Months Of The Year:
Horseman (Winter Solstice 1 Horseman)
Knight (Vernal Equinox 8 Knight)
Tower (Summer Solstice 15 Tower)
Boatman (Autumnal Equinox 22 Boatman)
Vere is up before dawn the next morning and swiftly awakens his companions. He makes no efforts to awaken his hosts, but neither does he seek to leave stealthily.
They will depart the house of the Paresh as soon as the ladies are awakened, and head into the jungle surrounding the clearing. Once out of sight of the house Vere begins shifting them through shadows, getting them away from any inhabited lands, and eventually bringing them back out onto a beach. The ocean here is calm and placid, and looking back into the interior there is no sign of a mountain.
He relaxes then, and turns to the ladies. "Lady Morgne," he asks, "Do you have a way to locate Ophiuchus across the Realms? My powers are better suited to finding a place than a person."
She ponders for a moment. "I may. It is not without risk and uncertainty, including that I have never used it to cross universes. If it works, I will be able to see what he sees. That does not mean I will understand it, or know where he is.
"It is impolite to do this without his permission, but I expect he will forgive the offense."
Laudine looks non-plussed. "Do you have a less parlous way to contact Sir Robin?"
Vere smiles very slightly. "I am still young in the ways of my powers, my ladies," he explains. "But if there is a danger to this method I can try what may be done. But without having any idea of where they may be..." he shrugs. "I can make no promises."
Unless they have something else to add he will begin walking along the beach, slowly shifting them through shadows. Vere has never sought a person in shadow before, and although he knows it is not an efficient way of finding someone (else how would Family hide from one another?) he sets his mind firmly to the belief that since Robin wishes for him to find her he will do so. He makes no conscious efforts at shifting, letting his unconscious mind pick the details to shift as he concentrates on his desire to be with Robin once again. He thinks of her as he walks, recalls their times together, lets his desire to be with her again fill him and guide him.
Vere begins his walk, adding a detail here, erasing another there, with his three charges close behind him. The beach turns rocky, and moves away from the sea, and the trees come closer to the tide-mark. The trees themselves change, moving from tropical to a more temperate mode. The birds and other life becomes more common, and more like Amber.
It's hard to say how long they've walked. Part of the nature of traveling shadows is the sun is not a reliable indicator of the passage of time. Eventually Ywain suggests they stop and let the ladies rest.
Vere isn’t sure, but the forest looks a lot like Arden.
Vere finds a comfortable spot for a rest and calls a halt. He check with the ladies to see how they are faring, then leaves Ywain on guard and ventures alone a short ways into the forest, looking for signs of human (or other) activity.
Vere looks around, finding several overgrown groves and a few remnants of buildings. It looks like the war has been here and swept elsewhere.
There's a sign, crudely carved on a wooden plaque, nailed to the remnants of a barn. "By Order of the Warden and the King, Wind Grove is off-limits to a citizens."
If Vere recalls correctly, Wind Grove was in Arden, near Amber.
Vere tilts his head to one side, remembering back to the endless sessions of the Regency Council. Wind Grove was the settlement fired by Rangers angry at encroachment into Arden, then rebuilt. The rebuilding would appear not to have been permanent.
He examines the area, determining how long ago the current damage took place, while he mentally adjusts his mental map, calculating the relative position of Amber from Wind Grove, based on its position relative to the beach.
Vere's best determination is that the colonists were probably driven out by the encroaching Green, and that the Rangers cleared everyone out because they couldn't protect them. Since the growth is unnatural and uneven, it's hard to say how long ago it was. Vere's mental map is excellent, as usual, and he's sure he knows the exact route to Amber, as well as a slower but safer route along the beach.
The encroaching Green? Vere stiffens, and turns his attention to the vegetation, observing it more intently with both mundane and sorcerous sight.
Nothing is actively magical nor is there the tell-tell deepness to the green of the life he sees all around, and yet it seems to Vere that the Green has been here, but could not support the invasion, or chose to move in another direction.
Just as a disease can be cured, but still permanently scar someone, so the grove looks scarred.
There doesn't seem to be an active risk from the plants.
Vere relaxes, gives the area a more thorough mundane search for anything of interest, and then returns to the beach.
"We are near Amber," he tells the ladies. "And while that city is sadly fallen from what she was, I think heading there is our best plan."
Unless his travelling companions have anything to say which will cause a change to that plan, he will lead them on the slower, but safer, course along the coastline.
The coastline is mostly natural here. It looks like there were some farms and even local gathering places, but no one is living here now. Perhaps they moved closer to the city.
Amber is no more than an hour's ride on the horses they don't have, or perhaps closer if the Psyche were here. Judging from the sun, Vere estimates that the city could be made before dark.
[If you go...]
Vere has long since oriented himself to Amber. Over the next ridge they will be visible to the Southgate of the city. How does he want to approach?
Vere informs the ladies that they are approaching Amber, and asks how they are faring. He tells them that his plan is to announce their presence to the guards at the gate and have a carriage called for to take them to the castle, where they can wash off the stains of travel and get a good meal and a night's rest before continuing their journey. If they have any concerns or comments regarding this plan he will certainly want to hear them. If not, then they will do as he has outlined.
The ladies are as happy to ride, if horses are available. Apparently carriages are a sign that one is older or infirm.
Then horses it will be (and Vere makes a mental note to stop treating the ladies as though they were delicate).
The carriage master [or stablemaster] wants to know if Vere wishes word sent to the castle of his arrival. Caine's personal insignia is flying from the battlements, as is Benedict's pennant.
Vere thanks the stablemaster and agrees that word to the castle should be sent, along with a request for rooms for the night and an interview with the Regent if he has the time. As they choose horses and wait for them to be saddled Vere will inquire about the current state of Amber, how long Prince Benedict has been in the city, and the condition of the stables since Stablemaster Donovan's departure, paying as much attention to the stablemaster and grooms' nonverbal reactions as to what they actually say.
Once horses are ready Vere will lead the party up Mt Kolvir, playing tour guide and showing his guests the sights and answering any questions they might have about Amber.
The stable master didn't notice the second banner until yesterday, but it might've been the day before that when his Highness came in. He's heard that Stripey is in residence, so the Prince most likely rode in. He didn't stop at these stables, but he wouldn't need to with Stripey.
The stable master and the grooms have no complaints about the castle, but they seem much more interested in moving on to Xanadu than staying in Amber and working in the Castle.
The messages are sent by a fast courier. The party is greeted at the top of the hill, and their horses are seen to. Vere, the knight, and the ladies are escorted into a minor receiving room where Benedict and Caine are waiting.
Caine smiles, but it doesn't look sincere. "Vere, you always bring us such interesting puzzles. Who are your guests?"
Vere bows formally and says, "Princes Benedict and Caine of Amber, may I present Lady Laudine of Lothian, Countess of Landuc, and her Champion, Sir Ywain. And Lady Morgne, Princess and Lady of the Lake. They are Powers of Old, and I am escorting them in search of Lady Morgne's Champion, Sir Ophiuchus, who currently travels with the Lady Robin." He smiles thinly. "We were separated while hellriding."
Benedict looks sympathetic. Caine replies, "I have no word from Lady Robin, but I will ask after her. Hell riding in pairs is difficult."
Benedict rises. "Greetings, travellers. I am Benedict, son of Oberon of Amber, and my brother Caine is regent in this Kingdom. I have heard of your realms, but it has been many, many years. Tell me, who was Queen when last you knew Amber?"
Ywain looks confused. "Amber has no Queen, my Prince, only the King."
Benedict nods. "Interesting. I shall wish to hear more of your time at a later date. But first, your journey was undoubtedly long. Would you care to rest? It is still several hours until the evening meal."
The Countess Luadine bows. "Your highness, we would be happy to. While our travels have been comfortable," she half-bows towards Vere, "we have not felt the safety of castle walls and royal protectors in some long time."
Caine calls a midshipman to show them to their rooms. Vere is not dismissed.
Once they are gone, with promises of an informal dinner later, Caine turns to Vere.
"This was not what I expected when last we spoke, Prince Vere. Oh, and if you're getting yourself a beverage, please pour one of each of us."
"Of course, Uncle," Vere replies. He will get the two princes whatever they want, then pour a drink from himself before answering Caine's implied question.
"It was not what I expected, either, Uncle. But the universe is endlessly diverting, in both senses of the word. I returned to Uncle Julian with the supplies and while there Robin reported on a situation involving those ladies. They were locked into an ancient binding, a truce agreement between their respective courts which had warred endlessly for many generations. It was a working of great power created by a Sorceress of the name of Basina. They guarded sites of power called Methrin and Merlin's Fonts. But the two courts had long ago moved far away from the border they guarded as the result of some ancient 'change' in the nature of Reality. The ladies lacked the power to break the binding and were locked into an endless waiting." Vere pauses and takes a sip of his drink before continuing. "Robin believed she could break the binding, but doing so might cause ... unpredictable results when the nature of Shadow snapped back from the unlocked binding. So I joined her, to guide us away from that place after the binding was undone and the ladies and their champions freed."
Vere pauses again, taking another sip, and waits for comments or questions from his uncles.
Benedict looks at Caine, then back at Vere. "We know almost nothing of a time when there was not a Queen in Amber, except that there was such a time. We don't know how long that period was, what came before it, how it came to an end, or who or what the people, practices, rivalries, wars, and legends of that time.
"Whatever the reality of our new guests, we should make sure that ancient grudge does not break to new mutiny. Corwin has an ancient warrior of Paris at his court who was freed by Garrett from some sort of sorcerous trap."
Caine drinks about half his drink. "It's concerning how frequently that is happening."
Vere nods. "It seems as though old bindings and prisons are failing. I take it the Moonriders and their Queen are of the same sort." He tilts his head to one side. "I confess that a part of my suggestion to the ladies that they seek to find a place for themselves in Rebma, Paris, or Xanadu was the thought that it is better to have such Powers where they can be watched, than loosed upon the Universe with no idea of what they might do."
Benedict considers this. Caine seems less contemplative. "We can certainly try to sound them out about their feuds and the rules and such here. It's not their home, even if they think it is, so if they can leave old grudges then there may be a place for them. You say the one whose partner is missing was living underwater? Have you talked to Celina about them? She might have concerns about introducing them."
Benedict turns to Vere. "You've travelled with them; do you have any concerns about their intentions?"
Vere considers this for a moment before answering. "No concerns as such. They have spent time out of mind locked in a static deadlock, and right now they are grateful for their freedom from that situation. When offered the chance to search for their original courts neither of the ladies evidenced any interest in doing so." He shrugs very slightly. "That of course might change once they become accustomed to their freedom. I do not know their true natures, and have not spent enough time with them to offer any insights into their deeper characters."
Benedict looks out the window. "Sometimes it's best not to try to find the court you left. It is never the same as the one you eventually find."
Caine looks at Vere. "Did they seem to indicate familiarity with Amber? Or comment on changes?"
"No more than what they said here," Vere answers. "Their knowledge of it seems of an age long past. They said nothing as we traveled through it on our way to the castle." He examines Caine and Benedict, trying to gauge their thoughts and moods from their expressions and body language. "It seems to me they could prove an interesting source of information on ancient times. It is a pity Cambina did not live to question them. She would have found them fascinating, I believe."
Caine nods. "Or the holes in their tales would have driven her mad," replies Caine. "Given what you tell me, I don't expect them to have any actionable intelligence about our enemies, although I will question them, which they seem to expect. Do you want anything from them?"
Benedict shakes his head. "Anything lost or hidden long enough to involve these people should stay buried." He shifts in his chair. "Are we settled on the Navy?"
Caine nods. "Yes, as long as you’ll return it if something comes up."
Benedict nods. "Then I shall depart. Thank you brother." He turns his head towards Vere. "Nephew. Good luck with settling your charges."
"Thank you, Uncle," Vere says with a respectful nod. He waits, suspecting that Caine will have something more to say to him once Benedict departs.
Benedict leaves, and Caine turns to Vere.
"I have... unanchored suspicions, which I am told is not out of character for me. Would you be willing to undertake a reconnaissance mission for me? It would take no more than a night, but you would need to recruit a cousin of yours to help."
"A particular cousin, Uncle, or just another pair of hands or eyes?" Vere smiles very slightly.
Caine nods encouragingly. "Any cousin you are willing to trust with your life is fine with me. This is a yes or no question, with the only third option being 'No, but I will be willing to act as acting regent while you go away'. Each option has consequences."
"Am I allowed to know the nature of the task before I accept, or is blind acceptance a part of the task?" Vere's smile grows slightly wider.
Caine looks at Vere, nonplussed. "Well, it is the nature of the Navy to rely for its success on young men and women who follow orders without explanation.
"It is the nature of rulers to be somewhat indirect and rhetorically cry out 'who will rid me of this troublesome priest?' and then be able to be shocked with the priest is gotten rid of.
"It is the nature of spymasters to compartmentalize their tasks, so that no failure is too catastrophic.
"And it is the nature of Princes of Amber to use people for their own ends without over-clarifying their plans."
Caine brushes a non-existent speck of dust off the linen and lacework at his cuff. "So assume whatever combination of those factors you wish, and add in my slight disappointment that what I thought was quite clear was an obvious conclusion is not so.
"It is not a matter I wish discussed if you do not assist."
"You would expect my cousins to leap at the chance of carrying out a task for one of our elders, without question?" Vere asks. "I confess myself unable to guess which of them you have been dealing with, to lead you to such an assumption." His smile grows wide for a second before disappearing. "That amusing note aside, I am the sort of dutiful young man who is inclined to accept assignments from duly constituted authority. I will of course carry out this reconnaissance for you, Uncle."
Caine has his admiral persona on. He pays no attention to any changes in Vere's face. "Thank you, Nephew. I will give you a letter to take to King Random in Xanadu. After giving it to him, you will arrange a spotter and ascend the stairs to Tirna n'Ogth and visit the castle there, learning what you can of the ghosts of the guests you have brought to me and their purpose and goals in the true realms. Before leaving Xanadu, brief King Random on the matter and then return to me.
"If you have no questions, then you are dismissed."
"Yes, sir." There is no expression in Vere's voice or on his face. "Only two questions, sir. First, where shall I wait until you have written the letter? Secondly, will you trump me to King Random, or do I need to arrange transit for myself?"
Caine looks up, and reaches over to get a small, portable writing desk. "Take this opportunity to gather anything you need, or to tell your friends you are leaving, if you wish. When you return, I will send you through with my message. I can send you through to your father, if you prefer."
He holds a quill, ready to begin writing.
Vere leaves the room, then pauses to consider his options. He glances upwards, to where he assumes his traveling companions have been taken, but after a moment shakes his head, deciding that an explanation that he would be going to Xanadu ahead of them could not be made without also revealing that they were being investigated. He considers whether there is anything he wants or needs that can't be obtained quickly in Xanadu. After a brief consideration he decides that there is nothing. He gives Caine a few more minutes to finish his letter, then opens the door and reenters the room.
Vere walks in as Caine is folding a piece of paper. He hands the note to Vere and says "Please see that the King reads this. If he objects to my plan, he will tell you you cannot go. In which case, return to me." He pulls out a deck of the family playing cards. "To whom shall I send you in Xanadu?" he asks.
"To the King, I think," Vere says. "My only reasons for going to Father would be purely personal, and they are not pressing at this time."
Caine stares at the card, rapidly bringing it into his reality. "It’s Caine. I'm in Amber with Vere. Can you take him through to Xanadu, he's running an errand for me. Nothing secret, per se, just sensitive. As you say. I'll pass him through."
Caine reaches out and takes Vere's hand, and passes him through to Xanadu.
Bleys steps through and looks around. He's wearing a long pair of shorts and carrying a long board tucked under his arm. He drops it and nods to Sir Ophiuchus. "Well met, niece. This is a very interesting old place you've found here. For a place lost to the mists of time, it seems to have frequent visitors.
"What do you already know of it, and what do we have yet to discover?"
Robin cocks her head, words blown to the currents by the magnitude of the question. After a moment, she shakes her head and takes refuge in the formal niceties.
"Prince Bleys, may I present Sir Ophiuchus, yclept The Serpent-Bearer, formerly Guardian of Methrin's Font, sworn to the Lady of the Lake, Morgne. And his mount, Eckford.
"Sir Ophiuchus, may I present my Uncle, Prince Bleys of Amber and Xanadu. I think you both know Peep, Ooot & Chirrup."
Because she's Robin, she doesn't leave out the non-humanforms in the group.
Bleys bows from the neck. "Al-Ḥawwa", he says.
Sir Ophiuchus looks genuinely pleased and bows back.
Robin's brow furrows as she gathers her thoughts to take a stab at Bleys' questions. "Allllll I know of this place, sir, is what I've seen and experienced: it's dark, underwater, seems to be made of silver, has an inactive version of the Family Tracery on the floor, was broken into some time ago. It contains a plundered sarcophagus - maybe Lir's, a cairn for someone else, some miscellaneous old bodies... oh, and packs one heck of a Family vision." For a moment, that goofy smile lights her face again.
"I've heard that silver towers are a sign of Uncle Corwin. And I'm seeing tones of him all over the place, but that could just be Shadow Lies. As to what we have yet to discover...." Robin's brow furrows again, "Discovery is infinite, isn't it sir? Perhaps if you could tell me what you're trying to do, I can find better tools for it. Otherwise..." She shakes her head. She doesn't really understand the question.
Bleys looks up at the roof. "Yes, this was the throne room of Corwin's Silver Towers of the Moon, or perhaps a close shadow thereof. It has been possibly half a millennium since I stood here. Imagine banners of black and silver up the walls, and silver candelabra lighting it, and chandeliers spreading candlelight across all of it."
Robin casts her eyes around, visualizing it. Yep, another bastion of civilized glory built as a fortress in the middle of a city. She's not sure if she prefers the dark, soggy version or not. But half a millennium... that's gotta bring back some memories for Bleys. She's glad he can enjoy it.
He kneels down and scrapes mud off the floor with his dagger. "It's not really the pattern on the floor, but it's meant to evoke it for those of us with the blood. Funny how we can't not draw the thing, when we're trying."
Well, yep. After all, it's what makes Lords of Order Lords of Order. Besides, not only is the thing very pervasive, but based on her recent vision, it's robust as hell in its survival agenda.
He stands and wipes his hands off on his long shorts. "Discovery is infinite, and a genuine pleasure to the curious mind. What I was wondering could also be stated as 'what unanswered questions do you have about this place?' My list of unanswered questions include 'Who has been here recently?' and 'Where does Lir fit into Corwin's tower?'. If you are wondering,this used to be above water."
Ah! Comradely 'we', not instructional 'we.' Okay.
Robin nods, "Yep, there are arrows in the antechamber, which I guessed would probably have been fired while the city had air in the corridors instead of water." The Ranger cocks her head as she thinks about what she wants to know.
"I guess I am curious about what you mean by 'recently'? I wasn't able to get a time-stamp or separate trails for the arrow-wielders, the corpses or the buried. I was kind of hoping to get Vere here so he could talk to anyone who might still be around... Besides, he would just love this place." She smiles fondly.
For herself, since she's already had what she suspects is the best fight in the place and there's only seafood to eat... meh. Robin has plenty of curiosity; it's just mostly about eatin' and fightin' and other 'guy' stuff.
"I definitely would like to get this place back on the Family's radar and I'd like to at least get Sir Ophiuchus on the trail of the defilement." Robin thinks out loud.
"But mostly, I guess I'm wondering if there is a specific reason this place is no longer on the radar. And if so, what that reason is."
"Defilement?" Bleys says. Then he looks at the tomb, "Oh, yes. Sir Ophiuchus, I am given to understand that the young Queen of Rebma, a true heir of Queen Moins, had found the resting place of Lir and had relieved him of his duty to protect the throne. She assigned that duty to her own Dux Bellorum and thus bestowed upon him the duty and privilege of bearing her sword. All was done in accordance with law and tradition."
Ophiuchus visibly relaxes as Bleys speaks. "It would not surprise me if King Corwin had accidentally built his towers atop Lir's tomb. We are all attracted to the same places. It would also explain why it sunk.
"Corwin thought this place long-destroyed. I wonder..." Bleys holds up his hand, and begins making a number of obscure, hard-to-watch hand motions, after which he says a few words that are not in Thari, but a language that is almost painful to hear.
"Yes, this is in the shadow that Benedict retreated to. He is styled 'Protector' here. And this place is very near to Rebma, unless I miss my guess. I suspect that this place is semi-deserted because no one knows where it is.
"I can certainly make sure that Corwin, Random, and Benedict know about it, and Celina as well. If I were to counsel prudence, I would tell you to speak with Corwin, if you wished to be cautious before having Vere raise any ghosts, but I find that prudence keeps one from trying things, and I so prefer to learn from experience.
"You could probably ride to Rebma from here, if that is the direction you and your hippocampean friend wish to go."
"Eventually. I'd still like to get in touch with Vere as soon as I can. I kind of jumped overboard in a tsunami on him... again. I'm sure he's not worried or anything, but..." She shrugs. "And I need to reunite Sir Ophiuchus with his Lady soonest. Iiiiiii suppose it might be quicker to Xanadu from Rebma than from here." She raises an eyebrow to Ophiuchus. What does he think?
"Was not Xanadu our eventual destination, Sir Robin?" Bleys looks over at Robin when Ophiuchus uses that honorific, but doesn't say anything. "Perhaps we would arrive first."
"Oh, yes." Robin chuckles. So many paths, so little brain. "To Xanadu, via Rebma." She nods before turning back to Bleys.
"With regards to radaring, thank you, Uncle." Robin bows slightly. "I'd appreciate it if you could please let Corwin, Random, Benedict and Celina know. And would you please let them know, I'll be glad" (well, not glad, but prepared) "to talk to them about it myself as soon as we cross paths."
Bleys seems a bit surprised by her bow. "My father banned bowing when on campaign. I can see why. But as you say, I shall add it to my dossier of family gossip to pass along at the appropriate time, if you don't see them first. I'm not known for checking in regularly."
"And while I am never a fan of prudence," (Understatment!) "I think Vere's already in trouble for... preemptive chatting with the dead. So yes, thank you for the hint. We'll ask Corwin first."
"Preemptive chatting", Bleys repeats. "What a lovely turn of phrase." Bleys frowns. "I think I should run a few magical tests to see if this place is 'off our radar' because of something someone did to make it so."
Robin nods, that makes sense. "Iiiittttt also might be important to note that local Shadow changed, uh, quite a bit just recently too." Look innocent, look innocent!
"Really?" says Bleys, running his hand along the edge of the sarcophagus. "That does sound noteworthy. What did it change from, and how did the change happen?"
Robin looks over to Sir Ophiuchus, welcoming him to add to or correct the report she's about to make. There's a brief time of nervous fluffing as Robin gets her thoughts together and then,
"A short Hellswim from here, there was a Shadow that served as a border between two historically feuding cultures; one of the Lake and one of the land. The land-folks spoke of Avalon, Paris, Arthur, Lady Vivian and her son, Merlin. They called their land Broceliande and their home Trescesson. Lady Laudine and her Champion, Ywain, are -- hopefully -- still with Vere.
"The lake-folks talked of King Mark, Basina, the Summerlands, Moins, Auberon and Tir fo Thuinn. I don't remember if I heard what their land was called other than 'the Lake.' Lady Morgne is also hopefully still with Vere. Her Champion is with me." She smiles at Ophiuchus.
"Other than those four, I don't think there was anyone else left around. The course of history seemed to have swept by them, leaving them locked in their facing sentry posts.
"The 'lock' was a sorcerous binding to a... Shadow-knot." Robin gestures with her hands, drawing an imaginary cloth up through a hole made by her circled thumb and forefinger. "Most of the Shadow was inaccessible making it impossible for armed forces to cross." She cinches her thumb and forefinger in demonstration. "It was kind of cool, really." A moment of enthusiasm creeps in.
"Anyway, I called Vere in to handle the sorcerous bit and the emergency escape bit while I... undid the knot?" Again, Robin has difficulty putting into words the things she only thinks about in patterns and sounds.
"Weeeelllll, as the majority of the Shadow became suddenly accessible again... You know, tsunamis, storms, probably some serious earth movement too. Maybe a volcano, eventually. Shadow ripples... I don't do this kind of work often so I’m not sure exactly what the ramifications are going to be. And oh hey -- Sunken Avalon." Robin gestures around her.
Then she shrugs. Yep, that's the way it is.
Bleys arches an eyebrow and lowers his voice. "This Un-knotting of yours is definitely a thing to talk about but first I must tell you about the worlds and peoples you are encountering. Tir fo Thuin is an old, old name for Rebma, in an extinct language that also gave us Tir na nÓg. I've only seen it in writings.
"Have you ever been to Tirna N’Ógth, Robin? If you are smart, and careful, and you try very hard you can see through the illusion it presents of being a reflection of Amber. If you find the old temple library, you can find prophecies on the walls, telling of "the three dooms": The Doom of Tirna nÓgth, the Doom of Tir fo Thuinn, and the Doom of Tir GanAm. Tir was apparently full of apocalyptic visionaries. This one they wrote down.
"That's the last place I saw that name. I think I shall want to know more of your new old friend's history, if you don’t mind my questioning him."
As Bleys speaks, Robin's thoughts swirl around in her mind like a flock of starlings; noisy starlings. But she keeps her lips closed as the thought-flock flows, twists and hops from tree to tree.
Bleys' lowered voice has started one thought-bird screeching out a warning. 'Scary Uncle, Scary Uncle!'
To which another thought-bird peeps, 'Don't freeze! Don't flee! We have to talk in order to build and gain trust.'
A third familiar thought-bird caws in response, 'Stupid words!'
At that point, that whole wing of Robin's thought-flock breaks into squabbling, so she just ignores them.
Meanwhile, another group of thought-bird tips their heads at Bleys' confirmation that yeah, old stuff is old. Okay, even really old. From that group, a few thought-birds fly off peeping wondering why older stuff is given more importance than just old stuff. Because it's all the past anyway. Excerpt for her where sometimes it's both the past and the future.
The image of a hourglass being vigorously shaken flashes through her mind; the sand particles bouncing both ways through the waist. Then Robin wonders if it's really like that for everyone, they just don't say or don't notice.
One of her more alert thought-bird peeps that Bleys is still talking -- pay attention!
Heh. Since "smart" and "careful" aren't Robin words, the flock doesn't plan on going to Tirna N'Ogth any time soon. Except for a few idiot thought-birds who want to do the forbidden stuff just 'cause. Besides, Robin's brow furrows, isn't Tir off-limits since poor, lovely, book-snotty Cambina met her fate there? There's more squabbling among Robin's thought-flock over accepting the rules of Family versus sheer cussedness.
All of which disturbs the morbid birds in Robin's thought-flock that were savoring the words 'Doom, Doom, Doom' while steadfastly ignoring the birds who were mourning the Doom of Amber that had already come. Assuming of course, that 'Tir GanAm' means Amber -- which seems pretty likely to Robin's more poetry-oriented thought-birds.
And Bleys is asking a question -- focus!
Mentally thanking Fiona for giving her the ability to keep all that behind her lips, Robin nods to her Uncle. "Understood, sir.
"With regards to Sir Ophiuchus, you are of course free to ask him anything you like. But I will stand by his desire to answer or not as he pleases." She nods to the Knight. Her eyes tell him that while she can't protect him from Bleys, she's pretty sure that she can hold Bleys long enough for Ophiuchus to escape if he wants out of there.
Bleys nods, and turns to Sir Ophiuchus.
"Sir Ophiuchus, you have heard how little I know of your era, of the time from whence you have been freed by the offices of my niece. We think that those who could have remembered those days did not want us to, and perhaps because of the same conflicts that led you to be set to watch a lonely outpost far from the life of your lords.
"It is both amazing and fascinating that you have re-awakened from those days, but we must assure ourselves that the feuds of those days do not also re-awaken, either through you or through the reaction of others to you. I would like your permission to ask you some questions, sorcerously."
Sir Ophiuchus looks grave. "It is a hard thing you ask, for my wife is my normal sorcerous defender and she is not present. Is this a prerequisite to admission to Tir of Thuin?"
Bleys looks nonplussed. "I would not imagine your reception there would be the same if you refused me as if you cooperated, but I will not stop you from going to the Pearl of the Sea. Queen Celina is advised by those significantly more ruthless than I am, in any case. And she does not always choose to know what her servants, magical and otherwise, do in her name."
"I'd feel better if Lady Morgne were here."
"As would we all. I will give you my word that my only intent is to ascertain any theat to my family or their thrones. Does that help?"
"It does, my Prince, actually. Go ahead."
Bleys nods. "Thank you. Given the age of these memories and instructions, this might not even work. Robin, if you would be so kind as to focus on the specific details of the Pattern? I may need to borrow some of your energy."
Interesting, Robin thinks, so there are ways for Pattern users to work together. And it's not like she doesn't have a surfeit of Patterness right now. But Bleys drawing on her? Robin ticks unhappily as she nods.
And recalls the dance, the blade, the will that was just so recently with her. Following Bleys' request, Robin summons up her Heritage and sets the wings of her mind flying through the curves and twists of her Heritage.
Bleys pulls out a piece of chalk and begins drawing large white lines on the dias. "Please step inside, Sir Ophiuchus. This should be quite easy."
Sir Ophiuchus looks at Robin and then steps into Bleys' drawing.
Robin looks back to Sir Ophiuchus and nods. If this all goes horribly wrong and Bleys drains the life out of her, she'll make sure to collapse across the chalk lines -- and if lucky, entangling Bleys on the way down. Hopefully, giving Ophiuchus and Eckford time to bolt.
Orrrrr maybe it'll be fine.
In the end, the spell is anti-climatic. Bleys fiddles with his chalk lines once, but otherwise doesn't speak.
"Well, I can detect no magical compulsions to assassinate the King or do other anti-social things, so I am going to give you a qualified pass and let my brother deal with you as he sees fit. Incidentally, Robin, did you notice the subtle pattern work someone has done here in this room? I'm surprised it's not echoing throughout time and projecting images on the walls."
Robin starts to snicker, then gets distracted by...
He waves his arms. "This is not a safe place to do major magics of any school. Whatever happened here might still be dangerous."
"I didn't do any major magics." Robin protests, not quite hitting the whiny teenage pitch.
Catching her own tone, she relaxes. "I did some passive sensing. And a little while later, I got majorally Pattern-visioned." That goofy grin darts across her face one more. "And yes, it echoed off the walls. But I didn't start it or invite it. It just happened." Like these things do, adds her one-shouldered shrug.
Bleys draws a half-circle on his own hand in chalk and stares at it. "Possibly related, residual effects or some such. An old spell finds paths to release itself." He turns to Robin. Are you familiar with the concept of grounding an item to prevent lightning from striking? Same thing can apply to magic. Deep in Pattern territory is no place to be experimenting with the Principle of Time. It's not even a good idea in Amber, at the moment, and it's not the city it was.
"What was your vision?"
"I got to ride Corwin as he wielded Grayswandir against Benedict while defending his son's Pattern-walk." Big grin. While she doesn't say it out loud, the 'It was AWESOME!' hangs in the currents of the room.
"Buuuutttt... doesn't one normally ground things to actually attract otherwise random lightning strikes and thereby channel the energy away safely?" Robin says, trying to make sense of Bleys' metaphor. "And I thought one didn't play with Time deep in Order territory because of the overwhelming adherence of the Realms to cause then effect. And the limits of Oberon-inspired lifeforms to processing experiences non-sequentially. Iiiiii don't understand what you are saying, Uncle."
Robin bites her lip in confusion.
Bleys holds up his hand, stopping her. "Hmm. We'll get back to grounding in a moment, but I'll add that major magic tends to cause some amount of otherwise random (or seemingly random, but non-ordered) thaumatic energy to gather and that is what needs to be grounded. I can show you the equations for it as a waste-product, like heat or light or sound from an engine, but it does require some grounding in what we mean by maths. It has to do with the interference matrices of the local shadow and the real world.
"Back on topic, or on my topic in this case, had you heard the story of that fight before, from Merlin? Both Corwin and Benedict deny it, or at least deflect the subject when it's brought up, so it's absolutely fascinating to have possibly of confirmation. The things, Robin, that a King will lie about range from the mundane to the vital, and finding them out and deciding who to share them with is the primary function of most courtiers.
"Can you describe in detail any parts of the combat? Did you feel bulkier, by chance? Corwin has a few stone more meat on his bones than you do."
"Oh." Robin blinks a little as she parses all that. "Ah, no I did not hear it from Merlin. I just assumed it was standard knowledge to the Family. Buuuuuttt if Kings are lying around the subject, perhaps this couti..." nope, she can't even say it, "perhaps this niece will keep her mouth shut until she talks to the Kings in question." After all, if she should ask Corwin's permission regarding this place, that fight seems like it'd be even more permission-worthy.
Though the apologetic grin she sends to Bleys says she doesn't blame him for trying. Ignorant youth is an amazing source of intel.
"I can say that if I were being indiscreet I could describe the combat in detail. I did not feel bulkier, but I was using the footwork of a taller person and the swordsweeps of a person with lower dangly bits as opposed to upper dangly bits. My physical structure at the time, while not the one I am used to, was mine." She tips her head as she thinks further.
"The only cognitive dissonances I noticed were: I was far faster than I'm used to and my fighting style was a different school than I had been taught. Oh, and my connection to Sword and Pattern was..." She stops, caught between a goofy grin and a shrug. Yeah.
Bleys pays close attention to her tale and notes her reticence. "Yes, it's hard to explain wielding a pattern-sword to someone who isn't attuned, but I've seen that look on your face before. In fact I've worn it."
He holds up his hand. "But I do want to warn you about Kings and their secrets. Sometimes if the matter is such that the King does not want it discussed... well, let's just say that not every canary that ever died in a coal mine died of natural causes." He looks at Robin conspiratorially, as if he's just shared a secret with her.
Robin cocks an eyebrow but keeps her voice and mien friendly. "Sir. I served anonymously under both King Oberon and King Eric, counted Asiling as a friend, have been caught up in the difficulties between yourself and Prince Huon and am always very careful around Prince Martin. I understand the dangers. But at this point, I have to hope that our diminishing numbers and new-found détente will provide some... consideration. Otherwise, we're all going to hell in a handbasket." She shakes her head. Yeah, it doesn't feel natural or safe to her either but when the alternative is oblivion, even trust is worth a try.
Bleys nods. "I didn't mean to imply that you were new to this. I agree that we should try to avoid that handbasket, if we can, but remember that Caine was trying to be merciful when he stashed Aisling inside a cage and that didn't work out very well. I just want to make sure you know to have someone ready to come looking for you if you decide to beard the lion in his den. I won't belabor the point."
Robin nods as well. Message received, BIG (possibly Random-sized) safety line before talking to Corwin or Benedict about it.
"But as I recall, we were discussing getting you and your charges back to Rebma. Did you want me to pass you through or will you shadow-shift to that fair city?"
Robin catches herself before she bows again. "If you would be so kind, Uncle, could you pass us through, please? Given Rebma's current state of security, my usual technique with guards and my current... uncertain welcome there, it'd probably be easier to go straight to the top." And hope that Conner is elsewhere.
"Will her aunt do?"
Robin nods. "Certainly."
Bleys pulls out a sealed pouch, and thinks better of opening it. He makes a quick casting. "This is trickier than it seems, but only because it will have to stand up to my using an ordered magic inside it."
Bleys blows a bubble of air and it grows larger until it is about the size of a wooden chest. He reaches into it and opens his trump deck, expertly shuffling through the cards to find the one he seeks.
'Oooo', Robin thinks. Then 'Darn sorcerers, he's not going to have to dry his cards out later.'
He concentrates on the card and smiles. "Yes, well enough. No, not the gallows this time, I'm standing next to Lir's sepulcher, as a matter of fact. Yes, I imagine you would. Well, work before pleasure and I'm not alone, my dear. If you'd like to question an expert or two, I could send them through to you. Oh, and their seahorses. I suspect they'll talk to you without resorting to that. It's Robin, and a knight named Sir Ophiuchus. I'm sure they'll be happy to chat. Just bring them through out of doors, darling."
The imagined half-a-conversation from Llewella gets Robin chuckling under her breath.
Bleys holds his hand out, but says, "Fetch your man and horses."
She nods once more. And looks around Ophiuchus and Eckford. (Hopefully, the poor knight is out of the magic circle.)
"This is a contact-based travel magic," she tells Ophiuchus. "It's not dangerous but it will transport us pretty quickly. Is there anything I need do for you or Eckford?"
Robin takes Ophiuchus' hand and then reaches to grasps Bleys'.
Bleys takes her hand firmly and says, "thank you." and passes Robin, Ophiuchus, the sea-horses, and her fire-lizards through to Llewella.
The first trip Edan makes is to the aforementioned tailor. Having a Sergei Polunin-like acrobatic dance in mind, he has some very specific needs for dancing clothes and the abuse he intends to put them through. While there, he acquiesces to fittings for more formal wear, as needed.
Random has declared that kilts are the only acceptable formalwear for men this year. (OOC: "It was that or speedos!".) The tailors are keen to accommodate a prince of the blood.
Edan: "He didn't really say that, did he?"
Tailor: "I was not there, sir, but my sister's boy is a footman, and he practically dived down the waterfall to tell me to buy up every yard of tartan plaid I could find. The orders started coming in that night, and we made a killing. It's why we're still in stock and you're here and not at another tailors, Sir."
[OOC: Anything for your troops?]
That's a little more complicated, since there are so many. Dress uniform would be layers of colorful robes and a colorful turbaned hat. Maybe the material is there already, since Land of Peace sailors have been in the city for some time, but if there isn't they'll have to approximate the look they want.
The tailors seem to thing that something like Zouave gear could be created quickly, for an appropriate expedited fee. How does he want to differentiate officers, both formally and on the field of battle?
After some thought, Edan decides to make differentiation in the sashes they wear along with the badges that pin the turbans in place. The fee is not really a problem, but would everything be ready in time? Edan is thinking especially about pulling the troops away from their duties and practice for fittings.
The tailor will subcontract the basic construction for the enlisted men and the officers will have his best hands working on their gear. He expects to be ready in a timely fashion, especially since he can re-use some existing outfits.
(Anything else? Anyone to see? How does Edan plan to arrive?)
Paige will wait until they meet at the event (fashionably late, as suggested) but Random might have wanted to discuss the message from the Dey. Edan wouldn't mind catching up on news of the Family, too. He goes to check and see if there was any message back from the king.
As far as the performance goes, the planning is going on in Edan's mind the whole time; actual practice will take place in the evening. With limited time, he will be modifying one of his old routines into something new.
A page with a card arrives and it's presented to Edan. He is invited to join Random at 'the ol' swimmin' hole', 'behind the water fall', 'at the bottom', 'Xanadu' for drinks and a swim.
Ha! For once, Edan is in a position to be prepared. His Rebman trunks will be the perfect clothing to wear under his robes and to have when he's asked to swim. Thus attired, he heads off to where the waterfall spills into the harbor/bay. On the way, he sends Kyauta out to hunt, with the admonition to stay away from people and the city.
Kyauta thinks of fish, and flies off.
Edan arrives at the place and sees Random floating in a yellow inflatable duck. Next to him is a much smaller inflatable, with a number of bottles in it. There's another duck on the shore. Random waves Edan over.
Edan blinks, then strips down to his trunks and swims over while towing the other duck. There's no Pattern to help here, but he's confident he has the balance to crawl/flop on the thing without falling back off.
After what is no doubt an embarrassing display of splashing, he solemnly adds, "Your Majesty. Did you get my note?"
Random nods. "C sharp? Yes, but I already have one of those. Mine's just a hair above 227 cycles per second."
Edan blinks. "I understood that reference."
"That calls for a drink!" says Random. He drinks.
The king pushes the inflatable cooler towards Edan. None of the bottles are labeled and they are all different. "Tell me what you know or suspect about Asiria. Let me know which parts are which."
Random beverages. Hmm. Edan opens one and eyes the contents before trying it. "The Dey was trying very hard to convince us that the Asir were a sect of the Klybesians. This immediately smells bad, since I've never heard of a marid just giving information away for free. But if I proceed on the assumption the Dey owed one of us a favor, then I hit another roadblock. I know very little of the Asirians. I think one of the forces that marched into Broceliande past me were Asir? In which case, Paige would know them better."
He looks back up to Random. "It seemed important to the Dey, enough to leave a very strong sorcerous message, and only a few of us that would find and understand it. I figured that if there was information being exchanged around Family on our common threats, you'd be at the center of it - and in the best position to pass it along to those of us who needed it."
Random swigs his beverage. "Sounds like the marid is sort of 'Our Marid' and he wants to convince us that the 'Asirians' are 'The Klybesian's Asirians'. So, just to tick off some fingers, Lucas went to Asir, he's dead. Solange went to Asir, she's missing, Huon went to Asir, Bog knows why. Brita and Conner went after him. Anyone else been there?" Random reached for another bottle.
"Oh, yeah, and Solange saw Floaty Woman there. I find the Dey's information credible, don't you?"
Edan's eyes are wide. Also very brightly golden. "I didn't know all that. Sounds like very good information, indeed." He frowns. "It sounds like a job for a reconnaissance in force, which would be a very good task for a few knights." The frown grows deeper. "But more than I can handle, if the Turcopolier is there. Wish I knew how my father gets armies together so quickly. Has any Family been there recently? As in, possibly still there?"
Random shakes his head, sending water drops spattering outwards into the lagoon. "Brita and Conner were the last I knew of, and I hear they're back. If anyone else has gone, either they forgot to tell me or I forgot that they told me, so effectively 'no'.
"So, you have a small group of knights, I notice, which is quite a co-incidence since this is a good task for knights." Random swigs his new bottle as well. "Normally somewhere around here, a King would give a Knight who is doing him a bunch of favors some reward, like the right to start an order of knights or a land-grant, or a title a beer or something. Anything like that that you feel like I should reward you with for good and faithful service?"
"You have already done these things, Your Majesty, and I am grateful," Edan says. "I have yet to accomplish the goals you have put before me, unless you want to count the establishment of this Order as 'protection of the realm'. I suppose we will see the wisdom of my choices after tomorrow, when I suppose we will be taking a trip to Asir."
Random nods, and leans back until his hair is just barely in the water, cooling the back of his head. "It's easy in my shoes to underpay people who are actually helping me. Of course it's easy to overpay as well. Let me know if I do either.
"Gerard said something about problems sailing to Asir. You'll probably have to ride. You may prefer that, given your desert nomads and their relative lack of experience as seamen." Random put his empty back in the cooler, face-down. "One more soldier who died for the cause..."
He looks back at Edan. "Do you need anything else or do you have what you need to do a little reconnaissance in force in Asirria? Do you want to wait until you have actually picked up some recruits after your ball, Cinderella?"
Edan looks momentarily confused, but nods at the last. "More is better, as I don't know what I'm dealing with. No one is trained to the level I want yet, so I will have to plan around it." He frowns. "Things changed much more rapidly at my home than I anticipated. The riders are out of practice. The magic of the place drained away, and with it those fantastic races who could survive there. That last, it seems, was my doing."
Random shakes his head. "We have little control over what happens in shadow when we are not there, less so than when we are present, which isn't always much. Imagine you find two shadows. In one, you left and they decided to become a stable republic based on your never returning, and another where they decided on a series of dictators who followed you.
"Is one real? Is the other non-real? Are you to blame for either outcome?" Random skips his beer cap across the water. It goes 5 hops and sinks. "You can really wreck yourself worrying about stuff like that."
Edan nods his agreement. "There is also the question of religion. Most of those I have brought with me are of the faith. I know that many of the Land of Peace preceded us to Amber, and now Xanadu. How are you addressing their worship of the Merciful One here?"
Random frowns. "With less of a heavy hand than my father. I am told he had less of a heavy hand until he was betrayed. Also, no Klybesians or friends of the Klybesians.
"So, knowing that I am a non-believer and am not looking to spread any religion in my shiny new capitol, How would you like me to have addressed your co-religionists and their religious predilections?"
Edan shakes his head. There are words, but he suddenly has trouble saying them.
Eventually he manages, "I would not have asked anything different. I am pleased that there is not a pogrom against those of the faith, for I am the one who led them here, almost by force of will, and I would be responsible for what befell them. I..." The next part is harder, but he manages to speak past the lump in his throat. "I shared their faith. Of course you knew that. It was Clarissa that finally convinced me that my faith was folly, that I had shackled my potential...by worshipping a being of Shadow. Father had tried to do the same, but I was... stubborn." A long pause. "Many of those I brought still have the faith. Some of them, they look at me almost as with worship. Some are conflicted, directionless." He smiles a little, then. "It was not by accident that I raised this Order as a secular entity. But I still must live the lie, neh? I must keep up appearances, so as not to break the morale of my company."
"Your grandmother also thinks it's appropriate to rip a person in half to break them out of jail and that it's a good idea to talk to babies while they are still in situ, so be sure to take her advice only with a needed grain of salt. If I had to guess based on what little I know of each of them, she doesn't like the idea of worshipping her ex father-in-law."
Random's raft is floating slowly clockwise around the swimming hole. "Some religious orders have these sorta half-baked idea that all roads lead to divinity and it's just a matter of finding your path. I don't buy that. Most of most religions are wrong, but are pretty damn sure that they're right. They're also generally pretty good at using their wrong truths as the basis of actions." Random paddles a bit so that he keeps facing Edan.
"On the other hand, most people can screw up that way with or without religion, so it's not like it's unique in getting some things wrong. So, whatever they make of things here, that's what they are. They'll need to figure out how they fit in with that, or they won't fit in.
"There's a faction of Little Furry Guys who helped out Corwin and your father when they invaded Amber, poor dudes got called on three times! Anyway, when they came to Amber to march to Chaos down the Black Road, one of them was corrected by Brennan. The little guy was telling him about the 'Great God Corwin' and the 'Great God Random' and such and mentioned the 'God Brennan' and got corrected, forcefully, that Brennan was also a Great God. Five hundred years from now, the Greater Brennan Alliance may fight a war against the Lesser Brennanites. That's not Brennan's fault —- He's going to have an oversized impact on shadow because of who he is, but even he can't make people do the right thing. Sometimes they take pleasure in not doing what you've tried to teach them. People, feh.
"There's a moral to this story, I think. And it's not just 'Don't start telling the story unless you know where it ends.' No, the moral I mean here is 'let people do what they need to do and support you without too much deception, but even if that's not what you do, you're not really responsible for what they do in 500 years.'"
Edan thinks about this a minute before a slow smile appears. "You know, sometimes I wonder what you're saying. And sometimes, you say exactly what I need to hear. I am only about thirty years old, if you count the time dilation from my gran turismo. I often forget how many of you look at time." A pause. "Speaking of time, should I be hurrying? Have you heard anything about our enemies' timetables that I haven't?"
Random paddles. "We're still scouting for them. That's Paige and Hannah's secondary mission, after finding Solange. It's pretty easy to give orders to you lot sometimes. 'Go out in shadow, range widely, and report when you see the bad dudes,' I say. 'Good, our plan was to go out into shadow, range widely, and report when we saw the bad dudes,' your generation says.
"Much smarter than my generation. We'd told Dad, 'Hell, no! Our plan is to go out into shadow, range widely, and report when we see the bad dudes.'"
Edan smiles at that one. "It is good. The more time I have to draw in troops, the better. If I were hurried, I could still find those who could fight; but there would be Sorcery involved, and sacrifices made that I would not otherwise want."
Random leans back and dips his head again, this time coming off the tube he's been sitting in and coming back up in the middle of it. "Not even Benedict gets to have wars without undesirable sacrifices. But that's beside the point. The only other item you may be interested in is that Julian is fighting the dragon-spawn in the woods and if you are looking to combat-season your troops, he might have a nearby and useful fight. If that's useful, just call him. I'm sure he can point you at the fighting."
Random holds up a hand, distracted, and has a brief conversation with someone not there. A moment late he reaches out and pulls Vere out of a rainbow sparkle of light. Vere's eyes widen slightly as he materializes standing on the very unstable platform of a floating tube. He shifts his weight desperately for several seconds, finally giving in to the inevitable and folding his body, falling straight down onto the tube with a splash.
"Uncle Caine did not bother mentioning that aquatic sport was involved when he sent me through, Your Majesty." He offers the king the letter. "From the Regent of Amber."
After paying his respects to the king Vere turns his head and smiles at Edan. "Well met, Cousin," he says.
Edan raises a bottle in salute. "Well met, yourself, Cousin. We meet in the strangest of places."
Random takes the note and reads it, dropping it in the lagoon when he's done. "If Caine says it's necessary, I'm ok with it. You are forbidden to die. On another subject, I wonder..."
Random lifts himself up on his arms in his tube and, balancing very carefully, stands up. "Now all I need is either a hula-hoop or a hockey stick. I think we could get a pretty good sport out of this..."
Vere smiles quietly at the king's enthusiasm, then turns back to Edan. "I have been ordered to ascend the staircase to Tir," he explains. "And I shall need someone whom I can trust to watch me through a trump connection, to pull me through should I start to fall to my death."
Edan keeps his smile, but Vere can see that his skin blanches visibly. "Ah, yes, Tir-na Nog'th. I have been there, with my father as the spotter. Do you have someone picked already to assist you? And- probably more important- have you ever been there before?"
The King sits, and pulls his tube towards the shore. In an eddy there, he 'finds' an oar, probably lost overboard from some sailing ship. He stands again and starts rowing himself. "It's like a Stand-up paddle board, but without the board." He begins practicing his new sport.
Vere keeps an eye on the king, in case he wants something, but his words are clearly for Edan. "Never," he answers. "I have read and heard reports, of course, but that is no substitute for experience. And in answer to the first question, no, I have not yet asked anyone to aid me in this. I only learned that I was to do this within the last hour." He smiles very slightly. "My choices shall be limited to those cousins who are here, and willing."
Edan barely hesitates. "I can do so," he says. "I would want a few hours rest after the moon sets tonight, but your business with Tir would be done by then, anyway. If you are planning on walking the Pattern, you will want to be there as the city appears, give yourself as much time as you can."
[OOC: The King is listening, probably, but he's also letting you two talk without needing to bring him in every second sentence...]
After a moment, he paddles a bit further and says "Who calls?" Then he adds "I've invented a new sport, which is a Kingly accomplishment for the day. What can I do for you two?"
Vere's eyes continue to follow the king as he paddles further away. "Your aid would be greatly appreciated," he tells Edan. "There should be an image of me in the Royal Trump Booth, which you can use. I am happy to say that I have no plans to walk the Pattern. Instead, I am to seek out Tir's reflections of some individuals of interest." He tilts his head to one side. "I believe the theory is that Tir reacts to one's thoughts, so if one goes to Tir and holds certain individuals firmly in mind, one is likely to be shown a vision of those individuals. So our elders appear to believe, in any case."
Edan frowns and splashes around so that he can face Vere. "Traditionally, the spotter is on the first steps of the Stair. There's more to that than a better view of a falling relative. Some of us can actually stage a rescue." He glances Random's way, then back to Vere. "Call me paranoid, but there needs to be another layer of contingency. Unless they'd let me take your Trump out of the booth and us both go there."
Vere opens his mouth to answer, but...
Random paddles back towards Vere and Edan. "It almost always does, in Rebma. Vere is here, but he's alone and apparently lost a bet to Caine, so he may be busy for about a day. You want to talk to him? Vere? Do you want to talk to Robin?"
The king holds his hand out, but Vere would have to stand up to reach it...
In a graceful flowing movement Vere is on his feet, balancing with ease on the tube. His hand shoots out and grabs the king's, in what a more traditional monarch than Random might consider lèse-majesté.
Edan smiles slightly, watching, and resolutely paddles back to where he might be out of easy earshot.
Vere feels the contact with other minds, as the cards allow one to do. He sees Llewella and Robin in from of him. Both are wearing robes and Llewella has a towel wrapped around her hair.
"Robin?" he says, a very faint note of hope in his voice.
"Vere, Vere, Vere!" comes back the immediate enthusiastic and bonfire response. It takes a lot of willpower for Robin not to leap through the Trump contact and pounce on Her Love. There's a sense of some little restraint (and embarrassment) as Robin is trying to be polite to the other people in the Trump contact. But her overwhelming love for the most beautiful, smartest, most rational and awesomest person in the Universe is hard to miss.
"My love," Vere answers with a smile. "It is very good to see you." He nods to Llewella. "Aunt. Thank you for arranging this contact." His eyes go back to Robin. "All is well with me and the ones who came with me. I trust all is well with you?"
Random interrupts, preventing Robin from answering. "Yes, yes, touching reunion, film at eleven, and all that. Vere, is Caine's little errand tied to these people Robin thinks are with you? Do you need the last one to complete the set?
"Also, Robin is not the best choice for your second in the matter, because you two might miss a few cues and then she'd feel just awful."
"Edan has offered to watch me as I go to Tir," Vere answers, "If we might use the trump from your trump booth here in Xanadu. And yes, Caine wants me to go to Tir to see what vision I might encounter regarding the ancients we rescued, who travel with myself and Robin. Their physical presence is not needed, and indeed the three who traveled with me are still in Amber. I plan on bringing them back to Xanadu with me once I return to Amber, and will introduce them to your majesty, as I have already introduced them to Caine and Benedict." He pauses very briefly, considering what other information he wants to impart to Robin under the guise of answering his uncle's question, and concludes with, "It is Uncle Caine's nature to be suspicious, and considering the situation impartially I agree that gaining more information about the possible alliances and entanglements they might have had in the past, which even they may have forgotten over the weary ages that they have stood guard, is a wise precaution."
Robin presses her lips together in a scowl at the thought of Caine sending Vere to Tir. But she understands, business now, touching reunion later. And she must concur, Tir and herself is a seriously-not-good-combination.
"Ummmm, is there any way we can get at least Morgne here to Rebma?" Not that she wants to leave anyone in Amber, but... "Ophiuchus is being a trooper and all, but he'd really like his Lady Liege around when he's dealing with the likes of Bleys, Rebma and Tritons -- which are really cool!" Robin can't help adding in a rush.
The being-suspicious-of and gathering-information-about she leaves to other kin. To Robin's mind all folks are fine, until they're not. Then you stab them. (Unless they're Family, in which case you stab them very carefully. And if one thinks that one is not in a careful-stabbing mood than one shouldn't stab Family at all.)
So she just sighs and wonders how long this investigation-suspicion-information-gathering thing is going to go on. Verde, every time she goes for a walk, something ends up needing talking abo.... "Oh, Vere? Just a heads-up; I'm going to need to talk to Corwin soon. Wheeee...." Her enthusiasm knows no bounds.
Brennan makes his way from the gathering of the Sons to somewhere more private-- probably back to the tent they've rented if nothing better comes to mind-- so he can make a Trump call to Folly.
She comes quickly to life on the card. She is sitting at a desk that looks Parisian in style (as does her dress), and she's holding a silver fountain pen that looks as though it could double as an impromptu weapon if needed. Without preamble, she says, "I was just about to--- Oh, hello, Brennan! What can I do for you?"
Brennan is wearing the same travelling outfit he has been for the past several of their conversations, but it's less travel worn, less dusty. His bearing is different as well, much closer to his normal presence than the more subdued body language he'd been using, too. His voice is still pitched somewhat low, probably to make sure he's not overheard from outside the tent he's in.
Most importantly, though, he's smiling. It is a finely understated smile, the very opposite of his uncle's Bleysing bright smile, but it is definitely a smile. A self-satisfied and somewhat malicious one.
"I have news," he says, "and a challenge: You will never guess who is here in Avalon. Go ahead. Guess."
It's a rhetorical flourish, of course-- he doesn't force her to guess. He does pass the sketch of Montage through the connection, though to answer his own question.
The frown she gives the sketch falls somewhere between confusion and consternation. "Er... unstuck in time, or zombie infestation?" she ventures. She tilts the sketch this way and that, perhaps trying to decide if the subject looks zombie-ish.
"Don't know," Brennan says. "I haven't put eyes on him. I'll be brief, but let me sketch out what's happened for context: The siege of Montparnasse is over, in the Mountain's favor. I'm gone from there, and tracked down the assassin for reasons that were..." he shrugs, "about three parts wrath, one part professional loose end-tying. I had the distinct impression that one of enemy captains'd had his mind tampered with, and a hunch told me the assassin, Cledwin, might be in the same boat. Shortening a long story even more, I caught him, gave him reason to think his mind is not his own, and we're with a faction of local Maghee wizards having it undone. The image of Montage is the first gold we've struck, but I'm hoping we'll get more.
"So I haven't set eyes on him, yet, and I'm not sure what's going on. But I knew you both needed to know and.... well, far be it from me to question anyone's professionalism, but alongside zombies and time paradoxes, I didn't want to discard more prosaic solutions. Such as I-didn't-see-the-body, or an older brother or maybe a father."
Folly looks like she might have thoughts on one or more of those, but instead she says, "Well, here's something else possibly relevant to your concerns: The closest known kin of your zombie is, shall we say, a long-term guest of the state here. We were just discussing that -- and by 'we', I also mean Conner, who may be interested in your story as well, if that's okay?" She is already rising from the desk; she collects several small folded pieces of paper and drops them into her pocket, and then heads for Conner's guest room, not far away.
"Conner? I had no idea he was there. Can we bring-- ah, I see you are ahead of me," Brennan says, as she heads in Conner's direction."
She taps on the door and, without quite waiting for an answer, says, "Hey, look what just came in by metaphysical airmail? You might want to join our conference call." She slides the sketch under the door.
Conner looks up for the book he is idly thumbing through and starts towards the door at the knock on the door. He picks up the sketch slipped under the door and immediately opens the door. "You have my attention, Cousin." Conner smiles at her. "Please come in and make yourself comfortable." He holds out his hand for Folly to take and gestures with his free hands towards a pair of stuffed chairs in the corner of the room.
"It's Brennan," Folly says by way of further explanation, "trying to track down who might've tampered with the mind of an assassin sent to help take down Montparnasse, and so far -- as I understand it -- that sketch is the first clue or useful memory to come out of the... un-tampering." She settles into one of the chairs and takes Conner's offered hand to let Brennan fill in the rest (or correct what she got wrong).
"Good to see you again, Conner," Brennan says. "And yes, that's about right." Brennan proceeds to bring Conner up to date with a near word for word recitation of the thought process that led from Cameleopardis, to the enemy captain Jellicoe, to Cledwyn. "I got lucky," he finishes up. "I recognize Montage. In a few hours, we're going to try again with something a little more comprehensive. I'm hoping to coax a picture of the former Queen out of him. Considering he was last seen dead, I judged this to be interesting enough to let people know, and hopefully get some updated information on the rest of the court."
Conner shifts his gaze to the sketch again. "The likeness is uncanny but it looks a little old to be Montage himself." He opines. "What updated information were you looking for?"
"I'm aware of the perceived age difference," Brennan says, "but he's still remarkably spry for someone supposedly dead.
"As for information, he's taking orders from someone, and I'm fairly sure this person is local-- the cover story is that "the Admiral, Stratum," is the son of "War-Leader Syke," and everyone I've run up against who's had contact with Stratum has had their minds scrambled: false memories of faces and details, and a strong enough geas to keep them from questioning it. The geas isn't strong enough to hold up to forceful outside questioning, but the memory block is. Now, my operating theory-- and I have some local capital staked on this-- is that Syke is Moire. If so, I'm still ahead of their game. But Montage, there, was a surprise. So since you've been in Rebma both more recently and a lot longer than I have, I'm looking for a list of likely alternates. People, likely female, that Montage would consent to at least appear to defer to in a theater like this. Senior members of Moire's court not currently in Rebma, even if we have assurances that they're not working for Moire. And remember, some of these people I might not recognize if I sat down to supper with them. I still have Folly's sketches of Moire, Dara and Moins, but think of this as an insurance policy-- once we more comprehensively remove that block, having a wider pool of candidates might be useful." Brennan says.
"And what's this I hear about Bend?"
"She's being held here as an accessory to helping-Moire-escape- after-Lucas's-death," Folly offers in answer to that last question. "We--" she gestures to indicate herself and Conner "--haven't spoken to her yet; those who have, think she probably knows where Moire is or at least how to contact her. There's been some disagreement about exactly what to do about that. And I think we'll need to revisit the question depending on what you find out on your end."
She leaves it to Conner to address the questions about Moire's court, since her own knowledge is pretty limited; but she adds, "You know, as we weigh the evidence we should also consider whether Somebody Else wearing Montage's face is a more likely scenario than Zombie Montage. Although I suppose a near shadow is also a possibility."
"So is the more prosaic explanation of an older sibling or family member with a strong resemblance." Conner puts in. "Though if such a person exists, he was not known at Court. I would have noticed a montage of Montage." Conner chuckles. "So as to Rebman females and their whereabouts the most likely candidate is Loreena. She was allowed free movement in the City in hopes that she would lead us to other agitators but she slipped our net and is currently off our sonar. After that the non-Moire possibilities drop off pretty sharply. Rilsa has self-exiled herself to the Seaward Shells and expressed her neutrality. Valeria is in Xanadu so far as I know. No doubt she claims to be the ambassador for the true Queen in Exile or some such. Bend as you know is here. As for the male branch of Montage's family tree, Lamell is still in the city but he is older than the man in the picture. I'd have to nose around Rebma to find out more on that front."
"Interesting," Brennan says. "All of that, very interesting. Valeria, I think I know. Loreena, Rilsa, I don't think I do. Neither of them were at Celina's coronation, were they? Assuming this Lamell shares no special resemblance to Montage, can I trouble you for descriptions-- or better, sketches-- of Loreena and Rilsa? You left someone out, though," Brennan says, and not happily. "Meg. Any word from her or about her?"
"I haven't heard anything for quite some time -- but then, we've been rather deliberately out of the loop," Folly says.
"Last I heard of Meg, she was here in Paris." Conner supplies. "But as she was not called into Family council, I do not know if she is still here or not." Conner frowns slightly at that. "As for Loreena and Rilsa, you would not have met them during your time in Rebma. Rilsa was absent and Loreena was deliberately snubbing the Queen by not engaging at Court. I am not my sister but I can sketch a good likeness. A moment." Conner leaves the connection just long enough to fetch a few sheets of paper and a charcoal stick. He takes Folly's hand again and sketches with the free hand as they talk.
"As for Moire, I am more convinced than ever she is in this region. All my fuss over the rest of her court-in-exile is just precautionary. I don't believe this Admiral's appearance is coincidence, whatever the full story is. Where precisely... well, that's still the rub. But I'm getting closer," Brennan says.
Folly casts a glance at Conner's sketch out of professional curiosity, then returns her full focus to Brennan. "Since we've been pondering the same question here, it's worth asking you, too: If you do find her, what next? What's your play, and what's your goal?"
Conner's sketching style is reminiscent of the illustrations in old naturalist's journals.
"My gratitude, Conner," Brennan says.
"And, find who? Moire? Depends on the circumstance, but ideally capture. The only question is who gets her-- Flora, Random, C- the King of Paris, Celina, they all have some interest. Am I forgetting anyone?
"Anyway, I would like to keep her just a bit off balance, put some pressure on her without revealing my presence or how much we're unraveling, make her think Rebma is unprepared and her best bet is to attack, and then trap her between a hammer and anvil. There are," he concedes, "a lot of problems to solve before that happens. Like, which route is she going to take, like raising a local force here, and so forth," Brennan gestures to elide a large number of smaller unsolved problems.
"Back at you, though: What's your play with Bend?" Brennan asks. "How do we use her, and this Montage, to get what we really want? Threaten her with Flora? I think I can find this Montage fairly quickly if I really have to, but I'm not sure it's the right play."
"The 'threaten her with Flora' was the first plan floated." Conner answers. "Flora knows a little vacation/torture shadow where existence would be hardscrabble and painful. Tell us what you know or we leave you here." Conner sniffs and rubs out a line on his sketch. "Crude but potentially effective if we sell it well."
"...And then I counter-suggested that perhaps I should go the diplomacy route of attempting to accept Moire's invitation of several months ago, and seeing if Bend might be persuaded to set it up," Folly says, "which plan rather hinges on my being observably more interested in conversation than capture. Honestly, though, now I just really want to go to Bend and ask, 'So what's your brother doing in Avalon?' -- just to see how she reacts. I wonder how her poker-face is?"
"Huh," Brennan says. "I'd just drop a warm Trump of Lucas and a cold Trump of Flora in front of her and ask her who she wants to talk to. I wouldn't even be offended if she's more afraid of Paris' spymistress than of me, all things considered. But all this cloak and dagger, everyone concealing their identity has me in a more direct mood than usual. And as much fun as either of our approaches would be, will threatening Bend and Montage directly get us much? Bend might be more worried about what Flora would do to her than Moire... but if she turns, what would Moire do to Montage in return? And vice-versa. I've never met Moire-- is she that ruthless?"
"I haven't either, but... yes," Folly replies grimly. "If she thought it worth the effort, there's no question she would kill to make a point. It's not clear whether Bend is a big enough player for Moire to try to control her that way, though -- although Bend might not know that. My gut tells me Bend is more motivated by trying to stay in her mistress's good graces -- perhaps by bringing her a naive granddaughter-in-law who seems turnable into a potential ally -- and thus gain political power, than by threat of that kind of retaliation. Which is why I'm not so in favor of torture plans, or even outright intimidation: not so much that they're distasteful as that I suspect there are much more effective approaches."
"Well, I tried a variant of the softer approach." Conner offers. "I offered to treat with Flora and Corwin on her behalf in exchange for some information about why I was run out of Rebma on a rail. She was pretty forthcoming with information but I wasn't asking for anything on the scale of finding Moire. She also got to mock my ignorance which I think she enjoyed."
"I've found that carrots work even better when there is at least the idea of a stick looming somewhere in the background," Brennan says. "In this case, you've got two: Flora, up close and personal, and me here in Avalon threatening to ruin Montage's day. I haven't figured out exactly how that's going to play, but he's one of a small number of very concrete, very immediate things I can pursue here based on what I know right now. That might change depending on what else I learn from Cledwyn and the Maghee, though.
"But we're-- I'm-- still putting the cart before the horse. I don't know what the story is with this Montage. Maybe Bend can shed some light on that. Maybe it's news to her. If I had proof beyond that picture, I'd give it to you. For what it's worth, though, despite past evidence of Dara having been here in Avalon, I don't think this Montage is her or cleph. I just can't see going to the effort of posing as Montage, who is supposedly dead, and then covering that up in a layer of mind controlling misdirection. I don't know what exactly is happening, here, but that scenario is low on my list. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best-- could he have faked his death, for any version of that idea that fits? And while I'm at it, I'm going to display my lack of familiarity with the Rebman Court: I know who Bend and Montage are, obviously, but who are they? Did they get their positions by skill, birth, or both?" Or in other words, who else's day is Brennan ruining when he ruins Montage's?
"That, I don't know," Folly offers, "but I suspect skill -- or some similar form of usefulness -- was most of it, both because they would not have held those positions for any length of time without it, and because I don't recall hearing them spoken of in ways that suggested high birth. I'm sure my husband could shed some light, and talking with him is on my near-future agenda anyway."
She hesitates, then adds, "And I don't think there was any death-faking going on -- or at least, I think the Montage that died actually died. Near shadow or close relative seems much more likely. Or maybe whatever Cneve thought was going to bring him back to life worked on Montage, too."
"I concur with the assessment of skill." Conner nods. "Montage was in the Coldstream Guards before earning his title and position as royal troubleshooter. Bend was unusual at Court in that most women of ambition tried to collect titles and honors to bolster their perceived importance. Bend remained simply Bend." Conner pauses a moment to peer at his sketch. "Lamell, their father, is a magician of considerable skill. Once again, a male moving in the circles of power by dint of his usefulness. Lamell was and is an adviser of Jerod. It occurs to me that I don't know who their mother is. An annoying gap in my knowledge."
"Well, and I'm not sure I knew Lamell was their father -- or if I did, I'd forgotten," Folly says. She frowns like she's trying to work something out.
"I'm interested in what he has to say," Brennan says, referring to Martin.
"For the moment, though, my position is this: For me, this is not personal, it's professional. The worst Moire has done to me is overplay her retaliation at Lucas, which puts her firmly in King Random's jurisdiction; and leave Rebma to fend for itself before Huon, giving Queen Celina a big stake as well. Montage and Bend are even less personal, for me, for all that I gather they would not be missed. So, since I am nobody's assassin, I am not going to go out of my way to kill him. If anything, the mystery of how this Montage came to be here makes me want to capture. But that said, if this ends up as an actual war," Brennan shrugs, "I'm not going to go out of my way to save his life, either. Subject to later information, of course. I'll do my best to preserve your options, too, if you'll keep me in the loop."
Folly nods. "There is a lot of checking-in-with-other-monarchs going on right now, before any of us makes a move. We'll certainly keep you posted, particularly if we get more definitive marching orders. But... if Montage is your Admiral Wossname, would that make Lamell your 'War Leader Skye'? Did I follow that correctly? And Conner, to your knowledge would Lamell have the kind of power or skill to do memory manipulation like Brennan has been seeing?" She's still frowning a little, like she knows she's edging close to wild speculation here -- but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Conner shakes his head no to Folly's question and is about to respond when...
At this point there’s a knock on the door.
Conner raises an eyebrow. "I wasn't expecting anyone. One moment." Conner leaves the contact and walks over to answer the door.
It's a page, looking for Conner and Folly, to tell them that Celina has arrived and would like to speak to them.
"Tell Her Majesty that we will attend her presently." Conner informs the page and then returns to the contact.
"Celina is here and wishes to speak with us." Conner chuckles. "Seems a change of venue is in order."
"She's there in Paris?" Brennan says. "By all means, bring her in. It will make at least one topic of discussion easier."
"Shall we walk as we talk, if we think we're coordinated enough?" Folly asks with a grin. Her excitement at the prospect of talking with Celina is palpable through the contact.
"And to answer Folly's question in passing-- I hadn't even considered Lamell. My assumption and hope is that Syke-- who is Admiral Stratum's mother-- is actually Moire. Or at the outside, some female member of Moire's court, just on the assumption that it's easier to maintain that sort of illusion, when the changes are smaller. Oh, and of course if Bend already knows about the Montage/Stratum angle, then just dropping the name will be enough to prove to her that we know what's going on."
Folly nods. "So there is at least an outside chance that this Skye is actually Montage's unknown-to-us mother. Perhaps Celina will have some insights."
The page has run off under Conner's instruction, and the group proceeds safely toward Corwin's study.
Conner briefly weighs the optics of walking hand in hand with Folly through the halls of Corwin's court and decides that they might as well give the rumor mongers something to do. Taking his sketches in one hand and Folly's in the other, Conner leads them out into the hallway. "An outside chance as you say." Conner agrees. "Can't really rule out anything at this point."
Folly has no qualms about walking hand in hand; the brisk eagerness with which she does so might inadvertently help fuel some of those rumors if anyone is paying attention. She is less eager to continue their conversation at any more than a very shallow level now that they're outside the privacy of Conner's rooms. With a murmur of agreement to Conner's comment, she hurries them toward Corwin's study.
As Celina closes off her Trump contact with Caine, she gets the niggle of an incoming Trump contact.
Celina is surprised, she takes a moment to center her mind and breathe deeply.
"It's your father; I'm in Paris and I have news."
Celina relaxes only a mite. "Yes, I hear." She wills a connection.
He's standing in his private study in Paris; his secretary is open, the desk flipped out, and his trump case is on it.
"I hope all is well with you. Conner, Folly, and Garrett are visiting here and I have news that we should talk about. Is there any news from Rebma, particularly emergency news?"
Celina runs through the kinds of things she thinks Corwin will believe an emergency. No. She's not going to have THAT conversation. "We improve by handspans, Father. But the large questions remain. No emergencies. It is good to get news from you. And I was just wondering about Conner. I do hope that Folly and Garret are well. No news from Merlin?"
Corwin answers the most important part first. "Nothing recent from Merlin, though I mean to talk to him after I talk to you, unless you'd rather speak with him yourself. He'd be happy to hear from you. And depending on how things go in the conversation Garrett is having with his father, and the one Random and I are going to have when that one is over, it may be time to call him home anyway. Any problems with Huon, while I'm thinking of family concerns?"
"Huon is being accommodating, certainly by his oath," Celina responds. "He's not that impressed with the ladies of Rebma so far. He is polite to me." She smiles. "So far our local politics are all equally interested in his potentials. He's fine with that. I'm actually looking forward to dealing with various heads of house telling me he is corrupting their daughters."
"My experience with Rebma is that it generally works the other way around," Corwin realizes how that sounds and hastily adds, "with all due respect to the ladies, who can take care of themselves. In any case, as long as he's not making trouble and you and Llew have him under control, we'll consider him dealt with."
He continues, "You know we have Bend in custody here. Conner and Folly are considering taking her out of Paris in the hopes that a trip will secure some cooperation from her. Some sort of good cop-bad cop thing, with them being the good cops and your Aunt Florimel being the bad cop. They hope she'll let on something about where Moire went."
Celina borrows his phrasing, "With all due respect to Aunt Florimel, Bend is made of hard times. She'll know a change in situ means something and letting on anything about Moire just seals her fate. She'll hold on to the last that Moire has a plan and Bend will be rewarded for waiting for it. Wouldn't you?"
And that wasn't helpful, Celina ponders. "It seems to me, Folly alone would have a better chance of talking to Bend 'through the bars', and asking Bend for advice about how Folly fits into the succession as Martin's paired one. During that conversation, Bend might try to woo Folly to making a plea with you for some latitude, based on how helpful Bend can be and how 'clueless' Folly might be about Moire's full plans and Folly trying to make any political headway without Martin around to 'back her up'. Do you see what I mean? Bend would be very willing to think she could advantage over Folly, but not so over Florimel."
"We've already decided that the threat of Florimel is sufficiently heavy that it should be left implicit," Corwin explains. "I think Folly's thinking along the same lines you are. Fortunately for us all, her daughter is with Martin and not here. If she were, I think it would change our judgement on the wisdom of this strategy. I don't think I'd want to take any chances with a prospective heir to Moire in the same Shadow as Bend."
Daughter?! Celina takes a second to make the stretch between when she saw Folly less than nine months ago and this news. Then Celina is gobsmacked in the next moment with a full blown flash sight and the Quantum Blonde whispers, 'but only in a quantum sense, since my timeline is purely theoretical from your point of view'.
Celina visibly sags and puts her hand over her left eye. "No. Father. Agreed. No chances." The connection wavers.
In the next moment, Celina straightens up, filled with resolve. She is fully in the connection again. "What do you need from me?"
This is easy. Corwin has an immediate answer. "If Rebma has an official position on the matter of Bend being taken and used in this manner, and your current position on what to do with Moire, so I can present that both to Random and to the company currently assembled making decisions about the two of them. If you can't make that decision immediately, we can have a day or two to consult. Or if you want to talk to Folly or Conner, or both of them, I can loan them my Trump."
"Bend," Celina's voice is dry, "is accused of aiding a traitor to the throne. She can remain in Paris custody until the streets of Rebma are parched, or serve at the pleasure of the King of Paris. If Bend wishes to enter a plea with the Queen of Rebma, I believe she is free to do so. Moire is that Traitor to the throne. She has also stolen the Jewel from Rebma which is material to the sanctity of the realm. She should be apprehended at all costs and questioned for the location of my Jewel. She should not be killed. And yes, I would love to talk to Conner and Folly, together or separately. I think either Conner or Folly could handle Bend, with Florimel's assistance and your support there is no question. It would be gracious if I might speak with them soon."
Corwin nods along, clearly attentive to the answer.
Celina pauses barely a breath, "Who made the Trump of me?"
"Merlin gave me a sketch-in-progress from the Trumps he's making for an emergency. This qualifies." Which makes this a serious matter indeed." If you want to come through, you can, though it will probably destroy the sketch. I can send you back to Llewella on her Trump afterwards."
"Yes," Celina says without hesitation, "But I am alone, and cannot leave without explanation, you understand." Celina maintains the Trump focus but walks backwards to where she knows there are markers and instruments for sketching. She keeps her focus on Corwin, but with quick hands makes notes on a sleeved bladder about her stepping out and returning soon. Llewella should be informed to expect some contact within the span of a day. Graces are offered to those who might miss the chance to speak with the Queen, but her absence should not be reported out of Court.
Celina nods to Corwin. "There. The sketch will fail, yes, I recall Merlin saying something of that. And Brita, as well, conveyed that sketches are just not hardy." She holds out her hand to her father. "Is there danger you have not said?"
She is ready.
"Only politically," Corwin says, and brings her through. They are in the study/office/private receiving room that Celina has come to know well.
"Welcome to Paris. Would you like me to send a messenger to Folly and Conner? Or is there anything else I can do for you, like have Alice get you some dry clothes?"
"Message to Folly and Conner, yes. Page to Garrett to let him know I send hugs. My respects to Florimel, Alice, Bill, and Lancelot." Celina says it all in one breath, noticing that she does not find the Parisian air as difficult as that last time she was here. "May I have a ginger drink? I do not think I'll be here long enough to change clothes or make a public face." She takes a small step to center herself more on the area rug so that the water running down her length does not puddle the hard floor.
"How keen is Florimel on the idea of laying hands on Bend?" The unasked question being is her Aunt yet patient in pursuit of Moire or not?
"At least let me get you a towel to dry off with." Corwin's already moving to get the ginger drink from the bar, and in passing hands her a large linen towel to at least stop the dripping of her hair with. "Florimel hasn't gotten anything out of Bend yet, so she's willing to try other means to get at her ultimate goal. If Bend manages to get away, though, we'll never hear the end of it." He produces a glass of ginger-water and hands it to Celina. "I'll send for a robe, at least."
He goes to the door and sends pages, seeking out Folly, Conner, and Garrett, and also one for Alice with a request for a robe, the luxury hotel sort, before turning back around to do whatever needs to be done next.
"I can see where Bend would take any reasonable opportunity given," Celina offers, pulling pins and combs from her hair and wringing it into the provided towel, "but Bend knows about shadows. Getting herself lost in one also means she'll never be found by Moire. On balance, staying near the center of things in captivity, with the chance Moire will change the politics makes hard practical sense. Dying alone in shadow, not a great alternative.
"Before the others arrive," Celina nods as he hands her the drink. "What advice on attuning myself to the Jewel of Rebma?"
"You don't ask the easy questions, do you?" Corwin answers, his eyebrows crawling up toward his hairline. "If it works the same way the Jewel of Judgement does, I'd say don't, until you need to. The Rebman Pattern isn't dead yet--I know; I've walked it--and you want to fix whatever's wrong with Rebma, not write a new Pattern."
"I can barely expressed how cheered I am by your sentiment," Celina grins back at him. "I am at present pursuing a course that treats the Pattern Realm as a grieving widow, and I am courting the Old Dame with an eye to acquiring her tasty fortune. The best cure for sadness is a new filly in the bedroom."
Celina adds, "But then, in extremis, if I find Rebma is not fixable, how to approach the Zeroth Jewel?"
"One of us will help attune you. It's not that hard, except for the part where you'd better hope you got my endurance and not your mother's. You won't be Queen of Rebma after that, not really, though, so be prepared."
At this point, the page returns, saying Prince Conner and Princess Folly are on their way.
Celina waits until the door is closed again. She looks at Corwin. "I understand you well enough."
It is not much more than a minute after the page returns when there is a knock on the door and Folly's voice: "Your majesties, it's Conner and Folly, plus an exciting mystery guest behind Card Number Two." From her tone, this is definitely NOT a stab-the-trump-caller-with-the- nearest-letter-opener sort of situation.
Celina understands her father is not that formal, however, she waits for him to do the invite into his royal inner chamber. She drapes the towel across her wet shoulders as a mantle.
"Come in," Corwin says, “and tell us who else is joining us.” He waits for greetings to be exchanged by all and sundry before reaching for one of his nephew or his niece, whoever is nearest, to join in the discussion.
Celina's face reflects the glory of Conner and Folly together when they actually are revealed. She suppresses a laugh of joy, but the excitement obviously drops away her burdens in the moment. Her eyes drink them up.
"Celina, I'm so glad to see you," Folly says with obvious delight; it is only the etiquette of maintaining the trump contact that keeps her from running to her cousin and embracing her. "I was hoping to talk with you soon about a couple of things, if you've got time -- but first, Brennan has called with some news that may interest you, too." She holds out her free hand, inviting Celina and Corwin to join the contact.
Celina finds herself reaching and taking Folly's hand, even as the question wanders the backstage currents of her mind, how many cooks before the Trump is spoiled?
Conner treats Celina to one of his warmest smiles and shifts himself however needed to allow Corwin and Celina to join the contact.
"Greetings your majest...ies," Brennan lobs the plural after the greeting and hopes it catches up in time.
Addressing Corwin, he gives the briefest of pre-ambles, but ultimately opts to let him ask such questions as he sees fit rather than tell the whole story from the beginning: "Majesty, you may already know, I am in Avalon-- or very near it, anyway-- on Celina's behalf, following up my suspicion that Moire had fled here. I've been here for some months, now in loose coordination with your brother, following various leads and hunches."
Turning more toward Celina, he shifts to the more recent past. "You may recall our last conversation-- it's been some weeks since then." Brennan proceeds to give a sketch of his increasing suspicion and growing evidence that mind-manipulation was not a one-off with Cameleopardis, but a standard tool in the toolbox for the forces of 'The Admiral,' having also been used against Cledwyn and probably Jellicoe. He includes the end of the siege, catching up with Cledwyn and making him confront is his memory loss, and their on-going success in recovering one good memory so far. He notes particularly the use of third parties, none of whom know what Brennan's actual suspicions are, so that Brennan isn't simply seeing what he wants to see.
"The punchline is in the drawing," he says. "That is the recovered face of the mysterious Admiral Stratum-- a man I had previously understood to be dead. We don't have a recovered image of the War Leader, supposedly Stratum's mother Syke. But I have some good guesses at what we'll see when we do." If Folly and Conner don't still have the Montage sketch, Brennan passes it back through so Celina and Corwin can see it.
Corwin does seem to be caught up on the story [per Karen's email], and nods his way through the story. When he gets a look at the sketch, his eyebrows rise. "That looks like Bend's brother," he says, and makes sure that Celina gets a good look at it so she can offer her opinion.
Celina, who was wondering earlier about the number of people on this end of the connection, notices that it seems solid, moreso than she might have expected.
Celina studies the sketch moreso than she might a Trump. "Perhaps the paternal line? The dead man may have a brother. Not old enough to be the father I guess. And for what it is worth, Rebman thinking might be such that the brother of a half brother is not much leverage. So our Captive might not care. Not that I would take that idea too far." By way of further clarity, Celina adds, "Our Captive and the Dead Man shared a mother but not fathers."
"Who was their mother, and the Dead Man's father, if you know?" Folly asks. "The sort to be involved in something like this? And what sort of ties did they have to your mother, if any?"
"My questions exactly," says Brennan. "Whether it's Montage or a close relation, I'd like to know what I'm walking into and whose feathers I'm ruffling." Or the appropriate submariner idiom.
Celina shrugs, "I can find out. The troubleshooting of ...Our Captive and the Dead Man were never on my horizon at court. Be sure that the ties to my Mother were seriously vetted by the Former Queen. And if the fact of the recent Dead Man would add extra leverage to making old ties more fervent, yes, she would have gone there."
"Brennan also has a concern that a Rebman noble lady, other than Moire, might be working behind the scenes in Avalon's troubles. Aside from Loreena, can you think of any others that are off our sonar and likely to be a partisan for Moire?"
"Related specifically to Avalon?" Celina pauses, "It might most likely be from Paris that this would happen, as the path to Paris has been open the longest. Also I recall that Moire neatly sowed some rebellion into the Children of Lir before she fled to parts unknown. So I could see those seeds blowing to Avalon if she knew the way to lead them there, or back to the Isle of Dannan if that is where the Children in question of loyalty settled. The latter does not seem pertinent to Avalon and I think the honor of serving Vere and the throne was more prestigious than a fleeing queen. So if they went to Dannan I think they are not for Moire."
Celina mutters nearly unheard, but since psychic contact is shared, she thinks of Bend and Montage, and D'Losielle. "Loreena is unaccounted for still, but again, I do not think she could get past the Tritons and alternating shifts that guard the way to Paris. She is more likely holed up in Rebma. Valeria has no access to Moire, unless Random is letting her do mirror work from Xanadu. No, I do not think so. But I remember, Bend's mother, her family is D'Losielle, and they took the oath to me when others choose not to attend. Lady Kendra is still alive. I can look further into that. However, the Father, Felik of Mal da Nollis. He was a champion and dabbled in theater and opera. I have not seen him, but I understand his voice was not suited to opera, but some say he was surprisingly convincing in dramatic stagecraft. He would have been very handsome. I do not know if he is still alive.
"I hate to make it more complicated, but are there practicing sorcerers in Paris? Because Bend was here, and Moire was here, and the mirror factory was here. If Bend was working to establish something here, why would she not choose a powerful ally who already knew the limits of Paris ways? Is there anything in Avalon that would easily seem.... French?"
"I wouldn't relate it strictly to Avalon," Brennan says. "I'd bear in mind anyone with the right skills, and high enough in Moire's esteem, to be trusted with such a task. If, of course, it isn't Moire herself. We know she's been in the area."
"To answer your question, though, does anything in Avalon seem Parisian? Are you asking me if I see evidence of Parisian infiltration? With deference to his majesty," Brennan nods at Corwin, "No, I have not. But I don't even know what that would look like. Remember, I haven't found what I found by looking for green haired people, I've found it by looking for military activities that could plausibly be cloaking an invasion of Rebma." Those with no direct experience overseeing a military campaign might suspect Brennan is leaving out a description of something difficult.
"Two more things to think about, though: When last we spoke, I suggested having a Trump made of you so we could stay in better contact. Folly is who I had in mind, but I never had the chance to follow up on it. And second: What sort of tricks can a skilled mirror artist use that might be relevant here? Assume I'm cagey enough not to preen in front of every mirror I see, unless I want to be seen. Because we're getting close to the point where the rubber hits the road, I think."
"The technological level in Avalon now is out of my hands; I don't expect firearms to be involved, though. I would think anyone from my Paris would try that first," Corwin says. "If you've seen no sign of that influence, I'd say there isn't any. Are there religious folk? Klybesian-influenced? Because we know some of them here were."
"Avalonian tech is mostly pre-industrial. Gunpowder weapons would stick out like sore thumbs, and I'd report them to your brother immediately." Who would probably smile faintly in anticipation of a new challenge, Brennan doesn't say. Maybe that leaks through. "The only unusual weapons development I've even heard of-- from your brother, actually-- is a kind of sticky fire for naval warfare, which as far as I know is unrelated to any of this. I'm alert for it, though.
"Religious folk... yes," he says warily. "A group called the Maghee, who I think have been subverted by Moire. A situation I am trying to rectify. They do have a tendency toward masks, which I do not love--" at all! "--but the masks fit with what I've read of their scriptures." Brennan looks like he might say more, but checks himself, hard.
He leaves the subject of Trumps to Celina, the proposed subject, and Folly, the proposed artist. Mirrors are completely out of his purview, apparently, because he has no answer on that either.
As does Brennan on both counts.
Celina looks at Corwin, Brennan, Conner, and Folly each in turn, and sighs, "Well, I do want a Trump from Folly, but can only sit an hour for a sketch."
"I can work with that," Folly says, and smiles at Celina.
Celina looks grateful.
Then back to Conner. "Silhouette and Ossian are scouting Klybesians who tried to turn Reid into a science experiment. Rebma regards these monks as enemies of the Family at this point. Does everyone here know your puzzle solving regards Chantico and Dara? It seems pertinent, somehow, when talking invasions."
"Well it is little more than a data point but I do not believe I have shared it," Conner admits. "Some time ago I attempted to keep tabs on Dara by means of sorcery. I saw her and another woman I did not recognize at the time conversing but before I could hear much they started looking around the room having detected a magical eavesdropper. As it happens, it wasn't me, but Celina having the same idea at the same time using mirror work. The unknown woman disrupted Celina's scrying with a jet of flame and I ended mine before they had a chance to notice me too. When we related this story to Ambrose, he identified the other woman as Chantico, daughter of Brand and a fire goddess of Shadow Uxmal."
"Random and I stand behind Celina on the point of the Klybesians being enemies of the Family," Corwin says. "They are dangerous, and you'll have whatever support you need that we can get you to deal with them. Chantico is a little more tricky, as is Dara, because they're family, and we all know Random's rules about family. But if they're backing Moire, they need to be," he pauses and considers his words, "dissuaded, or removed from the playing field.
"Are you going to need assistance, Brennan? Can any of you here--not Celina, obviously--go to Brennan's aid?"
"Possibly, if it is needful," Folly offers. "Although I suspect for the time being I might be more useful to his cause on Trump duty, or seeing what I can find out about Moire from our captive." She looks to Brennan for his thoughts.
Brennan sucks on his teeth for a moment. "I-- don't know," he concedes. "I'd be a fool to walk into that sort of firepower alone, but my gut tells me to worry more about a two pronged attack on Rebma-- the Faiella-Bionin and the Kelp-- than to worry about my personal safety. Dara was once here, but there's scant evidence so far she still is. The Chantico angle is even thinner. I may have a clearer idea once I know who Syke really is.
"There's also one unrelated factor people should be aware of before final decisions are made." He hands the increasingly-worn copy of the sketch of Maeve and the mystery man through the Trump connection, and indicates people should pass it around. "In case anyone has not seen a picture of her, that is the Queen of Tir-na Nog'th. I don't know who the man is, but I'd very much like to. This sketch is in my hand, because I saw it in a dream and it seemed terribly important. Later-- much later-- I pieced together the relative time flows and understood that it came to me about the time of Cambina's death. When I showed it to the King's brother here in Avalon, he voiced the thought that she-- the Queen-- is searching for a new host. His words. I discussed the idea with Fiona later and she did not dismiss it out of hand. Our considered opinion is that females strong enough to survive the Pattern but who have not yet tried would be her targets of choice.
"Well, it's an opinion, anyway. You can keep the sketch-- it was my dream, and I've stared at it enough I can make another in my sleep." Brennan shrugs at the gallows humor. "I figure Paris or Xanadu will afford more of the right people a chance to see it than in my pocket."
Conner opens his mouth to speak but closes it again as Celina voices her question.
Celina registers a pang of guilt that reverberates through the Trump contact at the mention of vulnerable young women that have not walked the Pattern. She says nothing. She memorizes the sketch of the Queen of Tir-na Nog'th.
Folly also takes a long look at the sketch, not just to make sure she would recognize the Queen if she ever encounters her, but also to see if she can detect any clues as to the man's identity (such as, perhaps, family resemblance to anyone she might have previously encountered in person or in portrait).
Folly does not recognize that person.
Celina moves a half step closer to Conner. "I recently offered aid to Amber, trying very hard not to insult the Regent or demean Amber's future. Are the Moonriders pointed at the old City? Does anyone know the status?"
Conner shakes his head no.
"I've heard nothing recent, and if Caine thought there were Moonriders pointed at Amber, I would have heard. So would Bleys. But I'll contact him next, just in case," Corwin says, by way of soothing everyone's nerves.
He looks at the sketch but clearly doesn't recognize the man. "Llewella?" he suggests to Celina.
"Yes, I suppose so." Celina says. "I'll make a copy of both of these to take back with me. I don't expect the Moonriders to come through Rebma though I know of no reason that they might not if it allied with the moves of my Mother. So in that extreme case," she looks at Corwin, "I would take it well if you were to give Conner any pointers in using his skills to work against the Moonriders."
"We actually touched on that in recent conversation." Conner mentions. "I also spoke with Edan about his recent battles with the Moonriders so I have some forewarning on the Sorcery front as well."
"If they're pointed anywhere, I would expect it to be either Avalon or Xanadu, as a means of getting to Tir-na Nog'th," Brennan says. "By way of clarification, I have seen exactly nothing while in Avalon to suggest anything imminent on this front. But this business about searching out a new host..." he shakes his head, with an expression somewhere in the neighborhood of contempt and revulsion. "It seemed too important to keep to myself, or having people committing to action without knowing about it," he flicks a glance toward Folly.
Folly gives a nod of acknowledgement. She looks a bit grim. "To the extent that 'close' is quantifiable in this context, do we know if the Moonriders were close to any Pattern realms or their major trading partners when Edan encountered them?"
Corwin shakes his head in the negative, and adds, "No idea," for Brennan's benefit, in case he didn't see it through the connection.
"Majesty," he says, addressing Corwin, "now is not the time, but may I call on your advice later, if I receive King Random's permission to go to Tir?"
"Of course," Corwin says. "You are welcome in Paris, Sir Brennan." It seems to be some sort of formal announcement. Maybe there's even some power behind it. Hard to tell with Corwin sometimes.
Conner nods to himself. "Brennan, I think I should join you in Avalon. If this turns into a hunt for Moire, you'll need all the help you can get. If not, I think my best chance of finding this route through the Kelp is to start from the Avalonian side."
Celina adds nothing, but smiles her acceptance at Conner's choice.
"Conner, Brennan, should I summon anyone to send with you? There are a couple of knights whose loyalty in the field it might be useful to test, and they might know useful things. One is Sir Firumbras, and the other comes, I think, from Brita's shadow. She goes by Regenlief."
Celina's expression quiets to neutral. It may be easy enough for Conner to read that she is puzzled by this addition by King Corwin.
Brennan's face goes cool-- it's a smooth enough mask of some reaction, but not smooth enough to be invisible.
"I know the Valkyrie Regenlief," he says, "She's a strong arm in a fight. Sir Firumbras I don't know, but he comes well-recommended." He glances at Conner, offering him the chance to object if he wants, but nods to Corwin: "If they're willing, yes."
Conner nods in agreement. "I have no objection."
To Celina he adds, "Sir Dignity remains in Rebma, Majesty? Whenever you and I speak next, I'd like him to join me as well, and any other Knights of the Ruby as happen to have made their way to Rebma."
Celina only nods, as it is only right that the Knights of the Ruby shall have free passage through Rebma. She knows that Conner and Brennan can now make whatever arrangements they need without her. She waits to see how the agenda shall break down and if the timing will include some personal time with Folly.
"I'll call for Firumbras and Regenlief then. If there's more I'm needed for, let me know," Corwin says, and drops out of the contact. The group in Paris are aware of him going to the door to send pages to summon the two fighters, and to have travel gear for them and Conner brought.
Brennan holds his flat expression for a moment after Corwin departs, in lieu of a glare, before letting some expression back into his features. "I have very recently learned that Regenlief," he explains for everyone's benefit, "is Ossian's mother. That was going to be the topic of our conversation, Folly, but it seems overcome by events." He pauses, then adds, "She is a very good person to have on your side in a fight."
"Ah," says Folly, who had clearly picked up on Brennan's discomfort through the contact, and just as clearly was trying to work out the reason. "Well, that part is good news, at least. And for the rest of it... I suppose your team is also picking up a diplomat, if you need one." She smiles wryly, but not unkindly. "Good luck, and let me know if I can be of any assistance."
"Unrelated to any of this, if anyone sees any of Robin or Brita or Martin, I'd enjoy hearing from them." Brennan says.
Celina listens with attention. She expects that Conner and Brennan will want some private time, or that Conner may want to discharge news. But she appears willing to wait on those and give Folly the time for sketching.
"I'll pass that along to Martin when I speak to him next, and the others if I see them," Folly says. She looks at Conner. "Are you ready to go through now, or do you need to go gather or send for your things?"
Conner just needs to grab a few things them his rooms and then he is ready to go with a smile for all his family and a hug or manly hand clasp of farewell as appropriate.
Celina's got nothing more, except the traditional word to Conner: "Please be careful."
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."
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."
Brita walks into the bar. She glances around, sniffing slightly as if at the décor and then beelines for Raven's table. "Captain," she says as she sits down.
Raven nods in greeting. "Good to see you," she answers. "I was thinking I should come find you, actually. Don't suppose you're done with the other thing you were doing?"
A glance around the bar will reveal a figure sitting at a corner table, working his way through a meal and a large mug of something very strong and with a lot of calories. It would appear that cousin Jerod is keeping an eye on other things, though he does notice Brita's arrival, as well as whether anyone else notices her arrival.
Brita nods to Raven's question. "I Have finished my Task. Is Your Merchant still keeping you Running?" she tilts her head towards the corner.
Raven snorts. "Aye, I suppose you could say that. Been looking for some extra friends. Speaking of - where'd yours get off to?"
"Who Knows. He was In My Hair Enough during my Task, but Eventually got Bored, I guess," Brita does not roll her eyes although she does glance around the room. "Can I Help You Search for a while?"
"Aye, I wouldn't mind some help. Supposed to be some mages around here that might be helpful for us, but I can't say as how I'm the best person to go poking around magic things." Raven glances towards the table in the corner and tilts her head towards their own table slightly.
His meal finished with impeccable timing, Jerod pulls a few coins from his purse and drops them onto the table as he rises, adjusting his belt before heading over to Raven's table.
"How goes Uncle duty?" Jerod asks to Brita quietly after sitting himself down.
Brita rolls her eyes. "If I Ever Turn into An Uncle, Please just Run Me Through with a Sword. I think They Must have a Class in 'Being Annoying to the Younger Generation.' He Did have some Interesting Musings on my Painting, Though. How are Your Dealings Progressing?"
Jerod pauses momentarily, looking at his nordic cousin with an expression that screams "so many responses, so little time" before saying. "You may rest assured that should you become an Uncle, I will not hesitate to end your misery." with a slight smile.
Raven snorts, but it's quiet.
"My dealings are proceeding." he says, continuing a quiet tone. "I'll find out soon enough if the Lord here is going to listen to my alter-ego on how to deal with Dexamene or have me arrested for treason. If you see meteors come crashing down from the sky, you may assume the latter.
"The good captain decided to pursue a line of thought on local hedge mages, see if there are any options to be obtained, so I decided to stay in the background for a bit to see how things work. This might be more up your alley though. My knowledge of Sorcery is limited to how to shut it off if possible."
"And I'm guessing that's going to cause a stir," Raven agrees dryly. "Which we might want to stay away from until we figure out if we need the meteors or not." She looks at Brita. "Want to help me find out if they're really angry or why, or if that was just soldiers talking?"
"Certainly!" Brita responds. "My Knowledge of Sorcery is Minimal compared to Some of My Kin, But I Can Stir Up Trouble with the Best of Them. What is Your Approach, Captain? I will Follow Your Lead."
"I've been working the idea that I'm new in town and in need of some friends," Raven answers. "Don't see as how that'd be a terrible way to start. Just need to figure out who's magical and might be interested in being friendly first. And if they're not interested in being friends - well, then we find out what's got them angry instead."
Brita nods and surveys the room, counting heads. "One way to Make Friends in a Bar is to Buy A Round," she notes. "Could it be Pay Day for the Good Captain?" she asks Jerod.
"Clearly the only reason she likes me is because of my money belt." Jerod says to Raven drily as he looks at Brita, pulling a pouch from a cloak pocket and putting it on the table for Raven. Even at a cursory glance, the pouch is stuff sufficiently that one can afford quite a lot in this establishment.
"That should cover what you need to make some impressions. If we need to go more impressive, we can arrange for gemstones. Takes a little more effort though and I don't want to be too noticeable if you get my drift."
Brita bats her eyes at Jerod and says in a perky little voice (albeit softly), "Certainly, Sugar Pop!" then she grins mischievously. She turns to Raven, "So, Captain. What do You Wish to Do with Your Windfall?"
Raven does a pretty credible job of looking like a captain on payday - very, very credible. Still, she gives Brita an amused glance and a snort. "This'll more than do to start. I'd say it's time to buy a round and see who cares about who bought it." She eyes Jerod. "You may want to vanish, or at least be less... here. Ain't a good captain out there that'll get too relaxed with the boss around."
"Call if you need me." Jerod says, nodding once to Brita before departing. He will arrange to take up a temporary post close by the establishment, so that if things start to go wonky he can decide if he wants to get involved.
Jerod departs and stays within earshot (for large enough shots) and waits for things to go pear-shaped. He remains ready for trouble, from any direction it may choose to manifest itself. He's an equal opportunity opportunist after all...
Brita watches Jerod leave and then turns to Raven with a big grin. She raises a hand and lets out a whistle, ostensibly to attract a bar maid's attention, and calls out "A Bottle of Your Finest Wine for the Good Captain Beam and Myself - We are Celebrating!!"
Raven nods and adds, "Aye!"
In a lower voice, she adds to Brita, "We'll buy a round after this." She snorts and pokes the bag with a finger. "Just not the finest. Ain't that much in here."
The woman comes over and brings a bottle of wine with her. "Sounds like you got get news," she says with a smile. The wine is pretty good, although it has a strange, almost metallic aftertaste.
Brita chews on the wine a bit, swallows, and then gives a snort herself. "Not My Style," she notes. "I'm more of a Mead Woman, Myself. I'll Let You Order the Next Round."
"Ales here, but can't say as how it hurts to try something new," Raven answers. She smiles at the barmaid. "Is 'got paid' good news? What's this stuff called, anyway?"
She smiles. "Honey, getting' paid is always good news." She leans down. "If you're looking to gamble on the game, I'll show you how to get through the back door."
"Oooo! A Game!" Brita's eyes are practically glowing as she grins a Conner-Watt smile at Raven.
Raven grins. "Aye, lead the way."
And because Raven knows exactly how these things work, she picks out a reasonable amount for the barmaid's time and effort. As soon as there's a decent chance to do so without being obvious to everyone else, she'll pass it over. (Unless she wants it that obvious, of course...)
The woman takes it with a smile and says “Don't bet on Hat-hatul. He's on a losing streak."
She leads them to a door in the back, and nods at the man who opens it. "I'll be back after they get the match going."
The doorman turns out to be a big guy. Not big like the weir, but a good head above the average Gatwegan. "Evening folks, welcome to the Pit. House rules all bets come though me. Main match starts in a quarter watch. Hat-hatul, the champion, taking on Slagfirth the Finn. If you want my advice, you should put your money of Hat-hatul. He looks like a winner." His smile is clearly that of a bookie -- the house wins no matter who else does. "Or you could take a longshot bet on a number. Payout is very high if you win..."
Behind the doorman is, literally, a pit. It looks similar to a courtyard-sized amphitheater, and the central "stage" is divided up in to concentric circles and spokes, like a dart board. There are two elevated chairs on either end of the pit.
People are sitting at tables around the pit. They're in small groups and it's clear that there's a rivalry between the fans and supporters of Hat-hatul and those of Slagfirth. The two competitors have not yet taken the field.
"What do you think?" Raven asks Brita. "How lucky do we feel?"
"With a Name like Slagfirth, he Has to be an Underdog. Let's bet on Him to make him Feel Better," Brita grins. She moves to get a pit-side spot between the two factions.
"Done and done," Raven says, with a snort of amusement. "This on Slagfirth, if you please." She hands over her best guess at a reasonable bet and then follows Brita. She's curious about just what, exactly, they're betting on...
The doorman takes their wager and has them led to a table which overlooks the ring. "Your man is on in the third card."
A man appears in a flash in the center of the ring. It might've been flash powder or perhaps some brief magic. Lights shine on him and his voice is very loud.
"Welcome, welcome," says the MC, "Thirdsday Night is the night for the Bird Game. You can all see the board, you've bet on the board. If the bird craps in your square, why then you win! Someone has lucky number 3, someone always has lucky number three...
"But, it's not a game of luck, my magian friends, no no. Because the board is surmounted by two competitors, who will try to control the bird. If the bird comes to them, they win, and so does anyone who bet on them! Some of you will be winners tonight!"
"From the Ironbound, the challenger, that clever mage, Slagfirth the Northerner!" There is some applause, but most people seem more intent on drinking, Some of them are drinking heavily, and almost all are smoking. There's a mostly-clean ashtray at the table, and it smells of something sweet, not acrid.
"The champion, returning for his third consecutive defense, Hat-Hatul!" Hat-Hatul gets more applause than the challenger, but it is a Thirdsday, so the crowd is somewhat sparse.
"We'll give you all time to place last-minute wagers and order another round while we bring out the bird. Enjoy the match!"
The MC walks away and two assistants bring out a cage, perhaps 8 feet tall and covered with a blanket. Inside it are two very large feet.
Your waitress comes back. "You folks need another round? It gets sorta busy here during the match..." It doesn't look like it does get too busy, but perhaps the owners told her to say that.
Brita smiles at the waitress. "An Ale for me, please. Also - Can you Tell me about The Bird we are betting on." She tilts her head towards the pit. "And Is it Always the Same Game?"
"Aye, and another for me," Raven says. "Is anyone allowed to compete, or is there a roster?"
"On a Thirdsday? Anyone can, long as you're willing to try to control the bird's mind. You have to win a weeknight to be invited to the tournament of champions.
"Still, I heard they've got a real champion-style bird for tonight. An emuraptor, from deep jungle. Noisy thing.
"If you're gonna compete, you need to know the final escape. If one of the competitors is about to lose, they can try to make the bird attack the other. If he gets too mauled to continue, he loses.
"Would you like me to get you signed up for a match?"
"Let me See whether it Looks Entertaining first and I will let you Know," Brita responds.
Raven nods. "What the lady said. Ain't of a mind to make a fool of myself at a game I've never seen. Anybody playing ever get killed, or is it safer than it sounds?"
The waitress smiles, although it's somewhat forced. "If the other magician has the bird attack, yes. Emuraptors are dangerous, and some of 'em are just mean. The biggest danger is when the competitors are closely matched in skill. The finals are where people put side bets on maulings."
Brita has nothing further. She will watch both factions as we wait for the fight, opening her third eye to scan the crowd and field.
Raven snorts. "Aye, that's what I thought. Just because I'm wondering - the birds stick around long enough to get names from the crowd, or are they trash or somebody's fancy dinner pretty fast?"
She nods. "Some of 'em. Sometimes. The weak ones, well, their heads explode. You can place a side-bet on that, but I wouldn't. Not tonight. Luckily nobody wants to eat the head. We try to keep the strong ones around. For tournaments and special events."
Once her curiosity on that point is satisfied, Raven will also sit back to watch the crowd and the match.
The bird is in place, and they remove the cage walls. It still has a blindfold on, but seems otherwise unrestrained. It's hard to imagine this bird flying, because it's heavyset and its legs look to be all muscle. It's easy to imagine it leaping from the pit to the rafters and from there down into the crowd to kill every person in the place. From the wicked looking beak to the cruel talons, it's hard to imagine a bird being any more murderous.
Someone at the next table says "I'm gonna change my bet to the bird." Her whole table laughs, but the bird looks anything but safe.
The two magicians who come forward to challenge the game look as if they hadn't expected quite this much of a bird.
The opposing wizards are on opposite ends of the room. They each have a slightly elevated chair, more on the order of "bar stool" than "life guard stand", and they are holding their hands in front of them.
In a voice that seems magically amplified, the announcer introduces them, and hurries out of the ring. The blindfold is removed from the bird, and it's free in the ring.
Its squawk shakes the table, and it seems pleased with the concern it has raised in the crowd. The bird wanders over to a basket of raw meat, and begins tearing into it. The table next to Brita and Raven has a side bet on a long chase, so they're excited about it.
Slagfirth stands on his chair and shouts something at the bird. It's unclear if he's casting a spell or just trying to get its attention.
It occurs to both Brita and Raven that as pattern initiates they have the power to determine certain actions to be probable. It would be possible to fix this game, and almost certainly untraceably.
Brita is Absolutely Positive that This Bird is Female - look at how she Ignores the Squawking of the wizard to tend to what is Important. She wonders how long the bird has been mistreated - malnourished and without Pure Water to drink to make for more Agressive entertainment. Brita will Watch to see if the Wizards begin to mistreat the bird.
Hard to say. Clearly it was chained and blindfolded and is not free to roam in whatever environment such a creature normally does, but it doesn't seem to have any scars that would indicate recent mistreatment at human hands. And this mind-control doesn't seem kind, either.
Raven - having strong feelings on the subject of cheating at a game where she's not using her own money and (at the moment) only cares about the outcome because she should probably look like she does - is much more interested in the crowd and what they view as appropriate encouragement of the players and the bird.
There seems to be some sort of magical net to prevent the patrons from flinging bottles at the contestants, so it's mostly words. Given the state of the tables and barstools, it looks as if the bar regularly has fights, which may be over the proceedings below. In fact, they may get more interesting than the match, if the wizards don't get on with things.
Slagfirth looks surprised when the Emuraptor doesn't start moving towards him. And states his spell or challenge again, louder and more slowly.
The bird picks at something in her feathers. And someone in the crowd 'boos' the wizards.
Brita laughs loud - a typical Asgardian laugh. She calls out to Slagfirth, "Ask Her Nicely and Maybe She'll Listen." And Brita is sure that will be the case....
Raven eyes her, smiling in a bemused way. "You do realize," she says dryly, "that that's the one we bet on, aye? Or are we changing that to the bird now?"
"Just Seeing if he is Moldable - If he Listens, He Wins. If Not, He is a Fool," Brita notes with a shrug.
Raven snorts. "Pretty sure there's easier ways to court him, if that's what you're after," she says, still smiling. "Is saying it slower and louder if it don't work the first time something that's supposed to work in magic?"
Slagfirth hears Brita and looks annoyed. He casts a spell that causes a glob of stinky purple goo to fling at their table. It turns on the barrier is two way, as the goo dissolves upon reaching the edge of the ring. Slagfirth's lack of appreciation of hecklers is clear and he returns to concentrating on the Emuraptor.
Hat-Hatul laughs, and begins crooning towards the bird. It looks at him, and takes a step in his direction.
Brita notes to Raven, "Saying it Slower and Louder works as Well in Magic as in Talking to Anyone who Can't Understand Your Language." To Slagfirth she calls, "See - a Little Respect for the Queen of Birds Could gain You the Prize!"
Slagfirth stops, and what he says is amplified just like MC's was. "Wait your turn, I can only deal with one shrieking bird at a time!" A number of nearby partisans laugh at his comment.
He does something which causes a bright flash of light between the raptor and Hat-Hatul. The bird steps back towards Slagfirth.
"Oooo! I Like This one - he Has Gumption, taking on a Goddess!" Brita notes to Raven. Back to Slagfirth, she says with her more amplified Goddess voice, "Show us Better Parlor Tricks, Magician, or you Might Lose it All." She is certain that the projection of her Voice from center field towards Slagfirth will cause the bird to startle and jump a foot towards Hat-Hatul. Not enough of a leap to make it easy for Hat-Hatul to take over, but enough to lose Slagfirth the step advantage. "He Needs to Work for This Win," she notes to Raven. "It Will make the House Favorite's Loss easier to Bear." And she Feels that Slagfirth has enough in him to prevail against her gentle teasing as well as the House Pets.
Raven snorts in amusement. "I wonder if the house allows side bets? 'Number of times a player lets somebody distract him' might be a fun one."
"The lady's got a point," she calls to the ring.
The other side laughs this time.
"If you want to compete, you have to sign up. Or did they disqualify you because you're too close to Emuraptors yourselves?"
Hat-Hatul jumps in. "Slaggy, are you done flirting yet? You have to fail here before you can go fail with your lady-friends."
Slagfirth's face turns red and he gestures at the great bird. It squawks in annoyance, surprise, and perhaps fear. It rises a few inches off the ground but doesn't move anywhere. Hat-Hatul is also concentrating hard on the creature.
The crowd roars, both sides.
Raven eyes the bird. "Ain't they supposed to move it across the board?" she asks Brita. "Pretty sure the board isn't in the air."
Brita shrugs, "The Air may be Part of The Board." She is certain that the bird has some vestigial instinct of flight, its only current constraint against being able to fly had been its weight which has now been eliminated. So....Fly! she thinks at the bird, Fly to the smallest threat - the quiet one in front of you! Out loud she says, "Way to Go, Wizard Slagfirth! What Mental Strength!"
The bird seems to take the idea well. Her large wings are usually used for balance or to puff herself up. Now she can pull herself towards the threat.
Other nearby Slagfirth fans (or at least bettors) start chanting "Slag! Firth! Slag! Firth!" There is much pounding of mugs on the tables...
Slagfirth's eyes widen and he drops his spell, dropping the bird. One of the fans yells out "Now Crap, you damned bird!"
The bird keeps walking towards Slagfirth. He looks nervous and changes his hand motions. There's a steady green light on the bird, which starts to vibrate slightly.
Other fans are shouting for Hat-Hatul to do something. And they're pretty worked up. This bar is one flipped table from a full riot.
"I think it likes you," Raven calls. "But ain't this supposed to be a contest, lads?"
But she's watching Hat-Hatul's fans now more than the bird. Nice to know it's easy to make this place a tinderbox, but... Raven doesn't think it's likely that there will be any fights big enough to start a large riot tonight. A few guys fighting, now - that's just a normal gambling night most places, so that's probably fine if it happens.
Brita grins at the chaos. So much like home. She is certain there is a high probability that this was a typical result of matches here, but probably more so on the days drawing bigger crowds. She expects the management will quickly recognize the potential and send out the servers to distract the audience with requests for more rounds.
The waitstaff is deployed, but they don't seem to be getting much traction, and indeed, they seem as fixated on the game as anyone else. One waiter says 'this is gonna be good', and another laughs. They look strong enough to stop a fight, but not a riot.
The emuraptor is positively vibrating now, above the floor and squawking. Hat-Hatul gives a very visible push, and waves of blue light shove the bird towards Slagfirth. It's coming at him, all angry beak and talons. Slagfirth screams and claps his hands and the bird explodes.
There is a brief moment of silence as the ringing sound dies down, and then the crowd follows suit.
When the bird explodes, Brita notes with a small moue to Raven, "Aw! The Poor Emuraptor!" Then as she watches the room erupt, a grin of Conner-level brightness spreads over her face and she adds "You are a Fun Date, Cousin! See if you can Snag Slag Before He Bolts."
Raven snorts. "I'll give it a shot. Meet back at the docks if you get lost, aye?"
[Brita] then stands up on their table at center field in her best Uncle Thor hands on hips pose and yells over the escalating din (perchance with goddess-like reverberations for effect), "Alright Now Boys! Someone Better Explain to Me Who Won That Round!"
A bottle is thrown at Brita's head, from the Hat-Hutal fans to the north. Someone shouts out "Your mother won that round!" This doesn't seem to diminish the fighting. There are bottles and chairs flying all over the place. Brita, being up high, is a favorite target.
Brita, well used to getting stuff thrown at her in Valhalla, ducks the first one but catches several in succession and begins juggling them. She then begins doling them out one at a time and with high velocity to knock out the worst offenders in the fight. "Aw, Come on now, Boys! My Mother would have Won the Round in Two Seconds Flat - She is That Good. And That Scary."
Soon the factions are arranging the tables defensively, crouching behind them and casting spells at each other. Nobody seems completely murderous, however they seem to be perfectly happy to throw, catch, and return fireballs. A Molotov cocktail lands at Brita's feet, spreading burning alcohol across the table that she's standing on.
[Raven] heads for where Slagfirth entered the arena, muttering something under her breath. It might - after removal of the extensive and expansive profanity - sound suspiciously like, "Not again."
Raven easily slides into the arena, which seems bigger once she's on the ground of it. Both Slagfirth and Hat-Hatul are unconscious on the ground near their chairs. Slagfirth has a sliver of bone, undoubtably from the bird, lodged in his upper leg. He's bleeding, and if left alone will bleed out soon enough. Hat-Hatul looks like he was stunned, probably by magical feedback.
Raven snorts and fights back the temptation to yell, "He's not running," to Brita. Instead, she takes a cursory look around for any sort of medical supplies near the arena entrance - very cursory, in that she's not keen to be hit by a bottle or chair right now - and then starts trying to stop the bleeding.
The spell protecting the arena is still in place, so no glasses or bottles get flung her way. She's able to stop the bleeding with a piece of his own shirt, but he's not conscious and neither is Hat-Hatul. The most reasonable way out is through the competitor's entrance ramp. She can take either or both of the competitors, but they might not fare well going through the riot.
Brita has spotted Raven and headed into the ring. "Shall we Exit Stage Left?" She asks.
"Depends on which way you want to call stage left," Raven answers dryly. "You want to carry your boyfriend or the loser?"
"I'll take Wizard Hatful, You can Get Wizard Slag. Wouldn't Want to Seem Too Easy," Brita grins. "We can Go Out the Bird Entrance, I Suppose. Might Need to Save the Livestock."
Raven snorts. "Pretty sure that lot is smart enough to not go after those things. But if you want to, sure."
[Player Monica was unclear on the competitors entrance ramp - it leads through the riot? I am assuming that there was a unique entrance for the bird that did not go through the crowd.]
[Player Sarah is also a little confused on the positioning of entrances versus the position of the riot.]
[OOC: GMM will clarify! It's like a bull ring. There's a raised deck above the arena floor, and the spectators sit on the deck. There are exits evenly spaced around the arena floor, which lead to basically the same backstage area. Animals are to the left side, and dressing rooms for contestants to the right. Going back to the seating area starts with a 10 foot climb or levitation or some such. Going out the doors involves no such excitement, but it's hard to say what's back there.]
[OOC: Somewhat like this.]
[Ok. Brita's suggestion stands - still want to go through the bird entrance.]
[OOC: GMM says "We're looking for a more declarative declaration of action." Something along the lines of "We take the wizards and exit, stage left..."]
Brita picks up the stunned Mage and slings him over her shoulder as she moves towards the chosen exit. "Think our Good Merchant will be Mad?" she throws over her other shoulder at Raven.
Raven does likewise with the other mage, if with a little caution to not make him bleed again, and follows. "I'm gonna guess that'll depend on what these two have to say." She snorts. "Well, and how far this riot spreads. We should find someplace to take them that ain't my ship. Ideas?"
The area where the bird came from is musty and dank and smells of bird. It's lit by a few swinging lanterns and the outline of the door at the far end of the room. It's basically under the floor of the crowd section, and there are posts holding up the ceiling at regular intervals.
If there's anyone down here, they're staying quiet at the sight of the two people hauling two of their powerful wizards like sacks of flour. There are a number of weapons which look like they are used for gladiatorial contests, and a number of bird cages. One is occupied by an even bigger emuraptor. It stares directly at you, but doesn't move.
Is there really a fire in the upper part? If so, Brita is willing to figure out a way to free the bird.
There's some fire, but it didn't seem out of control. Apparently "fireproofing" is in a race with "fireballs" for "Things that happen in bars". It's not safe, but people aren't fleeing the fire yet.
Brita nods to the bird and says, "She Was a Valiant Warrior Queen Deserving of a Place on the Fields of Valhalla."
To Raven she answers, "We Can go Back to the Inn. There Is a Back Door Past the Kitchens. Hopefully, We will Meet our Benefactors and They can Decide if there is a Better Place." She glances back to the emuraptor's cage and asks, "Do we Free the Mate to Give him a Fighting Chance or Protect the Unsuspecting from his Wrath?”
The captain opens her mouth, shuts it, and pauses. Finally, she says, "Me, I'd leave it here.
"If anyone saw us come down here - or if they figure out we went this way - and that bird goes up there," Raven points back the way they came, "and does damage, then we are going to have a damned hard time getting anyone to talk to us later, if we come back. People remember that kind of thing. I'd say the same about the riot, except I ain't so sure this is the first time they've rioted in here. So if you've gotta let it out, then you'd better find it a collar and leash, because we ain't leaving it here. And you get to tell the weir how they ain't allowed to eat the big chicken when we get it back to the ship - and it will have to go back to the ship, because it ain't gonna blend in around here."
Brita nods at Ravens sage advice. She feels like she is channeling her Uncle Loki a bit more than her Father Vidar at the moment. She quickly glances around for handling equipment while thinking that Cousin Robin would be So Welcome at the moment as she could Probably Talk to the beast and get it out of here safely.
[is the cage free standing or more of a walled pen?]
[ooc: freestanding, and on wheels, so they can bring it out.]
"I will Not Stress Your Patience. We Do Not wish to bring these" -- a jostle of her burden -- "to Your Ship or Him" -- a nod to the bird -- "to the Inn. I will Think on It and ask Others if Their World Plans could Include Freeing This Beast."
"It ain't that you're stressing my patience," Raven says dryly. "It's that there's things you do when you're snatching a couple of guys, and breaking out a thing that's as like as not going to try to kill you ain't on that list. Not when we know it can take care of itself if it has to. If you've really just got to make sure it's let out, we can come back another night if the other two ain't interested. But right now, we should go."
She heads for the door.
There's a lot of noise in the back room where Brita and Raven disappeared, most of which seems to have to do with whatever gambling is going on in there. Waitresses (or tavern wenches, take your pick) go in and out with increasing amounts of booze, and the noise when the doors open gets louder and louder. Finally something happens that shakes the building a little--might be an explosion--causing more cautious customers to finish their drinks, toss coins on tables, and leave.
Not long afterwards, fighting starts spilling out of the door. There's no immediate sign of Raven or Brita.
Jerod finishes quaffing his drink as the fighting spills out, adjusting his position without even thinking to ensure he's in a suitable defensive position but is mostly indifferent to the wave of rioters that begin encroaching on his position. He is confident that Brita is more than capable of handling herself and to actually consider her to be in need of assistance would likely be considered an insult to her, which Jerod would never consider doing.
As for Raven, the good Captain will have the opportunity to show some skill in the upcoming event Jerod thinks, and since being a captain of a ship requires not just intelligence but on some occasions a good amount of brawn, he is also unconcerned about that situation requiring his intervention.
So he waits patiently, knocking anyone who approaches too closely over the head with a heavy tankard to remove them as a potential threat and watches to see what happens.
The fight is only just beginning to spread out of the back area and towards the front, so Jerod doesn't have to knock more than one or two brawlers unconscious.
The riot continues apace. Jerod smells smoke, and burned flesh, coming from the back.
Jerod decides this is the moment for action, so he makes his way over to the bar, making sure to brain anyone who gets in his way and looks to obtain another drink. Should the serving staff be unavailable, he will avail himself of the opportunity to do so himself, while making sure to pay suitable compensation for his beverage.
Given that the building is not specifically on fire, he still is pretty much unconcerned as to what happens inside, knowing the good Captain and his somewhat excitable, but nonetheless enjoyable cousin no doubt have things well in hand.
The explosions are getting louder and more frequent--if this were a shadow with firearms, Jerod might think they were shooting at each other, so maybe they're tossing grenades or the magical equivalent--and more people are starting to spill out as the riot gets more intense.
Neither Brita nor Raven have appeared in the doorway or slipped out so far as Jerod can tell.
Jerod finishes his drink while taking into account the explosions, and thinks a few minutes ahead concerning possible ramifications. Given that fire and explosions are usually considered to be detrimental to the well-being of the community, Jerod realizes this may draw unwelcome attention from the local authorities. So he takes a moment and decides, with absolute certainty, that the unfortunate, and quite certainly accidental, fire that engulfs a set of small businesses on the opposite side of town is more than sufficient to keep the authorities occupied for the time being with crowd control and firefighting. Certainly long enough that no one will be coming to investigate the situation here.
Jerod is 100% absolutely certain he has done what he tried to do.
Thus assured that his cousins will have suitable opportunity to complete what they have started, be it planned or just chaotic mayhem, he sees about collecting another drink assuming the mob doesn't encroach too much.
He can be patient when the need arises.
The barmaid looks over at him. "Might want to be going, my Lord. When they come to clean up, they don't pay much attention to who is who. It's knock 'em down and lock 'em up, and sort 'em when they're sober, just like in the song."
"Mmm...that would be bad for my appointment tomorrow, I suppose?" he muses for a moment. "Certainly wouldn't be good having one of my employees in the hoosegow either." and he finishes his drink, tossing a few coins of suitable denomination to act as a substantial tip onto the counter within easy reach of the barmaid.
And with that, he heads on inside to see about locating his wayward captain, avoiding revellers and mobsters as needed, either by dodging and weaving, or the judicious use of the empty mug he retained from the bar.
The inside consists of about five concentrations of people and furniture, hurling fireballs and tables and chairs at each other. Down in the gaming pit, there are little pools of blood, and feathers, and a swinging door.
The rioters seem to be enjoying themselves, and the place isn't catching on fire. It should be. Must be fireproofing spells. Alcohol burns pretty well, though. There is no sign of a whole emuraptor, either below or on the observation level.
A through glance around does not spot Brita or Raven. He does spot a few people who seem to be sizing him up for a game of 'catch the Molotov Cocktail'.
The rioters no doubt are engaged in a friendly game as it were and if nothing is catching fire it is no doubt because the underlying rules are being adhered to by all participants. So those who decide to size up Jerod are going to figure out very quickly that he's not playing by any rules that they would agree with, which is evidently clear from the general look on his face, plus the look that he gives to selected individuals sizing him up. If anyone gets close enough as he moves through the interior, Jerod can provide a suitable example of his mindset by putting down a rioter in a manner that is short, sharp and decidedly "un-fun", though not lethal - debilitating yes, broken bones most probably, certainly in the category of aggravated assault.
Beyond that, figuring that the only way out is through the swinging door, Jerod heads that way.
Anyone considering messing with Jerod reconsiders, and he is unbothered as he heads to the fighting pit and the swinging door.
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."
The unfortunate part about being a Prince, Jerod muses, working his way through a large piece of sugar candy purchased from a local vendor, is you can't really have full size meals when you're trying to be inconspicuous amongst the Shadows. The sheer volume of food that a Prince can tuck into even during a routine sit-down is sufficient to give a regular person pause, not to mention if you need to load up on energy prior to getting into something where a bit of extra work maybe involved. A serious give-away if you're not careful and your enemies are wondering about Amberites on the loose.
Good thing he can eat on the ship, he thinks with a slight smile. With luck, the Weir won't be too put out that he ate one of their sheep for breakfast, though he's pretty sure they will completely disagree with the whole cooking part of the process.
He stops at a street corner as the last of the candy is consumed, looking ahead to his destination at the castle. His expression does not change in the slightest, the slightly bemused look of a merchant looking to complete an expected deal, but the mindset shifts, aware that he is walking into the lion's den. That the others on the ship and amongst his merry band are warned and ready is a single piece of data filtering in the background, the movement of the crowd, signs of surveillance, guards, threats and portents galore...all the preparations are completed as best can be done - now comes the time to see what life really has in store.
He shifts his belt slightly, settling the sword more comfortably, letting the cloak fall just right to allow for freer movement, before continuing forward to the castle and his appointment.
Jerod is let in, smartly, by the guard. The man is expecting him, and seems to want to ask questions, but keeps his face impassive. Jerod is led to a small room off the main hallway and is asked to wait.
The room is well but sparsely furnished, with two chairs and a small table between them.
After they have left Celina Ossian asks Silhouette "Have you walked up the Faiella-Bionin? Because if you haven't, I suggest we start with that."
Silhouette smiles faintly, "No, I have not. Most of my travel here has been through Trump." She extends her hand, "I put myself in your hands."
Ossian takes her hand, and they leave the city. On the way up Ossian tells Silhouette about all the strange things that have happened along the stairway. Although he is an excellent storyteller she might get the feeling that he exaggerates a bit.
GMs? I guess they need to stay the night in that creepy cave. Does anything happen on the way up?
Both Silhouette and Ossian have creepy dreams but nobody gets a manifestation. The night passes otherwise without incident. Ossian and Silhouette have the option of a brief summary check-in with Corwin or possibly threading with Folly and/or Conner (given OOC time constraints). What would Ossian and Sil like to do?
I'm fine with summary... Olof, anything you'd like to do? Summary and then off to the Green?
Summary sounds great. Does Corwin have anything to say? Any advice on raising armies in Shadow?
Yeah, Corwin has quite a bit of technical advice about how to do it. Both in terms of using the Pattern to actually raise an army and in using the Shadows to lie for you to get a better presentation. Ossian has more experience with the Pattern, which is still not a lot, but Sil could also make a creditable military leader. Neither of them is going to be great with it, not yet, and Corwin can only tell, not show, in Paris.
But you've got to start somewhere.
When Ossian and Silhouette are done with Corwin, Ossian asks "I guess we are still going with a smaller number of warriors? I wonder if we could find people keen on getting revenge on the monks?"
"They've undoubtedly harmed people in their time," Silhouette nods. "Hatred is a wonderful motivator."
She considers this for a moment, "Can your use of Pattern find people of such inclinations?"
"I don't know. We could walk to areas where they are likely to be found, I guess. Of course, that is also areas close to the monks..."
"Then I suggest we be wary," Silhouette says, smiling. She seems to be enjoying this - although, it's difficult to tell when/if she enjoys much of anything.
"Can I lend you my Power with this Walk... or is it a solitary endeavor?"
"We can take turns. In the beginning you can help by doing some of the less subtle work." Ossian says.
"That will be good practice for you. And I will be less exhausted. When it gets more subtle, I guess I will have to take a bigger part of the shifting. Besides, you are better at taking care of any sorcery we encounter."
"I'll let you choose where we stop for the evening," Silhouette says with a wry grin. "I suspect my choices will be too spartan for your liking."
She pauses, thinking. "Shall we locate some transportation? Be it animal or mechanical?"
"Ah. I always preferred the animals. But mechanical is good, considering where we're going. " He holds out an arm. "Not yellow," he adds.
Silhouette takes his hand, lacing their fingers together. "Yes. If the mechanical fails us, we can always find something decidedly more... equine."
She glances ahead of them, letting her newly acquired instincts to guide them forward.
Ossian squeezes her hand and smiles. "Don't forget smells. And sounds"
What vehicle does she find?
Silhouette leads them away from the bustle of the city into a more rural environment. The seasons shift slightly from late summer to autumn - the world turning from greens to dull orange and reds over time. The buildings thin out until they are more sporadic and distant. Wheat and corn fields become more prevalent, eventually hidden behind thin lines of wind-break trees. The road itself remains the solitary constant, paved and smooth, allowing for a leisurely walk.
As they round a corner, they find an old open-back, six wheeler - some kind of military truck converted to more domestic means. It's the kind of vehicle that could be driven into the ground a hundred times and still have life left in it. Ugly as sin, but reliable. Crates of various goods line the tarp-covered back.
Silhouette breathes out slowly. "If I'm correct, the keys should be somewhere under the front seat."
Ossian nods. "Practical." He brushes away the worst dirt from both the driver and the passenger seat with his hand, and locates the keys. "Shall I drive, while you bring us closer to the monks?"
"That'd probably be for the best," she says, climbing up into the passenger's side. "Are we headed somewhere specific, or simply seeking them out?"
"We want to miss them with only a little bit, remember. To find their enemies. Our to-be allies." Ossian says, before he starts the car he kneels down and feels the ground.
"See if you can change the road first. Concrete. Softer than here, with a tinge of cobalt."
Silhouette nods, "Of course." She concentrates on the upcoming road, changing the consistency of the tarmac. The painted lines also change, shifting from deep yellow to an umber. A slight smile curls her lips, "This is a profound experience."
Ossian grins. "Just for the exercise, I will make some changes too. See if you can see what I do? We do not want to work in different directions in a tight spot."
Then the road signs start to change, from very stylized to more detailed symbols.
It takes Silhouette a moment to readjust her conceptualizations, but soon enough the signs begin to incorporate Latin symbols and words into their descriptions.
"Do all changes need to be this subtle, or can then be far more profound? Or does that cause disruptions?"
"You can make larger changes. But as Bleys would say: Then you probably change more than one variable at a time. Which is dangerous."
"It is of course a matter of style too. I go for precision. " Ossian says.
Precision is Silhouette's bread and butter, so this suits her quite well. She keeps adjusting Shadow slowly, surely, guiding them toward their goal - to find a realm close to the Enemies of their Enemy.
Finally, up ahead, the shape of a vehicle comes into view. The first they've encountered on the road since they began.
Silhouette relaxes her thoughts, letting the world become one with them.
For Silhouette, the following would drive her Shadow-walk:
(1) The Klybesians at large and as a whole. People who have been harmed in someway by their operations. However, she'd want somewhere close to Greenwood, if at all possible - since that's the ultimate goal.
Ossian will try to guide them close to Greenwood, but not quite there.
(2) Silhouette hopes for a regimented organization/culture who are looking for a 'savior' from the oppressive Klybesians... the Second Coming to lift them out of darkness.
Ossian and Silhouette take a while to work out how to do the travel and shadow-walk thing. It's easier for one of them to drive (mostly Ossian, apparently) and the other to shadow navigate. Several days of transit along roads leads them to an increasingly dry and windy set of Shadows where they can see handsome train tracks and elegant automobiles driven by olive-skinned men and women. Silhouette thinks they might have some form of internal combustion, but it may also be a magitech hybrid.
There are Klybesian symbols on the buildings, and Ossian thinks they may have arrived.
"So now we have to find the rebels. First some risk assessment, I guess. I see no guns, but they should be here. Sorcery?"
"It is definitely a possibility," Silhouette says. "I would require a closer look at their machinery to determine that, however. I believe that would be worth the time."
Silhouette executes a simple experiment, and then another. It takes longer than she expected, but eventually she comes to an inescapable conclusion. Something has affected the magic of this shadow. It is drained or diverted or tied up somehow. Or else it was artificially high before and that prop has been removed.
For a people who look as if they are handy in a war, they don't seem to actually have an army, and the civic authorities seem to be related to the local centers of worship.
Silhouette pinches the bridge of her nose, feeling drained from the experience. "The shadow has been altered in a fashion I cannot determine, but the normal flow of magic is... disrupted. A most unpleasant sensation."
She turns to her companion, "That may be our key to this realm. Perhaps as liberators. Offering them access to their old ways."
Ossian nods "We can provide them with ways of getting to their oppressors. What could disrupt the flow of magic? Is it concentrated somewhere?
"That sounds dangerous." he adds with a grin, as if it was something positive.
Silhouette shakes her head, "As the effect is so diffused and wide-reaching, it would be next to impossible for me to determine a centralized locus. I do know of methods of suppressing or channeling mana, but in a more limited area. Obviously, our Adversary has acquired some method to do so on a grand scale."
She glances out the window, observing the world and its people. "If we could unshackle them from this, I suspect they would be exceedingly grateful. I suggest we find a leader or religious authority. They may be able to assist us to that end."
Her eyes scan the buildings for any architecture that would suggest a civic or religious center.
"Maybe the non-official religion." Ossian says. "The Klybesians are likely running the main churches. But let's have a look."
Ossian leads them around a corner. There is a big church. How Klybesian does it look?
Not at all like the churches either Silhouette or Ossian has seen in Paris or in Abford. The design of those has generally been cruciform with tall roofs, a single tower, and in the case of older, larger Parisian churches, reinforcing buttresses. This building is shorter, appears to be more of a square or rectangle than a cross, and instead of a single tower, has two domed towers at corners on the front.
However, there are symbols in front of the temple and some of them remind Ossian of the Klybesians. The building is busy and seems to be the seat of government, the town square, and a schoolyard all wrapped into one.
There is a young priest or functionary of some sort near the door. He doesn't look like a monk.
"He looks like a candidate for conversation... and conversion, perhaps," Silhouette says. "I defer to you, though. Your personality is generally less...off-putting... than mine."
"I am not sure all our cousins would agree." Ossian says with a grin. "But I will try. This church might be a bit too tied to the government, so I will try to be careful. Also, look at those two symbols. Very close to ones I saw in their monastery."
Ossian, with experience of architecture and stone work, tries to see if the temple has been added to, or if all the design is original. (For instance - were those symbols there from the beginning?)
Silhouette follows his gaze, examining and memorizing the symbols. She is also learned in architectural language and symbology, However, her specialization is more in military application, so her observations lean more toward recent improvements and alterations, rather than social aspects.
It looks to Ossian and Silhouette as though the building went through an upgrade of some kind a while ago: long enough that the new work and decorations has had time to age in, to lose the fresh newness and need a bit of a touchup. Perhaps a decade or more. Some of the carvings date from that recent upgrade, but many are original to the building. Others may have been smoothed over or removed from the building.
Silhouette might guess that in the aftermath of a war, someone redecorated the building in the style of the victors, which was close enough to the style of the defeated that they didn't need to tear the whole building down to make the point, just alter things to suit the taste of the victors.
"The Laws of Progress have been employed here," she says, trying to hide the respect in her voice. She may have matured her philosophies regarding the Grand Design, but cannot help but appreciate observing their principles practiced. "I suspect that these people will have hidden old relics or items from prior to their defeat somewhere inside. If we see signs of the silent rebellion, we'll have found our allies."
Ossian nods. "This is a good place. Shall we be 'honest' and tell them we are travellers from afar, curious about their customs and traditions?"
"I believe that would be the best opinion," Silhouette says, ascending the steps. "I am sure they will be interested in sharing their history with us. And from there, we can determine if there is more to be had from them."
Ossian approaches the young man with his best smile. He tries to intuit good greeting customs as well as he can. "Good day, sir. As we are from a place far from here, we are curious about this temple. Or is it a temple?"
Silhouette remains at Ossian's side, deferring to him, as if she is a subordinate or mate. She studies the young man, silently, watching for taletell signs of nervousness or falsehood.
He seems confused for a moment, then pleased to see them. "Oh, Northers! This is a place of meditation and study. More a school than a temple. I am merely an initiate, but our chief scholar is from your northlands. Our shores are open to all who who are peaceful, and all who attend to their duty to the Merciful One.
"If you are here for the Abbot’s lecture on photovoltaics, it’s not until mid-afternoon..."
"Photovoltaics?" Ossian says raising an eyebrow. "Sounds interesting. Maybe we will attend. What is the name of your knowledgeable abbot?"
Silhouette can't help but perk up. Such glorious words are like oxygen to her. She waits for Ossian's question to be answered before commenting.
"Father Turnip," the acolyte says confidently. "We are lucky to have him. He comes from a monkastary in the Northlands, and is an amazing teacher. I have learned so much of mercy from him, myself."
Silhouette pauses, blinking. "A most unfortunate name for a wiseman. I do hope it is an issue of transliteration." She forces a smile, "I look forward to gaining Knowledge from him."
The acolyte looks confused. “I may have mispronounced it. Foreign names are not my area of expertise. Where are you from? You should see Brother Sayyid if you wish to reserve seats for the lecture. We welcome all, but have limited seating."
"We have been many places, but I come from a little place at the river Ab." Ossian says with a smile "We have been investigating old customs in different places. For comparison. Do you know of anyone here well versed in old, even outdated traditions here?"
Silhouette smiles warmly at the young man, "Indeed. We're interested in the progression and evolution of your traditions. We're both scholars of history. True history. Thank you for offering this chance at Illumination, my friend."
He nods. "Of course! Our mission is to educate. There are so many who have much to learn about Mercy and the Source of all Mercy. We are lucky to have so many opportunities here. But there are no scholars of ancient history here, my friend, there is too much to learn from the new to pay attention to the past."
Ossian smiles "Of course. Will we see you at the lecture?"
Silhouette nods lightly, "Yes. Progress before Past. This is wisdom."
I think the lecture would be fine to go to. Angry young students are a good recruiting base. Maybe we should be going to the harbour, to see who they trade with.
If there's some time, I think a beer hall and/or coffee shop would be a good place to frequent... as those usually host people with open opinions.
[OOC: There are no beer halls. The People do not drink. Other than that, you all can choose from your many options…]
So on to some kind of coffee shop then, Ossian will still want to pass by the harbour too. (He wants to see if they trade with anyone suspicious.)
Hey, they find a coffee shop nearby to the harbor. They can sit and talk to people and watch the harbor.
The people here are deferential to the authorities; there's not a lot of unrest. The monastics are new, but are accepted by the religious leaders, and they seem very learned in the Way of the Merciful One. There are a few who are not so free in their praise, but they seem more guarded. They seem to recall the glory days of the living Sultan, before he ascended into heaven.
Ossian would like to ask someone of the more reserved people about the Living Sultan. He is curious, and it could be a good starting point.
Maybe this coffee shop is the wrong place to find angry young men.
Silhouette stays at his side, demure and soft-spoken, as she assists him in striking up a conversation. She knows young men are usually more open around a beautiful woman, trying to impress her.
Ossian tries to talk with a group of the less praising men. He will start innocently looking for stories about the living Sultan under the pretense of collecting stories.
His mother was a great Noble of the Hamaaj who converted to worship of the Merciful One and his father was the last of the Old Gods from Before the Merciful One came to the bring Peace to the Lands. The Sultan, though many feats of skill and military prowess rose to rule a small kingdom of the nomads of the deepest desert, at the center of the world. By his magics, cunning, and military prowess he first united the desert, then swept through the nearby cities, re-consecrating them to the service of the Merciful One, who in their shallowness and frivolousness, they had forgotten.
He saved all the lands - faithful, heathen, and apostate from the black sands, and also locked out his Mother's people, the hamaaj, so that they could not corrupt the corruptible again. He was acknowledged Sultan by the will of the people, but he chose not to stay and rule. That he left to men of the deep desert.
Then he went to his father's kingdom, in a land none may find save by his grace, to continue the fight.
It is said he will return, some day, to judge us all in the name of the Merciful One.
When asked about the Sultan's war record, it is very specific, and while the young men were not there, everyone seems to believe it is factual and relative current. Not more than a generation ago.
Ossian listens with interest. A slow realisation comes to him. "What kind of magic did the Sultan wield?" he asks. He starts to sketch something in his sketch book while listening. If Silhouette looks it is a picture of cousin Edan.
Silhouette's eyes widen slightly at the picture, the connections being made. She remains silent, but it's obvious she has met their strange cousin.
The men of the coffeeshop sort of grin at each other. "There are tales that he had uncanny abilities, but the main magic he wielded was his ability to inspire men to feats of riding and military might that the unbelievers of the coastal regions could not match."
Another of the men. "The children's tales call him a fire magician, and suggest that he learned such from the evil Magian Fire Worshippers of the deep desert, before slaying all who would not convert to follow the Merciful One."
No one in the shop seems to think that that description sounds less than merciful...
Silhouette glances over at Ossian to see if he might recognize this. Turning to the speaker, "And worship of the Merciful One... does it remain mandatory on threat of death, even to this day?"
Ossian gives her a short nod, and waits to hear their answer.
The man looks at his coffee. "You will have to ask a jurist. I have not heard of a trial anywhere for heresy, apostasy, or schism, not for years."
The man who told the fire magician story looks less certain. "The new jurists they have at the temple school might be good to talk to. They come from the frontier, so they're closer to the heathens."
Silhouette nods lightly, "I see. We'd heard that there may be Troubles soon, Hopefully, such claims are unfounded. Perhaps, the jurist knows more." She pauses, lowering her voice. "Is he agreeable, this jurist? Open to those who wish Enlightenment, yet remember the old ways?"
Ossian smiles "Is this a new war you are fighting?"
The man looks down. "No one wants war, but there are some things that are worse. And no one trusts the Eastern Lords not to get everyone involved in their mess. The North isn't a new war, it's not civilized enough to have a war, and it's not valuable enough to civilize. Nobody much as been successful at that. Apparently the scholars that arrived are from there, though. I don't know what it is about the Land of Peace. Our fiercest theological impulses come from the inhospitable desert and the equally unwelcoming ice fields."
"Sounds very strange indeed." Ossian says with a smile "Maybe hardship makes you more pious. When did the scholars first arrive?"
The man nods. "Living daily with the fear of massacre at the hands of savages who do not even acknowledge the mercy all around them makes one more pious, I suspect. At least, for the survivors. The scholars have been communicating with the Alcalde and she invited them to visit some years ago. That went so well that they sent full-time scribes and scholars to her court."
Silhouette casts a glance over at Ossian, raising a brow -- wondering if he's heard this term before.
Ossian shakes his head just slightly.
"Have they ever spoken of expanding this conflict?" she says to the man. "Or warned of other people beyond their realms?"
Ossian stays quiet.
The man takes some time to reply, as if he's trying to remember such a thing. "Not that I have heard. The ones who give grand speeches are scientists and inventors, and seem most interested in making our lives better. Their theologians are quieter. However, they do not come to this cafá, so their political and metaphysical positions are unknown.
"A pity," he adds, grinning. "Such leads to a lively cut and thrust of argument and opinion in the square."
"There are open debates in the square?" Ossian asks. "Sounds fun."
"Indeed. A rousing debate can provide much insight into one's society," Silhouette says, sipping her spiced tea. She pauses, weighing the next words.
"May I ask... and feel free to dismiss this inquiry... but have they actually made your lives better? Or do you still yearn for the Old Ways? Despite the benefits of Progress, the Past can hold greater, more sacred truths that should not be forgotten."
He snorts. "I was a child when the Sultanate marched in from the deep desert and removed the corrupt and decadent Amir of Gathium. It was for the good of all, except perhaps those who had been perverting the teachings of The Merciful One. The city welcomed them as liberators.
"The new clerics are of the same tradition as the Sultanate, and teach us the wisdom of his ways."
Ossian frowns and looks at Silhouette. He will ask no further questions for the time being.
Silhouette bows her head, "Wisdom is the finest wine." Although she smiles at the man, she covertly glances around the table, studying the faces. While the elders might think this way, perhaps the youth did not.
This is one of the younger men in the room.
[OOC: To give you a bit of history that the locals will have trouble explaining in these terms, there was a long-term civil war going on in this shadow between the urban coastal people (who had advanced to petroleum based society, including early airplanes) and the desert nomads, who were horsemen with great skill at swords and a somewhat difficult alliance with the efreet.
The Black Road War came to the shadow, smashed the city-people, and most everyone else united behind the nomads, who were pretty generous in peace, if they didn't cut your head off.
Oh, and Edan was the leader of the desert nomads.]
The religion of this place doesn't sound at all like the Klybesians, but there are clearly Klybesians here. Perhaps they're being sneaky.
Silhouette turns to Ossian, "Do you think we shall have time to listen to the debates? I do enjoy vigorous rhetoric. Seems a shame to miss it while we are here."
Ossian nods. "I hope so."
"We would not miss them for the world," Silhouette says, smiling. "Thank you for your candor today. It is most refreshing."
When Silhouette and Ossian have left the cafe, he takes her arm. "Seems we have no rebellion to start here. Edan wouldn't approve of that either, I guess."
Silhouette chuckles faintly, "One never knows, dear cousin. Even the dimmest ember can start a fire given the opportunity." She waits on the sidewalk, allowing the street to clear so they might cross. "As for Edan, I suspect he'd be most pleased to know his influence resides here."
The street heads northward, eventually splitting into a traffic circle. The central island is dominated by a raised fountain, where a small crowd is beginning to form. Vendors offer food and drink to the assembly, competing loudly for attention.
"Shall we join the throng? Or shall we move forward with our search in Shadow?"
"I am pretty sure the Klybesians are here. I'd like to find out what they are doing. Let's go to the lecture for starters.
"If we want fighters, maybe we should go to the desert an play on our kinship with Edan?"
"We are here for a Purpose," Silhouette says. "Otherwise, I doubt the Pattern would have guided our journey to this Shadow. I do wish Edan were here. He might offer us further Insight"
She heads across the traffic circle and joins the swelling crowd. "I wonder if this is a public affair. If so, we might want to lend our voices to the discourse. At the very least, we'd attract attention. Be it positive or negative, I do not know."
"Let's do the lecture. I can try making a sketch of Edan later. Maybe it is easy in this place. Although we will have to be careful what we say on Trump with the Klybesians around."
Silhouette cocks her head, "Can they listen in or detect your Trump use?" she asks in a quiet voice.
Realizing she's attracted the attention of a stall owner, she orders two shawarma analogs from them - the spiced meat and vegetables vaguely familiar. She hands one to Ossian, "Exactly how powerful are these people?".
Ossian shrugs. "I do not know. They do seem to know a bit too much about Trumps for my liking. And about me."
He takes the roll, and chews "Frog." he adds "Or some lizard. Quite nice.
"I have learned that I should be careful what I say on the Trumps. That Caine just might have a hand with the Klybesians makes it even more so."
Silhouette wrinkles her nose, "I see. And can those not of the Blood utilize them then? Ah... but that's the point isn't it? They seem to possess a more than passing knowledge of our blood."
She strides closer to the fountain, looking for anyone in ceremonial or official-looking garb - the most likely candidates for a debate.
"I wonder if it would be possible to create a coded Trump connection, so that eavesdropping does not matter? Any ideas?"
The square is busy, and the fountain serves as community well, gathering place, and the anchor for the market. There are minor priests around, wearing clothing similar to that you saw at the academy, but they don't seem to be teaching. Still, they don't seem unapproachable.
Ossian looks at Silhouette. "No debate right now. Should we start one?"
Silhouette chuckles softly, "It certainly would garner attention. Yes, let us Enlighten the masses." She cocks her head, "What subject shall we broach? Our adversary's weaknesses, perhaps?"
"We could. And their search for the Sultan's blood."
"Agreed. At the very least, it will cause a stir," Silhouette says. "Perhaps draw some 'unwanted' attention from the people we seek. Let's us see if we can pick a fight, as it were."
She glances around, picking one of the priests. Striding up to him, she offers a welcoming smile, "Sir. Might we trouble you today? We have questions regarding your teachings."
Ossian grins to himself. But stays quiet waiting for the priest to answer.
He bows towards her, his hands pressed together. "Of course! One of the core missions of our order is to answer questions!"
The second one bows as well. "Indeed, and also to question answers."
The first brother nods at this. "I am brother Jaques and this is brother Alois. Shall we walk and talk? I am afraid our northern bodies have not yet acclimated to your summer days."
"Of course. Thank you, Brother Jaques," Silhouette says, bowing her head respectfully. She falls in line with Ossian, "Is it much of a change from the north, then?"
Brother Jacques leads off. "Our land is cooler, and it snows every winter, but we are still a coastal peoples. The Merciful One looks upon us all, and blesses the realms of peace with the gifts of prosperity and good governance."
Jacques smiles. "My village, it has been at peace for a century, but because of where we are, people here think we fight with heretics and apostates daily. In reality, we seldom even see them. And much of the fighting is done with words rather than guns."
"Would you enlighten us on what the conflict with the heretics is about?" Ossian asks politely.
"Indeed," Silhouette says. "What instigated this conflict? How are their philosophies so antithetic to your own?"
Brother Jaques thinks for a moment. "The clash of civilizations is a long-running one. The barbarians of the north are like great herds of deer, unmanaged and pushed to and fro by the circumstances of their condition. They are not incapable of learning long-term strategic thinking, or of making treaties and working for the greater good, but they seldom do so beyond the level of a tribe or at most a confederation. When they do, they sweep their neighbors towards us and we resist."
Brother Alois speaks, "Or we settle families in empty land and the barbarians come back a decade later and want to know why we took their empty valley."
Brother Jaques continues. "It was the main conflict, that of the cultures, for many years before the Desert rose against the coastal cities."
Brother Alois. "We are glad you asked about it. One of our goals here is to help re-focus the mighty warriors of the Southern Desert lands on the conflict with the barbarians. You should be spreading the will of the Merciful One, not fighting each other."
Brother Jaques nods. "Precisely."
Ossian frowns "So what makes them heretics?"
Silhouette nods to Ossian's question, "Indeed. Many cultures declare other 'barbarians' simply to justify there actions. However, many barbarian cultures are highly advanced. Perhaps more so than supposedly dignified ones."
"Well, Heresy makes them heretics, and there are many kinds as there are fish in the sea, and yet all are the same in their denial of the reality of the Mercy of the Creator. The obedientiary does not wish specifics of heresies discussed outside of the classroom, lest our poor grasp of them all the citizens to lead themselves to error."
Brother Alois nods and turns to Silhouette. "It is easy to mistake some technological advance for either increased prosperity of the land or for closeness to the merciful one. For instance, the southlands have invested in steam locomotives and high-speed motorcycles. Are such places somehow less advanced than a monastery, where men of faith struggle to understand the Merciful One?
"The question answers itself and implies the answer to the question you asked. Barbarians are those who are lacking in understanding of The Merciful One, and we are bound by the duty of mercy to help educate them."
"Illumination is the core of all Progress," Silhouette says. "Or, it should be, within reason, Otherwise, one invites Stagnation into the Collective, thus doom it to entropy. Mere Contemplation without Inquiry and Reevaluation, however, equally invite Stagnation. Regrettably, monasteries and other centers of spiritual enlightenment too often focus on the esoteric trivialities of the High Order than the Fundamental Principles of Progress and the Greater Good. For all their faith, such centers of learning are swept aside by the barbarians, as they are too busy looking up at the sky for the ethereal than the soil at their feet for the corporeal."
She smiles politely, "Perhaps this is part of the Merciful Ones' teachings, as well?"
Ossian marvels at Silhouettes use of the language and stays quiet.
Jaques smiles, as one would at a bright student. "The teachings of the elders on the lessons of Peace and Mercy are what they are, child. And Progress is difficult to understand, since we perfect ourselves by making ourselves more like the Merciful One. How can it be measured, when the mind of the Merciful One is ineffable?
"You portray centers of enlightenment as if the scholars and students there are encased in amber; fossil relics of the struggles of a long-ago day. Were this so, it would be easy to see a pattern of advancement through the ashes of the barbarian destruction of enlightenment. This does happen, but to assume that it is inevitable or possibly desirable is to apply false limits to both people and the Merciful One. Hope not for barbarian cleansing, for it does not have to lead to new heights.
"And yet, we each in our way, attempt to perfect ourselves, even the barbarians. And none should be denied the opportunity to become more perfected. I would rather teach barbarians than be swept aside by them."
Alois nods. “You should attend our seminars; the Order always has room for inquisitive laypeople, and opportunities for those willing to devote themselves to discerning the truth."
Silhouette seems pleased by the reply, nodding throughout. "I would welcome such an opportunity. The desire for Enlightenment rules the very core of my being."
"Are you from the North also followers of the Sultan? Or is that only the people from here?" Ossian asks.
"When we are here, we are subjects of the Sultan. But the Sultan rules only his Sultanate. Or did. He has been absent for many years. In any case, the North is a separate polity."
Alois looks over at Silhouette, "Do you plan to come to the symposium this afternoon? It seems as if you would enjoy it."
She nods, smiling politely. "Indeed. I'd enjoy the discourse very much. Enlightenment sustains me, and I never shirk the opportunity to drink from its well."
Alois nods and smiles warmly. "I shall add you to the guest list. What are your names again, citizens?"
"Dalfeen," Silhouette says naturally, "And thank you, sirs."
"Sigurd." Ossian says with a grin. "We will enjoy it. Thanks a lot."
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.
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.
The princess is dressed for riding and is, in fact, in a stable. There are a half-dozen seahorses here. "Welcome Sir Ophiuchus, Lady Robin." The airy water here is somehow thinner, as mountain air is thinner than sea-level air. Sir Ophiuchus is looking beyond Llewella to the sea-horses.
Ooooo. Robin's gaze follows Sir Ophiuchus' to the sea-horses. She uses her critter-distraction to take a few moments to adjust to the new water pressure. Bleah. Another quick moment to check that all of her fellow travelers are okay, then she notices....
Llewella is waiting for something, perhaps introductions.
Ah, Robin blushes. She bows again ('cause Bleys isn't here) and begins the introductions:
"Princess Llewella, may I present Sir Ophiuchus, yclept The Serpent-Bearer, formerly Guardian of Methrin's Font, sworn to the Lady of the Lake, Morgne. And his mount, Eckford. Both of whom are currently under my own protection. Further, may I introduce Peep, Chirrup and Ooot, firelizards extraordinaire." She leans forward to confide, "But still a bit young and brash, I'm afraid.
"Sir Ophiuchus, may I present my Aunt, Princess Llewella of Rebma, Amber and Xanadu. Uhh..."
Robin loses the rest of her words at that point. Castor would arrange another lesson on backup strategies. But frankly, Robin's been under water for a long time, through a major Patternwork, a storm, a vision, an Uncle and now Rebman formality/politics (poodles!) While Robin is mighty, she is starting to lag mentally.
Sin Ophiuchus bows low to Llewella. After a brief and probably measured time, she moves her hand and Ophiuchus rises. "It is an honor, Princess."
"Rebma and I welcome you and I must compliment your fine mount. He looks to be closely related to some of the species here, but exotic."
The fire lizards are as at-home in the airy-water as they are on land, and it is certainly interesting to see how they adapt to the differences in flying.
Ophiuchus looks pleased at the compliment of Eckford. "Thank you, your highness. My wife and I are long and far from our home, and appreciate your welcome."
"My brother teased your story but kept much of it as mere tantalizing fragments, as is his wont. Would you all like refreshment and to sate my curiosity? Unless you need to move on quickly..."
Robin's attention drifts back from where she was watching her firelizards with a smile, contemplating getting them into real water in training for taking on the Big Lake Thing in the caves under Xanadu Castle.
"We don't need to move on quickly per se, but we do need to contact Vere or to see if he's checked in at Xanadu yet. Sir Ophiuchus' wife and liege are with him, as well as two others. We became separated during a recent shadow storm and were to rendezvous as Xanadu, but..." she shrugs. Stuff happened.
"Refreshment would be wonderful, your Highness, thanks you. And I'd be pleased to do what I can to ameliorate you curiosity. Bleys' teasing... yes." Robin nods. For a moment there, she saw what it would be like growing up with Bleys as a big brother. Wow, does Robin prefer the dogs, horses, hawks and rangers who raised her.
Llewella nods and her hair does an elaborate dance around her. "We can take care of all these things from my quarters. Come."
She leads the party (minus Eckford) to a balcony high on the castle of Rebma, with a wide seating area around a fire pit. "I will use my trumps from my dry room, but first, tell me your story, Robin."
Robin sits herself gingerly with a nod. She's still a raptor under water but at least she's not bouncing off of things (unintentionally) anymore. She takes a moment to appreciate the open view and currents before turning to Llewella with a nod. She's just taken in a big breath of water when...
A great, silent being, half-eel and half man, swam up to the edge of the balcony, where Llewella is sitting. "Ah, Timaeos. Can you have the staff send tea to my balcony. Tea for eight, please." The huge being nods once, slowly, and swims down and out of view.
Robin's eyes widen with glee. After Timaeos swims away, Robin purposely bounces out of her seat to watch him swim until she can't see him anymore. Her sparkling eyes turn back to Llewella, "Triton?" she asks. Not really expecting an answer, she drop/settles back into her seat with a happy wriggle, delighted that there are so many neat beings in the universe.
Llewella nods, serenely. "Timaeos. He's been with me since I was a girl"” Robin isn't sure exactly what, but she suspects that her Aunt had the Triton swim up for a reason other than to send him for tea.
With an effort, Robin drags herself back to her Aunt's curiosity.
"Story, story..." it takes the girl a moment to gather her thoughts. Even though she just told Bleys this, his suggested edits are already troubling her ability to speak.
"Let's see, I was exploring the Deep Forest on my Father's request, when I came across two nearly forgotten outposts guarding a hostile border between them. One guarded Merlin's Fountain and was manned by Lady Laudine and her Champion, Sir Ywain, and was on the Land. They told me tales of Avalon, Paris, Arthur and called their home Trescesson. One guarded Methrin's Font and was manned by Lady Morgne and her Champion, Sir Ophiuchus," she gestures with a smile to her companion, "and was in the Lake. They spoke of King Mark, Moins, Auberon and Tir fo Thuin.
"After some investigation, it seemed that both of these outposts' courts were long ago and/or had drifted away, but the four Guardians were trapped by a sorcerous blood oath woven into the Shadow by someone named Basina. While none of the four were particularly eager to see the ancient wars start up again, neither did they feel that their stewardship was... really strategic anymore. And after several eons, I think everyone was pretty much over it.
"So I called Vere over and he handled the sorcerous working while I handled the Shadow working. Of course when a binding that tight for that long is undone... you know, tsunamis, storms, etc. etc. In the resultant flight for our lives, we became separated. Vere should be with Ladies Laudine and Morgne, and Sir Ywain. Me and Ophiuchus ended up... elsewhere. But as we were separating, I told Vere to meet up at Xanadu. So I really want to connect with him and hook Ophiuchus and Morgne back up. 'Cause it's not right for them to be apart when they hit our shores.
"Aaannyway, the elsewhere Ophiuchus and I ended up looks to be Corwin's sunken silver towers in Avalon. At least, Bleys thinks so and... there's a lot of evidence to support that," Robin allows. "While we were there, we found: Lir's tomb which had been defiled and Sir Ophiuchus is not happy about that because Lir was his liege, another cairn which we didn't have time to disinter, the awesome echo of a major Pattern event which left an impression on me that I have to talk to Benedict and Corwin about before I go any more into... oh, and Bleys did some chalk-circle-hand-wavy thing and said he didn't detect any 'magical compulsions to kill the King or do other anti-social things' on Ophiuchus so..." Robin shrugs, "But even though I'm tired enough to be overly casual, Highness, I still do consider Sir Ophiuchus under my protection until such time as we can reunite him with his Lady."
And tea for eight is sounding better and better to Robin right now.
Llewella nods at all the appropriate places. When Robin finishes, the Princess says "I take note of your protection. I will pass the word to the guard that if we have to arrest Sir Ophiuchus, we will also have to arrest you."
Robin nods, "That'll work." She has absolute confidence that getting arrested will only release a world of hurt on the arrestees. That's how it is with Scions of Amber. Poor Random. And Celina. And pretty much anyone responsible for the wrangling of Lords of Order...
Tea arrives at exactly that moment, on a cart pushed by a Rebman woman with deep green skin and hair. 'Tea' consists mainly of fish and meats, with a sidebar of alcoholic beverages also available. There is quite a bit of food, and both Ophiuchus and Llewella dig in with gusto.
Robin chirps happily and digs in as well. Though still an amateur with the underwater eating thing, she isn’t about to let that get between her and meat. And Robin definitely prefers the meat; whale, seal, anything red. Alcohol is indulged in too.
"Tell us more of Lir, Sir Ophiuchus," says Llewella. "In this time and place he is a legend, and his name is invoked as a Saint or Demi-God. He was your Leige?"
Sir Ophiuchus nods. "Yes, Ma'am. Prince Lir led the armies of Rebma in during the Princes' War. My family was attached to his service, and had been for generations. I never saw him, but I was a simple soldier in the conflict."
Sir Ophiuchus pauses there, and takes a large bite of some sort of battered fish.
Robin looks between the two of them, mouth full and not looking to interrupt in this very important conversation. Which maybe she will remember, but probably not. Sigh.
And then she becomes distracted with the teaching of polite underwater table manners to Peep, Chirrup and Ooot.
Llewella asks a few polite questions about The Princes' War and the three ladies who locked up the borders, and offers to send an archivist to take his testimony, sometime after he's settled in.
Sir Ophiuchus seems willing to go along with almost anything someone who can order tea from a triton says.
Llewella stands. "Robin, do you want to join me in a call to your uncle to ask after Vere? Sir Ophiuchus can wait here if he wishes."
"Uhhhh," Robin is torn. Dry room, Ophiuchus. Dry room, duty as protector. Dry room, only familiar face in a new era. Dry room... oh who is she kidding. Even without the additional temptation of finding out where Vere is, the chance to get dry is overwhelmingly tempting to Robin.
But courtesy does require, so she asks Sir Ophiuchus, "Will you be okay for a few moments?"
Ophiuchus swallows the scallop he's eating. "I shall be fine."
If he seems fine, then Robin bounces up out of her chair and does her best not to trod on Llewella's heels as they head toward -- heaven! -- the dry room.
Llewella leads Robin up a spiral staircase to a room at the top of her quarters. She dons a robe and offers one to Robin, then she wraps a towel around her hair. The robe is luxuriously fluffy and absorbent, and is, somehow, warm.
The room is round and windowless, but is large enough to have a sitting area and some storage. It's probably mostly used by people coming or going to Amber or Xanadu. There are no mirrors in the room at all.
Robin coughs, splutters and is generally unlovely as she readjusts to air. Despite that, she is ecstatic to be out of the water.
When Llewella hands her the robe, Robin looks at it warily for a moment. Even though she has been underwater for a while now, she has been pulling up seaweed, digging in silt and laying in mud. And it shows. Robin, never a particularly neat or clean person to start with, is now thoroughly bedraggled and muddy. But dry!
She chirps happily at that thought and blesses her Aunt as she takes the robe, shakes, fluffs and towels off. Once the spate of mud spatters, loose feathers, twigs and what-the-heck-is-that!'s have dropped off to an acceptable level, Robin looks to her Aunt with curious eyes, looking much like a freshly fluffed owlet.
When both of them are adequately dry, Llewella pulls out her trump deck. "Random and Gerard are both in residence, that I know of. Who do you want to call?"
Robin sighs, "The King, I suppose. It's kind of official..." She doesn't like using the King of All Reality as a communications hub, but that's how the stupid Trumps work. And, she supposes, if Random didn't want it to be that way, he certainly had the power to change it...
Llewella draws out the card and places it on the table between them. She touches the card and nods towards Robin to join her.
After a moment, the connection becomes clear. "Who calls?"
"Llewella, and Robin."
"I've invented a new sport, which is a Kingly accomplishment for the day. What can I do for you two?"
Llewella lets Robin explain.
Robin grins at the Kingly accomplishment - that seems something she can get behind.
"Sire," she begins formally but it doesn't last, "I asked Princess Llewella if we could call because... Vere and I got separated during a Shadowstorm, violently, and I asked him to rendez-vous in Xanadu, so I'm trying to get a message to him that myself and Ophiuchus are safe in Rebma." Robin can't help the strong 'Bleah' impression that accompanies the thought of Rebma in her mind. It's not personal, it's just wet.
"And I suppose I should report briefly, that I... found an ancient Shadow-knot/guard post complete with ancient guardians, unraveled that, started the Shadowstorm, fled with said uninterested-in-starting-anything ancient guardians and Vere, got separated, found... Avalon, I guess, complete with tomb-of-Lir and other stuff, got Pattern-visioned with something I need to talk to Corwin and Benedict about, called Bleys (he's there now, I think) and Trumped to Rebma with one of the ancient guardian guys who's under my protection and am fine, but tired. And not currently wet. But that'll probably change soon." Oooo, really tired. Robin bites off her words before they become totally stream of consciousness on her.
Random has an oar in hand and seems to be using it to paddle somewhere. "It almost always does, in Rebma. Vere is here, but he's alone and apparently lost a bet to Caine, so he may be busy for about a day. You want to talk to him? Vere? Do you want to talk to Robin?"
Robin's thoughts burst off into little flocks again.
The fastest, loudest birds are barely verbal, just a sky-shot burst of bonfire-bright love and joy. 'Vere! Vere! Vere! Yes! Yes! Yes!'
Castor's training kicks in a heartbeat later as a more polite and grateful bird adds, 'Yes, please. Thank you.'
Then the shivering birds hiding in the bushes chirp. 'Alone? What happened? Are Morgne, Ywain and whats-her-name-Laudine okay? Oh, please let them be okay. I don't want to be stuck with Ophiuchus forever...'
It's from these last birds that the dark crows begin emerging. 'Caine? Bastard. Killer of friends and loyal servants. Grrrrrr....'
And, 'Vere? In his debt? Dammit! If Caine gets Vere killed, I will....'
But right there, Robin's stormhawks of loyalty cut in, '...do nothing. Prince Caine weighs more in the universe than us. No more civil wars - ever!'
A sad little practical bird adds, 'But we'd probably have to join Jove in running off the crazy....'
At this point, Robin realizes that she's not alone in her mind. Uhhhh.... The heat of Robin's internal blush is furnace-warm. And she settles on Castor's birds for actual words.
"Yes, please. Thank you." Blush, blush, blush.
Last modified: 29 April 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.