I stood before the door to the lower sections of Daraways.
Florian's brothers had joined us, and they had already proven useful.
We'd had to fight through three Hendrakes to get this far, and more could
Logrus in at any moment. It seemed that Arthur had wasted no time in
sending reinforcements. Myself, I'd stopped wasting my spells on them
when the first one had pulled a dagger after I'd made his Sword-B-Gone.
The door looked normal enough, which is to say that I failed to
notice anything powerful about it. The tricky part of Daraways, and
indeed all of Chaos architecture, is that it is stitched together of rooms
from separate Shadows. Constance had explained this phenomenon to me when
I'd first asked her why the windows in two adjacent chambers let out onto
two very different seasons. For the most part, this fact of construction
has only esthetic affects, but it is possible for the physical nature of
the ways to change from room to room. The point here is that, while it is
arguable whether my magicked lenses could see a large multi-headed canine
through a normal doorway, it should not have surprised me at all that the
cur could have been waiting in another Shadow.
I shut the door on its face, having seen quite enough of it.
Still, we would have to pass this way, having no time to expend seeking
alternate means. Confident that the worst it could do would be to bite my
Xeno, I opened the door once again and stepped decidedly to one side. I
believe that Driscoll would have dispatched the beast more quickly had he
remembered that I had no weapon but a poison bolt. Leaving him behind, I
descended into the darkness, trusting that those things which might breach
the Xeno would still register in my bifocals.
Florian followed close behind, and Adam, the Helgram who courted
Constance, joined us as we reached the bottom. Also of note was the
throaty growl which greeted me. Chaosites have the remarkable ability to
adapt their form to their environment, which is politely referred to as
changeable. It was this talent which Florian had cultivated in me so that
I might cancel the effects of my water-related curse, so long as I first
left the water and second did not go back in. I had not yet become so
skilled that I could, as he and Adam did, adjust my vision to see what
this was about. Ever the helpful one, Florian directed my steps, until I
stood with one arm and my chest in the mouths of another large dog. He
slipped past me, his smirk almost audible. Adam, being the heir to
Helgram, chose to actually remove the creature, and I suppose that it was
a matter of pride that he did not resort to magic to accomplish this.
The others joined us shortly, and for no reason discernible the
hallway was lit. I noticed several things more or less at once, since
that was all the time we were afforded. There was a doorway about one
hundred feet away which was heavily spelled. There was a puddle of blood
at the bottom of the stairs which seemed vaguely doggish. Driscoll was
shooting me a look which was not entirely charitable. Then there were
several flashes and we were in the midst of a battle.
I do not know how many Hendrakes came at us, nor does it
particularly matter. Suffice it to say that they were not enough. This
is not to imply that we were largely unharmed; these people were known for
their skill at killing things. We did, however, have several things to
our advantage, most of them being that they had not thought to bring
spellcasters. As I bumped my way through the melee, I saw Merlin throwing
about magic while holding off one enemy by the tip of his sword. Having
few spells and no real training for swordplay, I plunged on. Darting
glances showed most of our force holding their own, and Shard and Gabriel
were substantially the Hendrakes' superiors. Florian was scarcely more
effective than I would have been, but then he was one of the best
shapeshifters around; he took lots of hits, but none slowed him down.
Mordecai, however, was faltering, so I spent a Xeno to keep him safe.
At last I reached the door, which lay fortunately outside the
combat. A hasty search turned up only two spells, one of which was even
of a known type. It was a ward, designed to do something nasty to
whomever opened the door improperly. I tried to ignore the time pressure
as I immersed myself into its structure. This spell did not seem nearly
so complex as the ones which had confined Merlin, but it still struck me
as odd that I located the dispel so quickly. Suspicious, I held that key
in reserve while I investigated the second spell. This one had more
connections than appeared at first glance, but I could not spare it much
more than that. Dara herself could arrive at any moment, or Arthur could
return and just tell me to stop. While the structure of this second spell
twisted amongst the tendrils of the first, I was reasonably certain that
they did not in fact touch. This was an important consideration, for it
would be just like her to link the collapse of one spell with the
activation of another.
The room was filling with bodies, alive, dead and indeterminate.
I uttered the dispel phrase for the ward. Had I been allowed to explore
it at a leisurely pace, I have no doubt that I would have uncovered the
trap. This had not been the case, and so I must report that I cracked the
ward improperly. It is a horrible thing to find yourself suddenly alone,
and so it was some slight consolation that Adam and Merlin remained as
well. I do not understand the mechanism of the teleport, but it did not
seem to affect sorcerers. This was good, for it allowed Merlin to take
over for the most part while I occupied myself by not thinking of where I
might have sent our friends. This had not been what I'd expected when I
had organized this rescue attempt. I had only wanted to be useful for
once, but so far I'd only demonstrated that I really didn't tend to think
things through. It had all seemed so incredibly simple when I was sitting
on Florian at breakfast, and now I might have killed him. This was
exactly the irresponsible behavior one expected in a young princeling. I
resolved to remember my place in the scheme of things, provided I could
find such a thing.
In the meantime, I helped Merlin as best I could. I still have no
comprehension of what the second spell was all about, and I suspect that
he does not either. What we agreed upon was that a screw up on this one
would render this Shadow moot. At last we arrived at our opinions and
consulted, concluding that we believed we could live through this one. I
let Merlin say the words.
We waited, our collective breath held in reserve for emergency
casting. There was a small sizzle, a whiff of what I'm told is ozone, and
then we all somewhat foolishly exhaled. We had done it. Of the original
party, only I remained, and we'd lost two additional members on the way,
but Merlin stood beside me, and Rinaldo was on the other side of this
perfectly ordinary door. Relieved, despite all, I reached for the knob.
It was a perfectly ordinary, locked door. The last of my heart
fell, and I stood there waiting for Dara to come end the pain. Merlin
nudged me aside and turned the lock with something which did not
apparently exist. It occurred to me to wonder how someone so much more
functional than I wound up a prisoner of his mother. He let me go in
first. I made note to file his name under bastard, right next to mine.
Rinaldo sat quietly in the center of the room, a rare condition
which had a lot to do with the cloth stuffed in his mouth. It seemed that
Dara's precautions need not be elegant when dealing with lesser talents.
Rather than allow more time for our opponents to regroup, I left the youth
as he was and expended my last teleport instead.
The four of us arrived in my quarters in Rebma. I started talking
immediately in the hope of distracting the others from my physical
alteration. It was a silly thought, since my voice had changed as well.
There was no getting around the fact that they were more interested in why
I had breasts than in to where our comrades had been disappeared. I felt
no obligation to explain this to them, as it was really none of their
business. However, I did request their silence in the matter. Merlin and
Adam nodded, nonplussed. Rinaldo continued thrashing about as best he was
able, still under the impression that he could not breathe water. That
was all right; he'd been present when it happened in the first place.
Someone untied him.
I told them that we needed to go back to Daraways. The only way I
knew of tracing a teleport required my presence at one of the two ends.
The other three being spellcasters of various capabilities, I'd thrown out
the comment in the hopes of being corrected. None of them argued the
point. Hating to be right on this point, I elaborated.
"We have to assume that they would have contacted us by now, had
There was no dissension. I was running out of straws. That's
when it hit me, a sort of double vision of my consciousness. I encouraged
this feeling, letting my thoughts blur for a moment. When they resolved
once more, the Trump connection was established.
Florian stood before a desolate landscape, mercifully blocking
most of it from my view. I derive little enough pleasure from the
environments of the surface world, but I admit to preferring green vistas
to brown and gray. Even the sky had the look of dissipating ink. I'd
never seen the man to less advantage.
"Florian. This spares us some bother. Are the others there?"
The relief in my tone only raised his distress. His gaze
flickered to the side of the image, and his smile took a certain effort to
"Mordecai and Gabriel are with me."
We neither of us interrupted the stillness with the obvious. I
offered my hand. He declined for his brothers but accepted it himself so
that he might bask in the glory of my female form. We both knew he was
lying, but the jest put me at ease. Among friends, my difficulties were
Since Florian, of course, knew where he'd landed, he could Logrus
the rest of us to the location. All five of us went, although I instantly
regretted bringing Rinaldo, for two reasons. The first, of most strategic
import, was that Brand could not act until his child had been delivered
unto him safely. I should probably have sent him to Amber straight off,
although in my defense I could not have known the current state of the
siege. The Hendrakes could very well have taken Kolvir by that time. The
second reason was his company.
We were ensconced in a bubble of Logrus, Shadows whizzing by at
speeds too great to notice them singly. The others ignored him. I strove
for their calm, but since I was still technically in charge it was my
problem if he whined. He was probably just nervous, and rightly so.
"You're a conjurer. Make your own damn food."
After a moment, he did. I'd have thought Brand had never been
blunt to him, the way he stared. I knew better. Llewella had warned me
about him above all others.
At last we arrived, and the Shadow was every bit as unwholesome as
it had appeared. Worse yet, it felt Real. Every place you can go is
Shadow, as I understand it. Most places, it's easy to figure that none of
what you're experiencing matters, because you can just hop over a Shadow
and do it again. Other places, though, they scream relevance. Anything
you do there will effect your own future, as well as sending ripples
through Shadow, altering events of which you will never be aware. There,
your every act is a stone breaking the surface of the water, bending the
waves and ripping a path to the very bottom (a profoundly disturbing image
for one raised on the ocean floor). These lands are Real. Amber, Faerie,
bits of Chaos, they were Real. The stream where I met the Unicorn was
something beyond that. Sometimes, a touch of Reality rubbed off on a
Shadow, through the occupation of one or several of us, but this is of a
weaker sort, and will fade with disassociation. Such a place was
The wilted land in which we uneasily stood was unquestionably
Real. Some of the others knew this, too. I saw no need to enlighten the
rest. It did not abate my growing apprehension to recall that my spells
had all fallen on teleporting to Rebma. All I had left were three
Sword-B-Gones and a Xeno. I resolved to lessen my dependence on sorcery.
Adam, Florian, and Merlin sent out Logrus tendrils to locate the
missing Amberites. Rinaldo and I did not speak. It was Merlin who
finally located one of our absent friends. He latched onto his quarry and
pulled, momentarily producing the Crown Prince, who almost maintained his
dignity under the circumstances. He made a pointed remark on the recent
spate of unexpected transports, and let it be known that he'd wandered for
four days. I told Rinaldo to make him some food. While the search
renewed for Shard, I am happy to relate that common sense made a rare
appearance in this adventure. At my suggestion, Driscoll and Rinaldo
returned to Amber to let Brand know that he could cut loose. I have
already intimated that this should have occurred earlier, but this fact
had not quite dawned on me until I had found myself in their company with
plenty of time for recriminating, meaningful glares.
At length, Adam located what we took to be Shard. We were not
entirely certain, since the target was difficult for him to grasp, and the
Logrus did tend to take liberties with descriptions. Because we could not
reel in Shard, we reeled ourselves to him. Actually, to the castle which
held him. The sense of Reality was stronger here, so we chose to arrive
on the battlements, just to show we weren't scared. I should mention at
this point that ignorance is a superb enhancer of bravado, which still
does not explain the apparent confidence of my fellows.
I believe that I was the only one surprised to be greeted by a
rather pale young woman, glowing with borrowed life. Clues were catching
in that climate, and so my manners came to the fore.
"We mean you no harm, m'lady. Pray forgive our trespass; we were
only seeking one of our number."
She smiled distantly, an inherently superior sort of thing to do.
"He's one of us now," she said simply.
I saw that polity would get me nowhere. Either that, or I was too
annoyed to waste the gesture.
"Yes, well," I put in irritably, "we've come to collect him."
She almost shrugged.
"You may take him if he leaves of his own free will."
Shortly, we got her to lead us to him. She walked down the musty
stone steps with an indifference that amazed. One can realize, with
effort, the way in which solid surfaces are taken on faith as always being
presented, but it is incredible to witness a person who does not only
behave as though this weren't a given, but also that it really didn't
matter either way. She was either in an oceanic bliss or deeply
depressed; she clearly did not inhabit the same realm as did we who
followed her descent.
The stairs let out onto a hallway, and this was followed for some
distance, when she stopped as though she had never moved. With a careless
gesture, she indicated that we had arrived. I peeked through the doorway
beside her, and saw much that did not seem well. In what was once a
throne, there sat a thing which was once a woman. Long hair, a faded
yellow, lusterless blue eyes, ashen skin on a skeletal frame; she looked
rather like Laughter's daughter might, had she grown up and died. I
figured that I'd neglect to pass on that pleasant information, since
Laughter hated me anyway. At the feet of this bloodless Queen, Shard lay
as a corpse. Florian decided to warn me now that these people were Real.
I thought, "You only die once." Then I thought, "Look at the
evidence to the contrary." Then I walked into the room, my footsteps
echoing guiltily. The entire experience was becoming less frightening and
increasingly voyeuristic. This place was not meant for me to behold. It
was life's dirty little secret, and I was violating it, somehow. I was
going to have a weak negotiating position.
I bowed formally and introduced myself. She seemed to notice a
point directly to my left and acknowledge it, although her head might
simply have lolled. I tried to establish a dialogue, an effort I'd rather
not detail. Eventually, I told her we'd come for Shard, although this was
seeming ever less of a good notion. I hadn't even wanted him along in the
"He may leave, if it is of his own free will."
I hadn't enjoyed hearing that the first time either. Something
about the phrase smacked of determinism. In a puppet show display of my
thoughts, she demonstrated his unwillingness. It looked to me that his
response was an imploring gaze, but I suppose a lot could be read into
that. I asked to put the question to him directly. She agreed, letting
on that he'd fed recently. I'd almost have started liking her, if she
hadn't seemed about to lapse into a coma when she said it.
"Shard, it's me. Bartholomew. Would you like to go home?"
He muttered something about his "new home." The Queen failed to
"Would you like to go home to Amber, Shard."
"No," he told her foot. "...not sure..."
"...if... could...," he added.
"You would go to Amber if you could?"
He did not challenge this interpretation. That was good enough
for me. I glanced back at the others, but we were already in motion.
That sort of initiative is why I don't trade in for less amusing friends.
Against my expectations, Shard seemed upset with us. Also, he seemed to
have found focus and energy. Unfortunately, this was all directed at me.
I popped a Xeno, which collapsed an instant later as we plunged through
Shadow. Adam wanted a destination. Between dodging claws and fangs, I
suggested someplace close without windows. Presently we arrived in an
interior room of House Helgram. Shard calmed down. I don't know why.
"Do you require anything special?" I asked warily.
"...coffin... be fine..."
"Right. I'll have the royal executioner size you. I assume you'll
be keeping your head?"
Merlin went to Amber to make the proper arrangements, and I will
never ask him what that entailed. He seemed to be familiar with this. I
decided to Trump Julian and confess, but Shard wanted to tell him in
person. Being uncertain as to the efficacy of Sword-B-Gone on teeth, I
was inclined to respect his wishes. I called Mother, instead.
Llewella has always been beautiful, but today she was radiant.
She wore her armor and held a spear which had obviously seen recent use.
Her breathing was heavy, in counterpoint to the corpses which floated
behind her. She was quite pleased with herself. I asked if I'd called at
a bad time.
"Oh, no," she purred. "We're just wrapping things up." Her eyes
glinted. "Foolish Chaosites. No steel on the bottoms of their ships."
I smiled for her. Have I mentioned my distaste for violence? I
don't want to make her seem bloodthirsty; it's just that she enjoys
showing people the error of their ways. I told her that all was well with
"We were successful in retrieving --"
She put up a warning hand and shot me a reproachful look. Then
she offered her hand. I pulled her through. Adam and Florian bowed
deeply, not at all noticing that she was soggy and dripping. Nor,
apparently, did she. It's something of a knack. I filled her in on the
broad details of the expedition, and had gotten as far as the point at
which only Shard remained missing, when she noticed him. He sat in the
corner, absorbed by the weave of a tapestry.
"Is he all right? He seems a little pale."
Some silences are measured in the skipped beat of a heart.
"He's dead, Mother."
She looked at him from a slightly different angle.
"Oh," she said. Then, "Oh!"
That settled, she returned to our conversation as though she'd
never left it.
"Was there some reason that you Trumped? Do you need some help?"
I tried holding my weight in different ways, but none seemed
satisfactory. The truth was that I had simply needed to talk to her, but
this was not the place to try to explain that. I skirted.
"I made certain to stay hidden when we went to Rebma. No one knows
we were there."
She flinched slightly, then did something I'd never seen. Her
eyes dropped as jade crept into her cheeks. When she spoke, her voice was
clear and precise, and very quiet.
"I think that I was, perhaps, too hasty in restricting your
My eyes found hers.
"We could always claim you were Martin's or something."
We looked comfortably at each other for a short time. She
straightened, regaining something of the glow with which she'd arrived.
"If there's nothing else, I suppose I should go kill some more
She smiled at the Helgrams, who took no offense, under the
circumstances, and then she took out a Trump and was gone. Some minutes
later, Merlin called for Shard and pulled him through to Amber. After
that, I sat for a long while, with Adam and Florian keeping silent
company. Young Helgram may have guessed my thoughts. I'd done our side a
service, but at something of a price, to Shard and to my confidence. What
had seemed almost a game at first had proven nearly disastrously real.
I'd made some powerful enemies, some of which I had not known existed.
Yet, I had accomplished my stated goal, and freed a major player to act.
Dara had to be rattled, which could only help our odds. Such things Adam
could reasonably assume me to contemplate.
Florian, meanwhile, might very well have used the cover of the
moment to study my form, which he was known to admire. Of anyone, though,
he could come closest to understanding the matters which I considered. An
outsider to his own culture, he well knew the importance of having a
place. I would have to surrender my possessions, any known mannerisms, my
entire life, if I wanted to return home. I would have to behave as though
everything and everyone were new to me. It was much to sacrifice to have
something only partly which I had lost.
I would need a name.
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