Twelve years.  Twelve long, almost peaceful years, and at the end
of it, what lesson have we learned?

	"Can we bring the horses back to Amber, Mom?"

	Ah, my children, and their priorities...

 	I never realized what a minimalist the Pattern makes a person.  I used
to carry lots of stuff around with me, I think, but after you realize you
can find anything you need with just a little bit of effort, it's no big
deal anymore.  Even Sequence itself cannot be lost to me.

	They'll learn, I suppose...

	We marched en masse upstairs to Felix's quarters to see the old
man.  "Old man".  I'm about, what, twenty years older than him now?  How
strange it seems...  Crispin didn't take it well.  He saw me, recognized
me, and ran away from the kids.  Felix came out, and asked where the new
kids were, but after a brief search, we realized I hadn't had any more. 
(That was a joke.  Laugh.)  Isaac had to throw in his own comedy routine,
saying he left his kids in the other room.  Felix announced that Isaac
wasn't his, which amused most of us.  "Mine" and "yours" -- what do these
things mean in a family so large, with parents who share the way we do,
with a Shadow for their playground?

	I left them to get reacquainted with Grandpa while I went to
arrange rooms for the lot of them.  They are, after all, a bit past the
age where a one-room nursery will do.

	Flora, I noticed, was pregnant.  I couldn't quite remember why
this struck me as odd, but it did.  She wanted to know why I needed rooms,
so I told her...and got the keys to five rooms in a row on the third

	I had to smile a bit, holding those keys carefully in my gloved
hand as I made my way across the main hall.  It was so surreal to be here. 
I felt a little at a loss, too.  What in hell was I going to do with my
life now that the kids were gone?  Not that they'd been around the house
much in the last few years, but there's a difference, somehow.  Rath felt
like a giant sandbox for their play.  The universe itself, from Amber to
the chasm, is...dangerous.  And infinite.  And probably infinitely

	I went to see Beauty, who isn't doing too well, what with Nicholas
being on the other side of this chasm.  I assured her not to give up hope,
since I certainly haven't.  I asked her to come stay in the kids' old
bedroom in our quarters.  She agreed.

	Of course, then I got a Trump call.  From Vixen, asking me to join
"them" in her quarters.  Ariana was there, apparently trying to explain
why she was a faerie.  She wasn't in the best of moods.  Being a faerie
will do that to you.  In any case, I corroborated her story for Eric and
Vixen (and apparently Vixen had her child), before heading off to Felix's

	I passed out the keys to the kids, and walked down with Felix to
breakfast, catching him up on our sojourn in Shadow.  I stopped a little
too suddenly in the doorway of the dining room when I noticed Brand
sitting there, cat in cream, no trace on his face of the evil within. 
That's when Felix decided to tell me about Avalon.  Avalon?  "I want to
kill him," I said, between clenched teeth.  Felix kindly informed me that
had been tried, last night.  Then he sat me down, far away from Brand. 
But I watched his eyes follow the line of my children, and a shiver took
me.  All too suddenly, memories from twelve years in the past -- memories
of Zane and that old, bad, trapped-and-a-little-insane feeling overwhelmed
me.  I sat still.  I ate little.  Felix was telling me a story.

	Avalon.  Oberon, in his infinite wisdom, had set up Amber as
cannon fodder for his sister's kingdom, which is the REAL real world. 
Avalon's inhabitants -- while we out here lived and fought and died --
became...artsy.  All to protect the Pattern.

	All to protect the Pattern.

	Well.  At least Oberon had died in his own cause.

	I couldn't think about it.  It made me too angry when I thought
about it, and I had Felix fill Foster in, and went over to see Caitt, my
foster mother.  Who probably once felt a lot like I did right then, if not
more so.  I hugged her, mentally noting that she was still keeping company
with that...personality, Alex.

	Vivienne seemed most upset to see us all.  I tried to reassure
her, but failed.  Isabeux reassured me, then.  We chatted for a while. 
I'd recently had experience raising a girl from Gerard's line.  You'd
think it would be hard to find someone more stubborn than Gerard.  But
Iseult may be that someone.

	I went to see Eric.  To let him know where I stand.  He didn't
seem to think it mattered much that I serve Amber for the people, not the
Pattern.  Ah, well...I miss Nicholas.

	Exasperated, I went to see my army.  There's nothing quite so
soothing as drill...

	I went to see the kids, as they were in the throes of unpacking
all their junk.  I asked what their plans were, alerting the younger ones
that the Pattern was safe to walk.  Iseult wants to raise an army (ah, my
sweet little girl...) and Elspeth wants to finish learning Trump (you and
me both, daughter).  Haris thinks his duty lies in helping out in the
city.  As it turns out, also, Iseult wants to raise her own army, from
scratch, and keep it in the Golden Circle, or some such.

	It was a strange bit of conversation to walk up to.  Ariana and
Ronan discussing what to offer Faerie in exchange for crossing the chasm. 
"Land" was Ariana's suggestion; mine, "children."

	So, we're planning to cross the chasm?  Bully for Ronan and
Ariana, and where do I sign on?

	Though I just had to bring up the flyer that had been shoved under
my door the day we left.  Ronan, apparently, doesn't disagree with the
pamphleteers, but denies putting his symbol on anything.  Hm.  Intriguing. 
I'm not sure, but I think I'd have him arrested for treason if I were in
charge.  Then again, Brand would be dead, too, if I were in charge, so
it's fairly obvious that I'm not, now isn't it?

	A Trump call.  Slowly, Caitt's face swam into view.  She told me
she's about to walk a broken Pattern...  WHAT?  I said hurried goodbyes to
my cousins, and went through.  We discussed the situation at length, and I
got her to agree to wait a bit -- to see if there's a way to make it
easier.  I even got Bleys in for his opinion.  I got Caitt to agree to
wait for Beauty to walk it ahead of her...  Yes, I want to confer
immortality on my mother...but the risks are unknown.

	Appeased, and strangely grateful to Alex, who had insisted Caitt
Trump me and not simply leave a letter, I went back to Amber.  And
realized I need something to do...

	I discussed becoming a dragon-rider with Driscoll.
	The less said about that the better.  If my destiny lies with
joining another of the armed forces of Amber, I'll try the Navy rather
than risk...uhm...THAT.

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