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Cassandra's Diary.14

Day 150/6
An Exposition and a murder

The morning passed fairly uneventfully. I had to smile when DeWinter decided to try and find out what hotel we were in. He was just a bit concerned he might have been here before, but he wasn't sure. I suppose after a century or two of traveling, I will also forget some of the places I've been to. Still, the staff looked at him curiously when he asked where he was. Still, they answered him. We were in the Regent Hotel in a city named Pris. He thought he might have been here. It looked a little familiar. He later bought a hat that shaded his face nicely.

We bought a newspaper, to find out if there are any local events that might be interesting. I don't think we had reached our destination, but there might be some diversions here. There were two items of note. First, the Empress, whomever she is, was due to arrive for a visit. They had scheduled a parade for the event. The other was an exposition, a scientific and artistic gathering. We took a hansom to the other side of the city.

This place in some ways has more advanced than Mycenea. I remarked this to DeWinter, saying that I could take some back, buy patents, and have enough money to buy my estate right off. He asked what a patent was. I told him it was a means of protecting the rights of one's inventions and original ideas. He got the strangest look on his face-- I couldn't read it. I asked him what was wrong and he just shook his head. I pressed a bit and he couldn't hold back. He began laughing, only staying on his seat by holding on to the straps, he was laughing that hard. He thought it was the silliest idea he'd ever heard. Patents? The very notion of stopping someone else from creating and thinking was absurd. He didn't really understand it was just an economical convention. But then, I hadn't thought of it in just that way either.

We arrived just as he gained control over himself. Still, as we walked amongst the exhibits, I could hear him chuckle from time to time. He even went so far as to ask someone if they had a patent on their device. The man had no idea what DeWinter was talking about. He leaned on a wall, laughing. At least I was being entertaining for him.

One display caught his attention. It was of a spring loaded, double action repeating crossbow. It operated by a ratchet lever, loading the next bolt into the chamber. It was also completely mechanical, being useful in almost any Shadow. I could see he was very interested. I thought that perhaps I could get one for him. An interesting gift for a honeymoon, but it fit, right? He asked questions on the tolerances of the crossbow, the bolts, what kind of stresses it could take. For my part, I asked about reliability, how it had been tested, how often, what was the failure rate for jamming and the like. I just wanted to make sure I would be getting something of quality. I even went so far as to suggest I was interested in financing the operation. For some reason, our questions upset the gentleman who designed it, even as he answered our questions with a demonstration. He shot a bolt at a target that was placed in front of a cinderblock retaining wall. It went clear through the target (about a foot thick) and embedded itself into the wall. I pressed for answers and found the device, of which there are only six, were tested once per week for about six months. With the rotation through each model, it meant the crossbow had been shot for one hour, total, for each one. I wasn't impressed. DeWinter, questioned the survivability and retrieval rates for the bolts. After all, if they were planning to use these in conflicts, it would be awkward, to say the least, to keep people supplied with ammunition. Bolts can be awkward to carry around. The bolt just fired had been completely ruined. He wasn't impressed with its application. He wanted to talk about lowering the torque pressure, or some such thing, but the inventor had had quite enough. His face grew red and gesturing his annoyance, he demanded we leave. I've never been thrown out of anywhere before. It was…different. Still, it was, in my opinion, an inferior product. I wonder if DeWinter could fix the problem.

We walked among other displays. Throughout the day, DeWinter would pull me into a jewelry shop. It was obvious he was hunting for something specific. I asked him once, but he was evasive. Since he was clearly trying to surprise me with something, I refrained from further questions. But I was very curious.

Toward the end of the day, he did find something suitable. I wasn't quite so sure. I'm not one for vast amounts of jewelry, nor do I have many large pieces. He found a necklace, a bulky design of wrought gold that held a large, rather brightly colored bug. He watched closely to see if I liked it. I couldn't lie, but it was awful. I made a smile and said the craftsmanship must have taken a lot of work. It was the best I could do. I recognized the bug as a scarab and wonder why he would want me to wear a necklace of a creature that swarmed us in DoBlique's castle. Even now, I could feel them crawling over me and biting.. He saw that I was less than enthused and sent the piece away.

Outside I asked him why he wanted me to wear a necklace of a bug. He explained that the scarab is a symbol of eternal life. It dawned on me that he wanted to symbolize our eternal life together, his eternal commitment. It was a very thoughtful gesture. I felt awful that I ruined his surprise. I guess he'd forgotten about the previous incident. I took his arm, kissed him and said I was sure he'd find something.

He did, however, find something called cotton candy. It was messy, sticky, entirely too sweet, but I liked it. We were just finishing when a man approached. Portly, balding, he politely inquired if I was Cassandra of Amber. I hesitated, wondering how anyone here would know me and why wouldn't they come forth. Before I could say anything, DeWinter said I wasn't the person in question. The man apologized and left. We decided to follow him.

We made our way through the crowds, keeping a discreet distance. We hadn't gotten far when my armband went off. I saw four constabularies near, one of which pointed at us. “There they are,” one shouted. DeWinter grabbed my arm and pulled me away. It was time to run. He'd often said he'd been in situations like this, so I let him lead. We hid behind anything nearby, ran, ducked, sprinted, jumped our way away from the law officials, and found ourselves back at the hotel.

The front desk informed me that I had a visitor. Well, I was definitely curious about what was going on. I think DeWinter wanted to just leave, but I wanted some answers. In my room, we found Tharkh. With the gentleman who had approached me. I said we had been on our honeymoon and didn't want “business” to find us. He was gracious enough to accept the feeble excuse. DeWinter saw the man settled into a chair in another room, with a meal to keep him busy while we talked. Tharkh said she had no other way to know how to find us except for hiring this detective. She didn't know DeWinter's name. I supplied it for her and she paled. Captain DeWinter? Yes. Oh, my. She said that about 70 years ago an abbey had tried to break away from doctrine. He had been hired to lay a siege on the abbey. It was a long, and ugly, and protracted affair, one which some here would still remember. This did not seem at all like DeWinter. He doesn't wage war on religious places. His former acts against Amber were, as I believe, purely a military one, though I suppose an abbey could be part of a target. Still, there was no Church of the Unicorn here.

She said there were enough people here still alive from that time, through magical means, that might remember his face. Ah. Perhaps the police were after him. DeWinter returned and I said he might have been here before. He nodded, not really surprised. I told Tharkh what had happened. The whole thing was hashed out again and DeWinter vehemently denied ever attacking an abbey, ever. So why were they after him? No, Tharkh said. They were after me.

What?

She had used her tarot cards and saw that I was in trouble. There was no specific information but she came here to warn me. She even got out her cards though DeWinter dismissed the whole thing as nonsense. I like to think of myself as rational, but a part of me knows there is too much I don't know. I wasn't willing to dismiss the possibility that Tharkh might be right. So, I decided to let her try a reading.

She fanned them out and had me touch one. I was disconcerted to see that the card representing me was of a woman standing in front of three windows. Just like my Trump. She proceeded to lay out 15 cards each followed by a comment or sound, 'let's see', 'hmm'…'oh?' 'Oh, my'…'gasp.' I was hooked. She explained that someone was chasing me and that I know him or her. The only answers I had was that my insight will reveal them. There was the Death card, which signified change, a very important card, she said. All she could tell was that someone wanted to destroy the life I'm trying to build. There were forces in my favor, shown by two cards. The first was the Knight, reversed, signifying someone will help me, but it will be a mixed blessing. He wore black armor. The second was the Falling Tower, reversed, indicating a safe, welcoming place.

Despite his grumbling, DeWinter allowed her to do a reading for him. His card was the Falling Tower, reversed. He shrugged at the picture of a man falling out of the Tower. “I've done that…” Tharkh continued the reading…there were a great many cards signifying fire, lightning, blood and death. It grew so paramount, she couldn't finish the reading.

DeWinter was still unconvinced. I pointed out the resemblance to my Trump and the events of our wedding. He was indignant but I wasn't going to back down. We had enemies, any of which could have followed us. We had to leave. He was willing to go along with that, though Tharkh was sorry to see us go. I think they've had no friends in their long lives. I would be harder for them once we left.

There was a knock on the door. I went to answer it and found several policemen outside. I tried to procrastinate, to buy us time to think, but they had a warrant. I allowed the detective to enter, the rest stayed outside. The detective said there had been a death at the exposition and we had been seen at the scene previously. He wanted to know our whereabouts. I said we had been there, but all had been fine. I traced each shop we visited along the way. The victim had been the inventor, Howard Quills, the one with the crossbow. We admitted to being there, there had been far too many people there for us to deny it. He didn't arrest us, just wrote down what we'd said. I believe that if he really thought it was us, he would have arrested us immediately. He thanked us for our time and left, reminding us not to leave town for a while.

Tharkh departed with her escort and we got our things together. We walked down the corridor with me shifting Shadow as we walked. We were only a few Shadows away when I felt it was safe, for a bit, to talk.

I kissed him and said I had no ill feeling about our wedding. But, it was the only excuse I could use to make our leaving believable. Really, I didn't think his brother, or any of our enemies, could follow us through Shadow without us being aware of them, find us in this, or any Shadow, and set us up for murder all within the ten hours we had been here. No, it didn't seem likely at all.

I focused on the reading. He asked “You don't really believe that nonsense, do you?” Think about it. A protective card was the Tower, which was his card. Someone was trying to frame DeWinter for the murder, to get him away from helping me. It is typical in many Shadows, for the men to assume I cannot take care of myself. If my interference in the attempted murder of the Lamias upset someone's plans, they could easily transfer their plans and anger to me. To the point of trying to destroy my life? But, they had to get him out of the way, first. So, a frame-up. It's possible.

We discussed our options. We could go back and find out what was going on or we could leave, hopefully drawing the danger with us and away from the Lamias. We decide to go back. I wanted to talk to the police, tell them our theory and hope that their duty will override their prejudice against Cecilia and Tharkh. If not, we were going to have a difficult time of it. I told DeWinter that he would have to get out if we were in danger of being caught or arrested. That way, if I couldn't get away, he could Trump me out. I would have a much more difficult time getting him out. He didn't like it, but he agreed to it.

It took some time, but we found the precinct and the person in charge of the investigation. Detective Pak. I explained my idea and he seemed willing, at least, to entertain the idea I might be right. He was convinced that I was trying to help. He was equally willing to believe that the Lamia's, or vampires as he called them, had enthralled me. He would take much more heed of my idea if I were willing to be tested for enthrallment. I agreed to come back tomorrow for the test.

We stayed at the Lighthouse Hotel, a quaint, comfortable place. There were no silk sheets.

Day 151/6
Enthralled?

Well, I went to the test. DeWinter had to wait outside. The gadget looked silly…I didn't think it would do anything useful. I had to restrain myself from making faces at the screen. It was clear and the technician would have seen it

It lit up and he took his readings. In the end, I was pronounced enthralled. The detective was disappointed, but it wasn't against the law to enthrall someone. It had to be reading something else. The Pattern? How to explain that?

They went and did blood tests and determined I was not a demon, either. Well, that was good news. I said I had a different magic than what they used. What do we call it? Pattern. The doctor nodded and said he would be right back. I believe he thought I was insane. While I waited, I got a Trump call. It was DeWinter. He wanted to know if I wanted to give him a trigger word so he would know to get out and Trump me out. I said absolutely. He cut the connection. Oh, this was ridiculous. I shouted through the door, “That wasn't the word!” I could hear him fall as he laughed.

The doctor returned, with a full escort of nine officers. How is King Oberon of Amber? This could be good news. This might be easier, if they know of Amber. I explained that Random was King of Amber now. Random the Deviant? Oh, my, how did Random get that name? I didn't want to know. I thought I was definitely going to be locked away, so I was surprised when they asked how I could be appeased for the inconveniences.

After a brief moment to think, I said I was disturbed at the treatment the Lamias have gotten all this time, without the benefit or the protection of the Law. He said he was in contact with persons in authority and they were prepared to assemble the High Council to do this, if I wished it. Bemused, I said I did wish it. I think they would have kept me there, but I asked if I was under arrest. No? Then I would leave. I got up and the officers all took a step backwards. I left, collected DeWinter, and left.

We had lunch, silently observed the speeding official carriages streaming toward the center of the city. I suppose the Council was actually going to meet. The question was, 'what were they going to do?'

We went to see Cecelia and Tharkh. What we found was a virtual army entrenched around the property limits. We were told that no one was allowed to go in. The inhabitants were now under the full protection of the military. I got to see one of the commanders and informed him who I was and I wanted to go inside. He soiled his uniform. Another stepped forward and said we could go in. These people were well and truly terrified of Amberites. What had happened here? There must have been 500 men here, and they would not do a thing to us, out of fear.

Inside, bags were piled as if for a long journey. Tharkh greeted us in surprise. They were leaving, convinced that the army had arrived to kill them. I suspected their ability to get away with the entire luggage, and put them at their ease. The army was there to protect them. Really?

We talked for a bit, filling in some information. For instance, Tharkh was 689 years old and Cecilia was 110. Their enthrallment was part of a natural process, and decidedly permanent. We discussed options, such as whether they would come with us or go. DeWinter wasn't sure about taking them with us. Privately he had said that he would feel obligated to them, for keeping them safe, if we were to place them somewhere. After all, we would be responsible for whatever fell upon them. I was inclined to agree, though I was relieved we felt the same way about this.

As for why they all fear Amberites, one story went that Random had killed a man, splitting his head open and devouring his brain. Shudder. This was not the Random I know. I hope. No, I don't believe Random would do such a thing. No wonder, with stories like this, people have such ideas about Amberites.

We went back to the Hotel only to find it deserted. All the other occupants had been removed, no doubt for their safety. We had the entire place to ourselves. DeWinter reminded me that they would do this wherever we went, so we might as well enjoy the evening. We managed, nicely.

Day 152/6
A Horrible Trap

When we awoke, we found even the staff had departed. Were we in a trap? I wondered if we would find an army outside, ready to kill us both. But then, why had they waited? I opened the door to see blinding whiteness, like snow, but nothing else. It wasn't cold and the ground was spongy. There was no street, no walkways, and no people. Could we be in some sort of prison? We walked around, seeing no way out. Even my Trump did not work.

I reached out with my senses and felt something familiar. I “followed” the feeling and received a Trump call. I accepted it only to be under attack immediately. Luke!

I had to force myself not to panic. Were we in UnderShadow? We had slept here, how long had we been here, how trapped were we? I had no time for answers as I had to defend. There would be little chance of winning, since I had no trick up my sleeve this time. Instead of a passive defense, which he would know, I tried another tactic. I sent images as diversion. An image of Rinaldo as someone says he is the Real Amberite. Images of the family telling Rinaldo how much they respected him, loved him. Images of Brand saying Luke was as insane as he is. The images enraged Luke, causing him to waste valuable resources destroying him. I hoped to win by attrition. I could feel him growing weaker.

In my peripheral vision, I saw DeWinter turning to me, asking me what was wrong. Of course, I could not answer, not and still keep my defenses up. I hoped he would figure it out. Like a dream, he moved slowly.

Luke continued to attack the images and then pulled back, as if realized what I had done. Damn. He focused the attack on me once more. When he pulled back, I tried to drop the connection. No luck. He hit me full bore and the last thing I saw was DeWinter's fist striking me, effectively cutting the connection.

I woke quickly. My jaw hurt something fierce. Still, it did the trick. Looking around, I saw no sign of DeWinter. I was lying in the doorway. He wouldn't have just left me there…. Something was wrong. I called for him and searched the main rooms. Nothing.

Then I smelled the smoke. A feeling of indescribable dread filled me. I ran outside to see DeWinter tied to a stake, wood piled all around, as were a number of people. As I emerged from the building, someone sent the wood ablaze.

I didn't think, I couldn't, and all I could do was try to get to him, not caring what I did to the people around. I would have torn them apart, if it would have done any good. I have vague memories, flashes really, of people falling. I think I have an idea of what it is like to go berserk. There was one thing I wanted to do, and that was to stop DeWinter's screams.

I got through, ripping a cloak from one person. The ropes tying him were mostly gone so I threw the cloak over him and got him free. On the ground, I put out the flames. I thanked everything I hold dear that he was unconscious. And alive. The healing would be long and painful.

I got him inside, barricading the rear door. I carefully pulled his clothing away, sluicing him repeatedly, trying not to cry. The salt wouldn't have helped him. Vague information, long forgotten emerged reminding me how to deal with burns. I mixed some medicines together, applying them carefully. It was about this time he woke, saying something about feeling better. I must not have heard correctly. Either that or he has a fine sensitivity if he can distinguish anything beyond sheer agony at this point.

Then I heard a voice. Cecilia?! Yes! She said we had to get out or we would die. I was ready. She said she would send us her tongue as a guide. Her what? I heard the sound of something moving quickly. Not knowing what else to do, I remained still. As bizarre as it may sound, her tongue came from the mists and latched onto the wall over my shoulder. She said we should follow it, but be careful not to touch it, or she would “own” us. I assumed that meant I would be enthralled.

I gathered DeWinter up, apologizing for the pain. I told him this wasn't real, he had to believe that. He said he was working on it. I walked into the mists….

…and emerged in their salon, at their house. We were both nude, just as we had gone to sleep. In fact, we had never awakened. There had been a spell, directed at when we were asleep. It would find our nightmares and use them to destroy us when we were weakest. It was designed to kill. They believed it was the French Thorn, a terrorist group who was known to use such things. The only sign of what happened to him was that his skin was reddened.

French Thorn. They were enemies of the Crimson Pirates and not the friends of Amber. I remember Sebastian saying they had attacked him at one point. Fine. The question was how did they learn of our identity. Stupid question. Half the city knew who we were before we went to the hotel. Anyone could know where we were. It was time to see if the High Council was involved.

I got a dressing robe from Tharkh. DeWinter, handsome as always, was not really keen on the lavender one with all the frills, that Cecilia lent him. I was pretty angry by this point and went outside. I found a soldier who fit DeWinter's size and demanded his uniform. He stammered something and undressed, right there without a protest. I took his outer clothing and went back inside to present them. DeWinter just looked at me and took them. While he pulled off all the insignia, we learned where the High Council was meeting.

We got an escort until I told them to leave. After they ran off, we made our way to the Council chambers in time to hear them arguing. I put a hand on DeWinter's arm, asking him what our plan was. He was feeling poorly. Yet again, he had to live that horrible experience and was feeling very, very old. We changed sides, I would be the “bad” guy, he the “good” Amberite. The Council was in full form. They were desperately trying to figure out a way to do as I asked, namely to protect the Lamias and change their reputation and rid themselves of us. One guard actually had the nerve to tell me we weren't allowed to listen. Given the reputation we had, the man had nerve, I'll give him that. DeWinter glared at him and the guard stepped away.

The Council members were asking themselves just how they can avoid angering us, protecting future generations from horror and death. It was my cue. I slammed open the door and said it was too late. The room went quiet as I went in, upsetting furniture, chairs and a few people in my path. I don't think I was particularly frightening, not compared with my husband when he has a mind to scare someone, but they were more than willing to cooperate with me.

They agreed that there were French Thorn agents in the city, calling them terrorists. I wasn't sure if they were just obfuscating their role with the organization or telling me the truth. I asked who would be in charge of magical attacks since we had just been targets of one. Instinctively, a number of people betrayed one of their own, gesturing toward one. I went toward him and he collapsed. Disgusted with their self-serving attitudes, I told them to see to the fallen one and to get me someone who could answer me. I really think they would have let him die there, if I hadn't “allowed” them to move.

One member, a younger man named Daltennet, offered himself up for questions. I told him what had been done and the council began arguing. DeWinter stepped forward and I subsided. They were scared enough, even without my act, to jump at any rational idea or suggestions, and he was ding a fine job of being reasonable. Yes, the spell could be traced if it was still working. It probably was, since it takes a while to do its work. DeWinter volunteered Daltennet, who gulped his thanks.

We went to the hotel. Yes, the spell was still active. Daltennet said it would only work while we slept, so I took the chance and got DeWinter's and my sword. DeWinter glowered at me for taking the chance, but accepted the sword.

Now what? I thought we would trace the spell back, reconnoiter the area, and go in if we could get the surprise on them. DeWinter thought for a moment and then suggested we bring in Cecilia and Tharkh. Why? Because, if the terrorists are like the Crimson Pirates, they would suicide before giving us any information. But, if they were enthralled…

I hadn't thought of that. It was brilliant. I smiled at him and told him I loved him. He flushed a bit and said we should be going.

Daltennet tracked the spell to a very lush, expensive hotel at another portion of the city. We followed the trail to the fourth floor, the penthouse. There were wards in front of the suite doors. We retreated before we called attention to ourselves. I did try to sense if anyone was inside, but felt nothing.

Outside, across the street, DeWinter left to get Cecilia and Tharkh. It would give him time to recuperate, especially if there was any trouble. He didn't like it, but I reminded him that he had to Trump me, to bring them through to this place. If he were she, he wouldn't know when I was ready. He gave in to the reasoning and left. Daltennet and I sat at a café, watching. It was about an hour later when their carriage drew up. Daltennet went ahead to make sure our path to the stairs was clear. I took up Cecilia while DeWinter carried Tharkh. Despite their sizes, they were fairly light. Then again, I can carry DeWinter if necessary, so I suppose we're just stronger. Funny how I've never really noticed before.

We counted to three and ran. Daltennet had not only made sure our path was clear, but had the clientele pinned against the walls with force walls. I briefly wondered if it was for their protection or ours.

We raced up the stairs. I could feel Cecelia becoming increasingly agitated as we went up. They've never really fought before and she was getting scared. I told her that once we were in, I would drop her. She would have to get into position as soon as she could but we would handle any fighting. She nodded, but didn't relax.

At the door, I just planted myself and gave the door a good, solid kick. I could feel the barrier give and with the second kick, we were in. My first impression was that there were eight people. The second was that one of them was Dalt. Damn. I dropped Cecilia and went for the closest. DeWinter threw Tharkh at Dalt, hoping to slow him down.

I got two down, aiming just to render them unconscious. DeWinter got two more, dealing them crippling blows. Dalt was struggling with Tharkh, trying to get her off himself. One sent a spell at me, it looked like red, glowing knives as they hit. It felt like I was being shot again. The spell ended when DeWinter hit him with a chair. He died instantly.

Dalt was still struggling. I realized it was not Dalt at all. He wouldn't have been as incapacitated as this. I shouted this to DeWinter, who shouted he understood. Just then, Tharkh was shoved into a wall, falling into a heap. Cecilia, who had been pretty much out of the fight, appeared, hitting the Dalt-look-alike. Then next thing, he just standing there and I realized he'd been enthralled. One tried to escape, but I stopped him with my knife. One surrendered, but he then collapsed, blood tricking down. It was the suicide spell, preventing them from surrendering. I wondered if he knew it would happen to him?

A short while later, all was calm. We even got the information we wanted. The illusion around “Dalt” disappeared to reveal an ordinary-looking man. Cecilia was disappointed. She much preferred Dalt's appearance. He was a back-up plan. If they failed to kill us, he was going to go through the streets on a rampage, killing as many people as he could, hoping to cause the city to rise up against us. They had learned of our presence when I had intercepted the Lamia's carriage. They were trying to get rid of the Lamia's because they represent a threat to their campaign of terrorism. The Lamias were both immune against magical attacks and they could stop their spells. They got a lot of their information from three clerks who worked for the Council.

The rest were still unconscious. I Trumped Random, who was near the moat, having his morning cigarette. I asked if I could talk to him. He asked if I wanted to talk to the King or to Random. I said it would be better if I talked to the King. He said, sorry, the King was out, try back later. Of course, could you leave a message? Maybe. I have two French Thorn agents, alive, for him if he wanted them. He tossed the cigarette aside, wait a minute….the King just stepped back in. He asked, how many did I have? Two, possibly more. OK, Trump back in five minutes.

I gave him ten. Tharkh was pouting that Cecilia got one and she didn't. Fine, she could have one. Their life expectancy when they woke up would be as long as they took to realize they were captured. At least enthralled, they might serve a better purpose than their original lives.

I Trumped Random who was with Fiona. She wore jet-black hair in a bob. It was the black lipstick and severe makeup that was jarring. Even as he talked to me, Random couldn't stop staring at her. It was a look DoBlique would like. I sort of thought it looked attractive on Fiona. I passed through the two assassins. I swear, Random looked almost gleeful. He told me to be careful out there and I promised I'd try.

We gathered up the rest and deposited everyone at Tharkh's estate. DeWinter and I went to the Council. I was hoping to resolve a few things. I still didn't like the idea of every single person in this place being so afraid of us. So, I tried Reason since they were so emotional about everything. I explained that the Random they had experienced might not have been the real Random of Amber. Perhaps it was someone who would so manipulate them that they would never, ever contact Amber for help. This would pave the way for anyone to take over. And the Lamias. The Council were subjecting the to the same fear, meaning they would never take advantage of a valuable resource, which made them weaker. Would they consider sending an emissary to Amber, perhaps to see what it was really like,. Of course, absolutely, by the way, when are you leaving? It was essentially the responses we got.

We left them to their own resources. We wouldn't be changing their mind by staying. They had taken a vote, to see whether they thought the Lamias should stay. The vote was 60-5. I smiled at the five who dared to vote against the rest. It was Daltennet along with a few others. Perhaps I could come back, when he has a bit more influence. They, of all the rest, were actually listening to what was being said. They had a difficult path ahead of them.

We were given some gifts. I got a fur cloak, a plaque was placed on the wall, that sort of thing. Outside, there were two carriages waiting. The better to transport the Lamias, and us, I suppose. We made introductions and with a few questions, we learned that the two drivers were minor criminals, while the two children were orphans. I guess they were getting rid of a few more “undesirables.” The two boys called themselves Big Jim and Toby. The drivers were Slow Bob and Grizzle, “you know like the meat you can't chew too good.” It was all I could do not to laugh. Grizzle had been a beggar who had the misfortune to spit on someone of importance. He'd been imprisoned for it. How…extreme.

We collected Cecilia and Tharkh, who were excited about leaving. I'd given it some thought. They were magical creatures, perhaps they would fit in Glantri. They had done a reading and decided to leave the destination to me. Glantri it is. If they couldn't fit in there, we would find somewhere else. DeWinter organized the move while I got their horses, and bought one for DeWinter. I would have given him the Clydesdale, but thought he wouldn't like a horse that could talk to him.

Without DeWinter, I passed through the town uneventfully. The people were used to seeing us together, so it was easy. Big Jim followed me. I was his “paycheck” and he wanted to make sure I was safe. Thinking they didn't have much money, even being paid by the government for a year's salary, we exchanged his paper money for some transportable wealth that would work wherever we ended up. I bought more for Toby, who was still at the estate.

Day 153/6

We left and I wasn't sorry to go. What a sad place.


Day 154/6
Leaving Pris

It took just one day to realize that neither Grizzle nor Slow Bob knew a thing about driving carriages. They continually were hung up around corners. Even my horse was getting annoyed with the delays. In the link, he asked if I could tell him when we should turn, he would relay this to the horses. Things went far more easily after this. By the end of the day, Grizzle and Bob were walking proudly, happy they had gotten the hang of it.


Day 162/6
Glantri

We made it to Glantri. We entered the Shadow through some mountains. It was the only way with the carriages. The problem was that we ended up in a blizzard. I knew DeWinter and I could handle the cold so I gave Grizzle and Big Jim the fur cloak. Toby had found that the carriages had heaters built into the floors. He'd tried to start them up and almost sent one of them up in smoke. We put it out and DeWinter got it working, so Cecilia and Tharkh were warm. Toby felt horrible and I tried to tell him that I'd rather have someone who thinks and tries, than just says “yes, ma'am” all the time. I think he got the message. Since Cecilia and Tharkh were warm, they took off their outer dresses, with its voluminous skirts and gave them to Slow Bob and Big Jim, to keep warm. They were wearing so much silk, I briefly wondered if the two would suffer from heat exhaustion, even in the blizzard.

Day 163/6
Settling the Lamias

Inside the city, it was as if the snowstorm didn't even exist. They must be magically keeping the storm at bay. It was the only explanation. We made it to the Embassy. Ambassador Lucille was not in, and I took the chance that getting rooms for everyone would be all right.

When I got outside, DeWinter was nowhere to be seen. Toby and Grizzle were standing off to one side, leaning against the embassy wall. They were watching one of the carriages moving oddly.

Now, I know DeWinter, and I don't entertain any ideas that he would cheat on his vows, but it did look “suspicious.” So much so, it was ludicrous. I bit down on laughing and went to peek inside. Yes, he was in there, under skirts and snake coils. And he was struggling, mightily. He saw me and held up a hand. “I can explain this!” Did he really think I was upset? True, my eyes were watering from suppressed laughter, but he should know me better than that. I took his hand and helped him out.

Cecilia and Tharkh were almost deliriously happy. Cecilia grabbed my arm and got out, standing on her own. For the first time in ages, she could stand on her own. Both of them could. They felt more alive then they ever had and they were trying to show DeWinter that. I turned to DeWinter and said, see? They were showing him that. He kissed me and looked pointedly at them, making his preference very clear. I doubt they even noticed.

Even their maids were lively, talking and laughing amongst themselves. Topit, whom we could not leave behind, jumped around, carrying bags. He even smiled, for the first time since I've known him.

Lucille arrived just after we got the ladies settled. I explained the situation, hoping I hadn't misused the embassy. This was for personal reasons, after all. She took it in stride and asked to meet with them.

I took her upstairs. Outside their door, before I knocked, we could hear sounds of heavy moving and laughing. I had no idea what they were doing in there, but I knocked anyway. They had been moving furniture. Why? Because they could. In fact, they were fairly glowing. Wow. I knew they were magical creatures and Glantri would be good for them, but I had no idea it would be that powerful for them.

After introductions, I left Lucille to get to know them. Lucille seemed vastly amused by them, not at all intimidated by their forms. I looked for DeWinter and found him with the others in the servant's quarters. They had started a card game. Toby tried valiantly to hide the cigar he'd been given. A horrid habit, one I'm sure is not good for young boys. But they were having a good time, so I left them to it. I gave DeWinter a kiss on the cheek, reminding him that dinner would be soon. I got a glimpse of his hand. Yes, his luck was running true to form. He was going to lose badly, but I supposed he could bluff two young boys and two men. On second thought, I wouldn't put it past him to lose on purpose, giving them a means to get some money without hurting their pride.

At dinner, talk mostly concentrated on how to have Cecilia and Tharkh make the transition here. This is an expensive city and they had to have some means to support themselves. It is a subject that had been bothering me ever since we left Pris. They declared they were very good at shopping. I suppose someone would pay or this, but that is what servants are for if you can't or won't do that for yourself. Somehow, the subject of their Tarot reading came out and Lucille pounced on that. She was working hard to help them. I have to thank her for that. Apparently, divination is greatly sought after here.

They did say they brought money. Two chests had false bottoms filled with coins from Pris. I was afraid it wouldn't amount to much. Perhaps the metal was worth something?

Day 164/6

I went into town to exchange one coin, to find its value. We could plan, then. The shopkeeper was a bit nervous and disappeared into the back. When he came out, he asked if I walked here with it, alone. Yes, I did. He informed me that I could be killed for just that one coin. Really? It was made of something called electrum and perhaps another substance. It was a high conductor of magic and greatly valued here. I was heartened. He could probably not sell them if I had many more, but might know someone who could. I thanked him and he got two large men from the back to escort me back to the Embassy. I didn't think I needed it, but decided not to let him know that.

I got back to the embassy, in one piece, thanked my escorts and left them at the gate. Inside, I went to see them, to tell them the good news. I found them in their rooms, on the ceiling. That was odd. I almost told them about Martin's Shadow, where we could dance on the ceiling, but I thought I should wait. They were very happy about the news. And the idea that they might be very, very wealthy. I didn't exactly squash the idea, but tried to temper it. They hugged me, which I couldn't do a thing about. After a minute or two, I extricated myself from their coils and went to find DeWinter. We hid ourselves for the rest of the afternoon in our rooms. Heaven.


Day 165/6
Trouble at Castle Black

This morning was a jarring entry into our old lives. We hadn't even woken up when DoBlique Trumped me. Sebastian was convinced she was under attacked and asked her to call us and bring us through. He needed “back up”. Now, Sebastian has always had this habit of jumping the wrong way and over reacting at the slightest hint of danger. He really doesn't have a head for conflict. And he had forbidden me from “interfering with his life.” Actually, "meddling" was his word. But this was DoBlique, so I asked her to give us ten minutes to get ready. Even DeWinter was puzzled. What could we do that DoBlique couldn't? I could only shrug.

We got dressed and I told Lucille we were leaving for a bit. She didn't pry when I said there was trouble, and wasn't concerned about Cecilia or Tharkh. I went back to our rooms and DoBlique Trumped us. We went through.

Just in time to catch her as she collapsed. She was exhausted. She murmured something about the castle not responding to her any more. We were in her lab, within one of her wards. We couldn't leave until she was strong enough to pull them down. Sebastian entered. He said that the Pattern energy in the basement was being drawn out. I called up the Pattern while Sebastian reconnoitered the castle. Yes, there was energy, but I sensed nothing out of sorts. I could sense that the castle was more Real.

Sebastian returned saying he'd been attacked. A crimson “blob of jello,” whatever that is, encased him on the battlements. He declared that if he hadn't been a shape-shifter, he'd been killed, suffocated. So, it was apparent that it was someone who wanted him dead and didn't know his abilities, or it was someone who just wanted to keep him occupied for a bit and knew enough about him to be effective at it. In short, we knew nothing, really. There had been only one attack, and it's been silent since.

DoBlique got us out of the wards. After a brief discussion, she realized that with the new Pattern, she was still attuned to the old one. So, if she walked it, she should be fine. I was all for her trying, but Sebastian thought it would be a perfect time for an attack, when she could not defend. DeWinter concurred with this, so I complied with the delay.

In the end, Sebastian took control of the magical defenses while DeWinter saw to the guards. We escorted her to the Pattern. It was eerily silent. I kept waiting for scarabs to swarm and zombies to rise. Nothing.

She walked the Pattern. It took her almost two hours. I was afraid she wouldn't make it, as weak as she was. Damn. I should have offered to walk it with her. She disappeared from the center and DeWinter and I made our way upstairs. After a drink and a decent meal (she now had giant insects working in her kitchen), she felt much better. In fact, she thought that it would take about four hours to re-do the magical defenses of the castle.

DeWinter said that they found nothing amiss in the castle or the surrounding area. So why did Sebastian think they were under attack? Because he had Trumped DoBlique and the contact had been severed. But, according to DoBlique, it had continued, without interruption. Do we have another rogue Trump artist running around? This was becoming an annoying reoccurrence.

There was little for us to do. Sebastian Trumped Ambassador Merton and DeWinter went through. Even I could feel the energies drop when he went through. Sebastian was running on fumes and I wasn't about to trust the connection again. I had DeWinter Trump me and I went through that way.

Everything was quiet here. Cecilia and Tharkh had an appointment to see the Duke, to make his acquaintance. Then Lucille planned to show them the city and see about where they might live. She was also giving DeWinter and myself time to be alone for an afternoon.

Day 166/6
A Tour through Glantri

DeWinter and I had an interesting day. We emerged from our rooms before noon, and I got a moment to talk with the boys. I told them about Amber and said it would be far different that Pris or Glantri. And in Amber, they would have to go to school if they wanted to stay in my household. So, they should think about where they might want to live. It was up to them. They lost their world and I thought they should have some say as to where they wanted to live. They were savvy enough to know what they wanted and needed. They said they thought Glantri was “right nice and all.” And I said I would talk to Cecilia and Tharkh. I admit to being a bit disappointed. I liked the two of them.

I even talked to Grizzle and Bob. I asked them to look out for Cecilia and Tharkh while they went around town. They were puzzled. They were to look out for vampires? I tried to explain that they weren't vampires, but it fell on deaf ears. They looked at me as if I was crazy. I suppose I should be used to that by now. I said that if they went to my home, they might have to deal with far “weirder” things than the Lamias. They didn't believe that either.

A thought occurred to me. This was a magical place, perhaps I could change like the weir. I told them I would show them. "Sure thing, ma'am." They backed up, not really believing anything. I concentrated on the one time I started to change, when Dalt had captured and tied up Mother and Byslamia in Aes. I felt power well up underneath me as I focused on the anger. Intense pain went through me and I blacked out for a moment. The next thing I know, Bob and Grizzle were against the wall, clearly afraid. They were also much shorter. No, I was much taller. Almost seven feet tall, with black fur, many teeth, and more muscles. Oh, my..

I changed back, amazed that it worked. They believed me now. I hadn't thought to terrify, but I should have realized this. I told them I was all right and they were safe. They nodded, agreeing with me even if I had said the sky was purple. I left them, hoping they would be okay. They wouldn't have calmed down as long as I was there.

My clothing was almost completely ruined. I went, changed, and then went to look for DeWinter. He was in the library, looking at a map of the Golden Circle. I hadn't been to any of those places and it seemed odd just then. He'd been to Begma, but that was all.

I told them what I had done and I think he believed me. When I tried to show him, nothing happened. We were in our rooms then. It was puzzling. Perhaps, since I had done it on the ground floor, it had something to do with being in contact with the ground. DeWinter let me think about it, but he had something else in mind. Ah well, it can wait.

At dinner, Cecilia and Tharkh said they thought they might have found a place. Their meeting with the Duke was tomorrow. I asked them to send my regards to the Duke.

Day 167/6
Weir powers-- activate!

I tried to change again, this time on the ground floor, privately. DeWinter came along, interested in seeing what happened. It worked! But it still hurt a lot. The look on his face was priceless. He collected himself and walked around. “Yup, you have a tail.” Yes, I did. He rubbed his chin and said normally something like this is mentioned before getting married. I started to laugh but it didn't come out right. More like a growl. I changed back, laughing. If I had known, I would have told him. I did tell him about the horn and tail, so this shouldn't be so different.

Sure.

I dressed and we went out to see the city.

We wandered for a while, in no particular direction. Eventually, we passed a Church of the Unicorn. He'd never been inside one before and he wanted to see what it was like. It was…impersonal, to say the least. There was a central area with niches all around. Each niche held some artwork, from local artists that had the unicorn as a central theme. We walked into the center, under a dome, until we realized that we were supposed to enter and walk to the right. That way, we would pass the artworks in order. On the back wall was an impressive stained glass piece of a Unicorn dancing, I think, with a wreath around its horn, and ribbons streaming. It looked just like the Unicorns from this place.

It was like being in an art gallery. Hushed, quiet and I felt nothing there. There were no words of wisdom, no feeling of warmth, it was a void. No sense of what they did, their purpose. Except, I suppose, to worship the Unicorn. Was that enough? I was vastly disappointed.

We wandered some more, finding other Churches. We were trying to see what others did. There was one for a fertility goddess. Now there, I definitely felt power. I could feel it running right through me. I said so to DeWinter and he was intrigued. I wondered if they had private suites here. It was a joke but, of course, DeWinter had to ask. The cleric was confused by the question and we left, laughing. Well, they, at least, had a purpose.

We did find a Church of the Bloody Unicorn. He wanted to go inside. With the Unicorn mark on my forehead, I was just a bit nervous they would see my entrance as insulting. Inside there were no adornment, no pictures, and no icons. Instead they had an area where people could bring things they no longer needed and pick up what they did need. Like clothing that no longer fit their children, but others might find useful. People talked and chatted. There was no attempt to hurt people's pride, just to help. I felt more connected with them than I did with the Church of the Unicorn. Too bad the cleric there would probably never understand that.

We left and got some lunch, having a picnic by a small lake. DeWinter said we'd just had to take one of the small boats. We paddled out and drifted peacefully. Other couples were holding each other, kissing. DeWinter pointed out that this seemed to be a custom. We wouldn't want to offend. We didn't get back to the Embassy for quite some time.

Dinner was talkative. The meeting with the Duke had gone well. They then learned that the property they wanted was on a tax delinquent list. A word from the Duke and they could have the house at a very reasonable cost. They were very excited about the idea. They had another meeting with the Duke. I suggested they allude to their business, keeping things a bit mysterious. Lucille got a twinkle in her eye and said that would be very effective. He'd love the challenge.

Day 168/6

Cecilia and Tharkh can buy the house. Immediately, they went into a frenzy of decorators, carpenters, and housekeeping, that sort of thing. I remember doing it myself.

Lucille arranged to auction off some of the coins to a select group that she trusts. That would take care of their immediate expenses. They would be paying the Duke for their House and he can keep the coins in his treasury, letting them out slowly as needed. They were set.

I was surprised when Bob approached me, hat in hand. If I didn't mind, he decided he would like to stay here, with the vampires. I agreed, wondering at his change of heart. I almost thought he liked them…Cecilia? Could one of them have enthralled him? No, at lunch Tharkh was amazed. Bob volunteered to work for them. That had never happened before, ever. I think she was in shock. I was very pleased for her. Bob liked Tharkh. Amazing. I hadn't thought he would change his prejudice around so quickly, or so much.

Day 172/6

We got a look at their new house. It was in a deplorable state. It badly needed painting and repairs, but the foundation was sound. It could turn out to be lovely. It was like a tiny castle, which they are very fond of.

Day 174/6

We left today, to continue our honeymoon. The boys will stay in Glantri until we returned to pick them up. We said goodbye to everyone. Lucille was disappointed that we had to leave. It took me a moment to remember why. Of course, the energies. I noticed that DeWinter wasn't as fatigued this visit. I asked Lucille not to hesitate if the Lamia's needed our help. We were responsible for them. She said she would Trump Owen who would contact me. I asked her if she was all right with us leaving. She said she'd raised two daughters. Cecilia and Tharkh would be no problem She thought they were fun.

It was DeWinter's turn to pick a place, with me leading. He said he wanted to see some “wonders of Shadow.” It was a broad enough challenge, I should be able to find something.




Day 179/6

Well, I found a wonder. We came over the crest of a hill of lavender fields of grain to see a giant tornado. With a city on top. Heights. Wonderful. There was only one way I could see to get to the top. Via the tornado. DeWinter remarked it looked interesting. Yes, it did. I'm not going up. He collapsed, laughing at either my tone or my expression. We continued on.


Day 184/6

While we've traveled, I tried again to do his Trump. It's been almost a year and I still keeping drawing the same scene; him burning. No matter how I try to get around it, from different perspectives, I keep ending up in the same place. I'm beginning to wonder if it's a problem with me, or with him. Is his presence so powerful and the event so extreme, I'm too weak to get past it? Or have I become almost fixated on it, with my fears.

Day 189/6
The City of Wonders

We have found our ways into a desert. I've never been in one before, so DeWinter had to show me how to travel. Our clothing became loose, the fabrics' light and flowing. It was beautiful, in its own way. The sands were a pure white, almost like a land of sugar. In the distance, there is a city, looking like it is made of precious metals and jewels.

We entered the city. Throngs of people walked through the city, through huge market places. We made our way to the center of the city, to a huge fountain of cut blue glass. This is the original spot of an old oasis. The fountain depicted mermaids and water. Camels, huge elephants, goats and horses, amongst other animals were everywhere. There were even birds called peacocks being taken on walks like pets, tiny leashes preventing them from running amok. Thari isn't the only language here, and what Thari they speak is heavily accented. Still, we can make ourselves understood. DeWinter has an easier time, since he seems to pick up languages more easily than I do. At a closer view, the buildings are of gilded tiles, faceted to pick up the sun's rays, making them look like jewels in the distance. Some buildings have green tiling, giving the illusion of ivy, some have colors to depict flowers.

We found a hotel, it even had a honeymoon suite. We settled in and had some lunch. I noticed the young women wore veils, but seemed to discard them when they are married or older, I don't know which. We didn't know any of the foods, but the proprietress was very kind, bringing out samples of almost everything. We ate until we were stuffed. We'd have to waddle back to the hotel after this. Our host was very taken with this being our honeymoon; it reminded her of when she was young and in love. She refused to charge us anything, making us promised to return for dessert some time. DeWinter insisted we would pay then, and she agreed.

We got back to the hotel just as the sun was setting. From somewhere music began to play. With the lighting, the cool breeze, a huge moon, music…there was no possibility of ever deliberately creating such a romantic moment. We stood on the balcony, in each other's arms, listening and just enjoying the moment. Soon voices rose, in harmony with the music, it couldn't get any better than that.

Day 190/6

We were woken by both the sun rising and an abundance of singing. This was a very happy place. DeWinter said it was very nice, but too early. He drew the curtains and returned to bed. We slept a bit more and were woken by knocking. Breakfast was being delivered. We hadn't ordered it. DeWinter thanked them and began preparing it. He deftly put the fruits and crepes together and we had breakfast in bed. He really liked doing that. I got a bit adventurous with the food. He tried to keep things…neat, but I wasn't paying attention. He finally gave up and gave in. It was great fun.

Afterwards, I enjoyed the wonders of pressurized showers. I really have to figure out how to get this in Amber. DeWinter couldn't stand leaving our rooms as they were, what would the maids think? He took the bedding off and into the shower. How he was going to explain that, I have no idea.

We went into the market place. I found a number of things I wanted to buy for everyone. In particular, I saw some hunting dogs, very lean with golden fur and intelligent faces. I thought of Julian immediately. Could I get one safely to Amber? I'd have to think about it. There were other foreigners, easily spotted by their inappropriate clothing for the heat. Perhaps we were settling in more easily because we had taken their customs, clothing and gestures. They had one that I liked; to touch the heart, the mouth and the forehead. I think it is to indicate good feelings, words and thoughts for the other. Something like that, but more.

We finished the day at the hotel. In front of DeWinter, the maids were very polite and proper. But, they often smiled and winked at me when he wasn't looking. We knew what was going on, they were not fooled.

Day 211/6

Everyone here is so friendly, it's amazing. Even asking for directions would mean talking with someone for a bit, learning about their family, them asking if we were enjoying the city. It didn't take me long to figure out that we were “leaking”. We've stopped being cautious about anyone learning we're in love; and it's become visible to everyone. We've become comfortable with it.

We've seen so many different things. Everything from flying carpets that carry people (no, I wouldn't try it) to air harps that play harmonious music together just by having the wind breeze through them.

The city listed twenty wonders and we've managed to see one a day. But it's the people that really made this place amazing. DeWinter declared that next to the beach, he wanted to come here again. He really loves this place.

Still, it's time to go back to Amber. I've begun to miss everyone and after a while, this would become…jading. We have a long while…I want to preserve this as long as possible.

Day 212/6

It took the entire day to say goodbye to those we've met and made connections with. They were sorry we had to go and we promised to be back. I intend to keep that promise. I did spend the day getting gifts for everyone. I decided to try and bring one of the hounds back with me. We still were traveling pretty light, one additional horse for the gifts and we'd be set.



Day 217/6

We got back to Glantri and picked up the boys and Grizzle. We still had the carriages so we took one and left the other for Cecilia and Tharkh. They were doing well, their house was almost ready.

Day 227/6
Returning to Amber

We arrived in Arden. I'd forgotten how Arden smells and looks like. The green of the leaves, the cool breeze, the smells, it had been a long time since I rode through here. DeWinter and I rode and the Rangers recognized us. They gave us a small escort with a welcoming waved. Julian would know we were back.

We reached Tiryns by the end of the day. Weir appeared on the walls, shouting a greeting. Byslamia was the first out the door. She fairly threw herself into the hug she gave me. It was good to be back. I learned it had only been three months since the wedding. Really? And I thought we were being overly indulgent. And I had thought our first three months at the beach was indulgent.

Mother came out next, carrying Eidolon. Both she and Byslamia remarked that we looked very well, tanned, happy. They said this a number of times, so I wondered a bit at this. Mother gave DeWinter a hug. He called her Mother and she blinked at this. I think he was teasing her a bit, and she didn't know what to do with this.

We were interrupted as the boys climbed out of the carriage. I introduced them as apprentices. I tried to give Mother a look, to tell her to not to ask apprentices of what, but she didn't catch it. She asked the question and I shrugged, saying I didn't know of what, just yet. Jim piped up that “we don't steal anymore, ma'am.” Mother raised both eyebrows, DeWinter hid a laugh behind his hand, and I turned away, but caught Byslamia laughing from behind Mother. “Really, well that's very good.”

The weir surrounded us, welcoming us back. And yes, they were checking to see if I was pregnant yet. Sorry to disappoint them.

We got everyone settled in and gathered around, to tell what we had been up to. I didn't realize just how much DeWinter had relaxed until he began interjecting his own impressions and stories. I realized, from the looks on their faces, he'd never really spoken at length before. I'd gotten used to it. He was animated and relaxed; a good change.

Day 228/6
Cleansing

I got a chance to talk with Claw. I wanted to know if changing was supposed to be painful. She said it would be for a little while, but I am young and it would pass with time. She said I did “smell like a weir” now. She hadn't thought I could change, given that the weir blood was so thin in me, but she might have underestimated the Amber part of me. She asked about the situation where I changed and I told her. To say she was alarmed would be an understatement. She said she would gather the women; I had to be “cleansed.” Apparently, accessing the anger to change was very wrong. She said it would lead to my death. I wasn't sure if I followed what she was saying, but she believed it. I could not insult her ways, her beliefs. I agreed to go through with this. I'll learn more later.

The day passed uneventfully. The new hound was a bit uneasy with all the weir around him, but we got it settled. After dinner, Claw went to DeWinter and whispered something to him. I'd filled him in on what she'd said earlier. Whatever she said now, he was clearly not happy. He came over, gave me a kiss and said he'd see me in the morning. Then Claw whispered to me that I should say goodbye to Mother and Byslamia, “as if I would never see them again.” That was unsettling. I just told Mother I had to deal with some…business. She was startled that I was “working” so soon, but did not pry further.

Outside, Claw had gathered the other weir women. All told, there were about a dozen. We walked for hours, eventually ending up at the beach, in a solitary spot, hidden from any eyes. They drew a circle in the sand and ideograms and pictures at five points, all the while singing and clapping. I saw one was the profile of a wolf. Then I was told to sit in the center.

Claw came in and spoke with me. I still wasn't convinced there was anything wrong, but she was very serious. She said they would Hunt the anger. If they did not do this, the anger, which I drew upon, would grow stronger over time, eventually wresting control from me. I would then just live by anger, killing whenever I was angry, which would be pretty much all the time. I would have to be destroyed, then. I was growing uncomfortable. Could this be an origin for all those tales of werewolves and the like-- senselessly slaughtering by the full moon?

Claw had been adamant that we do this before the moon grew full. Claw said this did not work with every weir that was in this position. Her question was, did I want to live or not, knowing what I would become, if they failed.. I had no easy answer. Of course, I would not want to live like that, but I would be rational for a little while, so I'd hope I could find other answers. I never really answered her, just asked what I was supposed to do. The others entered the circle and we all undressed, getting settled comfortably in the sand. She let the question go, and they began chanting. I went into a meditative state; it felt natural to do this.

What followed was both surreal and frightening. The weir circled around me, jabbing and clawing, making nasty wounds. All the while they chanted. Then, I was running through the forest, and they were everywhere. I tried to get away, but it couldn't find a break in the net they had made of themselves, they were herding me somewhere, somewhere I did not want to go. I had tried to help them, using my Shom Dao training to push the anger “out” so they could get at it. It hadn't done anything. Now I felt the anger emerging, taking over. All I wanted was to kill them, for doing this to me, for all the hurt. I didn't care what happened to them. Eventually, they closed in. This was no game, no one was playing. Then I was down and I felt them rip into me. I felt myself spill out onto the forest floor. But they didn't stop…they continued until I felt as if there was nothing left. I could feel my body, lying inert, empty, but still hurting.

They stopped, finally. Then there was another circle, this time they built a fire, again at each of the five points. They threw a pungent wood on, the smoke filling everywhere in the circle. I breathed it in and it began filling me up. Slowly, my body was restored, inflating as it were.

The sun rose and we were on the beach. I had no wounds, but we were all very tired. Well, I was; so much so, I wasn't sure what shape they were in. They were very happy. It had worked. Thank the Lady, because I did not want to do that again. There were hugs and touches to show they really had been worried, and they were now relieved. They helped me dress…I couldn't do much for myself. It was all I could do to stand, my legs wobbled so much. And we still had a few hours walk back to Tiryns.

Needless to say, they helped me back. I crawled up the stairs and made it into my room. I fell into bed, just wanting to sleep for a decade or so. I reached out and realized the bed was empty. Of course, even not knowing what we were doing, he wouldn't have slept. I struggled up, to go find him. I would have been lucky to get down the stairs without falling and breaking my neck. Fortunately, as I was standing, I heard him running up the stairs. He came in and I let myself collapse on the bed. He peered at me, saying I looked all right. Well, that was good. But, I felt so tired. He helped me undressed and laid down next to me. He asked what had happened. There was no easy answer and I just wanted to sleep. I said something about knowing precisely how it felt to be disemboweled. There was a long pause and he thanked me for sharing that little bit of information. Sure, no problem. I curled up next to him, holding on. Then, everything went black.

Day 229/6
Honeymoon is definitely over

I felt surprisingly good when I woke again. There were no wounds, or scars, nothing to show what had happened. it now seemed like a very vivid dream. I'm not going to make the mistake of thinking that was all it was.

We had breakfast, and I got a chance to talk to Claw again. Each weir made some choice as to when they changed. A Path, so to speak. I would have to choose one. For example, one could pick Duty. They would have an allegiance to someone, like Tatasha, who would tell them when to change. It was magical in nature, perhaps that was how I could do it in Glantri. Others chose different Paths like Honor, Defense, and I would have to choose one. When that situation arose, I would change, if necessary, but at no other time. It was more to temper the situations when it happened. Claw offered Kindness, but I could think of few times when it would be a Kindness to change. Besides, I like being kind, living my life that way…would that mean I would change all the time? I thought for just a moment and chose Protection. Claw suggested an amendment…Trespass. Yes, that would be good. It felt very right. I know I have a temper, kept rigidly in check. But anyone harming or threatening my family, my own, and I would do anything to protect them. Especially when DeWinter and I have children. Yes, Trespass is it. Let no one Trespass against me and my own.

I sent word to Julian, Vivant, and Shapir that I was back. It would be good to see them again. I know they would stay away, letting me have time with my family. But, they were a part of it, so they should be made welcome.

There was a letter from Owen. It was very sobering. She was letting me know about an…event. There had been some Trump trap, some trick and March had found himself in UnderShadow. Oh. Not only that, but he was there, subjectively, for years. He had found a wife, had some children…and now he was back, remembering who he was. That must have hurt dreadfully, to lose that. I'll have to go see him. The worst part was that Luke was there. Apparently, the binding he has used on me had rebounded on him when Owen got me out. He was now subservient and enslaved. The only difference was that he was not enjoying the process. I felt a deep, sharp satisfaction at that. Luke is one of the two people I know I could be…cruel to. I felt no sympathy, no pity, I could dredge no kind thought for him. I never thought I couldn't find something good to say about something, or about someone. Owen said that when she got there, she had further trapped Luke, a trap within a trap within a trap. She was trying to reassure me he would not be harming anyone anymore. That was very kind of Owen, to think of me, to let me know about March.

I did Trump her to see if she wanted to talk. She came through after a few minutes bearing a large box. She said it was a wedding present and I decided to wait until DeWinter was here before opening it. She was fine with that, though if it would be more that a day, it would be a problem. That made me even more curious. We settled down, had some tea. I thanked her for her letter. She said March was visiting his daughter, but seemed to be recovering. I hope so, truly.

After a bit I asked her about my difficulty with making DeWinter's Trump. She asked a number of questions, had I altered my technique, had I tried to get around the incident, that sort of thing. She said it seemed that I had tried. It would not be impossible for DeWinter's presence to be so strong that it could not work past it. When she had started making Trump, she'd been faced with the same thing. But, her tone seemed to tell me she didn't think that was the case. That I have become fixated on it. Wonderful. She offered to check me over for magical intervention. Nothing. She also suggested hypnosis and deeper examinations in my mind.

Now I trust Owen implicitly with anything like this. But, even the idea of talking about it was making my stomach knot up. I like Owen and I think we've become something more than just relatives. I think I need someone more clinical…at least the illusion of it, if I was going to tackle this. I asked if she would be offended if I asked Fiona for help. She said no, and that she needed no explanation. No, she didn't need an explanation, but she deserved one, after all the help she'd given us in the past. She seemed to understand. Now I just have to hope Fiona will be willing to help, or will have the time.

I went and got DeWinter, letting him know that Owen was here. He came in and Owen presented the box. DeWinter knelt down next to it and opened it. It was a surprise, I wouldn't have thought of this. It was a mastiff puppy. It sat in its box quietly, regarding DeWinter, who looked back. He reached in and picked the puppy up. By the size of the puppy's feet, he will be huge. DeWinter settled onto the floor and began to play with the puppy. I could see the boy in him was simply delighted with the gift. Perhaps he'd never had a pet before. Owen and I exchanged a glance. Yes, this worked nicely. We sat back down and watched the antics.

I did take the opportunity to Trump Sebastian. I wanted to let him know we were back in Amber. He would have to tell Simone that she and I could resume our weapons training if she still wanted this. I had promised to do this. Sebastian was flying and definitely in a foul mood. He told me to Trump back in a few minutes. All right. I sensed trouble was heading my way.

I Trumped him back and he told me to pull him through. He didn't seem to be in any danger and I didn't want to pull him through. But, I did it anyway. Pleasantries cast aside, he began to ask Owen about his last visit with her. He was convinced that something was wrong. Of course there was, wasn't he still trying to find out who was attacking DoBlique's castle? What? He had no idea what I was talking about. I said he had Trumped us to come through as backup to the defenses. He insisted he didn't. I thought I was losing my mind until DeWinter confirmed that yes, indeed, Sebastian had DoBlique Trump us.

Owen asked to see his Trump deck. As she examined it, he went over numerous weeks, mostly around the contact he had with Owen. Apparently, he had had numerous conversations with her, but it wasn't her he was talking to. Owen asked him what he saw when he looked at his cards. She had pulled out three. He said a man, a woman and Owen. She asked me what I saw. I saw two men and an unknown woman. Not Owen. Even DeWinter saw what I did. Owen went to one side, to examine the Trump further.

DeWinter came over and said that he thought one of the Trumps, the one that Sebastian saw as Owen was “odd.” In what way? He didn't know. He was very uneasy. I said he should tell Owen, but he was reluctant. I asked him why he told me and not Owen. He said he didn't think he could tell Owen. A prickly feeling came over me as I realized something was not only wrong, it was spreading. I called over to Owen, saying that DeWinter thought one of the cards was odd. I was just able to catch DeWinter's arm as it came up to stop me from talking. He was looking at his arm as if it had betrayed him, which was very much the case. I was looking at him with some alarm as well. I've never, ever been afraid of him. But what if someone was in control of him?

Owen had us sit down and she began to ask Sebastian questions. It was very repetitive and inconclusive. I put in any observations I knew and DeWinter did the same. It took me a few minutes to realize Owen was making a repetitive gesture with her wrist. Her bracelet was shiny and she was casting the light into Sebastian's eyes. Was she trying to hypnotize him? I spoke up, gradually making my voice quiet and monotonous. She gave me a look to say I was doing the right thing. While Sebastian was concentrating on what I was saying, Owen made him slip into a light trance and Owen gestured for us to be quiet. She sent him deeper as we looked on.

She was gong to bring down his wards. I went outside the room and found Claw. I told her under no circumstances was anyone, for any reason, to enter that room. She took up a sentry position immediately, just outside the door.

Owen brought down Sebastian's wards. It was as if he had numerous vaults around his mind. Strange, I think my wards are strong, but there is only one layer. Would this be better? Having all these layers, locks, and things? Once opened Owen began to examine him. She even allowed me to watch “over her shoulder” so to speak. Yes, there were definitely signs of invasion. Someone had set up quite a bit of housekeeping, routing Sebastian's responses to what they wanted, to fill in gaps in memory when he was talking to this mysterious person. That accounted to why he had memories of things that hadn't happened. Owen said it was all very sophisticated. She would need help. She told me to Trump Fiona.

Fiona answered immediately, still with her black hair. I told her what the problem was and she asked if I could have been affected. Of course. Then how can she know that I was really me? Well, there was no answer to that. She wanted to see Owen, so I moved so that Owen was behind me. I suppose I've been thinking Fiona was virtually omnipotent when it comes to Trump and mental abilities. I just assumed she would know it was I. Hmm.

Fiona was satisfied and came through. There wasn't any atmosphere for pleasantries, but I did say I liked her "look". She thanked me, rather sincerely. I think she understood that I did like her hair, and that I wanted her to feel welcome. I wonder how many people do that for her.

She looked at Sebastian's mind and she was decidedly impressed with the “craftsmanship” of the work done to him. There was nothing innately harmful in any of it, rather it seemed to be mostly passive. Still, she'd never seen this before, whoever did this was very, very skilled. Wonderful.

I was peeking and she pointed out trigger points and response nodes. We'd have to be careful about these. We had no idea what they would do. This had been done fairly recently, and wouldn't, shouldn't take long to get rid of it.

We retreated from his mind to talk a bit more. One question I had was whether DeWinter was affected. Could this be like some sort of virus, whoever looked at the cards, was infected? DeWinter was very hesitant about letting Fiona do anything. He is very, very cautious about putting down his wards. I sat next to him and let him make up his mind. He looked at me and knew I thought he should let her do it. With a sigh, he said fine, but it was entirely under protest.

Fiona approached him and when she was a few feet away, he told her to stop. She asked why and he said he suspected if something went wrong, he was much, much faster than she was. She didn't even argue. She kept her distance. Smart. I moved in closer, just in case. It took almost 15 minutes for him to bring his wards fully down. Strange, there was no intense awareness of his presence, like the last time. Fiona looked in and gestured for us to follow. I did and yes, he was very, very infected. Much more so than Sebastian.

Fiona didn't take long. She stepped back and he brought his ward to bear. Fiona then examined Owen and myself. I heard her saying, “boring, boring, you're all right.” I've decided I like having a boring mind.

Fiona sent me a “condensed” message. It was compacted into a brief burst, taking almost no time at all. I “opened” the message and she told me to take DeWinter into the hall. Out there, I should say to him “yellow tiger lilies.” That was an odd request. Fiona told DeWinter that she wanted to take care of Sebastian and we were not needed. He didn't need any further excuse to leave. Outside the room, I put a hand on his arm. He paused and looked at me. With Claw watching, I said the words. Right before my eyes, he went slack-jawed, his personality, intelligence, was simply…gone. I didn't like this at all. I knocked on the door and Fiona opened it. We guided him inside.

I asked her why she had us leave. She said she didn't know what the response might be, but I was better able to handle him than she was. Also, she didn't know what the effect the words would have on Sebastian. It made sense.

Now we had to decide what to do. We could try and heal them, but that might not yield any information about who did this. She, supposing it was a woman (I don't know why I think it was a woman behind this), was good enough to not leave any information behind. Or, we could leave them like this, watching for any changes, for them to lead us to whoever was responsible.

I didn't like that possibility. There would be no telling what damage they might do. And DeWinter was just starting to become part of the family, to work past suspicions and wariness. This would do his place no good. And they could “infect” others. I don't know how, but it seemed possible. I didn't like looking at him like that, a shell. Where was he now?

I think Fiona was inclined to leave them like this, but changed her mind. I would have gone along with their decision, regardless of whether I liked it or not. They were far more knowledgeable about this sort of thing. I had to yield to their authority. Random would have to be told, of course. I wondered at her reason for changing her mind.

Fiona began to work on Sebastian. Actually, Owen did the majority of the work, she having had much more contact with Sebastian's mind in the past. She knew it better than anyone else. Fiona concentrated on DeWinter, while I watched and learned some more.

It was only a few hours until Owen was done. Sebastian was fine, but still “unconscious”.. I continued to watch Fiona work. Before I knew it, we were out. Eight hours had passed already and she wasn't finished. Based on what she'd already done, she estimated it would take another 40 days or so to completely rid him of the damage done to him. I had to sit down.

I knew I wasn't thinking clearly, but I had to work past irrational anger. We haven't been in Amber for more than a day and look at the mess we found. I know it had nothing to do with Amber, this had been started a while ago. Still, everything had been so nice before we came back. Who could have done this? There will be nothing left once I get my hands on who is responsible. And we still had to check DoBlique and Simone.

We had to decide whether we should keep DeWinter asleep the whole time. My thought was that there could be reactions once we started to remove the infection, for lack of a better term. He could do anything. I thought it best to keep him asleep. He would be very, very angry when he woke and found out, but I'll deal with that when the time comes. Fiona said we could move him to a fast shadow, where time flows more quickly. That would be best with regard to 'getting the problem solved quickly'.

I went outside to tell Mother and Byslamia we would be leaving, again. How am I going to tell them why?


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