After the climactic battle at Kolvir's foot, I found it difficult
to imagine collecting the Jewel's shards one at a time, in a drawn out
denouement.  I knew that it would happen at once, and at a time I could
not choose, but that would certainly be soon.  Although I believed my life
to be more intimately linked with the restoration of the Jewel than were
others, I knew also that it was not my task alone.  So I waited, preparing
for the moment which was to come.  I spent every night in Rebma, returning
to Kolvir in the morning to visit my incarcerated Prince.  Afternoons saw
my return to the waters which birthed me, where I taught Darby the
language of magic and how to care for his new ray.

	One day, I diverted my normal path to the ocean, and explored the
forest Arden, keeping close to the edge, as I still could not find
landmarks in such unfamiliar terrain.  While on this rather circumspect
tour of the woodlands, I spied a simple structure hidden with little
effectiveness behind an unnatural clump of trees.  Even as inexperienced
as I was with how trees grew, I was nearly certain that they did not tend
toward parabolic patterns.  There seemed a mirthfulness about the place,
with its barely restrained pillars of notched white stone and the bold
angles of their connecting cornices.  The entire effect was one of a
child, giggling from its expectant seclusion despite the need for
surprise.  Intrigued, I left the safety line of the meadows behind and
entered the forest proper.

	The building soon revealed itself to be a shrine, and clearly
wished for me to be impressed that such a little thing could be so
important.  I noted that the path which approached it offered few
distinctions from the surrounding brush, and decided that this said
otherwise about the status of the area.  I could easily have been wrong,
being equally unfamiliar with woodland paths and religious iconography; in
Rebma we need erect no edifice to our goddess, for after all, we live
within her.  The statue of the Unicorn was something of a giveaway, even
to my untrained eye.

	There being no one in evidence to prevent me, I sat before the
shrine, studying the sculpture, comparing its anatomy with that of the
original.  The artisan, I decided at last, had definitely caught her
dimensions, almost flawlessly in fact.  It was a marvelous, beautiful
fabrication, but its perfection only served to remind me of the vibrancy
which it could never achieve.  I would have preferred an abstract, a
symbolic representation, over this which could never be realistic enough. 
It was as I arrived at this critique that the voice spoke softly from
behind my grassy seat.

	"Pretty, isn't it?" he said, stating a fact.

	I resisted the urge to turn around, prolonging my reverie by not
facing its conclusion.  In the end, however, I simply had to reply,
although I stubbornly maintained my posture.

	"She is," was my response.  Silence greeted it, and I began to
doubt my interrogator's presence.  "The reproduction is admirable," I
ventured, committing to the unsought discussion in order to confirm my
sanity.  Then, at last, I turned.  His hair was yellow, tinged with gray,
and he wore a white slit robe over his clothing.  He seemed to belong
right where he was.

	"Forgive me for sounding cliched," he offered, "but you seem
troubled, my son."

	My doubtful expression did not change, but one good cliche
deserves another.  All I had was a proverb.

	"They say that you can choke in water that is too still."

	When this failed to annoy him, I smiled ironically.

	"Mind you," I added, "they don't say it to me that often."

	I extended a hand in the surface tradition.

	"I am Bartholomew."

	"People around here call me Pary.  I'll leave you alone if you wish
it, but listening is one of my strong points."

	He took my hand, and the unusual phrasing of his introduction
slipped past my notice.  Normally, I pick up some sort of psychic static
when I touch people -- always have.  I figured it was normal until one
drunken night when Drumman assured me that he'd never felt so much as a
hint of anyone's mind that way.  Asking other, more reliable,
acquaintances formed a consensus against me.  Rather than feeling weird
about myself, I felt sorry for them.  I wondered how they could tell the
difference between a person and a piece of rock.  I couldn't imagine
whatever it was that they felt instead.  Now I knew.  It was Pary.  I
thought fleetingly of Shard, but I thrust that impression aside,
rationalizing that I'd probably get the same response from Fiona.  This
gave me a new way to resist certain impulses.

	I gave a short, bitter laugh to cover my reflections.  Pary was
most definitely a contender.  I resolved to take him seriously.

	"Not much to tell," I shrugged, trying out his rules.  "I'm just a
Rebman stuck between a crush and honor.  But I won't chase you off."

	After a brief pause, during which he failed to give any sort of
cues, "I don't suppose there's some sort of schedule for manifestations?"

	At this, he examined me as though I were of any interest to him. 
It was similar to Llewella's look, when she's giving you enough line with
which to hang yourself, but not quite so expectant of the outcome.

	"So, you want to talk to the Unicorn, hmn?  She isn't known for
being overly verbose."

	Still, he was not my mother, and on this topic I felt to have the
advantage.  I grinned, becoming more myself than I had in weeks.

	"An appropriate understatement, sir," I rallied.  "But no, I have
already been granted more by her than I should have asked.  As that boon
has led to my current dilemma, I shall avoid causing further ripples in my

	When in doubt, confuse.  I looked the pale man in the eyes.  "I am
grateful to have had the opportunity for my decision though, and I suppose
that directs my choice.  I risked everything to save her, and would do so
willingly again.  How then could I do anything but her will, whatever that
may be?"

	Let him wonder, I thought.  Pary had other notions, however.

	"It seems the decision you have reached sits well on you.  I would
that all who come here find direction as swiftly."

	Outdone again, I made to leave.

	"You are an excellent listener, Pary.  Thank you for allowing my
thoughts to sort themselves."

	He shrugged.  "It's what they pay me for," he said with a smile.

	Still, he seemed pleased, and I was as well.  I may have lost the
verbal contest, but I'd at least found a challenge, and an answer as well
to the pain in my conscience.  I bowed with my most ridiculous flourish.

	"Good day to thee, sir, and my best to the lady."

	With that, I returned to the edge of the forest, and the path to
Rebma.  I did not turn back, but I believe he waved farewell.

	Freshly resolved to regain Lyss' affections, I sought Vialle's
advice, after my next morning's visit to Amber's least hospitable inn. 
She received me in her chambers, smiling as I entered.

	"Hello Bartholomew," she said with genuine warmth.  We had always
enjoyed each other's company in Rebma, I for her poise and charm and she,
I think, for my flagrant refusal to believe in her blindness.  I bowed
sweepingly, knowing she'd appreciate the supposedly wasted gesture.  I
decided to play our game most fully, this day, she being one of my queens

	"My greetings to you, most honored cousin, on this fine, humid day,
though our new friends declare it rather choking."

	She smiled, despite herself.

	"Well, you appear to be in a pleasant mood.  Can I offer you any

	"If you feel so inclined, my lady, I would gladly accept your
hospitality.  Though, to be perfectly candid with you, I should not be
noticing any surfeit of nourishment until some further portion of relief
be abated by time and use; and so, by your leave, I sit."

	She chuckled at this verbal array.  It was pretty laughable.  I
wasn't exactly certain myself if it meant what I'd intended.  Clauses are
beautiful things.

	"By all means," she returned graciously.  Then, as I sat, "What can
I do for you, or is this merely a social call?"

	"I hardly need cause to feel a desire to visit you, my other queen,
however, I confess that I have a wish to declare to you a thought which I
have recently conceived, as to the cause of my fondness for your company. 
By your leave, I would tell it in a trice."

	This was news to me, but it did admit certain possibilities.  I
hoped she'd bite, so we could both discover what they might be.

	"You have it."

	She leaned forward in amused interest.  I decided that I'd better
make this good.  I smiled as well, having settled on a transition between
jester and philosopher.  The line really is incredibly thin.

	"This, then, is it," I began when I was ready.  "It is because we
are opposites in every way.  Where you have been wise, I have been
impetuous; where you have risen to the surface, I have been snared and
sunken."  I drew in steadying breath.  This was the punch line.  "More
notably, however, where you have married and found love, I have loved and
must now marry."

	She nodded seriously, acknowledging my reference to Lilith, if not
to Lyss.  It was a tricky game; I dared not offend my royal friend by
seeming to whine or ask her intervention.  She waited for me to bring her
into the problem, so she'd know where she fit.  I continued softly, so the
emotion would not betray my resolve.

	"I cannot honor my mother's binding; it would be unconscionable for
me to reject affection for the sake of position.  Vialle, I lack the
necessary tact to break the vow amicably."  This, I'd just successfully
proven.  "I request the boon of your advice, if it not be indelicate to

	My eyes found the floor.  It came so simply and easily from my
lips, but I could not believe it.  I'd crossed my mother before, but never
with such determination, and I felt a pain at the thought of her
disappointment in me, which would surely be my payment in the end.

	Vialle spoke after a moment of deliberation.

	"It is not.  Llewella seems to be at piece with your adulthood
these days.  Were you to explain yourself to her in the same way you have
to me, I believe she would be open to your suggestions."

	Disbelief held me still.  My mother, Llewella, open to my
suggestions!  Preposterous!  And yet, I sensed the truth in her words. 
Hadn't Llewella told me that only my happiness was of importance?  Yet
still, she had thought to be arranging it.  Would she appreciate being
told she'd been wrong?  I'd approached the subject before, and her belief
at that time had been that love and marriage were distinct conditions,
compatible only as separate relations.  That she had told me in the same
conversation about my happiness.  It seemed ridiculous to broach the topic
again, especially now.

	Vialle agreed that it might be better to wait until the Realm had
been stabilized before disrupting people's comfort.  Besides, I thought,
my resolution would be fruitless so long as Lyss remained discorporate. 
We chatted a bit longer, and then made our farewells, and I retired to my
room in Amber.

	That is to say, I collected Darby from Rebma, and the two of us
withdrew to my quarters.  I was quite through abandoning him
unnecessarily, and I had no wish to return to Llewella's until I knew what
to say to her.  At least I now had some notion of what I wanted her to get
from our discussion.  In any event, I spent the rest of day nominally
teaching magic to my foster son, while I really hung a defensive spell in
the event that things got rapidly out of hand.

	The next morning, things got under way at last, initiated by a
summons from the King.  Most of my cousins were in attendance, with the
notable exception of Martin, and the unremarkable ones of Merlin and
Arthur.  Also included were Foster and the Chaos ambassador, who seemed
predictably amused with the entire situation.  At least he enjoyed
grinning at us throughout the conference.

	Random got quickly under way, explaining that Lyss had located the
remaining shards all in a Primal Plane, sort of like the Vampire Realm,
but perhaps with fewer fangs.  The bright spot was that it was a heavily
magical place, which would make me of some little use.  No one mentioned
that the natives would have more experience throwing around their own
magic.  There was also the cheerless revelation that our "Trumps might
work."  "Or not," being the operative phrase.  We had an hour to prepare. 
Sometimes I wonder if anyone seriously considers the spell casters when
they set up these little family outings.  In one hour I could hang myself
but not one useful spell.  So I begged a private line to Lyss.  Amazingly,
I got it.

	I didn't really know what to say to her, since nothing had really
changed, and it was her turn to speak anyway.  I just wanted to remember
what I was doing these things for.  After an awkward moment I thought of
something after all.

	"When we get back from this mission," I promised, "I will break my
contract to Lilith."

	"Really?" she asked, with more enthusiasm than she'd shown since
losing her body.  She still didn't complete our formula of affection, but
I was encouraged by her sudden interest.

	When I parted from her, I only had about a third of my time
remaining, which I expended sending Darby back to Rebma.  I swear, that
string Lyss used to drag him around by was prophetic.

	I met with the others, and our long journey began, courtesy of the
Ambassador's Logrus.  His driving was excellent and smooth, but I found
his brakes to be sub-par.  At least, I do not recall blacking out at the
end of any other Logrus trip.

	I awoke from a dream of falling water, pouring over the horizon as
the planet rotated.  My lips were parched.  My bed was soft.  I lay there
for a time, my eyes closed against the world.  At last I called into the

	"Warm," I said.  It didn't sound as appropriate as it had seemed in
my thoughts.

	"Comfortable," a voice expanded.  A moment's reflection correlated
it with Usires.  We traded observations for a time, apparently alone
together, then braved our new world.  The room was typical of the inns I'd
known in Amber, and I thought with wonder about Molly.  We'd seen much of
each other when I'd first surfaced, and then she sort of melted into the
past.  It was that sort of affair for both of us, I thought, but still I
felt bad about not keeping up with her.  The nostalgia faded, allowing my
sight to return reluctantly to the present.  There was a sort of blur, an
overlaid impression as though from some residual image.  I waited in bed
to allow the vision to fade.  It moved a bit, in a sinuous way, but did
not leave.  Usires walked about the room, inspecting our new surroundings. 
The blotches continued their blurping sort of pulsating.  I thought of
bubbles in my lava pool.

	Before I knew it, I was under the bed, but the lines were still
with me.  Usires let something large into the room, and it frightened me,
but it left behind something which we ate.  The current took me out to the
inn's dining hall, pushing me ahead of my cousin, and the large Fred
introduced me to his Maggie.  Bacchus arrived, and that snapped me out of
my daze.  I had no clue what was going on, or what I should do, and the
shifting double images did not help to settle me.  Feeling nauseous and
dizzy, I retreated to my room.  There was another period of which I
remained mostly unaware, though I recall a particular Faerie who called me
brother, and then I was safe in the bed once more.  My eyes still
registered odd things.

	To settle myself, I cast a Blood Map, hoping that the routine
would force my consciousness back into line.  What I discovered during
that spell astounded me.  As I aligned the magics, I witnessed the vague
shapes pulling into sync with my words.  The more I continued, the more I
made them into the form of my spell.  I was seeing magic, at last!  That
covered most of the bases, and I had great hope that I had just been going
through a rough period of adjusting to a new sense.  The spell itself
revealed some extra responses, as well as a peculiar terrain.  I returned
to the dining area, where my magic told me the others had mostly

	Sure enough, we'd picked up several new companions, and I quickly
pegged which two were of our blood.  I vigorously discouraged this
information to my cousins, to little suspected good.  They seemed
determined as ever to drag everybody to Kolvir.  The world, I learned, was
actually a disc, which explained the unusual map directions, as well as my
dream.  There was something said of Cedric, and his demonic legions, but I
had ceased to pay attention.  I hadn't gone fuzzy again; I retained my
senses.  What distracted me was the realization that there was something
purposeful about our inn.  We'd all been drawn to it as a magnet.  I had
the sense that something was altering probabilities, but it wasn't until
the woman sat on Usires' lap that I pegged it.

	Her name was Molly.

	I observed silently from then on, noting synchronicities and
coincidence.  I began keeping statistics.  I cast a Xeno on Felix's
crotch, reaching for unpredictability, only to have my actions fit in and
confirm the necessity of our actions.  This place, this Tallefellow's --
it was some sort of nexus of events.  But why?  I kept watching, kept
recording, while chaos went predictably on.

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