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Cassandra's Diary.12

Day 236/5
In the Land of the High Mother

We arose this morning, very hurt and sore from the battle in the dungeon of Castle Black. DeWinter was in the worst shape, having broken his arm during last night's adventure. I got to pamper him a bit and he, in turn, complained on how much it hurt. He moaned and groaned at his wounds, not being a bit convincing, but enjoying the attention.

We met down for breakfast. DoBlique looked like she spent the better part of the night crying.

We weren't halfway through with breakfast before a number of servants went running down the hall, yelling something about an attack. I heard something about a dragon. Then there was a resounding crash as the castle shook and we were running to see what was happening now.

In the castle courtyard were two cat-like statues. Massive statues of a pearly white stone. They were huge, flanking either side of the entrance. Part of the wall next to each had broken away, at least what was now a facade, to land on the ground. With a little concentration, I could feel power emanating from the statues. I approached cautiously, and the power seemed to be resonating from the mark on my forehead.

Owen, Kent, and the others scanned the entire area. There was no sign of any dragon.

The cat figures were at least 25 feet tall, looming over me as I stood before them. Then, mostly due to curiosity, partially stupidity, I touched one. The world disappeared in a flash and I was in a dimly lit room. I was high above the other people there, mostly women engaged in a mass exhibition of sexual activity. I was immediately embarrassed at my ill-timed intrusion. One woman rose and greeted me in heavily accented Thari. Oh, she greeted me by name, calling me, "Cas-san-TRA".

The brief summary is that they thought I was some sort of goddess. In fact, I had appeared on top of a cathead carving which served as an altar. This was a temple to the High Mother. She said they had been expecting me. When I spoke, my words came out so differently. I quickly discovered that my face and head were that of a large snow white cat. To say I was dismayed would be an understatement. The only times I have been in a different form was in UnderShadow. The idea of being there again was most unpleasant.

Before I had much time to do anything significant, such as find my way out, another figure appeared on the altar I had vacated, also a woman with a cat's face and head. At first, I thought the real Goddess was now appearing-- perhaps angry with my intrusion. It turned out to be Owen. She said she had been transported here when she tried to reach me by Trump. Curious, my body wasn't back at Castle Black. Could we have actually, physically moved here? It seemed so.

I asked the attendants to leave us for a moment, and the thirty-odd women were gone in seconds. We spoke openly then. Neither of us had clothing, so our Trumps were unavailable. She had no idea where we were, not even a sense to mean we were in some Shadow. The best course of action would be to make some Trump, and try to leave.

We left the hall and found some young women nearby. With some pantomime (only the High Priestess seemed to know Thari), Owen indicated that she needed drawing materials. Actually, she touched the woman's hand and sent the pictures to her, directly. Stunned, the woman moved to obey. I did the same to the second, to have her get the High Priestess. Owen didn't want to leave the third woman out, so she sent her for something to drink.

We were about to start when there was a commotion in the central area where we appeared. Running in, we found another woman on the altar. By her blond hair and figure, we easily identified DoBlique. She had touched the second statue and was brought here. Kent and DeWinter must be very upset.

We soon learned that they were engaged in a war. Had been for years and they thought they could hold out for one or two more years. The High Priestess, whose name was Serpent, deftly drew a picture of the attacking Hun leader they called 'the Evil One'.


And now I realized that the High Priestess was wearing a beautifully ornate and delicate collar and a set of piercings that were too similar to those heavy chains that Luke had forced on me while he controlled me.

This could be serious danger- these events seemed certainly a reflection of my battle with Luke.

If we were in UnderShadow, we could be in some trouble with whatever remained of Luke's trapped mentality. What if he were instinctively moving toward this Trump gate, for that is what the statue cats were? He could not be allowed to get back into Reality and free! Owen agreed strongly. At least it would be better to prevent the problem before it got out of hand. We needed to talk with the local King. His name was Ice.

Owen finished her Trump. She made one of Fiona, but got, instead, a woman who looked like Fiona once you got past the red skin, demon horns and tail, and the sword at her back. The locals identified this Trump as the Queen of the Demons.

Great news.

This was all very troubling. We all had physical transformations, which was indicative of being in UnderShadow, but Trump worked, where it never functioned in UnderShadow before. I was starting to believe we were in some halfway point between UnderShadow and Shadow. DoBlique said that there was a lot of magic here… but it was reserved for the women. She doubted the men could command those arts.

I tried to draw DeWinter and that was whom I got, but it was a much younger man, perhaps in his early twenties. I was informed that this was King Ice by our friendly locals.

Serpent had sent for the King who arrived very angry that he had been summoned in the middle of some tactical planning. He did not speak Thari, but it was clear he thought we were illusions. We all moved to stand next to Serpent, who was at risk of receiving the brunt of his anger. I think Owen moved to defend her, but Ice quickly drew his knife and stabbed Owen.

In response, she hit him-- hard. He fell quickly, completely unconscious. His men-at-arms drew their weapons but halted when they realized Owen was still standing. There was an ugly gash where the knife embedded itself. She pulled it free and held it up. The wound was still there, but it was not bleeding. They wisely decided this was not an illusion after all.

Serpent knelt by Ice and began to sing. I felt power flow from me to her and into Ice. The bruise and consequent concussion faded away and he regained consciousness. It took a few minutes, but we managed to let Ice maintain face in front of his men. He was much more receptive to listen to us now.

Day 250/5
Winning a War

The last two weeks has been very busy, much of it spent in the Map Room. This was an island and the Hun had taken strategic positions on the surrounding coasts. They were still fighting primitively, and there was little chance to take back what had been seized without some “innovative” strategies.

Examining the maps, we were able to improve the siege defenses and implement new strategies. Owen drew the schematics while DoBlique kept the enemy running with her magic. Each day she went to another part of the island and cast lightning bolts on the unsuspecting invaders.

It was easier than I expected. The Huns had gotten complacent over the years, confident in their eventual conquest. They had become sloppy in their protocols, unconcerned about the natives. DoBlique changed that quickly, but it was too late for them.

We focused primarily on the ships, at first. DoBlique was determined to destroy this version of Luke. We still hadn't determined if we were in UnderShadow, or not, but we weren't going to take any chances. Luke, who was known as Lucifer, did arrive once for parlay. He was refused.

Both DoBlique and Owen had intense control over their abilities with Magic and Trump. They caused the most destruction for the enemy. I found that when I focused my attention on someone, there was some connection. If I told them to stand down, surrender, or run away, they did precisely that. I wish all battles could be won so easily.

Not that we weren't hurt. I had wounds from various arrows that hit true to their mark. I'll have to work on dodging. But, like Owen before, we did not bleed. In fact, it didn't even hurt, only somewhat uncomfortable.

By the end, all their ships had been destroyed; the invaders sent running, their cause lost.

It wasn't until today that Owen decided to try to bring up the Pattern. To her, and our, surprise, it worked. We were in a Shadow after all, a High Trump Shadow. Owen took time to explain that some Shadows had such concentration of Trump energies that strange physical laws were possible. The Grey Desmense was one example of this, but the Land of the High Mother was many orders more powerfully charged with Trump.

Our faces were like Trump Illusions. At least that was the explanation I drew from her comments.

After examining the Shadow, Owen realized that the high Trump energies of the area had masked the fact that she was getting a Trump call. In fact, she realized it had been pretty consistent for some time. She focused in on the call and found it was Kent. She signed off, saying he was getting DeWinter. They had been continually Trumping us for two weeks. I had to repress a groan. We could have left and those two have been wearing themselves out trying to reach us.

After a bit, Owen contacted them and brought them, with Simone, through. They were a little startled by our new look, Kent the more so. Kent asked what had happened and Owen said we've been fighting a war. She invited them in and made a joke, something along the line of welcome to the Land of the High Mother and that it could use some "high fathers". The joke was not well received by Kent and DeWinter. They were apparently angry with our prolonged abscence and no word from us. They gave us little chance to explain. I left the room in exasperation. I didn't want them here. In fact, I didn't want to be here in such a place. People constantly pandering, worshipping… I was not comfortable with any of this. The others seemed to handle it in stride, though. When I tried to explain my reservations about such religious Shadows, Owen became a bit annoyed. Apparently, I was "reading far too much into it". I refrained from speaking about it further.

I heard Kent excuse himself and Owen. When they left to "discuss" what had happened, I got DeWinter alone. The better for him to yell. I think both men needed that.

He didn't yell. That was worse. He said he was angry, but he said it quietly. I think that could have been a bad sign. I explained why we hadn't contacted them and apologized. He listened, seeming more interested in my new face than what I was saying. It was disconcerting, to say the least. Was he angry, or not.

He reached out and tugged on one of my upright ears. He asked what it felt like. I said it was as if he was tugging on my ear. He poked at one of my teeth, curious. It took a moment, but I think he wasn't angry anymore. He understood what had happened.

When he kissed me, I was startled. I hadn't expected that. Nor the tiny bolt of lightning running between us. The power here is considerable.

Later there was a festival, to celebrate the end of the war. There was dancing and singing. Simone found the entire place “cool”. The inhabitants believe she is a high priestess in training, because she looked normal. Toward the end of the celebration, Serpent went to King Ice and selected him for the fertility rite. I wasn't surprised. They had been at odds and this would be one step toward working together. I was surprised when the ritual was conducted right in front of the entire gathering. Simone was both shocked and fascinated. I'll have to ask DeWinter what it felt like to watch himself, albeit a younger man, doing such things.

When all was said that needed to be said, done what needed to be done, we left. Kent, DeWinter and Simone went to the Grey Demesne while the rest of us went to the altar. Thankfully, we were not only transported back to Castle Black, but in our natural forms. For the first time in two weeks, I relaxed.

The castle was purely white stone now. DoBlique was not pleased. However, the interior was the same. I had to smile. I wished I could see when Dalt rode here. He would think he got the wrong Shadow, despite frequent travels here. I wonder how long it would be until he figured it out.

Day 251/5

We talked a bit about what happened. The statues of the cats probably were of that form because DoBlique loved cats. Moreover, it was her Castle. She should probably been the first through; she would have become the High Mother instead of me. But, with a few visits, she should be able to change it all to her liking. She found the entire goddess-thing very fascinating. Better her than me. She joked I could be her handmaiden, which was fine with me. DeWinter teased DoBlique and parlayed my position to Chief of Staff and then to Chief Advisor. He would have tried for more, but she said she was in a good mood and he shouldn't ruin it. He shrugged and let the matter drop.

We relaxed for the day. We rested, read some books, played billiards. In effect, we were wonderfully unproductive.

Day 252/5

Owen examined DoBlique. She was still sterile and would likely remain so, unless she walked a stronger Pattern. But, in the meantime, she had hers, which gave her the power she was used to.

DeWinter was next. He was hesitant about letting Owen past his shields, but in the end thought it would be better to know. It took over fifteen minutes before he could get his wards down. When the last fell, we all knew it. The room felt much too small as his… personality… emerged. It was a raw, pure male force that we all felt. Oh, my. Owen said he was also still sterile because he had walked it a long time ago. There was no memory of it, but he had many gaps in his memory. DoBlique echoed that he was in his teens when they walked it, as far as she knows. He wasn't as saturated with it as DoBlique, but she had shunted “magic” into him enough to have an effect. When Owen spoke about the gaps in his memory, his wards slammed into place, effectively shutting her out.

Owen tried to explain that the broken Pattern or the imperfect one that it was now is not inherently evil. Just different. But, it explained DeWinter's difficulty in walking through Shadow. He would be healed if he walked the Pattern in Amber. We would have to discuss this possibility with Random.

Owen did tell DoBlique that the Pattern itself could still be a source of her power and now that it was “fixed” it would be safe. She didn't have to talk to Random right away, but it would probably be a good gesture if she told him about it. The conversation wandered into her status in Amber. Owen told DoBlique that her greatest danger was not with the Family or the King, but from the Nobility of Amber. Vendetta is legal in Amber and she could be a target.

I was furious. I brought them both to Amber and not one person mentioned someone might try to kill them. I had even asked, making sure of their safety. True, I was concerned about the Family taking action, but I took them through the city. DoBlique was in greater danger because she used magical means for her attacks. It was considered vaguely dishonorable. DeWinter mainly fought outright conflicts, so he might be covered under the rules of engagement for war. It was another thing to worry about. How can I mitigate future possible assassinations? Or duels? One part of me said that I had done enough and it was up to them. But the louder part was saying that I might be marrying DeWinter in the future and she is part of the Family. Would it be interfering too much to try and help? Well, I would have to do some serious research to know the general situation before I could make that decision.

Until then, we decided to enjoy ourselves. Owen had a swimming pool that she invited us to use. She went out and we followed. It was fairly large, fed from a nearby saltwater lake, so it was fresh, not stagnant.

I put on the “bikini” like the others. I wonder what Byslamia would say to this. Years ago, she would have fainted. After being in Amber so long, I wonder if that had changed.

Someone produced a ball and we played a version of volleyball. Without a net, no real teams, no goals, but it was fun. After a bit, I went to the side to dry off, absorb a little sun and watch the men playing. It was a satisfying sight. Each was markedly different from each other, and the variation was both appealing and striking. Martin was wiry and compact. Kent was well formed and trim, dark and striking. DeWinter was powerfully built, blond and handsome. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. They rather reflected us three women. DoBlique was blond and voluptuous while Owen was slim and toned.

The three decided to have a race. They lined up at the end and took off. They really were enthusiastic, DeWinter the more so. He was very put out when he came in second. I wonder if he thought I would be disappointed. Else, he just hates to lose. Martin was the winner and Owen rewarded him with a kiss. I did the same to DeWinter, which seemed to improve his disposition. DoBlique kissed Kent and really enjoyed herself there. Kent was a bit more reserved about things.

Owen called a challenge and I thought “Why not?” We lined up and began our own pool race. To my surprise, I won. Owen was perhaps three lengths behind when I finished, DoBlique taking the last length. She said she wasn't much of a swimmer. That made the effort more impressive. Both Owen and I had the advantage of living on islands, water being our second environment. She didn't, yet made a good show of it.

We went to dinner and afterwards we separated into two groups. Owen, DoBlique, Simone and I went to have an after dinner drink and talk while the men went to off to their own talk.

We ended up talking mainly of the Courts; they have no wind, no domestic animals, and no weather… I can't imagine it for very long. They miss so much being so isolated. It was just past midnight when I retired, Simone and DoBlique having left a bit earlier. DeWinter didn't get to sleep until a few hours before dawn.

Day 253/5

I woke, early as usual. DeWinter had already risen and I found a rose on the pillow next to me. What a lovely thing to do.

After breakfast, Simone asked if I would teach her some basics in knife fighting. Apparently, House Merquier does not teach their women to fight. So, we went out to the practice yard where I made her do some preliminary exercises and then taught her some beginning moves. To her credit, she did not shape to improve her reactions, at least, not that I was aware

Just as we were finishing up, Owen arrived hoping for a little sparring. We went further out while Simone went to sit and watch. We went for a full hour. Her style had altered a bit. While she was always unflappable, there was a looseness to her stance that made her very flexible, to accommodate whatever she wanted to do. Very interesting.

We got some water and she told me that she had gone to see our other halves after I retired. She was pleased that she was able to just sit and listen, becoming almost invisible while the men talked. It's a great way to hear things. I almost asked her why she didn't fetch me but then she said they were talking about Amberite pregnancies. I repressed a groan. Well, DeWinter's still here, I suppose he's not easily frightened. I wonder what his thought is on the whole matter.

Martin invited us all to a party-- his own style of celebration. We agreed, in part thinking it would be good for Simone to get some pleasant exposure to Shadow.

Martin left to go ahead of us; to his own Shadow to make sure all was well before the rest came through. He didn't want any unpleasant surprises for Simone. It's curious. I've seen that Random has taken some care for Sebastian, now Martin is doing the same for Simone. I suppose that when it comes to their own children, they are unwilling to hold them back, or restrict them. But there is a different relationship for the grandchildren.

DoBlique Trumped Random and went through. She had quite a bit to talk about with him.

Dinner came and went before DoBlique was ready to return. She was in a very confused state. She sent Simone upstairs for some meditations and sat with us. From what I gather, Random wasn't particularly concerned that she had a Pattern in her home. In fact, he encouraged her to experiment with it. I thought that meant he felt she was capable of doing so without a great deal of danger. Or, at least, it was something she could handle. Then Random and she talked about Simone learning the “dark” magicks. Even though DoBlique continually protested that it wasn't what she would teach, Random kept referring to them that way. I believe he wanted to test her, to see if she would change her answers. He was also all right with the idea that DoBlique would be teaching Simone. Both Owen and I agreed that there was some confidence in her, enough to leave his granddaughter with her. But we told her that his manner was to obfuscate and fill his comments with red herrings. DoBlique is still wondering why Random warned her that walking the Pattern might make her like the color pink. She hated pink.

Owen and I kept our humorous reactions to ourselves.

Day 254/5
Clubbing… and a Revelation

Martin Trumped us, saying all was set. We gathered everyone and went through. It was essentially the same since the last time I was here, aside from the fact that he had a few more motorcycles. The place was empty without Beth.

The first point of business was to get everyone some clothes for the night out dancing. Everyone got his or her own motorbike except for Simone, who rode behind Martin.

We went to a store known as 'Billions'. Once again, we separated into two groups and went in search for appropriate clothing. It didn't take long, though the choices surprised me, especially Owen. She picked a electric blue skirt; so high-cut it was just barely (no pun intended) able to cover what was absolutely necessary. She chose a silver-blue top that wrapped around and silver shoes that raised her height by a good three inches, at least. DoBlique wore a black dress; here it is called a micro-dress, with yellow reflective lightning bolts all over it. Simone wore a form-fitting dress. She is so spare and straight; Owen and I dressed it up with a jacket and colorful belt. Simone loved the long dangly earrings that hung to her shoulders. I chose a form-fitting dress of electric red, with zippers everywhere. Actually, the zippers were functional, so while I was well covered, it did bring possibilities to mind. Netted stockings and heeled shoes followed and I was done.

We went in search of the others, who were just finishing up. DeWinter wore silver trousers and shirt, with black boots. It was very form fitting, showing his physique well. Over it, he had tossed a loose black jacket. Kent wore a costume similar in style to mine. His was black with lots of silver buckles, snaps and belts. Owen should have fun undoing all that, later in the evening. Martin wore red, with black slashings at various places.

We headed out. While most of the older people here tended to wear very subdued colors, muddy browns, blacks, and other dark clothing we stood out vividly. But, instead of being garish, we managed to be striking, attracting a number of appreciative glances.

DoBlique did lose one of her shoes entering the moving sidewalk. We watched as it headed off in its own direction, we were going in the opposite way. She took the other off and tossed it away. Of course, that did attract the attention of a local policeman who stopped us but eventually only issued a warning to her. I never really appreciated just how young we may look to others. I suppose it is our manner that reveals our ages. I mean, look at Tatasha. Some find it difficult to believe she is my grandmother. We played along as if we were young adults. Wide-eyed and innocent, we thanked the policeman for being so nice and we were able to continue.

At the dance club, DoBlique was not allowed to enter without shoes. Owen dealt efficiently with the matter and created a Trump illusion of shoes. We were let in without any further comment. The club was called the 'Toxic Syringe'.

The music was loud and Owen was moving to it almost as soon as she stepped in. We didn't find a table before we were on the dance floor. Simone was having a wonderful time. She spoke to anyone around her. At one point, she spoke to another, about her age and said, “Hi, I'm from Chaos.” Her partner said he'd been there, but thought it had closed down. No, she said, it was still open. I had to laugh, but not so she could see. I didn't want her to be embarrassed. DeWinter just looked at her as though he had forgotten what it was like to be so young. Perhaps he has.

We got a table and order drinks. They came in over-sized syringes. I wasn't too keen on the idea of injection, but Martin showed how we were supposed to hold them over the table and aim for our mouths. It was later in the evening when I couldn't pass up an idea. I held mine up and raised an eyebrow to Martin who was across from me. I aimed it at him. He took the challenge and said “on three.” We were ready, taking aim when he said, “One.” Simone piped in, “Three!” I was waiting for the word and it didn't register that Martin hadn't said it. We both shot. I got most of it in my mouth but Martin hadn't opened his yet. So he got it full in the face and it was so funny, I couldn't swallow. It was a mess all around. Simone hid her mouth behind her hand, trying not to laugh.

Owen forewent the syringe, instead ordering a brandy. It came in a tall graduated cylinder, almost a meter tall. It seems that the medical profession was the theme as our waitress wore a nurse's uniform. Later, DeWinter ordered one as well and Owen challenged him. He stood, removing his jacket. He placed his hands behind his back and bent over the cylinder. He placed his mouth over the top and created a seal. Then, he lifted the cylinder, drinking as the contents worked its way down. Nearby tables grew quiet as they watched. He never paused before the entire thing was empty. He put the glass down, the same as he lifted it and took a small bow at the applause from the surrounding tables, and our own. Owen didn't hesitate. She stood and proceeded to do the same. She was equally successful. The other tables, catching wind of what was happening, chanted encouragement the whole while. She also took a bow and sat.

The night was more fun than I've had in a long while. I've been so busy doing things, that it's been a while since I haven't done anything “productive.” It was a refreshing change. Here, I didn't have any reason to worry, aside from occasionally making sure that Simone didn't get into trouble. And DoBlique was falling into that role easily. In fact, by the end of the night, she was acting more like a mother than I suppose even she realized. So, we danced, drank, and danced some more.

A few hours later, the waitress came to tell us that we had been drinking for some time. Since we had not been ordering synthetic? alcohol, city regulations required she give us a blood poisoning test before we could continue, or leave. Simone's eyes grew large at the word “poisoning.” I was afraid she was questioning whether we had been poisoned, but she didn't say anything in front of the waitress, preferring to wait until we were alone. The waitress passed around some device that we had to spit onto. The waitress checked some small readout after every person. It was quiet with each person, registering no ill effects. We were Amberites, not likely to be affected so quickly. When it came to Simone, my assumptions of her thoughts were completely wrong.

She spat a green glob of… something. We looked on in disbelief as the waitress looked dubiously at the sample. Then the device let out an alarm, beeping and chirping frantically. With complete satisfaction and enthusiasm, Simone lifted her arms and cheered, “I won!” She thought she was supposed to produce poison, that it was a game. I buried my head into DeWinter's neck, trying not to let her see I was laughing. The waitress looked at the reading and protested, “Oh no, you're dead!” Simone must have thought it another slang phrase and cheered, happily, “I'm dead!”

It was too much. The absurdity of the situation hit and I began to laugh, helplessly. Kent (why did I think him shy and retiring) was laughing so hard he fell off his chair. Owen, also laughing, tried to help him up, but ended up falling herself. I think for the first time, I heard DeWinter laughing, not just a short burst, or a chuckle, but a long laugh. Simone looked smugly happy at all of us, asking what she had won. The waitress, giving up, went to figure out what had happened. It turned out the little device was broken.

Martin, who had maintained composure throughout, went to talk to the owner, and ended up paying for the damaged instrument.

We went for another more round of dancing. Most of the people in the bar were young. As young as we were physically. DeWinter didn't try to dance like them, but tried something new. He moved sinuously, almost serpent-like around me, maintaining contact at all times. I really like this dance. So did others as they caught on. Soon, everyone around us, including Owen and Kent, were trying the new steps. As I was dancing with him, I discovered another young woman edging near. Actually, she was dancing with DeWinter, keeping contact with him. I must say I was feeling a bit territorial. He did look very enticing in his outfit and he is very handsome. I reached out and gently pushed her away. He chuckled at that and we continued. The girl did approach again, but only to ask what the dance was. DeWinter shrugged and said it was called The Slither. Appropriate.

There was only one curious incident. When Simone was dancing with an extremely tall young man, perhaps six foot, five inches or so, he suddenly collapsed. Simone got a few stares since she, at barely five foot, was holding him up without effort. Martin took the man and made sure he was fine. He was, just a bit dazed, but we didn't know what had happened.

Martin thought this was a good time to leave, so we did. Now we were going to begin our round of “clubbing.” Outside, DoBlique complained that her feet were killing her. Owen got a very chagrined look. She figured it out quickly. The shoes were really an illusion. So, DoBlique had been dancing on the tips of her toes, literally, all night, with no support. She could barely walk. Owen got Kent to carry her, massaging her feet as we walked. We found a shoe store and got a pair to prevent further hurt.

We moved throughout the night, never staying in one club for more than a few hours. In each place, DeWinter did his dance and it caught on quickly. Simone managed to knock out three more young men before Owen had a little talk with her. I still don't know what happened, but there were no more incidents. In the last place, the owner drew DeWinter and me off to one side. He wanted permission to claim that The Slither was invented in his Club. He would take pictures of both of us, for advertisement and wanted to know what else he could do in exchange. DeWinter looked at me, but I only shrugged. This was his dance; he was entitled to do whatever he wished with it. DeWinter considered the matter for a minute and said Okay. When the owner went to fetch his cameras, we went back onto the dance floor. By the time he returned, there were so many people around us, he couldn't get near. DeWinter seemed pleased about how it turned out.

I did learn to incorporate into my dancing, not only his moves, but also the act of pushing away female interlopers. I fancy I was getting rather good at it.

When we were about to leave, Martin said we should probably call it a night. DeWinter was a bit disappointed, claiming he was just getting warmed up. I gave him a choice, perfectly willing to do either one. We could continue on to other clubs, or we could perfect the Slither, preferably in the privacy of our quarters. This sunk in and a heartbeat later, he said we could go home now.

Martin found Simone at the bar. I later learned she was drinking shots and telling the bartender which bottle it came from. She said it was a neat game called “Double or Nothing.” From the look on Martin's face as he examined the new balance on his credit chip, she had done very well indeed. DeWinter shook his head, but I couldn't hear what he said.

We arrived back at Martin's warehouse and Simone was still very happy, if a bit tipsy from the night. Martin put his hands on her shoulders, while behind her, and steered her toward her rooms, partially to help her keep balance, partially to keep her moving. We could hear her chatting avidly about the night. She wanted to win some more games. Owen told DoBlique that she had her work cut out for her is keeping up with Simone. DoBlique hung her head and replied, “I am so screwed.”

DeWinter and I did, indeed, work more on his dance. But not in any way I would care to see in any advertisement. It was just dawn when DeWinter surprised me, yet again. We were resting quietly when he announced, rather forcefully, “I love you.”

I was stunned, it was rather unexpected. I think it was for him too. It took a few minutes to reply in kind. I had been waiting for him to say something, unwilling to pressure him. In fact, it was the only reason I've been putting off any definitive wedding plans. He wouldn't say it unless he meant it. I truly believe that. And, just in case he wondered about my initial reaction, I told, and showed, him that I love him very much indeed.

Day 256/5

We eventually got up for breakfast while most everyone was still asleep.

The man has the worst luck I've ever seen. I punched up some coffee and he did the same-- except that his came out hot blueberry sauce. He tried again and got maple syrup. I looked at him, at the cups, at the computer, back to him. I did this a few times before all I could ask was “How do you do that?” He grimaced and said it was a "gift".

He did say that most men, after 10 hours of dancing and drinking would say anything while in the bedroom. I tried to hide my distress. Was he recanting what he said earlier? I said he wasn't most men. He said I was right, but he wanted me to know that he meant it. My relief was profound. I smiled, probably a silly one at that and kissed him good morning. About then, the others started drifting in.

What a wonderful night it had been.

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