Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
The king closes the connection and Llewella and Robin fade from sight.
He stays balanced and standing. "Going to get dark soon. We should get back, so you lads can make your climb. Sorry to keep you so late the night before the big school dance, Edan, but it's hard to argue with Caine. And honestly, I'd like to know how the city above fares, and if we should consider re-opening it. People are starting to think there are secrets up there..."
Edan smiles and points to the red stripes on Random's flotation ring. "Not to worry. It gave me time to mentally review my routine for tomorrow. And watch you play Red Row Vere."
Vere smiles back. "Thank you again, Cousin, for agreeing to aid me. Your majesty, can the trump of me be detached from its place and used for this task?"
Random holds out a finger at Edan, but turns to Vere. "Short answer is 'yes'. Longer version is 'take the whole board' Now, excuse me, I have to exorcise the worst pun of the day."
The King springs into the air, gaining an impressive height for someone jumping off an air-filled rubber tube. He does a brief jackknife and hits the water with barely a splash.
The King surfaces, pushing up the back of Edan's tube, lifting it high above him.
Edan gets almost a whole second to ponder the problem. Is it considered lese majesty to not participate in a pun exorcism? He's pretty sure drowning the king is considered bad form, too. Then he's out of time and does the diplomatic thing: he chooses to be surprised and dumped with a squawk. But Vere and Random can both see the dumping is more of an acrobatic flip, and not a drop of his bottle's contents are spilled.
Presently, after his head breaks the surface, he adds, "Now I'm disappointed. I thought there would be a gold star for that, or something."
Vere settles down onto his tube, judging it politic to observe and admire the king's wit. He watches Random's actions with a slight smile on his lips.
Random barks out a laugh. "Your gold star sunk, like your pun. You should dive after it!" The king puts his hands on Edan's shoulders and shoves down, while kicking up. Given that he is a small king, mostly he pushes himself out of the water with this maneuver.
Edan's a dancer, not a wrestler, and he decides grappling is probably not to his advantage. Add to that he didn't get a very good breath before being pushed under, so that's not good, either. Maybe an abject apology at the beginning might have been a better idea? Hah, too late now.
To play to his strengths, he drops a shoulder and does an odd little twisting pirouette (albeit in water, and no support for his leg) that he discovered in practice some months ago, something the king probably has not seen him do yet. The purpose, of course, is to get out from under, kick out for some distance, and hopefully get his head back above water for more air.
Since the king isn't actually interested in drowning Edan, he easily kicks free and gets more air. Edan's birthright allows him to go longer than a normal mortal without air in any case, but he takes in enough for some time.
Random treads water, waiting to see what Edan does.
Vere quietly paddles his tube a little farther away from the royal action.
Vere is safely out of the action. For now.
Vere likes that position when the king is in a playful mood. He paddles just a little bit further away.
Edan, for his part, shakes some of the water off his head and then holds up his hands, palm outward. "On second thought, that was a pretty bad pun, neh? One might even tender an apology, if it's not too late."
Random treads water, honoring the momentary peace. The surface of the water barely moves. "You're letting a perfectly good gold star go to waste at the bottom of the lagoon..."
Edan raises an eyebrow as he stares at the king; then, he tilts his head, giving Random a sideways look as if he's pondering that last statement at a different angle. Then, with a deep breath, he does a jackknife surface dive towards the bottom.
Vere raises an eyebrow and leans over the side of his tube, staring down into the depths of the lagoon.
Edan swims downward, his dancing skills providing an economy of motion that quickly bring him to the bottom of the lagoon. Embedded by one point in the muck is a large golden star. It's shining brightly, and Edan could see it before the water even became dark. He can probably get his arms around it, he thinks.
He's just not sure how he's going to raise it to the surface.
Edan tries anyway. He gets his arms around the thing and tries to lift, just to get a good idea of the star's weight. For all he knows, it could be full of chocolate...
If Edan were to guess, he'd guess it was made of gold. It may weigh half a ton. Edan can, by dint of his heritage, lift it. He can't swim with it.
Vere glances over at the king. "A star, your majesty?"
Random turns towards him, giving the young man in the tube his full attention. "A star. He said he deserved one for that pun, which wasn't the worst one ever told to me. Sometimes, when you are in a position to do anything for anyone, you have to be careful about what you do and for whom, if you see what I mean. It doesn't matter, to some people, that I paid for Edan's new army, or that I let my best friend hold a party for him, or that I granted him an order of knighthood.
"Some people need to see something shiny, like a star."
"I see." Vere tilts his head to one side. "In fact, politically, he public perception of a royal gift may be far more important than the gift itself, correct?"
Random nods. "Depends on the gift though. Combination Mind Control Gun/Death Ray goes a long way."
Edan surfaces at this point, sputtering. "A real gold star! Thank you, your Majesty. I'd love to hear the story about how it got there. Er, if that was somehow an application of Pattern, of course."
"It's for you and your boys... if you can get it out! Otherwise, you may need to start holding meetings under the lagoon..."
"'Your boys'?" Vere asks. "This would be the order of knights that the king mentioned to me, I take it?"
Edan grins. "The fledgling Order of the Lamp makes its debut tomorrow in the city. I love the idea of this star, it should be a fine challenge for the engineers of the company."
"But before or after the ball? Either has its advantages." Random flips back into his tube. "On more a more serious note, we are out of beer, and it's getting cold. Shall we adjourn to warmer locales? Or shall I so adjourn while you two plan your assault on heaven?"
"I would like to be ready to make the trip up the stairs as soon as they appear," Vere answers. "Sooner begun, sooner finished." He pauses slightly, then adds, "Your Majesty, did my father give you my report on the Paresh on Asir Island, and the cultist on the mountain there?"
Edan nods his agreement with Vere, and the nod answers the other question: get the star after the ball.
"What fortuitous timing," he says. "Before your arrival, we were discussing the Dey of Longtides and his assertion that they are Klybesians. If the Turcopolier is not there, they may have a good idea of where he's gone."
Random paddles to the shore. "Why don't you give us your report, and then Edan can add his information and we can all be on the same page. I've never quite understood that metaphor, because if we were on the same page, we'd be flat, and couldn't necessarily see anything. It would be better if we were above the same page, wouldn't it?"
The King climbs out of the water and wraps a towel around his neck, looking much more like an teenager at camp rather than the King of everything.
Vere nods, ignoring the king's presumably rhetorical question. "Elder Germaine still rules the Paresh. Some of the locals have joined them, others regard them with a great deal of fear. The harbor appears to be locked behind a permanent storm front of some kind, apparently due to something that Solange and Lucas did. There is also some sort of cult on the mountain that calls themselves the Questioners of the Oracle. Apparently led by a woman, according to Elder Germaine, but I have no independent confirmation of that. I considered investigating further, but decided it would not be wise to do so alone." He pauses, tilting his head to one side as he considers, then adds, "Bellum apparently sends occasional raids, angry because their ambassador was killed in the aftermath of Huon's destruction of the capital city of Asir. I confess to not fully understanding the details of Huon's dealings with Asir and Bellum."
Edan nods through Vere's account. "The Dey of Longtides - you may remember mention of him at the Family meeting. He has lived in the Land of Peace, but had to leave as the magic of that land is leaving. He left an arcane message. 'I know not where I will end up, but tell the King and Prince Bleys that I have found that the Asir are a sect of the Klybesians, and that they have plans in motion that I have not been able to discover, but that they involve Amber.' He said he would be heading to Atlantis, which I should have known is a real place, but I assume tracking him down to ask for details would be far out of our way." He pauses. "But he did say Father could reach him there."
Random looks over at Vere, as he towels off his shock of hair. "Best guess is Huey went to Asir to bury the evidence, as it were. I hear it was a massive avalanche that drove most of the town into the sea. I suspect he might have been angry for something they did or didn't do to help his plots.
"It's also a message to Celina and to me that he does have the family power and any time he spends in jail is strictly voluntary.
"And to add another facet to it, he knows they're enemies of Amber, so he was doing the family a favor by wrecking their government so that we don't have to deal with them and someone else at the same time.
"So, all in all, it was a pretty densely packed message-in-an-avalanche. Not my style, but not without a certain panache."
Vere listens as Edan and Random talk, and nods his understanding.
Random looks to see if either of the others needs a towel. "Shall we walk or climb?"
Vere accepts a towel and dries off his head and hands. It doesn't do much for his soaked clothing. He looks up at the cliff face and smiles. "Whatever your majesty prefers, of course," he says. "Walking would probably be quicker, if not as interesting."
Edan takes a towel, too. "I like to climb, as you know." He looks up the waterfall and cliff and does a little mental math in his head. "But I don't want to risk missing the moonrise, either. I'm sure you will want as much time as we can spare in Tir, Vere. If we're agreed we won't miss the bus, a quick climb would teach us each other's reaction times and reflexes."
"Ok. If you lose your grip, push out from the wall, but don't worry too much. Since it's a bit overhanging, you'll fall clear and then it's just cliff-diving and getting a good angle of entry in the lagoon." Random smiles and carefully towels off his hands and his feet. "Martin and I did it in, like, 45 minutes tops, but he was trying to prove something to his old man. This can be much easier than our climb was, until the last 100 feet or so. If you do slip, take a horse back up or we'll trump you from the top." Random looks at the sky over the sea. "It's going to be a clear night, so you'll have plenty of time for your errand. But don't get cocky -— Tir can make you forget how close the sunrise is, and that would be that."
Random grabs two handholds on the cliff face and starts climbing. He turns to his nephews. "Someday, when I've got the time, I'm gonna try this behind the falls."
Vere slips off his shoes and stockings and slips them into pockets. "Robin would enjoy this," he observes as he begins to climb.
Edan takes a support position behind Vere - not all that unlike the situation they'll be in when Vere goes to Tir. The Rebman trunks means he has bare hands and feet, and he looks like he's climbed more than a few cliffs before this. He whistles at the waterfall. "That would be... wet. How far does the water fall away from the cliff?"
Random looks back down. "Pretty far. You can sail behind it, if your boat isn't too big. So, there's more of a negative incline, and the last bit would be through the falls. It's all slick as hell back there." The king is setting a good pace, but he's also doing a great job of identifying good routes and handholds.
Random reaches on of the places where the incline is negative and he just grabs the handholds and makes it across on his arms alone. "Careful there!” he calls out. The King's upper arm strength and control is impressive.
There is still a long way to climb.
Vere follows Random silently, not always using the same handholds as the king. He's matching the king's pace but paying close attention to the climb, doublechecking every hold before trusting it with his weight.
Edan just shakes his head, and puts the thought out of his mind; this is not the place to be distracted by thoughts of a later climb. He keeps up with the others, and relies on his arms to get across the negative incline.
The king leads on, and the task becomes almost routine. He avoids some of the obvious shortcuts but not all of them. Random likes chimneys, for instance. That's helpful in terms of using the legs and arms differently, which is restful at this stage of the climb.
The King has a certain rhythm to his climb, and if you listen carefully, he seems to be singing, in time to the winds blowing against the rocks.
After a serious climb of an hour and a half, Random stops perhaps 40 feet from the top. "If you are in a hurry, this is the most direct route, but the slope is nasty. I'm going to the left around this rock, which ends up on my balcony. Probably adds 10 minutes total to the climb, but there should be a bucket of cold beers waiting..."
[OOC: Follow the King or chart your own course?]
Vere pauses for a few moments, dreadfully tempted to try the more difficult path. But then his intelligence gets the better of his adventurousness, and he follows the king on the easier course.
Edan takes a moment to stretch out on his arms and fingertips to look at the direct route, but when Vere moves off to the side he follows in the same support position.
"If I am in town when you try under the waterfall, you will let me know, yes?" he calls up to the king. "I think I would like to try it."
"Sure! If your troops try it, start them on the easier slopes. It's a long fall if they're not experienced mountaineers. Come to think of it, it's probably good training for a mountain unit."
Random cracks open a bottle that is conveniently at the top of the cliff by his balcony. As each of his nephews climbs over the wall, he gestures towards the bucket.
"It was a pleasure, gentlemen. You are now within the first ten to climb up, none of whom have been assassins! You're welcome to sit and catch your breath, but I think you may need to get on with your plans..."
There's a motion from the direction of the castle and Vialle steps carefully towards Random's position. A lady in waiting leans over and says something to her. The Queen has on her professional smile. "Hello nephews, I hope my husband has not over-tired you."
Vere laughs quietly and answers, "It was an invigorating climb, Aunt." He gets a bottle from the bucket for himself and looks to Edan to see if his cousin wants one.
Edan takes a bottle from Vere with a nod and a smile, then makes a deep bow to Vialle. "Your Majesty," he says. "I remember we've met formally once or twice, but I've not had the opportunity to praise your sculpture. It is most impressive."
Vialle smiles. "'Aunt Vialle' is fine when we're alone, Edan. I'm pleased you like my work. It's so hard to explain to others that I often don't try, but it's how I see people."
Random steps over to the Queen, and kisses her on the cheek. "Don't sell yourself short, dear. It's good art, with the lights on or off. The boys are off to look into something for Caine, which sounds more mysterious than I hope it turns out to be."
Vialle looks slightly annoyed at the mention of Caine. She's good at hiding her emotions, but not from family.
"We must leave soon," Vere says, putting a note of regret in his voice, "But I did want to let you know, Aunt Vialle, that Castor's lessons to Robin are paying off. She is developing courtly graces that shall greatly surprise those who underestimate her."
Edan smiles at that. "Anyone who can administer courtly graces while simultaneously juggling excitable flying lizards has my respect."
"It is a talent she may be unique in posessing," Random agrees. Random takes Vialle's arm, and she seems momentarily surprised. "We'll go in, and let the lads be off on their night's skulduggery. Just send me a copy of whatever report you give to Caine."
"Indeed, Your Majesty," Vere replies with a nod of his head. In a warmer tone he adds, "Aunt Vialle, a pleasure, as always."
"I hope to see you again soon," Edan adds, and bows. "Perhaps tomorrow."
Vialle says, "At the dance? We look forward to it."
Random laughs. "I'm bringing a drum. I don't know if that's a warning or something for you to look forward to. If Caine clears your friends, Vere, bring 'em to the party."
Vere bows as their majesties depart.
[OOC: is there in fact a trump of Vere in the 'Trump Booth' that can be removed and carried away? The king implied that, but didn't actually say so. Other than that Vere just wants to make a quick change into dry clothes and grab a few handfuls of cold meat, cheese and bread that can be eaten on the way to the stair to Tir]
It's attached to a large wooden board, but there is one. It's rather the equivalent of taking a portrait of Vere with them. The guards, who were once told no one could remove anything from this room, are apparently under new orders tonight.
Edan heads off to his own rooms for a change of clothing and a bite to eat, then to meet with Vere at the Trump Booth.
Meat and cheese are readily available, although the cheese is harder than it ought to be.
The moon rises just as Vere and Edan reach the small glen the holds the steps. A ranger is stationed here, taking night duty on the promontory. He bows to the princes and offers to take their horses. He's not very old, and it occurs to Vere that he probably never served under Julian.
Like the cheese, the moonlight is harder than it should be. The path is open, but fraught with danger. Unlike the stair that ascends the north face of Kolvir, the stair to Tir does not hug a mountain, and does not offer any hope of safety from a mis-step. And at the top is the city that killed Cambina.
"Here we are, then," Vere says, looking up at the ghostly city. "I have never been to Tir before, you know. This shall be most interesting." He looks at Edan. "I believe protocol is for you to contact me through the trump, and keep the contact open throughout my experience. In theory you can pull me out if the city should suddenly vanish and I begin to fall." He smiles very slightly. "Or if anything else untoward should occur."
Edan agrees with that assessment, sits comfortably cross-legged on the promontory overlooking the sea, and stares at the board until he makes mental contact with his cousin.
He indicates that he is ready to proceed.
Vere gives Edan a nod once the contact is made, then steps onto the stair and begins the ascent to Tir.
The stair is cold and unforgiving, and the wind has no mercy either. Each step is an effort of will, a tiny pattern-walk, albeit without visions. It is a long climb, as is the mirror of these stairs next to Kolvir.
After Vere masters the steps and the pattern of the winds and learns how to walk upwards without falling down to the uncaring sea below, he finds that walking up a long, long stair, even a dangerous one, eventually becomes boring.
When Vere has reached the halfway point, or perhaps the point that he hopes is halfway, he starts to see what might be land, away from the stair. The stair cuts through and up to courtyard outside the castle. It's still a long way up.
As Vere ascends the stairway he focuses on the Ladies and their Champions, running over his every interaction with them, going over everything they have told him about themselves, bringing his sense of their inner selves to the forefront of his mind. As he enters Tir-na Nog-th he wants them to be filling his thoughts, so that the visions the city brings will center upon them.
There is a moment of distraction on the stair; through the link, there are emotions that come from Edan. Surprise and recognition as the castle comes into view. A distancing, as memories are accessed. Pain, then, and the memory of effort, and the taproot of grief that transfixes his heart.
The emotions are suddenly, ruthlessly quashed; the link between them remains, however, strong as ever.
Vere pulls onward up the stair, up the winding way so many have walked before him, Cambina most recently. He comes to the courtyard outside the castle, the place where in Amber Random has painted a target on the ground, to remind people that they are under the eyes of a guard who are not unaware of Trump.
The swath is neatly rolled and mowed, as if someone has cared for it every day for three thousand years. Someone has, almost certainly to the consernation of the groundskeepers, painted a grid inside an octagon on the lawn. There are four raised chairs along the diagonal sides, and people are moving along the board. Morgne and Ophiuchus sit opposite each other as do Ywain and Laudine. In the middle of the grid, there is a tower with a knotted piece of rope in it.
They don't notice Vere’s approach.
"Interesting," Vere says aloud. "Just in case I am not able to make my report, Cousin, I am watching what appears to be the Ladies and their Champions playing a game of some sort, using human playing pieces. A classic image, of course."
He draws closer, watching the play on the grid, endeavoring to analyze the game and determine what he can about the players from their style of play.
"The Champions aren't pieces themselves? They are players?" Edan asks. "If it is like chess, that is the kind of game that can get muddled very quickly."
Without knowing the scope of the moves available to the players, it's hard to tell who is being conservative and who is taking more risks.
Still there's some things he can tell. It's clear the partners are still partnering, two-and-two. In each case, the knights seem to have a defensive role and the women are taking the offense. The two forces are in the process of a pivot, as each side is attacking on its own left flank and retreating on its right.
"They are playing as partners," Vere replies to Edan. "I do not recognize the game." He begins walking around the octagon, keeping an eye on both players and pieces, and examining the players closely as he passes them, comparing the ways they are dressed and their facial expressions and body language with the people he has recently met.
Edan glances up at the position of the moon in his sky, knowing that it might look completely different to Vere where he's standing, and passes that information along.
The moon is still rising. Vere has more than half a night left. Perhaps not much more, given that it rose over the sea, but still, there's a long time before the moon shadow becomes a problem.
Morgne and Ophiuchus are dressed in what are clearly heraldic colors. He in gold and green, she in green and red. Ywain is wearing armor, and has a lion natural on a blue field. Laudine has a lion on a green field on her arms.
The men seem more at ease with the game than the women. It appears that when pieces are removed from the board, they are replaced unless quite a bit of territory is taken.
Vere watches them for a few minutes more, then says, "Cousin, I think I shall venture on. The lesson here appears to be that they were strategists of a deeper level than I had supposed, not merely lost guardians of an ancient pact. The question, of course, being whether our supposed rescue of them released them from the game, or whether they are still playing it and attempting to use the Royal Family as their pieces in their game. An answer to that should be found, or Uncle Caine is liable to take action when he hears of this."
With a last lingering glance at the players and the game Vere passes them by, and proceeds deeper into the ghostly city.
"Very well. I'm here," Edan says. "I don't suppose you have any kind of expertise with Trumps, do you? I see I've gotten spoiled talking to our elders. They seem to open the view however they want, and so far I've been staring at your face and about two feet behind your head." Amused, he adds, "Maybe that is a good thing, when you think about it."
"Indeed," Vere replies. "Knowing someone is watching my aft is reassuring." He smiles very slightly, then continues, "As for Trump expertise, I am sadly lacking. I know nothing about how to change what you are seeing."
The castle is -- odd. Certain perspectives on it look like Versailles, others looks like Xanadu, others look like no castle Vere has seen. The most familiar parts look like Amber or Rebma. Parts of it seem abandoned, parts seem to be on war footing, and parts are just the operations of a large house. That figure there is either grinding meal for bread or sharpening spearheads, it changes as Vere approaches.
The castle flies the colors of the four games-players, but not all at the same time. And not from major flagpoles. They seem to be minor nobility, if the size and positioning of their banners are meaningful.
In all the perspectives on the place, it appears there is a feast approaching in the main hall.
Vere describes what he sees to Edan as he walks through the castle. "Does it sound as much like a dream as it looks?" he asks. He accepts what the visions seem to be suggesting to him, and heads for the main hall.
"It does," Edan says. "Maybe it's your perspective on the thing affecting what you see, but those two women and their knights seem to be much more important than they first appeared. How did they get tied up with one another? When and how were they associated with Family?"
Vere talks as he continues to walk deeper into Tir. "They are Ancients, possibly with fae blood of some kind, from powerful realms that appear to closely mirror Paris and Rebma. They mention names as contemporaries that Benedict knows as legends, so that gives some idea of their age. Their realms were locked in an ancient cycle of war, and they were set as guardians of a border as a part of a negotiated peace. They guarded that border for ages upon ages, and their realms long ago moved far apart and were lost to them. But the geas upon them remained, until Robin severed the knot of Shadow that bound their border, and set them free. Robin and I now seek to find a place for them to find rest after their long service." He smiles thinly. "But Caine, being suspicious, sent me here to seek visions of them, to be certain that there is not more here than there seems."
"I understand now." Edan pauses a moment. "That explains the knot above the game board, I was going to ask about that. I share Uncle Caine's sentiment. Sentry duty for thousands of years? And now they are free? We are like eyeblinks to them. Tools, pawns. Well, more skilled pieces, perhaps."
"We younger ones, perhaps," Vere answers as he walks. "But I think our elders would give them more pause."
Vere stands in the Main Entryway. The Grand Stairs lead up to the Throne Room and the Ball Room and various Royal Functionaries have offices near the Entry. Gone are Caine's young, earnest naval officers, their places seem to be filled with proper court officials. There is a chamber music coming from the ballroom and it sounds as if there are people in the throne room as well.
Vere continues to describe everything to Edan. "Ballroom or Throne Room," he muses aloud. "If all goes well, I will have a chance to see both. But, odd as it seems, things do not always go well. So, then, to prioritize. The Throne Room seems the logical first choice, as it might reveal allegiance and rank. But one seldom sees truth in a Throne Room, as political necessity so often outweighs it. In the Ballroom one might see the social currents that reveal more of what is really going on. So I don't believe that would be my choice here."
Vere's eyes flick down to the card he holds and meet Edan's. "Your thoughts on this decision, Cousin?"
"I would start at the top down," Edan says with confidence. "The Throne Room to see the major players and message, then the Ballroom to add the color commentary." He pauses. "The enchantment of the place draws from you- if there's something important you think you need to see, even from your subconscious, you should see it."
Vere nods, returns his attention to his surroundings, and heads for the ballroom.
A masked ball is in progress, with a raised orchestra at one end and doors open to the balconies at the other. Vere sees a number of figures he recognizes, all wearing some costume in shades of white and black. Reid is dancing with Deirdre, Demond Harga'rel is escorting Khela, Aisling is talking to Adonis. One table is being mobbed by bright young women with dazzling smiles, another is empty except for a dozen glasses turned on their sides. In a small, unremarkable side passage a woman Vere has never seen smiles at him over her partially removed mask. She puts it back on, and looks over her shoulder at him, as if daring him to follow her. The mask is leonine.
"Should she be able to see me...?" Vere murmurs quietly. Then, in explanation to Edan, he adds, "A masked ball, everyone I do recognize is dead in reality, and someone I do not know appears to see me. This awareness of my presence goes against what I know of Tir. I wonder if Cambina experienced something similar? How can I resist investigating?"
Vere follows the young woman, remaining aware of his surroundings as he walks.
"No one noticed me until I reached the Pattern. And then I think it was part of my own Walk," Edan says. Getting a glimpse of the woman as Vere looks around, Edan chuckles. "In the Land of Peace, there are many variations of the story of a man who chases the lioness."
Vere goes after the woman, through the ballroom, and into the small service hall. To the left is what in Amber is a family dining room. Here it looks like a servant's hall. Vere turns a corner and the woman is not in sight, but a door is open, with steps spiraling down into darkness. He hears a footfall from below.
"I am being led," Vere says quietly, "Into darkness. Dangerous, but the chase is almost irresistible." He moves to the head of the steps and stares down them, judging whether the darkness is total or whether there might be enough light for the Trump to continue to function.
"This is where I remind you that Tir-na Nog'th is technically the demense of the Queen of Air and Darkness. She, or a designee, might be watching what you're doing right now. Or maybe even interacting with you," Edan says.
There is sufficient light from the stars above and the faintly glowing forms of things in Tir for Vere to keep an eye on things. Since Edan has the Trump, the light on his end of things (which is fine) is of more concern, but even as Vere moves into the darkness, Edan has no trouble keeping Vere in view through the card. It's almost as if the darkness is ahead and behind and all around but not exactly where Vere is: perhaps a function of the place.
The stairs lead downward into where the mountain would be. If Vere goes this way, there will come a point where he'll have to rely on Edan for his escape; there won't be time for him to ascend the spiral again and make it back down to the cliff where Edan is standing.
Ahead of him, Vere can still hear her tread on the stairs, growing more distant by the moment. He'll need to hurry to catch up with her.
"If I die doing this," Vere says to Edan and he speeds up his descent, "And Robin says you should have told me not to, feel free to tell her that I said there was no way she would have resisted doing the same."
"If you die doing this," Edan says, "your indefatigable ranger will drag me back up into the clouds to explain just exactly what happened. Not to mention you'll make my shiny new order of knights look bad on the eve of their debut. Let's try to be extra careful instead, neh?"
Down Vere descends into the depth of the castle of Tir, past familiar stairs and into a chamber that looked very different when they broke through the rubble to get into it in Amber proper. (Assuming that it is parallel to the old Castle Amber basement, which is not entirely certain.) She has made her way into the side passage, and Vere can still hear her footsteps ahead, then the opening of a heavy door.
"She is heading for the Pattern chamber," Vere tells Edan as he follows. "Which raises several interesting possibilities for her identity."
"I walked the Pattern here," Edan says. A moment later he adds, "I doubt it will look the same as it did to me, then. The woman, she is supposed to be from long ago, yes?"
"The women and men I was seeking information about were of ancient times," Vere corrects him. "This one, I do not know. The dead whom I saw in the ballroom were of the recent past. This woman could as easily be the Chaos Lord Dara, our cousin Saeth, or even the Queen of this City come again."
But when he passes into the Pattern Chamber, the woman standing before the Pattern is none of those. It's quite recognizably his cousin Cambina. "Vere," she says. "Thank the Unicorn. I've been waiting for you to come."
Celina is damp at this point, but the towel she's been using as a mantle for her hair is soaked. She leaves it at the doorway of the room Corwin has indicated has good light for a sketch session.
Celina settles herself on a spindly white piece of furniture with silver traces. It seems more solid than it looks. Still it seems less practical than something her Father would like, so she thinks of Alice and Flora and which one moves what furniture around in the palace.
Celina looks to Folly. "Oh, what joys you have had, gone such a short time. How is your daughter?"
"My daughter is glorious," Folly says with a wide grin, "and very much her parents' child. She's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger." She has settled cross-legged onto a cushioned bench of similar design sensibility; her pencil moves over a page in her sketchbook in long, fluid, confident lines. "It's been much more time where we are than in other places, I think, so she's already walking and talking. And surfing."
She falls silent for a moment as she concentrates on a detail she wants to get just right; when she speaks again, her tone is more subdued. "Our goal was to keep her away from court -- any court -- for as long as possible. Not just to let her have a normal-ish childhood, but to try to keep her away from the scrutiny of those that might use her. But all that talk of queens in exile on the one hand, and queens looking for a new host on the other...." Folly gives a little shudder. "You've studied... metaphysical techniques, I guess you'd call them... beyond just Pattern and Trump, right? Do you know of techniques that might be used to find someone of our bloodline even if that person were unknown to you?"
Celina radiates happiness, her thoughts of the thrill of shepherding young Lark, but it dims when the questions start. Celina considers how Martin is so much more qualified to answer, and yet her friend does not ask a redhead or a blonde this time. "Well, I think you'll be disappointed. Family Blood is like the Center, and around us build up reflections or echoes of truth, whether we think that way or not. Metaphysics fractals as we stay in a place, I think. Less so if we just pass through. So no, the best I have for you is logic and patience and discipline to assist finding a path to a Blood unknown. While a true Master of Pattern might get some small advantage to finding an undiscovered relative, I think it is like more like singing cetacean opera to a shark. It does not entertain the shark and reminds him he is hungry all the time." She offers her palms to Folly with a look that says, 'I know, not helpful.'
"That's... kind of comforting, actually," Folly says. "I mean, for all that it would be useful for us to track down certain of our relatives, I'm glad to hear it would not be so straightforward for others to use those tricks to find my daughter. And I think in this analogy I'm married to the shark, so...." She gives Celina a lopsided smile.
After a moment, her expression grows more serious. "So... am I completely mad for thinking maybe I should try finding your mother without bringing an army to back me up?"
"No," Celina offers simply. Her face sets into a complex emotion that is not worry or confidence, but something shaded between hope and bitterness. "I've tried to imagine how I shall reconcile with her. So it is not mad at all to open some diplomatic overture. The madness starts if she doesn't think she has leverage against Florimel unless she gets Martin (or Corwin) on her side. If she took you prisoner to parlay a defense with Martin or my Father, it would not sit well. Someone could get dead."
And because she thinks Folly already knows this, she just adds, "Lucas did something very bad. Maybe there were complications in what he tried and Moire thought he was going to kill her. If Moire has some version of events that we should hear, it is more likely you would get it and get out than almost anyone I can think of."
Folly is quiet a moment, thoughtful, as she works carefully on some small detail of her sketch. Then she says, "Though it happened after he left Rebma, I suppose she knows what happened to Martin. It's not out of the question that she could've thought Lucas meant her harm, at the very least, even without 'complications'. And from what I understand of her nature, a preemptive strike in response to a possible threat like that certainly seems within the realm of possibility." She gives Celina a querying look, inviting her opinion on that point.
Celina runs her fingers through her drying hair a few times. She's obviously working on describing her mother and it is not easy for her. "She's as old as many of the Elders of Amber, except she's a planner, unlike what history seems to say about my father, and some other princes. She certainly has the experience not to make impulse decisions. I have no clue why Lucas thought he would not be caught at what he was about, but yes, in such a dire case, she would be quick. She was quick.
"What I mean to get across is that she is not preemptive as a matter of course." Celina tilts her head and adds with much warmth, "I would not support you talking to her if I thought she would overreact to threats. For half a hundred reasons, I would not expect it. I threatened her once and she just grinned at me."
Folly can't help but grin at that herself. "Well, I can think of half a dozen ways she might've reacted like that, and not all of them necessarily imply that I would be safe... but on balance, that's comforting." She hesitates, thinking, then asks, "Do you think she intended that you would succeed her as ruler of Rebma? Assuming she didn't just expect to rule forever, that is."
"She ages," Celina responds even though it badly answers the question. Instead she forges ahead. "Yes. Moire expected to train me; did train me in her own cursed fashion. But you should understand I would have been one of her plans, perhaps not the main one. I was a plan that was not ripe. And whether a lie or a cloud of squid ink left behind by Mother's departure, there is a prophecy Queen Celina shall not live out the year. Moire shared it." Celina shows the shadow of a grin, "Loreena tends to use her sharpest words when she's most angry. She'll be pleased to dance in my shrine and water my remains."
Celina flips her hand as if to say, 'nevertheless'. "Moire has reason to think she'll be safer where she is, but needs to be ready to return in triumph upon my death."
"A prophecy," Folly repeats with a frown. "Does Moire cast cards as we do, or something similar -- which, as you know, can be difficult to interpret exactly? Or is this from some other source with a more direct and unambiguous line on what the future holds?" She pauses in her sketching and focuses on Celina, watching her body language as much as she listens to her words.
"Prophecy by Mirror is not a part of my learning," Celina says. "Nor would I want to have spent years chasing fleeting images of other possible Celina's. The few I've seen have been enough for me." Her body is anything but tense. It appears she could talk to Folly for days and days.
"So, whatever is glimpsed is just one possible future, you think?" Folly asks, to make sure she's following. "Which means the sharing of it was meant to warn you or rattle you, or maybe both...?"
Celina watches Folly's hands and smiles. "Such would not be useful unless you could steer into better possibilities. So as the crafter pursues images, you find those with more focus, additional layers that make them more probable, easier to find. So yes, it is a possible future, but at the point where you are acting upon it, it is a refined image, collecting hints from the various possibles." Celina adds, "Of course, Loreena shared it because it fit best with her own vision of the future, while taking away from me any chances of making Rebma thrive through my actions. What she did not consider was that knowing my life may be short, I have found greater faith in Rebma being whole for whatever time I have."
Folly smiles, looks down at the sketch, and adds several long, strong lines. "So, one possibility is that 'Queen Celina does not survive' -- which, with that phrasing, could imply merely a loss of title rather than personal death -- but either way, Moire lies in wait to return in the wake. But you spoke of imagining how you might reconcile with her. If you could make that happen, what do you think that compromise would look like? And how would you try to talk her into it?"
Celina doesn't quote Loreena's hard words on Celina's death since it was more than possible that her words were chosen in anger. Yet, Folly has put a finger on the high threshold for saving the situation with Moire. Celina gestures as if sculpting a plan out of the air of Paris, "She could not hope for forgiveness of the military, nor many of the families. For all the Huon did, he's managed well in Rebma's justice, so something like that could work for Moire. Since there is the matter of Flora's vendetta, it might work that Moire is in service at Xanadu rather than Rebma. King Random may have the greater claim and larger reason to make two and twenty years of service stick." Celina looks at the ceiling, turning more ideas into words, "But it might actually help Rebma more if Moire were to take a lesser role, and swear to release all Tritons, Children of Lir, and Llewella from previous oaths. I could see Moire as Special Archivist. Hmmmm."
"And what do you think would be the best way to convince her to submit to such justice, in either scenario?" Folly asks. "Would she only acquiesce under force or threat of force, or are there gentler appeals to reason that might work?" She hesitates, then continues, "I think I'm really asking what you think are her primary motivators The approach -- not to mention the chance of success -- is rather different if she's mostly motivated by a desire to wield power, or a love of Rebma, or...." She lifts her pencil from the pad and draws curlicues in the air as if they were invisible blanks to fill in. "Or maybe," she adds in a faintly ominous tone, "she does what she does for metaphysical reasons. Which... is a lot of why I want to talk to her."
Celina pauses a long time.
"I fail at every turn to understand her. She likes that." Celina cannot take the bitter edge out of the words, though she makes an effort. "Her reasons are her own. But I have learned that Moins was a much more fearsome figure. So you can imagine that power is quite important to Moire. The children of abusive ruthless people are shaped to defend themselves."
Whatever question or comment Folly intended to follow up with dies on her lips at that last sentence. She goes a bit pale and stops sketching to look at Celina, her expression grim as she sorts her thoughts.
After a long moment's silence, she flicks her gaze about the room as if to make sure they really are alone and unobserved. Then she says, hoarsely, "Martin doesn't know what happened to his mother. Neither does his father -- but I do. What I don't know, though, is was it by her own volition? Or did your mother put her up to it?" She watches Celina's expression closely to see if they're on the same page.
Celina looks a bit wary, "You know? He doesn't?" She pauses then sorting the phrasing and the defensive look about the room that Folly made. Celina reaches into her gown and tosses three crystals on a nearby tabletop. The crystals begin to release their power to scintillate, rising slowly into a glare that fills half the room.
Folly watches with interest; when she understands what Celina has done, she gives a nod of appreciation.
Celina gets up and crosses to Folly then, sitting the floor at her feet and putting a hand on her knee. "It was, I believe, of her own volition. She was counseled against it and would not listen. She would not be stopped any more than Khela. If she was driven to have that Power by circumstances, then yes, you can blame the Queen for the circumstances. In this Family, you can always blame the Throne. But no, I do not think Moire planned to discard Morganthe in such a way."
Folly blows out a breath that she probably didn't realize she was holding, and lays a hand over Celina's. "Thank you for that. I hope it will help me face Moire with more sympathy and less anger if and when the time comes. It's not so much that I thought she would intentionally cause her daughter harm; but I had wondered if she might've put her up to it because she thought it would work. Since it's a power she cannot master herself, I believe she lacks the insight to know whether others can do so. If there were any reason at all to suspect her daughter might have a chance, I figured she might've risked it for the good of Rebma -- but I can also well believe Morganthe might've come to it on her own."
Folly hesitates, and stares upward for a moment as if gathering her thoughts; her lower lashes seem to glitter in the glare of the crystals. "I hinted to... to Random a while ago that I knew something, but this is the first time I've come close to saying it out loud."
"My mother is pretty good at finding ways to make people angry, I think she figures it puts her ahead," responds Celina. "Do not let her discover so much about you. Be politic but not political, I suggest. If Moire has already committed to alliance with Chaosi or Moonriders, she may be more bold than you think."
Folly nods and squeezes Celina's fingers. "I'm not the poker player some of our relatives are, but I try to play my cards close to the vest... right up to the point that I think laying them on the table gives me more of a tactical advantage. With Moire, though -- and her supporters -- I shall try to be careful to reveal them sparingly." She seems on a more even keel now; she leans forward and lays a sororal kiss on Celina's forehead.
As she straightens, Folly asks, "If I do try to use Bend as a path to Moire, what other advice do you have?"
Celina frowns, "Bend is mortal. I find that in the Court of Rebma, the long vision of a queen may be understood as pure ruthlessness for the sake of power, hence I think that Bend and her brother only emulated what they felt were the strengths asked of them. Were they full of the will of Moire. Yes. Did it change them. Most certainly yes. I think Bend would do anything for Moire, and that gives advantage to you, if you can sail in that wind." Celina speaks more softly, "If Bend thinks you bring advantage to Moire, she will make sure you get there safely. If she thinks you represent a danger, she will never aid you."
"That may be an argument in favor of laying at least some of my cards on the table," Folly opines. "My own personal agenda should not be seen as any sort of threat, and I may be the least likely of my cousins to take an invitation to tea as an opportunity to raise an army to further my aims. But the bit about Bend's particular brand of ruthlessness is good advice; it sounds like perhaps I should work through some worst-case scenarios ahead-of-time, along with options for how to navigate around them."
She casts a glance at Celina's scintillation crystals to make sure they are still active. "On a completely different topic, I have one other thing I wanted to make sure to mention to you. It's about Caine, and the Klybesians. There is a possibility he could be involved with them: According to Corwin and Flora, way back in the time of Cymnea and Faiella he was involved with a religious order that eventually got kicked out of Amber, and that got him kicked out of the succession over his activities with them. And also, apparently he knows how to use Trumps to spy on people. So... until we know more, perhaps be careful what you tell him about any Klybesian investigations -- as well as what you talk about over trump, particularly to anyone whose card would be in his possession."
"Hmmm," Celina frowns, "good to know. I just offered him assistance in keeping trade moving to Amber. He did not seem particularly interested. So if there were old secrets there, the Monks may already know routes into Rebma."
"What were his interests, if I may ask? Assuming he showed any, that is." Folly gives a wry smile at the poker-faced ways of their elders.
Celina lowers her voice, they are sitting so close now. "I told Caine what the Monks had done to Master Reid and Marius. He seemed to know. I told him the Monks were considered enemies of Rebma. He was interested in caviar. Especially if I could send the sort Dem Harga'rel used to set aside for him. It could have been a code."
"...Or maybe he just really likes that caviar," Folly counters with a wry smile before they trail too far down what could be a rabbit-hole. "Still, it's... curious... that he should speak of the relations between Amber and Rebma by calling to mind a high-ranking Rebman who was murdered at a coronation in Amber. And what he misses is the caviar, not the man who sent it." She frowns. "Was trade with Amber part of Harga'rel's regular duties? Were he and Caine just really great pals? Or was he trying to stay on Caine's good side?"
"Yes, it made me curious," Celina agrees. "Enough so that I want my people to ask those questions. But also, I want them to do so without my hearing about it from the Families of Rebma, or from my Family of Amber/Xanadu." Celina smiles, "Because I'm not enamored of the entire throwaway comment being there as a measure for Caine to see how good my intelligence capabilities are. If you see what I mean..."
"Yes, and that does seem exactly like something he'd do," Folly agrees.
Celina nodded at the tiny glaring spheres, "The beads are about to fail, is there more? I can set out some additional..."
"No, that was the most important bit. I'm glad -- but not surprised -- to hear you are already exercising some caution on that front. I'll keep you posted if I learn more... but perhaps by some means other than trump. Speaking of which...." Folly smiles conspiratorially at Celina and taps the end of her pencil against her own nose. "Perhaps we should discuss what you would like your trump image to convey, if you have any thoughts on the matter...."
This last appears to catch Celina by surprise. "Well, it should convey me marrying Rebma." She gets up and sits by Folly. "What cautions do you have?"
"About trump images?" Folly asks, then continues, "Mostly that regardless of the style or the pose or the costume or the surroundings, it should in some way reflect your unchanging, core essence -- not just who you are now, or who you hope to be, but the you that is still you regardless of your circumstances, if that makes sense. So to your response, I ask: What is Rebma to you, and what about Rebma is deeply part of your essential being?" She grins. "You know, to start with an easy question."
Celina spends some time thinking. Finally she sighs, "I'm still learning about Rebma. However, I think there is something about both of us that is the same: at the moment of trial, when it seems the light shall be overwhelmed, we reveal our reserve of strength."
Folly's eyes sparkle. "I am suddenly reminded of the day we met. I plaited your hair and we talked of the symbolism of keeping one's power hidden until the correct moment. I don't think either of us could have predicted just how portentious that turned out to be."
She takes Celina's hand and squeezes it gently. "That gives me a pretty good idea what direction to go with your trump image, though."
Celina nods once. "Good. Has Lark said anything about me?"
"I think in her mind her education about things Rebman is still a jumble of fact and fairytale," Folly says with a fond smile. "But she knows you as a friend." Celina can hear the unspoken implication that that probably isn't true of all things Rebman. Maybe not even most things Rebman.
Celina nods slowly, thinking that it would probably be nice to think of Lark as a friend as well. Her expression gets a bit sad but returns to a pleasant calm. "Good. If you don't think the request odd, let me know if she has any dreams about me. But don't bias things by mentioning I was interested. If Lark mentions me or Rebma, just take note."
Celina can tell she has Folly's attention. "I take it you have some experience with that sort of thing?"
Celina puts her hand on top of Folly's. "My dreams are busy, yes, but not nice things like Lark showing up for a chat. However, children have far ranging imagination and boundaries. So I thought it would be prudent to warn you. Also, Lark talked to me during my Pattern walk, and it was probably the nicest thing that has happened to me recently, so I feel obligated to her."
Folly blinks, and a wistful smile spreads across her face. "She talked to me during mine as well, though she wasn't even conceived yet. How did you know it was Lark?"
"She had questions for me," Celina replies, "and I demanded she identify herself before I would trade questions with her. She was the granddaughter of my dead sister through her father." Celina pats and strokes Folly's hand. "How did you know it was her in your walk?"
"She called me 'mama'," Folly replies. "That was the biggest clue. And she had hair the color of straw." She chews her lip, remembering. "She chastised me for being in love with the sky. Which made sense at the time."
"I think she is going to be a survivor," Celina offers. "When you think it might be needed, if ever, you tell her she has my blessing in all things."
Folly gathers up the sketches spread across the desk in her Paris guest room. She has a good idea of the direction she wants to go with Celina's trump, and is well on her way to an initial working sketch -- but other needs press.
From the desk drawer, she takes a sheet of tasteful stationery -- Flora's doing, she's sure -- and scrawls a handful of lines in her angular hand. She folds the note over and over into a little square, like she's going to slip it to someone in class, and writes "READ LATER" on the outside.
She has long since discarded her gown in favor of lounging about in her (modest-ish) underthings, but even without pockets her Trumps are still close to hand. She thumbs one out, kicks her bare feet up on the desk, and concentrates on the face of her husband.
There's the usual resistance that Martin offers to a Trump call, maybe more than usual. Folly has the sense his mind is somewhat busy at the moment--not like Hellriding, where she'd probably just slide off him, but his concentration may be on other things.
It takes a moment for him to shake loose enough to decide to accept the contact. "Who is it?" he says, because he's not the sort to know in advance like Fiona. His surroundings coalesce and he's in the dark somewhere a little more jungle-like than Lauderdale was. Vaguely familiar, even. "And where are you, and can you bring us through if we need to?"
"It's Folly," Folly replies quickly, "I'm still in Paris, and I can bring you through." She holds her free hand at the ready, visible to Martin through the contact. "You need to come now? Some of my news might be easier if you did."
"Nope, not Paris. Still not bringing Lark there. Lark, darling, it's your mama. Come say hello." Martin brings her into the contact. She's a bit older than Folly remembers, but they do grow fast at that age.
"Hello mama," says Lark. "We're on holiday!"
"Hello, sweetheart," Folly says brightly. "I'm sorry I'm missing it -- you'll have to tell me all about it. Are you at the place with the estate house and the boat?" Martin can probably tell, even if Lark cannot, that she's leaving out names on purpose.
"Yes! Auntie Solange is here and she showed me how to shoot a crossbow from horseback. I'm helping Daddy make silver bolts by melting the candelabra." Lark clearly thinks whatever the adventure they seem to be having is, it's fun and not dangerous.
Martin smiles weakly at that set of revelations. "Dad knows we found Solange. I don't think she's welcome in Paris right now and I don't want to leave her here either. We have a minor problem."
"Well, if you or Solange have got Corwin's card, perhaps I should come to you to talk," Folly offers; without taking her eyes from the trump, she's already reaching for another piece of stationery to leave a note about her whereabouts. To Lark, she adds with a twinkle, "And see your handiwork with the candelabra."
"Before you do that you should maybe think about how you feel about zombie apocalypses, or at least some combination of shadow medical tech and magic that approximates a zombie apocalypse." There's a long beat before Martin remembers to add, "We're personally immune."
Folly can't quite hide a flash of a scowl. "Well. Definitely not my first choice of milieu, but it's kind of important. If you're secure enough that we can have a few minutes of mostly non-bitey conversation, that is." She's already scrawling a quick note -- 'Talking to husband offsite, will call back soon' -- without taking her eyes from the trump. "Anything I can grab quickly that I should bring through? Er, besides shoes?" Because immune or not, walking barefoot through entrails and other assorted zombie carnage seems like a bad idea.
"Anything silver that Corwin wouldn't mind losing? I'm pretty sure his sword would do a number on these things but I don't think it would be a good idea for him to show up." Martin glances over his shoulder and shouts, "It's Folly. Do we need anything she can grab from Paris?"
"I lost my favorite stuffie," Lark says. "Can you bring it from Paris?"
"Mama will find it," Martin reassures her. "Or I will. Aunt Solange isn't great at looking for stuffies." He makes an awkward face at Folly that says something like she doesn't know what it looks like.
"Yes, we'll find it," Folly agrees. Still with her eyes on the trump, she goes to the armoire and pulls out the sturdy bag she's been using to tote her art supplies (and whatever other odds and ends may have collected there). She slings the bag across her shoulders and steps into a pair of shoes that will be almost practical once she gets a chance to tie the laces. "I think the desk set is partly silver, but that's not much--- oh!" Folly quickly crosses the room, removes the large silver tray from beneath the china tea-set, and offers it through to Martin.
Then, "Pull me through?" she asks.
Martin grunts, and if she didn't know him so well, Folly wouldn't know what a bad idea he thinks this is. "Solange," he calls over his shoulder, "Folly's coming through. With silver." He pulls Folly through into the decrepit, aging house. The air smells heavy with moisture and rot--plant, at least, not human--and Folly can feel the heat and humidity on her skin.
"Mama!" Lark cries, and throws her arms around Folly's midsection as best she can. Martin quirks an awkward smile at her but doesn't interfere, instead leaning in to peck her on the cheek.
Ambrose leads Signy into another chamber where the code wheels are. They're stored on stands not unlike the rotating bases for maps. There are perhaps a half dozen of them, all made of metal and covered in strange symbols that Ambrose explains are Uxmali glyphs. He takes one and shows Signy how they work, physically, in the sense of how the rotations link the Uxmali glyphs.
Then he shows her a fairly simple glyph structure and unwinds it for her, which takes some time. Then he shows her a complicated page, where it's not immediately clear to Signy how one glyph ends and another starts, and says, "This is one of my father's simpler pages, or, rather, a copy of it. You can see how we need the code wheels to decipher his writings even though Brennan and I are native speakers."
Signy watches Ambrose work, watching and asking a couple of questions but mostly just letting him speak. Once done, she looks more at one of the wheels, examining it with a jeweler's loop though not yet touching it, studying the mechanism up close.
[Any thoughts on the material that it's made out of? Can she see the innards of it?]
The mechanisms are hidden. To see how the inner mechanisms work, Signy is going to have to disassemble one of them. Materials appear to be some kind of bronze-type metal, but without the sort of corrosion she might expect, possibly due to sorcerous influence.
[What about the glyphs? Inlaid, stamped, etched, or other?]
[I had to think about how to describe this but I have a very specific visual in mind and they’re actually sort of like the type balls in an IBM Selectric.
The rotations are all horizontal—not that Signy can tell that natively but Ambrose shows her and the way he’s holding it makes the rotations horizontal.]
After studying the wheel for a couple of minutes, she glances up at Ambrose.
"Where does the sorcery fit in on these? Clearly they're not all mechanical...."
"Part of the magic is in the preservation, which wasn't initially clear to me. It's one of the things that's failing. You can't keep sorcerously preserved things near a Pattern for too long, and in any case the preservation enchantments were designed specifically for Uxmal, which no longer exists."
Ambrose probably ought to sound more upset about it than he does.
"The other major sorcery on the globes is complicated and possibly not repeatable, though I suspect it's transferable from one globe to another. I think they're--not sentient, exactly, but--they seem to have some way of limiting the number of glyphs based on the set of interlocking patterns. They're still complicated, and difficult to use for a non-native speaker if not outright impossible, and there are multiple meanings that work with some of the glyphs, possibly because my father wrote things with two meanings. Or more. He was like that. But in any case, there's some sort of intentionality there, if that makes sense."
Signy frowns at this.
"How 'close' are we to a Pattern right now, though? Could we move them closer to Ygg, and make them last longer? And are they sensitive to Sorcery? I may need to take one apart, but before considering that I'd like to probe it a bit that way if you think it would be OK?"
"I don't understand the theory exactly, but we're obviously within the broad influence of Patterns or we'd be on the far side of Ygg. There's definitely a nearer field of influence for each of the Patterns, though, in which there's much less flexibility of, well, sorcery, or at least in Amber there was. And that's the circumstance that seems to be so degrading to the code wheels," Ambrose explains. "We could try moving them closer to Ygg, but for storage, Fiona's lab seemed the best place to put them.
"And," he adds, "while it doesn't technically require sorcery to use them, I think they might be, as you say, 'sensitive', to it."
Signy shakes her head distractedly. "No, here's probably best for now," she says in a quieter tone of voice. "What happens when they start to break down? Do they give the wrong answers, or just stop working altogether?"
She pays partial attention to Ambrose, as she easily brings up her Third Eye, simply looking at the device for a moment.
"There's a certain grinding in the gears, is I suppose the best way to surprise it. None of them have failed to the extent that they don't work physically, and the translations make sense, which if they were failing on a sorcerous level, they certainly shouldn't--" here, Ambrose trails off, as if he's considering some unspoken question. "At least they shouldn't as far as I know."
What Signy sees in terms of magical patterns with her Third Eye can best be described as fractal geometry of the non-Euclidean variety. No Lovecraftian beasties in them, though: if the code wheel is an affine, and it might be, it's not hostile.
Signy's look alternates between appraising and impressed. "These are incredible. And Brand came up with these all by himself?"
She gazes at them with her Third Eye for a moment longer, noting the details and allowing herself to be caught up in the sheer wonder.
She slowly extends her sight down into the device, looking at the structure internally [is there anything there, cogs or gears, or is it all done with Sorcery?], before cradling the wheel with her fingertips and raising it up just past her eyes. Her fingertips lightly brush the surface of the wheel without disturbing the hold of the device, as she sings softly to the device of metals and forges and castings, and listening for its song in return.
The sight, so often unclear or misleading, shows a mixture of gears and cogs and magical bindings and tensions. The device is remarkably well composed and internally elegant.
"Careful!", Ambrose warns. "These are delicately balanced. Adding either additional entropy or stasis will likely cause them to become unstable!" He pauses. "My father was trying to keep these things secret from both his family in Amber and his allies in Chaos."
Signy nods slowly. "Has anyone been able to figure out anything about how they're put together?"
Ambrose shakes his head in the negative. "I'm the one who's worked with them the most. Brennan has also used them, but I don't think he's tried to do more. They were my father's creation and so far as I know, we're the only two of the blood besides him to try to use them." After a moment he reconsiders. "Bleys and Fiona may have used them as well, and Fiona has had access to them, but I don't know how thoroughly they've delved into them. My father's relationship with them was complicated; we'll have to ask our aunt ourselves."
Signy winces slightly, thinking about having to talk with her aunt so soon after annoying her in their last conversation.
She spins one of the wheels, watching the interplay of the forces through her Third Eye as she forms various glyphs at random and without direction, then again while thinking of different words, images and concepts.
"I do wonder what my father would make of these, though."
[Anything standing out to her from her crafting skill?]
Signy is able to spin it at random in ways that make no sense and observe the mechanism, but without a basic knowledge of the language, it's hard for her to tell what she's getting when she tries to form glyphs with the wheel.
What is immediately obvious to her through watching the code wheel is that it would take a crafter of her caliber, one familiar with sorcery and craftsmanship, and possible Pattern as well, to build something like this. If her father could make the physical object--and he could, easily--it's not clear to her that he had the sorcerous knowledge to make an object work this way. Unless he's been lying to her about that for all these years, he doesn't have the sorcery for it.
Signy slowly releases her Third Eye as she puts the device back down, before looking at Ambrose.
"How long would it take to learn a little of this language? I could make the device, I think, but without that I don't know that I'd ever be able to make it work, at least not correctly."
"I don't know, exactly. I've never taught it to anyone, spoken or written, and the written language was something I learned as a child. It will take some time, but this is why I'm here: to teach you," Ambrose says. "Uxmali is not a dead language, exactly, but the number of competent speakers and readers is very small. Mostly my father's immediate family, and not in the half-blood either. You'll be the first one of our cousins to learn it.
"I assume you’re a quick learner," he adds with a bit of a smile. "It runs in the family."
Signy smiles distractedly, starting to go through the project in a little more detail. "Will the time here be sufficient, or would we want to find another Shadow where time moves faster for that?"
She gives Ambrose a quizzical look. "And does our Aunt have a forge that I could use to start experimenting with making the physical structures?"
"Your Aunt has a forge but it's not usually present in this location, although I can arrange for that to happen." How Fiona joined them in the room without being noticed or overheard is a bit of a question, but perhaps Fiona is just like that in her own place. "And it will take some time for you to learn Uxmali, but I can give you a head start, if you like. You'll be risking a bit of a headache, but it beats the old-fashioned way that involves years of speech and writing practice. Don't you think, Ambrose?"
Ambrose says, "I've had some--direct lessons--from Grandmother. The knowledge is useful. The headache will last, however."
If Signy is surprised at Fiona's sudden entrance, she hides it extremely well.
She notes Ambrose's endorsement, before looking back at her Aunt. "I think in this case the ability to bypass a few years of language lessons is probably worth risking it," she says simply. "If you are willing to help me...us with this, I am more than grateful."
She pauses, and looks back and forth at the two of them for a moment. "What's the best way to begin?"
"Oh, nothing in particular, other than that we should sit down. Ambrose, you've done this before with Mother, haven't you? You can assist with the spheres. Are all of them here?"
Ambrose nods, and says, "All seventeen. Though only the one is presently in need of repairs."
Fiona opens a lab drawer and produces some paper and brushes and pens of a sort that Signy might expect to see used for painting or perhaps calligraphy, to the extent that she's familiar with the art from Tomat's teaching.
"Now let me show you the basic glyphs," and thus Fiona begins.
After what seems like a couple of hours of discussion, with Ambrose's assistance, Signy feels as though she has mastered the first and simplest of the code wheels, the one she has been speaking with Ambrose about.
Without windows, though, there's no way to discern how much time has actually passed.
Signy sits back, rubbing the back of her neck absently.
"That...didn't seem too bad?" she offers the two of them. "I think I've got this first one straight. Mostly."
She brushes a lock of hair back behind her ear, exposing a healthy smudge of ink from previous attempts at coralling the wayward lock during their session.
"Does the next wheel in the sequence build off the first? How do they all hang together?"
"The vocabulary and the structure of the glyphs becomes more complex, but they're not in a specific interlocking sequence, if that's what you mean." Ambrose is clearly the expert here; Fiona has let him do a surprising amount of the talking. He looks a bit droopy about the edges, as if he's done more of it than Signy recalls. Possibly he has; it takes her a moment to realize that Ambrose is speaking to her in a language that isn't Thari.
He's speaking in Uxmali.
Signy's eyes narrow slightly as she takes in his condition, though she doesn't say anything just yet. "So the complexities add wheels?" she responds back, making a conscious effort to stay in the language.
She shakes her head, and works her way through the response again. "So the wheels. Add complexity. Depth?"
Better, but it's going to take a lot of practice to get it right.
"What otherness could Uxmali be used for, besides reading Brandpapers."
She winces slightly. Maybe better was a bit hasty.
"Your vocabulary is improving," Ambrose says, in what passes for liquidity in the harsh language of Uxmal. "But you don't have the trick of structuring your sentences yet." There's a way of phrasing that he has that Signy knows she can't duplicate just yet. It occurs to her after a moment that he's centering certain words in the sentences, just as certain sigils are centered in glyphs.
You could build up complicated sentences that way. Very complicated paragraph sentences. Expressed in very complicated glyphs.
It's Fiona who answers the actual question. "Directly, not so much. It's a good language for certain sorcerous applications and you might find it broadly useful for creating spell structures. It'll give you some new insights into your creative skills. How is your head? We should eat and drink, if you're up to it, and then you should rest for a while."
Signy can't quite control the brief look of disappointment at an end being called to the session. The low growl from her stomach was probably just a subconscious response to Fiona's words, as is the nagging feeling of pressure somewhere behind her eyes.
"Do you have any of Brand's papers here, or anything that I could use to practice on?"
She sneaks an involuntary glance around, on the off chance that there's a table of food nearby.
But just a brief snack. Not that she's hungry.
"I have some simple things you can use to test your ability to translate," Ambrose says. "After we eat, though. Or at least have some chocolate." There's what looks like a coffee set on the table nearby. Signy doesn't remember it being there before she started her lesson. It smells delicious.
Ambrose is already moving to pour some chocolate for them from the pot.
Fiona holds up a hand. "I'll fetch us something to eat. Both of you should sit down, though. This is hard work. Do you have any specific preferences, Signy, or will anything hearty do?"
Signy pulls over chairs for all three of them before dropping into it a bit quicker than she may have liked. "Anything hearty."
Gratefully she accepts the cup that Ambrose pours for her, but manages to wait until the other two have a chance to seat themselves with cups before drinking a huge mouthful of the melted chocolate, not noticing the heat.
"This wasn't really all that different than working with my Father -- how much time actually passed," she asks. "After the first year apprenticed to him it took a couple of days to notice that we hadn't really had a break, though."
Of course, the Dvarts would have had a table full of food for when she or Weyland did notice that they could use food. Maybe she just missed the servants that brought the drink here.
"Proper study is taxing, and I find it harder now that I am initiated into the mysteries of the Pattern. Energy is expended both suppressing the self and re-writing it. True knowledge is like a fever, one is resistant to it in small doses and succumbs to larger onslaughts."
Ambrose looks solemnly over the top of his steaming chocolate. "It is always worthwhile, and the skill of learning is a precious and hard-won thing. Few in Chaos value it."
Fiona walks back into the room, carrying a try with a small feast on it. She couldn't possibly have prepared it in the moments she was gone, so perhaps she does have servants somewhere after all.
Signy nods. "I imagine that it's much like how the iron feels after it's been hammered out and tempered."
She pauses for a moment, while Fiona puts the tray down. She manages to restrain herself while Ambrose and Fiona serve themselves, before quickly balancing an improbable amount of food on the small plate herself.
"Though learning is much like creation. True creation changes the craftswoman as much as the object being created."
Ambrose waits until Signy has taken a share to fill his own plate.
"There will be more if you're still hungry," Fiona advises, "so eat your fill." From the looks of her plate, she plans to. How a little woman can pack that much food away is a bit of a mystery.
She continues, having heard Signy's last question: "How do you account for the changes in yourself when you create, given that you're of the blood of Amber and initiated into the mystery of the Pattern? Do you think the solidification of your reality makes any difference?" She holds a finger up to silence Ambrose; this is Signy's question to answer.
After Ambrose fills a plate with whatever he chooses, Signy deftly leans over and refills her plate, though neither of them remember seeing her eat as much as she clearly did.
She doesn't eat right away, however, putting the plate next to her on a small table before unsheathing a small, functional dagger.
"The act of creating is often an act of discovery. I wanted to create a dagger, so I made this. But I did not picture this when I made it. I wanted to create something functional, something that would simply serve a simple purpose, and this is what I got. I didn't picture it, but when I was done it was there."
She leans back, focusing on the dagger. "Nothing really changed with me, that I know of. Yet, when I tried to make something Real for the Queen, and failed, I changed. I grew, I learned. I changed. And even if I had succeeded, the end result would have been the same, I think. When creating, the creation often speaks as much of the one that creates it as the one that views it."
"Reality," Fiona says, "is decidedly more difficult to tamper with than most anything else." She, too, is consuming far more food than her birdlike size would seem to require, or even allow. "A tool you make will travel with you easily, Signy. But something real, something with the Pattern invested in it, has a particular essence. Just as it's difficult to impossible for someone else to change you, it's difficult to make something Real, to invest some of our own Reality in it, as it were. When you think of it that way, it's not surprising that making something Real changes the maker."
Signy considers Fiona's statement while she finishes a mouthful of food.
"Yeees," she says slowly. "But even if you're not trying to make something Real, making things reveals things about the creator. A sword I made when I was mad at my father looked much different than one I made for a client, or because I was trying to learn a new technique. It was...uglier. Meaner. Even if it was as well-crafted as any I had made, there was something of me in it."
She idly pushes some of the food around on the plate, playing with it a little bit while she considers her next words.
"Every act of creation still requires you to invest something of yourself in it, whether you will it or no."
"There's a difference between that kind of investment, and the growth that comes with it, and change as we discuss it in sorcery," Fiona replies, not at all fussed by Signy's disagreement. (Perhaps to Ambrose's surprise.) "Your essence remains the same, particularly now that you've taken the Pattern. We do evolve, but slowly, and from deep roots. But change comes from us, and isn't imposed from the outside, the way we change objects and beings, particularly from Shadow.
"Changing beings of Chaos is different, of course, but that's what becoming a Lord and taking affines means: you control what they are."
Signy sits back, thinking. "Then maybe I'm not able to answer this question fully yet. I have attempted to make something Real, and it has changed me and given me a deeper understanding of some of the ways that I have failed to understand Reality. But it may be that until I have actually succeeded that I won't be able to fully answer this."
She thinks a bit more, before idly noting "I would be curious to know what my father says about this, given that he has made the Pattern blades, or perhaps what someone that can create a Trump thinks of this."
Ambrose, perhaps more out of a desire to change the subject before Fiona gets annoyed about the fact that she can't make trumps than personal curiosity, asks, "Do you think he'd give an honest answer? And if so, to whom?"
Signy's eyes harden slightly, and her mouth curves in a hard smile. "There's honest, and there's honest. He would never tell you an outright lie, but there may be some convenient...omissions."
Ambrose makes a face that says he recognizes that technique.
She pauses, and recalls her surroundings before continuing.
"I think he would be very candid in saying that there is a price, but the details of what needs to be paid or the full implications of the costs may not be as obvious."
Her smile becomes slightly more bitter again. "I don't know that there's anyone that I ever saw my father consider a peer, to be honest. Possibly Madoc, but I was a little busy to be overly observant of how they related. Certainly never anyone from the Family, other than a brief parlay with Brennan while I was laying siege to his Tower."
"My brother can channel our father's div--imperiousness when he wishes," Ambrose says. Like Signy, Ambrose appears to reconsider his words about halfway through the sentence.
Signy gives a knowing nod to Ambrose as he speaks. There's a lot of shared heritages in this Family, it appears.
Fiona is smirking at both of them, but not unkindly. "Nobody expects a full accounting of a price for something like a Pattern blade. I can't see any way the maker would know the price. The part that's paid to the maker, yes. But that's only a small part of wielding it." She turns to Signy. "They make all sorts of assumptions about the price your mother paid for the axe. Of course you wouldn't know the actual bargain, particularly not if you were part of it, but there's no reason to suspect it was as simple as people want to make it out to be."
Signy sighs softly, looking at Fiona. "Do you know anything about her relationship with my father? After she left, it wasn't something that was wise to bring up."
She pauses, before adding quietly, "Though there were some times....."
Fiona nods. "Bleys and I found out about you and your brother through Uncle Madoc, actually. After Ambrose's father failed to destroy Martin and the pattern, it became important to prevent him from finding any other children.
"Madoc is actually close to your father, which says something as it is quite difficult to be on good terms with that Uncle." Fiona looks over at Ambrose. "You may correctly assume that Bleys and I know the difficulties that you have with your Uncles and have long vowed not to be as difficult as ours were." Ambrose can only nod.
"In any case, the story as I understand it was that your mother changed the deal, perhaps because she found that being married and living with your father was not the thing she had hoped it would be.
"Your father apparently decided that one full-time daughter was better than nothing, and kept you to raise himself, over your mother's objections.
"If that sounds biased towards your father, it's because I only know Uncle Madoc's version and I can't ask your mother. Oh, I strongly suggest that you do not ask Vere to arrange for you to do so."
Signy nods slowly, the axe forgotten for the moment.
"If you know ...Uncle Madoc, do you know why he would be interested in me as a bride" she asks in a quiet voice.
Ambrose looks at Fiona, as if waiting for some signal to answer or defer. Apparently he receives it, because he speaks up. "An alliance with Weyland would gain him nothing from his nominal Chaosian allies, except perhaps Grandmother, who is always a special case."
Fiona raises an eyebrow at that, but there's a quirk of a wry smile at one corner of her mouth.
"It almost looks as if he's shoring up power against most of them. And without turning directly to Amber, as it were, in an act of open treachery to his Chaosian heritage. You're a sorceress as well, so you'd make a fit consort. He might need the power after he spent so much of his on making Aisling. Saeth," Ambrose concludes, correcting himself.
"Marriage alliances," Fiona adds, "are not made on personal charm. Unless you're Oberon, or Mother, in which case you do what you want."
Signy nods slowly, hoping that her eyes haven't glazed over in bewilderment at having to think about Chaosian politics now as well, before deciding to move back to perhaps safer ground.
"Was the axe bound to a Pattern?"
Signy mentally runs through the list quickly. Uncle Corwin had the sword for Tir. A sword for Rebma, but that was lost maybe? Bleys has one. And Patterns in Tir, Amber, Rebma plus the one for Grandfather Dworkin.
[OOC: I'm assuming that this is covered in Cambina's book, but if not we can simply snip the thought at Rebma.]
"It doesn't seem likely that marriage would be a price that someone from the Family would pay for a normal weapon, even one crafted by him."
Fiona looks at Signy for a moment. "No, the form of the protector-weapon is traditionally a sword, and the shadows cannot lie to make it other than what it has to be. Besides, those weapons are controlled by the Kings and Queens of those realms, not your father."
Ambrose continues. "Do not assume that the trade was merely two-sided. It need not be. And recall, also, that your father is old enough that he is likely to know things that no living being does. Perhaps your mother's deal was with the Klybesians, and they traded her favor to your father for something else."
Signy looks slightly unhappy at that.
"I've asked Brother Tomat, but he professes to know nothing of the deals that brought him to be my tutor."
She pauses, before looking at Ambrose.
"Do you think he's being truthful?"
Inwardly she winces that she's even entertaining this thought.
"He'd have every reason not to be," Ambrose replies, "but--" and he trails off thoughtfully, "On the other hand, if the Klybesians really do run an inter-shadow espionage service, they might keep their field operatives ignorant of significant information. What do you think, Aunt Fiona?"
"I think," Fiona says, "that if you want an answer, Signy, you can always give him to me and I'll get it out of him."
Signy blinks, nonplussed, at her Aunt's offer. Failing to think of a response to that, she looks away for a moment.
"I'll...maybe. He's with Queen Celina right now, so maybe she's getting a better read on him."
She pauses before steering the conversation back to the reason they're sitting in the lab of their Aunt in the first place. "What do you think the next steps for these should be," she asks them both, nodding her head towards one of the wheels. "Is there more to learn? Just practice?"
"You've had some very basic grammar lessons," Fiona says, "and as I'm sure Ambrose is too polite to tell you in so many words, you've got a child's grasp of Uxmali. It's enough to make a start on a simple wheel, but the complex wheels are still far beyond your capacity. But a combination of tutoring and work should bring you up to speed for some of the more complicated wheels over time."
Ambrose flushes slightly at Fiona's statement. "The glyphs are like a form of poetry. It takes practice with the language to work out their meaning, both from the complexity and from the allusions, which will be difficult for someone who knows little of Uxmal to comprehend. If it weren't for my father's papers, I think those of us who know it would be content to see the language die off now that Uxmal is destroyed."
The session with Aunt Fiona and Ambrose finishes up with some remaining small talk before they leave the lab. Signy goes back to her room and drops onto her bed to sleep without any delay.
The morning light outside slowly rising over the trees hits her face and wakes her the following day, still somewhat tired and light headed from the previous day's work. She lies on top of the bed and blinks for a moment before recalling where she is, and rising to make her way back to the lab.
She loses track of time, working on Brand's code wheels. Stacks of documents translated into and out of Uxmali, hours with Ambrose reviewing her translations, hours of drill and repetition that seem to slowly move past the basics. At some point she starts talking to Ambrose almost exclusively in the language, spending less and less time conversing in other languages.
The time with Ambrose is broken up rarely with a surprise visit from their Aunt, who seems to have a knack for dropping in when there is a subtle point of the language that needs clarification and expansion.
At some point a collection of pieces of balsa wood and a set of sharp, well-work knives appears in the lab. Slowly the pieces of wood start to form into smaller shapes, wheels and arcs, and slowly begin to fit together into small spheres that spin and twist and rotate in a manner somewhat similar to one of the first wheels she was introduced to. Over time the wooden sphere is somehow disassembled and the knives come out to shave and dig and scrape, only to be reassembled just as quickly.
She moves on to working with the larger wheels, but when she isn't working the real thing the wooden one is in her hands, being spun and manipulated like the real thing, the surface becoming shiny and smooth from the constant handling.
At some point she spends most of the afternoon looking at the wooden sphere, not really manipulating it, just thinking about the pieces and how they fit together. How they would fit together if they were metal. Where one might inlay magic like silver filigree, to construct the runes and glyphs that would become words and phrases and concepts in Uxmali. What would it need to be made of, sturdy enough to hold that much weight yet light enough to allow it to move, to be able to shift along almost any axis as needed to form the symbols that were needed.
The sun slowly goes down as Signy sits perched on a stool, simply gazing at the rounded piece of wood on the bench.
Signy works on this project for weeks, and finally decides that two things she suspects must be true.
First, some part of the wheels translate through a fractional dimensional transition, allowing things that are not congruent to be so in some partial place.
Second, while it looks as if transitions are reversible, there are sub-surface changes that do not necessarily always stay the same.
It would be possible to define the mathematics of the way this works, but determining what that is would be the work of years. That would be necessary to master the design, although Signy thinks she could get a working knowledge faster than that. (Fortunately, this is probably a fast-time shadow; Fiona undoubtedly encounters the same problem from time to time.)
Signy sits as the late afternoon slowly deepens into early evening, tossing the wooden sphere idly with one hand while looking at the array of wheels, thinking things over.
As the lights in the lab start to come on through some mechanism that is only known to her Aunt, she sighs quietly and catches the ball after one of its lazy arcs up and down and stands.
Walking quickly, she heads to where she knows her Aunt has to be and quietly slips into the library. She walks quietly enough to not disturb her if she is deep into the book that she is reading, and stands just close enough to be spoken to when Fiona is ready.
Fiona delicately closes the book she's been perusing, putting a ribbon in it to mark her place. She looks around as if she has been elsewhere, and only now noticed that she was in the library with Signy.
"How are your studies progressing, Signy?" she asks.
Signy hooks a nearby stool with a foot and drags it close enough to perch on the edge. She doesn't yet look at her Aunt, but holds the wooden sphere perched on her fingertips while she regards it soberly.
"So, I think I understand how they work." She quickly outlines her theories on how the wheels work to her Aunt, before continuing on.
"But I don't know how easy this will be to translate into making new wheels. The underlying math will take some time to work out, unless some shortcuts that look like they should be there are."
"The mathematics of the Pattern are my brother's particular delight, but the mathematics of Chaos are mine. I'm sure you understand the irrational and the unreal and their use in mathematics, and that in sorcerous mathematics the usual properties of stable numbers do not apply." Fiona looks at Signy, measuring Signy's response and her understanding of the basic principles of sorcerous mathematics as she speaks.
[OOC: Fiona is talking about math not having basic properties for sorcerous purposes, e.g., A+B does not equal B+A, or A+(B+C) may not equal (A+B)+C and so on with all the usual properties of stable math. In the same way, in Chaos, two paths that ought to lead to the same place often don't, and going from place X to place Y and reversing your course may not lead you back to place X.]
Signy nods her agreement with what her Aunt said.
"You see that in how they operate. The wheels seem to allow things that shouldn't be together to come together, and while you can get back to any point you want with the wheels the path isn't always the same. It may actually never be the same."
She pauses her study of the wooden sphere and finally looks at Fiona directly. "But I don't see a quick way to get from here to there," as she waves vaguely in the direction of the lab where the actual code wheels live. "I'm pretty sure that it can be done, and I can do it, but...the time."
At this last, she pauses looking equally frustrated and lost.
"We're immortals, Signy. As long as we don't get ourselves killed, we have all the time in the worlds," Fiona reminds her. "That my brother's way of thinking is impenetrable, or at least very difficult to penetrate, is no surprise. Brand was a mad genius who came up with a way to remake the universe according to his whims. It's taking his two sons, who are two of the very few members of the family who speak Uxmali, years and years to decipher his papers. I'm glad to help you, but it's going to be some of the hardest work we ever do. That's how it always was with Brand. Just when you thought you'd peeled the onion down to the core, you found another layer."
Signy steels herself before replying to her Aunt.
"But time still means something. No matter how different the time flows, it still flows for all Shadows. What good is solving this if we find that it takes us out of the picture for so long?"
Fiona smiles patiently at Signy. "You're immortal, Signy. I admire your determination to move forward as quickly as possible, and in a time of upheaval, that can have value. But you can also choose not to involve yourself in family affairs for a time, and come back with vast successes under your belt. This is how it was done for centuries under your grandfather, with all of us wandering Shadow at our will.
"Each of us can only judge for ourselves whether the time we spend in Shadow, where it often passes quickly compared to Amber, or Xanadu, is worth it. I can lay out the pros and the cons, but only you can say it's worth it or not."
Signy frowns and shakes her head.
"But I think the answer to the question is if it's worth it is one that I need help with. I've read everything I can, and I can't tell what the value is. Brand was a genius, but also seemed more than a little mad. What do you think? Will we be unlocking TRVTH, or just chasing our own tail down the rabbit hole?"
She pauses, before musing aloud "How is it with Dworkin?"
"With Dworkin it's hard to tell. He likes it that way." Which Fiona says with rueful affection.
Turning to the other subject, Fiona takes a moment to consider the answer. "Brand was mad at the end, yes. And much of what will be in his papers is madness. But already we've learned useful things we didn't know. For one, Ambrose found that Ossian was Brennan's son. Brennan had no idea. And that's led us to some other connections with lost children with Chaos heritage. So we don't know what we'll find when we translate more of his papers." Fiona sighs; this is as close to an uncomfortable subject for her as one might find.
"That's not the real treasure we're hoping for. And by 'we', I mean less myself and Ambrose and Brennan and more Random and Corwin and myself and Bleys. Brand had an idea about how to fix the damage to the universe. It's not necessarily that we think we can solve a problem he couldn't, but we're not even sure what the extent and nature of the damage is. Brand was so far ahead of us on that front at the time, and even now, having learned from his failure, he knew more than we know about Tir and could do things that we don't understand.
"Nobody wants to be caught flat-footed the way we were in the last war again. And it's clear that Dad's death has loosed other things that were bound, which compounds all our problems. So we don't know. Not you, not me, not Random, not Corwin. Possibly not even Dworkin, though he's more likely to obfuscate than admit it."
Signy looks slightly surprised. "Do you think that what's happening now is on the level of the Patternfall War?"
She thinks further on Fiona's words for a moment, before adding "and in talking about Tir, do you think that the Moonriders and the Queen are the biggest threat at the moment?"
"Honestly, for all that I say it's the last war, I don’t think we're finished with it. We're making the Patternfall peace."
Fiona has to consider her answer to the second question. "If they're not, it's the Dragon in Arden. Or the Tritons and Moire in and outside of Rebma. But the fact that they're all three such huge threats, even if the immediacy isn't obvious, is the reason I think the war isn't entirely over yet. We beat Borel, to be sure. But there were more things wriggling their way out from under rocks than any of us imagined." She frowns in a way that Corwin might have besottedly described as dainty, but to Signy just suggests thought. "That's probably the biggest threat. The not knowing."
Signy's frown mirrors her Aunt's.
"Do you think the groups are acting in concert? If not, how much of a threat is that?"
This requires more thought from Fiona. "I think any two of them might be: Moire with the Tritons, or maybe the Tritons with the Dragon. Or one of the three with the Moonriders, which are no small threat in and of themselves even if they're not on the level of the Tritons and the Dragon. The thing about universal powers is that they sometimes want to give each other--" and here she smiles as if this has some personal meaning for her "--a good hard punch in the jaw." More seriously, she adds, "I don't think any of them are as big of a threat to the universe as Brand was. But regardless of what we think, we're not the universe."
Signy files this away. "Since you mentioned him, I do have one last question. If Brand's original goal was to fix everything, what do you think happened to cause him to go mad so that he was willing to bring it all down?"
Fiona smiles, tightly. "My brother was artistically inclined. It is a tendency of artists to decide, at some point, that a work that is not working should be destroyed and a fresh attempt made. As he worked closer and closer to the damage and madness of the Queen of Air and Darkness, that impulse may have become amplified. That might explain it.
"But when I am most worried about the universe, I wonder if he was merely reflecting one of the multi-faceted opinions of Dworkin."
Signy hopes that her inward wince doesn't reflect outwardly, as she recalls the gauntlet.
"How do we guard against this? We have...Trump artists, is this something we need to worry about? Many of my father's things are works of art as much as functional, like the Pattern blades."
"Worry about which part, dear?" Fiona turns her full attention back to Signy from the musing she's been doing about the state of the universe. "Artistic solipsism? Or against what Brand tried to do? The former--I think Brand had the wrong temperament to have the kind of power he had. He wasn't invested in the world or in his children other than as means to an end. It's true that we're real in a way that other things aren't because of the Pattern. But it helps when we behave as though we're not.
"As for the other?" Fiona gives Signy a look that combines with the slightest of smiles. "Be careful about taking Trump calls."
Signy shakes her head slightly.
"No, do we need to worry about the Trump artists also deciding that artistically they want to start over?"
Signy blinks, suddenly.
"How much of yourself is in a Trump?"
"None of you," Fiona says, "not in the sense of losing anything that makes you you. The Trumps touch your reality, which is why they're an art of Order. But it's not the same as part of you being captured to be put in the Trump, as it were."
Signy pauses, trying to figure out how to get out the unformed questions that are starting to swirl around in her brain.
"But, it touches on you, and allows for people to talk to you and even reach out and physically interact with you. How do we know that's all they're capable of?"
"They're part of a system that derives from the Pattern. The Pattern is what makes you real, as it were, which is a vast simplification but suitable for our present purposes. The cards can touch that because they have some of that Reality. But they can't change you in a magical sense, and certainly not in a sorcerous one. Trying would be a bad idea," Fiona explains. "That's why we generally don't make Trumps of people who haven't taken the Pattern, or aren't eligible for it. There are some particular complexities there that we're still exploring, but we'll be exploring the edges of our knowledge of Pattern and Trump until the end of the universe."
As the the cousins walk to the door, each with an unconscious mage over their shoulder, they hear a voice behind them. "Free me."
It is a gravelly voice, and fitting for the emuraptor, if the emuraptor had actually had vocal cords.
Brita is not completely convinced it isn't the emuraptor, but drums up a bobbing sorcerous light to move around the room to see what or who else they have missed.
Raven stops, pivots on her heel, and also looks around. Since Brita has the light covered, she goes for the direct approach. "And you are...?"
The bird shouldn't be able to talk, but it does. "I'm the damn fool that got transmogrified into an emuraptor. It was my fault, I see that now. But I don't deserve to die here."
Raven looks at the bird. And then she slowly turns to look at Brita. "You," she says, "get to explain this. Do you see a key, or are we breaking open the cage the hard way?"
Brita shrugs and says with a grin, "He's a Bird. It is Highly Probable that the Key is On the Cage Just to Taunt Him." She will let Raven search for it while she looks at the emuraptor with her third eye - can she see the spell? Does she scent any difference in his blood? She will be looking for a means to undo the transmogrification and wants to make sure she does nothing worse.
The key is exactly where Brita expects it to be.
When Brita looks at this emuraptor with her third eye, he seems to be a human being, albeit a small one. Brita thinks she could undo it with the Principle of Time. At worst, it might reverberate to the original magician, but the victim is unlikely to be affected.
"Thank you, my Lord, My Lady. You shall have my eternal gratitude, an' I survive the night."
"Surviving the night isn't the issue." Jerod says, catching the last bits of the conversation from the shadows. "It's the eternal gratitude part," which he does not immediately follow-up on with an explanation.
"Quiet night in Valhalla? Need some stress relief maybe?" he asks Brita with a slight smile, motioning at the surroundings.
"I like the sound of eternal gratitude," Raven says as she drops the mage she was carrying by the door. She heads for the key, although she's not unlocking anything quite yet. "Anybody arrive to break that mess up yet?"
The mage goes "Oof!" when he hits the ground. He might've been about to stir, until he was dropped...
Brita nods to Jerod and gives a slight shrug. "The Games were a Might Boring at first, but they Livened Up near The End." She looks back at the emuraptored mage and asks "What is your Name and How Long have you been Transformed?”
The Emuraptor dips its head. "I am Phillippe, called 'The Mouse' by most, or I was when I wore the shape of a man. I have been transformed for a few tennights, I think. No more than a month. I was cursed for stealing from the Governor. Well, that and escaping from his jail. You are the first people who can hear me speak. I beg your help recovering my true form!"
Jerod listens for a moment, but decides to let Brita take the point on the Emuraptor, directing his comments to Raven.
"No, nor are they likely to. They are going to be occupied for a time on the other side of town. That said, I wouldn't recommend remaining. There's a limit to how long we can mess with stuff without getting real notice."
"We were leaving," Raven says dryly. "We were waylaid by a rescue, as you can see."
She's more than willing to let Brita continue to talk to the giant bird as well.
Brita has walked around the cage to examine the Emuraptor/mage from all angles. She stops back in front and gets a far off look on her face for a few heartbeats while Raven and Jerod talk around her. Finally, she shakes her head and drops her own mage (gently) to the side. She takes a nearby hose and fills a small bucket with water. She swirls her hand through the water, purifying it as she was taught by her Father. She moves back to the cage and says "I do Not Know if You will Retain All Memories, but I Will Do what I Can. Don't Move." She walks slowly around the cage, counterclockwise seven times, dipping her fingers in the water at each side of the cage and sprinkling the emuraptor with the water. At each sprinkling, she thinks of a day of the physical transformation spell washing away from the mage. As she moves back to the front of the cage on the last rotation, she takes the remaining water in the bucket and douses the man in the cage to wash the last vestiges of the spell away.
As the water washes down the bird's body, he transforms back to a man. Or perhaps a boy. He's small and scrawny, and looks underfed. He gasps in shock and shakes water from his thin fingers. He steps forward and opens the cage and steps out, stark naked. "Thank you! Thank you your honors." He shakes hands with anyone who doesn't physical stop him. "I must be going, this place isn't safe for any of us. I am so grateful for all you've done for me. If you ever need my aid, please don’t hesitate to call..."
Jerod will shake his hand, and not let it go. His grip is firm but not crushing.
He looks over at Brita. "Useful possibly?"
Brita cocks her head and gazes at the Mage. "One with Knowledge of Workings Around the Government Would be Useful," she notes. To the newly transformed Mage, she intones, "Your Human Life is At My Will." She seems very serious - perhaps channeling Jerod or Brennan or an appropriate Uncle.
Raven nods in agreement.
He keeps pumping Jerod's hand, but it slows somewhat in frequency.
Phillipe's smile fades a bit, and then come back on just as strong. "Ah, more of a 'capture' situation than a 'rescue'. Still, it's an improvement and a trade-off, because where there's life, there's hope. My first useful advice is that we should leave very soon. Do you want me to carry your other prisoners?"
He doesn't look as if that is possible, much less a good idea.
Brita shakes her head and picks up Slagfirth to easily sling him back over a shoulder. "I have Got Mine," she notes as she makes her way towards the door.
Jerod releases Phillipe's hand and gestures to follow Brita. "You will find a leather satchel just past the door." he says. "It will contain suitable non-descript clothing to fit you. Put them on." and he makes sure of it.
Raven checks to make sure that Hat-Hatul isn't bleeding again before she collects him from the floor. If nobody objects otherwise, she'll be the last out the door. "And answer me a question, if you don't mind. This being turned into a bird and sent off to fight - that a normal thing around here?"
Philippe shakes his shaggy head. “No Sir, that takes special talent. One must first be caught stealing from the governor, so that one is placed in a cell, then one must escape the cell and use the opportunity to rob the castle, and get caught again, this time by the governor’s guest, who was the person I was hoping to rob. Then, and this the key part, once transformed and released in the forest, get captured as a bird and brought in for the games. I attribute the last of those to my lack of experience as an emuraptor.” Philippe grabs a whole loaf of bread from the table by the door.
"You, Lady and Sirs, are my fourth captors in a month, which I hope will be the end of that."
"Who was the governor's guest?" Jerod asks, his tone shifting from neutral to very focused.
"And what where you trying to steal?" Raven sounds more curious than anything else.
"And Who Turned you Into an Emuraptor?" Brita throws over her free shoulder as she leads the way outside.
Philippe busies himself putting on the clothes that Jerod so kindly arranged for him. 'Nondescript' is a perfect term for how easily he seems to blend in and look like no one important.
"I can, and will answer your questions, noble saviors. But first, I wonder if we could get a bit further away from the scene of the rescue? I advise this only out of desire to keep you from being accidentally arrested for consorting with me.
"As to my story, it is a tale worth telling, and I do not know if I can do it justice before I get some food that is not made of gobbets of raw meat. My diet of late has been rather too raptorious."
"Grab something on the way." Jerod says. "I'm sure one of your handlers was probably getting ready to eat something before all hell broke loose. We'll find it on the way out."
And Jerod is sure that they will.
Philippe reaches for a haunch of some large bird, but instead grabs a loaf of bread and some cheese. "Turns out I don't want a drumstick," he says to no one in particular.
He eats heartily, but it's clear when he steps out into the night that he's more familiar with shadows than the streetlamps. He's quiet when he steps out the door.
"And so the tale. Normally, I spend my time in Gateway. So many more opportunities for an enterprising young man such as myself, even one who isn't skilled in magic. An old friend, a woman to whom I owe a life-debt, asked me to do her a favor, and thus starts every tale told round the alehouse table.
"She had a tip from a mysterious benefactor that a rival mage was coming to this port and that she might be able to act against her here, where she had less protection. The plan was not simple, but I have told you the outlines of it. I was to get arrested in the keep, escape, do my friend's task, and cover it up with a simple but audacious robbery, which would be foiled so easily that they would just throw me back into my cell and I would escape again.
"Simple, yes? My target, as I am sure you have guessed, is none other than Dexamine, who my friend, Mage Harper, would see fall from power. One of the negatives of relying completely on magic is that it is difficult to see a more straightforward approach.
"The only frustrating part, now that I'm not an emuraptor, is that I don't know if Harper's plan succeeded or failed."
"Don't happen to know how long you were a bird, do you?" Raven asks.
"Not so long as to develop a liking for it, Captain. Two or three tendays. It's hard to know for sure." Phillipe looks out in both directions. "Would you like me to lead you to safety, or do we want to stand here and wait for trouble?"
"You were going after one of the Triumvirate?" Jerod asks. "And just exactly what was your little task that would be covered up by the robbery. Please don't squelch on the details."
"And if walking and talking ain't one of your skills, then aye, we can keep standing here while you answer," Raven says dryly. "Otherwise, let's do both."
Brita is walking backwards away from the group with her free arm up as if to say 'Well? Let's get a Move on!'
Phillipe is walking away in the same direction as Brita, but with a clear eye for the darker parts of the street. "My Lords and Ladies, You are aware that this quarter has a fair share of muggers and pickpockets, and that you are perhaps the most conspicuous party I have ever seen."
Raven snorts at that, clearly amused.
"Your Honor," he says to Jerod, "I was indeed, and if I knew what my mission was, it was removed from my mind by my patroness, who would not wish to endanger herself or her friends by letting me know too much. Suffice to say, the only reason I knew who the victim was to be was that Dexamene thinks everyone is after her, and so there is no need to hide it if you actually are.
"I will add that I have heard that she doesn't sleep anymore, and I believe it."
"Is that a magical effect she's chosen to accept or because she believes the Amberites are after her?" Jerod asks.
"Why do you believe it?" the captain adds. "Guessing it ain't just that she caught you."
He smiles, a self-effacing grin, and probably well practiced. "While there are those who say that one would have to get up very early in the morning to capture 'Phillipe Le Mouse', that is not the reason I think that, your honor.
"No, the reason I think that is that during the first three days of my captivity, I entertained the hope of escaping, while I was still in human form. I am no spell caster, but one does not succeed in this world if one does not recognize it when one sees it. If she had slept, she would've needed to use a different spell than the one she had encased me inside. My evidence is circumstantial, but convinces me."
"An unsleeping spell caster. Eight extra hours of being busy." Jerod mutters, then looks over at Brita. "You know if there are any ways to capitalize on this?"
Brita shakes her head, "I do Not. I Assume that Whatever it Required to Maintain the Sleepless State would Wear on her Resources for Other Spells, but I Cannot be Sure. I Also assume that there will be Repercussions When the Spell Ends - an Accounting." She asks Phillipe, "Do you Know if the Sleepless Spell was her Own Casting?"
Raven, having no particular theories on the magic itself, listens quietly.
"If you let me introduce you to my mistress, I am sure she can tell you more of the spell. I am a man of mostly practical talents, and philosophy and spell craft are best left to those who do not mind being turned into emuraptors.
"From what little I saw, she was stretching herself. She had some sort of potion or medicine that she took before public appearances in order to calm down. I suspect that your suggestion of 'repercussions' is very astute, your honor."
Phillippe looks around. "Are we just walking down the street to avoid talking in one place, or are we headed someplace particular?"
"What, you didn't get enough standing still as a bird in a cage?" Raven says dryly. "Whose rooms are we using as a place to chat?"
"My room is Fine," Brita notes. "There is a Back Door in the Hallway past the Kitchens and a Back stair we can take. It will be Easier," she concludes with a slight jiggling of the Mage over her shoulder.
The mage makes a slight moan. He's going to wake up bruised.
After a short walk (it is not a large town), they end up near the back of the inn, near the hallway and the stairs. Philippe says "It would be wise to distribute a small handful of coins to busboys and footmen in the inn, to remind them that they haven't seen you. If you would like to provide me with some coin, I could take care of the matter for you. Even were I to keep half of what you have, I would surely save you from the perils of both overpaying and underpaying."
Jerod drops a small pouch of gold into Philippe's hand, smiling just slightly when he realizes how many coins are in the pouch. "Don't spend it all in one place."
Brita's grin is Conner-bright. It is good to have 'Rich Friends' or at least Pattern-Wise Cousins.
She leads the way up the stairs to her room and, not ungently, drapes Slagfirth into a chair. She spends a moment to see if he is going to rouse anytime soon. If so, she does a quick spell - rubbing her hands together slowly near his ears to mimic the sound of gentle ocean waves, she hums a soft lullaby that will calm him and send him into a gentle, recovering sleep. If Raven's Mage appears wakeful, she does the same for him.
Raven helpfully deposits her mage in a chair near Brita. She checks to make sure he's not bleeding again before moving out of the way to let Brita do her spell.
Phillipe has a short chat with a young man in the back hallway and coins drop twice.
"Not only do we have privacy for our personal time, but the young bravo is interested in not having to split the tip. He'll keep the others well away."
The young man looks around the room. "We'll have to send out for food or drink." His gaze returns to the two competitors. "How does your plan require two of Thule's mightiest competitive wizards?"
Brita shrugs and looks to Jerod. "Thought Perhaps that His Lordship Here Might be able to Use them for Something, since they are Knowledgeable in the Magic of This Area." She looks back at Phillipe, "Besides, I'm Annoyed with This one," pointing at Slagfirth, "for Blowing Up a Perfectly Decent Emuraptor. Shoddy Play, in my mind; Practically Cheating."
"Shadow Mages are like cats." Jerod says. "They don't get along with each other. If these two are the mightiest of Thule, and that's not saying a hell of a lot, they might be persuaded to use a situation of opportunity to their own advantage, and create one for us. Dexamine is powerful, but that she already has your...patron...gunning for her proves she has enemies prepared to take advantage of risky situations." and he looks at Philippe. "A few more might help. Besides, I'm sure once they realize the situation, they'll be looking to be on the winning side. Or at least, to appear to be supporting the winning side when it comes time for retribution to be handed out."
He looks back at Brita. "Good call picking them up, by the way. I always thought having a redhead around would be a good idea." and he drops into a chair. "Oh, but if you tell your mother that, I'll deny it." and he pauses. "Or Bleys. Conner....he's okay, you can tell him. Brennan already knows so he's okay so that won't be a surprise."
"Also, maybe they'll be extra helpful because we didn't leave them to bleed to death in a riot," Raven says dryly. "How open are we being here? I mean, we got a confessed thief - no offense - and two mages that I'm pretty sure are gonna remember us from before they got knocked out. We talking about everything else we got going on with these guys?"
Philippe looks at them. "First, they are the best battle mages available on a Thirdsday evening, not by any means the best mages in the city. Second..." Phllippe goes over to Slagfirth and checks his pulse and eyes. "He's probably got another few hours of sleep in him, unless Your Honors choose to help him awaken sooner. Same for his competition.
"Aaaaand," he adds, "if your plan is bad for Dexamene, remember I do hold a grudge and would offer my highly skilled services at a discount."
"Mmmm...that is tempting." Jerod replies. "Except for the part about the discount. Cause in a tight situation, those who are easily bought with a discount tend to change sides at the wrong time.
"You may rest assured that those who serve well are remembered well. In ways beyond gold, though that's easy to provide as well. We were discussing your patron I believe?"
Raven takes a seat to listen.
"Well, then we are agreed upon full price," says Phillipe, smiling, "I am certainly worth it, and my patron agrees. Do I take it her fame is greater even than this shadowed realm?"
"No." Jerod says simply, with a slight smile. "If it were, I wouldn't be asking."
Phillipe nods. "As you wish, Your Honor, we'll do it as you wish. The Mage Harper was a part of the government that preceded the triumvirate, but was not in Gateway when it fell. Dexamene personally imprisioned her sister, who died in jail. Harper considers her vendetta to be in the best interests of the country."
His eyes dart between the three of them. "She also hopes to present Dexamene's head to Amber's forces, in the hopes that they will be satisfied with that outcome."
"Ah...that Harper..." Jerod says, memories filtering back. "It's been a little while. Wondered where she got to." and he leans back into his chair.
"And what do you think? Do you think the forces of Amber would be satisfied with Dexamene's demise? Given the severity of Gateway's actions? One could argue that Dexamene and her cohorts could not have been so powerful by themselves as to compel the entire kingdom to act against Amber. One might say that there would surely have been others who thought they might profit from that situation. who acted willingly. Forgiveness is not a quality that is noted in the Princes and Princesses as I recall... though vindictiveness is."
Philippe takes a big bite of bread from a plate that was on the table. He ignores the jug of wine. "Well, let me put it this way, Your Grace. If they are not satisfied, there is nothing I can do, and my own and my patroness' enemy shall die before we all do in an eschaton of Dexamene's instigation. If they are satisfied, then I have saved my world. If one excludes third options, I know which of those two I would try for."
Brita is leaning against a wall, legs crossed at the ankles and arms akimbo, her head down as she mulls over something. "Saving the World is Always a Noble Goal," she interjects, so she is obviously still listening.
"It is," Raven agrees.
"Indeed." Jerod says. "It's less messy in the long run, fewer bodies to clean up, cities to rebuild, that sort of thing.
"Though, I wonder if her demise might be sufficient. I've heard they're big on getting answers to questions. Her being dead would be relatively straight forward I suppose. Her being a prisoner... now from a merchant's perspective, we're talking some serious product value."
"I suppose it is noble if one has the option of fleeing, but most do not, and saving the world may well be a side-effect of saving oneself. I will accept the benefit of the doubt, if it is on offer. I like my world and do wish it to be saved, possibly because I know of no other." Philippe shrugs.
"As a merchant, My Lord, you have to weigh the advantages of your gain versus the risks and costs of not killing her immediately. She is tricky, and she might escape you, and then the forces of Amber might assume that you were not 'capturing' so much as 'aiding and abetting'. So you would want to minimize your delivery time. And, fairly or unfairly, if it went badly for them, they would remember you."
Jerod laughs, partly to himself, though giving a partial look to both Raven and Brita as he continues. "Indeed, I have no doubt that they would. I suspect that Amber's king would definitely be one to remember me were I to be considered as 'aiding and abetting'... I've heard he's a rather strange bird, but I suppose it's expected for a King."
"I think that we'll keep both options on the table. Certainly there is risk vs gain, but so long as the delivery of Dexamine, alive or dead, can be obtained, that I think is certain to go a long way to alleviating Gateway's position in the eyes of Amber and her Princes."
Brita comes off the wall and moves to the table of food stuff. While desultorily picking up a small sampling (i.e., a large pile of options) she notes, "She Could be Asleep. If We Bring Time to Bear at a Faster Rate than she is Expecting, We could Accelerate her Spell and Force Her to Sleep."
"If we can, probably ought to see if we can figure out how long she's going to have to sleep," Raven suggests. "Not that she can't be kept out once she gets there, but it'd be nice to know how much time we got to work with."
Phillippe is silent, letting the group talk.
"Would we do that magically, or use other means?" Jerod asks, not bothering to mention the Family gifts. "I'd also wonder if she is using a magical ability to remain awake, what would happen if magic were simply to stop? Would that have the same impact on her?"
Raven shrugs. "Magic ain't my thing. Just haven't met many that couldn't be knocked out with a good whack on the head, eventually. Probably wouldn't hurt to know what kind of protection she's got besides that, too, but I might be able to get some of that from some of the friends I've made." She snorts and tilts her head at Phillippe. "Or from a thief."
"It Could be Magic or Other Means. Taking Out her Power would Prevent Repercussions. I am Not as Skilled as Some, but We Could Manage," Brita grins.
Phillipe's eyes widen. "If you were to block her path to magic, whatever is keeping her going would probably fail. That's probably safer than just a strict kibosh to the head, but it'd have to be quick. If she detects you and counters your magic, you might wish you'd been turned into an Emuraptor."
"There would be no detection." Jerod says simply. "And it would not be magic so she would not be able to counter it."
"You are the Lead in This, Master Cambric. It is Your Call." Brita is more than willing to let Jerod 'play'. Should be interesting to see a minor Ragnarok.
Raven nods. "Ain't all that excited to make that big a noise right off, but if that's the best way, that's the best way."
Phillipe nods. "At this point, I would like to suggest that informing my mistress will have the beneficial side effect that someone would be ready to pick up the pieces for the good of Gateway. I could go do that, my Lords, if you so wished." He smiles, encouragingly.
"Let Harper know that you'll be proceeding against Dexamene." Jerod says. "You may advise her that you have allies."
Brita considered the discussion closed and moves to get more food. She also wants to find out what is happening with their fourth Horseman....
Raven stays put, keeping an eye on their new friend until he's out the door.
"As you say, Your Graces. Thank you." He pads right out the door and runs into Weyland. "Excuse me, your... bulkiness," says the boy, and scampers down the stairs.
Weyland looks down the stairs, then back into the room. "Is the riot at the bird-pit part of the plan, or just a way to spend a slow Thirdsday?"
"There was a Riot?" Brita seems genuinely surprised as she munches on a thickly proportioned sandwich.
"The youngsters were bored." Jerod says with a slight smile. "Can't take them anywhere. However, riots are sometimes useful in finding useful things...like the urchin who just scuttled out the door."
"So it's part of the plan now, I guess," Raven offers dryly. "Wasn't quite what I was aiming for."
Weyland looks around. "OK, so the urchin, that's one who tried to steal my money-pouch. right? You're sure he’s coming back? Is the plan to wait for him, or is there something else?"
"He is in the employ of the former ambassador to Amber, one named Harper. He is very light fingered and reasonably good at what he does - at least according to him. I might employ him after all this is over, if he doesn't get killed. Never know when someone like that might come in handy." Jerod says. "Harper doesn't get along well with Dexamene and is looking to re-establish the old guard. The urchin was sent to work a trap against Dexamene and we've learned a bit more about her. I intend to give him enough time to reply to Harper and await a response...but not too long. Given that she has been working against Dexamene indirectly, that makes me think she is not strong enough to challenge her directly, but she would be strong enough to deal with Dexamene's support back at the Gate. Eliminating the trio is only part of the job. Although, for you, that's the part you're most focused on."
Weyland nods. "I have my goal, you have yours. Our goals aren't mutually exclusive, which is nearly as good as two of our kind can hope for. What preparations do we need to make? And who are your other guests?"
"At the moment, I'm going to wait to see what the little urchin is up to." Jerod says. "He's pretty much going to be on a wanted list so he's not going to want to do dawdle if his comments about messing with Dexamene are true.
"I also have a visit with the Lord later to see whether he's going to arrest me for treason to the state. I think that will be a most interesting conversation."
Weyland nods. "It is a small town, and he can certainly get to his contacts and safe-house quickly. If he can or will leave once he gets there, we will see. Did you let on that you were Princes of Amber? People will respond differently to you if you let on rather than if you use the aliases you used with me."
"I am just Waiting on Ragnarok," Brita notes. "I can Also go Trail our Urchin, if Required." She looks inquiringly at Jerod.
Weyland looks at Brita oddly. "I'm pretty sure Ragnarok was a local manifestation of the Black Road and the End of the Entire World, which didn't really end it. Or are you speaking metaphorically about any world-ending event?"
"Those two," Raven jerks her head at the spare mages, "were borrowed from the riot. Couple of the players in the game of bird-ball they was playing. Thought they might chat with us, seeing as how we could have just left them to sleep it off in the middle of that mess."
Weyland nods and steps over to the closest, checking his breathing and pulse. He doesn't say anything, but moves on to the second as well.
"I did not specifically mention that we were Amberites, no." Jerod says. "But I think he is perceptive enough to figure stuff out. There are enough clues that the enterprising Gatwegian can follow, and if he is truly in the employ of Harper, then he's probably very enterprising, if a bit quick with his fingers."
He waits to hear on Brita's answer, always enjoying her responses when asked about the end of the world.
Brita has one eyebrow raised at their elder party member. "Shadow Asgard Was Undone by Black Road Ragnarok. My Da is Back There Now to Remake It. This Shadow is on the Brink of Prince Vengence Ragnarok." She hooks a thumb at Jerod. "I Believe it Will Be Gloriously Worse as None Would Restore it Afterward."
Raven snorts in amusement.
Weyland nods. "Of course, of course. Well, if you're just going to wait here for your thief to come back, I'll be back at my work. For what it's worth, I think there's more support for Dexamene than I'd like, but that may be that they just don't want any foreigners here. Harper might have a chance."
A half hour later, a child -- perhaps 10 or 12 years old, still a head shy in his growth, knocks on the door with a message. "She agrees, but will not let me return! To dangerous, P! See you after."
Brita works on trumps.
Raven searches for less dangerous drinking. Most really dangerous drinking s at the raptorshit bingo hall, so it's pretty easy.
The time comes for Jerod to present himself to the Mayor/Administrator of Thule.
Brita, cleaning off a paint brush full of a deep red color, asks Jerod, "Do you Want A Bodyguard or An Assistant for your Meeting?"
Jerod shakes his head, finishing the final touches for his attire. "No. If things go south in a really bad way, you'll be seeing the sky darken and the oceans starting to boil. I'll want someone keeping the crew on focus and telling the Weir to do their stuff. I'll want you to take care of that."
Brita and Raven watch as Jerod leaves. Weyland looks at the two of them. "I'll be outside, waiting for the Oceans to boil. I hope your ship survives that, Captain."
"So do I," Raven answers dryly.
Raven's looking for lesser officers again, if there are any to be found. And if not, regular soldiers work too. Once she's got a talkative - and possibly well-lubricated - group, she asks casually, "You lot get involved in that mess I was hearing about earlier?"
The group of NCOs laughs. They seem to laugh a lot. "What, the riot? Lir no! They don't pay us nearly enough to mess with mages blowing off steam. No, there are mages who deal with that, we're in the army, we're for fighting enemies, not citizens..."
"There's mages as could take all that lot down, so we just make sure they have their own areas and that no one murders the fire brigade, and wait for some real action."
"Don't listen to Vittalio, he was raised on hero stories of the black road. Nobody wants real action."
"No, soldiers are happiest when the worst thing to fear is an ambitious captain..."
Raven snorts. "Ambitious captains ain't captains for long. You seen any real action, Vittalio?"
"No, Captain. Little things, but not like before."
The senior NCO laughs. "You, Captain? How'd the black tides work in your homeland?"
"How'd they work for anybody's?" Raven asks dryly. "Did my time in the Navy during that mess. Can't say as how I'm sure everything we fought were what you'd call men, exactly, and lost touch with a lot of folks back home, but I guess we came through okay. Yourself?"
He takes a drink. "Saw a lot of men die, here in the north. This wasn't always the northernmost outpost, even if it's named for it. We used to have towns further north. We survived. I was with a group that came south."
Another NCO replies. "The good news was when we got far enough away, the Wizardfolk were more than helpful in terms of blowing the enemy to pieces."
The older veteran laughs. It's a short, barking noise, and by itself it refutes the last statement. "They weren't about to let anyone get in the way of their plains of anarchy."
Raven snorts and shakes her head. "C'mon, now, can't leave a man hanging with a line like that. Can't say I have more than the first clue what happened outside me and mine, other than who's standing and who ain't. Anarchy?"
The soldiers laugh. "Isn't this where he complains that storytelling makes him thirsty, Roe?"
"Oh, yeah, I'm sure he can't go on without a drink..."
The older veteran turns slightly red. "It's thirsty telling, that's for sure. It's what we call the Plain of Towers when the war fever hits the mages and they make it impossible for a man to survive, unprotected, out there. Our mages ain't their mages, but it's close, and they that look for that kind of place, they generally find it. I have mages in the family, it's not a safe thing."
"Thirsty telling deserves a drink." Raven waves at the nearest barmaid for another round. "'Specially when I get to ask the dumb questions. I ain't so familiar with mages - know enough to know when to run, but I generally try to stay away, to tell the truth. What's this Plain of Towers?"
The man thanks her for the drink and takes a good-sized slug before continuing. "It's not a legend, I've been there. A land where heroes roam the scorched plains, fighting for and against the lords of the towers, who are magicians who make ours seem tame. Some of the locals, who can find it, go there to train.
"I fought there for a season, before the black road. Learned a lot, saw a lot of death, saw magic that our mages just can't equal."
The younger soldier speaks up. "They say we came from there, in the first place. They say the Tower Lords Raised the Gate."
One of the older men puts his hand on the boy's shoulder, and he sits back.
"Mm. I heard of a Plain of Towers like that," Raven offers. "Seems to me it was a long way from here, though. Don't know, of course, but that's what I heard. Shouldn't be the same place, I guess, unless you know something I don't."
"Oh, at least one thing. Not all natural ways between the worlds are on the sea, Captain."
The older vet shrugs. "I hope to the de'il there aren't two such places."
Raven snorts. "Did I say they were? But you're right - if it ain't on the sea, it ain't on the charts I know. Not that all of those work proper these days." She reaches for her drink. "But it sounds like you might know more about the ways on land than I do. How'd you get over that way?"
"The lure of adventure, Captain. Or at least that's what I called it when I had no cash and no skills and no prospects, and yet these foreigners would take me for their 'easy job'.
"There's a market for mercenaries for hire in Gateway,and half the jobs are underwater or to foreign lands..."
At that moment the entire bar became silent at once, as everyone could hear, from the direction of the castle, the ringing of the tocsin bell.
Once properly attired and an idea of what Brita and Raven are up to, Jerod heads off to meet with the Mayor, being sure to arrive a little early, partly for appearance and partly to scout the area and get a feel for what is up.
The Mayor has Jerod escorted to a room that's probably technically in the castle's wall. It may be, in other times, an Officer's Dayroom for the keep. It's furnished with plain but usable furniture: a wide table, a series of chairs. There is a raised dais at the far end, about 18 inches tall.
"We should be free to speak here, Master Cambric. Let us assume that your offer is ... tentatively not rejected. Tell me what you want us to do, and what you offer for it."
Jerod smiles slightly, noting the beginning of the delicate art of negotiation that precedes any form of betrayal involving one's superiors, or those that might be trying to induce you to betray them. Despite the access to table and chairs, Jerod remains standing, more comfortable being able to move while he speaks, as well as being more flexible if things go bad.
"I thank you Mayor for your... tentative... consideration of my offer." he says. "With regards to what the terms of the contract would be, I think it would be fair to start with what is being offered first, before we go to the idea of what is being asked for. I find that always helps to put things in order, gives some perspective.
"Let's start with peace. Peace of mind that an unpleasant situation is being resolved. Peace of mind that a neighbour with a long memory and sometimes limited ethics is suitably placated from deciding to act on their baser natures. The Princes of Oberon can be very vindictive at times. I sometimes wonder if it is a condition of having lived so long.
"I think we sometimes forget how all these things translate down to the general population. It's easy to think for leaders 'What do I get?', when it might be more appropriate to ask "What do we as a society get?'. Certainly not having the kingdom pounded into rubble is a good thing, and I think everyone can agree on that.
"One might also consider the peace of mind of continued good governance for Gateway. We all recognize that when the circumstances of history impose themselves, as happened recently with the Triumvirate, those in lesser positions that ensure the smooth operation of society are frequently at a loss to act against something they might not agree with, but perhaps lack the power or opportunity to act against, for the benefit of society. So having those people once more in authority, being able to act in the best interests of society as a whole, as opposed to the interests of a few, is a good thing to receive. All they need is the...opportunity...to act."
He pauses to tick off points on his fingers. "So, let's see if I covered everything...general government stays in place, annoying neighbour is kept in check, Gateway is not pounded into rubble, which of course means that no serious loss of life, trade and good fortune continues for all and the people go about their daily lives pretty much normally."
Once done ticking off with his fingers, Jerod looks over at the Mayor. "That's the product that one is buying. As for the price...the ones who started all this silliness. Maybe some of their more intimate flunkies too, depending on how much they know and how deeply they were involved, but the three are key.
"And I know the leader Dexamine is here now. Apparently not sleeping too much either."
He closes his hand then. "That's my pitch. Are you of the mind to try to make a counter-offer? Or are we in agreement?"
The mayor holds up his hand, one finger up. "Let's go back to the first part. Peace and peace are all important. In war, it can be simpler to determine if one's enemy is true to his word, the torch can be put to the powder and the fight engaged. In peace it is harder, because one must sift through all the offers and options and determine which are true without being able to test the mettle of the man behind the plan.
"In short, how can I have the peace of mind that you can deliver the peace you have in mind? Amber, I mean. How can you guarantee Amber will listen to you? It serves us not to follow your lead and still be pounded into rubble."
"Because his Majesty, King Random, sent Prince Jerod, the son of Eric, along with others, to Gateway to determine whether to have peace with Gateway, or burn it to ash as a lost cause." Jerod says.
"And having put the tinder firmly into place, I'm the one who is deciding right now whether to light that fire."
A small hand reaches out from the tapestry behind the dias at the back of the room.
"I told you he was here, Mistress." Phillipe leads the way in, followed by Harper, the Gatwegian Ambassador to Amber.
"Yes, Castellan, this is the Amber Prince and he is right, he is both the threat and the salvation of Thule and Gateway."
She curtseys as if she is in Eric's throne room. "Your Highness, an unlooked for pleasure seeing you here. The Castellan is my second and third cousin, once and twice removed, respectively."
The man nods. "We hear from the thief that you want to stop Dexamene's connection to magic. And then take her far from here in the ways of your people so she cannot return."
"We would be a position to support a rising by the Academy, which would either capture or kill the other Triumvirs."
Harper nods. "It would be best to sail into the gate with a ship crawling with fighting men, carrying Dexamene's head on a pike, but other arrangements may be made.
"Which is to say, Prince Jerod, what exactly do you want of us, in all of this?"
A nod to Harper's curtsey is followed by a flat response. "A clear path to Dexamene." Jerod says. "And the other two. Alive. They all have something to answer for, and I want what they know. And while one of my cousins has a rather morbid ability in speaking to the dead, I'd rather not call on him if I don't need to."
He looks at Phillipe for a moment, before smiling slightly. "You need to work on your thieving urchin routine. It worked on my associate when you were exploring his pockets but you're just a touch too smooth in buttering up the royalty. Shows you've been around more than you let on. Get it fixed and I might have a job for you."
Looking back at Harper, he continues. "If we need to sail into the Gate in a show of force, then you should know that I lead the Weir now. Our ship has a contingent aboard for my use. I have two other Family members at my disposal should they be required."
"Oh, and Marius' father has come looking for vengeance upon the Gate. Thankfully we've been able to get him to adjust his expectations a bit. I wouldn't recommend pissing him off though.
"Where is Dexamene now?"
Harper nods. "We can give you Dexamene, but the other two might try to flee or defend themselves. A quick strike here followed by a quick strike there is the best bet. Don't let them regroup when news of their leader's capture becomes known. You might even send your ship and Weir ahead, if you can use magics to get from here to there in the same night. I'd give Marius' father what he wants, if I didn't need the triumvirate to placate you..."
Phillippe smiles broadly at Jerod. "I wasn't always a pickpocket, Prince Jerod."
"Yes you were," interrupts Harper.
"Alright, yes I was, but I wasn't always just a pickpocket."
The Castellan clears his throat. "I would recommend, your highness, that when you do whatever it is you're going to do to Dexamene, you consider punching her very hard in the nose, so that she doesn't surprise you with her non-magical skills."
"He won't need to," says Philippe. "Assume I can play rougher, if I have to, yer grace. What job y'got fer me?"
Harper just looks at him, somewhat disbelieving.
"A punch to the nose, or the equivalent, is fully intended." Jerod says to the Castellan. "I'll want her docile when transferring her to his Majesty for questioning.
"As for sending the ship ahead, I will check to see if the Family mage I brought along is up on getting me from here to there very quickly." and he makes a note to talk to Brita about trump sketches.
"Now, assuming we are reasonably successful and the Triumvirate are no longer an issue, let's discuss the follow-up. There will be a power vacuum and I'd like to know who will be occupying it."
Harper grins. "A unity coalition of the native institutions of Gateway, friendly to Amber and Rebma, but decidedly Gatwegan in nature."
Phillipe says "She means herself and her friends at the Academy, yer lordship."
Harper glances at the boy again, her moment spoiled. "Precisely."
"So I would presume that none were associated with Huon?" Jerod asks. "Her majesty in Rebma has him as a ....guest. He's working off his penance for awhile after killing a lot of people, but we both know he's got a unique position being Family and all. His associates are another matter. There are many in Rebma who will remember their dead for a long time. I'd prefer not having anything exasperate that."
"The Scholastium Arcanum declared itself neutral and withdrew to the college boundaries when the triad came to power, so yes, not friends of Huon. How vicious does Amber require us to be, in order to assure peace? Like the Castellan here, many people would have accepted the new order and not resisted too much. Most people were not powerful enough to fight the coup, and they arranged for most of us who could to be elsewhere first.
"You can verify any of this you want with Thalia, once we get to Gateway."
"What I require is control and follow-through." Jerod says simply. "Bodies and brutality don't make for an effective change-over. There are those who think it does, but thankfully they're never in charge. I don't want any of the hangers-on from the old regime being around to screw things up if they're likely to. Those who went along because it's convenient, suitable or they had not choice are not an issue - they're always the majority of the masses. It's the individuals I'm concerned about...the ambitious ones, the fearful ones or just the greedy ones. Even if they are obedient to the return of the old ways, their presence could cause distractions when I am dealing with other matters that will require my attention.
"His majesty will expect that should such a situation arise, that you'd deal with it internally. An issue the crosses boundaries of kingdoms would require his attention and that's not what either of us want. I personally am not interested in how such situations are resolved, so long as they are.
"I think that just about covers everything, don't you agree?"
Phillipe speaks up. "One thing more, Your Grace. Part of convincing all the parties to agree to this may include some form of assurance that Amber isn't just dragging the triumvirate off and murdering them. Do you have complete confidence that your cousins and your uncle aren’t going to exercise private vengeance?"
Harper looks at the thief as if he's grown a second head. "Not that we care if they do, and it might be advantageous 'twere it so..."
Phillipe just shrugs up at her.
She continues. "We accept your terms and agree to the arrangement as stated."
Jerod nods once. "If his Majesty had wanted the Triumvirate dead, we wouldn't be speaking. You, or any of the survivors, would be picking up the pieces of what's left of the Gate," he says to Phillipe, before pausing to check to be sure his triggers are still in place. Once that is done, he returns his attention to the group.
"We have our work ahead." he says, speaking to Harper. "Let's see about getting this dealt with, with a minimum of casualties."
Harper nods. "So, the plan. You do your Amber magic to stop her magic. She falls asleep or is overcome by the the Castellan's guards, who put a bag over her head and shackle her hand and foot. You carry her like a sack of potatoes to your ship and we all sail to the Gate to finish the war.
"If that is the plan, then it seems the first move is yours, Prince Jerod."
"Point me to where she is and have the guards ready." Jerod says. "On the off chance she has access to a source of magic that transcends the Gate's, then I'll deal with her personally. I will need to collect one other person before making my way to deal with her."
The Castellan arranges a quick and covert trip to the appropriate quarters.
Phillipe says "She's behind that door. If we open it, or even make too much noise, she'll be aware of us. Assuming she isn't already. If she makes me an emuraptor again, I swear I shall take her eyes."
Brita grins at the little scamp, but her eyes find Jerod's, "The Order of This Day - No Magic Here." She turns to the door and her hand sketches a brief pattern - reminiscent of the Paris Pattern's start as she focuses the Order of the Universe. With two Of Order here, she is sure the probability is high that Their Will can Cover the meager magics of this shadow in this area, Blanketing those around them and Smothering the local magic's meager sparks with the strength of the True Pattern's Fire.
If there is no stalling action from Jerod, she will knock on the door.
Jerod raises his hand just enough to forestall her knocking on the door. "Two seconds." he says.
Then he reaches out to his triggers that he set up previously, and pulls one.
It does not last long, but any number of things shift slightly when Jerod uses his trigger. Things that were done are undone. And the ties do not reassert when the magic returns, moments later.
There is a crash, as if someone had fainted and fallen to the floor.
A heartbeat later there is a tremendous whoosh! And a frozen blast of air blows out under the door.
Knowing that Brita is basically going to be either at his back or right beside him, once the crash is heard, Jerod is kicking in the door and going in.
Brita is definitely beside him as he barrels through the door. She is keeping the Pattern in the forefront of her mind in case it is needed.
The door splinters under the force of two high-fire Amberites in a hurry. The scene beyond is unexpected. Dexamene is on the ground, unconscious. Where she was likely standing there is a figure that can still be seen. She looks to be made entirely of clear ice, but disfigured. She may have melted slightly in Jerod's magical interruption. She says something in a strange, painful language, a language of Chaos, and icy tentacles twist out of her finger and head towards the door.
"Lir!", yells Harper, jumping back...
Brita Cannot find it in herself to be afraid of ice, having wintered in Jötenheim with her Grand Mater many times. She uses a twisting Kata taught by Master Ngyuen and reminiscent of the Pattern to snap a boot or arm through any reaching tentacles.
Brita snaps the ice tentacles like dry twigs, and the pieces fall to the floor. There they quickly melt and run back into the creature's feet.
Jerod's impression of the situation is a blink as the memory of the Black Road comes to the background, but the Pattern comes first as he summons it, focusing it squarely on the figuring to fix it in place and deny it any chance to adjust or effect anything in this place. He knows enough of Brita to trust her judgment while he is busy.
Jerod treats this as a creature of the Black Road and it seems that it is, perhaps protected by Dexamine all this time. His pattern use reinforces the reality of the shadow and prevents most effects the chaosian might use. The creature hisses in desperation, but quickly realizes that it is trapped, and chooses flight rather than fight.
It reaches down and scoops up the unconscious Dexamene and leaps through the casement window, leaving ice and water in its wake and embedding parts of the window frame in the ice creature.
Everyone rushes to the now-demolished window casement. Three floors below, it lands in a courtyard with a crash, but it seems to be reabsorbing itself quickly.
In a nearby tower, someone is ringing the tocsin bell.
"By the Unicorn, I hate being right." Jerod mutters as he looks down before bolting in pursuit. "We need the Weir." he says to Brita as he is leaving at speed.
And then he howls....and he makes sure that it carries, without a doubt.
Brita, noting the placement of window ledges and casings, takes the direct route down out the window. Once on the ground, she gives a fierce Viking battle cry and gives chase.
Harper makes the sign of the Unicorn, and Phillipe looks at her. "It's not that I'm religious, it's just... that."
Brita makes a leap that requires a goddess -- Harper and Phillipe will not be following. She lands in a three-point stance and takes off into the streets of the city, the thrill of the hunt in her blood and the baying of the weir in her ears. She can smell the blood of the wolf-creatures from all around, even in the city. People fear it, and are right to do so. Brita concentrates on her prey. If the creature is as magical as it seems, it won't stay on foot for very long.
Clouds blow clear of the moon and Jerod's cry is answered from half a dozen spots in the city, some close and some far. Jerod can imagine no sane Gatwegian who would not hear such and lock her door and stoke her fire against the encompassing darkness.
The tocsin bell continues to urgently ring, but it is unclear who will brave the howls of the night to fight the emergency it portends.
The symposium is packed, and is apparently part of a series. The Abbot is the host of the event and spends some time rehashing the importance of the series and the history of the brother who will give the main presentation.
The room is arranged to have a slightly sunken stage, surrounded by a few rows of benches with writing tables attached to them. There are folk standing at the back, but Dalfeen and Sigurd are shown to reasonably good seats. "Ah, I'm glad to you made it," says Brother Alois. "Frere Jacques is assisting, so we get slightly better seats. Can you see the operating table?"
There is indeed a table being wheeled in to the room, followed by Brother Jacques and Brother Smee, the speaker. Smee speaks once the applause dies down. "Thank you. You may remember my planned experiments from last year's Symposia on Electro-Pathology regarding the chemical nature of photovoltaic reactions. I have two demonstrations for you this afternoon. In the first, I will demonstrate the generation of galvanic energy from chemical substances exposed to light. In the second I will demonstrate that the eye of a corby generates electrical impulses when exposed to light. Thus I will prove the galvanic nature of vision in animals and humans, with implications for galvanic diagnosis tools and electro-thereputical inventions."
The applause starts again and Smee gracefully acknowledges it. "Afterwards, we will entertain questions."
Smee and Jacques go on, using in the first place a galvanometer and several covered and uncovered chemical soups and then a eyeball recently extracted from a crow or raven to show the properties he means.
This is basic research at a level appropriate for the shadow. It's far ahead of anything Abford knows, but in other shadows, would be nearly two centuries out of date. He ends by showing that the bird's eye sees more than the human eye by filtering out visible light and still triggering the photovoltaic reaction from the eye.
When the applause dies down, Brother Jacques asks if there are any questions about the research. This seems to be what everyone was waiting for. A dozen hands shoot in the air, waving slightly to get Jacques' attention.
Ossian raises his hand. Mostly to see if he is singled out to ask among the first.
The question is, "So light becomes galvanic impulses. And no doubt what we see can touch our soul. Is our soul also galvanic?"
Silhouette remains silent during this, busy studying the more mechanical aspects of the demonstration. In some ways, it reminds her of her own research, if rudimentary in design.
"No doubt, young scholar? Interesting. But we will take your assertion as an axiom for the purpose of discussing the issue you raise. We will not even go into different meanings of 'touch' between the physical and the non-physical.
"Let us start with the basic premise. Light is translated from something (and let us say we do not know what) into galvanic impulses in the eye. Yes, that was demonstrated. The galvanic impulses are transmitted somewhere in the brain, we know that because we can trace the optic nerves. We can see and measure that galvanic reactions happen in brains, and seem to move to different parts of them. You are following, yes?
"Good," he says, not waiting to see if they are, "So we saw light transformed into energy, and your question is 'does this mean that because there is energy involved that the soul is also based on that energy?'"
"The answer is 'We don't know.' I'm sorry if you were hoping for a more direct answer, Assuming there is a soul at all, a question that the probative arts has not been able to detect a clear answer to, then it is possible that it is based on galvanic energy and it is possible that the energy that we so crudely detected here is transformed again.
"I personally think that the answer to your question must be 'no', because we are able to capture, measure, and create galvanic energy and I do not think the soul is a thing we can measure, create, or dissipate."
He looks at Alois and then back at Ossian. "What is your opinion?"
"What happens in the brain is of course a mystery. But I know it is full of nerves, which I guess means galvanism." Ossian says. "I assume that when we perceive beauty with our eyes, something is transferred from the eyes to the soul. Which I assume exists, of course. How it works? No idea."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "Might I ask then how you take account the effects of observation on such a quantum system? The instant we observe a quantum particle, it behaves in a rational manner. However, unobserved the particle acts outside concepts such as causality and determinism, as revealed by the Most Beautiful Experiment. Could we therefore state that by observing the soul, we actually alter, if not dissipate, its existence?"
Brother Smee matches her faint smile. "This is one of the reasons the Quantum Hypothesis is controversial. Still, the Mach–Zehnder proposal cannot be tested until someone can collimate a beam of light."
He looks at the rest of the audience. "You seem to be well-informed on the edges of theoretical physics. I would be pleased to discuss it after the conclusion of the lecture."
Brother Alois leans over. "I hope you'll stay after. He doesn't honor many guests with such an invitation."
Brother Jaques nods up at Silhouette. "Are there other questions?"
The remaining questions are more typical of medical students, ranging most in the practical range of voltages and power and equations, and less in the relationship between energy and the soul.
Silhouette touches his leg reassuringly.
She smiles softly at Brother Smee, "Oh, many, but I am certain they can be discussed in full at the lecture's conclusion. Thank you." Turning the smile to the other brothers, she whispers, "And thank you both, as well."
[OOC: Do you stay/leave early/flip the tables and riot? You have a zillion options...]
Ossian is inclined to stay. This is a nice opportunity.
After the lecture, the citizens and most of the monks leave, with a few staying behind. Jacques begins breaking down the demonstration and putting things away.
Alois brings them to meet and talk to Brother Smee. "Ah, yes the young lady with the quantum theory. It's very advanced for this shadow. Have you met Doctors Mach or Zehnder?" There seem to be quite a few monks watching Silhouette's reaction.
Silhouette shakes her head, "I do not believe so. Most of my studies into the interference effect stem from Dr. Young." She smiles softly, "I've always possessed an advanced understanding of quantum theory. Perhaps that stems from my education in various philosophies."
Ossian looks surprised. "I do not understand. What Shadow?"
Smee smiles at Ossian. Ossian gets the feeling that he thinks the pair of them have slipped up. "We'll get back to that, but first, I wish to hear this young lady tell of the philosophies she has studied and the experimental work of Dr. Young."
Silhouette inwardly smiles. She's caught their attention, for good or ill. Now to play the Game, in earnest. "We were initially discussing how observation itself could affect the underlying mechanics of a quantum system, such as the movement of light particles. Young showed that light passing through two-slits behaved different when observed and when unobserved. When allowed to behave unobserved, the light beams produced logical bands on the opposite side. When observed, the bands changed, to the point that defied logical analysis.
"If observation, our key method for understanding Creation, alters its fundamental principles, how then can we believe the Truths it provides?"
Ossian nods, but seems a bit lost in thought.
The monk nods. "I have never been comfortable with the leap from 'this is unexplained' to 'this is unexplainable'. The Merciful One, in his ineffable mercy, has made a world that we can puzzle out, but has not made it easy to do so. We are no smarter than the scholars of the oldest days, but we know more and can get further, precisely because of the tools they and those who came after them created for them.
"Is it not a simpler solution to the problem that you and Doctor Young are working on that you have simply not observed some other force acting upon the light?" It's unclear if he believes this theory or if he's just probing to see how Silhouette responds to being challenged.
"Personally, I believe it may be a relativity issue," Silhouette says softly. "The act of Observation alters quantum reality, placing it within our own frame of reference. The particles acquire aspects of this Realm, thus altering their basic properties. The 'interference' observed is simply a reflection of that alteration." A pause, "Perhaps the Divine allows us only to see so much of Creation, for to gaze beyond that veil would tread upon his Dominion.
"We may seek Perfection, but never obtain it... but the journey itself is what defines us, not the destination."
Smee taps her hand, once, as if she isn't paying attention. "No, child, first we must be assured that observation is best explained by your explanation before we delve into the murky metaphysics of the relationship between The Merciful One and his creation.
"I have posited that your phenomenon may have an explanation that does not require the quantum theory. There's nothing wrong with the theory, but before you build upon it, you must set your foundation clearly. Why do you think your and Doctor Young’s experimental outcome proves your theory?"
Silhouette blushes as if mollified. "Prove? I do not believe it does. Proof remains elusive for the time being. It is a working hypothesis until a more logical solution can be found." She cocks her head, "Do you have a theory of why such an interference would occur?"
Ossian smiles. "Observation. How is that defined?"
Smee turns to Ossian. "An excellent question, is it not Dalfeen? How was it defined in the experiments you studied and any you yourself did?" Now he's trying to see just how much detail he can get on your experimental knowledge of this theory.
Silhouette nods lightly to both, "Observation is the noting and recording the qualia of natural phenomenon through the senses, as well as with instrumentation. That observation is utilized to create and test a hypothesis. This is how Young conducted his experiment."
Ossian nods. "It's hard to experiment on unobserved phenomena."
"Indeed. But that is the heart of Dr. Jong's experiment, is it not?"
Smee turns back to Silhouette. "Do you think you could reproduce this experimen t. Here, for a small audience of my fellow scholars? Perhaps we could be of some use in describing the experiment to audiences more used to our terminology."
"With a little effort, a steady light source, and a few simple tools, I could replicate the two-point interference aspect of the experiment easily enough," Silhouette admits. "However, without more refined equipment, I would be unable to test the complementarity principles we've been discussing." She blushes brightly, apparently not accustomed to attention.
Smee smiles. "Excellent, it's settled then! Tell us what you need and Alois will arrange it. Would you care to stay the night here, or do you already have accommodations in town?"
"It should be a relatively simple list," Silhouette says. "I don't believe we've had the opportunity to find lodging. But we'd hate to impose."
She glances over at Ossian for confirmation.
Ossian nods. "That would suit us. The nature of light and its counterpart is intriguing."
Brother Smee looks pleased. "The Order considers hospitality a duty, and so we are always ready to house guests, especially visiting scholars. I will try to shield you from the more zealous brothers, who would talk through your demonstration all night, if they were allowed to do so.
"Frere Alois, can you take care of Dolphin's needs and schedule a suitable time for her presentation?"
Silhouette raises a brow at that name usage. Having been with her for some time, Ossian might notice this subtle change.
Alois nods. "Of course, Frere Smee." He turns to Silhouette. "Delfeen," he says, emphasizing her pronunciation, "please tell me what equipment you need. If you wish to provide diagrams or equations or lecture notes, I can arrange for a sciptivist to make a clean copy and replicate it for our scholars."
"The most difficult item will be a consistent light source, as I will need to create a pinhole beam of light," Silhouette explains. "Beyond that, a thin piece of card - paper or otherwise - with some form of suspension. Measuring tools and a screen onto which the light beam can be projected. A carbon-coated glass slide with two closely spaced etched slits is the preferred tool, but may not be available."
They discuss the pieces, outline the apparatus, and agree to the carbon-coated slide, but it will take until the next day to arrive. Brother Alois is excited and interested in seeing the experiment. He also delicately asks if you two need separate sleeping quarters and if your have any dietary restrictions. He is the ideal host.
"Separate rooms shall be acceptable," Silhouette says. "Thank you for your accommodating nature. I'd not expected such a warm welcome."
She smiles at Ossian, "I'm sure we could do with some food though."
"That would be most generous" Ossian says. "The double slit is of great importance. I wonder if there are animal eyes using its properties."
Alois looks at Ossian. "I am not a zoologist, but I can ask one to speak to you of this matter. What does the slit arrangement do in an animal eye? Will we need one for the demonstration?"
The monks are very interested and word of Dolfeen's demonstration has spread. At dinner, brothers ask her about it. They seem keen to understand the mathematics behind the theory (if they can be explained) and they seem reasonably well-versed in the concepts of optics and are interested, as Smee is, in why she thinks this is such an important experiment.
Silhouette engages them as much as possible, eager to discuss the various properties of light waves and interference patterns - as well as what they might mean for the underlying principles of scientific observation. She also provides them with the equation she'll be using for measuring the waves during the experiment.
You can find the experiment here along with the equation she cites.
Some of them seem to 'get it', and some seem to want to see the experiment before they invest in Silhouette's oddball theories...
[OOC: You can do the experiment tomorrow or the next day, as you wish. Anything you want to get done before it happens?]
OOC: Sounds good to me, unless Ossian wants to do some old fashion sneaking around.
[OOC: Do you? It's a long night and they have labs and offices and papers and such. Who knows? You might even find a crypt...]
[OOC: Oh, shiny. Ossian don't think they'll find much here, but there is one thing he wants to check: How suspicious they are about him and Sil.]
Ossian will indeed leave his room for a walk round the place. Will Sil join him? The first (and maybe only) goal is to see if the monks are following him.
Silhouette is waiting for Ossian to arrive, as if anticipating his arrival. "If you know this building, I suggest you lead us. I may be able to keep us obfuscated, if magick works here. Otherwise, I suggest extreme caution, followed by pleading ignorance if that doesn't work."
The building is dark, mostly, with dim electric lights on in the stairwells and main hallways. The kitchen seems to be a 24 hour shop, although it is quieter at this hour. There seem to be two areas that are more secure than the others. The first is what looks like offices for the Abbot and other figures, and the second is a locked door in the basement. The door in the basement seems very sturdy and well-made.
Ossian looks at the door. To Silhouette he whispers. "Can you see through it in some way?"
Silhouette draws two pieces of wire from her sleeve, and kneels before the door. "When you're a slave, you pick up a few skills or you do not eat." She begins to work on the lock, instinctively feeling for the tumblers and mechanisms.
The wires are like old friends in her hands, and the tumblers are easy to find, even without looking inside it. This lock seems to be about average for a shadow like this, so picking it is not a difficult task. Soon Silhouette has it open. The hallways beyond it seems newer, and perhaps nicer. The lights are more steady and the floor seems slick.
It reminds Ossian of the labs of the Klybesians, or what the offices at those labs should have looked like.
Silhouette listens careful, making sure they've not disturbed any late night researchers or a security guard. Glancing over at Ossian, she gives a slight nod - ready to follow.
"This smells like the Klybesians" Ossian whispers as he steps inside, "I wonder what they are looking for here. Traces of Edan?" He'll survey the place for short whole before looking more closely on anything.
This area seems to have offices. The air is noticeably cooler, as if there's some sort of heat exchanger or air conditioner. That would only be a little ahead of where this shadow is now, but it's at least culturally out of place. At the end of the hall is a door with no markings. The signs on the nearby doors are not in Thari.
"Then we're on the right track," Silhouette says. "We should be quick about this. We're already under observation. For all we know, we're being allowed to proceed."
She begins scanning the desks for paperwork or notes of interest, making her away toward the end of the hall.
Ossian whips out his sketch book and copies some of the writings from the doors. Is there any way to detect if they are moving through Shadow as they walk down the hall?
The character-glyphs are the same as Thari, but it's as if they're somehow intentionally encoded. Or else they're just stringing nonsense together.
Ossian doesn't feel as if he's changing from one shadow to another. There aren't changes in atmosphere or gravity or light. If he is changing shadow, someone went to some effort to make it seem seamless.
The door at the end of the hall is different, and seems more like an exterior door. Or a bulkhead.
There are several books open on the tables to what are clearly discussions of optics and lenses, as if someone had been researching the material for the upcoming lecture.
Ossian looks in the books. Do they look like standard University text books, or research reports? What language are the books written in.
The books are in many languages. Most here are in the languages of this shadow, but some are in stranger tongues.
None are specifically in Thari or in any other immediately obvious language of Amber or Chaos.
Some of them might be in a language that looks like some of the Runes Brita reads.
"Why have they coded the doors?" he whispers "Seems unpractical."
Silhouette finds the research material both upsetting and complimentary. At least they are attempting to be on the same level as her... or trip her up. Either way, the challenge is acceptable.
"Possibly they've marked the doors to indicate ranking or specify various projects," Silhouette says. "Communal research generally notates the phases and goals of projects, compartmentalizing them for efficiency."
She heads over to the exterior door, examining it carefully... first for alarms, then for locks.
Both. The lock is mechanical, and tricky but not dangerously so. The alarm? It's a closed sensor, electromagnetic in nature. It's hard to tell just how sophisticated it is.
Silhouette sighs faintly. With the alarm on, this would be troublesome, but not insurmountable. She checks the mounting for the alarm, and then uses her tools to open it up. As with most closed circuit alarms, there are two wires creating the sensor circuit. She inspects them for single and Double End-Of-Line resistors, which would prevent a bypass.
Silhouette can tell there's some sort of tamper-resistant electronics in there. She's also pretty confident in her abilities. It may take a few moments to bypass it, though.
Ossian watches. "They seem fond of this kind of security. I bet on a Shadow path on the other side of this door. Poor Edan."
Ossian hears footsteps in the prior corridor, but no one actually comes to look.
"You may want to make sure we're not disturbed," Silhouette says. She begins her bypass, creating a closed circuit before the alarm sensor. She then snips the wires to the sensor, cutting it off from the monitor, hopefully tricking the alarm to think it is still operation - even when the door is open.
Ossian moves back towards the other end of the corridor. If someone comes he will have to silence the person.
Silhouette leans over the lock and works on her bypass. She's convinced she's done it, and she sees no signs that the alarm has been triggered. However, the final proof will be in opening the door...
Silhouette nods with satisfaction, and then turns her head to call to Ossian. She remains silent, seeing that he is dealing with an entirely different - and more human - issue.
Ossian peers around the corner, and sees a priest, with an electric torch, walking down the corridor just past his location. His back is to Ossian, but if he were to turn around, he'd surely see him, or at least the partially opened door.
Ossian decides that it is probable that a tiny earthquake will go off right now, just forceful enough to let a vase that someone left precariously close to the edge of a desk in a room further down the corridor fall to the floor with a crashing noise. He will use the moment of noise to close the door, and hopes that the priest will go investigating the crash noise, instead of turning around.
He looks back at Silhouette, listens for a moment at the door, and if he cannot hear the priest coming he will join Sil on quiet feet.
The small quake did some damage to files as well as the vase down the hall. Also, it apparently pushed open the door Silhouette had tinkered with, at least a crack. There's light at the hinges. It's a crisp, steady artificial glow.
Silhouette waits for the alarm to go off, remaining perfectly still. When it doesn't sound, she gently pushes the door open, peering inside.
Ossian follows, keeping an eye and ear on the door behind them.
The technology here doesn't match the rest of the Land of Peace, nor does it match the research facility that Ossian visited before.
The room has a number of stone workbenches and on each one there is some sort of large white parchment. Most of those have some sort of closed figure on it, like a circle or a pentagram. Inside the circles are items; a brooch, a bottle, a lamp. Next to each one is a small note-taking computer of some sort, but one that is off.
It's like they’re trying to do modern research on magic.
Silhouette wets her lips, predatory and hungry. "A intriguing mixture of Hermeticism and technology. My mechamancy should provide some paralleled understanding."
She picks the station nearest the end of the room - likely the supervisor's. Carefully, she examines it for wards or similar defenses before sitting down to get to work.
"I imagine my father would be of help here. Or uncle Ambrose." Ossian says. He approaches one if the parchment and touches it as if it was a Trump. (He wants to find out if it has some Trump-like properties)
Nothing that sophisticated guards it. But it is prompting for a password.
Silhouette scans the surrounding work area. She hopes that the person will have left a note to themselves somewhere, but she also studies the books, pictures, and items which might provide her an insight into the password.
There is a desk calendar with a few marks, but it's some kind of code: a day may have a red box around it, an exclamation point, a question mark, etc. It's unclear what each symbol means.
The parchment is merely room temperature. What they describe could be shadow magic, but this scroll at least is on the wrong path. Great-Grandmother (or even grandmother) could set them straight, if they had the vocabulary for them.
Ossian decides it is probable that the password is written on the underside of the monitor. "Look there." He says.
Silhouette quirks a brow, but does as he asks.
There is a piece of paper under the monitor. It says "newyear".
Silhouette gives this a try. "That's an intriguing talent you have, cousin."
Ossian smiles. "You have it too. The ability to affect probabilities. I will teach you, but not here and now."
The password unlocks the system. This is generations beyond the technology of the current shadow. The system is visual and the metaphors are well within their ability to easily grasp, but the organization of the system is apparently degraded by the personal disorganization of the user whose password was so easy to find.
It would take a long time to systematically look through the files, but it's hard to come up with a better method.
"You may want to look around for more physical materials, as this will take awhile," Silhouette says. Her fingers dance over the keys, the screen's flickering light outlining her stern expression.
She begins searching for any items related to Amber, Rebma, or the Family.
By chance, Silhouette comes up with a copy of a poem, called 'The Madness of Orolando'. It is hundreds of lines long, but there is an electronic note at the top. "Orolando = Roland, Charlemagne = Carol, Who is Ganelon? Was Paris Amber or not?"
There are additional search options, but they seem to require an "external connection". It occurs to Silhouette that that might not be untraceable, if it even allows the connection.
Ossian searches the room. Are there discarded papers somewhere?
Very few, and the ones that there are are on basic electromechanical science. It seems the more selective research is done on the terminals.
Ossian shakes his head. "I find nothing here."
Silhouette nods lightly, focused on the poem. "Ganelon? Is that one of our uncles? There's a poem here with notes that refer to family members. However, I don't recognize the names."
She calls up her magical intuition, focusing it on the terminal's connection ports. Her fingers begin their dance over the controls while mentally she reaches out, trying to establish the connection required.
It turns out that there is a document locally stored that talks about how to set up an "inter-nodal access route". It assumes the reader already knows quite a bit about networking, but there is still useful intelligence to be gathered from it.
Apparently they go off-line all the time, because the nodal foci change and the paths terminus points. Often the path will continue to exist, but each node will connect to a new location, sometimes a completely different place. If that place also has access, it can be restored with an encrypted point-to-point link to the nearest nodal junction, but if the nodes are isolated, it becomes a latent node-pair and should be mapped, reported, and abandoned.
Silhouette scans the document, memorizing its details. She feels a faint elation as she gains Enlightenment. She describes the information to Ossian briefly.
"This may be a hit or miss process, if I start trying to open other nodes. That will require time. Should we endure the risk?"
"I think Ganelon might be Oberon, but Corwin would know more I think.
"The risk can be worth it. The Klybesians in this Shadow do not seem to be so sophisticated. If we can learn more through this network it's well worth the risk, I think."
"If we are executed for espionage, the blame rests solely on your shoulders," Silhouette says flatly. She begins exploring the network more intently, trying to open up more nodes that could allow her access to further information. Mentally, she maps the network as she proceeds, testing each connection. It's an intriguing challenge, but one she warms to quickly.
There are central nodes which require some kind of access she can't get to, but what is interesting is that there are remote nodes that seem to be less well protected. There are two nodes that seem interesting: "St_Pastoral" and "Greenwood". St_Pastoral seems... damaged, as if it's supposed to be connected to things, but they're missing.
At that moment, an overhead light snaps on and the back door opens. Brother Smee is standing there, wearing a long robe, or night-gown. "That information, friends, is not free." He is not smiling.
There are people behind him. They may be armed.
Ossian is not smiling either. "Well, considering you or your associates owe me quite much, deduct that from the tab, then." Then he decides that the earthquake in fact did weaken the structure of the building. Enough so that the ceiling in the room behind Smee falls down, hopefully creating enough confusion for Ossian and Silhouette to escape.
While Ossian faces off with the men, Silhouette takes the time to infuse a gremlin into the computer system, drawing upon her inner power to fuel it. Once it is ready, she sends it into the node, letting to create as much havok as possible - hopefully disrupting the network and erasing the data contained within.
The ceiling collapses on Smee and the monks go down under the shaking. The electric lights go out as well. There may be more damage than Ossian was thinking of. It would be wise to leave quickly, since further collapse is possible.
There's a lot of dust and it's pretty dark. There are emergency lights near the exit.
Silhouette coughs, choking on dust. "Well...I do believe... our lecture will no longer be required."
She tugs on his arm, heading toward the exit. "We should find some way out of this building in expedient order."
Ossian grins. "Yeah, let's run. Shall we try shifting away from here?"
The exit door hangs at an odd angle, but gives to strong shoving by the two Amberites. The way they came is blocked by rubble, but there seems to be a clear path in the other direction. Lighting is haphazard here, and the dim emergency lighting from the study area doesn't go very far.
There's a slightly acrid smell in the air, of electricity and smoke.
Silhouette pauses, placing a protective hand over Ossian's chest. "Tread wary here," she says. "We do not wish to end our flight in an accident."
She scans the floor for any possible live wires, taking each step forward with the utmost caution. "We will need to be free of the building before we can Shift, yes?"
"No. It works fine indoors, but then we will not find out where this corridor goes."
There's at least one burst pipe ahead, leaking water onto the floor. If there are live wires, it's going to get bad, quick. There's nothing in the first few steps she takes, but the floor is damp.
Silhouette considers this for a moment, "Then we should begin shifting. Starting with reducing the risk of electrocution."
She steps forward, concentrating on her surroundings - attempting to alter its aspects as they move forward. She begins with floor, trying to reduce the amount of water.
Silhouette starts shifting as she walks forward. She instinctively knows what she needs to do: be in motion and find the things she anticipates will be there, the things that will take her to her goal. She subtracts a power cord for a piece of equipment on a shelf, she adds a tripped circuit breaker. The water level lowers.
It works, and it's easy! Well, it's not easy. It's some of the hardest, most detailed work she's ever had to do, including all of her engineering studies and masterworks, but it's doable.
Ossian notices the shifting. It's a bit erratic, and it reminds Ossian of his first efforts. If she's not careful and doesn't set up a rhythm with her shifts, she'll either start to hellride, or else everything will go *sparkly* and not in a good way.
Perhaps shifting fast is advisable. There are noises behind the two Amberites, as if someone may be digging through some of the collapsed passages.
Silhouette's heart hammers with uncharacteristic emotion, feeling a rush of pride and elation at this display of power. Unwilling to invite complications, she squashes this euphoria, focusing fully upon the task of rewriting Creation.
Distantly, she hears the sounds behind them. "I dare not break my concentration to see what that might be, cousin. Are we being followed?"
Ossian says softly. "I believe so. Stay focused. I would shift towards shadows with more blue and red and less green in the visual. Or towards less technology. I would prefer their guns not to work."
As much as it offends her, Silhouette follows Ossian's advice - shifting the world farther and farther away from the higher levels of technology.
Colors are her next alteration, traveling through the spectrum from red to violet.
Can Ossian figure out how long before the diggers get through?
No, but he can definitely slow them. It probably wouldn't mess with Silhouette's shifting.
The floor seems rougher ahead.
Then Ossian will do what he can to slow the diggers down. Somewhere in the rubble there is a partly broken powder fire extinguisher. When the diggers lift a rock it goes off and fills the corridor (on the monks' side of the rubble) with icky, sticky, blinding white powder...
Silhouette flinches at the noise, but maintains her concentration, steadily walking forward down the corridor. It now arches like the interior of a snail shell.
After a few minutes walking down the rounded, smooth passageways and a few details added or removed, the two turn a corner and come face to face with the denizen of these curvy passage. It's some sort of mucus covered beast. Or perhaps the mucus is the monster, and caught something else inside it.
It looks harmless. Or to would if it wasn't twice either Ossian's or Silhouette's size.
"Sorry to intrude." Ossian says in Thari.
Silhouette pauses, studying this entity with dispassionate eyes. Has she created this thing? Or has it always existed? The philosophical questions begin playing in her head, distracting her.
But, more importantly while outwardly 'harmless,' she does not wish to lower her guard. She begins searching the area for possible weapons to use.
The passageway is smooth, perhaps even slick with some sort of mucus-y deposits. Unless she were to move (forward toward the beast or back around the arch), she can't use the pattern to summon a weapon.
The walls of the tunnel are made of some sort of rock or similar hard material, but at least in places it is thin enough for Silhouette and Ossian to see that there is light on the far side.
The good news is that they no long seem to have any followers.
Silhouette carefully steps closer, testing the beast's reactions... and hopefully shifting enough to provide herself with a blade or something else. Perhaps something abandoned by a previous visitor.
Of course, that might mean the previous visitor met an unfortunate end.
As Silhouette steps forwards, the creature withdraws slightly, although not as much as Sil's forward movement. Her supposition about someone coming to a bad end here seems accurate. She sees what looks like a hilt and a few inches of blade protruding from the creature's... Well, from whatever part of the creature's anatomy is below its mouth.
She could grab it, but she'd be somewhat vulnerable when she did so.
The conversation has been rounded off and the Trump contact ended. Conner and the two warriors have come through to Brennan together with their supplies.
[OOC: They have a number of things in their hastily-prepared luggage, including some "wonder what that is?" that may be useful to Conner later in terms of conjuring things. They do not have horses.]
Sir Firumbras stands out as foreign by style and weaponry; to Brennan's eyes, he looks like he's almost a little futuristic compared to the Maghee Brennan has been dealing with. The same is true for Conner, but of course the Shadows lie for him. And Regenlief looks like, well, a Valkyrie, so maybe from the next couple of principates or dukedoms or other little places over?
When their goods are handed through, Sir Firumbras comes first, Regnelief comes second, and Conner comes last. And then the contact fades and the four warriors are left standing in the night.
Regenlief does not appear to have immediately recognized Brennan.
Once everyone is through and briefly acclimated to their surroundings-- something like a tent which is by the sound of it on the edges of some fair, market, or other such gathering, and evidently at night-- Brennan gestures everyone to sit, or to make themselves at rest as they please. There are folding chairs of canvas, and cushions. Observant eyes will see three bedrolls, making four seated occupants somewhat cozy, but not uncomfortable. If the other two occupants return, space will become a premium.
"Welcome," Brennan says, "to Avalon.
"If I understand correctly, no single one of us knows all three of the others. Some introductions are in order, then my cousin and I will explain what we're about and you can decide if you wish to remain. My name," he says with some mild emphasis, "is Brennan, son of Brand, son of Oberon. In the past, I've used the name Ramble, but in this place, for the moment, call me Walker."
Brennan is too polished a communicator not to have made eye contact with everyone in the tent, but most of his attention is on Regenlief.
Regenlief clearly understands the import of the introduction and is deferring it for later. Brennan thinks she's recognized his voice now that he’s talking.
Sir Firumbras, either because he's got a penchant for stepping into the middle of awkward situations or because it's a good moment to allow Regenlief to recover her equilibrium, speaks up. "I am Firumbras, formerly of the court of King Carol of Paris, now serving King Corwin. It is his wish that I aid you, and so I shall. Though," he says, looking around, "I expect to need to conceal my features." Because he looks like he has some Altamerean blood in him, or something related to it, or even some Moonrider with the pale silvery white skin, the height, and the slightly inhuman features.
"I'm Regenlief of Asgard," says Regenlief, who, unlike Firumbras, will pass in these parts as a simple warrior. "Walker and I have met before. I'm also in service to King Corwin at the moment."
"I am Conner, son of Fiona, daughter of Oberon. I now bear the Pattern Blade of Rebma and have sworn the oath to be her Knight Protector." Conner states. "And if an alias is needed, refer to me as Rooker." Conner looks over Sir Firumbras. "Where are you from, Sir Knight? Your features remind of the people of Altamar."
"We have. Well met again, Regenlief," Brennan says, and though his tone and expression are mild, they indicate quite eloquently that they will talk privately later.
Oh yes, yes they will.
"And well met, Sir Firumbras. Before we delve into our purpose, let me give a warning: Serve the King as you will, but the names Corwin, Karol, Carolus, and all the common variations are unwise to speak here, and less wise to affiliate with. There is a history in this place-- a man by that name once ruled, and ignited such a fury in his peoples that they sank an island to be rid of him. We will not advertise our kinship with him."
Sir Firumbras looks like he'd like to protest this, but he nods his agreement without argument. He's got enough potential problems without advertising he works for the Sorcerer King.
"That said," he continues, "Some recent history: Some time ago man called Huon of the Horn-- our uncle, in fact-- laid siege to the Realm of Rebma. Its then-Queen, Moire, abandoned the city to find its own defenses. Conner and I played a role in that defense, with three cousins. One assumed the throne and gave her life for the good of Rebma. Another is occupied with other tasks related to that war. The last, daughter of Corwin and Moire, occupies the throne now; you may have met her in Paris.
"The siege was broken, although the damage to Rebma is considerable. Huon currently enjoys the extended hospitality of Queen Celina of Rebma. While out of Rebma, Moire has also killed another member of Amber's royal family, another cousin of ours, and fled further still." Brennan pauses as if to suggest a shrug-- it's a big family. "She seeks to reclaim the throne she has failed to defend, and we would spare the city further violence and destruction."
Brennan turns the narrative over to Conner.
"To this end Rebma has sent out agents, questioned former supporters and asked the family to keep an eye out for any traces of the former Queen." Conner replies. "Her last known sighting was in Paris when she appeared in the middle of a company of Rebmans under service to our cousin Vere. Several of them left with her. Enough to be a bodyguard as opposed to army. There had been no further sightings or leads to her location until Brennan started investigating things here in Avalon."
Conner gestures for Brennan to continue from here.
Neither Firumbras nor Regenlief seem to have any problem following this.
Brennan picks up the tale by reaching for a map tube, opening it, and spreading a map of the surrounding isles on the table.
"Just as there is a road by which anyone can walk between worlds from Rebma to Paris, so there is a road from Rebma to Avalon, although much less known and more securely guarded. My supposition was that Moire would walk that road-- or send an agent-- and come out roughly here," he indicates the area, "on the coast opposite the proper isle of Avalon," another gesture, "ruled by our uncle, the Protector. I spoke with him, explained my suspicion that Moire would use his realm as staging ground for a surprise invasion, and he agreed it was plausible and undesirable.
"Avalon is constantly at war. Activities here, around Methryn's Isle," a gesture toward Montparnasse, "was part of a complex feint to leave this area of the coast-- and the road back to Rebma-- exposed and undefended. That activity has been shut down, although the Protector's allies may feign weakness as part of a trap." Brennan stresses by inflection that this course of action is not certain. "Along the way, I questioned a man who had been put under a geas by Moire to force him to serve her in this regard. Unfortunately, breaking the geas-- which allowed him to identify her-- also ended his life. I've tracked down a second member of this plot, whose mind has also been tampered with, who has identified an agent of Moire's acting in Avalon as an Admiral Stratum. We are stepping carefully so that we might learn more, save his life, and preserve him as an ally. There is a third man whose mind has been clouded, a fleet captain named Jellicoe, still at large." He does not go out of his way to stress it, but neither does he hide it: those who know Brennan can pick up on his contempt for the brainwashing and mind-clouding techniques that are being used, here.
"I also learned there is a second, though more difficult, route from Avalon to Rebma," Brennan says. Which seems like a good place to turn the story back over to Conner.
"The details are still sketchy as the story Brennan was told contained dream like elements similar to those in Tir. But the short version is that the man Brennan questioned, a Maghee wizard from these isles, was brought to an underwater throne room by a group of people that lived in a kelp forest. While there he encountered another cousin of ours Dara and later ex-Queen Moire. It was the ex-Queen that sent the wizard with forces to attack Avalon. More concerning to us is how exactly Moire and this wizard were able to meet in the first place. There is a great kelp forest on the edge of Rebma. Within that kelp forest lives a Dragon and her Sons, the beings known as Tritons. We now suspect that the other end of that kelp forest comes out here in Avalon and represents another path to Rebma that the ex-Queen could exploit in her attempts to usurp the Rebman throne. One of my tasks is to try and locate this route."
Brennan nods emphasis at several points, especially the mention of Tir-na Nog'th and Dara. He also puts the various images he's collected from various sources on the table.
"And mine," Brennan continues, "if warranted, is to cover the direct road on the coast across from the Isle of Apples itself. Jointly, of course, we need to determine if Moire is here in person as I suspect, or if she is working only through intermediaries, and adjust our plans when we get new information. The true goal over all of this is: Capture Moire and turn her over for justice. I will emphasize that: Capture. Not kill. Simply disrupting her plans and spoiling Avalon as a base of operations is the minimal acceptable outcome.
"A few wrinkles, though," Brennan says. "First, We haven't gone out of our way to announce that we know Moire is active here, or even that we're here. That subterfuge is rapidly nearing the end of its useful life-- Jellicoe has no reason to know who I am, but he's seen my face and report it if he reaches his Admiral. Second, we have as yet no writ from our uncle to field an army... although when we can be more precise about Moire's plans I expect that will change. Laying the groundwork seems in bound, though. Third, beware mirrors. Moire and her agents can use them for spying. You won't even find a shaving mirror in this tent."
Brennan looks to Conner-- anything else for the summary before they start actually planning?
Nothing more from Conner. On to planning.
Regenlief has a look on her face that Brennan knows of old: she's doing a lot of tactical considering in her head. Before she can speak, though, Firumbras says, "I have questions about Moire of Rebma; she is not the Queen of Rebma I know of old. The true Queen of Rebma is a formidable foe. I do not understand this about abandoning posts and other Queens. Either she is the Queen or she is not. Can you explain this to me?" His eyes flick from Brennan to Conner, who has the sword, whose power Firumbras seems to understand. He adds, after a moment, "But your cautions about mirrors are duly noted. I shall make certain nothing is mirror-polished."
"I shall try," Conner replies, "but much of the history of Rebma has been lost or reshaped by the Archivists. You may be able to fill in some gaps for me. I presume that the true Queen of Rebma that you remember is Queen Moins. In a time long past, she died on the battlefield protecting Rebma during a time of war. Her daughter Moire stepped into the breach and claimed the Queenship and ruled for long enough that many only knew of her as the Queen of Rebma. However, there is evidence to suggest that while she claimed the temporal authority over Rebma, she did not have the metaphysical ties to the land that mark a True Queen of Rebma."
"Moire has a younger sister, Llewella, daughter of Moins and Oberon. Llewella, ... had, a daughter, Khela." Conner pauses for a moment. "She found the blade I now wear and by this token of rulership rallied many to her side. She marched against the false Queen Moire who fled before her. Khela also repulsed an assault upon Rebma led by Huon of the Horn who came to claim the Pattern Blade of Rebma. The people of Rebma accepted her as ruler and swore homage to her, but Khela wanted to be a True Queen and so sought to bind herself to Rebma. She failed and she gave her life in the attempt. She had named our cousin Queen Celina as her heir. The people of Rebma have sworn an oath to accept her as Queen. By her authority, I was bound to the Pattern Balde of Rebma and made its Warden. The land responds to her as it would a True Queen. So, as far as I am concerned, there is but one Queen of Rebma and it is Celina. Does that make things clearer?"
"Not entirely," says Firumbras, "but clear enough for the work we mean to do."
Brennan nods along as the professional diplomat explains things. He has little to add to Conner's explanation, although he is carefully observing Firumbras when Conner relates the fact of Moins' death. "Sir Firumbras, who were the Kings and Queens in the time of Carol?" A moment later, he adds, "Do not name the Queen of Tir-na Nog'th, please, just indicate if it is this woman," putting the sketch of Maeve and whoever the other person is on the table.
"That is the Queen of the city of my birth, though I do not know who the man is. Moins was Queen of Rebma, Oberon of Amber, and Carol of Paris," Firumbras answers. And now, as I understand it, Random is King of Xanadu, and of Amber--" though Firumbras sounds like he's a bit doubtful on that point, "--Corwin is King of Paris, Tir is broken, and Celina, as you say, is Queen of Rebma. Is there more you wish to know that would be relevant to our current plight?"
"I do have one question." Conner nods. "In your time, how did one travel between the Pattern realms? Were there paths you could follow or did you have to be led by a royal?"
Firumbras answers, "There were roads and gates, but to go quickly, the best method was for a royal to lead you."
Brennan throws Conner a glance at that, but doesn't address it directly.
Brennan lets Firumbras answer that question, then adds, "I would add Avalon to your list. Our uncle styles himself the Protector, but he bears the same relationship to it as the others to their realms. And I do have a question that may prove relevant: Does the name Lir mean anything to you? Either of you?"
Regenlief, who has been enjoying the show and perhaps Brennan at work, shakes her head in the negative.
"Lir was a knight of Rebma, the equivalent of a peer in Corwin's court. He was of the Blood Royal. I never had the honour of meeting him in person, but I was acquainted with knights who had served in Rebma and did know him," Firumbras answers. There's an implicit why? at the end of that.
Brennan is clearly in team-player mode: "I mentioned that this place has a history-- someone named Lir was a part of it. Whether it was the same man of your time, or a shadow of him is not clear, but many tribes and folks of Avalon place a Lir in their histories, far enough past to be more myth than anything else. The Maghee, who we'll meet shortly, credit him with raising the Silver Towers and later joining his kin to fight in a war against sea-demons." Brennan will relate the whole tale as the Maghee tell it if anyone asks.
"Aside from my insatiable curiosity for history," Brennan says, "knowing everything we can about Lir could provide much leverage with the local folk when and if we mobilize them into an army. I'll be glad for anything you remember, but especially his full lineage."
"While you are pondering matters of Rebman history, I would also know of one called Cneve." Conner puts in. "He was the last to bear the Pattern Blade of Rebma and much of his history has been buried."
"Prince Lir was the son of Moins, and I do not know his father. That was the custom of Rebma in those days. Rebma only counts descent through the mother's line." Firumbras is being very clear on that point. "I have heard that he was dead, but not the details of his demise. He was still living when last I knew Rebma. As for Cneve," and here Firumbras seems a bit uncertain of the pronunciation, "I do not know him. He must have been after my time."
Regenlief is beginning to look a little bored.
Conner nods to the knight. "Thank you, Sir Knight. That satisfies my curiosity for the moment." Conner turns to Regenlief. "At some point, I must introduce you to my sister. She is also of Asgard, Brita, daughter of Vidar."
Brennan is slower to respond, turning over Firumbras' statement in his mind. He allows some mild surprise to show on his face, the better to underscore his words. "I thank you as well, Sir Firumbras. I can see now that the subject of Lir may be delicate ground. Suffice to say that, while I believe you, the myths of Lir and Moins-- whom I have heard called the Dido and the Elyssa-- have drifted enough to be not only mutually incompatible, but in some cases mutually offensive." Brennan doesn't bother to explain, because he knows that the details are not important at the moment, only the warning. "When this task is behind us, I hope to spend some time exchanging the oldest stories of Amber for the newest."
Firumbras nods gravely. He doesn't look exactly troubled, but it's clear that Brennan's words have gotten his attention.
[Brennan] gives Regenlief the opportunity to respond to Conner if she wishes, but if not he looks set to exit briefing mode and enter planning mode.
"You're not the first person to mention her to me," Regenlief says to Conner. "I look forward to meeting her.” She turns to Brennan. “What do we do next?"
"All roads lead through the Maghee," Brennan says. "They should be finishing up with Cledwyn by the time we get there, which will inform my next task-- figuring out where Moire is and what her plan is. And since the ones we'll meet include the lorekeepers and magicians of their people, they're as good a place as any to start looking for the sea routes," he glances at Conner.
"Absent any shocking development, I propose we split up: Conner, with Firumbras' ancient knowledge and possibly some local Maghee guides to investigate the water route; Regenlief, Cledwin, Sessile and I to act on whatever else we learn in tracking Moire and organizing on land." He looks to Conner to see if that meets his satisfaction.
Conner nods his approval of the plan.
Then as an afterthought, "The Maghee won't be expecting guests-- we'll have to tell them something. Your call on how you handle your identity, of course."
"I presume this place is remote enough that travelers newly arrived isn't a good enough story?" Conner asks. "We can always lay the blame on me as a magician of your own people who arrived belatedly to your call for magical advice."
"Actually, it's a regional horse fair," Brennan says. "Organized mostly by the Maghee, but large enough that traders come from far afield, as I understand it. I thought it would be a good place to see what these folk would look like as a military force, and to get their hedge wizards involved, but a chance meeting of old acquaintances is plausible enough.
"These particular Maghee to see, though, are the hedge wizards I hooked into a meeting with an historical relic of their tribe, and are the sort of folk who arranged a meeting in the dark, away from the rest of the fair, and came wearing face-occluding ceremonial masks." Brennan gives a rather sour smile at that-- he's not fond of masked cultists, all things considered, but it is what it is. "Nothing we can't handle, I just want to give you enough material to work with." Brennan has nearly unlimited faith in Conner's ability to smile and charm his way past any difficulties.
"That should do nicely then." Conner nods. "I'm no Prince Garrett but I can haggle over a horse convincingly enough. If you can get me into your next meeting with these hedge wizards, I should be most interested. Else the three of us can nose around the fair and see what we shall see."
Regenlief volunteers, "I'm all right with horses. I can negotiate if you're busy."
"I'll need some magic of concealment, most likely," Firumbras offers.
"I very much value your opinion of these folks," Brennan says. "The opinion of everyone here, in fact, but hustling one person in will be much easier than hustling three, so let's see if we can split the difference: Conner, let's see if we can talk you past our hosts for the remainder of tonight's activity. If that goes well, either the nature of the meeting will change, or there will be a second one at a later date. Cousin, perhaps you are something in the neighborhood of an historian or other scholar? Something suitably vague as to your sorcerous abilities, but with enough useful information of other realms to hook their attention?"
It's an off-hand suggestion-- Conner is competent to handle his persona and Brennan will follow a different lead if Conner has a different of better preference.
"That sounds like a reasonable plan. Meanwhile, Regenlief and Sir Firumbras can try to get the lay of the land. Once we tend to his disguise of course." Conner takes whatever time is needed to drape a warp and weft of altered light around the knight's features to let him pass for normal for a few hours while Conner and Brennan are off with the Maghee. Brennan's help with this will be much appreciated of course.
Brennan has no applicable Principles so his help is limited to watching what Conner does with interest, critiquing and otherwise kibbitzing. Maybe this will work better than his own not-entirely-successful attempts at letting the Shadows lie for him.
Conner's spell is simple and temporary. Sir Firumbras appears no taller than Regenlief, which is tall for these people, but not extraordinarily so. They could be brother and sister, and Firumbras says as much. Regenlief agrees and they quickly work out a story of traveling mercenary relatives looking for horses and weapons.
"Shall we count on you to find us again after your sorcerous meeting, or shall we plan to meet here at sunset?" Regenlief looks as if she has unfinished business with Brennan, but is willing to put it off for the moment.
"Best to meet here at an appointed time," Brennan says. "Sunset works. Hard to say how long we'll be here. I'm not planning on being run out of the fair by an angry mob, though, so probably at least one more day."
Speaking of getting run out of the fair, Brennan does have the presence of mind to ask to see their currency, to make sure they're not accidentally passing around shiny, newly minted Parisian Witch-King-Heads. If they need cash for that or any other reason, Brennan conjures some good old fashioned Protectors for them, or whatever currency suits their emerging story.
[OOC: I'm just *assuming* Corwin has his face on his coins.]
Regenlief and Firumbras depart to scout the faire.
Ramjollock is at the entrance to the tent, dealing cards, face-down in a standard layout-of-six. "Welcome back, Walker." He says. He doesn't get up, or stop blocking the entrance to the tent.
"I trust all has gone well in my absence," Brennan says. His tone is fractionally more chill than the words they cover, but only a small fractional. So far, the man is only impeding him socially not trying to do so physically. "I've come back to rejoin Sessile and Cledwyn. I bring with me Rooker, a learned man of my acquaintance. It is a chance encounter to find him here-- I expect him to have some common purpose with the Council."
Brennan begins gather the Pattern to himself, in preparation of a manipulation of probability if necessary.
"I greet you as one keeper of knowledge to another." Conner smiles brightly at Ramjollock. "I see that you seek wisdom from the cards. It is a practice I also turn to in times of uncertainty." Conner crouches down to see the back of the cards closer.
"Oh yes? How interesting. Would you cast for me, Rooker?"
Ramjollock squares the deck and offers it to Conner.
Brennan-- somewhat intrigued by that turn of events, in spite of himself-- metaphorically stands back to let Conner deal with that as he may.
And immediately stops gathering the Pattern to himself, so as not to bias anything that happens.
Conner hesitates for a moment. "In my tradition, it is unusual to cast with cards that belong to another. But if that is what you wish." Conner shrugs and accepts the cards. He begins shuffling them slowly, getting a feel for them. "Do you wish to ask a specific question or just a general read of the future?"
Ramjollock squints at Conner. "If you please, tell the future of our collaboration with you. How do the Maghees fare in such an arrangement with you and yours?"
Brennan is, if truth be told, interested to see how that one falls out, too. But, while he is not at all averse to cheating on his own behalf, considers it a serious breach of etiquette to stack the deck for his cousin. Instead, he merely watches.
Conner simply nods and shuffles the cards until they feel right. Then he casts them in the standard pattern.
The cards turn out as follows:
The Fool (reversed)
Fearing Shadows (reversed)
Drowning in Armor
Overlooking the Diamond
Conner looks over the cards before him and smirks at the straightforward yet ambiguous statements before him.
"The Fool reversed speaks of an isolated past. I know not if this is by choice or circumstance but just from what I have seen here, it clear you keep yourselves apart. The Present shows Authority, and the Future Order which would indicate to me a relationship formed from respect of power deepening to one of respect or even loyalty."
"That brings us to the Twins here: The secrecy and separation between us serves no purpose and may even prove harmful."
Conner places his finger atop the last card with its peasant and shining gemstone. "There is opportunity here in this alliance. If we are wise enough to reach for the Jewel instead of getting lost in the weeds."
Brennan looks over to Conner and says, almost conversationally, "Since I first set foot on this isle, the Diamond has been following me. It has been present in every hand I have cast, every hand I have even witnessed. It would begin to feel personal, except that this cast is not about me," he turns his attention back to Ramjollock, "but about Ramjollock's people. My interpretation is much the same, but in different words."
He begins with the upper trio of cards: "The strength of the Maghee people is not in doubt. That has been tested for generations. But these three cards speak to tests of will, of wit, and of wisdom," Brennan touches the Virtue, the Fault and the Fate cards in turn. "Fearing Shadows is a test of will through a test of fear, and the opportunity to banish fears as decisively as one steps out of Shadow and into the light, while Drowning in Armor is a test of wit, of realizing when old defenses are no longer equal to the tests of the day, realizing when they do more harm than good. And Overlooking the Diamond is the test of wisdom that balances between them. Somewhat banal as an interpretation,but would I be wrong in thinking that they represent facets, or factions, of an on-going debate for your people?"
Brennan waits long enough for Ramjollock to respond, even with a head-nod or head-shake, but continues regardless.
"But these on the bottom, these puzzled me. These are all representations of your past, aren't they?" This time, Brennan's question is purely rhetorical. "Lir, your lawgiver. The king-- not the Sorceror-King, or this would be at best reversed, or likely the Usurper-- is the result of those laws, the kingdom that endured after his departure." Brennan quotes from memory, respectfully, a passage of Cameleopardis' book which equates various of the Silver Towers with various of the virtues which Lir codified. "And the isolation, the scorn suffered even after the sacrifice your people made in ridding yourselves of the Usurper. Viewed as history, they are in the wrong order. But tell me, Ramjollock, do the Maghee people have prophecies of rebirth?"
Ramjollock smiles and moves aside. "Forgive me for testing you, but there are so many who know not the power of the cards. Some who will just attempt to read the subject and apply general principles. You can see how that would lead to false trust in a charlatan. I wanted to know before I sent you back in.
"You, Sir, are correct," he says to Conner. "We maintain a vigil, in case the old harms our ancestors sacrificed so much to defeat return to these lands, in case another Sorcerer-King arises here."
He turns to Brennan. "Rebirth would mean a return to war, or so we have always been told and so we have prepared for. And yet, this is Avalon, and rebirth is central to the land."
"So, too, is war, Ramjollock. So, too, is war. But these are heavy matters best discussed in a council, not in twos and threes."
Brennan enters the tent, and unless there is reason not to, seeks out Cledwyn and Sessile and any who might be with them, introducing Rooker as necessary.
Brennan enters the tent and finds it as he left it. Cledwyn and Sessile are off to the side, Cledwyn is sketching on a new pad. "Are we ready? I am steeled to whatever it does to me."
Conner enters behind Brennan and moves to stand beside him. He gives the two men a reassuring smile and waits for Brennan to make any needed introductions.
Brennan sets an aromatic package on a table (the ground, if need be) near Cledwyn and Sessile, and unwraps it to reveal a fortifying late night meal: The last skewers and pastries of day, some wrapped sausages, some bread and cheese, and fresh skins of water to wash it down with. "Eat," he says, not unkindly. "It's been a long day." There's more than enough for Conner to share if he so desires, but Brennan seems to be-- unusually for an old campaigner-- fueling himself mostly on the anticipation of what they're going to learn shortly.
With the meal unwrapped, Brennan makes the introductions: "This is the man I told you about, Cledyn, and this is Sessile. Men, this is an old friend I had not expected to see here. Rooker is a wise man, and knowledgeable. I trust him, and once we see what we see, he'll be a party to our talks with the Maghee." Then, addressing Cledwyn's question directly: "If the Maghee are ready, we should proceed. No point in waiting. I don't know what you'll experience, but my advice is this: Pay attention to faces, especially the Admiral's mother, Syke, if you can. A sketch of Syke could be even more valuable than of the Admiral. Pay attention to the background, too, if you can. Faces of advisers, servants, whatnot. But especially Syke."
Brennan will motion the Maghee spokesman, Skogen, over and make whatever introductions are necessary.
Skogen accepts Rooker as an associate of Walker's and a magus who will observe the casting.
The potion is ready, and on a poorly-lit table in the tent, with shadows lengthening outside, they begin to cast on it. It is the same pigeon-creole of Thari and something else. The potion lights up, but that might just be an effect.
Eventually, they bring the container to Cledwyn, who smiles, and has a sip.
Cledwyn turns and looks at Brennan. "Captain Mondieu, so good to see you again. Have you considered my offer? I can get your patron the best price in Northport for his goods." He turns to Conner. "A mug of water, if you please. I don't recall being this parched." He pantomimes drinking and then his arm falls to his side. "Admiral, what are my orders?"
Sessile is writing down Cledwyn's words.
Cledwyn pauses, and prepares to drink again.
Brennan turns to look at Conner with an expression of mild non-plussery-- this was not exactly what he had expected-- before turning back to Cledwyn.
"No orders until you debrief," Brennan says. "From when last we met, tell me where you have gone, who you have seen, what you have said and done to carry out my orders."
Conner shares Brennan's look of confusion and awaits Cledwyn's answer.
Cledwyn looks at Brennan, then Skogen. "If I take the next sip, will I do what he says?"
Skogen looks Cledwyn and shakes his head. "It doesn't work like that. If it did it wouldn't be effective as a memory restorative." He turns to Brennan and Conner. "As he drinks the potion, he will regain memories. The replay is new to us, but this is the first time we have magicked thus with memories."
Cledwyn is unsure what to do next. “Sir Walker, should I try to remember more of that meeting, and tell it to Sessile, or should I take the next draught and hopefully free up more of what I saw?"
Brennan scratches the three day growth of scruff masquerading as a beard, thinking. This is enough outside his own personal experience that letting it leak through into Walker's expression is more than appropriate.
"I don't understand the choice, then," he admits at last. "He can try to remember what he saw before or after taking another draught, but what is the draught's effect? Why would he not simply quaff it all?
"Or let me approach from a different direction," Brennan continues. "Based on what I've already seen, I have a very strong suspicion about another player in this so-called Admiral's power structure. I don't want to be too leading or direct about it, because I don't want to fool myself and especially because I want to convince this council. Conversely, if I'm wrong, I don't want to be too limiting. But I was trying to guide his recollection into a situation where this person might be-- is there a way that can happen, or is that futile?"
Skogen looks at the glass and at Cledwyn. "The first bit didn't seem to hurt him. Even if you were to guide his recollection, how would you know if you had merely steered or if you had created something that was not there?
"I think it would be safe to take the rest, regardless. He might pass out, but he might do that with a smaller draught as well. We are all seeing this for the first time."
Cledwyn says "I think I can take the rest in. Let's not debate this incessantly." It's unclear if he's talking about the memories or the potion. He lifts the goblet and drains it. Sessile catches him as he slumps over, unconscious.
[OOC: Time passes however you wish it to pass...]
Brennan has the common decency to make sure he is made comfortable and his condition monitored if he does not show immediate signs of rousing. But once he does....
Cledwyn looks up. "Never relive your past, my friends. You'll see where you were stupid, and you can't change it. I should've suspected you much earlier, Sir Walker." He sits up and asks for water, which Sessile gives him.
"Thank you. Now, what can I tell you about my time working for the Admiral and his witch?"
"You may not be entirely accountable for your own mind or actions," Brennan says. "The rest of us have no such excuse, beyond that we thought we were doing the right thing at the time." If he sounds just a touch bitter about this, let it be said later that he has reasons and reasons.
"Let's concentrate on the witch herself, then-- did you ever meet separately from the Admiral, or vice-versa, or were they always together? Who seemed to be in charge? And do, please, sketch while you tell us. An image of the witch is imperative." Brennan adds.
"They were always together. She never spoke to anyone, She was very strange, as if she was not human, or perhaps as if she were not there. It was like... a different sun shone upon her, and the shadows around her did not match the light in the room. She never seemed to notice the wind, or the cold, or the spray.
"We did not speak much of it, but most considered her Fey."
He picks up his sketch book and starts drawing.
"But, as with the Admiral, I am not sure how much 'is' and how much is 'as I was shown'."
Cledwyn frowns. "I cannot seem to draw her. I recall her, but every line I draw seems wrong." He shows the drawing, and it could be any woman, "This isn't what she looked like. Or maybe it is." He tries again. "This is better, but not much."
It might be Moire.
Conner hums. "A woman not quite there in a world of her own. That has implications I mislike." Conner sighs. Conner opens his Third Eye and takes a look around the room focusing on Cledwyn to see if taking this potion is doing anything but jogging his memory.
"And yet," Brennan says with a scowl, "it makes sense."
Brennan doesn't open his own Third Eye, because he trusts to Conner's skill in this matter, but once Conner does that, he says to Cledwyn, "I'm going to ask a few questions, and they all have short answers, probably one word answers. Don't think about them, just answer as quickly as you can. Ready?"
"What color was her hair?"
"What color were her eyes?"
"What was her complexion?"
"Was she wearing jewelery?" And if yes, "Describe it."
Aside from the actual answers, Brennan wants to give Conner a chance to see what happens as his memory is being exercised.
He thinks very hard. Conner's use of the Third eye doesn't reveal any spells or interference with Cledwyn. He's clearly been influenced by Chaos in the past, but his natural order is reaffirming itself.
"Blue, topaz, white as parchment." Are his answers.
"Now that I think on it, I think she may really have been not there. I'm not sure I spoke to her, or that I recalled seeing her until now. Like a ghost, or phantom. Or an echo or some past event.
He slumps down. "I don't know. It's like someone kicked my head and it's just settling down."
"She probably wasn't," Brennan says, in distinct irritation. "Think of her as a reflection, if it helps."
Then he motions Conner aside for as private a conversation as they can reasonably have by moving off to the side and keeping their voice down.
"It's her," Brennan says, "and that visual effect is probably just a result of her being somewhere else and projecting, I assume with a mirror somehow. But I don't think we're proving it. Unless we want to just put our cards down on the table and hope he recognizes her enough to pick her out of the line-up and that that's convincing to the Maghee, now is the time for crazy ideas. Got any? I do, but it's not just crazy, it's crazy, dangerous, and borderline stupid."
"Well it wouldn't even be the third time I've gone along with such a plan in your company." Conner smiles. "As it is, I am not as convinced as you about the witch's identity. A pale skinned woman floating as though not there evokes another Queen to me. What is your idea?"
"Well, if that's the case," and Brennan doesn't assert that it isn't, "then we're all screwed. But blue would be a more obvious choice of hair color disguise for our quarry-- tantamount to one of us wearing brown hair dye in Rebma. But be that as it may-- proceeding on the idea that it's her-- I'm sure it was done with a mirror. Mirrors have a certain symmetry: What one mirror changes, another restores, unless specially designed. My thought was to set him in front of a mirror and make the drawing by looking at its mirror image. I even still have the one Celina sent me with... carefully wrapped in layers of black felt and stored in a pair of reversed pouches.
"Disadvantages: It's a thin theory. If it doesn't work, we look foolish. Opens us up to surveillance. Could literally explode and put Cledwyn's eyes out or even kill him. Advantage: It... might work. I'm talking myself out of it as we speak, and hoping you've got a better idea. Because as ideas go, that one isn't great," Brennan says. "I would just really like to get everyone in this tent on the same page, and maybe even drop the covert identity while we're at it." His frustration is visible. Then he pauses. "Wait, what was the third time?"
"Exploring the caverns beneath Kolvir." Conner replies. "Not on the same scale as the others but on the list never the less." Conner smirks.
Brennan thinks that over and reluctantly concedes the count.
"Well, if you are willing to drop the secret identity then my idea is quite straight forward. Use Cledwyn as a guide and the Eye as a focus and scry into the past to see this witch for ourselves."
Brennan starts to object, then stops and makes himself consider the idea fully. "The reason I wanted to convince and then reveal identities in that order, is that I don't want them thinking we tricked them, per se. I figured if they managed the heavy lifting themselves, they would have fewer grounds to doubt. And also I'm not really sure what kinds of questions they'd end up asking about uncles and cousins and all that... although we'll have to face that event sooner or later." He blows a long, slow breath out through puffed cheeks. "But I do have a tendency to stick to the plan long after the plan should have changed. Maybe a compromise? Ask the Maghee for the member of their council most renowned for their honesty-- maybe you can phrase that better than I did so I'm not accusing all the rest of being dishonorable-- swear him to temporary secrecy and ask his advice? Ask if he thinks the rest would buy it? Sort of like hiring a lawyer from their side, I guess.
"Or am I still over-thinking it?" Brennan asks.
"If your objective is to win the Maghee to your side, then I will use every power of persuasion I have to convince them based on the evidence their magic has uncovered that the witch is Moire and must be stopped. If your objective is to positively identify the witch, then we perform the sorcery and worry about the Maghee's reaction afterward. If both are absolutely required, then I suggest we do the first now, and the second later on in more private surroundings."
"Both," Brennan says. "I'm convinced, but if you're not then it's reasonable that they won't be, either. The order seems right, though, first convince and then dig deeper if necessary, if they seem receptive. And I have certain... outlines of a plan," he smiles faintly, "for the Maghee when this is all over. Let's just say my personal interpretation of the King-Present in that last fortune spread is a bit more auspicious. None of which needs be said today. But my point is, I really want to convince them and lay the groundwork for a long and fruitful relationship, which means honesty over deception. If that means admitting we can't clinch the case today, so be it."
He nods, almost to himself, decisively. "No more over-thinking it. Let's do it."
"Then make your play. I'll back you how I can." Conner nods.
Brennan looks as though he's having some disgruntled second thoughts about all this, but is good to his word. He scrubs a hand through his hair, composes his face, turns, and motions Skogen over to join them.
"This," he says without pre-amble, "Is not turning out as I had planned. Clearly, there is some additional glamour on the Admiral's witch, beyond that on the Admiral himself. What we've already learned about the Admiral is invaluable, and I'm sure there is more we can learn from Cledwyn on an operational level, and you have my gratitude. But I've failed in my larger goal, to convince you of her identity." He reaches into a pouch-- not the Trump pack-- and withdraws several sketches. "Allow me to ask two questions, more leading than I would prefer to ask: Do you recognize any of these women? And what do you know of realms called Amber, and Rebma, and Tir-na Nog'th?"
The sketches are Folly's non-trump sketches of Moins, Moire and Dara. Then Brennan gives Conner an in-for-a-penny glance and adds the sketches of Rilsa and Loreena that Conner provided.
They don't recognize Dara, but the last-but-one Royal family of Rebma is known to them. And Moins through their legends. They call her Dido.
Amber is one of the three hundred hells: the hell of stasis. It is a trap for the unwary, and the Sorcerer King used to reside there. Rebma is the Hell of Reflection and is hard to escape. They have not heard of Tir-na Nog, but it may be one of the three hundred hells that they just don't know the name of.
Brennan gives Conner a glance when they recognize Rilsa. That is unexpected, at least to Brennan... although maybe not for any good reason.
OOC: Can the GMs confirm it is Rilsa they recognize? The poetic language left me unsure.
Oh, yes. She is a Princess of the Hell of Reflections. She and her kin can sometimes be seen in mirrors, but only if you do not look at them.
They were the ones who trapped the water-dragon of Aramara in a circle of mirrors.
"Having been there with my own feet," Brennan says, "I can say that Amber is not what she once was, and if she is still a hell, she can no longer be the Hell of Stasis by definition."
They nod, in the way that someone nods when an outlander misunderstands the intricacies of native religion.
"And you should never go to the Dreaming Hell," he says. "It is one of the most perilous places in existence."
"We shall take thy word for it. There is no hell that is easy for travellers to leave, and few that are easy to enter. That is only sometimes comforting."
They are also glad that the demons of the three-hundred hells are always fighting amongst each other. They could be very powerful if they fought with rather than against each other.
As far as their knowledge and recognition go, he adds, "I thought you might. I inherited some of Cameleopardis' books, so I have at least a little understanding of Rebma's place in your history." By his inflection it is clear that Brennan does not consider himself an expert by any means. "May I ask how you know the members of the Royal Court? Or perhaps I should say, do you know of them, or do you know them?"
Conner waits for the Maghee to answer.
"The doings of the other worlds, their wars and politics are of keen interest to us, as it affects our world. The Hell of Battles is close enough to almost be of this world, and our people were those who threw down the sorcerer-king. Even the Black Road was a result of the wars of the Hells.
"We know of the First, Second, and Third Queen of Rebma, and of the children thereof. We know of the treachery of the Prince of Cards and his brother who took his punishment, but was saved by a Princess who fell in love with him. She was to give the Hell of Reflections daughters, but chose to give the Hell of Stasis more sons.
"They are not personally known to us. We don't refuse to consort with demons, but we generally let them overlook us."
Brennan hesitates, torn between his natural inclination to follow up those mythological points and his more pressing need of striking this alliance, or at least preparing the ground for it.
The latter wins out, at least for now: "Your intelligence is admirably recent," he says. After all, one man's family gossip is another man's vital intelligence. "Is there contact between your peoples? Let's make we're all talking about the same things: First, the Dido, although we know of her by a different name. Second, Moire," he holds up the Moins and Moire pictures at the appropriate times. "Third?"
Selena, the sky-queen. The songs of her battles to conquer and then defend the Hell of Reflections from her traitorous mother and uncle are new and still evolving, as we learn of her strategies and how she won such a two-front war. No one knows who her duplicitous uncle was in league with, yet all assume it was someone. There are still verses to be written in that song.
This is Benedict's shadow. All wars and battles are made into folksongs so that the people can discuss different strategies and tactics in rhyme.
Brennan heroically resists the temptation to introduce these fine folk to the poetic stylings of the Uxmali Serpent Chants. Mainly because he doesn't want to have to explain it to Benedict, later.
Conner is already composing several verses about himself. The hard part will be fitting "magishark" into a rhyme scheme.
"Well," he says. "why don't you go ahead and read that letter, now?"
Brennan expects that Skogen will have questions, but he allows him to ask them on his own.
Conner continues to drink in the scene.
Skogen reads the letter aloud, and soon has the attention of every one of the masked individuals. They've risen to their feet, and Ramjollock pulls a small square frame from inside his clothes and looks through it at the letter.
There are, to put it mildly, agitated. Skogen and Ramjollock alone maintain their calm. "Walker of Afalon, tells us, please what you know of Camelopardis Findanus, our King," says Skogen.
"He did die, shortly after dictating that letter," Brennan says. "Though I knew him a short time only, I believe I would have come to call him a friend. I regret his death, for which I feel responsible."
Brennan takes a heavy breath, and continues, telling of their brief encounter. "He was a wizard in the forces of the corsairs at the recent battle of Montparnasse, which Cameleopardis called Ynys Meithryn. We captured him in battle and on questioning him it became obvious to me that whoever he was, he was not himself. He told a tale of leading an expedition to the remnants of Maghdeburg under the waves. After some adventures, he reached as far as the ruins of the Silver Towers and entered them, and in the throne room he experienced..." Brennan hesistates, shrugs, and says "...what I believe were a sequence of separate visions: One, of the Sorceror-King fighting the Protector in single combat; a second, of another similar battle in front of a woman on throne, who remained after they vanished. She enlisted his aid against the Sorceror-King and bade him sleep, which he did. A third-- possibly a third-- on his awakening, meeting another woman who claimed to be a Priestess of Lir who bade him lead her fleets.
"This is where it became obvious, even to Cameleopardis, that his mind had been played, for he could not identify this second woman. He consented for the Princess Balen to break the geas, which freed his mind from her limitations. He identified this woman as that second woman, the priestess," he holds up Moire's card for emphasis. "He was also freed from whatever spell of binding was on him to keep the weight of centuries from him. He aged, rapidly, and died after dictating that letter and asking that I deliver it. I took his torc, which I return to his people. I also have his book of scripture, which I wish to keep as it is of personal value to me now."
Conner can tell that Brennan is, unusually for him, genuinely stricken at Cameleopardis' death.
"The battle ended with Montparnasse's victory. Their commander, an Admiral named Jellicoe, was released and is likely compromised as Cledwyn was. I opted to track down Cledwyn on a hunch, before delivering Cameleopardis' letter. Cledwyn knew some of this story, but not the woman's identity. He knew of Cameleopardis' death by rapid old age. Howsoever this night falls out, his courage in facing the same should be celebrated."
Skogen, it turns out, is holding the torc. "So, at long last, not only do we have proof, but the torc is returned. The prophecy fulfills itself. Walker, you have earned a place in the annals of the McGhee forever."
Skogen lifts the torc to his eye level. "By means magical and knowledge of the great history of the Sons of the Ghee, I call upon the land and the King to be bound by the torc of Ghee Mac Alpin, returned to us after centuries."
He drops to his knee and offers the torc to Ramjollock. A murmur moves through the gathered Council. Skogen does not stir at this disturbance, however, and remains as still as a statue, not even seeming to breathe.
Slowly Ramjollock reaches forward and removes the torc from his hands. His whisper carries through the tent.
"Thank you," he says. He places the torc around his neck, and says to the gathered council "I accept your allegiance, my councillors. You may unmask, we have no need of that now."
He turns to Walker and Rooker and seems—- taller, or perhaps more serious, different in any case. "I had never expected this to happen, but I am by right the Ard-Righ. We have heard the word of Camelopardis Findanus, and I will call the Alpinine clans to war with the Corsairs of the Gogledd-Orllewinol and the Rebman Queen.
"Please, keep his book, but allow our historians to study before you go. We have lost much from his time."
Brennan nods agreement, without hesitation.
"And I would dearly like to have you tell us with whom we are allied by going to war against the Queen of Rebma."
Brennan gives Conner a look-- this has gone altogether better than he had expected.
He also looks around the room, at each of the unmasked and unmasking faces-- this had actually been the next point on his agenda. "Faces for a name, truth for truth. This is just, though it will not leave this tent for now. My name is Brennan, the son of Brand, the son of Oberon King of Amber, the Hell-of-Stasis no longer." Brennan had long since ceased trying to have the Shadows lie for him; now, for the hour, he actively thrusts them away. "We have much to discuss."
"I am Conner, son of Fiona, Daughter of Oberon, King of Amber, the Hell-of Stasis no longer." Conner announces formally. "However, I have another title and something I wish to make clear. The Queen of Rebma that we go to war against has lost that title through desertion and duplicity. I serve Celina the Sky Queen as her Knight Defender and assure you that the Hell of Reflection is not your enemy so long as She rules there."
Ramjollock nods. "I was right to assume you were more than you seemed. I am still Ramjollock Mac Ghee Mac Alpine, by these proofs ‘Ri' of the seven royal clans. Two of the three Great Prophecies of the MaicGhee have come to pass, and the third shall prove the binding.
"I name you, the Demons Conner and Brennan, as friends of the Alpinine clans and declare your peoples our allies. Skogens for generations will sing of this day."
Brennan doesn't know whether to be touched, or hurt.
He turns to the Council. "Prepare a song for the people. And commandeer for me the fastest ship in Methryn's harbor. We will sail for Magdeburgh on the tide."
"Let's find out what cards are in our hands, before we start playing them," Brennan says. "One of those cards is secrecy and ambiguity. Until this day, the biggest asset I've had has been stealth: no large movements of warbands, no public declarations or banners raising, nothing has happened against her that could not be explained by bad luck and the fortunes of war." He glances over at Cledwyn, obviously referencing his part in the failed plot against Montparnasse, and gesturing that he and Sessile should join the council. "The worst card against us is that we know Moire's ultimate objective, but not the exact method, although Sir Conner and I have strong conjectures. I propose we finish exploring Cledwyn's new memories.
"And speaking of cards in our hands," he adds, "Does our knowing these three Great Prophecies render them invalid?"
The Righ holds up his hand and his servants stop. "We can wait a moment, but we are pressed for time. We wish to be the first to return when Magdeburgh rises from the sea, which is the third and binding sign.
"Skogen, tell my demon friends the prophecy."
The oldest man present puts back on his mask. "Three are the signs of the Union of the Tribes: The King, The Sorcerer, The Silver Towers. Three are the changes that precede the End Times: A Death, A Return from Death, An Uplifting. Three are the consequences of the Rebirth: A new King, A New Sorcerer, A New Land."
Ramjollock smiles. "Clear as mud, is it not? I am sure you can see why we do not wish to be second to return to our Silver Towers."
Conner once more shares a look with Brennan. "Well we certainly wouldn't want to miss that if it were to happen, would we?"
"Yes," Brennan says after a beat. "Quite."
Brennan looks like he wants to press the point about those prophecies, but he lets it go for later.
"I might suggest that the vessel be chartered covertly, though-- no need to alert anyone else and turn it into a race," Brennan says. "And be that as essential as it may, I'll point out that we lack at least two pieces of information we need to prosecute a war against Moire: Her location and her invasion route or routes. If all this effort," he gestures inclusion of everyone and everything present, "had gone up in flames, my option of last recourse was to let myself be captured by her forces. That's still on the table, I suppose. But we still also have Cledwyn's knowledge to explore and exploit. What other means are on the table? And Cledwyn and Sessile, where do you stand now in all this?"
Cledwyn frowns. "If a new island is rising in the Western Ocean, or an old one is returning, all the plans of all the admirals are for naught."
Sessile nods. "I'd almost wish to stay ashore in the shadow, as it were, of an island, and head out after the tidal wave follows the rising."
Ramjollock looks unsure. "If word of the Torc and the prophecy is out, then all will know soon enough. We can plan as we sail, friend demons." He smiles. "There are enough weather eyes in the clan to make sure the trip is swift.
"And should I not be assured of success in any case, with two such fine magical demons on my side?”
"That ship will either be at ground zero or in the eyes of the storm." Conner comments. "I think I will be on it either way."
Brennan scowls. "Okay, someone show us on a map where Maghdeburg is expected to rise. And if possible what the land looked like before it sank?" Preferably they will have maps of their own showing at least Avalon, Methryn's Isle, and the coastal area where the entry to the Great Road comes out, if not farther. If they don't, Brennan will blatantly conjure one. "And help me out, since I've never heard of any of these propechies before-- where are we in that matrix right now? The End Times? The Rebirth?"
Maps are produced, and the location of Maghdeburg is debated. It is either just north of Avalon, and so close that a man could swim to it during low tide, or else it is further away. It commands the northern approaches to Avalon in the same way Methryn's commands the southern approaches to Avalon.
An army of the northern sea would definitely need to re-plan a southerly invasion with Magdeland (or whatever they call the island) being where it is.
"You’ve heard as much of the words of the prophecy as anyone.” Ramjollock says with a shrug. "These times end, new times are born, or perhaps old times are reborn. We have allied with the demonspawn of Amber before."
Conner looks more closely at Ramjollock. "Really? Who have the Maghee worked with in the past?"
Brennan frowns somewhat at Ramjollock's curiously detailed interpretation of a perfectly cryptic prophecy, but-- for the moment-- keeps it to himself. He instead busies himself with one or more of the skogenate in the background, trying to verify if the original pre-fall Maghdeburg was said to be part of the mainland of (presumably) Avalon or not.
Mostly he listens to Ramjollock's answer to Conner's very good question.
Ramjollock smiles. “Why Corwin, naturally. He helped us raise the Silver Towers and it was to defeat him that we destroyed them. Have you not heard the tale? A skogen can sing you the song."
"We've heard versions of it," Brennan allows. "The endings all agree that the Silver Towers fell with the end of the Witch-King. The beginnings, though... those are different. Witch-Kings, Fair Folk, Lir at the very least. Yes, I'd be pleased to hear it, if not now then soon." Brennan makes a mental note to get one of the skogen attached to his group, if and when he and Conner part ways.
"We can, and probably should, have it sung on the ship. It would be good to remind our people of what our ancestors did, when judging the Gods."
Brennan turns his attention back to Sessile and, especially, Cledwyn. "Cledwyn, let's see what your courage has gained us: Where did you typically meet the Admiral and the War-Leader? And what jobs did they assign to you?"
Cledwyn looks up. "You realize they're going to raise a twenty-island army here, right? I want to make sure you know who we've become allies of." He sighs. "Still, the Admiral is my current enemy. We met at sea, always. I would be directed to take passage on a certain ship, and we'd meet days later. I was not the only one given such assignments. Sometimes, all I did was go back to a certain place and drop off instructions for someone else to take a ship. Only the captains knew the destinations, and I'm not sure they knew where they were going after the meetings until we returned from them."
Brennan is, indeed, uncomfortably aware that the Maghee seem to be scream-and-leap ready without giving much consideration to where they are leaping.
To Cledwyn he says, "Always at sea. That must have been one tremendous geas. Always the same part of the sea? If so, where? Generally speaking-- off which coast of what isle?" Brennan seems have an expectation in mind, but he does not yet share it.
To Ramjollock, and the assembled Maghee at large, he asks, "As far as I understand it, we do not yet even know exactly where the Silver Towers were, or where they will rise again. To where are we planning to sail, and in what force?"
Ramjollock smiles. "The Ard-Righ Camelopardis Findanus wrote it in the book you brought us. He was, after all, searching for it when he was taken. Do not be surprised that you did not note it, it was enciphered.
"The force will be those who answer our call. The Alpinine clans have all known this day would come, and I expect the Seven Sons of the MacAlpines to come, and bring their cousins. Barring supernatural influence such as your Uncle, we will cause great grief in the heart of our enemies homelands.
"Skogen, sing to Cromdale for them. Montrose was Camelopardis' grandson."
The skoggen puts on his mask, which provides a sort of manual amplification (with a bit of reverberation for effect) to the skoggen's song.
He sings of a great reversal on the heights of Cromdale, and it is a typical war-song of the period, naming the clans in battle with the Montrose. There are a lot of names, besides Maghee...
"Tritons, do you think?" Brennan asks Conner.
"Nothing would surprise me at this point." Conner shrugs. "Yet, I don't think so. I have seen only a few standards that Tritons would rally around and this does not seem like one of them."
"Not with us-- against us," Brennan says. "She was apparently not on the ships with Cledwyn physically. If she was there with Cameleopardis, then that was her last known location. I don't think I've heard tell of any Triton fights against surface vessels."
"None of the Tritons that follow the peace accords would follow Moire." Conner replies. "So she would have to find a group ignorant of current events or somehow found a way to find and ally with the Cult of the Dark Mother. I don't count either of those possibilities to be very likely, but cannot rule it out."
"If I wanted a land and a water based invasion, it's what I'd do in her position," Brennan says. "And failing that, a small force for personal protection."
"I concur. It is want one would want." Conner nods. "That doesn't mean she had the means or opportunity to arrange it. For argument's sake let's assume she has managed to acquire some Triton muscle. Are you asking in order to develop a counter strategy should they appear?"
"I am somewhere between being the counterbalance to the Maghee enthusiasm, and keeping my eye on the greater prize of countering Moire," Brennan says, scrubbing a hand through the stubble of his beard. "I don't want to be paralyzed through analysis-- Overlooking the Diamond has been dogging my heels too much since I got here for that-- but I would like to go into this clear-eyed about a few things:
"First, if their literal interpretation of the prophecy is correct and the Silver Towers are rising or already risen, yeah, I think we have to be there. But that water either has to be destroyed or it needs to go somewhere. Second, the possibility that Moire is already there, with an unknown force. I am not unmindful of the resources you bring to bear, but nor am I unmindful of her own token in that regard. Third, that land sounds to be off the coast of Avalon, or the new coast of Avalon. Of the three, parking what could be construed as an invasion fleet in the Protector's back yard is not something I'd like to do on a lark." Brennan hesitates, then adds quietly enough for Conner to hear but not anyone following their discussion, "Especially after I told him I wouldn't raise a force without permission."
He turns his attention back to Ramjollock and the assembled Skogens. "A few questions, if I may: What do the histories say of the other islands, when the Silver Towers fell-- how did they fare? What do you know of Tritons? And what is your peoples' relationship with the Protector?"
It was a calamity of great moment. Crows flew backwards, there was a year-without-a-summer, the map re-drew itself, but the Sorcerer King was evicted from the lands...
We know little of Tritons, those giants of the sea, the dragon-sons who warred of old on our enemy. We only know what we've heard, but if they'll fight against Moire, the Sons are interested.
We seek and are granted no protections. It is why our people are treated so miserably by the city-wretches of this island...
Brennan turns back to Conner, "So I hear that as, potential for tidal waves, check; potential for a large force to be viewed as an invasion, check; potential for Tritons, unresolved."
But if they meet one, they'll be flat-footed in the wrong environment.
"Sounds about right to me." Conner nods. "I think this situation calls for Bleysian tactics. When theory fails to grant you anything useful, stride boldly into the thick of things and have an escape route in your back pocket."
"'Always run toward something,'" Brennan muses, possibly quoting someone. "And people call me the reckless one."
"Of all of those, the one I dislike the most is showing up un-announced off the coasts of Avalon with a fleet. In the best of all possible circumstances, it serves to distract him from other war efforts, in which I am certain Moire has a hand. In the worst, it provokes... an incident. Perhaps a messenger direct to Avalon is in order." He produces a fresh parchment and a writing implement, and produces a short letter.
Lord Protector of Avalon,
This letter is sent in the care of one Sessile of Avalon; please excuse its brevity.
Primus: Conner has joined me here.
Secundus: I have found Cledwyn, the agent of "The Admiral," whose mind has been covered in ways similar to Jellicoe's and Cameleopardis'.
Tertius: With the help of the Maghee Skogens, we have partly broken that covering, but only partly. I now count Cledwyn an ally. Enclosed is a sketch, in Cledwyn's hand, of "the Admiral." We have not uncovered the face of the Admiral's mother.
Quartus: The Maghee are convinced that the Silver Towers are about to rise, and will sail there, possibly in force. Conner and I accompany. Knowing that this will present present a distraction you may be obliged to investigate, I send this message to inform your response.
Sessile has been a witness to these events.
Brennan does not yet seal the letter, but passes it to Conner for inspection, opinion, and possible improvement.
Llewella lets go of Robin's hand after the trump drops. She pulls a bottle out of a bucket on the floor. It's not iced, but it seems cold. She offers it to Robin.
Robin looks at it for a moment and decides to behave like an adult. "Thank you." She takes a drink.
"Your home is lovely, Aunt Llewella. And I am very, very grateful for your hospitality. I did not mean to be disrespectful. I just... really don't like being soaked. And," she adds with a rueful laugh, "am young enough and tired enough to make sure everyone knows it... my apologies."
"It's technically Celina's hospitality. She's in Paris right now, though I expect her to return soon on my Trump. She left me in charge, though, so I accept your thanks on her behalf. And I'm glad you brought the seahorse through to us, because they don't do very well on land." Llewella smiles wryly. "I do understand, though, because I always feel like my skin is sandpaper after too long ashore. Different strokes and all that."
Robin nods sympathetically, feeling desiccated in air makes sense if one is aquatic. She's just got... all her feathers weighed down right now.
"I do think you should stay until Celina returns, if only to give her all your news. I don't think it will be very long; she left for Paris by Trump and wasn't expected to stay even so long as overnight."
If she noticed anything else in the conversation that she wasn't supposed to, and she must have, Llewella is politely not noticing that she noticed it.
Robin nods again, "Of course, we will stay -- barring emergencies. After all, Queen Celina is whom I was hoping to bring them to."
Not noticing is a Ranger skill too. After all, tent walls...
"Iiiiii suppose I should get back out into the wet and reassure Sir Ophiuchus that his Liege is well." Robin decides to leave it there. 'And safe,' doesn't seem right.
Llewella nods her permission. "Go ahead. The dry rooms aren't equipped for sleeping, but I'll make sure you have access while you're here. You're not the first person to wish they were bedrooms even if most of the family doesn't admit it." She adds after a moment, "Of course I'll let you know as soon as I hear from Celina about the time and date of her return. I can always Trump Corwin if it becomes urgent. Otherwise, you and Sir Ophiuchius are free to enjoy the hospitality of the palace." She pronounces the knight's name perfectly.
"Thank you." Robin says with sincerity and a slight bow. She adds a sigh as she re-dons her wet accoutrements. With a little apologetic wave for the mud spatters and whatevers she leaves in her wake, Robin exits the dry room and traces her way back toward the balcony table. For all that it is wet, at least Rebma is easier to navigate through than Amber Castle.
Llewella politely lets her go, giving her directions back to where they left Sir Ophiuchius, which happens to be in her suite.
When Robin arrives, Sir Ophiuchius has been fed and watered in the Rebman style, with which he seems comfortable. He rises to greet her. "Well met, Sir Robin. The Princess Llewella has provided a small feast for me. Will you share it and give me whatever news you have?" he asks hopefully.
Unlike Robin, he's pretty happy to be in Rebma. It's similar enough to his native environment for comfort.
"Of course!" Robin says happily. After all, she's never been one to turn down a meal. Also, it cheers her somewhat to see Ophiuchius comfortable, given the turmoil she's brought into his life.
Robin drops into a chair with only a little bobble-float, and helps herself to whatever red meat she can find.
"I spoke to Vere. He and the others are well. He said they had a little adventure along the way, but I don't think he means the same thing as I do by 'little adventure.'" Robin says reassuringly. For herself, a 'little adventure' means flesh wounds only. For Vere, it probably means something more like 'an interesting conundrum.'
"Lady Morgne, Lady Laudine and Sir Ywain are all at Amber Castle enjoying the hospitality of the Regent there, my Uncle Caine." No editorializing, she tells herself firmly. "Prince Caine sent Vere onward to Xanadu to speak to King Random and to perform a... small adventure for him." Robin's eyes narrow briefly. That 'small adventure' has too much potential to become 'a great deal of fun' for her taste.
"It should only take a day and then Vere will be headed back to Amber and will contact us when he gets there. In the meantime, Princess Llewella has granted us guest rights here in Rebma while we wait for Queen Celina to return. It seems that her Majesty is currently in Paris closeted with King Corwin on something that I have no knowledge about. But Llewella expects her to return sometime today.
"Soooo, you and I are on our own for a while. And, unless you have any better ideas, I was thinking to go back to the stables and poke around some..." Robin shrugs casually. But there's a gleam in her eye that says 'Seahorses!'
There's not a lot of red meat since that's kind of a special treat and anyway probably not something an underwater dweller would ask for. But there is definitely more meat-textured fish or other seafood that Robin can eyeball and then eat.
Ophiuchius nods and otherwise signifies understanding--nodding not being the best gesture underwater always, depending on the currents--as Robin tells her tale. "If it pleases you to visit the stable once we've finished our repast, Sir Robin, I shall be glad to accompany you as we wait for Queen Celina." He hesitates, then asks outright, "Is this much travel between the realms usual for your family?"
"Weellll," Robin drawls as she thinks, "there didn't used to be this many realms. At least that we knew of. So historically, no. But as a Family, we're in a period of... turmoil right now. And I think that's made us band together more than usual. It's certainly proven that we need to keep in contact with and track one another better. So I think this much travel between realms is probably going to be the new normal for a while. Personally, I don't know how the King is managing it. But then, maybe that's why he's King." She finishes with a shrug.
"And yeah, stables. The other alternatives are messing with the Tritons or gallivanting around in Nedra, the local big bad forest, aaaannnnnddd I think both of those things would probably be frowned upon. Especially given my tendency toward, uh, large happenings. So I was thinking the stables would be safe. Unless you want to go shopping or visit a gallery or something..." Robin's brows furrow at that.
"I would not make trouble for my hosts, or for you, Sir Robin. If you prefer the stables, the stables it shall be. Besides," he adds with a wry smile, "I have no money to shop in the market, nor any idea what I shall need until I reunite with my lady. And I would be neither further in your debt nor in the debt of Rebma." He gestures to her to lead the way when she is ready, unless she wishes to say more.
So she does, with an odd bobble as she discovers how not to skip underwater.
Once at the stables, Robin is all eyes, but careful with her hands and presence around new critters. She definitely takes time out to see how Eckford is doing, but suspects that Ophiuchius will probably have more to say and do with his old friend than she. Other than that, she is mostly just curiosity personified - and not just about the seahorses. Are there the equivalent of 'barn cats' there? Rats? Flies or wasps? The ecology of an underwater is as interesting to her as the magnificent creatures themselves. And if anyone offers to tour-guide or answers questions, Robin will pepper them.
There are young stable-hands, which is to say young Rebmans, of both sexes (though it's easy to see that the girls are more serious about the managerial aspects of stabling and the boys are mostly grunt labor) who handle the various steeds and care for them. When Robin's interest becomes apparent, they send for a more senior groom; she discusses the various creatures of the stable, shows Robin what the various steeds eat (not all of them are herbivores), and even lets her help with some of the mounts if desired, all while Ophiuchius tends to Eckford.
After some time has passed, a page brings the news to Robin that Queen Celina has returned and her presence is requested at the castle to meet with Celina and Llewella. (Sir Ophiuchius is not invited, though he may get an escort back to his rooms if he'd like one.)
Robin looks down from the 'rafter' she was perched on to examine the nest of small fish that form a key element in the parasite removal portion of the stable management. At the news, Robin jumps off the rafter and then remembers that she has to swim to get the ground. Ah well.
Nodding her thanks to the page, Robin makes sure that Sir Ophiuchius is good with everything. And then stops in her tracks; Rebma, a formal court, stable detritus... With a rueful smile, she asks the page if they can swing by a cleaning-up place on the way to the Queen.
And off she goes.
Celina reluctantly bids goodbye to friendly faces in Paris. She must return where she is needed most, then she is concentrating on the Trump portrait of Llewella.
"A bit longer than I expected," says Celina to the image as it fills her senses. "When you are ready, I'm returning."
"I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to call Corwin to come get you."
Llewella brings Celina through into one of the working chambers of the castle. Once Celina has had a chance to catch her breath and readjust to the waters, she reports on all that has happened since Celina left. "And last but not least," she finishes after describing the mundane business of Rebma, "Robin has arrived with a foreign knight called Ophiuchius, who has a seahorse named Eckford. She and Vere were travelling together but were separated. He's in Xanadu now, and we've contacted him to make sure everyone else is well; they are.
"But the story is strange and you probably want to hear it yourself."
"Yes," Celina agreed easily. "I am all about the strange. Let's hear the tale in detail." And she follows her aunt through the winding palace to greet Lady Robin.
Along the way, Celina shares the news from Paris, and the notion that Moire may be nearby Paris in Avalon.
"That could be bad, if she has a route into the city. Do you have specific plans already prepared against her, or are you asking for my advice?" Llewella is forthright in her question.
"I'm more concerned about her sneaking back than fighting her way back. My plan so far is that she does not get into the city unawares to our troops, and rally opposition from within. As such we have rearranged guard rotations, provided two watch officers to all the outer posts, and have both tritons and guard watching the path to Paris. I'm not aware of the path from Avalon to here, but it may go through the Kelp?" Celina adds, "Of course I would like your advice, as long as it is not killing her."
Celina follows Llewella up levels and realizes they are going to use the circular Blue Forest Tower Room. The ceiling has five lenses that bring sunlight down from the surface of the sea. The paper thin white jade clouds above the doorways move slowly on a clockwork track. The trees carved into the walls cast interesting shadows. All in all, a room Rebmans find disconcerting and a trifle warm on some days.
"I don't want to kill her; I just want to keep her from making things worse," Llewella replies, sounding perhaps less bothered than she ought to about the prospect of sororicide. But she is, after all, an Amberite on her father's side. "We believe the Faiella-Bionin extends through Down Town, where the Tritons are, and if she comes back via that route with any token that would command the Tritons while Conner is absent with the Paxblade, it could be very bad. So we need to plan some sort of defense around that."
They arrive at the Blue Forest Tower Room, where Robin should be waiting, or will soon arrive, depending on how quickly the page sent to summon her has moved.
Celina thinks for a moment, as they wait for Robin to arrive, "We could clear Down Town of the Tritons. The Hierophant would help us make it orderly. We could actually start a new neighborhood on the outskirts of the Nedra side of the city. Better infrastructure would not be a bad thing. Eventually, Huon could remake the Down Town section over the years." She looks at her aunt to see what she makes of such a project. "Which strangely reminds me I want to ask you what you think of mirror prophecy. Apparently Moire foresaw I was to die on returning to the city."
A quiet hiccup comes from the doorway where a surprised (and somewhat bewildered) page is standing beside a clean and presentable Robin, complete with three clean and presentable firelizards. While Robin is still very much a child of the wilds and was probably doing something very dirty a moment ago, now her hair floats in straight wisps in the Rebman currents, still twined through its various ornaments of beads, bones, feathers and sticks. Her trail attire and gear is straightened and clean, though comfortable through long and hard use.
Robin's gamine face is in formal presentation mode but her eyes are laughing and lively as they take in the Blue Forest Tower Room with obvious delight.
"Your Majesty." Robin bows. "Your highness." A head bow for Llewella. After that, Robin doesn't know what to do, so she waits for the court to tell her. Just like Castor taught her.
Llewella smiles at Robin by way of friendly greeting but leaves Celina, who is the Queen, to welcome Robin.
"Welcome to our shores, Robin. We understand you have a mystery tale to share. I hope that Vere has word you are well? Please make yourself at ease."
"Thank you, Majesty." Another small bow. "We are honored by and grateful for Rebma's welcome." Robin's 'we' includes the firelizards.
Robin steps into the room and lets her posture fall into something more natural, a kind of distracted-looking fidgeting that belies an active awareness of one's space.
"Yes, Princess Llewella was kind enough to facilitate a Trump contact with King Random. Vere was in his company so we..." blush "talked. He is well also and conveys his regards."
Robin hesitates. "My tale is rather long and involved, Majesty. Did you want the short version or the long trail?"
"I do not get to have adventures, Robin," Celina grins, "perhaps you can indulge me with the most interesting version."
Several expressions dart across Robin's face at that declaration. First skepticism, followed by sympathy, quick doubt is chased away with understanding as Robin draws herself into her best story telling mode. But a quick aside is indulged in first.
With an artful glance over to Llewella, Robin leans toward Celina and murmurs, "If you're ever in desperate need of adventure, Cousin, just call. And we'll go for a walk together. Even on a short walk in a safe place, something will get... adventurous if you are in my company.” Robin shrugs. It's her destiny. Or maybe her calling. Whichever.
"Aaannyway," she drawls, settling herself into story-telling mode, "I was off walking in the Deep Woods that border Arden, attracting trouble to keep it from disturbing my Father's war, when I came across two ancient guardposts. The first was called the Fountain of Bareton... or maybe Merlin's Font, maybe both." She shrugs, folk can name things whatever they want. "It was guarded by the remaining folk of a stronghold called Trécesson. There were only two of said folk left there, Lady Laudine of Lothian and her husband-by-contest, Sir Ywain. Sir Ywain was magically compelled to challenge whomever disturbed the Font, which is how we met." Robin smiles ironically, she's disturbing all right.
"The three of us had a pleasant dinner, wherein they mentioned that they were the last remainders on an ancient front between themselves and Lady Vivianne of the Fae at the Crystal Castle. Whom I gather had left after the birth of her son, Merlin. But that they were bound to their post by an ancient oath and a duty to protect the Ordered Realms of Avalon and Amber from the Fae. However, the Fae had not been particularly frisky for a long, long time.
"I'm not one for cages of any sort. So I decided to stick my hand in.
"While Sir Ywain was very reluctant to get anyone else caught in their trap, Lady Laudine suggested I might try talking to her counterpart under the Lake, Lady Morgne. So the next morning, I set off to get myself wet."
Celina asks a small question, "So these folk were not Fae, but very long lived?"
Robin tilts her head, her eyes unfocused, as she considers. "I didn't ask. I remember Lady Morgne -- the guardian of the Lake -- saying that Laudine and her kin were mortal so that the length of time bore down differently upon them then on herself... I don't think either side was expecting the eons and millennia to roll past them like that. Though the Fae were more at ease with it." She shakes her gaze back to Celina with a smile.
Llewella has heard this story before so she's just listening and letting Celina ask questions.
Celina gestures for Robin to continue.
Robin nods and carries on. "Getting wet involved a forest trail leading down into the Lake. I was warned to stay on the path once down in the water. That seemed reasonable." Robin shrugs. "The water was breathable like here but more... wild, as though we were higher in the mountains.
"After a number of switchbacks I came to another Fountain, this one of bubbles, called Merlin's Font as well..." Robin stops. "One of them was also named Methrin's Font to me, but I can't remember which one now.
"Anyway, I was disturbing and so I met Sir Ophiuchius. He was... well, don't get me wrong, Ywain is a great guy but he's more the rough and tumble type. Ophiuchius is a gentleman with a good head on his shoulders and willing to use it. He was under the same kind of compulsion to deal with disturbers as Ywain but we worked it out and went back to meet his Liege Lady, Lady Morgne."
"Their place, which I didn't catch the name of, was really nice and it was mentioned to me that Lady Morgne painted. But the ancestors she had painted weren't all human." Robin shrugs off-handedly, human, whatever.
"They were eager of news from the outside since their old court was gone and they couldn't get word to the Summerlands. I did fill them in somewhat, just as I had Lady Laudine and Sir Ywain. But my viewpoints..." Robin shrugs again.
"Lady Morgne was more informative than Lady Laudine because she didn't have to dance around Sir Ywain's feelings. She mentioned that King Mark and her grandmother the Queen had been warring off and on for forever, so her sister Basina came up with a sorcery to keep the two kingdoms apart enough to end that, but still hold the borders against other rambunctious types like the dragon-blooded forest children or the riders of the moon, or even worse -- the Queen of Air and Darkness.
"That sorcery involved blood oaths and compulsions for Lady Morgne and her champion as well as for Lady Laudine and her champion, the Fonts and probably some other stuff I wasn't picking up on. But what it did was create a knot.. in Shadow..." Robin pauses as she reaches for words. This is the third time she's told this story -- today! -- and she's still having trouble explaining her senses and perceptions in words.
"So the edges of two different shadow flavors were bound in a... hold that either would find unlikely to break alone," Celina raises an eyebrow in question.
"That's what I thought at first, too." Robin says. Her eyes drift a little as she struggles for a metaphor, before settling on the two very fashionable ladies in front of her. And she smiles.
"But it was more like a scarf." She frames out a flat horizontal area with her hands. "One Shadow with contentious people constantly marching across it to war on one another." Robin's fingers walk back and forth across the demonstrated area.
"What Basina’s working did was draw up the center of the Shadow," Robin demonstrates by reaching into the center of her imagined scarf, pinching it and pulling it slowly upward, "and tie it around itself." Robin's hands demonstrate a simple 'granny' knot. "Now, the contentious peoples on the edges of the Shadow can't reach one another to get frisky." She wiggles her fingers at the edges of the imagined space.
"I'm no sorcerer so I don't know how the Fonts, Oaths, compulsions and binding went into it. But the basic Shadow architecture was... pretty neat." She finishes with an excited and admiring grin.
"Oh," Celina nods, "the shadow was of a piece and the conflict within its boundaries. I understand now. Please go on."
Robin continues to relate her experiences and the violent but successful outcome.
Celina has less cause to interrupt, as Robin makes a vivid story of the freeing of the shadow knot and the loyal defenders. By the time Robin's narration is done, there are no further questions and when Robin asks to be excused to catch up some rest, Celina readily agrees and thanks Robin for the news.
Celina reviews it all again in her mind while she refreshes her drink and gets some finger food. She looks at Llewella, "This may not relate directly to Rebma, but it may be a gift to us. Such steadfast sacrifice in the cause of Order should be rewarded I think. What position might we offer to the Lady Morgne? And tell me what you find most fascinating about this adventure?"
"I don't know what I make of Robin's story yet other than it's another loosing of things Dad either bound or left bound for some reason. But I agree, I think we should do something for Lady Morgne. My concern is that it be done carefully so that we don't disrupt the networks of power and patronage too thoroughly. For her man, a position in one of the guard regiments, of course. For her--once we've met her and decided whether we can trust her or not, one of my thoughts was that we could set her to watching Huon for you." Llewella arches her eyebrows to see what Celina thinks of that option.
"Hmmmm." Celina eyes her Aunt for a bit. "What I think is that Huon is being watched by you and several others. But the idea has some merit. We talk to her. We get a feel for the situation. We offer her a position as reward for centuries of service to Order. Then we ask her to Evaluate Huon and his potentials. At the same time, we ask Huon to Evaluate her, since she is coming in from the cold waters. I'd eventually like to trust Huon more. Then we have a lot of things to talk about.
"The initial reward, Dame of Oaths, a position that gives her jurisdiction over Huon and other Loyal Networks we might arrange. We can let the Families learn about her as she learns about them. She probably knows some magic that might work here."
"Almost certainly. Possibly magic that your mother had suppressed," Llewella agrees. "Having the advantage of someone else who might have information about the ancient of days in Rebma and Amber is an advantage we should use. I like the title you propose, and the purpose. The more eyes we have on Huon, and frankly, on her, the better. I'll speak to Sir Ophiuchius and make the arrangements with whichever of my brothers I need to to facilitate her arrival, if that suits Your Majesty?"
"Yes, it suits very well," Celina nods once. "Let's welcome her privately but then arrange a courtly social event as a venue to welcome her to the city--- if she agrees to our wishes. She may prefer a quiet retirement from any duty to court."
Celina pauses and then goes on, "Who may we show our favor to by putting them in charge of such a sponsored social occasion? I know my Mother's Court has not been interested in gracious events. Is there an interesting Family we might pull closer to the throne? Not a shell, someone overlooked by Moire."
Llewella's answer is easy. "Perhaps one of the families who sent sons to serve with the Children of Lir, and whose men remained true to their oaths. We have those names from Vere, I think, and one of those families, or a consortium of them, could put on the event and benefit from the Royal favor. Loyalty should be rewarded, don't you think?"
Celina nods, "I like that. A consortium of three such families, based on seniority of founding, would be wonderful. Let's do that."
And the Queen adds, "We should do more social events. And art showings and music." She waits to see if Llewella offers something on the slight change in direction.
Llewella gives Celina a considered look. "Architecture first, I think. For proof of interest in the rebuilding of the city. Public art, like sculptures, can be a part of that. And the music can spring from it as well: celebratory music for the reconstruction, if you wish to sponsor compositions. I presume you want to impress the citizens with your care, and your power at the same time."
"Actually, I want them to feel cherished," Celina responds. "Architecture can certainly be our first focus."
"Cherished. What an interesting word." Llewella smiles, and it's clearly not meant condescendingly, because she adds, "A very different approach to the city than your mother's, to be certain. I'll draw up a plan for it. Do you think we should send Ophiuchius to meet Huon, to evaluate him now? I can arrange for that as well."
Celina puts herself in Robin's position. Gone to get some needed rest after heroic labors and missing her new friend when she returns. Celina raises a hand, "Let's invite Ophiuchius to school our pages on the proper diplomacy to receive Morgne, poetry and all, and when Robin returns, we can invite them both to visit Huon. Huon won't be bothered by it, but Robin does not think much of him and yet she is fair. I'd like to pay the respect to Huon of spreading word of his good behaviour back to Xanadu. Robin may also see something we don't."
"Consider it done." Llewella bows and makes ready to do as Celina has asked, unless the Queen has other questions or commands for her.
When Robin has awakened from her rest, there is a summons from Llewella for her. It is not clear from the summons whether Celina will be in attendance. She has the opportunity to put herself right and send any necessary messages before she attends on the Princess.
A night of sleep has done wonders for Robin (despite the occasional dream of drowning.) She rises early, refreshed, cheerful and full of energy.
Upon receiving the summons, Robin moves quickly but carefully to put herself fully in order. Her trail gear is clean, uncluttered and sitting well. Hair, face and hands are neat and tidy. Firelizards are buffed and oiled to a luxurious glow. While the girl is definitely still clinging to her 'savage' roots, the bones, beads and feathers in her hair are well-cared for and not accompanied (as is usual) by unplanned twigs or leaves.
As she and the firelizards step out into the hall, Robin falls into the subvocal chirping that she and Castor found has calms her breath, raises her spirits and centers her to deal with challenge situations -- like Family and underwater and stuff.
By the time she reaches Llewella's proposed meeting place, Robin is energetic, cheerful and confident. And somewhat proud of the fact that she can do that. At all.
Llewella welcomes Robin with fondness. "How did you find your rooms? Are you handling being underwater well enough? I know it's a difficult adjustment; the first few times I had to go to Amber, I drank ginger water by the gallon to keep my stomach sweet. I took the liberty of having some food brought, in case you were hungry." Which is, of course, how these things are done, usually, over a hearty meal.
"“Oh, thank you!" Robin chirps. She knows she has a fast metabolism, even for an Amberite. "I'mmmmm getting better at the underwater. And the lovely rooms certainly helped with that." She smiles another gratitude to her Aunt. And proceeds to load up on breakfast.
"Celina has business elsewhere and she's delegated me this task, though she expects to break free from her appointment and join us. We have come up with a plan to reward Lady Morgne and Sir Ophiuchius for their services to Order, as it were, and we'd like to hear your thoughts on them."
"I'll be glad to share my thoughts, though I'll admit to a certain... lack of experience with formal rewards and royalty in general. Or did you mean my thoughts on Morgne and Ophiuchius?"
"Both." Llewella is also loading her plate, somewhat less heartily than Robin but definitely in a way that suggests she has an Amberite's metabolism. "As for the plan: Celina proposes to give Morgne an office at court, to thank her for her services to Order. With the appropriate fancy titles. You can't short people on titles in Rebma. And something for Sir Ophiuchius as well, bringing him into one of the guard regiments as an officer or some such to give him appropriate status as well." She takes her full plate, such as it is, and moves to seat herself.
"Hmmmm." Robin just manages not to flumpf into her seat with a full plate.
She ponders a moment around a few mouthfuls for herself and a few more for the firelizards.
"If it was me, the first thing I'd do is ask them if they want to be rewarded with either titles or work. I mean, they're coming off a millennia of a living a certain lifestyle and I haven't known them long enough to know how that's going to affect them. Though I must admit that I've been really impressed with both Lady Morgne and Sir Ophiuchius' flexibility when confronted by the sudden appearance of dramatic change." Robin waves a utensil at herself. "Morgne took only one night to process the possibilities and make her decisions. And Ophiuchius was seeing potentialities and providing alternatives from the moment the extent of the situation became apparent to him.
"That being said, Ophiuchius was looking a little bit shell-shocked last night after dinner; though that could have been exhaustion. It was a long and exciting trip for both of us." Robin smiles.
"Oh! I just remembered, he dealt with a half-naked and fairly whimsical Prince Bleys like a champion. So, if those two have become in any way rusty or bucolic, they seem to be able to rise above it. At least in the opinion of this wild child." Robin smiles.
Llewella starts to say something that Robin intuits must be related to 'why was Bleys half-naked?' but she obviously thinks better of the idea and dismisses it with a little shake of her head. "It's good to know they'd have ceremonial aplomb down, or at least that he would, and that they're fast decisionmakers. We can use more of that in this court. I'll admit it hadn't occurred to me that retirement from public life was an option, but I suppose not everybody wants to be at court all the time." Llewella's smile crinkles the corner of her eyes.
"What I was really thinking of as part of this duty, though, and this we certainly wouldn't impose without asking, is letting her take on part of the responsibility of keeping an eye on Huon. They're old and I think someone with that kind of life experience and loyalty to Order would be a useful ally in dealing with him with an eye toward, if not exactly rehabilitation, making sure he's not cutting side deals with our enemies again."
Robin pauses for a long while as she thinks. This is the type of question she would always avoid in the past - claiming ignorance or craziness (or both) - in order to avoid doing about the kind of thinking which is so, so hard for her. But this time, even if she seems naive, or stupid, she's been asked to help so she'll do her best.
When she speaks, she drawls a little as though her thoughts slowly form into words.
"Iiiii think that Lady Morgne is very... facile at intuiting people's... intentions and capabilities. I also think she has some experience with 'Princes' and their tendencies. But Iiiiii'mmm not sure if that opinion was formed from observation or because of a bias that Fae Folk always have those skills.
"I do think that excessive loyalty and devotion to her duty are part of her makeup. But I have no idea how to make sure that loyalty and sense of duty are assigned to Rebma and Celina. I think that Lady Morgne is far, FAR more subtle than Huon," a tinge of anger and disgust drifts into Robin's voice with her Uncle's name, "but I do not have enough experience to gauge them against one another in any meaningful way."
"Huon," and Llewella's voice carries less contempt and distaste than Robin's but that still leaves room for quite a bit of her own, "is not nearly as subtle as he likes to think he is. But yes, you've given me and Celina quite a bit to think about here. Would you rather I passed this advice along to Celina, or will you give it to her yourself?" Her tone carries no judgement of Robin, but clearly she's aware of Robin's distate for the ceremony that can surround even an informal Queen like Celina.
Robin smiles at the kindness, "Thank you, Aunt. Whichever you think is best. I have no difficulty talking to Celina, but I'm not sure if the Crown has the time for my..." she waves a hand as the words elude her, "...nature." Is the best she can come up with.
"On a different note," Robin's voice loses some of its animation as she approaches a prickly subject, "I'm am uncertain of your relationship with Khela, but I would like to express my condolences if it's alright." Robin holds there. She has more to say, but if Llewella's option is 'shut up' than shutting up it is.
"Your condolences are welcome." Llewella is neither moist nor sad, but resigned. There's a slight current that Robin reads as the sort of exhale that might make a sigh on the surface somewhere, and Llewella meets Robin's gaze. "Khela knew the risks, and the likely outcome, of what she was doing. I warned her, but she would always go her own way. It wasn't the first time. Just the last one."
"The burden of willful children," Robin nods sadly, "My father gets the same look in his eyes. It's... it's to help ameliorate that that I've tried to start calming down. If it was just me, the cliffs call. But I don't want him to have to... sigh anymore." Robin's eyes drift away.
"I only met her the once. And never by name, but..." Robin shakes her head, but a small smile twitches her lips. "She was great, impressive even, better than many of the boys. I think I really would've liked to play with her more..."
Llewella's eyebrows lift a little, and she says, perhaps a bit more sharply than she meant to, "Of course she was. Men are good," she adds, "for some things, but not as good as they frequently think they are.
Robin blinks a little at the sharpness and a small flock of birds launches behind her eyes. But the flurry is quick and results in a slight smile that says, 'Oh yeah. Rebman women. How restful (& nice!) not to have to deal with the testosterone poisoning..'
"And it's good that you're trying to ameliorate things for your father. I imagine he looks at you and sees your mother, and given how things went for her, that can't be easy for him." There is a look of sympathy on Llewella's face, but it's hard to say whether it's for Julian or Robin. "Dad handled her badly. I'm glad Jules learned from his example of what not to do."
Robin pauses for a long time, testing her feelings as cautiously as a deer on ice. This is a subject she has not just avoided, but fled. However, she is getting stronger. And she is committed to living within her long-lived, long-memoried family. And Rebman women, no testerone...
Robin clears her throat and jumps before she can chicken out. "Would... would you care to tell me about her, Aunt?"
Robin's not even sure what answer she wants. The jump was hard enough.
"I don't mind, but--that's a hard subject." Llewella's tone is not without sympathy. "Ysabeau should have come to Rebma when she was young. We could have channeled her gifts and her passion. As it was, Dad taught her that rules and restrictions had no rhyme or reason. Who could have expected her to respect the ones that actually turned out to have a cause?" She shakes her head in some cross, Robin feels, between annoyance and sorrow. "Dad wanted her to be biddable like Florimel. It wasn't as if Deirdre or Fiona had been easily directed, not like Flora. But Dad was determined to mold Ysabeau into the kind of girl he wanted. The rest of us got around him. She paid the price for us all."
Robin takes that in quietly for moment. Briefly, her face scrunches in distaste. The thought of someone trying to force her to be a, a 'princess' is just too yucky. Robin's expression melts into sympathy.
"Am I very reminiscent of her?" Robin asks before rushing on, "The ladies in Danu seemed to think so, but that might have been wishful thinking. And I really only ever met her ghost. Not the lady herself... I mean, I know I don't resemble Dad so I always assumed I took after my mother. But I don't actually... know."
Llewella's smile is rueful. "Probably to my brothers, in that you do what you want, instead of what they want you to do. But not to me. She was angry all the time, and not wrongly so. Dad was cruel to her. He was often cruel to women who didn't fit what he wanted. Maybe Julian did better by you.
Robin nods, he did.
"Danu only saw her as a goddess. In that way, you might be like her. But I think a wise mortal, or man of shadow, whatever you want to call it, would be afraid of Ysabeau. Not so much of you." Llewella tilts her head a little and ponders Robin. "I think you could hurt people, if given a reason, or by accident. But I don't think you'd flout a rule because you could, or hurt someone deliberately without a cause. If the rumors about Ysabeau are true, that's a way in which you're not at all like her.”
Robin's eyes widen a bit. Deliberate cruelty? Uh... no.
Perhaps when she was younger, or when she is feeling the need to be... outrageous. A smile flickers across her lips at the memory of Daeon's dragon-tongue. Sometimes folk act cruel to appear not-weak, and Unicorn knows she's done that. But to actually apply suffering to another being for no reason? That strikes Robin as wasteful. Or unfair. Yep, she's definitely Julian's daughter on that one.
As for rules flouting, the Black Road drove that lesson home pretty hard to the girl. Robin is now plenty aware that there are things out there in the universe that are going to chew her up, spit her out and move onto their next prey without even thinking about it too much. And it's the rules that are going to get her back-up when those things show. So no more antagonizing potential allies just for fun.
But if those are the types of things her Uncles are going to remember when they see her.... Maybe she should cut back on the reveling-in-chaos a little. She's not really a Maenad-type, but given the model Llewella's describing, Robin can see how her behavior might be mistaken for one...
And, my goodness, how long has she been chasing the little thought-birds around in her mental bushes. She glances up at Llewella with a blush. "Thank you... Ummm, rumors about Ysabeau? Did you have much interaction with her personally?"
Llewella shakes her head in the negative. "Not much. There was a long time when I wasn't really welcome in Amber. Rilga was kind to me and she wasn't involved in the business with the redheads, but still, her protection only extended so far when she was alive. But I met her a few times. Dad failed her, as much as he failed Random and Mirelle. The last lot of his children didn't have much luck. By the time he got to Paulette's children, even the boys were suffering from the ugly turn his parenting had taken. I'm not sorry I was raised in Rebma, nor that you were raised mostly in Arden."
Robin nods. "I consider myself... blessed to have been raised in Arden. It's good to be reminded that very few of my Aunts and Uncles got to experience anything like that."
Robin's eyes narrow in thought. "Were there... do you know if Ysabeau was cruel to any of her siblings? Particularly those younger than herself?"
"I don't think she got on with Random and Mirelle, particularly Mirelle, but she also wasn't around them very much. Childhood in Amber is something of a solitary experience. There aren't any sibling peers, not the way there can be in Rebma," Llewella explains. "I doubt she was any crueller to them than they all were to each other--but by Julian's standards, that may be unacceptable behavior anyway. Julian believes in training animals and children with relative kindness. That wasn't ever Dad's way."
Celina receives a note from Brother, now Archivist, Tomat asking for a meeting at her pleasure, regarding matters in the archive. As Queen, it is of course hers to choose a time and place for such a meeting, whether it would be walking down to the archives or inviting Tomat into her own lair.
Celina reads the note twice, already imagining the setting here in the royal apartments. She is eager to learn more about the thread of history in Rebma, and Tomat's outsider view is bound to add flourish. She begins a long list of food to be brought in for the two of them.
And stops. And stares at her hands. And scrubs the oil-board of her marks.
Celina stands and goes to the door, drawing a page inside to speak quietly for several minutes. After a bit the page heads out to the archive to deliver two messages; one goes to the senior archivist, asking her to check any history on building projects started by Moire when that queen was new to the palace chambers of queen. This also gives a reason for the page to be present in the archive and return.
The second message is delivered by the page once Tomat is alone or leaving the Archive, "Please see me in the Blue Forest Tower. The page shall guide you." Celina asks the page to be very careful to come by a circular route. She calmly points out there may be danger, the page is responsible for making sure both of them arrive with no entanglements.
Celina looks long at the young girl, "This is not a die for the throne adventure. This is a live at all costs adventure."
The page takes the message with wide eyes. While "die for the throne" opportunities occasionally arrive even for pages, she didn't expect fetching the archivist to be one of them, clearly. But the implications of the message to the head of the archives and the separate message to Tomat are clear.
It is later in the day when the page brings Tomat to the Blue Forest Tower. He is concerned and wary, and when he sees Celina, it clearly relaxes him. "Your Majesty," he says, making an obeisance, "I didn't expect my message to cause such consternation.”
Celina takes care of training business first. "Was the page nervous? Too attentive? What consternation did you observe?" There is no sideboard of distracting food and drink in the room.
"She was very helpful and her demeanor was--" Tomat hesitates, fumbling for a good word "--normal? I suppose for someone leading me to a secret meeting with the Queen. I didn't expect our meeting to be confidential in this way, though given the method of information-keeping in Rebma, and how much of it is dependent on keeping the resources in question alive, I suppose it makes sense." He shrugs before recalling himself, and Celina's self, and adds, "If it please Your Majesty, that is."
Celina allows her relief to show plainly to her visitor. "Indeed it does please me. A number of things that might happen to you don't please me however, so other than the obvious, I don't want to give anyone reason to think you are a high priority person in my inner circle." And she just won't mention at all how delicious the prospect of chatting a couple hours with Tomat over food and drink were to her initially. "It's good the page carried herself well. I appreciate your observations."
Celina gestures to a seat and relaxes into a nearby lounge. "What do you make of your new learning routines? Is the Archive run well?"
Last modified: 24 August 2016
Folly sits at the harpsichord... ish... thing and begins to play. Most of
the sound energy is directed into the structure of the device itself, so
what Martin can hear is muffled and rather distorted, like a cassette
recording of a phonograph playing an old disk of piano music recorded from
three rooms away. Still, he can sense the power in the music; there is
something in the melody that stirs the blood, makes the pulse quicken
and the tiny hairs on the back of the neck stand at attention. The string
of the pendulum quivers, tracing a path unseen somewhere in the heart of
the device in response to the music.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to
rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something
from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it
critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to
smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures
him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger
axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.
After a few minutes, the last strains die away; the pendulum returns to rest; and Folly blows out a breath and stands up to retrieve something from the center of the device. She pulls out a small card, inspects it critically, blows gently on it to ensure the ink is dry enough not to smudge, and then proffers it to Martin. "It's not a trump," she reassures him. "But it is... interesting."
In the center of the card, maybe an inch and a half long along its bigger axis, is a near-perfect tracing of the Pattern.