Two more refugees
The two women we found are also amnesiacs, with similar stories to my own. The first was a blond woman, found on the battlefield in a uniform. It was presumed she was a combat nurse. She is called Annette St. Marie. The second woman has black hair found near the front with a civilian motorcycle. Since her release from the hospital, she's been acting as a courier and her name is Annette St. Benedict. It is going to become difficult to distinguish ourselves from one another if was all have the same name. They both agreed to come with me to Paris and Annette St. Benedict has expressed an interest in finding the linguistic root of this language we speak. She's still a courier, but has grown dissatisfied with the French expectations of her role in society.
I've discovered I have been given a different name, though it's not official just yet. Popularly, I've been called 'Annette Liberte', and the council has supported this action. It seems pompous, but I doubt I'll be able to change the minds of those across the city.
I've taken photographs of each of us. While our courier seeks out others like ourselves, perhaps if they see our faces, they might recall that we are familiar. It's a long shot, but it will be better than traveling throughout two countries finding individuals throughout
Annette St. Benedict is trying to come up with a new name. I've given her the naming books I used, but she hasn't decided on anything. She also won't answer to Annette, so we are calling her the Nameless One. Annette St. Marie likes her name, so privately I will be called Cassandra. It has helped with the confusion.
The Nameless One has tired of this, though it has become something of a light joke amongst us. She has chosen Noelle.
Of the others we have located, none show any familiarity with the photos, nor do they speak our language. Noelle is exhausting herself traveling all over the country, though she does possess an admirable stamina.
The rebuilding process is coming along fine. There has only been some minor backlash from my actions. Apparently, a number of women are getting ideas. Increasing numbers of women wear trousers, though many are of the younger generation, and some are protesting their limited roles in society. It hasn't reached dangerous levels, but Eis looks at me from time to time, as if to say 'see, your ruining the county. I told you so. There are some political detractors who hope to damage my reputation enough to limit my influence. I dare say they want me removed from my position completely, but they haven't the leverage for that. Too many people support me as yet. They are primarily provincial nobles, claiming I am not French. Since they cannot prove the negative, especially since the French keep abhorrent records, they can only claim this, with nothing to back it up.
We've started to make a number of newsreels, to keep morale high and steady. It is strange
I feel comfortable behind the camera. The entire process of filmmaking seems familiar, as if I've done something like this before.
King George of England is visiting. I've been assigned to accompany him to any numbers of social functions, the theatre, the opera, state dinners and the like. He is full of flattery and pomp, but he is a very likeable man. Eis is somewhat jealous. He wants to know why I have to go to these things. He, along with others, comes along, but he usually just scowls when King George says something witty or complimentary.
King George left today. He was suitably impressed enough with our rebuilding that in an act of goodwill, has offered two million pounds toward our cause. I smiled at Eis. That is why we go to these things. He grumbled something, but otherwise declined to comment. In fact, the entire meeting has gone so well, the King of Spain has also decided to visit.
King Juan Carlos of Spain has arrived and, again we are part of the social scene. He is much more forward than King George. At the theatre, he used the darkness to place his hand on my knee. I rapped the viewer against his knuckles. He protested, but not very hard. I couldn't give him any reason for my refusal, but he was gracious when I explained that until I knew if I had some family, it would be inappropriate for any relation to commence. I made light of it all, and got him to chuckle a bit at the mess.
It was fortunate that Eis was not here. Monad had gotten him away, saying that Eis put people off when he scowled. Eis protested that he didn't scowl. Of course, he was scowling when he said that. Monad made to withdraw immediately, but I assured him that Eis did, indeed, scowl a lot. Eis turned his scowl at me and I told him to go look in a mirror. He did so, and told Monad to get someone in to repair it, for there was something wrong with the mirror. Monad just rolled his eyes and left. But, Eis didn't scowl quite so much after that.
Germany has finally learned about what we are doing and has initiated their campaign for public nationalism. When King Juan left, he matched the British contribution and the European outlook to Germany has not been favorable at all. They are trying to mitigate this.
I've been drawing Pablo. When days have gone badly, when I need to get away from Eis, or I'm just depressed at the lack of our success, his studio is my haven. We work silently, or chat from time to time. He always sees things differently, or just pokes fun until I feel better and can laugh again. I've become adept at sneaking away. I just put on a dress and large hat, and no one thinks it is I.
I've begun to try to paint in his style. It is very different, though the concept is intriguing. Each of us has multiple people, roles, and aspects inside ourselves. The trick is to capture each of those and put it into sections, which is why his pictures are disjointed and chaotic. It is all determined by how the pieces fit together. He said that he sees a thousand women when he looks at me. Indeed, I have been his subject for quite some time. I sorted through some of them and found one I like very much. It has lots of greens and leafy segments. He calls it the Green Goddess. I asked him if I might have it. He readily agreed and I've hung it in my office.
The reactions to the painting are varied. Amanda likes it, Eis does not. Monad started with dislike, but it has grown on him. I've caught Eis staring it at it from time to time. In fact, everyone has a strong opinion, but all of them study it. It draws their attention. They are trying to figure it out; it forces them to think about it, aggressively, not passively. There is some pattern to their reactions. Those willing to see something different, to explore and, especially those who like me, like the painting. Those who do not like me dislike the effort. It offends their sense of order and propriety. It's become a sort of gauge for me.
I've arranged for a number of galleries to show Pablo's work. He's done some on his own, but when word spreads, some aristocrat objects and his work is pulled. So, I used my name and got him his show.
It went well. A number of people came, more out of curiosity. Again, some liked his work, others did not, but all had some opinion. What was odd was the number of musicians that came, to perform outside the gallery. They called the music jazz, and it felt familiar. I know I liked it.
At each of Pablo's shows, musicians followed, playing outside. It seems as though they feel an affinity to what Pablo is doing. As their music is seen as inappropriate, they are responding to the same critical complaints about Pablo's work. They both work out of the box.
I've taken to occasionally go out with Pablo and the musicians. With them, I am no 'Annette Liberte'. I'm just another woman, no one special. No politics, no pretensions, it's nice. I do love what I have been doing, but it's also nice to get away, from time to time.
Two more refugees
Noelle return from one of her excursions. She's found two more. One is a man, Jean-Paul, who lost both legs in the war. He's become a ward of the town, due to the fact that he can't do much right now. He does wood carvings for his livelihood, to repay the town's generosity. He did not want to come to Paris. The other was Minuette. She's a nightclub singer. She did return to Paris, once I arranged for a few places that she could sing at for a while, until she got on her feet. Again, they all spoke the strange language, and they have no memories. The mystery is just getting bigger.
Bad omens from a fortune-teller.
The mystery is getting so frustrating, so much so, I was becoming desperate. Pablo was skeptical, but got me in contact with a fortuneteller. I wasn't really expecting answers, but rather she just might say something to jog a memory, to give a clue as to what I could do.
We went to a club where the first thing I saw was a Germanic woman on the stage, nude, reading poetry. Actually, the poem was quite good. A very slim girl who introduced herself as De L' Morte joined us at the table. She couldn't be more than 16 years on. She was very pale, very blond (more so than even Amanda) and tired-looking, as if she was pushing herself hard. She wore black slacks, black shirt and a purple scarf. The woman on the stage finished and the band replaced her. We talked, chatted about a number of things as the music played. The more I talked to her, the more I was convinced I knew her, though she doesn't speak our language.
It was about 3 a.m. when we left to go to her flat. She had decided we were okay and agreed to do a reading. Pablo was very skeptical, but only rolled his eyes from time to time over the rest of the evening. He clearly thought the girl was deranged.
She fetched a deck of tarot cards. I felt almost dizzy when I saw them, but I did not recognize them. She laid them out and studied them. She said I was under a spell of doom, standing in the waters, speaking to the powers. It is my hand that passes the blade to the champion; my misfortune is not the same at the Lady of the Lake. My fey sisters share my travail and we are surrounded by destruction but I am safe.
Well. What to do with that? De L' Morte said that my mark of doom might mean I had disfavored some power. She said she saw blood and guts of millions of corpses around me. Pablo was outraged at her melodrama and rose to leave. De L' Morte apologized and we exchanged a resigned glance. 'Men'. We talked a bit more and she would try to do a little more research, to see if she could learn anything. But, since I confessed I don't really believe, it probably wouldn't amount to much.
We left and Pablo exploded into Gallic disgust and offense at the girl's melodrama. I calmed him down once more and saw him to his studio. I wasn't so sure that this night was melodrama. In fact, I was feeling much worse. Some part of me was responding that what she said could be real. Some chord was responding and I grew even more distressed.
The dawn rose and I sent a message to Monad and Eis, telling them not to expect me for a while. I just didn't have the energy to deal with a normal day.
I walked until noon, seeing the sights of daily life; people bought, sold, argued, talked, walked, paced, and ran, worked or relaxed. I ate lunch at a café. From time to time, I was recognized, but most let me be. While I sat, I was joined by a number of teenagers. They wore trousers and chatted about any number of things. I just listened to their enthusiasm. And they were enthusiastic as only young people are. After lunch, I walked some more, until the sun set. I just had the desire to walk, though I wished I had some destination. I found myself by the river. I was a chilly night and the mists came over the river. I sat watching it until midnight. The water also seemed familiar, though nothing more came to me. The moon was full and shone on the water. On impulse, feeling a little silly, I put my hand in the water, asking if there was a Lady of the Lake. Nothing. Maybe I needed a lake?
I rose and found a little inn. I believe they recognized me but convinced themselves it couldn't possibly be whom they thought. Not alone, at that time of night.
For the first time in a year I Dreamt of a battle. There were shells flying in from everywhere, earthquakes and explosions. I realized that I had really thought the shelling was banshees, not as a descriptor, but real banshees. I fought with a sword, a real one, against barbed wire. The sword felt right in my hand and I knew what I was doing. Then I woke up.
I got back to my offices by noon. No one mentioned my disappearance and I didn't feel like explaining, so it was left unsaid. Monad had retrieved the unclaimed, unusual things left over from the war. It had taken him a while to get it all. There was only one box, but they had sifted out the normal things, like good luck charms and the like. He confessed he'd been writing every other day to various places for months. I was warmed by his consideration.
There wasn't anything there except for a card. It sent a chill down my spine. It was a nice miniature oil painting, with bloodstains and charring along one edge. It was of a man in black armor, a horned helm, raising a sword over his head. It wasn't a playing card, since there were no numbers or pips anywhere to be found. The back of the card showed a picture of a stylized red snake. It didn't feel like I thought it should.
Annette St. Bernard had decided to go back to her home, since we have found nothing. Amanda hasn't gotten any better and Noelle is desperately looking for a place for herself. Even I have had thoughts about leaving. But, there is so much work to do
I just couldn't do it.
More cards found
Noelle brought a letter to me, so excited she was beside herself. She had received it from an inquiry a couple of months before. She'd asked for a tour of some of the newer acquisitions since the war. Her smile couldn't get any brighter or wider. She announced her name was Nakdhrine. She'd seen a card and she was on it and knew it was her name. She had also seen one where Jean-Paul was depicted. These cards had black snakes on them. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let her take any of them.
With the hope that there were more answers, I volunteered to go. I set and appointment and they were eager that I should visit. I went, Noelle staying outside, out of view.
I was led through any number of interesting objects. I had to keep my patience until I was able to see the cards. There were twenty of them, all with the snakes on the back. A few were red, most were black. They were cool to the touch and I felt a tingle when I held them. There was no signature of the artist. I asked for and got all twenty of them. I wasn't on the cards, neither were Eis or Amanda, but perhaps the others might be helped.
The one with Noelle was very odd. I almost didn't recognize her. In the picture, her face was much sterner; she wore armor with a sword at her hip. The armor disguised much of her figure, so it was only her face that showed.
I left and met her outside. She gave a little dance when she saw them. We retreated to a little café to examine them more closely. The first one was of a light-haired woman, also in a very ornate armor, her hands held out. Then, in a moment, the card began to shimmer, the colors drifting into new colors. I concentrated, to see what was happening and the next thing I knew I was looking at two women, in bed, making love. One gave a scream while the other jumped away. I was so startled I dropped the card. When I picked it up again, it had reverted to normal. Noelle was as surprised as I was.
We picked another, and another. Few did anything, but another shimmered and became a man working in a garden, wearing an eye-patch. He was mildly surprised, but told us he had no interest in listening to us, as we were demons or witches. I put my hand over the card, cutting the connection. It was a good thing he did not recognize me, then. It was only until that moment that I realized I knew to place my hand over the card to stop the connection. I knew I had done such a communication before, many, many times.
We left the café and hurried home. I got Eis, to show him. I got the card out and tried the two women once more. This time they were seated, nervously clasping their hands. Eis was amazed at the trick. After a bit of talking, they were a few hours from Paris. I assured them I had no intention of harming them, though it took a bit to convince them of this.
I really wanted to talk with them, in person. I didn't know how long this card would work. I offered to send a car for them. One of the women looked puzzled and raised her hand toward me. I felt my arm move in respond but the connection was broken as Eis tackled me from the side. He saw some colors and thought she was doing something dangerous. Perhaps she was, but I didn't think so.
I tried again, this time with more success. The woman, she struggled to find some words that need be spoken. It took a few moments, but she reached her hand out and said, by your leave. I grasped it and we connected. She grabbed her companion and I drew them through.
They introduced themselves, Katie, and Angelou. Ah, relief. No additional Annettes. We talked, though Katie was clearly beside herself with distress at the magic we were working.
Despite our success, in the next few hours there was no additional information forthcoming. We were still clueless about who, or what, we were. Katie was becoming increasingly distraught. I offered her a room to relax in and Angelou convinced her it was alright. I had one of the guards fetch Amanda. Katie, intellectually, was older that Amanda, but not by much.
I went to speak with Angelou some more. Before we got very far, there were the most horrendous screams coming from the room with the two girls. We ran in to find Amanda attacking Katie viciously. Katie was lying on the sofa, curled up to protect herself. I grabbed Amanda while Angelou dealt with Katie. Once separated, I took Amanda away. She was scared and angry. They were bad people They were snake people.
Sigh. What did that mean? She knew it by looking at the Trump card. Yes. It hit me; they were called Trump, weren't they? I showed her the other Trump. Amanda said she had had one. King Random gave one to her. King Random that was familiar, too. She thought he was fun I tended to agree, though there was more. I knew of no King with that name it must be a very small place, but I hadn't extended my knowledge of royalty beyond Europe much. I'd have to look into it.
Amanda looked at the cards. She said they were BlackAdders, and they were bad. She was referring to the black-snaked backings on some of the cards. So who were the red ones? Eis suggested RedAdders? It was as good a guess as any.
I sent a message to have De L'Morte come. She might know some lore that would suggest an explanation of the nature of these Trumps. It took a few hours, which we spent calming Amanda and Katie down. We couldn't keep them in the same room.
De L'Morte watched as we demonstrated the cards to her. She was impressed, but had heard nothing about any such artifacts. While we talked, making suggestions, speculating, she watched and listened. After a long few hours, she suggested a ceremony. One where we might be able to tap into who we are. It would involve all of us interacting. She thought sex would be the best medium. Eis was out of his chair in a heartbeat. Okay, we've had enough. He grabbed her by the arm and propelled her out of the room. I wasn't keen on De L'Morte's suggestion, but what if that were our only way to find something out? Katie, Noelle, and Angelou decided to go and see De L'Morte about the ritual. If they learned anything, they could come back and tell us. They had discussed the matter briefly, and concluded that doing such a ceremony wouldn't be so unpleasant if it meant answers. Noelle confessed that she would prefer if I was a part of it, but I had to decline. It didn't feel right and Eis would not be pleased.
Later that night, there was the beginning of a storm. I looked out the window and saw a huge bolt of red lightning hit Paris.
It didn't take long to learn it was at the precise location of De L'Morte's flat.
It took an hour to get through. Fire engines surrounded the area; her flat's roof was on fire. I located De L'Morte in the confusion being treated for smoke inhalation. She would be fine, though she had some minor injuries. None of the others had been found. De L'Morte was unconscious, though.
I finally got to see De L'Morte. She had indeed gone through the ceremony. She also believed it had worked. I'd taken the last day to compensate the landlord for the damage, so she still had a place to live. I also learned that nothing, absolutely nothing had been there to suggest there was anyone else there besides De L'Morte.
De L'Morte explained that an opening had formed and the goddess she had called had answered. De L'Morte insisted on telling me this only after she drew a protective circle, in case that same goddess didn't approve of her telling me any thing. This goddess, Hekate, was amused at the tableau in front of her. They petitioned to be able to return home, and to have their memories returned. This was accepted on one condition. They were to treat each other with the same high regard as you do now. They accepted this and the lightning came down to claim them.
De L'Morte did not believe they were dead. I hope not. I also hope they got out.
De L'Morte was out of the hospital and back to normal. We got together to talk. Could she call up a different being? Perhaps one that might intervene on our behalf. I didn't relish being hit with any bolt, red or otherwise. She said that Hekate was the most sympathetic being she knew. Oh.
What about different places? Places with power. Perhaps we were under some sort of envelope that prevented us from accomplishing anything as long as we did not leave. It was possible, she said. But any other place would be under the protection of organizations which she was either unfamiliar with, or as odds with. One such place was the Vatican City. I had no idea where that was, but we could try. There were the pyramids in Egypt, which were a long ways away; also a few places in England--much closer at hand. That sounded promising. At least, I could arrange for us to visit, perhaps using my brief association with King George. In the meantime, De L'Morte would do more research into snakes, secret languages, and these powers. It would do us little good if we contacted the 'druids' in England only to find out they hate snakes. In exchange for repairing and rescuing her flat, she would only charge me for meals and expenses. I agreed, though I'll send more.
I dispatched a letter to England asking if my visiting their country would be an imposition. A return gesture for the kindness and consideration shown to us. It would take a week to get there.
A planned trip and a war memorial
Monad has continued to try to locate more of these cards. At first, he met with no success. Then he followed a trail to an Archbishop who had expressed an interest in them for occult reasons. When they weren't claimed after the war, he sent them on to the Vatican. He had 23 cards.
I also got a response from England. My visit was not only a pleasant surprise, I was expected with anticipation. Wonderful. I could even bring my friends, including the Man who Stole Paris. This was the first I heard of Eis' reputation, though he had heard this before. He didn't like it at all. He insisted he didn't steal Paris; he'd gotten it fair and square. We set the date to leave in about five weeks. Enough time for me to tie up a few things so my absence wouldn't disrupt anything. It would also be plenty of time to see about those cards.
Pablo stopped by to ask if he could do my portrait. Portrait? He'd done dozens of renderings already, why did he need more? For the war memorial. Oh, you didn't know? He chewed his lip as he contemplated just how much trouble he'd be in. If I wanted to know more, I would have to talk with the Cabinet.
So I did. They had this notion of making a stature to honor those in the war. They had received a petition from a grade school in the area where I had been found. This had been backed by various universities and schools and the Cabinet had approved the idea. They did not tell me, because I would not have approved.
And, indeed, I did not. I did not do all this to have a statue made. They said they knew that and decided not to tell me. I responded that my image will not do justice to the soldier that fought and died. They said they had various veterans' signatures to the contrary. The Statue of Liberte would be made; they only had to decide where it would be placed. The general notion was that it would be about 30' tall on an obelisk of 120' tall, with all the names of those who served in the war. Couldn't they just have the obelisk? No. I suspect they hired Pablo because I would be more inclined not to stop this auspicious commission.
The three sites were marked on a map. One was by the Arch de Triumphe, on the other side of the boulevard. The second was on top of a hill, where everyone in the city could see it. The third was in a Plaza, opposite Notre Dame. The last was the most likely spot where I would probably see it infrequently, if ever.
I left them to their meeting, making my annoyance with the entire affair very, very clear.
I received an invitation from the Pope himself. He had sent a detailed list of the description of each of the cards. None of them matched any of us, though it was hard to tell without seeing them. One was curious in that it had a red gryphon on the back. So, we have a possible third party. Interesting. I didn't think I would have time. I sent off a message regretting that I may not be able to attend immediately, as work has been very pressing. It was my thought that if nothing panned out in England, Vatican City might be the next logical step.
I learned that Pablo had turned down the commission. He shouldn't have done that, but he shrugged that off. I had no choice in the matter, but I'd at least be comfortable with what he designed. Instead, they gave it to one of the more old school artists. Pablo had wanted to portray a nurse, holding wounded soldier in one arm, with a Resistance bomb in the other hand. It was incongruous, I liked it. The current artist wanted to portray Nike, the goddess of victory.
Well, appealing to the Cabinet directly did nothing. So, I wrote to the paper. I explained I wanted nothing to do with this, that it was not in keeping with what I was working toward. Depicting me as a goddess, ignoring the soldiers of the war, was a baroque, ostentatious example of nonsense.
We leave for England tomorrow.
We were just arriving in England when I got wind of the news. From what I can piece together, the newspaper I had sent my message to had buried the story. Still, it has leaked, probably from within. A few of the small local papers ran the story and a full explosion occurred. The artist was asked to resign, the Cabinet was being chastised by the people, and it was believed this had driven me from their beloved France. Oh, dear. How to fix this? Anyone I write to could distort the message. No, I would only be here for a few days. I doubted anything could go wrong in such a short period of time. It would be better to fix it in person.
De L'Morte had spent the day in the libraries here. Apparently, they have an extensive collection of materials. She said there was some good news. Some of the records from Egypt refer to Stonehenge as a gate. A gate to what? She didn't know. The bad news was that there was an occult correlation between snakes and a god called Set. Apparently, he represented destruction and death. That didn't sound like anything I would be involved with, but who knew what type of person I was before the war?
It has been long days. During the day, I meet many, many people. At night, there are dinners, performances, and theatre. King George has made a few, which surprised a few. He's a very busy man. He was vastly amused when he read my words regarding the war memorial. Did I really say that? Oh, my, he chortled. Prince Edward has also attended a number of them.
At night, we continue our research. I also learned that the Druids do not want to meet with me. They believe the publicity surrounding me suggests that is my goal, that I'm a bit of fluff, insubstantial. Of course, I didn't get the chance to tell them what I thought of that bit of assessment.
Going to see the Druids and walking the Labyrinth
We were thinking about leaving when Monad told us he had talked to Prince Edward. The Druids are very secretive but, by listening closely and making discreet inquiries, he determined that Prince Edward knows one of them. There will be a meeting.
A limousine arrived and Eis, De L'Morte, and I were invited inside. We were blindfolded, though not tied. The ride twisted some, but not much, but it was very long. At least two hours.
We were allowed to remove the blindfolds. We were at a short, white, square tower. Just outside the car door were a number of gray robed figures. I don't know how, but I knew they were wearing mail under the robes. All of them wore masks. They escorted us into the tower where we were met with eleven black-robed figures. The ones inside had blue and red face painting, which effectively disguised their features. They were decidedly not happy to see us.
Their leader proceeded, The Hunters of the Black Hart welcome the Black Bitch to this foreign soil. What a lovely beginning. Eis' French has become good enough that he caught the words. But, before he could express offense, the leader continued.
In essence, they were only speaking with us because the Order of the Garter, I suppose a higher order, made them talk with us. He was asking why they should help us. The Hunter knew I was coming and was wary of letting us touch a doorway. The curse around me might not go with me. And I bring a Paladin of the One-Eyed God and a Spirit of Riot with me. We knew nothing about their ways and our ignorance might just be what prevents the curse from manifesting. What did we think of that?
None of the Druids spoke French and I spoke no English. One of the Grey Robes translated, and I'm sure it was Prince Edward. After the greeting was finished, he leaned slightly in, whispering that they might be trying to make me angry. Oh, yes, I figure that.
In response, I apologized for disrupting their lives with this undesired meeting. It had not been my intention of forcing a meeting of the minds. My arrival in England was due to the fact that I had received such warmth and generosity with their representatives thus far; I had assumed that had extended beyond that tier of society.
Why should they help us? I have no answer. For me, I would be satisfied that there was someone to help, someone that needs it. If they require further reason, I may not be able to supply one. As for the Hunter, I will respect his wish if we cannot see the doorway, but we do not know that the curse wouldn't be removed by such an action.
Our ignorance cannot help. It never does. We have exhibited strange abilities, which so far, have been used benignly, but could be misused. How many of us are out there? We don't know, because all of our memories are gone. Could be more than a few. How more dangerous is it to have ignorant people with power? It could be very bad, as history has shown us. So, they have asked questions we cannot answer, for the answers lie beyond our amnesia, which we hope they can help solve.
The eleven men leaned toward the center to confer. They needn't have whispered. We couldn't understand them anyway. In the meantime, our translator and De L'Morte filled in some more information. The Paladin of the One-Eyed God is Eis, whom they believe serves Wodin. Apparently, he is a deity of battle and strategy. That sounded like Eis, though why they thought he was of this group, I don't know. The Spirit of Riot is De L'Morte, though she declined to give any additional information about this.
They finished their talk and asked if I would take responsibility for these two. I briefly conferred with them. Eis didn't care but De L'Morte said I needn't do so for her. She would be left behind, here, while we did what we came for. I asked her what she wanted to do. She asked what they had in mind. They responded that she would have to be purified. She didn't seem to be very apprehensive about this, so I agreed to take responsibility.
The purification process entailed filling a tub with brine water. She removed her clothing, which was then burned, and she was submerged in it for a few seconds. There was a ritual cleaning and they were done. The worst part of the ceremony was that the water was cold and the air was warmer. So she shivered for a minute or two as she dried off, then she was given a spare robe. The arms hung past her wrists and she had to take care not to trip over the hem. But that was it.
We were escorted through a tunnel, emerging some time later near Stonehenge. It was both smaller and grander than I expected. It was near midnight and the sky was overcast. I was led inside and told to place my right hand on the center stone. It was of a different stone than the rest of the circle. When I placed my hand there, they would see if the powers would split the sky in displeasure. With one eye on the sky, I placed my hand. Nothing happened. They seemed to relax. I've proven I was not possessed. Possessed by what, they declined to answer.
So, we went back to the Tower. They have a ritual in the dungeon, which might help restore who I was. I was ready to try. We went down to a little room. Eis and De L'Morte had to wait outside the next chamber.
I went through with a number of the druids. Inside was a design worked into the stone. I had to walk the labyrinth. With one on each side, I went to the beginning and followed the lines.
It was easy to do, but haunting and eerie at the same time. I was sure that this wasn't quite right. It was as if I was pretending. It was too easy. I got little visions of flames and sparks of electricity that it was supposed to be much more difficult than it was. When I got to the center, things changed.
I was hit with a sense of euphoria, a floating high. Little bits of information came back to me. Eis is definitely my husband though Amanda is my sister I somehow know De L'Morte and we definitely belong elsewhere the Black Wolf gives me power, specifically to me the druids are the most helpful and positive force I have yet encountered we are here because of Amanda.
The two men to either side of me braced themselves as their legs turned wobbly. Their energy was seriously depleted. I felt enervated instead. Curious.
Outside, Eis relaxed when he saw me. I told him a bit about what I learned. It wasn't anything toward my identity, but it did reinforce things we knew or suspected. The black wolf, I was told, is an ancient icon of independent power. It answers to no one. Each of us represented that, in some way. A Paladin, unlike a knight who is sworn to duty, is an independent avatar of a deity. De L'Morte admitted she was not involved in a coven, working alone.
We thanked the druids for their indulgence. We were blindfolded again. That seemed pretty silly. We knew we were near Stonehenge, and the tower was not that far away. We could find it again if we tried. The gray robed translator's eyes crinkled as if he were smiling. Indulge them. Very well.
We went back into society. After last night, the pomp and circumstance seemed artificial, surreal to me. I had spent the night in a lovely fashion. Since I was sure Eis was my husband, I was not going to let another night go by without him. There had been too many restless times already. I did note that he did not protest.
We did got a message. It turns out that the Power of the Bitch and the Full Moon were coinciding in two weeks. Whatever we could do, that would be the time. Our arrival and those convergence were too much a coincidence.
We spend our days going to functions, meeting various nobility. We continue to do research, since we have the opportunity and the means, it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.
The nights with Eis are wonderful. Every once in a while I get a glimmer of a vision. As if we have been together in many, many places. All with different clothing, different rooms, different places. A beach, a castle, a villa, a tent, one room straight out of Arabian nights.
I received an odd telegram today. It read:
Recent information brought to light indicates that Annette Liberte is not French. Stop. She may not be female. Stop. Best party return to Paris soonest. Stop.
Well! I dispatched a reply:
Interested in proof of the negative. Stop. I am female. Stop. Cannot return soonest. Stop. Curious about the inquiries. Stop.
I showed the telegram to the others. We were all baffled by the idea that I was not female. Who would doubt such a thing? Since Morgenstern was not a French name, I asked Eis if he heard of anyone with that name. He thought for a moment and said it was familiar. He was sure he never met the man, though he seemed to recall he was a bastard, er, not a nice guy. He thought it odd he'd never met him, though.
Other than an odd storm, nothing else occurred that day.
I was sound asleep that night when I felt the oddest chill run across my forehead, over my scalp, and down my neck. I was awake, looking for the source of this. The next thing I knew, I was looking at a woman, blond, with a long braid hanging over one shoulder. From the perspective I was looking at her, she was looking slightly down, I asked if she was calling me by one of those cards. At the same time, she said hello, Cassandra.
She knew me? Apparently so. It was night where she was; though it was better lit. No, the lights came and went and I realized she was in a car, with the streetlights moving past. She was dressed like a pilot, like that woman, Amelia Earhart, but that was not her name. I knew her. I was positive. Is DeWinter with you? I knew instantly she meant Eis. That was his name.
I reached over and shook Eis. I must have done so more violently than I intended, for he rolled out of bed, grabbing the lamp, settling into a crouch. I gestured to him to come over. What are you doing? I told him I was talking to someone with one of those cards. The woman just watched me talk to Eis. Eis said I didn't have a card in my hand. Then she must have one of me. I told him that his name was really DeWinter. His eyes grew a bit wider as he realized it was his name. Then the woman asked if DoBlique was there. I knew that was Amanda. I said yes, we were there, though it was only now that we learned our names. She nodded, understanding.
He got back into bed, settling next to me. He barely showed startlement at seeing this woman, who then introduced herself as Owen. She asked if we were in London. Yes. Where? In Windsor Palace. She pursed her lips in thought. They will be there in fifteen minutes. It was odd, but I didn't even hesitate to ask them why they had to come now. Whom did she mean by saying we? She and a Prince Julian. Prince? Did he know me as well? Yes, he is your uncle. Really? Yes, you are a Princess. I cut back the reply I wanted to make. If I was a princess, why did it take years to find me? It wasn't as if I was hiding or anything. Owen cut the contact after I agreed to meet with them.
We dressed quickly. I could see it was about two in the morning. We went downstairs. I had a servant make sure that the guards at the gate were expecting them.
I got some tea prepared. It arrived just as our guests did. There was a tingle when I saw them. Owen was there, with a dark-haired man, not much taller than I was. I knew him as well. We seated ourselves. We had to wait until the tea was poured and the servants left.
They had come looking for us since we had gone missing. We were not black adders; they were enemies of Amber. We were Amberites. The red snakes were cards for Chaosians, from the Courts of Chaos. What they said felt true and right, though it didn't trigger any more information. She showed me my card, in a strange room with three windows, one with a sunny sky, another with a storm, and third with a meteor shower. And a sword. The back was emerald and white, with a unicorn. DoBlique's showed an entirely different person than the one I knew. This woman was very intelligent, but there was a sense of brooding, or tragedy there that was absent from our Amanda. She said she had no card for DeWinter, because I had just finished his and he only wanted a few to have his. He rubbed his chin, yes that sounds like me. I asked Owen if I made these cards? Only this one, but I did know how to.
Prince Julian was intrigued by the knowledge that we were able to use the Trump, yes that was their name, and to locate each other. He was also interested in seeing the Keepers of the Doorway. They were a little perturbed by the idea of black adders near, especially Owen. She murmured something about them being our enemies. I told them that Amanda has placed an image in my head of a bad man, a snake man who had hurt her head. I drew the image out. They were less than happy, I think. They would not tell me who it was, saying it would be too unsafe if he were near. They did mention their travels here, though multiple Shadows, full of war. One where our war lasted for three generations. How was that possible? She said we couldn't leave because this is some sort of trap, where all the surrounding Shadows were compressed heavily, creating some sort of whirlpool, drawing us inside. If she said so
We talked for an hour or so. They left, preferring to find a place out of the Palace. I would try to contact the druids to see if they would meet these two new people. When they were gone, I wrote a message to Prince Edward, asking to meet with him upon a matter of some urgency.
Then, all we had to do was pace back and forth. Eis went in one direction, I in another as we tried to piece together what we had learned.
We decided to tell Amanda. I thought she might recall something. And she did, oh, yes. I showed her my card that Owen had left for me. Why did I not feel the need to use her title? Anyway, Amanda thought I was dressed funny. I said I knew her name. She said she did, too. Really? Yes, it was Amanda. No, it was DoBlique. No, it was Amanda. Okay, I let that argument go. I showed her the back. This distressed her immensely. She began to cry. They are bad more bad than the snake people. They cut off her mommy's head. What? To say I was alarmed would be an understatement.
I called for Eis and had her say it again. When she refused, I told him myself. He grew very agitated and then bellowed, Blaze!!! It was very loud, and very, very angry. I was surprised the guards did not come running. I didn't know what he would do next. It took a while, but he calmed down, enough to talk. They were now decidedly against any association with these two. They were convinced they were enemies. I didn't ring entirely true to me, though I had nothing to support my belief. DeWinter, Eis, said he would contact the druids and get to this labyrinth. He had to know more. I would see what Owen and Julian said. He didn't like that, but didn't try to stop me. If nothing else, I would be keeping them busy while he did this. He did refuse to let me take Amanda, though. I had to assent to this.
Owen Trumped me, to ask where we would be meeting. I said there was a bit of a snag. I had to find something out first. She asked if I could ask this over the Trump connection. I was reluctant, but more reluctant to go through the card without anyone knowing where I went. I settled for asking her through the connection. I searched for a way to ask what I needed to know. There was no delicate way of asking my question. Owen said they were not delicate people. All right, then. I told them what Amanda said. She called Julian over, and he confirmed that a member of the family had killed Amanda and DeWinter's mother. In battle. The two had been enemies, but they are no longer against Amber. Apparently, I had formed a relationship with DeWinter, and Amanda by association, letting them see that Amber was not their enemy. They had two other siblings, but they were not yet so inclined.
If I wanted to talk, we could meet at Trafalgar Square. I agreed. It would give me time to think on this.
A short ride later, and not a few guards to accompany me, I arrived there. They were waiting patiently. They said they if I went back to Amber, I could walk the Pattern. It would probably give me my memory back. What is the Pattern? He gave me an explanation I didn't really understand. But, I drew out the trail of the Labyrinth. He said it was similar, but this was much more formal in design.
He turned to Owen and asked her if she walked the Pattern in her mind, could she take me with her? Owen thought for a moment and said probably. They asked if I would do this. If it gave me my memories back, sure. I had no idea what they were talking about.
Owen sat next to me and placed her hand on my own. The lines of the Pattern appeared as the rest of the world faded. Oh, this was definitely familiar. We stepped on it and walked.
It seemed to take hours. It was everything I thought lacking in the Labyrinth. It was very, very difficult. We were tired and weak when we reached the center. By that point, I knew my presence was creating a strain on Owen.
If there was a sensation of elation in the center of the Labyrinth, it was nothing compared to the high I felt here. In one incredibly short second, every memory I had lost crashed in on my. It was as if a giant of all storms were raging in my skull.
It took almost half an hour before the euphoria faded and I could think straight. With profound relief, I kissed Owen on the cheek and then did so to Julian. He looked at me and said he was British, and wasn't aloud to do such things in public. I grinned at him, but I am French and it is in our nature.
I had to stop DeWinter. I had to get them to the stones if we were to get out of here. They would prepared themselves while I headed back. Owen gave me her card so that when I was ready, they could come through.
I got back to the palace to find both Prince Edward and DeWinter gone. It was so odd moving through this Shadow. It's as if I had been sleepwalking the entire time. I was aware of so much more, colors, smells, and expressions. I feel like I just woke up.
I had no way of finding him in a hurry, so I got some drawing materials and made Trump sketch. I worked! I activated it and saw flames. Then a black, spiraling vortex swept down, catching me up and depositing me on a very cold rock. Looking outward, which from being prone meant up, I could see that the moon was full and much larger. I got up, rolling off the rock. We were in a circle of stones and that rock I had been one looked not unlike an altar. I was with a large, cloaked figure. Very large. Perhaps larger than Gerard. It turned to me. Was that an attack? I supposed he meant the Trump call. No.
He moved closer and I had to crane my neck to look up at him. I asked him his name. He said since he did know mine, he would not give his. I then wondered if it was wise to give him my name, my real one. I asked if I might see his face, since he has seen mine. A raised his hood, and it was Oberon, or a Shadow thereof, with an eye-patch. Wodin. What are you supposed to say to locale deities? He said Eis was busy, but would be finished momentarily. I said we wanted to go home. He asked that I stay. There will be another war coming, and it was of my making. France was becoming too powerful, too prosperous. Others would be jealous, and that meant war. This disturbed me greatly, for I knew it could very well be true. Could I stay? Certainly, but I doubted the others would want to. We had families and lives to go back to. I had no idea how much time has passed in Amber, but I didn't want to stay trapped in here. Owen had mentioned how difficult it had been to get here. They should be expected to do that again if I decided to stay. I didn't speak any of this, but he waited, watching.
Eventually, he said I could go back. With a gesture, I was falling
right into Eis' arms. He was startled, as were the other druids. Eis looked up at the very solid ceiling, then back at me. How the hell did you do that? Oh, I was just having a little chat with Wodin in Limbo, that's all. He looked at me as though I was crazy, but my entrance was definitely compelling evidence of something weird going on.
Apparently, he also got bits of memory back, though not all. He was certain that Owen and Julian were not really enemies, though he was loath to admit anything closer. In fact, he seemed unwilling to speak of much, with the others around. I apologized to the druids, who were still stunned at what they saw. I asked if I could bring Owen and Julian through and they acquiesced. Amanda was in another room. I Trumped them and then they were there. I whispered to Eis that I had all of my memories back. Could he trust me when I say they were our friends. He shrugged, but didn't argue with this.
I was afraid that of what Amanda would do if she saw them. I think the entire experience would be too much for her. We retired to another room for a few minutes, where I was able to express my guilt at leaving these people. Everything I had worked for would be gone. I had left without any provisions for a replacement and the idea of all my friends being destroyed was very disturbing. I mentioned Wodin, and his request. Julian said that he would like to demonstrate an idea. He went and stood on one of the flagstones. He said this stone was his world. He said he was the most powerful person on the world. He had Owen do likewise. These were their spheres. Power wants more power; Wodin wants us to stay because we are more power. Of course, he does not want us to leave his sphere it diminishes the whole. I understood, but was still uncertain.
I thought I would have a day, or so to try to fix things up a bit, but the druids shattered that idea. Apparently, the convergence of powers suddenly was most auspicious right now. Had Wodin listened? Did he realize we were going to leave anyway? Was this tacit consent to our free will? Am I responsible for entire worlds? Yes and no. But I did this. If I hadn't been here, Paris would have lost, but eventually build back up. There would not have been a second war. I kept silent and went to see Amanda. She was happily playing with a doll that was dressed up in a gray robe. She had her own druid doll. I said it was a very pretty doll. I chatted with her, letting my hand rest on her shoulder. Then, while she talked, I pinched the nerve at the base of the neck. She should have gone unconscious almost immediately, while the blood was stopped from flowing into her brain. But, she looked at me, all wide-eyed, as if to ask what it was doing. She said 'Ow', a few times, and then went unconscious.
I picked her up and we walked down to Stonehenge. A few minutes, Julian leading the way, we entered the circle, and through one of the doorways. And we were out in Shadow. We were not completely out; I recognized the war-torn battlefield not unlike where we were trapped. Owen built a Trump gate, mentioning that she and Julian had magical tethers to her, in case they became trapped as well. I said a silent good-bye to Max, Pablo, De L'Morte, Monad, and all the others. For I really doubt I could go through this again and get out without help.
We were out.
A surprise for DeWinter
We took a few days to rest and get our equilibrium. Eis was remembering more as he was seeing things. I took the time to make another Trump of DeWinter. Now we each have one for the other. My deck is forever lost, I fear.
We were trying to make plans for the immediate future. It might be some time until Amanda was DoBlique once more. Perhaps if we found a non-magical Shadow where we could recuperate. I'd hate to see her summon a demon without knowing what she was really doing.
I received a Trump call from Random. This was a surprise. He asked if we were coming back any time soon. I said probably not. We had a lot of things to work out and we'd just gotten our memories back, or most of them. It seems he already knew of our situation, but he said we needed to get back and I should arrange it. Well, since it was he asking, of course we'd come back. He asked if DeWinter was around. He was, and he came into the contact. Random said he'd heard that DeWinter didn't care for being a Prince of Amber. DeWinter slowly said he wouldn't phrase it quite like that. Random waved his hand. Well, since he didn't like being a Prince, he's been demoted to a Knight of the Realm. DeWinter looked at him as if he was crazy. You can't do that Random cut in, Sure I can. In fact, Benedict has already arrive to perform the ceremony. That caught both of us off guard. DeWinter was thinking fast, how the hell do you turn down Benedict? Simple. You don't. Random told me to take care of the details and get us back to Amber. The connection cut and DeWinter turned to me. I was quick. I held up my hands, denying all knowledge of this. DeWinter wanted to know how Random knew he didn't like being referred to by Prince. I could only shrug. How did half the city know to call him Captain DeWinter? A mystery.
So, we had to get back to Amber. The difficulty was that Amanda was still DoBlique, and could not go. And I didn't think she'd handle being surrounded by all the evil Amberites.
I convinced Byslamia to come help, mostly to get her out of Amber for a bit. I don't think she really relished the idea, but she quickly saw just how hurt Amanda was and they did hit it off. We'd be back soon
A test by Benedict
We got back to Amber and settled into the castle. Some preparations were underway, it's said that Random was even getting the Crown out of the vault. Oh, my. This was going to be formal. Benedict came over and clapped DeWinter on the shoulder. You did know this was about him walking the Pattern? DeWinter said no, That must have slipped Random's mind when he Trumped us. Ah, so that was what this was about. Benedict showed DeWinter the Pattern, giving him an idea of what to expect. I had no doubt that he could do it, but it would be hard. It's always hard.
Benedict even suggested that DeWinter try to begin some daily mediations, so that he could be as focused as possible. He had to be prepared for the unexpected. DeWinter said he was always prepared for the unexpected. Benedict regarded him and said to follow him. I could see that DeWinter wished he could take his words back.
We went down the main tunnel. He stopped and pointed to a dark tunnel, shooting off to one side. He told DeWinter to walk to the end, wait five minutes, and then come back. DeWinter looked at him, looked at the tunnel, drew his sword, looked at Benedict once more, and headed down.
We waited. And waited. After twenty minutes, I asked Benedict how long the tunnel was. He said not that long. He asked for my sword, since he hadn't his with him. I handed it over and he proceeded, running lightly, telling me to wait.
I waited. And waited. A felt a vibration, not unlike when I have shifted, run from my feet up to my neck. It didn't feel good.
Benedict appeared, supporting DeWinter, who wasn't registering much of his surroundings. Benedict said we should get him to the infirmary, and I should Trump Owen. I was going to mention that I had training, but just said I had no Trump. He handed me his, and I told Owen Benedict's suggestion. She didn't argue.
Benedict handed me my sword. There was black blood on it. I quickly wiped it off and scabbarded it. Was he going to tell me what happened? He shook his head. I took DeWinter's arm, putting it across my shoulder. Then, one arm around his waist got him up the stairs and to the infirmary. He was definitely in shock.
Owen got a shot ready while I stripped his shirt off and began tending to wounds. When I first saw them, it looked like whip marks. Now they looked like whip marks, but with tiny razors at the end. He also had a white strand of hair near his right temple. Right down to the root. This was permanent. I tried to get him to let go of his sword, but I couldn't get him to release it. Owen gave him a shot. The surge of adrenaline hit, and DeWinter became aware.
I was still dressing his wounds, very anxious about what happened to him. He dropped the sword and held on tight, kissing my face as if to reassure himself that I was really there. He was shaking. I held him, until he was satisfied. It wasn't very long until he realized the Owen and Benedict were in the room. What the hell was that!
Benedict asked him if he was unclear in his request. DeWinter's eyebrows knitted together. No, go to the end of the corridor, wait a few minutes, and got back. But there was no end to the corridor. Benedict said that his devotion to me was admirable, but it can be used against him. Benedict said he should rest, left us to tend to him.
As Owen stitched and I patched we did talk. While I didn't care for the lesson itself, what Benedict said was valid. Not that I believe Benedict had predicted such an event. If whatever was down there responded to the individual, I know DeWinter enough to know he would get the worst lesson he could. The message was clear, though. If he always went tearing off to rescue me, someone was going to catch on quick. And use it against us. I had the same difficulty, though I like to trick myself to believe hat I would do better. I knew better. We haven't the other's reputation, which would cause most to think twice before pulling such a thing. They could do it, for real. It was something we would really have to think about.
We did get most of the story from DeWinter. He had walked down the corridor, emerging in another chamber. To find me lying of the floor with three assailants trying to kill me. He went in swinging and they won. The only thing he questioned was that he hadn't turned around and Benedict was nowhere to be found. In regards to the three men, whom he assumed had overcome me, I inquired that he hadn't questioned that? He paused a moment, then said, rather weakly, that they looked Chaosian. Owen asked me how many Chaosians I killed when I went to the Courts? I said I lost count after 32. I haven't the foggiest notion how many there were, not after all this time, nor did I mention the fact that March was with me. Still, it got the point across, which Owen hammered a bit. He has to learn to trust that I can take care of myself. I know his is protective, but I think with time, he'll learn this.
I got him to our rooms, undressed, fed, and plied with wine and asleep.
DeWinter was only a little bit sore when he woke. I was a bit surprised to see him up at the crack of dawn. He went running. He was definitely taking Benedict's words to heart.
DeWinter walks the Pattern
Today is the day. I asked DeWinter if he was going to walk the Pattern. He said yes. I wondered if he remembered what Owen had said. The if he walked the Pattern, we might very well have a child very quickly. I decided not to say anything just yet. He wanted to walk the Pattern and I was not going to dampen that opportunity. We could discuss it later.
I asked him instead who he would like to be there. He thought for a bit and said, Random, Julian, Benedict, me, Owen if she brought Kent and Martin. He really did like Kent, a lot. Kent was a good man to know.
I relayed the request and each said they would be honored. I gave Owen the invitation with a wink. She didn't take offense. She knew DeWinter had few friends here, male friends, that is.
The ceremony was simple for all its meaning. It was an open invitation, so a number of the noble families attended. Many were pleasant, some were stoic. I don't think this was against DeWinter himself, but with the rest of the family he belonged to. But, they were civil, nonetheless.
Random sat on the throne, wearing the crown. Oh, yes, he was making this very official. The sword was carried into the hall to the King. He took the sword, kissed the blade, giving his blessing to the event, and handed it to Benedict. Benedict approached DeWinter as Random recited DeWinter's accomplishments. He was being knighted because he rescued a Princess in Shadow (I suppose that would be me), for the pursuit of the enemies of Amber (the Elder), his defense of Amber against its enemies (the pirates), and for being a warrior brought back from death by the touch of a Unicorn's horn.
Benedict raised the sword, touching it lightly to each shoulder, before turning it, to be placed in the empty scabbard at DeWinter's side. And it was done. It was a very touching scene and I was full of pride for him. Who would have thought he'd get this far? I did, but certainly not this quick.
While the rest went for some drinks, our small group went to the Pattern room. DeWinter didn't waste time. He gave me a kiss, and stepped onto it.
I should know by now that he never does anything like other people. What was a walk I've done, what, four times, and seen a couple of others, his was unlike them all. From the looks of the others, they hadn't seen anything like this either.
DeWinter moved, working his way to the first veil. As he passed through, we could hear the most horrible screaming. It was horrible to have to just stand there and watch. The screaming didn't stop, though. It continued on. He moved as if he was still pushing through that first veil. Black lightning arched around him and black flames shot up. I didn't stop watching, I couldn't, but I said it was the broken Pattern being erased, right? Owen didn't answer. Damn. He got to the second veil and the screams stopped. He was still pushing forward; I could hear Random and Kent shouting at him, to keep going. It seemed like forever, but he was at the center. I could just make out his form as it collapsed.
He didn't moved for a long time, but eventually he did rise. He hadn't told me where he was going to go afterwards. I was getting his Trump out when he appeared next to me. I hugged him hard, mindful of the fact that he was very tired. Everyone there gave him congratulations. Now, he'll have that very long climb up the stairs. We proceeded up. He only leaned a little on me, so I knew he was fine. He muttered to Owen about what she had told him, about entering the center and feeling really good. He said it was true. He felt great when he could stop walking. Even hitting the cold stone floor felt good as long as he didn't have to walk any further.
We left to relieve Byslamia of Amanda. To his surprise, I let him lead. For the first time, there was no rain, no avalanche, no bandits, no tornadoes or earthquakes. He kept looking for them, but it was a perfect trip. I told him that with all his Shadow-walking being so difficult, he'll probably be much better at it than I am.
Owen has a proposal
Owen came to visit. She had a proposition. She had discussed things with Fiona and she thought it would be possible to free our Paris from the Shadow trap. It would take about five years, but with help, it could be done. The tactic would be to have people at four cardinal points along the diameter, each pulling the compressed Shadows out, releasing them equally, so the effects inside would be minimal to the Shadow inside. Five years? I could only wonder what that would mean to those inside, but I was more than willing to try. But who else would help for five years? That was what she would be working on next. She had thought I felt badly about leaving the friends and people in there to that fate
endless wars. So, she found a solution. It was a most considerate gesture. And she was serious. With the time dilation near being what it was, very little time would pass in Amber, so none would miss much there. But everyone there would be working together for about 5 years. I had no difficulty in saying I wanted to help, and DeWinter agreed as well. It wasn't until later that I realized I should have consulted him before volunteering for such a long project. I guess we've been acting unmarried for so long, albeit with amnesia, that we'll have to get back into it again.
Shadow Repair Crew
Owen managed to get quite a number of the younger Amberites together. It made sense, since the Elders have other responsibilities. It wasn't until a bit later that I found out she hadn't really asked many. She consulted Fiona about the feasibility of it all, and Julian will be available should an emergency come up, but that was all. She said we could handle it and I agree with her that we should try.
The people she's gotten thus far are: Herself, DeWinter, Sabrina, Doromea, Rinaldo, Stargazer, Steele, Nicolas, March, Coral, and myself. We're going to all be trained in what we need to do. Then we'll start with large groups and when we are proficient, we will break into pairs for the rest of the duration.
A few years later
All of us have settled into a pretty steady routine. I find I am enjoying this, knowing that it might not last. DeWinter and I found another Shadow fairly near to where we are working, but not so close we are in danger of being pulled in once more. It is another Paris, since we've gotten proficient with the language, but a number of years later. Rather than find a place for Amanda (Owen had suggested Ozmandius' home) we opted to keep her with us. First, we are her closest family, she deserved our attention, second, anything could happen to her, and I, at least, was feeling pretty protective. After all, she did have the mind of an eight-year-old, hardly suitable against any threats. Byslamia stayed with us for a while, especially when she found she liked Paris.
The first few months were relatively uneventful. We set up our household, something relatively permanent, since we were going to be here for a while. Owen set us up at working twelve-hour shifts per day. We work for about five weeks and then have five weeks off. Since DeWinter and I wanted at least one of us with Amanda for the duration, we were put on separate teams. I think this is a wise decision. After all, if we had to work together for twelve hours and then go to the same home, we'd probably go a little crazy. I love the man more dearly than anything else, but we both like having a bit of breathing room. In addition, not incidentally, we got to meet and work with other members of the family we've barely met. I include myself in that.
It was a bit uncomfortable for me, the first year. I hadn't realized just how much I was used to working and socializing with the Elders. I've worked more with Julian, Fiona, Random and the others, while I've barely met these people. They act so differently from their parents, that I was suddenly unsure of the rules. They all had their own social spheres and I had never been invited into them. So, they knew each other, to varying degrees, and it was reliving my first days in Amber. I was also startled to realize I was the youngest one there. I was unsure of myself, to say the least.
But, after a few months, it was clear that none of them seemed to dismiss what I had to say, despite my age. In fact, everyone was rather pleasant to each other and mature enough to minimize any frictions. For example, no one did anything to force Coral and Rinaldo to speak or interact together. Their relationship apparently had not ended on a good note, so they kept away from each other.
Amanda began progressing quickly after we were settled in. In fact, after about four months it was clear she was entering her teenage years. She started to notice boys. It was the cause of one of many intense discussions, actually arguments between DeWinter and me.
I wanted very much to give Amanda a steady, warm place to grow up again. Her memories would come back, but perhaps we could add a few more pleasant ones. I mentioned to DeWinter that she had this wonderful opportunity for a second chance; to get those things she hadn't had before. DeWinter was more that a little offended. He told me to get off my high horse. I was already ready to retort angrily, insulted by the phrasing. Instead, I asked if he would explain that. He said I was implying that his family had lacked something toward her. Then I remembered that there was a great deal he might not know of Doblique's past. I didn't break her confidences in me, but I told him that she's had some terrible things done to her, ones I doubt she's told many, if any others. She always used to portray herself as being frail and defenseless, but she couldn't allow herself to BE frail and defenseless. That strength came at a cost. I think she felt she shouldn't turn to anyone else, not and be equal amongst her brothers. I didn't think she ever believed they didn't care about her, but some things are extremely difficult to talk about. So, maybe we could give her a few memories that just might balance out the difficult ones, even just a little bit. DeWinter had ample opportunity to think about this. I haven't the foggiest notion what it is like to grow up with only brothers, but I know what it is like to have lots of sisters. For the most part, it is a good thing. Not better, but she will have the unique opportunity to say she did both. Perhaps when she has all her memories back, she could express this herself.
Our next set of arguments came when she started noticing boys. As a member of the Church of the Bloody Unicorn, she was essentially raised as a nun. DeWinter, when he started envisioning a second chance for her, thought of an ideal one. One where she could be innocent. Hence our next argument. If any man or woman, adult, choosing such a path, I give them full credit. I personally don't care for it. It is my opinion that Amanda should learn to be a woman. Only then could she find the role she wishes to play. And, sexual guilt isn't healthy. Besides, innocence is for children. What we wanted is a stable, happier woman, and not a repressed, innocent that can never be sheltered forever. That would make her reintroduction into the world more traumatic. Because a boyfriend will hurt her feelings, she will get into trouble, she will have difficulties. I challenged him to name me one being, beyond a baby or intellectual cripple, which is innocent. There aren't any. The world is a beautiful place that happens to have violence and death as a natural part. We should be making her ready for that, strong enough to handle everything sent at her, and secure enough to know she has help.
As for the boys, well I didn't stop him from interrogating her prospective suitors. In fact, I did my share. He did try to stop her once from going out with her friends. She had moved into the latter teens at this point. He towered over her and she just looked up at him. She said she was going out and if he tried to stop her, well, let's just say her threat was succinct. But, they did not always have difficulties. Actually, I think they were slowly redefining their relationship. Our schedules didn't match, so he had five weeks off from our project where he spent time with her. Plenty of time to get to know this new sister. Now, everything I've said is not to imply we didn't have rules. There were a few things that DeWinter would not bend on. He might not have the only say on who she saw, but he did say what she was going to do and when she would be home. That sort of thing. And while she got a little sneaky, he got sneakier. He found it was much easier to control the visitors than Amanda herself. And when he wants to be intimidating, there aren't many Shadow people that will stand up to that. And fifteen year old boys want to see their sixteenth birthday. It used to make Amanda furious.
By the second year, she hadn't many of her memories back yet. Again, we looked at her Trump and were amazed. She is the epitome of the naughty French girl, but she is happy, not the cynical, twisted, and unhappy person she had convinced herself she was. This was not only good for her, I hope, but for us as well. We have a little more preparation for having our own children, even if this was fast. Still, we have to work things out, so if our children are much smarter than we are, we'll be able to tag team them much more effectively.
By now, Byslamia has decided to go back to Amber. Amanda doesn't really need anyone to watch over her anymore, though she stills doesn't have more than a few recollections. It was really nice to have Byslamia here, after all this time. She and DeWinter got along well, and much of the wisdom I've gained is from our little chats. After all, she went through this with me.
A Few More Years
I can't believe how much time has passed. It seems so quick. This morning, as is was preparing to go out, I looked in the mirror and was struck that I haven't changed a bit. Yet, in a few years, I'm going to be forty. I was startled that there aren't gray hairs, or age lines. It kind of hit me right then that I really could live to be hundreds of years old. DeWinter just chuckled.
We are almost done with our work. We started out in specific teams. Owen coordinated everything so that we all got equal time away, and no one was left to carry any undue burden. The teams started out as: Stargazer & DeWinter, Owen & Steel, Rinaldo & Sabrina, Coral & Nicholas, March & myself. But, by the time Byslamia was leaving, Stargazer had to leave to attend to some personal business. So things got a little shuffled around. Steele was paired with Sabrina, Owen with DeWinter, Rinaldo with Nicholas, March with Doromea, and Coral with me.
What was interesting is how individual each are. Not as people, but they really are very, very distinctive. I would say in an extreme way, but in a focused manner.
Coral is ve3ry sophisticated. She and Owen spoke often because they are both mothers but she is also a bit older than the rest of us. She's actually quite casual in speaking with her, so no one had any trouble approaching her. I, myself, used the reason of seeking advice about Amanda to strike up a conversation. I quickly realized I didn't need to do this with her.
March and I worked well together, but that was no surprise. He is the most open of all the Amberites. As unlike the image of an Elder as one can get. He never has a problem saying that he has no idea about some topic. He's not gullible by any means, but he is easily tricked. He saw this project as something very serious, important. Millions of lives could be hanging in the balance. So when, say, Doromea had a little fun with him, she was usually successful, because he thought we were all very serious, all the time. But, he has an extraordinary sense of humor, like his father, able to shrug off almost anything with ease.
Rinaldo is as witty and intelligent as the first time I met him. He's clever and creative, able to make anyone have a good time.
Steele, well I really don't' remember meeting him before. We had a lot in common, though. We both grew up, aware that we were in a royal family. He is very accomplished and responsible. Responsibility drips from him. He's a natural athlete. I've taken to sparring with him. He told me he was pretty good. I think so I could change my mind in case I would feel embarrassed. I looked forward to it. He also warned me that he's been told he has a very subversive nature. I grew curious at this and he said yes, he tends to share what he knows. He will teach anyone what he knows. I had to laugh. So we sparred. He isn't good. He's very, very good. I only hope I'll improve.
Nicolas. He can talk about any thing, any subject. A rather polished dilettante. But for all his talking, he never talks about himself. He's interested in everything, but you'll never figure out what he favors, what he likes and dislikes. He doesn't have the polished manners of Rinaldo, but he exudes sincerity. He's the closest to me in age. About 56-57 years old.
Doromea. She's not unlike her counterpart, De L'Morte. She lives fast and hard. Thought, unlike De L'Morte, she can keep up that lifestyle. She's mercurial. She can intensely pursue something and then in a moment's notice, become completely bored with it. She's very independent. More so than anyone else. She has no problem going off and being alone for years, if she wanted to.
DeWinter. He started out as uncomfortable as I was. But he's always been flexible. He spent a few months watching, seeing people's habits, evaluating what he saw, assessing. Part of his natural intuitiveness has been thrown off by having walked the Pattern. He kept waiting to me arrested for a crime he didn't commit, or being challenged to a duel because some irate father thinks he's compromised his daughter. No thieves, no assassins, no plague, war or major catastrophe. He kept waiting for it to, until he realized it wasn't going to. Then he began to relax and associate with others.
Owen. She's the true subversive of the group. She has this wonderful façade around her, convincing everyone that she is very correct, very proper. It's a fairly strong veneer. But, once you see past it, she really is a rebel of sorts. A sly comment there, a jest here, not to be mean or cruel, but to mix things up a bit. Let's see what happens.
Sabrina. The social chameleon. It took a while to realize that she was partnered with Doromea. Her social skills are almost unmatched by anyone in the group, with the possible exception of Rinaldo, or perhaps Nicholas. She's athletic like Steele, but not intimidating, smart like Rinaldo, easy-going as Coral. It's as if she picked up a little bit of everyone.
Stargazer. The enigma. A gentle soul that is not easily fathomable. He is a very learned man, very smart man, willing to teach anyone. Unfortunately, he isn't the best teach in the world. I attended a number of his impromptu seminars on various topics, but I spaced them fairly far apart.
There were others that came to visit.
Octavia, March's interest, stayed for quite some time. She has an astonishingly brilliant mind. A sort of scholar/mage. It didn't take long to see that she was completely enthralled by March. It was like looking at my Mother, when she called Evander a god. It was the same look. She's careful, though, not to let it show. She knows March wouldn't appreciate it. But, it could get unpleasant. I tried to talk to her, using analogies of other's experiences, approaching if from any number of angles. She knew what I was saying. Agreed with me, even. But the thought never occurred to her that it applied to her. Sigh. I told Owen because March is oblivious and someone is going to get hurt. We can't stop it, but we can watch the pieces fall.
Kent. He compliments Owen. He's gentile, where she can be brusque. He was raised as nobility, where she was raise commoner. He is noble, but has no airs or pretentious. I think that is what DeWinter likes best about him. And, because he is respected, and is friends with DeWinter, DeWinter perhaps got a little more opportunity in getting to know the others. DeWinter's reputation can be a little off-putting. It's almost as if they thought: His side of the family has waged one or two wars against Amber. But, if Kent is his friend, he's probably a nice guy. Kent was usually at our door, dragging DeWinter out to do something or other
Grace. A woman from Shadow. A sort of Renaissance woman. She's an actor, a secretary, well traveled, but not jaded. She doesn't worry about keeping up with any of us, but likes the opportunity to meet interesting people. A bit of an adventuress
I found that occasionally she is partnered with Doromea and Sabrina. There isn't a resentful bone in her body. Just watching her, I learned to relax a bit, putting my own worries away a bit.
DeWinter made a few friends. Of course, Kent was always high on the list. March thought he was great, though DeWinter occasionally made out as March was the "little boy" following him around. March would show up at the crack of dawn for some running (DeWinter is still doing that), and then they would be fishing, riding, or lifting cars. March is incredibly energetic. DeWinter would come back home, grumbling about being dragged out of bed. Doesn't he realize what girl friends are for? He's a married man; he wants to stay in bed. As much as he tried to convince me he thought March was a pain in the ass, there was never any force behind it. And they would be off the next day. March is a little insidious. He always made sure DeWinter enjoyed himself.
Because Rinaldo is also a bit outside of the group, by his own reputation, he had decided he was going to give Rinaldo a chance. DeWinter worked hard at making friends. But, somewhere along the lines, it didn't work out. He just couldn't figure Rinaldo out. Rinaldo would tell him that he thought riding was the best sport in the whole world. But, then DeWinter would hear him saying to someone else that sailing was the best sport in the whole world. Which was true? In the end, he just didn't know where he stood with Rinaldo and was on the point of giving up. I could see that this puzzled Rinaldo, who then doubled his efforts to regain DeWinter's regard, but DeWinter wasn't having any of it. They were crossing lines of communication without meeting. It was a shame, because they were both good people.
I waited until I realized they were not going to work this out. I didn't want to interfere, he's a grown man after all, but it was a simple problem really. I finally took an opportunity to have a quiet chat with Rinaldo. I explained what I saw and he agreed with the events; though he didn't see what he had done wrong to drive DeWinter away. He did believe what he was saying. While I believe Rinaldo was sincere, it is difficult to gauge sometimes. He wasn't ever lying to DeWinter, but his assessment of DeWinter was just a hair off. With DeWinter's experience with the family, he didn't want friends whom he couldn't trust were lying to him. Rinaldo was appearing to be hidden and DeWinter likes not just straightforwardness, but the chance to see his honesty, his reasoning behind things. It was then that I realized he didn't know DeWinter's past. He asked when the Church had gotten a hold of DeWinter. I said DeWinter's mother founded it. Rinaldo's mouth formed an 'oh' as things began to fit into place. Besides, I have past experience with him, to form my own favorable opinion. DeWinter did not have that opportunity. Rinaldo listened, thought, and his eyes lit up. He understood.
I think that Rinaldo didn't have many friends either. Lots of acquaintances, but few true friends. I know that DeWinter would never betray a friendship, not without a very, very good reason. And I didn't think Rinaldo would risk what few friends he has. I left my interfering at that, hoping Rinaldo would appreciate DeWinter. So, Rinaldo got DeWinter away, and they started talking again.
This occasionally proven to be almost annoying. The two got talking and then became almost inseparable, the best of friends. Now I'm not the clinging type. In fact, I have the habit of leaving people to their own devices, trusting them to explore what they will, or not. Especially adults. But, when DeWinter had his five weeks off, there were times I barely saw the man for a week at a time. I would see him just long enough to have something to eat and off they would go. One or the others were always walking through to collect the other for some jaunt. It's a good thing I can occupy myself and am not the jealous type. I probably should make sure there is a room ready for Rinaldo when he visits
My own experience has proven to be equally interesting. Coral is very complex. I learned that she is a daughter of Oberon, an Elder herself. But, she was raised away from Amber. Her parents are still alive, so the family has firmly kept this secret, out of respect for them. They would be hurt if they learned the truth. She was the Queen of Kashfa, but handed that role to her daughter. Now she lives in Begma, as a noble. She wears an eye-patch, so I was curious how she got hurt. I wonder how long it will be until she grows it back, as Corwin did.
She's rather strange in some ways. Often she will begin to say something, only to stop herself and change topics. She almost has the air that DoBlique did, that tragic, ill-fated femme fatale air. As I said, she's personable and casual, but she doesn't always connect with people. I can understand that. I can figure out people, but I don't always connect, at least, it takes me a long while to have lasting relationships. Perhaps that is why I was so distraught at having to leaving Pablo, Monad, and the others. All that time we proved ourselves to each other; it was nothing short of criminal to leave them.
Coral had run her country for a long time. I don't know why she left it, since she said she really enjoyed it. But, I found myself empathizing. I was also trained in public service. I did enjoy my work in Paris. I was only the amnesia that made things unbearable at times. So, we both had to figure out, what next. I've coasted for the last few years, putting the issue aside. There was little else I could do. Garnath almost ran itself, so I focused on my private life. I suspect that Coral has been coasting far longer than I have.
Over the last year and a half, working twelve hours a day with her, I got to know her a little bit. I'm certain that she is more than a little in love with Rinaldo, still. I wonder what he had done to cause such a rift. Or, what she had done, that she couldn't forgive herself. She never, ever talked about this. For her part, she was interested in finding out why Julian thought so much of me. At least, that is what she said. I was surprised. I know Julian and I have a good relationship, but I had no idea that this was knowledge to many others. Nor that it was so flattering. Unless she exaggerated? How had she learned of this? What had she heard? I never did find out those answers.
We talked a bit about the Pattern. It seemed to be a strong interest with her. She said that we are the Pattern. We are more important that it, it lives through us. We carry it with us. The universe is split in half, so to speak, with Chaos on one side, and Amber on the other. Have I been to the courts? Yes. She hadn't been there. Could I use the Pattern there? Yes. The Pattern goes beyond the boundaries. We carry it with us. Without us, it becomes meaningless. We are very dangerous because of this, especially when we are young. We live outside the rules, and that makes us dangerous. And, while people are right to fear us, what we are doing here is probably very good.
Every once in a while she would ring up my age. Sometimes I bristled at this, because she almost appeared to be dismissing what I had to say. But, I don't think she was trying to be unkind. It's almost as if the idea of personal experience surmounted everything. It's a trait that many of the family have. With all the varied backgrounds, ages, and experiences, it is the only thing that we can gauge each other. So, when I speak of something my Mother has said, or Byslamia, or DeWinter, or any number of people, no I do not have the direct experience. But I am surrounded by some very wise people. I try to learn. So, I dampen my reactions and sally forth in our discussions.
So, we talked. Just the other day, she was particularly disjointed. As I said, she often would begin to speak, then cut herself off to change the topic. It was as if she was arguing with herself. On impulse, I asked her just how many people are in there. She shrugged and said a few million.
We filled the hours with an amazing range of topics. Once, we were talking about roaches of all things. I couldn't recall how we ever got onto the subject, but we did. We never know where our talks would lead. I found it entertaining to keep up with her.
And through all this, Amanda, no DoBlique has steadily grown. Just after the third year, we could see that memories were starting to return. We would be talking and she would refer to something she had not remembered before. Little bits at a time. Intellectually, she was becoming older than I was. By the following year, she started using magic. At least that aspect had waited. I was confident she had the maturity to use it safely. They way she spoke; I put her at about her early forties. By this time, rather than missing pieces, small pieces were all that were missing. DoBlique was back.
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