I'd been in Amber for three months and boredom was creeping up on me. I'd fled Argannel where, Bellin help me, I rule, or dominate, or something, and come to Amber for a vacation. That was just the opposite of how all my kin view Shadow vs. Amber. However odd, Argannel is home. Besides, Amber has many defenders; Argannel has me. Argannel can be VERY IRRITATING though. It is very mythic, sort of Arthurian, which makes it difficult to maintain a large, disciplined military force. Hold maneuvers and some damned Questing Beast is sure to lure the odd company (occasionally a regiment) off on a two week chase through the forests. Mysterious knights appear to challenge my officers to single combat at crossroads. Lustful damsels pick my guys off for romantic encounters at the damndest times (its a competition in some circles, with betting pools and everything). Plus we haven't had a real external threat since shortly after Patternfall. Then they want me to adjudicate every third quarrel in a society where legal affairs are a rhetoric-based artform and lawsuits-as-entertainment can stretch on for CENTURIES... If I stick around for too long I start itching to transform them into swans and deer and Devils of the Air or ASH ON THE BREEZE... Ahem. So I depart and let Thomas bully and jolly the army along and let Mom ignore the noble petitioners.
Anyway, I left Argannel too soon, to judge by the fact that I was antsy after only a few months of vacation. I lit the green magical torch that sits atop a fifty foot pole above my house in the City. (Merlin calls it the Bat Signal. Merlin keeps a piece of rope for a pet.) The green torch signalled to all of the usual suspects (and their friends) that they were invited to an informal affair. That means the fun third of the Entertainers' Guild, lots of the mortal nobility, comrades from my time in the Guard and the Navy, the three Chaosian diplomats who know how to have fun (or fake it) and ALL of my relatives are invited. (Fortunately, most of my spookier kin stay away. Though there was that time that Fiona attended and drank my Hendrake pals Cadellin and Ancarath under the table with absinthe.)
So I was in the study, planning logistics, when Anton, my steward, told me that Prince Bleys--Dad--was waiting to see me. I had him brought right in. I like Dad, I always have, and even trust him to a degree. I think he's fond of me, though it is hard to tell with the Princes, all of whom have many centuries of hiding their true feelings and motivations from each other. We greeted one another affectionately. We chatted a bit about the party, joie de vivre and wines. I invited him to the party, belatedly (he knew he was invited, but he wanted the extra sop to his ego), and he agreed to come. He wanted a small favor of me. He had decided to give Fiona, politically estranged from him for some time, a birthday present. We don't normallly celebrate birthdays (half-brother Carol had looked the date up for Dad) but he wanted to make a gesture of reconciliation and had located a suitable gift. My face showed my curiosity and he said, yes, what do you get for the woman who can conjure anything? A special painting, apparently, off in Shadow. He had things in motion he could not interrupt and would I fetch it for him. Of course! Should I go armed for trouble? No, but I might invite Robin to accompany me. Also, we should avoid the native liquor. I agreed to leave the following day, after the party. We parted amiably.
This should be interesting, a gift to please Fiona. Dad was up to something, of course. I couldn't think of any reason for him to put me at odds with Fiona...no telling who actually owned the I enjoyed the party: dancing, drinking, finger food, flirting, conversation, assignations, the works. Bleys attended and made it even better, while basking in the adoring attention of several ladies. Robin agreed to join me on Dad's errand. Dad gave me a little carving that would lead me to the gift.
Robin and I left at noon, shifted steadily and arrived at our target shadow three days later. "Giftland" was a prosperous, semitiopical place of mixed technologies and an average magical environment. We arranged rooms at a pleasant inn near a great walled estate that seemed to be our objective and began inquiries. The estate was that of the Illumnia, one of the Twelve Families (I could hear the capitals in the innkeeper's voice) who ruled the world. He had trouble believing we didn't know of the Twelve no matter how far we had come. The "Young Master" was the only member of the Illumnia regularly around. I used a Mesmer spell to get the Young Master's image from the innkeeper's mind and cloud the memory of the event.Robin agreed to keep watch while I scried the Illumnia estate from a private room. He sipped a slender glass of the Blue Ruin Bleys had warned us about (strong but damned good, said Robin) while I slipped the probe (an elaborate, sensitive and flexible spell) into the estate carefully and successfully avoided all the alarms I could detect. The mansion was full of minor magical artifacts and a few stronger ones. I plugged Dad's carving into the spell and quickly located the item we were looking for.
I was considering our options--try to buy it, to steal it, to make up a spell to teleport it out from a distance--when four big robed guys burst into the room and tried to point zappers (some sort of beam weapons) at us. I rolled out of my chair, drew my sword and took the first guy's hand off at the wrist. They weren't all that fast; I nailed the second man through the head. Meanwhile Robin laid the other two out with fists and feet. He trussed his attackers up. They were not completely human, their teeth were too sharp and they had spur-claws on the backs of their hands. A vague memory stirred: I had heard of them or people like them before. I pocketed one of the zappers then stopped my live one from bleeding to death and entered his mind. They had come in response to a magical alarm. Before I could get more detail I was half-stunnedby what felt like an earthquake on a Psychic, magical and Pattern-sense level--nothing physical moved. I could see that Robin was feeling it too. As my head cleared I felt a Trump contact and accepted it. I saw Dad, highly agitated.
"Forget the painting and come to me!"
I turned to Robin and held out my hand, "It's Bleys, he wants us to go to him," he clasped hands and Dad pulled us through to him.
Bleys pulled me and Robin through the Trump contact to a hill below Kolvir. Most of the family was already there. As I watched, Caine pulled Flora through, and Alix with her! Then Flora quickly Trumped Ikoma through as well. Soon all were present save Corwin and Martin. Random was not wearing the Jewel of Judgement, at least not openly. He asked Fiona to probe for anomalies, since someone had struck at the base of Reality. Carol pointed at Kolvir, shock on his face, where a new feature of the terrain, a rift, was fading away. Fi whispered to Dad. Light flashed from the center of the group and a young man materialized, fatigued, wearing green and black silk and a confused expression. Many drew steel but Benedict was already challenging the newcomer. Fi and Merlin stepped forward, Fi gestured the swords away.
"Ren ! What are you doing here?" asked Merlin.
"I don't know. " -Rene .
"You know him? -Fi to Merlin.
"Yes, I left him on the way here."
"He has obviously just walked the Pattern!"
Rene recovered himself somewhat and gave Fiona a very elegant bow. "Charmed," said Fi, smiling slightly but not offering her hand. She introduced Rene to the king.
"Were you responsible for...this?" Random was examining Rene minutely.
"No...I think I may have prevented it from being worse, somehow."
"Perhaps. Ikoma, take Rene in hand, get him situated in the castle." Random nodded to Fiona, took her hand and they faded out in a rainbow shimmer.
Florimel decreed a party in honor of Rene and Alix (now acknowledged to be Flo's daughter). Alix looked ready to bolt. Bleys seemed surprised and displeased at the announcement. (Of course, Dad rarely shows anything except by choice.) Llewella Trumped away. One of Julian's men rode up to him and reported, handing him a small crumpled object. Bleys joined Julian to examine it, Carol and I followed. A crumpled Trump of Kolvir! Trumps are supposed to be (practically) indestructable and they don't bend. Julian gave the Trump to Bleys, an expert, for study. Dad walked to the edge of the diminishing group with Carol and I in his wake.
"What is the story of Flora and Alix?" I asked.
"I'm surprised she has the guts," Dad answered distractedly. "I must go." One of Bleys' horses shimmered into being before us. Mounted, Dad was soon doing 100 kph cross country.
Tashara was talking seriously to Alix. I approached Rene, who also seemed to be eyeing the possible exits. "Don't go," I advised, "you would raise suspicions."
Flora snagged Alix and began enthusing about dresses. I'd never seen Alix wear a dress. I Trumped to Castle Amber with Carol where we split up, he to the Library and I to the stables where i requisitioned a mount. I had a few hours before the reception for the new ambassador from the Courts. I planned to attend. I was expected; also the new ambassador might be someone I knew, one of my Hendrake acquaintences' parents or uncles or aunts, perhaps. I was interested to see how Alix (tolerated and ignored up to that point) and newbie Rene would handle themselves.
I was determined to get that gift for Fiona. I'd been only minutes away from spiriting it out of that mansion when Dad contacted me. Those dead magehunters might well occasion an increase in security on the object. Speed was indicated.I used a hung Teleport spell to take me and the horse to a shadow near 'Giftworld'. From there I linked to Dar Brennin and hung a Probe-and-Summoning spell and another Teleport. Once in 'Giftworld' I found a secluded copse, tied up the horse and went a little ways away. I sat on a stump, centered myself and activated the probe. I zipped through the mansion in seconds, drawn to the painting like a magnet. I hooked the thing, weathered the shock and the Summoning came on automatically. The painting fell into my hands burning with Trump and Pattern energy. I managed to minimize my burns and examined the thing. It was still wet. The subject was the Pattern of Amber! Another Trump-related impossibility. I had thought that if one attempted to make a Trump of a Pattern (or the Logrus, for that matter) the sheer flow of power over the contact would kill anyone. Well, anyone but Dworkin. This thing certainly radiated power all over the place, I wouldn't want to touch it without my mental defenses up.
I hadn't expected it to be wet. I extended a link to Dar Brennin (mildly surprised it worked) and we quickly worked out and cast a protective spell on the painting. Possibly unnecessary: is a wet Trump indestructable? While riding out someone tried to contact me by Trump. They were so insistant I had to use a spell to block them out. I teleported back to my townhouse as soon as possible. Again a Trump call, and the teleport had disrupted my defensive spell. Whoever it was wasn't concentration and held them off while Trumping Dad. DAD was the one Trumping me. He was amused and pleased I had picked up the gift. He asked me to deliver it to Fiona at the party; I agreed. (But I was for damned sure going to make it clear that it was Dad's fault.) He said Flora wanted to talk to me. (Ah, the other call.) Bleys' mood seemed much improved.
Flora was concerned over a shortfall in a variety of wine which I was happy to remedy.
Flora greeted me at the Castle ballroom with polite thanks and pleasantries. She is better at the social oil of civility than anybody I've ever met. Once inside I scanned the crowd for Fiona. I wanted to unload the painting (beautifully wrapped in paper and ribbon of Dad's colors) fast. She was in a corner talking to the former court mage Tenzil. Carol delayed me for a few minutes with statistics on the number of different escorts Oberon, Dad and Caine (the leading hounds) had brought to Court parties. I asked him for yearly averages and maxima--what was I up against should I go for the record? While waiting for an opportune moment with Fi I checked out the crowd again. Gerard, Julian and Llewella were absent, as usual. Robin gave me the high sign when he saw the package. Dad caught my eye and smiled from his circle of adoring beauties.Doctor Tenzil ambled off. I approached Fiona with a formal air; she watched me with open curiosity.
"A gift, aunt, from the Prince my father, on the occasion of your nativity," I intoned, dropping to one knee and proffering the package.
She accepted it, "My thanks to your father," smiled and walked off towards the nearest sitting room. Minutes later she returned, looking very serious, or displeased.
"Tell Bleys the gift is appreciated," she said.
I bowed and did that thing. Dad seemed to be pleased by her reaction. I was NOT pleased. Shit. It probably was her painting, her guards. Thanks, Dad.
Alix and Rene endured their formal presentations to the King. After, I approached Fiona.
I winced."Ah, no. I'm acting for myself now. Some awkward possibilities have occured to me. I hope that the painting was not one of yours in the first place."
"It is nice to have hopes."
Agh! I adopted a mildly martyred expression."So...interesting to have parents." That got a small genuine smile. "I admit to some curiousity concerning the artifact."
"Your life would be less complicated without possessing such knowlege."
I could take a hint. I bowed and left. Found a strong drink, and another. Why was Dad going out of his way to annoy Fiona. Maybe he had concluded she would not come over to his Anti-Random faction and was sending a warning. Certainly he was trying to drag me in. Again.
The Chaosian ambassador made her entrance. Not that her sex was immediately evident; she was wearing a huge, concealing headdress and costume in black, flanked by big semi-human bodyguards. She paraded formally to front the throne, bowed and removed the helmet-mask. Dara. Ambassador Dara. That caused a lot of comment. Merlin looked completely blank. That would, I thought, solve the ambassadorial mortality problem. Blood curses, or the threat of them, have kept my kinsmen alive for millennia.
In the midst of the reaction Carol rose writhing twenty feet into the air, screamed and was pulled in half by invisible forces and dropped. Dad shouted NO and rushed to Carol's torso. My mind went into supercooled overdrive and I ran to Dara's bodyguard perimeter.
"You're a shapeshifter. Can you help?"
Dara's eyes were wide and shocked. She shook her head. "He's gone."
I ran to Carol while linking to Dar Brennin (in the middle of my relatives, no less) for a Stasis spell. If we could prevent excessive brain damage and cellular decay there were places where he could be...reassembled. Probably. Mortals for sure, family...maybe. Dad saw at a glance what the spell was and told me, almost choking, not to bother: Carol's lifeforce had been ripped from him when he was torn apart. My icy overdrive blew away and grief and rage flooded in. I wanted to scream and keen, tear my clothes and generally freak out, Argannel style. My Amberite training (courtesy of Dad) won out. Amberite don't do that; it would be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
Meanwhile a stranger had appeared and been confronted with a double dozen blades, Benedict's foremost. He claimed innocence and ignorance and to have come, been sent, from Dworkin's company--see the Trumps he gave? Caine looked them over and pronounced them Dworkin's work. Dara vouched for both the intruder's and her innocence in Carol's murder. Benedict seemed unconvinced and Bleys stalked over, enraged.
"If not him, then I know who is responsible," growled Bleys, looking towards Random.
He and I took Carol's body to Carol's rooms and laid him out. Sometime later, Vialle knocked and expressed condolences. I started to form a probing spell but Dad stopped me. True, he can do them better than I. Bleys ground out threats of vengeance against whoever had struck at him through his son. I wondered aloud that any among our kin could be so stupid. He asked me to leave him alone with Carol.
I wandered to my rooms and tried to order my thoughts. Four possibliities: the murderer was striking at Carol, at Dad, at me or at the family as a whole. Five: Dad did it to implicate Random...my guts twisted. Carol was perhaps most harmless member of the family and had made no enemies I had ever heard of.Bleys had many enemies, but who would dare? Outside of Dworkin and maybe Benedict, Dad was the scariest member of the family. He was second or third best at war and weaponry and master of many powers. I didn't have any serious enemies, either.Could Dad have done it? I didn't think so, but with the Princes who could reallly say? They all have at least a thousand years of hardening. Carol was publicly Random's ally, not Dad's.
I decided to eliminate the first possibility, that Carol had been murdered on his own account. Perhaps he had come across something in the archives. I went to the Library (where Alix was reading) and sent a servant to awaken Carol's assistant Dik. Dik, an old guy, told me Carol had mostly been cataloguing marginalia from the Great Chronicles. Dik freaked when I mentioned, offhand, that Carol was dead. Alix accused me of being heartless and, at the moment, I was. She Suggested to Dik that he sleep and sent him to his bed. I started skimming the Chronicles' many, many volumes.
I skimmed through the Great Chronicles (a highly biased collection of hearsay, innuendo and self justification) till dawn. Nothing. No hint of anything that might motivate someone to kill Carol. I hadn't expected to find anything, but I couldn't sleep and had at least eliminated a possibility. I stood and stretched and found an envelope with my name on it not more than a foot from my elbow. I stared around wildly, heart thumping with adrenaline. Nobody. I reallly should have seen it delivered or materialize or whatever. I scanned it: magic and Trump, no detectable traps. Inside were three Trumps in Dworkin's style: Alix, Ren and the Chaosian party crasher, Derek. Good trick, the delivery, but all of Dworkin's tricks are good ones.
The Great Hall was cordoned off and guarded. I Trumped Fiona and asked her what she had learned about the spell that killed Carol. She had done only a basic scan and gave me permission to do a serious probe. I kept my indignation to myself. It had not crossed my mind that Fi or Dad would delay so long. If I had known I would have done this eight hours ago.I built up the spell on site rather than link to Dar Brennin again in public. Half an hour into it Ikoma came in and examined the room, the alcoves, the throne. An hour and a half allowed me to construct a wonderfully sensitive probe. I used it. The spell had been Trump-based and executed from outside the castle, but nearby. I hooked into the casting site, barely: I could teleport there now or never. Random's order to stay in the castle be damned--I went.I arrived as ready as I could, sword in one hand and wand in the other. Anticlimax. I was in a small room empty of people with cheap furniture and no sign of anyone's possessions save a card on the end table, ripped in two. Carol's Trump. I checked outside and found that I was in the Glaive and Goblin, a cheap inn in the City. I Trumped Random and told him what I'd found. He was angry I had ignored his ban and ordered me back. I swallowed my own anger and complied, Trumping to the main hall. I was again frustrated--I had been hoping against all reason that I would find someone to kill. I Trumped Dad while walking to the royal apartments.
"Dolon! I wanted to speak with you. Come through."
"I can't. Random has summoned me. I found the place Carol was killed from."
"Here's an image" --a mental image suitable for a teleport fix-- "of the place, an inn in the City. Probably clean, but you never know."
"Contact me later."
Random was wearing a bathrobe and had a ghostly red globe, about head-sized, floating over his left shoulder. That was new. He had calmed down a bit and apologized for biting my head off. I told him what I'd found, why I couldn't wait and that Dad was looking into it as well. He said he'd send agents to investigate. He requested that I please stay in the castle. I agreed and was dismissed.
I Trumped Bleys again, got through easily.
I'd just promised. "Are you in the Castle? I said I wouldn't leave."
I let him pull me through.
"Mustn't disobey Random, hey," with quite an edge to it.
"Well, there is my oath of fealty and all." Not to mention his oath, and all the others'. Dad's needling me on this subject was scraping my raw nerves.
He gave me a look and switched subjects. His men were checking out the Glaive and Goblin. I told him about my new Trumps. Could he contact Dworkin? --No. Derek was the most recent contactee. Dworkin's sense of humor was generally benign. I agreed to keep an eye on Alix and Derek; he was suspicious of this influx of Chaos-connected relatives. There might be something to that. We parted in friendly fashion.
I was Trumped as I reached the kitchens for a five kilocalorie snack: Dworkin, starting to speak, stopped, said
"Wait a minute, you're not Bleys!" and cut the contact.
Questioning Dad could wait, I was starved.The guards wouldn't let me talk to Derek. Dad was no longer in. Wandering the halls, I met Uncle Caine who offered his condolences and asked if he could do anything to help. Caine is supposed to be a Trump expert, so I asked him about the murder and the broken Trumps. Trumps, he told me, are linked to the Universe in some fundamental and (previously) unbreakable fashion. Simply penetrating the Castle defenses was an impressive bit of business as well. He went his way and I continued wandering and thinking. One, this Trump-Reality connection went as deep as the Pattern, else our nameless enemy--I decided to be optimistic and call him the Dead Man--could not have affected Kolvir, even temporarliy. What Powers were involved? I was reasonably familiar with Logrus manifestations and had found no traces of such at the murder site. No Shadow Powers should be so strong...perhaps. Might newly-formed Shadow have encapsulated other old Powers? How did one become a Trump Artist? Did one attune to some Source? Bleys and Fiona did not seem to be rushing off to check on such a thing.After a time, I ended up at the Guards' practice grounds and joined in. I stuck to kendo sticks, mistrusting my bloodthirsty mood.
A page found me before I'd broken anybody's bones. The Chaosian Ambassador invited me to tea in her tower in one hour. I sent the page to ask Random for permission to attend the Ambassador and ran down to the Baths. I called out orders to the duty staff, stripped, got scraped down and dove into the calidarium, the tepidarium and the frigidarium, was dried, shaved, groomed and dressed in under half an hour. At times like that I truly appreciate good servants: I slipped my purse to the Mistress of the Baths and told her to spread it around. The page relayed my permission from Random, Clovis (my chief groom at Dolon House) met me at the gates with my second and third best horses (green-coated with silver manes and tails) and I made it to the new Residence two minutes early.
The new Chaosian Ambassador's Residence is a heavy black stone tower, typical Hendrake work, raised in a day and a night by sorcery. I left the mounts with the stable-creature, pointed out the best of the two, Shinju, as the Ambassador's gift. The inside of the tower was less gloomy than the outside, spare and elegant. The servants were hooded demihumans of some sort. Dara kept me waiting, of course, so I chatted up my companion in the waiting area, a catwoman sailor. Captain Chuft seemed to flirt back but I wasn't sure if she thought me attractive, edible or both.
Tea was on the second floor. Dara was a pleasant conversationalist. We flirted casually, discussed Chaos and Order vis a vis the rulers of those realms and eventually came to business: how was the investigation proceeding and how was Derek being treated. I let her know that the attack was via Trump, from outside the Castle, ie. not pointing at her. Derek was under guard in a guest room, not in the dungeons. She smiled dangerously and said that that was good, since he was under her protection. After tea I presented her with Shinju and we parted on good terms.
What was Derek to her? Son, lover, agent?
I was at the Castle stables when Alix, Ikona and Rene rode in late in the afternoon. Rene's clothing was torn up, bloodied and singed but he seemed fit himself. I inquired about their day. They and Merlin had investigated the Grove of the Unicorn, found a large crater there at the epicenter of the Trump-destruction attack on Kolvir, discovered some burnt bones (probably human) and a half-melted dagger. They had been attacked by a large manticora, possibly sent at them by a laughing man in black. Ikoma let me examine the dagger while he dealt with a frantic Sharon, castle seamstress, sent by his mother Florimel. The dagger had an unfamiliar device on it (a diamond of four diamonds in pink and green) and was not itself enchanted, but might have been used in some magical ceremony. Rene started asking questions that showed he knew nearly nothing about the family history, or the Universe in general, and that he was just realizing the depth and danger of his ignorance. I gave him a quick overview of the high points--the rough ages of the Princes, Amber vs. the Courts, the Pattern vs. the Logrus, Shadow, the Abyss, Brand and blood on the Pattern. The poor bastard looked like he was drowning. In the library, we pointed out some relevant sections and recommended some books. Rene put it off for later and said he had to take the bone to some high-tech (Ikoma looked confused, I don't think he has much experience with advanced technology.) shadow for analysis.
Cousin Tyndall joined us, back from whatever Fiona had sent her to do.The talk turned to Trumps, with Rene so knowledgeable that he must be an Artist himself. Ikoma left. Rene claims that the Trump empowerment is a gradual and unconscious process, not something analogous to spell construction. Curious about Dad's "gift" to Fiona, I asked about whether finishing a Trump dries the paint; it is, at that point practically invulnerable. I mentioned seeing a wet but seemingly empowered Trump. Rene was curious about where I could have seen such a thing. I dodged the question.
Jellah, Captain of the Guard, found Tyndall with us in the Library and questioned her: where was she this morning? Out of Amber on Fiona's business. Derek walked in, apparently free. I introduced us. He was much relieved when I (Bleys' son) told him that I did not consider him to be a serious suspect. He was there to try to research how Carol was murdered. Doubt he found anything of help.
Dinner was well attended. The often-absent Julian, Gerard and Llewella were there, and Dara came as Derek's guest. Benedict showed Dara much honor, giving her his place at the table. She watched the proceedings with an almost effervescent curiosity.
Enemy spy? Child of Amber, lost no more? And Benedict had made it clear he has an interest. Her odds of survival went up at least 500% with that gesture.
Random entered with Vialle and he and Fiona briefed the Family. The red sphere was the Jewel in a magical construct of Fiona's creation, made to allow Random continuous, safe access and to create a protective field against the Trump-murderers attacks. The field covered all the City and a bit beyond. It drew on "several sources". She explained that Trumps link the images to the subjects via the "fundamental reality"; so destroying the image destroys or damages the subject. As to Who was responsible, Random hated to think that it was one of the family. Should it be the work of the Courts (everyone looked at Dara) it meant war, a war we would win.
When Random finished, Derek stood and gave a moderately pompous speech about his encounter with Dworkin. The important points were: Dworkin had known something was about to occur, that Dworkin seemed to age when the reality-quake hit and that Dworkin had them muttered "Blood against Blood."
Random told Derek that Fiona would debrief him; Derek said they should talk to Dworkin. Fi told him that if he could reach Dworkin that she would like to speak to Grandfather herself. She then announced that Rene was her son. Derek invited anyone present to acknowledge him...silence.
Bleys asked Tyndall about the assassination of Lord Chantris. Tyndall denied any involvement, and Fiona backed her up. Apparently, Chantris (the Master of Horse) had been shot through the eye with one of Tyndall's bolts (or a good counterfeit) while in the Glaive and Goblin, in the room where I found the ripped Trump of Carol. Interesting. Technically an expert shot but far too sloppy for Tyndall's work; Fiona does not employ incompetents.
Then the Grove Crater expedition was discussed, the Person in Black and White (or Silver) described, the dagger examined--and snagged for investigation by Caine.
Fiona and Random argued about something. Benedict said we were no longer confined to the Castle, but Dad insisted I keep close as one of the likeliest next targets. Shit.
I asked Julian, privately, about taking Dara riding in Arden. His reply indicated that it would be a Bad Idea; to Julian, I think, Chaos is always the Enemy. The group broke up.
I rode down the coast and found a point from which I could easily contact Dar Brennin and yet stay within the protective zone. It, Argannel and Mother were fine. It had detected nothing new about the quakes. It took about twenty minutes to replenish my spells, as fast as one could expect this close to the Pattern. Dad Trumped me when nearly done, asked where I was and repeated his admonition to stay safely within Amber. He wanted me to keep an eye on Florimel, said that she was playing a dangerous game. Flora?! Yes, Flora. I agreed, intrigued at this new image of Flora. He didn't know how to duplicate Fiona's protective effect, so I said I'd try to beg it off of her. He thought success unlikely. (He had certainly done a lot to put me in her bad graces.) I thought, privately, that Dar Brennin might be sufficient to power a man-sized protective field and thus regain my mobility. Others must have had their own Sources. It would be allow us to take the investigation beyond Amber with more safety.
Riding back, Derek Trumped me. He asked for help. He had been warned of danger and promised more information at a meeting at the G&G...hence his apprehension. Gladly, said I, they could be connected to Carol's killer. He was outside the Castle, so he pulled me and my mount through.
Next, he Trumped Ikoma (he apparently wanted all the muscle he could get) and found our cousin running through the Castle, stopping at Merln's room. Something had happened to Merl; Ikoma pulled us through. Merlin's door was broken down, he was not in his room, but Rene was. No sign of a struggle. I employed a magical probe, Derek summoned the Logrus. There were Pattern-traces leading down towards the Pattern itself. We ran down and down, Rene trying to Trump someone along the way. We reached the chamber just as Merlin and ?the Person In Black and Pale finished walking the Pattern and vanished.
As we stared, a voice said from behind us, "It's beautiful, isn't it?" We turned fast, hands to hilts: Dworkin. He didn't know why Merl and X had left. He thanked Rene for helping to repair the Pattern (!). Something "older and stronger" than his "little Pattern" was being used against us. He handed out gifts--flashlights?--for use "when there was darkness". Confused questioning and unclear answers pointed to the Abyss as the source of underlying reality and the power used in the Trump attacks. While we digested this, Dworkin disappeared.
Manipulation of the Abyss? All of us who fought at the Courts saw the Abyss, of course, with its fast-moving stars and nebulae and less identifiable manifestations deep, deep within it. Ancarath Hendrake had told me it sometimes casts out objects or waves of magical force that were a major area of study in the Courts. People never came out, though, and the point of no return changed over time.
Then Derek realized that we were late for his meeting...
Castle Amber, the Pattern Chamber: Rene, Ikoma, Derek, Tyndall and I standing around looking at the tubes (flashlights?) Dworkin had given us. Light flashed from the Pattern as Rene started walking it. Nonplussed, we waited for him to say something about why he was doing this now. Nothing. Derek gave me a quizzical look; I shrugged. Derek convinced Ikoma and Tyndall to accompany us to his overdue appointment at the Glaive and Goblin. We Trumped to the Main Hall and I magicked us to the inn.
Derek's contact, Captain Chuft (!), was not there. Derek searched via Logrus--I hoped no wandering tendril would contact a Patternbound object.
A twentyish fellow with no weapons and a lot of confusion was Trumped through to Tyndall, who was told to guard him, by Caine (she said). She did not look happy. David, the newcomer, was yanked out of a magicless, technological (electricity, computers, automobiles, no nonhuman or variant sophonts), unarmed society. We introduced ourselves, skecthed the situation and he, quite reasonably, decided he was dreaming or hallucinating. I was half in combat mode and assessed him as useless (for the moment) and dismissed him.
Derek found Chuft, across the street at the Golden Termagant, but when we searched the place she was gone. I told Derek about meeting Chuft at Dara's tower and that Dara, at least, seemed to be concerned for his welfare.
Back at the Castle, we ordered under-steward Pagraja to find a room for our new cousin David. I was curious about what Rene had been up to and Trumped him. He was nude, outdoors, in some sort of resort, being massaged by fetching odalisques. He said he'd tried something which backfired. Some backfire. I relayed Ty's reminder of Rene's midnight appointment with Fiona. Rene cursed, jumped up and signed off. Derek tried to contact Merlin: no luck, like the rest of us.
I examined the Dworkin device. No magic or any Power I could detect. Strange script. Dave watched me study a "flashlight" with growing unease. I tried to explain about Dworkin...oh well. He left. Alix came in, I let her look at it and told her where it came from, snatched it away when she started to mess with it. For all I know, I told her, the damned things have just one charge.
Rene arranged for us to join him in some high tech world peopled with violet-skinned white-haired midgets. Yes, my shoulderblades itched a bit out of the Jewel's protective envelope. Their genetic projection of the bone fragments found at the Grove crater showed a Rebman male. Nobody recognized him. Home again, and to bed. Carol's funeral is tomorrow.
I met Bill Roth on the way down to breakfast. He made me promise to try to have lunch with him as he saw someone I'll get a kick out of.
After breakfast I finally reached Fiona via Trump and talked to her on her balcony. I asked her if her Jewel of Judgement shield construct could be adapted to minor Sources, for personal shields. Like your home Source, she asked. Yes. (I'd assumed she knew, now I wondered how much she knew.) I was one of the most likely next targets. I promised to keep the technique as confidential as she desired. She said she would research the idea. I don't think she was blowing me off. She doesn't seem to blame me for the Birthday Present.
I couldn't find Bill Roth for our lunch engagement. I rode down to my City house, ate there and organized Carol's wake. I Summoned the big party packet from home (using some extra juice from Dar Brennin to manage the multiton mass) to the ballroom. I handed out the party rings (communication & protection devices) to the staff while I briefed them on the plan. The ran off in a hurry--not a panic, they're damned good at their jobs--to their various tasks. I went to the basement and activated all the Thralls (sorcerous automatons) and sent them up to help. I adjusted the spell on the Bat Signal--shit, Merlin had ME calling it that--giving the green coldfire torch a black center and 'lit' it. I Trumped Rene and asked him to please bring some Dead Man's Kiss (that potent grog from Illumnia). He agreed to do so, surprised that I knew of the place. I admitted to visiting it once. (I planned to ease in to admitting to absconding with that Trump artifact from his family vault.) Up in my office I wrote invitations to all the prickly sorts who demanded the formalities--relatives, mostly. I cheated, of course. I used twenty Badhnisian copyquills to make duplicate letters. Time was running out. As I dressed for the funeral I realized that the wake preparations had calmed me and improved my mood. The absorbtion of the artist, I suppose: for me, hosting IS an art. I rode Fintan, my best horse (groomed to a high polish by Clovis), to the Castle with a few minutes to spare. I handed out invitations in black envelopes.
The King and Queen led the solemn procession, followed by Bleys and I, Bleys carrying Carol's corpse in his arms. Then Benedict, Fiona and the rest, more or less by seniority. We slowly processed to the Grove of the Unicorn where its priests were preparing for the ceremony. Or so we thought. The Grove lies in a bowl like depression on the outskirts of Arden. We topped the rise at its edge and their Majesties stopped abruptly. I rode up with them and saw that a yard-wide crack led from the crater on the far side of the Grove to the altar at its center. All the priests and the guardsmen who had accompanied them were dead. Their bodies were scattered across the Grove, cut down by (judging by the tracks) a company of cavalry. Polished pandemonium. Benedict quickly positioned himself to ward Random and Vialle and oversee the sight. I caught Benedict's eye (you can't avoid it, really) and gestured "which way"--I served a season as one of his lieutenants, once--and he absently signalled "hold" as he scanned the Grove. The Royal Guard spread out effeciently. Fiona examined the altar and found something to interest her. I activated a Probe spell, settled into it and sent the POV up 2000 feet to look around. No enemies. Down to ground level, I saw that the tracks led into the Grove, not out. Teleported or Trumped away, then. Fiona was examining a damaged Trump--the very Trump used to kill Carol that I'd found and given to Bleys. I looked over to him.Random rode close to Bleys. "What do you want to do?" he asked.
Dad's face was a hard mask as he watched everything in the Grove. After a moment he glanced at Random. "I'll bring my son myself." Bleys looked at me. "I'll catch up," I said, waving at the Grove. Dad rode off with Carol in his arms. Our enemies were probably well away, and Dad was on his guard. I rode down to join Fiona, examining the Trump through some sort of Pattern construct. "I've a Probe running," I offered, "can we trace the Trump?" I wasn't sure of her construct's function.
"I'll do it," she said condescendingly, and manipulated her Pattern-thing. She started slightly, looked surprised and said softly, "I'll have to think about that."
I backed off and examined the rift. It wasn't very deep and it had a ripped Trump of the Grove at the bottom of it. I fetched it out. I didn't recognize the style and the back was blank. Fiona was deep in concentration. Rene and Ikoma joined me.
"May I see it?" Rene asked. I handed it over. Maybe a Trump expert could get something out of it.
"What is it?" --Ikoma.
"A ripped Trump of the Grove," I answered, gesturing at the crack. I thought about Dad and looked at Fiona, still elsewhere. I got Rene 's attention. "Give it to Fiona, please, when she is done." I excused myself, mounted up and went after Dad at Fintan's full super-equine speed.
I soon caught up to him. We rode in silence to Carol's shrine, small simple and nearly perfect, with a fine view of Kolvir, Garnath and the sea in the distance. We buried him and were quiet for some time. I thought about Carol, the family's eccentric scholar, happily relating abstracted curiousities recently wrested from the archives. I didn't even know if he had a lover. For a while I had run the cream of my acquaintences' bookish sisters and cousins by him at the parties he attended, until he asked me to stop. I think he had someone, but he was so quiet--sneaky in his own way--that there weren't even solid rumors. He had seemed to be happy. I missed him.
Eventually, Dad and I talked. He was mildly annoyed that I'd left the Grove Trump with Fiona, though she was the one sweeping the site for clues. I invited him to the wake. He said that he had left Carol's murder-Trump in his room. Someone had penetrated both Castle security and, much more difficult, his security, to steal it. Then he paused, sensing something I could not, excused himself and Trumped away.
I rode back to the Grove and found it empty of any but Alix and the dead, who she was arranging for burial. I considered my priorities and went off to rack spells. I was out of Probes again, best to hang more of those, plus some other spells for the wake.
Derek Trumped me while I rode back to Amber. He wanted me to examine something. I agreed and met him in the Castle library. Something turned out to be a ring he had been given. I held it in my hand and carefully catalogued its magical vibrations. Five minutes later I told him it was primarily and anti-poison device and good luck charm, with no traps or compellings I could detect.
He said that that was what he had been told, relief evident in his manner. He suggested we eat but I declined, saying I'd eat at the wake. He said he'd do both and went off in search of food.
I attempted, unsuccessfully, to Trump Rene , wondering if he had learned anything from the Trump or his mother. I went to find a knowledgeable uncle, preferably Benedict, and learned that he was in a closed meeting in the Yellow Room with Caine and Random.
Ikoma was waiting outside the room. Derek appeared and impatiently decided that I, as the best-connected of us, should push my way in. No. I asked Ikoma to Trump me if he learned anything and left for Dolon House.
Preparations were nearly complete. I thanked and encouraged the staff, warmed by their professionalism. Up in my suite, considering appropriate bonuses, I found a letter from Bleys on my bed. He sent his regrets that he could not attend the wake.
The crisis comes and I must depart to prepare for it. My
sister's magics are your best protection, for the moment, so
don't stray far. I may need to call upon you at a moment's
notice. In the meantime, watch Fiona's lapdog and her new
playtoy. There is a mystery there that, while not bearing on the
present trouble, shall come to fruition all too Good Luck and
take care, my son. The Unicorn go with you.
Interesting. I was glad he trusted Fiona to be on our side vis-a-vis the Trumpkiller, for we were truly screwed if she wasn't. "Call upon you at a moment's notice," well, I'd better keep a full set of offensive and defensive spells handy, and go armed and, if possible, armored. Tyndall and David could live in ignorance of Dad's characterization of them as Lapdog and Playtoy. That Fiona was Up To Something meant that she was still breathing.
Derek Trumped me and informed me that Brand had been spotted at the Grove. I thanked him, dismayed. Brand. Undearest of uncles. Out of the Abyss, somehow, despite the assurances of my contacts in the Courts that such a thing was impossible. Or at least unheard-of. Shit. Dad had to know. He, very likely, knew already, but I had to be sure. I Trumped him--nothing--Harder--nothing. Out of range? In a Barred shadow? I called on Dar Brennin through my ring for extra power, a lot of it, tried again--brief contact, then gone. OK. Full power, everything the King Oak could send to Amber and all my force as well, pushing an image of Brand--brief contact, then a fleeting thought as I fell down: 'Where IS he?'.
I woke up pounding within and without: my head and the door. Ow. The door. Staff. I rolled slowly over and crawled shaking to the door before they decided to break it down. Opened it. They hurried in, all talked at once, asking what happened, was I injured, etc. I said I'd recover and sent for caffeine and sugar--Jolt Cola, actually--which is the usual perscription for psychic overstrain. In half an hour I was halfway human again. I reconsidered getting stinking drunk. The first guests arrived and I went down to greet them.
Carol's wake went reasonably well, though I had to explain the concept a dozen times. Of Family, Flora, Caine, Gerard, Llewella (! a ten minute appearance), Dara, Derek, Alix, David, Tyndal, Ikoma, Robin and Tashara attended. Also rude Rendall, whom I suspect is Julian's get. Much of the mortal nobility, though no Chantrisses. Rather subdued for one of my parties.
David pressed Caine, hard, for answers to some questions. Caine evaded and David pressed harder. I was intrigued. What questions? Also, Dave was starting to show some family spirit.
Ikoma and Alix spent much of the evening trying to evade their mother. Alix employed an effective disguise and partied incognito; Ikoma was less successful.
Rendall politely (for him) consented to take his pet hellhound away from the guests' horses. Fortunate, as he would no doubt have been annoyed had I been forced to teleport the hound out into Arden. I didn't want to initiate a pissing contest that, given Rendall's personality, could go on for years. A host has obligations to his guests, however, and I would have fried the damned beast if necessary.
Ren asked me how I knew of his homeworld Shadow Illumnia. I had already considered how to answer him. He had to suspect me of stealing the intriguing Trump of the Pattern from his estate, and his mother could tell him that I had presented it to her in Bleys' name. So I feigned embarrassment and told him the truth about Bleys' little joke on his sister. I told him that Fiona seemed to bear me no ill will. Said it was interesting to have parents--the same line I'd used on Fi.
He replied that he wouldn't know. He'd been raised by an aunt who died when Ren was young. He wouldn't tell me who had made the Trump, but acted like perhaps it was his. Interesting
I asked Florimel if there was any particular reason Alix and Ikoma hadn't walked the Pattern. She claimed they simply had no interest, but the feel of her response was surprising. For the first time she struck me as poisonous and dangerous.
Eventually the party faded out and I went to bed. I dreamed and among my dreams was something special. I was in the crowded pool of an ugly building reminiscent of some on Shadow Earth, sitting in a float chair. Occasionally hands would reach up and pull children under the surface. Dad floated over to me in another chair, holding a big frosty drink.
"Son," he smiled at me, gesturing with the drink.
"Was the wake a success?"
"More of less. No assassinations or burglaries."
I felt a little defensive. "It was a wake, and they're not used to them. Did you get my message?"
"I got something."
"I was told that Brand, or a double, has been seen around Amber."
Bleys took a long draw on his drink. "Yes...That's what I'm preparing for."
"I thought you probably knew but I had to be sure."We floated companionably. None of the children resurfaced. Both of us tracked a spectacular black woman as she walked to her towel and sat down.
"Best you do not contact me for a while," Dad said. Brand might be able to track it."
"Hm. Oh, nice effect," I commented, waving at the pool and miming a question.
A smug smile: "Shadow is infinite."
"So how good is Brand with a sword? If I get a chance, should I try to knife him?
Dad thought for a moment. "Unknown. He could have hidden talent."
"But wasn't he a showoff? He would have loved to show you up."
Bleys smiled at my naivete . "He could hide his abilities for centuries to better enjoy his victim's dismay. There is just no telling." He nodded to me and the sending faded into a real dream.
David woke me up with a Trump call about mid-morning. He wanted to walk the Pattern. Um, OK. I pulled him through to me, running a light Psyche scan as we clasped hands; he seemed to be strong enough to do the deed. He said he was sure he was of the blood: Fiona had run some tests and confirmed it. He was worried about his foster parents. I thought it through while I dressed.
One, David was being treated as family and Random hadn't told us to keep the newbie away from it. Two, with the shitstorm heading in our direction we needed all the help we could get. Three, I sympathized with his concerns. Four, he would owe me a favor. I couldn't take him far from Amber, so I explained how to shift shadow. He wanted to get down to the Pattern unrecognized. I agreed to disguise him with an illusion. He picked Ren . I set the illusion over him, hoping that Ren could take a joke.
We arrived at the Pattern chamber without incident. I instructed David in the basics and lent him my Trump of the Great Hall. (I thought it strange that Dworkin had not given him a deck. I wasn't too worried: imposters die on the Pattern.)
He walked it...and he didn't. It had no effect on him or he on it.
He wondered what the big deal was. I used a Probe spell and David was a Pattern void. I was amazed. What the hell was this?Dave still wanted to get to his relatives. I wanted to know about his power. Some sort of Abyssal energy, such as Dworkin had hinted was used to effect Trump murders? This could be very, very useful. So I volunteered to send him home with a spell, and to set another teleport on him that he could activate to bring him back. Very few places were blocked to both Trump and magic. And I wanted to be sure, for his own sake and because Caine, Tyndall and others would be angry if I lost David.
We Trumped to the Hall and I spent half an hour modifying two Teleport spells to take him to and from Shadow Earth. I dug out a heavy pistol I'd picked up on a visit to Merlin, a trench coat (to conceal a sword) and an enchanted combat knife and gave them to him, just in case. We walked over to my house in town and I sent him off from there, where it might attract less attention. He was soon back. We talked and agreed to investigate his power together. The possibility of acquiring a defense against Trump-destruction murder was more than worth the things he would learn about me.