I had not struck the first blow, but I was far from beaten. What
a completely ironic and totally useless mind set. Actually, I was amazed
at how utterly and quickly I found myself completely defeated.
Ulysses and Laughter had barely disappeared from the battlements
with Benedict, Mandor and Beauty, when Melanie reported that someone was
using both force magic and Trump out beyond the bounds Arden. I asked her
where, and was given the information. I took a deep breath and let it
slowly go. I then called the intricate, three dimensional Pattern
contained within the Jewel of Judgment to my mind. I used its influence
to alter the physical laws that held sway in Amber, so that magic of any
kind would no longer function, much as I had banished Logrus some time
before. I'm sure this earned me an evil look from Fiona, but I couldn't
take time to appreciate it, as I began to call upon the Jewel's power,
letting it build to a sufficient size before sending it in a wave from
Amber in a path toward the location that Melanie had given me. I used the
Jewel and my own abilities with the Pattern to force my recent limitations
on magic in Amber throughout that path in Shadow as well. I also began
playing with the stuff of Shadow itself in a radius around Amber, so that
if anyone was trying to traverse it to us, they would find their way less
than pleasant. I hoped that these actions would prove fruitful. As in
all things that day, I was sorely disappointed.
The ground shook, again trembling the damaged castle to its
foundations. From my vantage point on the battlements, I could see a
great chasm opening in the earth, and Orrin's undead army scrambling from
it, much as a wound will fester when left unattended. I could also see
the torches go from my captains, and a great blaze soon burned and danced
on the Plain of Arden. I bent the wind to my will, and sent the flames
flashing into Orrin's troops. The army of the undead was slowed far less
by it than were my hopes, which withered with the futile flames.
I summoned storm clouds then, ignoring the effort required to do
so from skies I had cleared but a few hours before. I could already see
that both Caitlin's and Sky's troops were in trouble. The thunderheads
built, and soon the lightning flashed, but Orrin's troops seemed to draw
substance from the sky fire. I could feel my own rage begin to burn.
With the Jewel, I drew a cold front up alongside the warm winds I had
summoned from the sea. I smashed the two fronts together, and soon the
winds began to churn with deliberate deadliness. The funnel cloud touched
down in the midst of Orrin's troops, and they were snared in it like so
many dried leaves. One of my Trump artists was helping me, I could tell,
as the zombies disappeared in rainbows when they reached the top of the
I was just beginning to think we might have cause for some small
hope, when I felt another rumble ravage the stones. With what senses I
could spare from the whirlwind, I could tell that a page had arrived.
"They're coming up through the bottom of the castle!" I heard him
bleat out. Damn. I sent the churning winds back to the clouds that had
borne them, and released my grip on the Jewel. I whirled from the
battlements then and, drawing Song, entered the castle through the door
the page had slammed behind him.
After a few steps, the Jewel and my head throbbed in unison. This
I had felt before. It meant that the Eye of Peace was near. I attempted
to explore it and its wielder with my own Jewel, but left off shortly
after I had begun. Such a confrontation would rest on the muscle of our
minds alone, and I ill-liked those odds. I realized then that Melanie had
followed me, as she announced her presence by speaking.
"I might be able to help. Perhaps with our combined minds?"
"No. I'm still not willing to risk it." Where had Ulysses
We encountered no zombies on the stairs. I knew where the Eye was
from my earlier contact with it, and moved straight to the throne room.
Orrin was seated there, a great smile on his face, and the Eye around his
neck. I conjured a crossbow and a large supply of quarrels while he
gloated. As soon as I had them, I used them to the best of my ability,
and Orrin was wearing two of them by the time he got his ass off the
throne. Melanie and the troops that had followed us began to engage those
that Orrin had brought with him. I knew then that I had lost, but I'd be
damned if I was going to go down easy. I hoped Laughter had escaped with
Jubal stepped from behind a curtain then, as if in answer to my
silent prayer. He held a dagger at Laughter's throat. The realization
that I had truly failed everyone I had held dear crashed into me then.
I'm sorry, my love. So sorry that I failed you and our little family.
Jubal soon had crossbow quarrels in the place of his eyes.
He released Laughter, reeling from the sudden impact and loss of
his sight. Orrin grabbed her up again, and my rage finally caught up with
me, with added interest for its delay. I held Orrin in my sites, crossbow
in my right hand and the bulk of my body hiding my left. Into this hidden
hand I conjured a memory from a violent time, a favorite toy. It was cool
and heavy in my hand. But Orrin held his dagger in front of Laughter's
body, effectually using her for a shield. To shoot at him would also
bring harm to her. I had eight seconds before this realization would
alter my actions. Forgive me, Laughter.
I let the crossbow fall from my hand. Orrin's eyes began to
follow its downward flight, but were arrested in their motion by my
swinging the laser pistol into line. His eyes glittered then. He counted
on my inability to harm the love of my life. He had forgotten to take
into consideration the fact that I am little more than his undead
soldiers, devoid of soul and delayed in emotion, albeit only briefly.
However, with a laser pistol I had more than enough time. I held the
trigger down, emitting a nonstop stream of light. I jerked the gun
slightly. The dagger, with Orrin's hand still firmly attached, fell to
the throne room floor. I couldn't evade the shock in Laughter's eyes as
the beam sliced into her shoulder as well. I'll feel it soon, my love.
I'll feel it soon.
An animalistic howl of rage and pain escaped Orrin's throat.
"I can see it's time that I began to play rough," he said through
clenched teeth. I brought the site in line with his forehead, but before
I could pull the trigger I was driven to my knees, my breath nearly
knocked from me. A fire lit in my chest, and as I looked down I could see
that Orrin had exploded the Jewel of Judgment, and that a fair number of
its fragments were embedded in my flesh. I again brought the pistol into
line, but Kalyn and Sylvie had appeared. Kalyn arrested Laughter's
flight, and Sylvie was beginning to Trump them all out. So, she had been
the spy. I gained my feet and dove at the disappearing figures.
We arrived in a heap. Kalyn, being uninjured, gained his feet
first and took Laughter with him. In a second of panic, I realized that I
was weaponless, then I saw Song a few feet away. I held out my right hand
and Song leaped into it. We stood before the Primal Pattern. An army
that I assumed would belong to House Wickling surrounded us all. A
certain calm began to descend on me then. I wondered if it was what the
condemned man felt in the moment before the trapdoor was sprung; the
remaining seconds of his life to be spent dancing at the end of the rope.
My eyes found Orrin and I advanced on him. I never made it.
My way was blocked by a Chaosite who knew his own sword well.
From my discussions with Mandor, I guessed this was Corliss, the reigning
king in Chaos. I had no time for drama of this sort. I could already see
Orrin taking Laughter from Kalyn, and making his way to the Pattern. I
lost my mind then, but nothing I tried got me around Corliss. There was
nothing I could do to stop Orrin from slashing Laughter's throat and
dragging her in a straight line toward the center of the Pattern. I
wished then for Corliss to kill me quickly, but I found it impossible to
lay Song aside and let him run me through. The woman who had taught me
how to live again was dead, our children were dead, Amber fallen. Even
knowing all that, at the end, I had to fight.
A white light washed over me then, and I was relieved that Corliss
had finally managed to kill me, or so I thought. Dworkin appeared in the
midst of the light, mumbling something about how more of us had lived this
time because he had set the spell off sooner. This time? What the hell
was he talking about? He reached forward and pulled one of the splinters
of the Jewel from my skin.
"I'm sending you back, but not too far back. This, however, is
new. This is bad. Don't let this happen again," he said as he held the
shard before my eyes. He's got to be joking, I thought to myself.
"I'll be sure to tell Orrin that," I said, not knowing what else to
say. Was this creepy dwarf actually suggesting that he had arranged all
of this? I was enveloped in white light once again.
The air was heavy and smelled of smoke. I opened my eyes and
found the sky framed by teepee poles. What was going on? My mind swam
through murky memories. Everything was still there, it just felt like it
had all happened a long time ago. I sat up and winced. Not long ago at
all, I thought, as my fingers inspected the mass of blood that was my
chest. My eyes searched the gloom of the tent. Song was there. I had
had it in my hand when I was speaking to Dworkin. I was alive. If I was
alive... My Trumps were still in my pocket.
I gained my feet and headed out. I was definitely back on the
plains. The people parted before me and tried not to see me. Men were
not supposed to interact with spirits. I reached out and my Pattern
locked onto the Shadow. The Pattern was working! I secured Song to my
belt and turned my feet to Amber. When I had left the plains behind, I
paused and brought out my cards. I shuffled Laughter's from them and
concentrated. I held my breath until the card began to animate. She
barked out "Bide!" I did so. She had been fighting, but whom? I
followed her progress as she broke free of battle. Puca. She had been
fighting puca. I began to feel ill.
"How did you get my Trump," she asked when clear.
"Do you know who I am?" I tried to erase the emotion from my words.
"Yes," she answered cautiously. "You're Archimedes, the Crown
Prince. But you haven't been seen in Amber in years." I cut the contact
then. It was just too much. How many times in one lifetime was I doomed
to lose her? I might have given myself completely over to despair had I
not received a Trump contact. As it was, I discovered that I had been
wandering for quite some time. Without the Jewel, it would have been
impossible to ignore the call, so I accepted it readily. It was Ulysses.
He remembered as well. He would meet me in Amber.
I had pulled my Trump of the main hall when I got the distinct
feeling that not only was I not alone, but my safety was not in the
slightest bit assured. I opted to duck, and a large mass sailed over my
head. I drew Song reflexively. I had never seen this creature's like
before. It was only slightly smaller than I in stature, but its skin was
a uniform gray, and its eyes the same black as its hair. From its
cat-like snout and the sharp teeth that resided there, I assumed I was on
the menu. I taught it that I could bite too, and then conjured it a treat
to keep it busy while I Trumped away. I had no idea how important that
creature was to be to me.
I met Ulysses shortly after my arrival and we demanded to see
Random. I suppose I could have started the conversation off with
something other than, "Glad to see you're still alive," but quite frankly,
I just wasn't in the mood. We then related all of what we knew to Random.
Ulysses had determined that we had landed seven years in Amber's past, so
we gave Random a fairly gloomy horoscope. We were interrupted about a
half hour in and Random had to leave for a few moments. Ulysses tried to
cheer me up by mentioning that we had seven years of breakfasts ahead of
us. I kicked his chair out from under him for his trouble. When Random
returned we finished the tale. I'm not at all sure he believed us at all
at the beginning, and he was rather appalled by my choice of mate, but at
the end, and after the interruption, I think he did believe us. It's out
of my hands.
I was really tired by then. I told my father I would be in Rebma
if he needed me. I missed the significance of his look. I asked Ulysses
if he wouldn't mind helping me remove the glass shards. He consented. We
walked into the infirmary. Laughter was sitting there, attending to a
gash on her leg. I turned and walked out. I couldn't think of anything
else to do. I was halfway down the hall on my way to Rebma when it
suddenly struck me that if this was seven years in the past, I was still a
wanted fugitive in Rebma. I shared my opinion on that with anyone who was
in earshot and made my way back to the infirmary.
Ulysses was helping with Laughter's wound. He was so close to
her. I was overcome with the most basic of male instincts, and informed
Ulysses that he was not to think about it, or her, in whatever way he
might have been. I'm sure it did nothing but confuse Laughter.
"Do I know you?" she asked.
"We know each other a lot better in the future." My emotions were
beginning to get the better of me, and my arms ached to embrace her. That
incited a rather lengthy discussion between Ulysses and myself on the
merits of sharing the future with anyone else. I adroitly ended the
conversation by drawing Song to emphasize my point. Laughter had Sequence
in her hands immediately, demanding to know where I had gotten the sword.
"You gave it to me." Laughter looked dubious.
"That was bright," added Ulysses.
"She's my *wife,*" I retorted. That brought the conversation to a
Laughter exited shortly thereafter, mumbling something about a hot
shower or dinner. I turned myself over to Ulysses' ministrations, and had
to agree with the arguments he made thereafter, as he currently had his
fingers in my chest.
Laughter came back before he was quite finished. She again
demanded to know how I got Song, and asked to see it.
"It won't hurt you, I convinced it not to," I said as I passed the
sword to her.
"How did I get it? Only two other people know."
"I'd plead the fifth," suggested Ulysses, as he dropped another
shard into the pan. I tried to, but she didn't buy it. I then related to
her the story of how Calamus, her foster brother, had betrayed her; the
same story that she had once told me. She handed Song back, and wondered
aloud how we knew so much about her. Ulysses offered that we used future
sorcery. She offered that the drama with Calamus only happened two days
ago. Ulysses countered with we had cast the spell two weeks ago. I
really would have laughed, had I thought it would have not been ruinous to
my immediate health.
Ulysses escorted Laughter to dinner after he was finished with me.
It just hurt too much for me to be that close to her. I followed instead
at a discrete distance. It appeared there were others who 'remembered' at
dinner: Sky, Caitlin and Claudio. Random looked more introspective than I
had ever given him credit to be capable of. Halfway through dinner,
Laughter began to remember. She looked straight and Claudio and said,
"You're the King's bodyguard." Claudio looked unsure at best. I caught
Ulysses' eye, and he ushered her out of the room. I excused myself and
made my way to my quarters. I entered the room and left it dark. I sat
by the window, hoping that perhaps, just perhaps, there was a chance I
might get my wife back. I hoped she would be strong enough to get through
Alaric's and Beatrice's loss.
A short time later, there was a rapping at my door. My hand on
Song's hilt, I approached it. My hand hovered over the knob when I heard
an infant's cry. I nearly removed the door from its hinges in my haste to
open it. A guard stood there, my son and daughter in his arms. I
released Song in favor of my children, and gathered them close to me.
Absorbed in their warmth and smell, I nearly missed the sound the guard
made. I retreated, and looked upon the creature I had encountered earlier
that day. I stared in amazement. How had this come to pass? Never mind
for now. I laid the children on the bed and shuffled Ulysses' card from
my deck. I found him in Eudoxus. He once again offered sanctuary, and I
accepted. I wasn't there long before I heard a familiar voice behind me.
I turned slowly. It was my Laughter that was standing before me. Ulysses
tossed me a smile and left us alone. I gathered her into my arms and held
her close for a very long time, letting the events of the past few days
wash over me and drift away.
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