I spent the morning gathering recruits for Claudio's gauntlet.
Caine, Julian, Random, Vain and Dakota, of course, were all willing. When
Ulysses found out what I was up to, he volunteered as well, and seemed a
bit peeved that I hadn't asked him in the first place. Caine, Julian and
Ulysses didn't quite fit into the line of direct male relatives, I
explained, but what the hell? We needed more people.
The gauntlet was to be run in the arena, so that was the next
order of business. Caine and Random were all for using edged weapons, but
I had decided long before to keep Song sheathed. Personally, I didn't
want to know why either of them would want to draw Claudio's blood. We
stood and awaited Claudio's arrival.
He arrived, with Kaedric at his side. They exchanged words, and
then Kaedric deliberately started walking towards our end of the arena.
He wanted to join us. I smiled. I didn't know what Claudio had said to
him, but it was obviously inspirational. How could I turn down such a
Needless to say, Claudio got the ever-loving shit kicked out of
him. If Sky wanted proof that he loved her, that had to go a long way.
For the rest of the day, I turned my attention to the next of
Claudio's travails, the Spirit Walk. I wasn't sure if Claudio had ever
partaken of any of nature's more powerful hallucinogens, but I, for one,
intended not to let the man down. I found a scenic, and more importantly,
quiet, spot on the battlements, hand rolled a brown paper smoke, and set
my mind to envisioning some of the finer peyote I had had the pleasure of
sampling in my life. Knowing its chemical structure, I tweaked its
mescaline content a bit for potency. A small incantation later, and I was
smiling happily at the small bit of cactus in my hand. Now, it probably
wouldn't do to just rest on my laurels; I thought I had better sample the
peyote, to make sure I had actually gotten what I was thinking of. I had
certain standards to maintain, after all.
Three bites later, I saw the Crown Prince of Chaos making his way
across the battlements towards me, and I knew for a fact that I wasn't
hallucinating, not yet anyway, but man, was I going to be. My timing
still appeared to be shot to hell. I smiled at Kaedric, but decided it
wouldn't be prudent to stand. He wanted to talk to me as a friend, not as
a crown prince. He wanted to avoid a cold war. It was a nice thought,
but I wasn't sure I thought it possible. "What about the Jewel?" I asked
him. He said he didn't see the need to return it, especially since the
Serpent appeared to want his wife for something. That was a form of angst
I could understand.
I saw him eyeing the cigarette longingly, so I conjured some for
him. He reveled in a drag or two before he said, "She's leaving without
me." He then spent the next few moments contemplating his wedding ring.
This was also something I understood, having a similar link with Laughter,
myself. He spoke a few oaths shortly after, and said he had to go. I
nodded. I hoped Melanie was okay, but I was thankful for the distraction
she had provided, especially since the walls were starting to melt. I
finished the rest of the peyote off, or at least I think I did, and spent
a good while trying to interpret what the psychedelic patterns the world
reordered itself into meant, if anything.
When I remembered I had feet, I made my way back to my quarters,
ignoring the unusual until I bounced off of Caine, who obviously wasn't a
hallucination. He took one look at me and decided it could wait until I
I slipped into my quarters with the walk of the practiced drug
addict, and collapsed on the bed. I hadn't fooled Laughter, not that I
really thought I could, and I proceeded to get one of her better drug
lectures once she had joined me in the bedroom. She stopped talking when
it started to rain cigarettes. I thought nothing of it until she made the
comment that it actually was happening.
I returned to lucidity much later that afternoon, and with a
renewed respect for the all mighty mescaline. After a few inquires, I
wandered to the garden to begin my atonement to my wife. Somehow, I
didn't think she was going to validate my reasoning. She somehow managed
to forgive me over the course of the week, though. I knew she would.
I conjured the same sort of peyote for Claudio's vision, and
informed him that he had to eat the whole thing, after he set it down
after only taking a nibble. I knew his Amber parentage would save him
from any of the serious side effects, unlike the U.S. Cavalry. Spiking
their water supply with mescaline used to be one of my favorite tricks,
and I smiled with the memory. I quickly got back to business, though,
saying the prayer that would begin all of us on our walks; Dakota and
Ulysses had decided to walk with us.
In my vision, I was a spider, spinning an enormous web of red
silk. It was a gargantuan effort that required all of my attention.
Somehow, I knew that the web was holding all of Shadow together.
That's when Claudio started screaming. I guess the spirits hadn't
favored him with a peaceful walk, or maybe it was nuptial nerves. It took
Ulysses' help before we got him to stop, and he wouldn't talk of the
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