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Cassandra's Diary.18

Day 32/17
A little mystery cleared up

I really had no idea it would be so difficult to catch up on things. There are so many little things that happened, each not particularly striking, but it all adds to a slightly different picture than when we started.

For instance, I've taken up some studies. Since DeWinter and I do not have our “time down” at the same time, and DoBlique has increasingly gone off to what interests her, I have five weeks alone during the day, all at one time. So, I went about, collecting a rather large fund to donate to the university. I just wanted to sit in on classes. I thought I'd be able to work ahead or catch up in between those breaks. I was immediately dubbed “the heiress that wants to audit classes”. That meant they would agree to me using a seat from time to time. A small price to pay for funding.

I started with veterinary medicine, but that proven easier than I expected. I really had already learned a bit. Perhaps later we'll go to Glantri, where their knowledge base is bigger. At the lease, they have knowledge from other Shadows.

While I was doing this, I decided to take up the guitar. Not really for performing, but to better myself. It can be a rather reflective exercise, which I find appealing.

The most interesting study came when I began to look at law. I've had some practice at it, from Mycenea, but really working into the details, I really love the intricacies, the complexity of this discipline. I found myself drawing upon not only my experience, but occasionally going to Amber to get copies of older treaties, case studies, and the like to compare and evaluate. There are many classifications, though I find myself both drawn to Constitutional law, international politics, and criminal studies. The structures of due processes, evidence, court procedures, statues all are interesting. I'll have steamer trunks of information to bring back to Amber before I'm done. And this was just one Shadow.

Coral and I, as I said, got to be good friends. She really is quite approachable; I even felt I could ask her about her eye. It's been years, yet there has been no sign of it healing, despite her being an Amberite. When I asked, she rose, got a bottle of port, saying it was gong to be a long story.

She met Merlin a very long time ago. He was very interesting, dynamic. He showed her a bit around the city and got to know him a bit. But he was subject to “fits” of psychosis, a result of walking the Pattern. Apparently, those who do this can be afflicted for years until they come to terms with it, or heal completely. He would often see things no one else could. I could sympathize, having seen ghosts and such, but she seemed to imply what he saw wasn't there. Once, while walking along a Kolvir's cliffs, he thought he was going being attacked. Later, in the castle, in one of the corridors, he began shouting up and down the corridor. She saw nothing, but he seemed to think someone was there. At one point, he went to one wall, touching it, and then casting something at the wall. He then tackled her as a large explosion erupted, destroying the wall, floor and part of the ceiling, to the roof. In the explosion, a jagged piece of the wall struck her, blinding her one eye.

She woke in the infirmary, in a great deal of pain. They tried to stop the bleeding, but it was unsuccessful. Then, Dworkin came in and studied her for a bit. He put together a pressure pack for the wound that then did the trick. The bleeding stopped and it was then she learned he had used the Jewel of Judgment.

Merlin remembered an entirely different story, which was typical of the time. He, Random and Coral spent quite some time talking about the implications of what Dworkin had done. Coral would be in danger, but it could not be removed just yet. Still, it would be hard for others to use it. In the end, she agreed to stay close to Amber, where it would be hard to use the Jewel against her. Random decided he didn't need to place her under a house arrest, for her protection.

Years passed relatively peacefully, but there were consequences. There were quite a few kidnappings by mercenaries who were working for Chaos. The first time, Rinaldo and Merlin rescued her. By this time, she realized that Merlin's difficulties were too much for a stable relationship just then. Instead, she married Rinaldo, and they had a child. The second time, mercenaries again, she was kidnapped. Benedict and her daughter got her out. The third time, Random said enough was enough and they removed the Jewel. Her eye never healed. I asked if she could see with it and she laughed. Her laugh was real, but also tinged with just a bit of hysteria. Oh, yes, she could see. She took to wearing the eye patch, so what she saw really only manifested while she slept. Usually. I'm wondering if anyone would know how to help her. Given Dworkin's eccentricities, she hasn't contacted him. But, there has to be someone else.

Rinaldo has taken to hosting monthly social gatherings, especially around what this Shadow calls Christmas. It started out as irregular things, but he's settled into one a month. He's been making special efforts with most of the ladies, trying to bring down barriers. He and DeWinter are still great friends, though sometimes talking on completely different wavelengths. I think Rinaldo has spent so long obfuscating the truth, that it is very difficult to see when he is telling the truth. He looks a DeWinter, who exudes honesty, and is, I think, a bit amazed that he could be that way. You may not like what DeWinter says, but you know what he feels and thinks, that it is the “real deal.” Rinaldo is both mystified and appreciative. Perhaps Rinaldo is trying to learn just a little bit of that.

Rinaldo and I have had great fun at these parties. He's a talented flirt and it is always a pleasant exercise. Now, with DeWinter being as honest as he is, he just doesn't understand flirting. He first thought that Rinaldo was “coming on to me.” I tried to explain that it was harmless. That there is social flirting and intimate flirting. The first is to bestow compliments and whimsical parleys at each other. The second, is the same, but with the goal of, well, intimacy. Rinaldo and I were practicing the first. He didn't understand. I even spoke to Owen, asking who might be “safe” with “demonstrations.” I had thought Steele might be, but I quickly saw his interest grew a bit too direct. He was taking it seriously. I backed away from a potentially difficult situation quickly. Owen, in response, just shrugged. She said she's been flirting with him for over a year and he still hasn't noticed. It started out as harmless, and still is, but now she wonders just how far she could go before he notices. I had to laugh, long. He is an amazing man, but sometimes he has the densest blinders. Sometimes, I wonder if he isn't better off not knowing how women almost throw themselves at him.

So, I started my campaign to teach flirting. Rinaldo picked up on what I was about right away. I even flirted a bit with Doromea. She knew I wasn't in the least bit serious, so we became a bit outrageous about the whole thing. Nicholas, too, seemed to enjoy it, though aside from Rinaldo, no one knew why I was doing this. Harmless fun.

Rinaldo though was a bit more…personal in his flirting. He liked to push the limits between social flirting and intimacy, occasionally touching my arm and the like. I admit that flustered me a bit. DeWinter, while Rinaldo and I were to one side, remarked in passing that Rinaldo was “in danger of making an ass of himself.” He would have walked on but for my hand stopping him. Rinaldo excused himself and I got to talk with DeWinter alone or, at least, to one side of the salon. DeWinter thought that Rinaldo should have been a bit more aware that he was making me uncomfortable, so he was just giving him a friendly warning. Trying to explain that his warning might not have been received as he hoped didn't work. I even made an analogy to battle. If he was in a campaign and another general said such a thing, would it make sense? If he reviewed his strategies, his planning, his supply lines, and saw that all was fine, would the message make sense? It was a long talk. Rinaldo passed by looking at us as though we were a bit touched. All he heard was talk about feints and battle maneuvers and I know he wondered how we got into such a conversation.

Later, I did explain the differences in flirting to him. He responded that he thought there were four types of flirting. Flirting with ideas, which is solely intellectual, social flirting, intimate flirting, and flirting with oneself. He, himself, when alone, has been known to flirt with his horse, just to keep up practice. Owen had joined up by that point and we all laughed. Then I realized he was being honest. Oh, my. How odd.

Since Shadows time flow is different, I've taken to making the first day of the fourth month of each year as our anniversary. I don't know what I'll do if we go somewhere where there isn't a fourth month! Still, it is so easy to forget about time. I've celebrated my birthday once in the last 17 years, and that was my wedding. So, it's easy to forget the little celebrations that remind us why we got married in the first place. Not to mention, I think it is important to DeWinter. Between the two of us, he is the more romantic and ideal. One year, I rented a little villa by a beach, a bit of recreation from our honeymoon. Others were just quiet dinners between the two of us, perhaps a bit of traveling. I would take my leave, find somewhere nice and Trump him through for the day. Little things, like that.

It has occurred to me that DeWinter and I have been here for years and he has walked the Pattern. Since we are enacting our circumstances, so why do we not have children yet? I asked him if he was ready and/or interested in starting a family. He gave an emphatic yes. So, I posited why this hasn't happened. Enter Dr. Owen.

We went through a short battery of tests. She tested whether our energies had saturated us but it showed only about 3%, well within normal levels. DeWinter was no longer sterile, since he walked the Pattern. She was at a loss, and I don't thing she liked that one bit. The only answer was that we were not both hitting our Circumstances, which is required for us to have children. One way to test would be with hypnosis. Anxious to have an answer, we both agreed. She would put us under and explore just what our Circumstances were. If she could trigger a response, we would know if we were hitting them.

DeWinter offered to go first. I think he was convinced he was the problem and wanted to get it out of the way. I wasn't so sure. It's so hard for him to relax; it took almost an hour and a half for him to be under. Owen patiently worked, drawing him deeper and deeper. Finally, he was ready.

Owen asked him about when he was first interested in me. He replied that it was when DoBlique expressed attraction to me. “I'd jump her bones in a minute” I believe was the phrase. That led him to look at me, really look. The next time, when we were facing Lilith, he was more than a little excited. The way I was facing off Lilith. I was just standing there, not letting myself be intimidated by the dragon. Did I stand in any special way? No.

Is it more exciting when I was focused on someone else, or when I was focused on him? When I was focused on him. When had he felt an aching need? When I was standing there at the warehouse that night in Paris, with the Resistance, with an army around us, defiantly setting terms. He didn't know who I was, but he was very aroused. Was there any time when it was stronger? Yes, in Glantri, when I let him leave the hospital so he wouldn't encounter any complications with the authorities there. If I were a Priestess of the Unicorn, would that make me more exciting? She's not a Priestess of the Unicorn. Owen shook her head. Such linear thinking. If I was? No. Does the idea intrigue you? He shrugged, if I wanted that, it was okay with him. Pretend it was our tenth anniversary, what would you do to give you both pleasure? I'd make a bookend out of the skull of the Jagger Jesby. I had to put a hand over my mouth not to laugh. Part of me thought it was a sweet idea, but another wondered what he was thinking. It wasn't the most romantic notion he's ever expressed. What would he want me to do for him? Just some time alone, maybe in Shadow, with him. Did I ever speak of Shom Dao? Infrequently. What did he think I felt about my experiences there? They were deeply meaningful. What if I wanted to go back there for a while? That would be fine. Would he want to go with me? Yes, if I didn't mind. Going back to before he met me, what were his experiences like? Moments of closeness between gulfs of solitude. What were his past women like? Vivacious, mature, knowledgeable. Did I have anything more than that? Incredible passion tempered by discipline. Does she exercise discipline when I relate to him? Sometimes. Often. How do you feel about that? She has a good sense of what is appropriate at what time. Do you have imagination? No. Did you have imagination as a boy? No. Were you given a chance to develop an imagination as a child? No.

She brought him out of it. It all seemed to reinforce her feeling that DeWinter's Circumstances were very similar to Oberon's. He would be excited by very strong, competent women who are passionate about something. It should be very easy for him to enact his Circumstances. My mind flashed at the few times I've been very angry or frustrated with him. Each time, after I had stood up to him, we'd made love. Well, our fights would turn out nicely, at least.

Then it was my turn. With all my mediation, I was ready in under a minute. I had had some time, watching, to be prepared for what she would ask. Of course, she didn't ask any of those questions. Her opening question was, Have you ever been blinded by excitement by DeWinter? Two images came to mind. The first was when we had just finished fighting the vampire horde. DoBlique was tending to his injuries and I had the chance of seeing him nude. Tall, virile, very masculine and attractive, all muscles and grace. The second was a time when he was laughing, at my notion of patents. He could hardly stand, he was laughing so hard. He laughs outright so rarely. Do I see any similarities between the two? Expressions of power, powerful emotions. When was my first conscious awareness of his attraction? While we were fighting the vampires. There were thousands of them, yet he was asking me why I was there. As if we were having a normal conversation. I could barely take my attention off the attackers. I was impressed by his skill and aplomb. How did it feel to fight at his back? I liked the feeling of mutual dependency. Afterwards, did you like seeing him? Yes. A lot? An emphatic Yes! How much? There are times I really hate clothing. Do you remember how I classified you Circumstances? Yes. You titled it “Inappropriate partner.” How do you feel about that? I don't like it. I thought about it, it doesn't make a difference. It isn't right. What did you feel when you saw DeWinter walk the Pattern? Fear, that something would go wrong. Anxiety, when I heard the screams. I didn't want him to have to relive some of his past. Pride, because he always does what he needs to. He can do anything if he has a mind to it. How would you describe watching him? A symphony in motion. When Owen and I sparred, did you like having DeWinter watch? Yes----Why? I wanted him to see my skill and I didn't have to hold back with Owen. I liked the fact that the man I was interested was watching me, no one else. It's your tenth anniversary, what would you like him to do? I remember the night in Glantri. He slowly ripped off his clothing. That was exciting, but I don't know enough to know what else he could do. What would you do for him? It's too important; I don't know what he would find special then. You're in a dark jungle, you can't see far, but you are surrounded by people who are gong to attack you. You know this is true? Is this exciting? Yes. Is the idea of me rescuing him exciting? Very much. How about him rescuing you? Same. Any other times you felt like this? On the battlements at Grey Demesne, during the Vampire attack. And when I was in House Merquier. Were you aware of March? Yes, he looked good fighting. What about the ride on Morgenstern? Definitely.

She stopped the session, pretty satisfied with the results. It is her thought that DeWinter was hitting his Circumstances but I was not. At least, not all the time. She posited that danger seemed to set mine off. Wonderful, we'd have to find a battle somewhere so we could produce children. Charming setting, hmm? She thought that the first time we experienced it, at Grey Demesne, I was so unfamiliar with it, and it registered as dangerous. We would have to find someplace that I would think was dangerous, but wasn't. That pretty much left out any planning on my part. If I knew what was going on, I'd know it wasn't dangerous and it wouldn't work. I could live up to what DeWinter needed to perceive, but he'd have to take charge of this. It did occur to me that we could go on a hunting trip or something. Even if I know we're setting things up, a hunt can always go wrong, so there is that element of danger.

Owen said we had plenty of time. She even suggested we experiment a bit. She Trumped Kent and brought him through, then took us through a Trump card so a shop in another Shadow. I'd never seen such a place, with all sorts of costumes and devices. It was a two-story building, like a remodeled warehouse. Brick walls, polished wood floors, and brass fixings throughout. Any interior walls had been removed to open the place up. DeWinter took my arm and we made a circuit through the building with him explaining what most of the things were for. There were a couple of things that puzzled even him, but it was intriguing. Again, I've no context to place these possible experimentations on. I was bemused, though, that Owen would have a Trump of such a place. It implies a great deal of shopping. When we were done, DeWinter said there were a few things he had an eye on, so I left him to carry on. I found Owen and we perused through various body oils and paints. I definitely wanted to try some of those. Especially the flavorings. They even had stockings that glowed in the dark. Hmm, dancing in these might be interesting. I took a pair as Owen did the same.

We chatted a bit more about Circumstances. It seems that I was following fairly true to form for Faiella's line. Eric proved the same when he chose Tatasha who, as a weir, could be formidable indeed. Corwin was the same. He was drawn to a number of women who were in some danger, or were dangerous themselves, notably Dara. The danger there was knowing Benedict could find out about his relations with his granddaughter. Deirdre was similar. Once Oberon decreed that full siblings could not mix, she was drawn to Corwin, or Eric, because of the danger, should Oberon find out what she was doing. I don't know if she meant this, but Owen implied something. Namely, I'd have to be careful not to let myself be ruled by this. Perhaps, in a way, Eric and Corwin always fought because of the danger it represented. Oberon never told them about Circumstances, so they didn't know to fight it or, at least, to temper it. So, they were drawn together, at odds until the end. Strangely, if I remember the story correctly, Corwin seemed to start running out of hatred just after Eric and he fought. When Corwin realized he was as good as Eric was. Eric posed no more danger. I might read the story again, to see if this is correct.

As far as DeWinter and I are concerned, we're working this out. His chivalric intentions, though honorable, are actually undermining his perceptions of me. While it is nice, in a polite social setting, we'll have to make sure it doesn't change his underlying perceptions. It doesn't help that at times I think he's worried he's “taking advantage” of me, being as young as I comparably am, but I can deal with that. And I am relieved that we do have some control over when we have children. So, perhaps when we are finished here, we'll do something about that.

We still have to find Max and get him home. I think I will take DeWinter to Shom Dao. A part of me is thinking that might be a very useful place in the next year or so. I'll have to have a talk with Llewella about that, and the others at Shom Dao.

Day 46/17
The Watcher

Well, after years of quiet living, relatively speaking, things eventually had to break. Owen called us all together for a little meeting. She let us chat amongst ourselves for a long while. Long enough that I wondered if she hadn't just wanted us to socialize some more, though we do that regularly already.

Then she called for our attention and explained that there was some sort of Shadow Barrier surrounding us and the Shadow we were working on. It was erected sometime in the past week or so. What's more, she senses something intelligent either in the Barrier itself, or behind it. An alien intelligence, watching us. Behind the Barrier, she just senses an alien atmosphere, possibly methane. The Pattern has had a null effect on it, and Trump cannot go through. It was not Chaosian in nature, though she could not say for certain that it might not be affected by Magic. Thus far, she has limited her experiments to purely passive ones, not wishing to draw attention to herself, or alert the Watcher to our awareness of its existence.

She had to wait until it “went away” before starting the meeting, because it had been watching us until then. Apparently, she has developed a fine sense of its mental proximity.

We turned the issue around, none of us having much in the way of suggestions. I really must think about learning magic or something. It seems to be at the heart of many of the problems we face. We had only one possibility of getting out. We could drop into UnderShadow and pass through. She seemed fairly confidant that it could work. The problem would be that we might not be able to take everyone out that way, especially the non-Amberites, like Diana and Olympia.

We still have 6 months left on our project. Owen suggested we go about our daily work and lives and just be aware for anything unusual. For my part, the only thing I could offer was to possibly use the empathetic link with either Sir White or Morgenstern, to try and draw them here. Either one would attract someone's attention, probably Julian. It was worth attempting because the Watcher might not be aware of the possibility and hadn't blocked it, thereby giving us at least one chance. Owen seemed to agree.

As for it watching us, it only seems to watch each of us for about five minutes a day, although she said one person got considerably more interest. She was unwilling to tell us who that is, until she spoke with him. She did let he gender slip, though, so I narrows the possibilities.

As to why it is doing this, we could only speculate heavily. This Shadow strongly reinforces the Arts and Relationships. I can see that to a large degree. DeWinter's inability to understand flirting, notwithstanding, I'm usually surrounded by artists of some sort. I haven't found it easier to learn to play the guitar, but I now realize that my appreciation and perception of the subtleties of artworks and music has increased dramatically. I wonder how I will hear Vivant sing and Julian play. Further, we are a very diverse group of individuals, yet we have gotten along very well over the last few years. I am perfectly willing to attribute that to maturity and skills involving adaptability, but still, there have been almost no problems in all this time.

That evening, DeWinter spent a great deal of time rearranging pictures and furniture throughout the house. I haven't yet asked him why he is doing this.

Day 49/17

I meditated today, just as I do most mornings, hoping to pick up some sense of this presence. I saw nothing yesterday, but I noticed today that I have my own bit of 'watchers'. A flock of ravens perched nearby. This is not unusual, except that they arrive in groups of three. I start out and there are three, then three more arrived, then three more. The total always reached nine. They keep their distance, about 20 yards away. The second watcher is solitary, a large black dog, possibly feral, lounging just inside a stand of trees in the park where I meditate.

I tried to Trump Sir White, utilizing the empathy between us. Perhaps because I was using the Trump, it did not work. I tried working around the Trump energy, but still nothing. It was a hope.

I didn't ask DeWinter about his rearranging paintings. It took a day or so, but I realized that he was using that as a pretext to searching the house for some sign of the Watcher.

Day 53/17

Owen called us together for a little party. Of course, this is a pretext, but still, we managed to enjoy ourselves. Eventually, the Watcher must have left because Owen became all business once again. Rinaldo started the meeting by offering a toast. He is the star attraction for the Watcher, thereby relieving us of the duty. It seems that the Watcher spends a great deal of time observing him, especially when he is having intimacies with Diana. Diane grew a little red in the face, but otherwise said nothing. I didn't even broached the subject of how Owen discovered this when she had already admitted she must be in the presence of the target.

DoBlique has been working on a spell towards getting either one of us out, or a message, I'm not certain. Rinaldo is working on a modified version of an aqua-lung, so that if we can get out, we can survive the methane atmosphere. Owen has managed to reach Dworkin who promised to tell Fiona of our entrapment. I had no idea she was in contact with him. Curious. Fiona will probably examine this from the outside and with the time differential, it might be a while.

Day 54/17

Owen joined me for my morning meditation. She observed the ravens and the dog, but declared there was no connection with the Watcher. I was pleased. The dog had been moving closer over the last few days. It's very lean, from far too few meals.

DeWinter said I shouldn't make any plans for my next chance at vacation. Hmm.

Day 70/17

We had another gathering. The modified diving suits were done and DoBlique has developed a “cloaking” spell to cover our movements against arcane observation. Now, we just have to figure out how to get out of here.

In the mornings, the dog is quite close now. He's pretty wild, very cautious, dirty and starved. It's taking all my concentration for him to feel comfortable enough to come near. Today I was able to lightly touch his side. I was a bit surprised when he spoke. Not quite like Max, but there is an underlying intelligence there. He said his name was Roskovich. He looks similar to a husky, in build and length of fur, but it's hard to tell, he's so thin and his coat is thoroughly matted.

Day 72/17
A Night to Remember

I was pleasantly surprised today. DeWinter switched with Coral so we could spend this vacation together. That night we dressed for the theatre, had dinner, and went to a number of nightclubs. It was a lovely evening. But it wasn't over yet.

When we returned home, he took my wrap and hung it in the closet. He bade me to stay where I was and went upstairs. When he returned, he held out a blindfold. It took me a few seconds to realize he wasn't playing some game, but that he had a plan. Then it dawned on me that he was going to try and enact my circumstances.

Oh, my.

I let him put it on and I was a bit surprised when he also tied my wrists. I was trying to formulate how to tell him that I wasn't afraid of him. He posed no danger to me, so even pretending wasn't going to do much. Before I could say anything, he led me outside. Now, I didn't say anything just because I was curious about what he planned. He carefully led me down the steps to the street, being very solicitous that I didn't trip. I wasn't sure I wanted anything to occur in full view of our neighbors, but he gave a signal whistle and then I heard the sound of an engine approaching. A car drew up and he left my side. I could hear him whispering with someone, but could not make out the words. I was placed in the back and the car drove off.

Now, I was a little uncomfortable. I could tell from listening that he hadn't gotten in with me. He must realize he had to be present for this to work. I calmed myself; he had to have a plan, right? The ropes weren't very secure. I tested them a bit and knew I could release myself within seconds if I had to. And, if I rubbed my cheek against the upholstery, I could move the blindfold enough to see. I didn't, but the option was there.

We must have driven for half an hour. Our house was somewhat towards to outskirts of the city, so I knew we were leaving the city behind us. Goosebumps crawled up my arms. I wanted to hit him, really. He was being very, very clever. I knew he would not hurt me, but I also knew he has the worst luck of anyone I know. It could be possible that he hired a driver who happened to be in league with the Chaosians. I could almost hear the conversation: “Oh, you want me to kidnap an Amberite? Sure. Oh, and get paid for it. No problem.” There was enough doubt that the circumstances were just starting. He was counting on enough doubt to get things started. Clever.

The car stopped and I was taken out.

One voice said, “Took long enough. I wasn't sure if you were coming.”

Another voice, not DeWinter's said, “No, we're okay.”

“Okay, where's the money?” I heard paper changing hands.

“Say, she's prettier than I thought she'd be.”

“Never mind about that, help me get her over there.”

“No way, I'm not laying a hand on her, not for that.”

Now I was certainly nervous. This didn't sound scripted at all. And I still hadn't heard DeWinter's voice, not once. They moved me off a ways, off the road, and onto a flatbed. Just in case, I began to work on the ropes. The two men were off a ways, whispering. The ropes were very loose now, but one of them approached before I could do more without attracting attention. I realized I was in a horse-drawn cart, for the wood underneath me moved, as if a horse had shifted. It was pretty cold out earlier, but the energies of my Circumstance were moving along, warming me.

It was quiet for a long time. I almost freed myself except that I thought there was someone near. Then, hands were trying to undo the blindfold. Soft curses followed that attempt. The knot was too tight, and it was too dark to see it properly. The hands dropped to my wrists, undoing those quickly. I reached up, slipped off the blindfold, and looked around. DeWinter was next to me, watching. I looked around and stepped back.

I was in a hot-air balloon. Near the basket rail along one edge.

And very, very, very high up. I don't like heights. I backed up quickly, panicked at seeing the city and roads below. I got only a step or so before I was in DeWinter's arms. His arms went around me as he kissed the back of my neck. Actually, he did not stop there at all. The energy rose up as I realized there was nowhere I could go, no place I could look without realizing we were a million miles above the ground. DeWinter continued, not allowing me to regain my equilibrium. Then, the Circumstances consumed me.

It could have been hours, minutes, days that we were up there. I lost all sense of the world around us. There was no ground tremors, no earthquakes or explosions. Everything I was focused on DeWinter, there wasn't room for anything else. That Chaosian army he could have hired could have been launching shells or cannon at us, and I wouldn't have cared. And just when I thought it was ending, he placed me on the edge of the basket. With only my hold on him preventing me from falling, the sense of danger returned and it started anew. Just when I thought we were done, he then drew a knife, slashing through one of the ropes, causing the basket to tip precariously, sending me over the edge again. For one brief moment, it seemed as if the cosmos itself looked down and approved.

Later, dressed and somewhat composed (although I was probably fooling myself about that) he got the balloon back onto the ground. Every muscle in my body was relaxed and sated. We didn't speak a word. Not even when the owner of the balloon complained vehemently about the damage done to the ropes. DeWinter just took out his wallet and counted out money. How much?

Who cared?

Day 73/17

We returned very early in the morning. The house was very still, but I didn't want the night to end. We went to our rooms, continuing our evening. Even the thought of what happened was enough to enact the Circumstances again. I was not about to let that memory fade before we got our fill. When we got inside, he did apologize for being so “sneaky” and “underhanded” about it all, but he couldn't come up with any other plan. I could only blink at him for a few seconds as I realized he really thought he'd tricked me. I told him he'd done exceedingly well and he was pleased.

Just after breakfast time for everyone else, I Trumped Owen. I apologized for the inconvenience, though I wasn't a bit sorry, and called off work. The first and only time I had done so since we started. A light inquiry on Owen's part and she knew what had happened. With a knowing smile, she broke the contact.

Day 75/17

Owen has confirmed it. I am pregnant. DeWinter made a soft “Yes!” happy that it worked on the first 'knowledgeable' attempt.

Day 112/17

We went to our monthly party. Another of Rinaldo's. With mock casualness, I apologized to everyone, but DeWinter and I would not be finishing the project. I realize that they would be carrying the bulk of the work, but with the child…

It took a moment as our announcement seeped in and I got a good look at everyone's reactions. Rinaldo, Nicholas, and Steele were plainly shocked, though I never did get anyone to admit why. March, on the other hand, was so thrilled, he almost shook DeWinter's arm right off shaking his hand. There would definitely be bruises on DeWinter's shoulder from the pounding March gave him. March was almost beside himself. Almost all of the women were immediately happy, congratulating both of us. DoBlique just looked stunned, and perhaps a little disappointed. Olympia was so plainly envious, I really felt badly about the whole thing. Perhaps I could have done this differently.

Day 114/17
UnderShadow Mistake

Owen came by to give us both a lecture on proper diet and exercise. Despite the fact that I know we eat very healthily, by any standards, I let Owen speak, if only to satisfy herself. We are all pretty determined now to get out of here. In her expert opinion, Amber is the safest place to be during this time. It did occur to me, then, why the men were so shocked. I had to stifle a laugh. I could see it occur to each, simultaneously, they were trapped in a Shadow with a pregnant Amberite, whose husband was just a bit territorial. I could see them all having visions of a marauding DeWinter, a very angry marauding DeWinter. Sigh. If they weren't so reluctant to speak about it, I might be able to put then at ease. I think.

I had an idea, which Owen thought was worth a try. I settled down as if to meditate and began walking the Pattern in my mind. I wasn't sophisticated enough to Trump from it's center, but I thought it might give enough power to my Trump. It took a long time to walk it, but eventually I was at the center. I tried to Trump Fiona, but it didn't work. I felt a very strong signal, so when I crashed into the Barrier, it was almost a physical shock. I tried using the empathy with Sir White and Morgenstern, but I didn't think it was getting through. On an inspiration, I tried for the Weir. It was a last-ditch effort, but perhaps the blood tie we hold might accomplish something.

I tried to go “down to the blood level” as I saw Sebastian do once. Actually, I still have his memories of that. I wanted to isolate out the Weir part, to make the connection stronger. It was odd. I followed the flow, moving faster and faster. It was actually pretty exciting. It was akin to riding Morgenstern, with everything a blur…

…and then everything went black.


I woke from a very strange dream. I was in some 'club', though of a very seedy sort. It was called the "Interesting Times". I had a tail and was a few months pregnant. I also wasn't wearing any clothing, which was probably wise since I was performing. I was doing nightly knife-fighting with any comers, and had been undefeated since I got there. I'd a lot of practice, so I was very, very good and I knew it. A woman offered to do a portrait of me, which would only serve as better publicity. She had long black hair and was very, very slender. She was nude from the waist up, with extremely large breasts. The next thing I knew I was awake, lying on the sofa.

DeWinter was hovering near, obviously beside himself, when the air rippled next to me. The woman emerged and somehow I knew it was Owen, though she still looked very different. Before I could say anything, DeWinter had landed a very solid punch and she was unconscious on the floor. Rinaldo, who had been off to one side, went to attend to Owen.

I not only knew who I was, but that I had been in UnderShadow. The Pattern-backed attempt to find a Weir connection in my blood was the event. I had literally moved so quickly, I had forcibly shunted myself into UnderShadow. The force of the “landing” had knocked me unconscious, and that is what caused me to lose my memory. Even thinking about it caused me to get dizzy as I felt myself being drawn down again. I'd been there for two months, but only a few hours passed here.

Owen was woken and given a drink. She brushed off DeWinter's apologies and explained that being pregnant made me much more susceptible to being drawn into UnderShadow. Usually, it's only a “shallow” drop, but my momentum must have pushed me further under than usual. It was a chilling thought. I went cold when she said that sometimes I could bring the child with me. All I could think of was Luke. And there was nothing I could do to stop it.

I had some time to dwell on that.

When Owen was done examining me, I went to find DeWinter. He and DoBlique were nowhere to be found. I Trumped him while Owen Trumped DoBlique. We got through, they were moving through the compressed Shadows, literally a battlefield. Shells were landing everywhere and it was plain they couldn't hear anything. Even when the shelling stopped, their ears were ringing so badly, there was no chance of conversing with them. I was concerned, angry, and annoyed with them. Even before Owen told me, I knew what they were doing. They were going into the Paris where we had lost our memories. They were heading for the druid's standing stones, to try and get out and get help. Owen had set up a psychic link to speak with DoBlique. They were already in, so the best thing to do now was to form a plan and for me to keep silent. To be fair, I couldn't really say anything to him. I've done some silly things, which he had every right to be angry about, and he's never said a word.

It was a simple plan. They would get to the Standing Stones and go through. DeWinter would hold his Trump. While there, he would concentrate on his Trump. If the Barrier did not stop him, he would use it to propel himself out of UnderShadow to Amber. If it did not work, he would go “home.” DoBlique hadn't thought about him being trapped in UnderShadow, so it was a good thing we called.

We waited. I don't know if I was happy or not when the air ripped open next to us and DeWinter appeared. It would have been good that he got out, but the thought of him lost in UnderShadow was not a pleasant one. Since he was physically walking into UnderShadow, we would have to clue that he was in any sort of danger. With the time differential, it could be a very long time, days or weeks, before we suspected anything. Owen Trumped DoBlique and brought her through. She turned to DeWinter and said, “I told you so.” We'll have to try another tactic.

Day 116/17
Rinaldo goes for aid

Owen and Rinaldo have come up with a plan. He is going to try and walk into UnderShadow and find a route through to Amber or the Shadows beyond the barrier. Owen believes he has a better chance of getting through than the rest of us. He, I could tell, was less than thrilled. After all, Luke is still somewhere in the UnderShadow and he might just want the very body he was most 'familiar with'.

Rinaldo asked me if I had seen Luke and my first response was to say no. But then, a ghost of memory emerged in my head. While I was acting the naked entertainer in the 'Interesting Times', there was a redheaded man, almost completely under the control of another woman. The more I thought about it, the more I was sure it was Luke. Not only did he have no memory, but also given what I saw in the two months I was there, I didn't think he had much of a mind left. He was receiving exactly the same treatment as he had visited upon me. I felt no pity for him.

I told Rinaldo in exact detail what Luke was now like and I think he was a little reassured. Diana, on the other hand wasn't happy about Rinaldo's departure. She cried quite a bit when once he left. I don't know what she was told, but she knew this was very, very dangerous.

The last I saw of Rinaldo, he quirked a grin at us all.

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