate." Keladrian held the center of the group focus steady.

We steadied down to our task when we were once again interrupted by a presence appearing in the middle of our group. The sense of cold purpose was absolutely disruptive to our song.

I looked around and recognized Lintrel as the waves of unmaking began eating away at me. My focus was completely shattered and I quickly went back to concentrating on my own essence. I could feel the group falter.

Keladrian exerted his will to bring our group back to task. "Concentrate on us, she can take care of herself."

"Excuse the interruption." Our new guest said. "Be now. More." Indicating that we were on the right track but that we needed to amplify what we were doing somehow.

Lintrel began adding her song to ours. While her song was very different and incredibly strong she did not try to subvert Keladrian's lead.

"We have to add somebody else?" Isabeau protested.

"Not only add, but now project." Keladrian quickly added.

Maybe she could just go away. Project? Project where, how? I closed off the distractions and concentrated on the essence that was in each of us. This shouldn't be difficult. I did it when I drew Trump. Everything had an essence that was drawn into the Trump to make them work. I thought back to the ordeal of waking up Bleys from his coma and the Trump network that I had discovered. I molded the essence into a whole and projected it through the Trump network that connects all of the shadows. The Trump network that father had been spread out on when he was unconscious.

As I projected the focused energy outward the blast of unmaking increased in strength. The boiling ground around us was blasted into subsidence. From beneath a scream began and was cut off sharply as if it had been unmade. The Unmaking built to a crescendo and with an anticlimactic pop we found ourselves standing in the Pits of Never sans Benedict and his army.

I looked around. The Luggage had Valens and Corwin stacked on top, Isabeau was to my left and Keladrian in his dragon form was to my right. Lintrel was still in the middle. "Who's next and where are they coming from?" I asked.

"Nightmare and Unicorn?" Isabeau guessed.

"So maybe we're just dreaming we're here." I shrugged.

Keladrian looked towards Lintrel and raised an eyebrow. It was very expressive and said volumes. Like can you clue us in here or are we just going to be batting around in the dark? That's what I would have asked anyway.

"Now it is between the Emperor and your Lord." She answered his raised brow.

"So where is Big Blue?" I asked trying to break the tension with humor.

No one answered. Isabeau sat down on the ground and Lintrel and Keladrian were sizing each other up. I moved over to the Luggage and began to untie Valens and Corwin. It seemed that we would have a break in the action and it was time to get food and water. I moved the bodies and requested the Luggage provide a table, food, water and dishes. No sense in putting up with primitive circumstances just because we were in the middle of a battlefield.

Lintrel raised an eyebrow at the bloody bag over the head of my uncle. I noticed that the mace that I had been using to pacify Corwin was gone and so I got a war hammer out to replace it.

Drake in his thirty foot Dragon form entered the Pits of Never towing two space trawlers with him. He circled the field and landed bringing the trawlers to the ground nearby.

"Reinforcements?" I asked as he lighted.

"Tools." He amended.

"What are you gonna do? Drop them on somebody?" I laughed.

"I had reinforcements, but he fled." He answered back in a tone that seemed to indicate that I should feel responsible for the issue.

"Who?" I took the bait.

"Your father." He said pointedly.

Both Isabeau and I sighed.

"I was ready to come through with him earlier when I contacted you." Drake explained to Isabeau.

"That would have been a bad idea." Isabeau told him.

"That's why I waited. I trusted your judgment. However we received a backlash of Edgefall, and something else."

"How'd you get a backlash?" I was curious. Was it a backlash or an attack by the Emergence?

"We were told to Amplify, I amplified." Isabeau protested.

I realized that Isabeau must have been in contact with Drake during the battle between Griffin and Phoenix and projected our struggle through to him. He must have been the one she and Keladrian were talking about bringing through.

"I felt Edgefall. I don't know what Prince Bleys felt." Drake continued. "After he regained consciousness and I was once again ready to come forward, he fled."

Drake's choice of words immediately infuriated me. He was essentially indicating that my father a Prince of the Court of Amber was a coward. I had never known my father to back down from a fight. "You mean he left." I said coldly.
"Your choice of words is rather . . ."

"We were standing upon the edge, ready to go into battle and he was no longer there." Drake retorted.

"I wouldn't be too sure of that." Keladrian tried to interject.

"I seem to recall objecting to some of your choice of words in regard to my mother." Isabeau reminded me. "It just seems to be one of those child things."

"Prince Bleys is not here." Drake reiterated. "I think that speaks for itself. He is now even later than he was."

I glanced at Keladrian and reigned in my fury. It would do the outcome of this conflict no good for the defenders to begin squabbling amongst themselves. I took a deep breath. "Whatever, it is now Benedict's problem."

"So we wait." Keladrian summed up our current action.

"What are we waiting for?" Drake asked.

"We wait for our two masters to decide." Keladrian answered simply.

"Do you want something to eat and drink?" I offered my cousin since she had been eyeing my preparations.

She moved over and picked up a plate and began to fill it from the containers on the table. I poured her a glass of water.

"Take a break and relax while we have the time." I turned to Drake. "We tried to Trump you and to open up the sketch to the shadow where we had sent you. Neither of them was working."

"I received no Trump call." Drake said. "Except for the one from Prince Bleys. Since I had not heard from you, I brought him through. He was bringing a good deal of force with him. I'm afraid the large force distorted the shadow so we left and staged to Tor. At which time I found Isabeau. We received the summons to wait and did so." Drake did not again mention my father leaving.

"We won't be able to use that again if people need a rest break." I cautioned them.

Drake and Keladrian both looked in Corwin's direction. "Is he unconscious?" Keladrian asked.

"No he is separating." Lintrel seemed concerned.

Isabeau looked toward our uncle and concentrated and then said, "Zhelan, help."

I reached out and put my hand on her arm and placed my other hand on Corwin. I could feel Corwin slipping away. I guess I'd hit him in the head once too many times. I opened my mind as a conduit between the three of us. 'Come back Corwin. This is not your time. You have a duty to Amber that has not yet been fulfilled.' I got a sense of great weariness, tiredness with this stupid world, its stupid lies and betrayals. Corwin was at his most melodramatic. I brought up images of Amber, its compelling beauty. Places that I knew Corwin had loved, images of the Unicorn and duty to the family.

Unfortunately my true feelings for Amber and its duty and surroundings were too evident in this close of mental rapport. Isabeau was struggling to support my visions but it soon became evident that she truly felt the duty and attachment to Amber that I was trying to create for Corwin. I let her take the forefront in this struggle and supported her efforts. Occasionally I would nudge her in a different direction as between the two of us, I knew our Uncle better.

I don't know how long we worked together to keep Corwin's spirit from leaving his body, but Keladrian had conjured his bonds from rope to hard metal and he was now speaking with Drake and Lintrel. I dropped my hand from Isabeau's arm.

My cousin stretched and rubbed her temples. "I think that will do it but I'm going to have a headache for a little while."

I moved back over to the table and resumed eating. "So how much longer before the next catastrophe?"

"Any time." Drake answered.

Isabeau moved over to the table and continued eating also.

"Actually if I were her, I would not wait." Keladrian said.

"What, for them to make a decision?" I asked referring to Thenaroth and what passed for the Sawallian Emperor.

"What do you think that last little, Corwin trying to walk into the light thing was." Isabeau said between bites. "I have a feeling that was from her. Now if just Dad stays still." She indicated the contorted corpse of Valens. I found it strange that she kept referring to Drakes' father as her own.

"Dad's gone." Drake assured her.

"Just because he's gone doesn't mean he's going to stay still. We've already proven that." Isabeau replied.

"His spirit unlike Corwin's is gone, it is not present." Drake explained.

"But she's still going to need the body isn't she?" I asked the others.

The others didn't seem to know the answer to that. Keladrian actually looked a little embarrassed by the question. It was Drake who finally spoke. "I don't know. She's had the body, it might be more difficult with out it." He looked to Lintrel for affirmation.

"We are all different." Was all the Incarnation said.

"We have had this conversation before." Keladrian began. "The nature of one's . . ."

I had no patience left to rehash old philosophical discussions. "Obviously having the two bodies here was of importance or the battles would not have started."

"Touch on the heart of it you do." Keladrian agreed. "We have just prevented Corwin from going to her. So what are her other options?"

"Come here." I replied.

"Been there, done that." Isabeau said.

"So any moment now?" It was half question and half in frustration. I just wanted this whole thing over with.

"You said that Prince Bleys was bringing assistance?" Keladrian turned to Drake.

"He had a large force with him." Drake agreed.

"Perhaps you should try to contact your father." Keladrian now turned to me. "And tell him to get a hold of Prince Benedict if he has not."

There were so many things wrong with that statement. Isabeau had mentioned that my father had asked her about my whereabouts. Usually it was not a good thing when my father was trying to find me. And the idea of my telling my father to do anything was more than laughable, it was downright suicidal. "Why don't we just have Isabeau contact Benedict and see if Bleys has arrived yet?"

"The Pits of Never are here again. That is where your father wished to go. That is where I was taking him. After the interruption he disappeared, he did not appear here." Drake was back to that.

"Are you sure that this is the Pits of Never?" I challenged. "Because this is where Benedict was supposed to be also."

"He may have joined Benedict by this point." Drake acquiesced.

"I have a Trump of Bleys." Isabeau offered.

` "Good then you can contact him." I told her.

"You want Bleys here now?" Isabeau asked.

"No. We want to make sure that Bleys is with Benedict." I corrected.

"We don't know where Benedict is, he was suppose to be here." Isabeau objected.

"No, Benedict was not supposed to be here. This was the staging area." I told her.

"Yes this was the staging area." Isabeau agreed in frustration.

"We are no longer staging, the battle has already started." I reminded her.

"Do not array and display all your forces." Keladrian interjected.

"Exactly." Lintrel inserted with surgical precision.

"Whatever. Should I call Benedict?" Now Isabeau was confused about who should be called.

"It's Benedict's call as to how to best use whatever force Bleys has brought." Keladrian said. "It would be best if those two talked with each other."

"Yes, but the elders seem so willing to talk to each other." Sarcasm from Isabeau, big surprise.

No one moved on the issue and I didn't feel like rehashing the recent discussion. I reached for my father's Trump.

"It's his choice." Drake stated.

"His choice to do what?" Isabeau questioned.

"To follow orders or not." Drake seemed to have little regard for my father.

"And where is Ulris?" Keladrian changed the subject.

"That was my thought." Drake agreed.

Drake must have done something as Lintrel spoke. "Don't reach for Ulris."

"Can you tell me where he is?" Drake asked her.

"He is safe, but not in visible sight or hearing range." Was all Lintrel would say.

"Ok, don't let the Bitch know where your cards are." Isabeau summed it up.

I activated my father's Trump.

"The last time I saw him I told him to talk to Benedict." Isabeau seemed to be rambling. "What is it with this elder talking to elder thing."

Bleys' response was immediate. "Zhelan." He seemed actually pleased to get my call. Could he have actually been worried about me?

"Hello father. Have you found Benedict yet?" He was dressed all in black making Helioventar stand out at his side. There was not one speck of his usual colors.

"Do you need to speak to Benedict?" His intonation seemed to indicate that his feelings would be hurt if that was the case.

"No, we were just wondering . . . Prince Drake mentioned that you had left when he was on his way here to the Pits of Never and we were just wondering if you had made it to Benedict yet."

"You can console Prince Drake with the assurance that I have reached my goal." He said with cold contempt.

"Very good." I wasn't sure what else I should say. I waited for him to say something.

"Are you well?" His tone softened.

"Currently. We seem to be having a small break between battles."

"Shouldn't be long."

"No. Keladrian thinks that there would be no point in her waiting longer."

"Well then we better get busy." He seemed hesitant to break the contact.

"Good luck." Was all I said wishing that we had time and conditions to say more.

"And you." And he was gone.

I turned back to the group. "Yes, he is where he is suppose to be."

Keladrian had changed to his human aspect and was helping himself to the food on the table.

Isabeau was looking down at her ragged attire. "I suppose I won't have time to change." She sighed.

"Would you like to have some leather pants and a leather jacket? It would be a little bit more protection than the rags you're wearing." I offered in a moment of generosity. Speaking with father had put me in a good mood for once.

"Sure." She brightened considerably.

She seemed about my size so I asked the Luggage for the clothing and handed them to my cousin.

Lintrel came to attention and Thenaroth stepped into the shadow. 80 feet of wryly amused dragon. There was a palpable sense of tension between the two incarnations.

"Thenaroth." I acknowledge his presence. It seemed prudent since I was consorting with his progeny.

Isabeau quickly adjusted her clothing.

"Ambassador." Thenaroth nodded to Drake. "Find your Emperor."

Drake turned to Lintrel and inquired. "Is it safe?"

Lintrel gave a look back to Drake and it seemed that a message was passed but I was unable to determine what it was.

Drake pulled a Trump from somewhere out of his scales. He had increased his size to where he was larger than Keladrian's master.

Keladrian turned to Isabeau and myself and said. "I suggest that you prepare. Cover each other's back and stay aware of the situation. If you need help call me." He nodded towards the bodies of Corwin and Valens. It looked like Isabeau and I were corpse watch during the upcoming discussion. Then he shifted to his dragon form.

"We're on corpse duty." I told my cousin.

She waved her hand in the direction of Valens. "You watch Corwin, I've got dad."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." I muttered. "Same, same." I guess I shouldn't complain. We could be doing something more exciting like wading up to our asses in squid guts.

Keladrian realized that Isabeau did not have a weapon and handed her his staff. "You may find this useful."

"I've got plenty of weapons in the Luggage if you want." I offered.

"Probably not as potent as this one." Keladrian countered.

"Probably not." I agreed. I didn't know what all he had enchanted into it, but if it was half as good as he had made my armor, I couldn't provide better without letting Isabeau have Grayswandir. And I wasn't on that good of terms with my cousin.

Isabeau thanked Keladrian as he moved closer to Thenaroth.

A wave of darkness settled over the shadow and Swayvil appeared in front of Drake. Drake's wings swept up framing the Emperor and shot black flame out of his mouth. It was a bit showy but the presentation was impressive. Had to give Drake marks for showmanship.

It was interesting to note that no one bowed at his entrance.

Looks were traded between Swayvil and Lintrel. Then I remembered some of what Drake had said about Chaos linage. Empress Tyrellia was Lintrel's daughter, and Swayvil was really Tyrellia in disguise.

By the look that the two had just exchanged I was sure that Lintrel either knew about the deception or had just figured it out.

The two incarnations and the pretender moved to stand in a triangle facing each other.

Lintrel made the opening statement. She pointed to Keladrian, Drake, Isabeau and myself and said, "These four are marked." By doing so she acknowledged that Line Hendrake owed a debt to us for our part in the opening battle. I wasn't sure how much of a good thing this was. It could just be the kiss of death.

The Emperor looked past Isabeau to the corpse of Valens and was visibly disturbed. It was her son after all and it must be difficult to put those feelings aside even if she was pretending to be Swayvil. "Could you see to the body of Our son?" Swayvil asked Lintrel.

"No." The Incarnation of the Sword Maiden replied.

Thenaroth was looking on amused. Keladrian and I had told him that Swayvil was a pretender and now he had that confirmed.

After some uncomfortable silence the three began to converse. The main sticking point seemed to be that when the Emergence arrived that only Thenaroth and Lintrel had any force available to stand up to it. Sawall, while being great of heart and of number was impotent at this time.

The fact that the Serpent was dead was brought up quite bluntly. Not even Thenaroth knew of any way to resurrect an Avatar.

Drake shifted when the conversation moved in that direction and all three in the center turned and looked at him.

"I might have some ideas on that." He said softly. He waited until he had their full attention. "The daughters still exist."

"They are second clutch." Lintrel informed him.

"I believe a first exists as well." Drake answered back even more quietly so that I almost missed what he said.

Then it hit me. The serpent had multiple eggs in its first hatching. For some strange reason my thoughts immediately shifted to a recent mysterious acquaintance. I looked in Isabeau's direction. Did she guess?

"And if the Serpent needs a vessel, I stand before you both Dragon and Serpent." I snapped back around at Drake's offer. I wasn't so sure about this. Did I trust Drake enough to allow Line Sawall to fully be reformed with him as an Avatar? I had a very bad feeling about this and my hand went to the dagger in my belt.

"That's a brave suggestion Drake, but you are too weak and too young." Swayvil answered.

"Then I know of only one hope." Drake replied.

"Can she convince him?" Swayvil asked Drake quietly. Not looking in our direction. Drake shrugged.

"Get him here." Swayvil ordered.

Drake looked over at Isabeau with a sappy look on his enormous dragon features. Was this why he had been courting my cousin? Using her for political advantage in the Courts? How would Isabeau take it and would she even realize what the implications were? She was awfully young and had been sheltered from much of the family politics. Not that I was so savvy in them, but much more so than she.

"Remember the Trump that I said that might be useful?" Drake oozed to Isabeau.

"Uh huh." She nodded. "Time huh. I don't know, he wasn't very interested." It seemed that she and Drake had already discussed this contingency.

"Perhaps he might be if he knew you stood under the heel." Drake cajoled.

Isabeau sighed.

"He does love you in his own way." Drake urged. "And he does care even though he pretends not to and plays the observer." Isabeau's hand went to her pocket. Drake paused and then continued. "And it would be fitting considering your mother was instrumental in pushing the pebble that began the landslide."

I thought Drake had gone too far with that last comment. It wouldn't have worked with me. No one could say anything against my father but myself. And maybe Keladrian. Maybe that was how Drake was getting away with this.

"Yeah like that's his fault. Fiona did what she wanted to do." Isabeau muttered.

"I said that it would be fitting, not that it was his fault." Drake corrected his tack and continued the honey-coated pressure on Isabeau.

It was fascinating to watch the manipulation in play. I always admired expert manipulation except when it was being used on me.

"Of course he might just prefer to sweep in afterward and pick up the pieces." Drake continued when Isabeau hesitated. "I mean it's not his concern, he's hunkered down isn't he?"

"O shut up already." Isabeau snapped.

"I don't know how hunkered down he is if he was helping Isabeau out on her rest break." I interjected just to break the spell that Drake was trying to weave with my cousin. She should have the chance to make this decision on her own. She was after all an Amberite and we should stick together, seeing as how we were outnumbered here.

"I have a feeling that he is keeping a closer eye on this whole thing than you believe." Isabeau nodded. "I don't know if I can do this."

"You are the only one who has the right." I told her.

"No, it is not Isabeau that is doing something, it is Mandor's decision." Keladrian added helpfully. "She is just passing the message."

"All right fine, I'll try it. Everyone else has their elders involved I don't see why I should get to sit out in the cold." She pulled out her Trump and flipped through them. "Although you would think that we would have some Amberite Elders involved."

"We do." I assured her thinking of Random's journey to Dworken, which had resulted in the Nightmare sitting out the battle. And my father and Benedict waiting in the wings with their armies for the final assault of the Emergence. How more involved could we be?

Isabeau nodded and then concentrated on the Trump.

There was a moment of silence as we awaited the outcome of Isabeau's conversation with her father. We didn't have long to wait before Mandor stepped into the shadow. The Pits of Never rippled slightly and then settled down with the weight of the entities that were present.

As he entered the shadow I realized that Isabeau had inherited that put upon look from her father and not Fiona.

He was impeccably dressed in black and white camo. He looked at Swayvil and Lintrel and came right to the point. "I promised I wouldn't get involved in politics and who's going to do my job?"

"What is your job?" Drake asked him.

"I'm the hands." Mandor replied enigmatically. An incarnation of the Serpent and he was the 'hands'? I had to think about that. I had to give up the preconceived notions of Amber. I was sure that nothing from Amber would relate.

"Does anybody understand what the hell he's talking about?" Isabeau asked.

"How much time do you need?" Drake asked Mandor.

"Suhey's not even close to ready." Mandor protested.

Then I knew. "Yeah, I think I do." I told my cousin. It was a difficult corner to turn, but I think my conversation with Mandor in Shangri La had made the difference. Mandor wasn't just a Logrus master; he was the Logrus.

Mandor turned in frustration to Thenaroth. "We're down if I do this."

"Does changing your job bring back the Serpent?" Drake asked. "If it doesn't then it's not worth it."

"She's certainly not going to bring the serpent back." Mandor waved a hand in Swayvil's direction.

"I kept together an Empire in your absence." Swayvil retorted.

"So your concern is that Suhey is not ready to become what you are." Keladrian asked Mandor. "And that would put your line at a disadvantage."

"Yes, just a little and I'm sure that breaks your heart son."

"If we had wanted your line extinct it would have been a long time ago." Keladrian responded. "And that is not an idle threat."

As much as I loved Keladrian, he had a lot to learn about being an ambassador. Those sorts of inflammatory remarks were not usually conducive to peace accords.

"We learned our lesson and we learned it well. There would be none of your line standing if we wished it."

"You learned to be just like us. Congratulations, I'm proud of you." Drake scoffed.

"If we had been just like you, there would be none of you left." Keladrian reiterated. I sighed and noticed that Isabeau was doing the same. It was different seeing the chest beating when it was someone else's family doing it.

"We can stand here all day." I started to say.

"Weakening yourself does not matter in that regard." Keladrian reached his point. "If we had wanted power, we would have already chosen to go for it. You yourself said, we are a people who chose not to gather power unto ourselves." I wouldn't have approached it the same way, but he had made his point. Unfortunately I don't think Drake quite got it because he continued the debate.

"Unfortunately shadow is populated by people just like you who are as peaceful and would never think to take advantage of a weakness in line Sawall."

"That is a different problem." Keladrian protested.

"The Question is, if he becomes the Emperor for the Emergence, can he go back to being the Logrus?" I said to Isabeau and almost missed what Swayvil said next.

"Luhong, Amber, Kraken is ever regenerating. Phoenix will be back someday."

"But you will have time. Kraken has been pruned back. You have time to prepare Suhey for what he must become." Keladrian argued.

"The question is, will it make any difference now?" I dropped into the silence after Keladrian's last statement.

"Would Amber care to prosecute a war at this time?" Keladrian posed a question in reply.

"Against who?" the question took me by surprise. I hadn't prosecuted a war against anyone for at least 50 years.

"I don't think it is Amber that they are worried about but their own internal structure." Isabeau answered.

"He listed Amber, the Kraken, the Phoenix as his opponents. I have spoken to the Luhong. Will you speak for Amber?" Keladrian asked me.

As if I could! "I don't give a shit." I stated my perspective so elegantly.

"Perhaps not very poetic but I think she speaks the essence." Keladrian struggled to keep a straight face.

"There's no future in the past." Drake said enigmatically. "There is bad blood between Luhong and Sawall which naturally leaves me conflicted. But if anything, Sawall has reason to hold grudge against Amber, not the other way around."

Isabeau spoke up next, "Right now, even if this ends this second and things stand the way they are and nothing changes, Amber is a little kind of fractured right now. We kind of have an elder fraction problem. The elders right now are a little distracted. I don't think they will be causing any wars for a while."

It was obvious that she didn't see my glare. It was not seemly for her to be discussing family business this freely in front of outsiders. She truly was part Chaosian. More so than she was an Amberite it seemed.

"So from what I can understand, this is only, depending on the outcome of the final Emergence, assuming that nothing worse happens, this would only leave Luhong and Barriman untouched." Drake summed up his perception of the political chessboard.

"Barriman's no threat." Lintrel said. "But you'll be beggared."

"The question is, will this help? If it is not going to help, what's the point?" this was the important question. I wanted to start with basics. This whole discussion was moot if the change would not be worthwhile to begin with. Didn't these people have any idea of basic process? Maybe that was the reason why this was Chaos.

"Better to live a beggar with honor, than to die a Prince." Drake ignored me and answered Lintrel with some meaningless platitude.

"That is not the point. The point is can we survive this if he does not assume that role?" Keladrian was closer to the point with his question. Maybe his phrasing would be more understandable to Drake.

"Exactly." Drake agreed. I noticed that Mandor had been completely quiet during this whole discussion. He was the quintessential observer.

"And if we can't, what other choice is there?" Keladrian continued with his point.

"Elder Thenaroth, how do you feel? You can walk away after this ordeal as the only remaining superpower after the Emergence." Drake set his scenario out for Thenaroth's response.

"No, no, no. The whole leader, superpower thing was why I walked the first time." Thenaroth disagreed.

"Elder Thenaroth, you can walk away at this point, watch your ancient enemy fall and deal with her afterward. Why are you here? Why don't you seize the opportunity to be the only remaining superpower? Your ambassador seems to think that that might not be a bad idea." Drake's attitude and words seemed deliberately inflammatory.

"I don't know how you got that from what I said." Keladrian seemed confused as he objected. "I said that we do not wish power, it is not in our nature. It would not be in the nature of anyone who chose to follow in our footsteps. You do not understand the nature of the power we do have."

Drake leaned down to Swayvil and said something that I did not catch.

"Regardless of our reputation within Chaos, we are Sawall." Swayvil said to Drake.

"I remember." Drake answered.

Mandor muttered something to himself.

"You ask why we would not choose to be the only superpower." Keladrian began.

"Why do you answer?" Drake challenged.

"Because he's the Ambassador and that's the way it's going to be." Thenaroth snorted to Drake

"And what will be the nature of shadow after the Emergence?" Keladrian continued. "I have told you that we do not want power over others, yet you seem to not accept that. We also do not want a static universe. . ."

Isabeau jumped in at this point and interrupted Keladrian. "Dragon, I think you protest too much. You are going to have power over shadow. You are going to be the only untouched power in the entire shadow realm when this is done, whether you want to be or not."

"Maybe the only one untouched. And Amber is not present here. Their Avatar is not at risk."

"What I was sensing from your words Keladrian was not the words themselves but the sense of outrage, grudge. Is that indicative?" Queried Drake.

"I speak the truth in that at any time if my people had a desire to launch a war at you, it could have been done many eons past." Keladrian remained adamant in his position.

"I sense your pride in that." Drake prodded.

"And you have none? Pride is a bad thing, a reason to throw away any chance at maintaining your line's integrity?" he defended.

"You do not seek power, yet have the pride to have the power to be able to destroy?" Drake was unrelenting.

"We have pride of the power to be able to survive." The line had been drawn and Keladrian did not back down.

"Well done. You are not the only ones that have ever survived persecution I am sure." Drake sneered.

"It's getting a little thick in here. Can we get back to the point at hand?" I demanded. The chest thumping was getting a bit tiring. I'm sure the Emergence was delaying only because she was laughing herself silly at the antics of the forces arrayed against her.

"Does this help at all Mandor." Drake turned to the crux of the discussion. "Obviously there is still bad blood that will not be resolved here."

"You do not listen." Keladrian protested.

"No he doesn't." I had to agree with Keladrian on that point. Maybe it was the size of the head. I was quite sure the brain had remained the same and was just sloshing around in that skull completely lost. "I'm with Keladrian on this. You're being a bag of wind."

"I don't get what either of you is saying and I don't know what any of this has to do with convincing or not convincing Mandor of whatever we are trying to convince Mandor of." Isabeau threw up her hands in disgust and frustration. "I'm confused about what we are doing here."

"The basic question is, will his taking on a different role help?" I brought everyone back to the first question that still needed to be answered. "That is the question. How you feel." I pointed to Drake, "And how you feel." I indicated Keladrian. "That doesn't matter. The question is will this change be of any assistance. Yes or no?"

The Incarnations put their heads together and consulted.

"Thank you Lady Zhelan." Isabeau sighed.

Mandor joined the conversation and shortly Lintrel looked up and said, "Yes, it will help."

"Can it be reversed once it's done?" I asked.

The answer was an emphatic No.

"Will Suhey change immediately or will this take time?" Isabeau asked.

"Well I'll have to talk him into it." Mandor said.

"Well if we can do it to you, then we can do it to him." I smiled at Mandor.

"Given that it will help. The question is as Mandor asked. What will his enemies or his perceived enemies do?" Keladrian brought us back to the original argument. "I have stated Luhong's position. I have stated it forcefully because I am speaking with my emotions bared. Yes there is anger and outrage at what happened to my people. But our position is, we will not attack. And the proof we offer is that we could have already done so anytime."

"Ok, stop." I didn't want Drake to get started on his tirade again. "As for Amber. . ."

Isabeau interrupted me. "We have Benedict and Bleys out there with armies that makes me a little bit nervous."

"If you ask Isabeau and I, Mandor you have never done anything wrong. As far as I'm concerned, you're one of the good guys. So if you're leading Chaos, that's all good with me. On the other hand, Bleys, seems to have some problem with you personally."

"Yes, Bleys seems to have a problem with me and Fiona . ." He indicated his uncertainty about how my Aunt felt about him.

"Well Fiona's a bit tied up right now." Isabeau said delicately.

"Random doesn't know you." I continued and Mandor nodded. "I think I could talk Random into parlaying with you. And I think that since Random is King, that if he says so the others will back off. I'm sure that Benedict will not be a problem."

"No Benedict is not going to attack Chaos if the King doesn't tell him to, but I'm a little worried about Bleys." Isabeau

"Bleys is not going to attack Chaos on his own, but he may go after Mandor personally. But I wouldn't worry about it." I told Mandor.

"But you should know that he's our loose cannon." Isabeau continued.

"Bleys is not suicidal." I told my cousin and she had to agree.

Swayvil, the person who had been running the Courts of Chaos for some time, looked over at Mandor and said, "Benedict is manageable."

I knew that she had that information through Kyrie. There was a relationship that bore watching for the good of Amber.

"Benedict is faithful to the throne of Amber, whoever sits on it." I said. And there was the problem. Benedict did not want the throne for himself, but would support Kyrie if she were to take it.

"My Emperor, War Leader Lintrel, Elder Mandor, I accept the word of the Ambassador of Luhong and believe they will honor their commitment. Even after deliberating provoking him, he still kept his temper somewhat in check and spoke what he believes to be the truth for his people." Drake flourished and I wondered how much was deliberate provocation and how much was truth.

"What about you, Blue?" Mandor looked at Thenaroth.

"My ambassador has spoken." Thenaroth looked amused. All I could think was run hard, run fast. When this was all over I was out of here. I hoped that Keladrian was willing to come with me.

No one spoke for some time but all eyes were on Mandor.

"I need to be alone for awhile, this is a tad icky even by my standards." He finally said. "If you will all excuse me." And he left.

Back to Top

Chapter 43
The Final Stand

Everyone was extremely quiet after Mandor left. Isabeau and I were standing next to the table of food. Drake was near the Sawallian Emperor, Keladrian was near Thenaroth and Lintrel formed the third leg of the triangle with Thenaroth and the Emperor.

"Well, I think that went rather well." Thenaroth broke the silence.

The Emperor did not look comfortable with her thoughts.

Drake leaned down towards Isabeau and said, "If I do not survive, I wish you to have Tor. It will give you a retreat close to your father, but something of your own where you can go and be alone and make your own decisions."

"Assuming I survive as well." She muttered back.

"And hot cocoa provided by the Igor's." Drake continued.

"I'll take good care of them." She nodded and started to hold a muffin up for Drake.

"I don't need food right now." He told her.

I shook my head. Did she really think that a 200 foot dragon would even notice the muffin if he ate it?

Drake turned to Lintrel. "Warleader Lintrel, is there a line of battle where we fit?"

Lintrel in turned looked towards Keladrian. "And where are the forces of Luhong standing?"

"That has yet to be resolved." He answered. "As your own position."

"We serve our Emperor." There was no hesitation in her bearing or tone regarding the Emperor of Sawall now. "We have stood against this Emergence and will continue to do so."

Keladrian nodded and turned to the Emperor. "And for my people, our requirements to stand with you will need to be met as well. We will not be hunted anymore. And those who do so, either you will punish, or we will in our own way. Police yourselves or release your jurisdiction over those who hunt us." Keladrian paused for the Emperor's response.

"You have made promises of your prowess, Ambassador. We will lift the Imperial decrees regarding your people, but we will not police our own." The Emperor emphasized the word police as if the connotations were distasteful. He waited a beat and then added. "Nor we will protect them."

Keladrian glanced to Thenaroth then nodded. "That is acceptable. Second, any of our people who are still imprisoned shall be freed. I know of at least one." He looked towards Drake. "That perhaps concerns you."

"She is in the dungeons?" Drake asked his Emperor.

"Not the dungeons." The Emperor said dismissively. "We wouldn't be so . . ." and then stopped and shrugged.

Keladrian ignored the interchange. "If the bans are lifted and the laws by which you hold them are no longer?"

"The members of your house that are under my province, I can vouch for. But I doubt that I am aware of all." The Emperor replied.

"Then we ask that you have a decree that all be released." Keladrian countered. "And those that choose to harbor or hide their prisoners disobey you, then it becomes their issue and ours."

"This we will not do." Swayvil stated. "There are some, perhaps, who we wouldn't call them innocent, but we would not require their containment. There are some, who are by no means innocent. We will not release these among our people. If you wish to reclaim these and assure that they will be kept them within your lands that would be sufficient. But be aware that not all of your people are as law-abiding as you."

Keladrian looked towards Thenaroth again. He seemed to me to be unsure whether this restriction would be acceptable.

Isabeau looked up from her repast. "Good tea." I recognized the Amber family training in her remark. When in doubt about the politics, change the subject.

No one spoke and then Keladrian turned back to the Emperor. "That is a matter that can be resolved later. And perhaps on an individual basis."

"It will have to involve the order." Thenaroth said to his Ambassador. Keladrian and Thenaroth exchanged looks again. Then Thenaroth asked. "Did you want to establish any continuing presence? An embassy?"

Keladrian shot Thenaroth a look that even I could read. 'You want to banish me to Chaos?' But his reply was simply, "A line of communication would be adequate. An Embassy while perhaps foreseeable in some distant time would be beyond . . ."

"Perhaps rooms set aside." I offered.

"No need. When you come, there will be rooms." Drake countered.

"That they would know where to go to immediately." I was thinking of someplace that could be Trumped into. Not one that you would have to announce yourself and they would make ready. No matter how quickly they could do so, it would not be the same as having a secure area that belonged to them. That is what an Embassy was, a piece of the secure homeland within a foreign country.

"They would go to the Ambassador's entrance." He explained.

I dropped the subject as Drake was obviously unaware of true meaning of an Embassy.

"I think we have the good beginnings of a line of communication." The Emperor looked between Keladrian and Drake.

"Emperor I am currently the Ambassador to Amber." Drake protested.

"We have not forgotten that. You are also currently the Crown Prince, are you not?" The Emperor raised an eyebrow to Drake.

"As you say." He bowed his head in response.

After several significant looks were exchanged between the major players, Drake to the Emperor, Keladrian and Drake, Lintrel to the Emperor, etc. Keladrian summed up the agreement. "Then we too will oppose the Emergence."

"Just you two?" Drake questioned.

"There are more than just the two of us." Was all the clarification that Keladrian offered. As to their disposition, I will leave that to their hands."

"So, War Leader Lintrel." Drake quickly changed subjects and turned to the stern faced, cold woman who was the Hendrake Incarnation. "We four, or we three, if Keladrian is fighting alongside the forces of Alcedon . . ."

"Not recommended." Lintrel interrupted him.

"What is recommended for us?" Drake asked.

"We go back and take a nap." Isabeau said in an aside to me. I smiled at my cousin's humor. It was good to have a family member present at this time, even if it was a woman that I might have to kill some day.

"Hello, the battle's here. We've got the corpses." Isabeau said louder for the benefit of the rest of the group.

"Corwin's not a corpse." I protested.

I caught Lintrel making signs with her hands. It looked vaguely like the battle speak that father had tried to teach me at one point. My response to him was why would I ever need to know that shit? Now it would appear that I should have paid more attention. Drake responded back in like manner.

They noticed the blank looks on the faces of the two Amberites present. "We can relay your orders." He told her.

"They barely understand me verbally." She replied back.

I recognized that as an insult. If I had been around as many years as Lintrel, I would probably be as 'wise' an ass as she was.

"But they have very strong mental abilities for their generation." Drake told the War Leader.

"Very well." She nodded and began to talk to the others in rapid battle speak.

I sighed and made mental contact with Keladrian. He had his amulet on the neutral setting so it only looked like there was no one there but his mind was not blocked. 'Can I listen in?' I asked him.

Drake held out a claw for Isabeau to provide physical contact. I had linked with Keladrian so much lately that physical contact was not necessary.

The content from Lintrel, filtered through Keladrian was more or less as follows.

She reminding us that we faced an audio based being so that we should keep things out of the audio as much as possible.

Drake wanted to know if dissonance could be used to disturb it.

Lintrel explained that information from an Anonymous Sawallian Sorcery (ASS) seemed to indicate that any consideration to audio would only strengthen it. Any audio weapon including silence or dissonance would play on its field.

Drake added for clarification. It is ok that there is sky and ground, it's not ok that there is sound or silence. Just put anything in the area of sound out of mind.

'So we look her to death.' I thought to Keladrian. Which he obviously passed through to the others.
'That could work.' Lintrel looked to me. Then continued with the battle speak.

An Anonymous Amber Sources (AAS) gave some intelligence on the seed of this Avatar and its possible biases.

Obviously they had gotten some information on Deirdre from someone in Amber. Probably Benedict.

Based on this information we have determined to misdirect this Avatar. Lintrel laid out the strategy.

It sounded like they were planning a little slight of hand.

The source from Amber states that the Avatar will be expecting a martial response, so we have arranged an army to distract it. We understand that this Avatar is likely to have moderately strong reactions to certain members of the Amber royal family. Therefore we have arranged for certain members of the Amber royal family to provide a distraction. Dance pretty boys.

I could think of Corwin but I had a suspicion that perhaps Bleys was also on that list.

This Avatar is coming in somewhat more strongly in the physical than others have before her, therefore she will be demonstrating some physical weaknesses so she will be most weak when she becomes a conceptually integrated being.

"Huh??" I doubted that was what Lintrel had said but this was being interpreted through Keladrian after all.

"Because she has a concept of physicality, then she is physically vulnerable." Drake supplied the interpretation.

Also one of her disadvantages by coming in so physical at the start is that she may not have all of her selfness together.

'She is concentrating so hard on the physical that her self image isn't where it should be?' Keladrian relayed that thought from Isabeau through Drake.

Exactly. Lintrel continued. She may not have good definition between what is herself and what is not.' She paused and then changed the subject. 'Since she doesn't have consorts, nice work, she may be vulnerable through the consort or focus angle. We have not determined yet whether she has chosen a focus. Sources indicate that several possibilities are available.

Isabeau looked at the three of us and raised an eyebrow. I didn't need to hear her thoughts to know she was thinking it wasn't her fault that Ulris' lab had been dropped into the Abyss.

As you are aware physical movement will be a difficulty, perhaps more so. Several of your number seems to be limited to physical movement in order to be effective.

'Keladrian's people have alternate forms of movement.' Drake offered.

'Physical movement may be rendered impossible. Your girlfriends are charming, how will they survive when they stop breathing?'

I could tell that Drake and Isabeau exchanged thoughts that the rest of us were not privy to.

Keladrian sent me a question that he was not sharing with the others by battle speak 'Do you need the Trump when you Trump. If physical reality becomes that difficult can you draw yourself moving or breathing or whatever without actually having to physically draw.'

I thought about it briefly. I had actually done something similar to that in the last battle when I concentrated on the essence of the group and broadcast that through the Trump network. 'There are other ways of making trump besides drawing them. Making trump is essentially gathering the essence of someone and incorporating it into an object.'

'And if that object is yourself?'

'That's a possibility.' I told him.

'You will need to alter your reality without being able to draw on anything.'

I had been doing a lot of self-examination through my trump lately. I had considered ways to alter my essence to remove tags, change enough to get back into Dorad, sorts of things. I hadn't actually done anything but the fact that I had already considered the possibility made it easier. Being with Keladrian had expanded the things that I had considered that I could do with the abilities that I had. If we survived this and agreed to stay together, we could be a force to be reckoned with.

Isabeau seemed to be having a problem with the unable to use physicality issue. She was discussing this through Drake who was relaying it through the battle speak and then Keladrian interpreted it to me. She didn't believe that she had any ability to impact the coming conflict. I wished that she could have spent more time with her uncles; they could have shown her how effective pattern could be in a fight of this nature. Drake was telling Isabeau that she had the strongest mind of her generation and that was a considerable weapon in a battle where the physical was at a disadvantage.

Secondary challenges will include sensory distortions. The emperor will not be involved in this battle. Myself and Thenaroth will not be there.

There seemed to be a longer moment of silence and it seemed that something passed between Lintrel and Drake that was being hidden from the rest of us, then the strange conversation resumed.

If we are having trouble with the shadow that she enters, we do not let her fully enter the shadow.' From Drake

We are back to that wrong perception about her coming into a shadow. It is more about her coming into being. She will be realized where she will. Keladrian responded.

Exactly we cannot let her being, be fully where we are. Drake came back

But then how can we attack her vulnerability, which is her physicality? if we don't let her be where we are? I asked and Keladrian relayed

Not fully. Was the response from Drake

'Use your Trump abilities to keep her essence from truly forming.' Keladrian replied to me.

'Until she truly forms I cannot determine what her essence is.' I protested.

'But you can perceive it forming. And as it forms, get rid of it. If it cannot truly coalesce she cannot ' Keladrian explained patiently

'You have to study the essence. It's not. . . ' I was at a loss for thoughts. I had never used the Trump as a destructive force.

'As you perceive the essence, as you become aware of it, then become unaware of it. Project your power so it is no longer there. Deny the essence.'

'I have a real problem with this unmaking thing.' I complained.

'Generally I would be happy to hear that, but in this case.' Keladrian gave a mental shrug

'I'll have to think about that. It is so totally opposite anything I've ever thought about with Trump.' In fact it was downright disturbing in its fully implication.

The conversation turned to discussing strategy for the upcoming conflict and Drake and Keladrian stated that in this battle Isabeau and I would be the strongest as Drakes' Logrus power would soon be gone when Mandor became the Incarnation. That would leave him and Keladrian with just physical abilities.

That took some getting used to as the conflicts we had gone through recently had all been mostly physically based.

Keladrian and Drake talked about distracting the Emergence while Isabeau and I fought our mental battles.

Drake suggested the use of my magic but the group reminded him that they were power WORDs. Which would probably be ill advised in a battle against an audio based entity.

Keladrian asked about weapons and wanted to know if he could request the use of Corwin's blade Grayswandir at an opportune time.

I reminded Keladrian that the sword was in the Luggage which might present a problem in retrieving it in the middle of the battle.

'The question is, will you be able to ask it for anything?' Keladrian asked me in our separate conversation.

'Probably not. Which means that we should take it out, sheathe it and have it available now.' I suggested.

Drake suggested that since Greyswandir was a pattern blade there was a pattern wielder in the group.

My thought was 'not in this lifetime. I would not willing hand over Corwin's sword to my cousin, Fiona's daughter.' What I told the group was, "I took it, I'll keep it."

'I don't know whether we should have that card on the table.' Keladrian continued our interrupted chat.

'I think we should have it accessible.' I argued

I opened the Luggage and all of the Incarnations raised an eyebrow as I pulled out my Uncle's sword. I took Corwin's scabbard and a couple of belts and rigged the sword to hang down my back. That way it would be easily accessible to either Keladrian or myself.

Keladrian thought that perhaps he could use his conjuration to mask the aura of the sword somewhat so he was standing behind me and concentrating when Drake said, "It Begins."

The Emperor nodded and Lintrel spoke, "The Emperor will be leaving now." With that the two Chaosians stepped from the shadow.

"It's been nice knowing you boy." Thenaroth said as he prepared to leave. I realized that I was still in mental contact with Keladrian when I heard him thinking that Thenaroth's statement sounded rather final.

"I hope that we have a chance to meet again." I told Keladrian's Incarnation. I felt it politic to try to stay on the good side of the only one of Keladrian's relations that I'd had a chance to meet.

"That'll be interesting." He smiled at me as he faded from sight.

Keladrian turned back to his conjuration. 'Warn me if she comes. I'll try to mask this so it is a bit more of a surprise.'

Isabeau sat down cross-legged on the ground and placed Keladrian's staff across her knees. She placed her crossbow on the ground next to her.

I ignored my surroundings and started focusing on my own Trump essence to attune myself to the power of Trump.

Then our surroundings did a slow fade to hell. The sky became a tattered red and black and there were demons and imps capering around

My next awareness was a pervasive noise. It was like background electrical static. But it was all invasive, so much so that the mind insisted on placing some meaning in the subtext to try to make sense of it. Sounds and sirens, whispers and whistles could be perceived. It made the teeth vibrate.

There was a feeling of an immense amount of inertia. It became an effort for the heart to beat, to blink eyes to move air in and out of the lungs. Everything was an enormous effort. I could feel the air molecules ping off my skin similar to when we had gone back to that time-stopped shadow when I first met Keladrian.

There was a horrible smell of ozone, sulfur and brimstone, enough to singe the hairs from the nostrils.

In the midst of all of this was an immense brightness of a thousand eyes and a thousand wings. This felt like what we had faced at the crossroads only magnified a thousand fold. It was horrible and magnificent. It made you feel that you needed to adjust yourself to the world as the world was wrong and this was right. It was a hissing maelstrom of power.

That was the first impression.

First unmaking and now demons, how did this get to be our side? But I supposed the demons were logical if you were opposing a force that presented itself as the wrath of god.

I took a deep breath and began to eliminate distractions from my focus. I concentrated on the process of creating a Trump and thought about reversing it. I reached towards the spinning, glowing entity and began to peel away the essence. I thought about creating a black spot in the middle of the shining white.

I got the distinct impression that my efforts had a slightly noticeable impact on the Emergence. Her awareness was not acute but more like a plant moving away from excessive heat or dryness.

I redoubled my efforts. I tried not to think of the entity as anything. Think blank canvas.

I don't know what the others were doing; I did not try to move. This was a battle of the mind. I envisioned that the Emergence was a blemish on the canvas that needed to be repaired. Mineral spirits of the mind, cleaning the canvas.

No one else was in my focus. The forming essence in front of me seemed to have a sense of movement in my direction and then I got the taste of chocolate covered cherries. I hate chocolate covered cherries. I think what I object to is the really bad cordial that the cherry is covered with.

The entity pulsed outward and then shrunk back leaving parts behind that coalesced into a flying formation of attackers. I ignored them. They were not headed for me.

For a moment I was a four-year-old child standing in the vastness of Castle Amber. Then I was back on a bare plain in Chaos. Damned Deirdre. She didn't know me well enough to provide a true distraction. The background noise kept drifting into my focus. Then use it, I thought. I took the abrasive noise and molded it to become the pumice to help abrade the blemish from the canvas.

Where was Keladrian? Push that distraction away. The only thing that existed here was I. I was the only thing that should exist here. The smell of ozone burned my nostrils. There was no smell, it was ephemeral and could not touch me. I could feel the Pattern forming from Isabeau near me. She could take care of herself; I focused. The sweat on my hands was making it difficult to hold Caine's daggers. I dropped them they were unimportant.

Sensory distractions started becoming more common. I could smell tulips and hear waves crashing on the shore. I put each aside as it occurred and then I was hit with a wave of jealousy that overwhelmed me. The Bitch must die. I used that emotion to press my efforts to clean the canvas of this imperfection.

It was slow work but the canvas was showing through in spots. Then a pure blast of Pattern hit the center of the Emergence and it blew to bits. There were scraps of thought and memories littering the plains of hell.

I shook my head to clear it and saw Drake moving around eating the bits. Disgusting. I turned away from that. I focused on a bit and thought it out of existence.

Keladrian moved up behind me and drew Greyswandir. I concentrated on the clean up. The only thing that was important was that none of these bits get dumped into the Abyss. I did stop and retrieve Caine's daggers. I didn't think it prudent to leave them lying around Chaos.

I looked up and saw father standing by me. He looked like the devil in his black outfit with the red light of the tattered sky lighting his features. "You missed one." He pointed at a memory lying by my foot.

I thought it out of existence and said. "Nice to see you too, dad."

We stood there looking at each other. I was self-conscious in his gaze. I was conscious of Caine's daggers in my hands. Did he approve of what I had done? Did I care that he approved? Damn him, yes I did care. I wanted him to say something, to say he was proud of me, that he loved me, some indication that I was more than an experiment to him. I knew it wouldn't happen but I could always hope. He looked around almost as if he was uncomfortable with the situation.

"Well, you have my card." He finally said. "I have to get these things back home." He indicated the imps scampering around the plain. "They're damn uncomfortable."

I nodded as he strode off. As he disappeared from the shadow the tattered red and black sky went with him. The skin of the imps peeled off revealing the troops that had been arrayed around Benedict when we had first entered the Pits of Never. The smell of fire, brimstone and ozone cleared. All the trappings of hell had come with Bleys. How appropriate. I love you anyway Father.

I looked around the battlefield and realized that the troops, exposed by the removal of their trappings, were standing around somewhat unsure of themselves. Then some unseen presence made them come to attention. It seemed that my Uncle Benedict was going to be making an appearance.

I looked around and there he was, materialized next to Corwin. I realized that I had forgotten Corwin during the battle.

Benedict was looking at Isabeau. "Are you done with him?"

"If the Avatar has no more use for him, we have no quarrel with him." My cousin responded.

Keladrian, who was now in his gargoyle form, had moved up to our grouping. "There is one more task for him. There is a place, which in his condition he should go anyway."

"That is true. He should go to Dorad." Isabeau said.

"Very well." Benedict picked up his brother and pulled out a Trump.

"Are we needed to clean up here?" Keladrian asked Benedict.

"I believe you are needed to be gone." Benedict eyed Keladrian.

"As I thought." Keladrian replied. I didn't understand the implications of this at the time. "A moment." And he moved up behind me and took Grayswandir's scabbard. He sheathed Corwin's sword and handed it to Benedict.

Benedict took the sword and activated his Trump. After a moment he passed Corwin and the sword through the Trump. I realized that he must have contacted Julian.

When he was finished he merely stated. "Excuse me." And walked away.

"Your Welcome." I yelled at the departing back of my Uncle.

I turned back in time to see Isabeau looking at a Trump and then stepping through the rainbow effect. My cousin was gone.

I looked at Keladrian. "Shall we leave as well?"

"I believe so." He smiled at me.

"Are you driving?" I asked him. He nodded and I said, "Don't forget the Luggage."

We fell into a now familiar pattern of Spinning a few shadows, shadow walking a few, with a few Trump jumps just to make it interesting. I was feeling a bit more confident of my ability to affect Trump. Instead of the rainbow color effect when we moved through I tried changing it to Blue and Silver. It was pretty easy once I thought about it. I wondered what more I could do with Trump. Shapes weren't so easy but changing the colors was like switching channels.

After several changes of location Keladrian asked. "Do you think anyone tagged us?"

"My father was next to me for awhile. That's all it takes." I laughed.

"We might as well get it over with now." Keladrian said in a tone that I knew meant the loofa shadow. At least I wasn't injured this time.

"Do you want to take all of this stuff?" I asked him indicating the armor I was wearing.

"The armor will actually . . ." He began.

"Survive that?" I finished for him. "Ok." I called the Luggage to me and put Caine's daggers inside. The Luggage would survive that shadow.

"So now you have Corwin at Dorad, and Julian is there at Random's request to assist your friend." I told him as we set out.

"And I will need to go there because I will need to be there either way, but you cannot." He told me.

"Yeah, well, maybe eventually." Who knows what I could do with Trump. I had helped kill an Avatar with it.

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Chapter 44
Endings and Beginnings

We headed to Caer al Dar via a circuitous route using a combination of Spin, Trump and Shadowwalking. Keladrian had decided that while he was away at Dorad that I needed to be someplace safe from harm from both Chaos and my own family. Keladrian tried to impress upon me the danger we were all in by having been at the heart of killing an Avatar, but it was ok for him to go off alone to Dorad. I was already planning my escape from the Sylvan woods and the elves when we arrived at a much different place in Caer al Dar

I was surprised when we entered a city, a city full of people and interesting shops. Maybe a few weeks here would not be so bad.

Keladrian explained that like Amber and the Golden Circle Kingdoms that Caer al Dar had more than one place that was reachable by trade routes. All of them had their own brand of magic but were cut off from Logrus, Pattern and Trump.

A young girl approached us in the market and offered her services as guide. I did a quick scan and found her suitable for training as a companion. After Keladrian made arrangements for accommodations and a place for us to meet when he returned from Dorad, we said our goodbyes.

It turned out to be more than a few weeks before Keladrian returned from Dorad. It was actually about six months time that I spent wandering the shadow lands around Caer al Dar with my companion. I had tried the old amusements, shopping, politics etc. I found nothing that engaged my interest as it once had. Manipulating the shadow dwellers was no longer satisfying. I had stepped out to dance with the elders and nothing less was a challenge anymore. Or it could be that Keladrian's sense of honor had rubbed of on me and left me feeling guilty. I spent the last weeks confined to my room in the inn drawing Trump and working on magic.

I thought about leaving Caer al Dar a couple of times but hesitated. Keladrian might be right about the danger we faced for having killed an Avatar. Either way he would be disappointed that I had not followed his instructions and I couldn't bring myself to disappoint him. I did actually venture out long enough to make sure that the Trump that I had completed were working but I returned without contacting any of the family. I wondered how father was and whether Random would release Fiona, how Corwin was doing and I even thought of Isabeau once or twice. I was really bored.

When Keladrian returned he had Derrick with him. Derrick did not understand or accept the relationship that Keladrian and I had formed and at first I was concerned that his friendship with Derrick would pull him away from me. The first few weeks he spent more time with his friend but then less and less. Derrick kept to his dragon form and rarely changed. We saw less of him as time passed and Keladrian began teaching me to shape shift.

We traveled to the same places in Caer al Dar that had bored me earlier. I saw the world through fresh eyes and knew that I was deeply in love with this dragon.

It was perhaps five years after the battle with the Avatar when I felt the need to reconnect with my family. Derrick and Kel had gone off on a trip together and I made leave to depart Caer al Dar. I hadn't told Keladrian what I planned to do so that I wouldn't be forced to disregard his order not to go.

Bleys doesn't hold grudges. That would mean having to admit that someone had managed to get the upper hand over him. I knew that enough time had passed that we could have a civil father, daughter visit.

We met in Quasmir at Hajji's restaurant. Our meeting was different this time. The connection between us had matured and was a bit more distant than doting father and child. We were adults meeting. I learned that my Aunt Fiona was dead. Random's decision. The rest of the family continued though no one had heard from Isabeau. I was not surprised. I think she owed Mandor a hundred years and he could protect his child.

I let father know that Keladrian and I were still together and that I was learning to shape shift. I could tell he wasn't pleased but he didn't say anything. I wished he had. Maybe more time was needed after all that had passed between us. He did ask if I intended to have children with Keladrian. I didn't answer.

As we parted I thought about our visit. In many ways I wished for the old connection between my father and myself but I knew that what I was experiencing was a necessary part of growing up. It wouldn't be long now before I learned shape shifting well enough to leave Caer al Dar. If shape shifting changed my essence enough from my father's imprint, I would walk the Pattern and finally claim the heritage of my family.

Whatever happened, I wanted to stay with Keladrian and if I ever had a child I wanted it to be his. But who knows, I'm young yet and a few hundred years could change anyone's plans.

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