We've spent most of the week waiting. In the meantime, I've continued to pay visits to various groups. Rather than appearing to the groups that meet the status quo, I've mixed my appearance between large and small organizations, the prestigious and the obscure. For one, I'd meet more diverse people, and for another, it would mask my association with the swordswomen. The side effect for all this was that those groups that now realized they might have a chance to meet us all sent invitations. I had about three inches of invitations, which now tripled. For any given time of the day, I had at least sixteen events to choose from.
A Chaosian Ally?
Toby and Jim returned from their foray into the city. Yes, there were extensive caves. It seemed there was plenty of room for any hiding Chaosians. According to them, most of the cave system has been taken over for city utilities and water draining facilities. The rest is under water. It would take too long for them to get in and search the area. It would certainly be too dangerous. I might reconsider, if there were any maps. They thought they knew of someone who might sell them one, so I gave them the funds to do so.
Kef has found someone who might fit the profile of a Chaosian. One person has hired numerous servants; twenty have been hired just for her. She's an extremely wealthy Orsican who's been here for a number of years. Her name is Twi Gameshan. I've seen her at one or two of the functions I've attended though she looks nothing like a Chaosian. She's dark-skinned with extremely curly auburn hair. She could be a shape-changer. She's a bit of a social butterfly and owns a very large estate on the western escarpment.
Oherna had been trying to locate the man Murta had said gave him the idea of Chaosian infiltration. He did find him. The unknown man had died one and a half months ago. That would place it just after Murta sent his request to Amber. Apparently, he'd committed suicide over extensive gambling debts and hanged himself.
It was my thought that we needed additional support. Would Ambassador Chanicutt allow one of one of her people to come and assist us? It would be in keeping with King Merlin's wishes to have this matter closed. But, we were out of Amber and her jurisdiction. Still, it wouldn't hurt to ask. I was thinking Alais would be able to fit in well here.
I Trumped back to Amber and went to see Martin. He was in a meeting but I was told to wait. He must have cut the meeting short, for the representative left shortly after. The door was left open and Martin waved me inside.
I filled in a few questions he had from my report. I said I had an idea of how to handle it. He was silent for a long while and then said he didn't want to know. I was curious about this. He said that I might try going to the Chaosian Embassy. He didn't want to know about it. I was too honest to go along with him later by saying, "we never had this conversation." I am not so naïve to know that sometimes we have to do what is necessary to get the job done. I replied that I could do this, and would, though I wouldn't necessarily like it. He rose and placed a hand on my shoulder, saying he was glad I wouldn't like it. Then he sat back down. He said that if I could get the Embassy to help, it would work to our advantage. He just couldn't give me any authorization. I agreed to this. He also suggested that we have Murta examined for any mental coercion. He ended the meeting by telling me not to burn down the city. I looked questioningly at him and he said that March once destroyed two battleships when he was there. It had taken a lot of money to hush that up. I had to smile and left.
I went to the Embassy. It was a beautiful, sunny day with invigorating salt air and a wonderful cool breeze. I knocked on the door and was eventually let in by two silent guards. One spoke through a speaking tube and I was let in to the "detention parlor." I suppose it's one way to call a waiting parlor. The door was locked behind me, which didn't make me feel any more secure.
I was feeling worse after waiting for an hour and a half. Madame Chanicutt greeted me herself and led me up the stairs to the third floor to her private quarters. I can't say I know much about Chaosian etiquette, but it seemed this was a privilege.
I told her what was happening, and what we suspected. She was resistant to the idea, but did say that when if she granted my request, I would owe her a favor. As to what this favor would entail, it would be left up to my discretion to fulfill it in the future.
She then said she would "lend" me Bytra. Alais is the Keeper and cannot leave the Embassy. Madame Chanicutt poured a revolting drink; it was clear, but it looked like some
things were swimming inside, like little ants. After pouring a few more ordinary drinks, she summoned Bytra and gave her the drink. Bytra drank, then began choking, dropping the glass and hitting the floor.
She twitched there for a few minutes as I struggled to keep the horror off my face. I didn't have to worry about the Ambassador looking at me; she was to busy crushing underfoot the escaping
things from the spilled drink.
Bytra rose, with a placid look on her face. The Ambassador said "Tell me when you have forebrain control." A few minutes later, Bytra replied that she was ready. Chanicutt gestured to me: "This is your sub-commander for the remainder of the mission. When you are returned here, you will remember nothing of what has occurred." Bytra nodded.
Trying to keep myself composed, I took her outside, where Trump would work. The shielding of the Embassy makes Trumping-out impossible. With trepidation, I Trumped DeWinter and we went through. To say the least, Bytra unnerved everyone. She would respond to no one other than DeWinter and me and that was only after I told her to respond to him.
That afternoon, while Gameshan was at another function, we took Bytra to scan her estate. Nothing. We are in for more waiting.
DeWinter had gone to meet with March. He returned a few hours later saying that March had met Gameshan a few times and she's always had money. She was very much the dilettante and socialite. So much for her being bribed to act against us.
I got the Bytra-thing to access Bytra's memories. It helped to make her act more naturally though she was still too much like a Chaosian, but that couldn't be helped. She said that if Logrus was used in Amber, she could sense it easily. Here, it was more difficult. Still, she will detect it if it is used within a few hundred meters.
We cancelled our plans in order to bring Bytra up to speed on what we've learned, and to get used to our new ally. By midnight, with our coaching, we could just barely tell she wasn't completely herself.
We attended a luncheon today. Bytra did well, no accents, no mannerisms that would betray her as Chaosian. DeWinter was otherwise occupied with examining Gameshan's home. When I later met up with him, all he could say for certain was that it was heavily warded. Nothing, and no one was going to get inside easily. And, in case that wasn't enough, the spells tended to run from the serious to the deadly, with more emphasis on the permanent end of things.
So, now what?
We did meet with Murta. He's still shaken up with the implications of what is happening around him. I asked him what does he want us to do? What would he request from Amber? We needed more that just our word and his to confront anyone with what they have done. The notion of tampering with someone's mind is alien to them and would probably not be believed. So, we needed proof, or we needed enough people to come forward. So, we made the tentative plan to contact a number of the previously notable people, to see if we could get the compulsions removed, or their memories restored. Murta helped make the list of people more manageable. The plan would be that I would make contact with them, determine if they were being controlled, and then remove those controls. We could enlist them for further contacts, strengthening the web of free people so that they can confront Gameshan, or take steps. With each person freed, the chance of being discovered would be greater, so we had to move quickly. At least within the week.
This took a few hours and Murta continued to get worked up on what was going on around him. In the end, DeWinter suggested that we put him back under the controls. I hated to admit it, but Murta simply cannot act as if all was well, if he knew it wasn't so. He would give over the game before we even got it running. In Caladon, a politician is not an actor. We discussed options, though there was little we could act on. We couldn't arrest her with what we have. Murta seemed inclined to agree that he couldn't keep the play-acting up. He knows he would give it away the moment he came into contact with Gameshan which is likely since she went to many of the important functions of the city.
I left them to talk for a bit as I went to contact Owen. I'd never placed controls on someone's mind, though I was fairly certain I could do it. Owen wasn't aware of what was going on with Caladon; she did not read the report she was delivering to Martin from me. She didn't ask me any questions either; she just needed an outline of what I was doing. She came through and talked me through the steps. It was simply a matter of restoring what I had removed, with the added condition that if Murta was alone with DeWinter, Oherna, or myself the controls would be triggered to go down, so he could speak freely. All three of us needed to be present.
Owen left and we sent someone to fetch Oherna. It would be best if no one knew we were all gathering, so I sent Toby and Jim to sneak out and bring him back. It was evening, so most would assume he was retired at home for the night. I found Toby and Jim playing cards with the guards.
In the meantime, I kept quiet, preparing myself for what I was going to do. I was more than a little nervous, for a number of reasons. I was not happy with how Bytra had come to help us, and here I was, doing the same thing to Murta. I have few illusions that ethical behavior is universal, nor an easy thing to achieve. But I was wrestling with the ideas that I was going to do this. Was it the right thing? I was fairly certain we had little choice, and Murta had agreed to it.
Still, what if I botched it? The ramifications were terrible to consider.
I got most everyone else to leave the room for this, except for Claw. She didn't want to go if I was going to do something dangerous. I raised an eyebrow at this. How did she know I was going to do something? She just shrugged and said my heartbeat had been elevated for a little while now, so I was planning something. Really, she could hear that? It's a good thing I'm not a terribly secretive person.
I got a Trump call from Jim. They were just outside the hotel but I couldn't pull them through. It felt as if they were too young, too unfocused for me to pull them through. They would have to find an alternate way through. Jim thought for a moment and thought he had an idea. I signed off to wait for a bit longer.
The second call showed me only his eyes and nose, pressed close to the card. He was just under the kitchens, near a hatch. But there was too much activity for them to slip by unnoticed. If someone could come down and use the facilities, they could get out. They were in the sewer drainpipes! Poor Oherna! I sent Bison down while instructing Claw to see that a bath was being drawn.
It took about a half an hour before they reached the suite. We knew they'd arrived long before we saw them. No matter the shadow, sewage pipes are universally disgusting. Oherna gave me a long-suffering, miserable look and gladly accepted the bath.
When he returned, he was feeling much better and accepted the drink we offered. While his attention was on us, Bytra sent the Logrus tendrils across the floor, from behind, and knocked him out. DeWinter caught him before Oherna hit the floor, and we settled him comfortable.
I had forgotten that Toby and Jim were still in the room. He saw the tendrils, thinking they were an attack, and launched himself at Bytra. They went over in a heap and I had to scramble to get him off her before either got hurt. I must admit, I didn't think she could be caught off guard like that. I told Toby it wasn't an attack and asked Bytra if she was hurt. No she wasn't, but the child should be punished. I kept my face still, and asked what would be appropriate. The answer came immediately. He should be flogged. Toby goggled at her in horror. I averted my face from Bytra, looking at Toby. I gave him a slow wink and said, seriously, that I would see to it personally. Toby caught the look and groaned, "Not again. Couldn't I put him in stocks, like the last time?" No, it apparently did little good. He nodded glumly and got out of the room. I did catch the fleeting grin.
Bytra was content with that and let the matter drop and I went to Oherna. A quick check and I saw his mind was clean of any influence. So, we woke him up and told him the whole story. He listened silently and seemed to bear little grudge for what we had to do.
The next half-hour was spent putting the controls back in Murta as they waited. Afterwards, he saw the three of us and spoke further of our plans. Then I brought Byslamia and the transformation began. He was back to believing all was well. Oherna was a bit taken aback by it all, but he held up admirably.
We had no plans this morning and DeWinter and I were enjoying a bit of a sleep-in. It was just getting interesting when I received a Trump call. I think DeWinter would have preferred that I ignore it, but since I was one of the few still accepting them, it might be something important. I accepted the call.
It was Benedict. He wanted to come through to discuss the security arrangements. DeWinter was already getting up, as was I. I brought him through. He was dressed differently than I was used to. He usually wore plain clothing; dressing down so much it was easy to forget just who he is. Today, however, he was in black and red leathers, tight-fitting. It showed him to advantage, making it plain to see just how impressive he is.
I pulled on a robe and we escorted him to our breakfast area. He said we would be attacked, probably to draw us out of our protected areas, perhaps in the next week. I asked him what we had done wrong, to give ourselves away. He looked a bit startled, or perplexed and said we'd done nothing wrong. Then how did he know we were going to be attacked? He nodded and said the probability of this occurrence is high. DeWinter stared at him, declaring "You're guessing." Benedict gave a little smile, "I believe that is what I said". Oh.
He went on to say that we would need someone outside the situation to help. I reminded him that March is familiar with Caladon, but he shook his head saying March will not be sufficient. We nee protection where we are weakest. Notably in magic and subterfuge".
I agreed with the magical part and said I had taken steps to see to that. At his questioning glance, I told him I had a Chaosian helping us. Benedict repeated, "You have a Chaosian?" Yes, I hadn't put it in my report because Martin said he didn't want to know about it.
So, I took Benedict to meet 'Bytra.' On the way, I told him of her condition. He was familiar with the procedure. She is a ghola.
When he entered the room she was in I was startled when she gave a loud hiss and backed away to the nearest wall. I looked at Benedict who'd made no further motion into the room. Was this a trap? Benedict said that she was temporarily part of a hive-mind entity. That hive is quite different from us and its senses extend differently. His own aura of power overlaps the creatures' and it makes the ghola uncomfortable. "It's a long story," was how he finished. Benedict withdrew from the room and Bytra relaxed.
Outside, he said that we should let the Caladon's handle things publicly. It would do us little good to be seen as influencing the outcome. I agreed. If any Chaosians are captured in Amberite territory, by the treaty, we are to hand them over to the Courts for retribution unless they are committing crimes, locally or against Amber, including the Golden Circle. Then they remain under the province of Amber, to have Amber justice meted out to them.
Before he left, I did introduce him to Kai-Revere, who immediately commenced crying. He almost reached maximum volume this time. It was perplexing since he usually likes meeting people. Benedict said not to worry, he often has that effect on children. As soon as I put Kai-Revere down in the next room, he settled down.
Benedict left, to attend to some other matter.
Taking the defensive, and offensive.
We have been acting as if on high alert. DeWinter isn't entirely convinced that something is going to happen just on Benedict's say-so, but I don't' want to take any chances. The first thing I did was to send Toby and Jim home. They protested that they were needed here. I reminded them of the things that have been brought into Amber, the nine-killers. It could very well have originated here and I wanted them to help to see to the defense of the estate. They caved in and went. I Trumped Mother and got her to take Kai-Revere. At least, he was safe. I was surprised how much I was missing him. I suppose I'm more motherly than I thought.
The second thing I did was to get a weapon. Swords are not allowed, so I needed one to be concealed. I Trumped Cutwind and had him ask Flora if she had something. If anyone did, it would be here. He Trumped back with a lovely ivory and cream parasol with a nice serrated blade hidden in the center. I'll have to go back to wearing Mycenean clothing in order to match the look.
Then we told Kef what we were planning with the list of names. He agreed with the plan if not the execution. It took a bit to get his suggestion out, mostly because he and DeWinter just do not get along, but it was his idea that instead of aiming for those with political power, we should be aiming for those with higher integrity. Social standing is everything here. If these people were to step forward, it would be believed before those of higher political authority. It had a ring of truth to it. All right, we'll start with his variation on the list and work in the others as we go along. He and DeWinter were becoming increasingly fractious with each other, so I concluded the meeting as speedily as possible. DeWinter just doesn't like the man.
It will be hardest to get contact with the first one. After that, it should be easier, having one or two people to back us up. I sent Oherna with a note for a meeting, ostensibly from Murta.
Then I arranged to meet with Captain Wilkes. She needed to be told something was brewing and instructed that she keep an eye on her crew, perhaps keeping them on ship for the next few days. She agreed and saw to the arrangements.
The first meeting didn't happen. We were there when Kef arrived out of breath. We've got to leave. The building was being cordoned off and Oherna had already been arrested. It seems that our target, one called Kennat, had the opinion that a clandestine meeting was an attempt at some nefarious plan and had the police called. So much for that plan. Fortunately, our contact had no idea who he was meeting, so we wouldn't be called in for questioning. We all Trumped out before we were seen.
I had had Byslamia see if any of the swordswomen could be called upon to watch Gameshan's movements. Nothing obvious. But, since she is attending so many functions, it would be easy to rotate a few women to see whom Gameshan meets. So far, nothing untoward has been seen.
This morning, I called upon Kennat, with Claw and Bytra. From the report, Kennat had resigned from his office after accruing a substantial debt due to gambling, a vice he just recently picked up.
The raid had been in the papers, so I used it as a chance to hoping he was all right. He was gentlemanly man, if a bit paranoid. He was convinced there was a conspiracy working, but he didn't know who it was or what they were trying to do. I surprised him by agreeing with him. It didn't take long to get alone with him but it took the better part of an hour to convince him that his sudden gambling was no fault of his own. Really, he had little more to lose. Eventually, with great nervousness, he agreed for me to examine him.
Very gently I went and found the controls. Someone took a bit more time and trouble with Kennat than they did with Murta. Still, I had the method and removed them. This was a nastier piece of work. They set the compulsion to gamble, using it to trigger as a pleasurable experience. Then, when he realized what he lost, he would feel terrible; weak and humiliated. In fact the only thing that would make him feel better was to gamble. Which started the whole thing over again. It was a vicious cycle designed to ruin his life.
I withdrew and he felt no different than before. Until I asked if he wouldn't like to wager on how long until he noticed the difference. He declined the idea, saying my remark was in poor taste. It took a few seconds for him to realize that he'd turned down the offer. That he could do so. He was elated while he realized he hadn't been weak after all. Then he got angry. Yes, we must stop them, but we must also move carefully. There are others we must involve and free before we can do anything. For the sake of his people, can he pretend as if nothing has changed? He thought about it, and decided that yes, he could play that part.
For our next target on the list, he thought he would be able to arrange a meeting.
Kennat hasn't been able to arrange a meeting, but one on the list is an old friend in the government who also resigned his positions for reasons that have remained a secret. This friend, Orlander, will meet with him at the Blue Ribbon Casino tonight. We could join them there.
I was rather eager for this. I hadn't been in a casino before and got DeWinter to teach me something called '21'. We arrived and took some time walking around the room. DeWinter was a virtual encyclopedia on the different games and their rules.
Eventually we met up with Kennat who introduced us to Orlander, an older distinguished man with a bit of gray at the temples. They were playing a dice game and there was a young woman on either side of Kennat. True to form, he played, feeling quite happy, chatting with the women and then he lost. He was dejected and the women coaxed him into gambling some more, which perked him up. Once, though he gave me a look that said he wasn't happy about this situation at all. He ran out of money all too quickly and the two women disappeared even more quickly. He gave me another sour look and Orlander offered to buy him a drink at the bar. Kennat agreed, asking if we wouldn't like to join them. We agreed to Orlander's surprise.
Now we just had to get Orlander alone. I noticed some private meeting rooms upstairs, perhaps for private games. I suggested we go upstairs and I would lend Kennat some funds for a friendly game. Orlander was aghast at the idea. We tried to convince him that it was all right. I think he was trying to protect Kennat from further losses. In the end, DeWinter stepped forward, looming over the man, and said quietly we should 'go upstairs.' Orlander looked up at DeWinter, who outweighed him considerably, and glumly agreed.
We went upstairs and the chance this meeting would go unnoticed vanished. First, there were two men, employees, who stopped us. I wasn't sure why, since any number of people were moving up and down the stairs. Then he asked my age. I told him 41. I could have told him I was off by a year or two. I think I'm 43 now. It wouldn't have made any difference. I still look like I'm 20 or so. He must have thought I was even younger. I told him who I was, believing that stories, at least, of Amberite longevity would be known here. No such luck. Realizing I was attracting attention from below, I acted the princess brat, hoping the take most of the attention from Kennat and Orlander who were trying desperately to sink through the floor. DeWinter was becoming increasingly angry with these two brutes who wouldn't let us by. Eventually, we called for the manager. By now I realized why Orlander did not want to come upstairs. There were other, private games being played up here.
The manager arrived, a slight man, younger than I expected, perhaps in his lower thirties. The first guard took him aside. We could still hear their exchange. He told his boss what happened. DeWinter bristled when he referred to me as a tramp. Indeed, I was becoming tired of the whole thing. The manager came over, prepared to usher us downstairs, when I showed him my Trump. He saw my picture, turning it over to see the sign of the Unicorn, and felt the coldness of the card. Apparently, he read the papers. He went a bit pale and said; of course, we could use a room. The guard was stunned at this and tried to argue and was told to shut up. The manager turned back to us. Is there anything he could do to make up for this? I was gong to let it all drop but not DeWinter. He asked that the guard apologize to me. The manager nodded and told the guard to do so. The guard gave a surly apology, which DeWinter said was not good enough. Three tries later, he still wasn't satisfied and said if he didn't learn to do it properly, he was going to start throwing guys on that table, pointing to a card table below. Both gulped and he got his apology.
In the room, Orlander was beside himself with mortification. Even explaining why we were here did not alleviate the situation. He was under no false pretenses as to why he resigned his position. He really is a criminal. Apparently he's been cheating on his taxes for years and finally came forward to prevent any loss of face when he was found out. He couldn't keep silent any more.
I quick check and I found the same mental controls. Within ten minutes they were gone and he was appalled. His memory of tax cheating was completely false. He was now on our side.
Between Kennat, Orlander, and Kef, I've met numerous people with controls implanted in their minds. It's been very tiring, but we cannot let up until we have enough people to make a stand in the government with their testimonies. Then it will be up to themselves how to deal with Gameshan and any other Chaosians. I've only gotten eleven freed and we have only three weeks left before the new governmental elected are sworn in.
I did meet with Kef the morning after the casino debacle, explaining what I had tried to do. I was disappointed to learn he didn't own any part of that establishment. He understood the reasoning, to divert attention away from the others. He said he's see what rumors were flying in the aftermath. Today, he said there were four threads. He was obviously not happy with what he's learned. The most popular is that I have an insatiable appetite for men, and a habit that I meet with numerous men at one time. Given how important social standing is here, I could understand why that would be horrible to have someone say. I laughed and dismissed it. I know it isn't true, so does my family. I don't live here, so I won't worry about it. The second is that I am trying to buy the casino. Third, there is some discussion that some politicians there were acting ungallant and the owner had tried to kick them out. Kennat and Orlander were mentioned. I was not happy about that, but perhaps it is a small enough rumor not to elicit any real attention from our enemies. The last rumor was that I had been caught at cheating.
Kef had some more bad news. Four of the swordswomen I had watching Gameshan had disappeared. Byslamia went pale at that. They went missing in the last two days. They were out in public, shopping and all that, and never returned home.
DeWinter asked if Gameshan had any remote holdings where she might keep these women? He'll check on that.
It was my thought that we should remove ourselves from Caladon. If we are suspected, we can do more once we get reinforcement. DeWinter went to tell Murta and I tried to Trump Martin. Of course, there was no answer, so I Trump Owen. It didn't work.
Even trying to open the card to the castle drawbridge failed, as did the one to Fiona. Somehow, Trump wasn't working in Caladon anymore. I hadn't planned for that eventuality. I didn't know it was possible.
We gathered together, preparing for a swift departure. I Trumped DeWinter to get him back. Thankfully, it worked. He was in jail and was in a murderously defensive position until he saw it was I. I brought him through and Trumped Bison who was in the next cell. There had been a fight, judging by the torn clothing. Murta had them imprisoned as imposters. The game was up, I think.
Bytra, noting what was going on said she noticed no change in the magic of the area. No attacks. I brought up the Pattern Lens and could see the magic coming from below. There was no change. Keeping it intact, I tried to Trump Fiona. I could see the card becoming more active but not going through.
We got the guards of the hotel to escort us to the ship. Once out of the hotel, I tried Trumping again; hoping it was just not working in the hotel. No such luck. We saw the ship and Bison went to get the captain. He came back, unable to find her. We took the long, slow ferry to the Amber cutter and found it abandoned.
We could go back to the hotel, but we'd be virtual prisoners. We absconded the cutter. Between DeWinter and I, we have enough seamanship to get us back home. At least we would be working with the trade lanes, not against them. As soon as we cast off, I began to prepare to shift. I wanted us out of there fast, hopefully before the harbor defenses, like the curtain trapped us in port.
The sky grew overcast as we moved and it was difficult to shift. Bytra, standing in the center of the deck shouted, "Logrus attack!" and our blades were out. What use they could be was debatable, but it made us feel better. I shouted to DeWinter to shift us toward Llewella's dolphins. If we went down, they might be able to help, and would get a message to Rebma. I began to bring up the Pattern Lens. I hoped I'd have time.
The boat gave a long shudder and Bytra hissed. She flicked her wrists in elaborate gesture and the black tendrils emerged from her arms. The battle was on. DeWinter was trying to shift and Byslamia was helping the others secure the deck.
Black tendrils surrounded the boat and Bytra battled against Gameshan. I was halfway to getting the Pattern up. I was disjointed from what was happening around me; it was like a surreal dream. To the side I saw a black dolphin jump over the prow. Now the weir were fighting the tendrils around them. I was two-thirds through, and I doubted I would do it in time. There was the wrenching shriek as the boat began to split apart. I saw the tendrils take hold of Bison and drag him over the side. Claw grabbed me, pulled me down and I had to drop the Pattern effort. Once in the water, something grabbed her and pulled her under.
Bytra was still hovering over the water, some of her own tendrils suporting her above the waves. She was the only one that had a chance here. I yelled to her to go to Amber and see the Regent. It was my last order. She heard me and nodded. I dived for Claw.
I could see her struggling, about fifty feet down. I went into a power kick and went after her. I reach her, but couldn't pull her up for there were tendrils all around her legs. I tried to cut them with my sword, but it felt like they were made of steel. We were heading into a huge mess of tendrils and some were working their way around me. My lungs were about to burst with the effort to get free when we ripped out into light and air. Gasping I saw we were all on a floor, on some sort of a stage in a theatre or an amphitheater. All but Bytra were in the chamber and most were unconscious. DeWinter was still fighting the tendrils. It was no use. When I cut at the ones at my legs, they got a purchase on my throat and shoulders. If is switched, I lost ground at my legs.
A last ditch effort, I went into a meditative state, going deep to simulate unconsciousness. Immediately, the tendrils stopped. Still cursing, DeWinter went unconscious, the last to fall.
There wasn't much else to do but to try and bring the Pattern up again. It seemed like the only thing left to do. Vaguely, I was aware of about twenty people coming on to the stage. Shackles were placed on us. It was all very well organized and planned. All I had was a sword. And I was prone. I doubted-- if they were Chaosians-- that I could leap up and get them all without further problems from the Logrus Master, whom I doubted was amongst them. And I was in unfamiliar territory. Who knew what we would find outside these doors? I played along.
We were all dragged to a darkened corner. We passed through what felt like black elastic and then we were in a hallway with arches and lanterns. In my mind, I was on the Grand Curve.
DeWinter and I were shackled to a stout frame with our arms behind us and above our heads. Obviously, our captors were going for maximum discomfort. The rest were placed in metal frames, wrists secure above their heads and feet to the floor in a classic x position.
In the light, I could see these looked just like the Orsicans I saw a few weeks ago, at least in costume. I just finished the patternwalk. Now I had the Pattern Lens up and wondered if it would do me any good.
The men left and I could see through my eyelashes all of us plus Captain Wilkes with her crew. I could tell that DeWinter was awake. He was surreptitiously trying to break free. With nothing better to do, I focused on the Trump at my side. They hadn't taken them from me. The effort was oddly calming and I felt very centered. But no other effect occurred.
Some more people entered, now wearing Orsican uniforms with five others heavily cloaked. One of these last went to DeWinter who had stopped pretending he was asleep. The hood was flung back and it was Gameshan. The next few minutes crawled as Gameshan reveled in how easy it was to outwit us at every turn, how well she had planned everything. She was working, successfully, at enraging DeWinter. He struggled to break free, tearing the seams out of his clothing. She watched, amused, until he stopped. She said the chains had been especially prepared for Amberites, like Gerard. It would do no good to try and break them, though he could continue to try if he wanted.
DeWinter asked her what her 'sad story' was. Was she a BlackAdder? That really angered her as she told him to shut up. She was just one of a number of Chaosians who thought the PatternFall Treaty was worthless. No matter what the treaty says, Amber would come out ahead, and King Merlin was just our puppet. DeWinter nodded, sagely, "Oh
you've got issues
" The muscles jumped in her jaw and the other cloaked figures moved to the other frames. Methodically, they cut away at all our clothing and gear. Fortunately, I suppose, they could not get my armband. At least, they were not prepared to cut my arm off for it, though it did interest them.
Yes, Gameshan agreed she had 'issues' with Amber and things were going well now. Her plan was to tell everyone in the Golden Circle that Random was dead. She had been watching that night and saw Random fall. She'd been looking through the eyes of her protégé and she thought to say that it was her that fired the shot that killed Random. We could not otherwise explain his absence for all this time. Amber had been deceiving the Golden Circle and a new King had to be chosen. The ensuing throne war would be sufficient to weaken or wreck Amber.
And, since she had us, what would Prince Julian do? He probably wouldn't be happy when he learned that DeWinter caused my death. She said she had no intention of killing. She could just watch us kill ourselves.
She moved to a door, opened it and stepped aside. In walked one of the nine-killers. I'd not see one before and I was glad my eyes were still mostly shut. It was one of the ugliest things I'd ever seen. The body was somewhere between one and two feet diameter and the nine fluid tentacles were placed all around. I saw no eyes or other feature to mark what or how it saw or heard anything. She said her pet here would watch us. If we even tried to escape, it would just kill us.
They left and the thing scuttled around a bit before settled in front of DeWinter. Since he was awake, he was the likeliest choice for lunch, I suppose.
Since this thing was threatening DeWinter, I tried to WeirChange. Nothing happened. I tried to see if Aegis, my armband would talk, like it did in UnderShadow. Nothing. I tried the most powerful name I knew, "Galantia."
There was a hiss, a strange smell in the room and then a glaring green light. It was there in a flash and I saw the nine-killer rush toward me. I wasn't pretending to sleep anymore and in an objective way, I saw that it held three tentacles aloft as it ran on the remaining six. It got within a few feet and the light lashed out and was gone. The nine-killer was in six pieces on the floor. Remarkable, I still had the Pattern up.
Black Logrus tendrils shortly came up from the floor around the dead beast and did some sort of probing check. They withdrew.
Noises came from the corridor and the guards came in. They were not happy with what they saw and they searched the room futilely for the cause. Gameshan entered then, more that a bit unhappy. The tendrils were hers. She went to DeWinter, probably not even aware that I was awake. She reached out with them, aiming for his head, probably to do something not nice. I didn't want to contemplate it at any length. So, I baited her to notice me. "You said we are incompetent, you've taken our things, and trussed us up. How could we have killed the wretched thing?"
She turned and came closer. Not close enough. Damn. I've seen what happened when one of those Logrus tendrils touches Pattern, and it isn't pretty. But I needed her to attack me. So, I became the brash, overconfident, and annoying Amberite, doing my best to be insulting, sneering, and pompous. Didn't work. She left the room.
By this time, most everyone was awake and uncomfortable. Did this situation fit any weir's circumstances for Changing? Claw said they couldn't change here. Damn. I tried shunting power to Claw, but everyone was just a bit too far. I couldn't reach out with the Pattern far enough. We couldn't move the frames, bend them, or ourselves to do anything. I even used the Pattern to call for the Unicorn. Nothing. I was forced to admit this was a pretty effective trap.
Hours passed. I had one last idea, but I was saving it until we were going to be killed. Lilith. That idea might get us into more trouble than we were in, but at least I was fairly confident she wouldn't kill us or try and start a Throne War.
About a hundred more years passed. Even if we got free now, most of us would be useless for a long while until the pain subsided. I was still in meditation mode and was fairly relaxed, but I couldn't feel my limbs anymore. The others would be badly hurting once they were let down.
Gameshan returned with two robed figures. Apparently the long wait was to break us down. I don't think she appreciated how stubborn we are. I continued to taunt, mock and otherwise annoy her. She mentioned again how incompetent we were. She said my father; Evander was the same way and look what happened to him. Did she have Evander? Could that mean she had Gerard and Doblique as well? I redoubled my effort to taunt her. DeWinter was giving me a look to shut up, but I ignored him. Finally, she had enough of my incessant talking. Out came the tendrils, right for my head. I let the Pattern flare and the two forces connected. It felt like someone punched me in the stomach. That was the worst for me. Gameshan, on the other hand, faired much worse. To my satisfaction, she was flung across the room to hit one of the frames with a solid, satisfying thud. She collapsed down to the floor. One of the robed figures, a man, I think, shouted "Selenite!" and went to her. They hustled her out. I hoped she was dead.
A quick check found she'd done no damage to the frame in striking it. We were still trapped. The door crashed open. Oh, my. I think they were really upset. My feelings of satisfaction subsided as I saw the whip in one of their hands. For a half-hour they meted out my punishment. With the Pattern still active, which still amazed me, I felt almost nothing except the pressure of the lashes. DeWinter, on the other hand, went ballistic, shouting and screaming. I've never seen him so angry, almost insane with it. He had some of that same look I've seen on Dalt. I wanted to tell him it didn't hurt, but that would only serve to encourage my punishers. I badly feared he would hurt himself, more than he already had. It was pretty frightening. And here I thought I was being so clever in trying to take out Gameshan, I would take it all back if only for DeWinter.
Eventually it was done and they were gone. DeWinter was still heaving at the frame that bound him. I was sure he would break both his arms if he didn't stop. I began talking to him, shouting to get through to him. See? I'm fine. They didn't do anything. Calm yourself. It took some doing, but eventually he got himself under control, though he was far from being calm.
About an hour later, four guards came in with a servant girl, a plain looking girl. She carried a jug of water and began to walk around the frames, giving a bit to each of us. Byslamia refused, rightly suspecting that the water might be drugged. The girl just passed her for Cutwind, who said the water was fine. When she got to me, I asked if she wouldn't give my share to Byslamia. I knew she needed it more than I did. The girl's eyes widened and she complied. Byslamia thanked me and apologized for being silly. I said I wouldn't have drunk any if Cutwind hadn't said it was all right. When the girl resumed her rounds and got to Claw, she refused, wanting me to have her share. I agreed only if she got mine, the next time. She agreed and I took a cool draught of it.
When done, the girl stopped by the guard and looked at us. She said we didn't look very dangerous but it looked a little creepy seeing us like that. And a bit exciting. That got the guard's attention. Exciting? Really? And he began to close with the servant.
The girl half-heartedly tried to move to the door, but they weren't about to let an opportunity get away. They closed in. DeWinter was going to say something, to distract them, but I got the very strong impression the girl was doing this on purpose. I made a sound to get his attention, and then shook my head. I didn't know what the girl was thinking, but I didn't want to make anything worse for her.
They moved to a corner of the room, now very focused. The first guard pawed at her clothing as she feebly tried to get him to "behave." He called the others over. Byslamia was frozen with rage, but we could do nothing. In fact, I think the fact that she was upset made them enjoy themselves. It was difficult, but there was nothing we could do to stop the rape. I just wondered what the girl was thinking, to let herself get into this, on purpose, I was sure of it.
Eventually, they were all sated and relaxed. So much so, that when she came up off the floor, there was only a token resistance as she broke their necks. Only one guard figured out in time what was going on, but the fight took just under four minutes. A fight against a barehanded, bare-assed, and bare-footed small girl, and he then was dead.
Then she went into the corner and threw up. When she composed herself, she took a bit of water and checked the door. Then she got the keys and undid my restraints.
"Do I know you?" I asked, but she just gave me a strange look. Free of the restraints, I fell like a ton of bricks though the girl tried to catch me. I heard DeWinter do the same. It was agony as my arms and legs tried to tell me just what they thought of all this. I tried to lie still and let it all come back naturally. It seemed to work and I said so to DeWinter, who ignored me. Then my muscles went crazy, twitching and moving outside my control.
Claw said she was 'next.' The girl said, "Yes, as a matter fact you are". Claw said, "Smart girl." She also lay quietly as she got her body under control. I could just stand then. It was taking far longer for her to get to everyone. She could barely get to the upper shackles as it was. She was on Bison as I tried to stand.
Something she said, I knew I knew her. Eventually, I got her to admit who she was. Rinaldo! I could only look at her in disbelief. Rinaldo? We spent years in a Shadow with him and we didn't' catch on he was a shape-shifter? And he was acting so oddly
we'll get the story later. Still, what he went through to get us out. I tried to thank him and tell him he didn't have to do all that. Sure she did. She gave me a look. She was no fighter, at least like this. And against four Chaosians, she had to get them relaxed and unaware, if she were to have any chance. It struck me then that this was our help that Benedict had mentioned.
I got up and began massaging Byslamia's arms and legs, to get the blood flowing before she was cut down. It might speed up the recovery. Claw saw what I was about and tended to another. When DeWinter and Bison were able, we did so to everyone and got them down.
Rinaldo said there would be a little over an hour before the next shift change. We had to get out before that. He could lead us out, but the area was heavily guarded and we had few weapons. The thought occurred to me. Wouldn't these men have wanted something to eat from the kitchen? Some foods, wine, along with all the accoutrements, like forks and knives? He shook his head. "I should have thought of that."
He/she left and came back with food for the guards, which we enjoyed immensely. We took the swords from the dead ones and dispersed the dinner knives amongst the rest. We were by no means helpless. Byslamia is a trained fighter, as are the weir and Wilkes crew. So how would we get out? Rinaldo suggested UnderShadow, but we didn't like that plan at all. He was exasperated. Did we plan to fight our way out? There were hundreds here. DeWinter asked how trained they were. Rinaldo threw up his hands. How the hell was he to know how the Orsicans trained their people.
That stopped DeWinter and myself in our tracks. They were all Orsicans? Not even Chaosians? Rinaldo looked like we were daft. Yeah, they were Orsicans. Without another word, now that everyone was up and about, we headed for the door. We were so out of there. And payback would be very unpleasant for them.
It was actually also very messy. DeWinter was in no mood for a slow exit. He arranged our travel party, though I wasn't about to go to the rear. We moved together in spurts from one area to the next. He rotated everyone to the front from time to time. He said it was to make sure no one was exhausted, but I could see that also gave everyone a chance for a bit of their own vengeance. The weir wouldn't have been happy not to have a part in the fighting. I wonder if DeWinter was aware of that aspect at all. I do know that he deftly moved people in and out so that he and I really did take the brunt of the assaults. We could outlast them.
The Orsican guards weren't trained to our level, so there wasn't much of a fight even after being strung up for something like twelve hours. For his part, DeWinter didn't care. I could see that while he'd regained control, he'd really just banked his anger. I wondered if I could have prevailed against him them. His sword would move out, lightning fast, kill his opponent before he had the slightest chance to defend, and DeWinter was already moving past before the body had fallen. I wondered what he would do to Gameshan. Between the two of us, we accounted for about 70 men, and about 15-20 for each of the rest.
It was methodical slaughter to any who got in our way.
Rinaldo led us to the kitchen where the staff scattered like bugs. We walked right past them and out. He suggested we move single file along the path, which was protected on both sides by magic. We followed him out the side gate and he began to grab at Shadow. We were out.
We were back in Amber shortly. Rinaldo found us clothing on the first day in shadow. Nondescript, so we easily passed through Arden into Amber without much notice. I sent the weir to Tiryns while DeWinter, Rinaldo and I went to see Martin. We had a report to give. My wounds had stopped bleeding the day before. They probably would have healed further, but we had to keep moving, in case someone was trying to catch us. So, I moved as best I could. DeWinter was still pretty angry about the Chaosians, but most of it was gone.
We got to the castle without incident and Martin saw us immediately. Unfortunately, there wasn't much more information than he already had. He was interested in the fact that Gameshan was behind the attempted assassination on Random, and her abilities and real name. And the fact that she might have Gerard, Doblique and Evander, and that she knew who Evander was. The problem is what could we do? I knew I had to get Bytra out of there, but Martin forbid me to do anything about that until he gave permission. I shouldn't have mentioned anything. Now I could do nothing.
If we went in, with any force, the general populace might not believe that the Chaosians had subverted their government. It could raise serious opposition with the rest of the Golden Circle. If this had been Oberon's reign, he would have gotten away with it because few would stand up to him. But, Random was not Oberon and he was doing things differently. And he was not in Amber. Martin allowed himself the speculation that Random had set this whole thing up as a training exercise in 'what it is like to be King.' Owen and I just chuckled a bit at the thought, but said nothing. He said he would let us know what was decided, when he decided it.
DeWinter and I went back to Tiryns. Kai-Revere was happy to see me. Slash said that his latest development was that he not would allow anyone else to nurse him. It was no one but me that he wanted. He only gave in when he was too hungry to resist. I was touched. I berated him for being so difficult, but he largely ignored it. I suppose I didn't really put much feeling into it.
An unexpected ally.
Rested, I thought to go see Julian. Eventually, I had to get Bytra out and I wanted to be prepared. I got there just as the sun was going down. One of the Rangers escorted me to the house. I asked that he check if I was interrupting their evening meal. If so, I would wait a bit. He went to check, leaving me with two other Rangers at the watch Headquarters for company. One was very old, a hundred if he was a day. He introduced me to his grandson, who was appalled at his grandfather's audacity. He said his grandson had a talent for working with the hounds. I know he gave me their names, but I just cannot remember them right now. I remarked that working with the hounds is dangerous work. He nodded; saying his grandson has only been bitten six times. Really? He rolled up his trouser legs, showing a mass a scars along the shin. He'd gotten bitten much more than that. I think his grandson wanted to die.
I was delighted with the meeting and we talked a bit about how long the training would take... that sort of thing. Shortly, the first Ranger returned and escorted me to the house. I told the old man to let me know how his grandson is doing. He smiled, full of pride, and said he certainly would.
Vivant met me first. Julian entered, wearing a smoking jacket. Obviously, they were planning a quiet evening at home. I said I didn't expect to take up much of their time, but I just wanted a quick word with Julian. Vivant asked if I wanted to see Rhiannon for a moment, since she would be disappointed if she didn't get to say hello. Julian said she would be asleep by now. Vivant blithely said she'd be awake. Julian said he'd meet me in the study.
Upstairs I found Rhiannon very much awake, surrounded by every manner of stuffed animal that could be found in creation. A menagerie beyond any I've seen before. Rhiannon was very much awake and happy to see me. The irrepressible young girl then started introducing me to the various animals. I said she'd have to visit me one of these days. She liked that idea and said that she'd have to practice her trick. Trick? "Yes, I bet I could learn to do a triple just for me."
I looked to Vivant for some hint at what the girl meant but got no help from that quarter. I looked back to Rhiannon and said that would be nice, though I said it weakly. What was I doing?
We got her back to bed, arranging the animals just so. Out in the corridor, Vivant confessed that Rhiannon latest trick was to do somersaults on horseback while galloping. I close my eyes at the vision and said it's a long way down. Vivant sighed and took me to the study.
I outlined the situation for Julian. If for no other reason than he should watch the borders closely. What I wanted was some idea of getting in and out with Bytra. I was unsure of the force I would need, or any idea if there was a defense against Logrus, aside from Pattern. No, there was no defense. But he thought a party of a dozen or so should suffice. As to Gameshan's identity or, rather, Selenite's, he was familiar with her. She was a former Hendrake. Fifty years ago, she was an accessory to her husband's attempt to ruin Amber. House Hendrake expelled her for the action and we hadn't heard from her since. Apparently, she's taken a long time to build up her plans. Hendrake would not be pleased. But, before I tried anything in regard to Bytra, he suggested I wait to see what Martin planned first. I agreed, though I didn't want to wait too long.
We chatted a bit more before I left, leaving the better part of the evening for them to enjoy. I Trumped to Tiryns to follow suit. I had a late dinner and saw Kai-Revere asleep before DeWinter and I took a stroll through the apple orchard.
It was a lovely, romantic evening. We were in the middle of spring, so the air was fragrant with the apples and the grasses. A cool breeze kept the heat of the day away. It was so pleasant; I saw no reason to go inside. We stretched out under one of the trees and things were progressing quite nicely when, I got a Trump call.
It was Martin. He wanted a meeting in the morning. Very well. Was he interrupting anything? Not right now, Regent. We're talking with you. He gave a knowing look and disconnected the call. We continued enjoying each other's company, when I got the next call. This was getting ridiculous. DeWinter muttered something as I answered.
What I saw was a person, I think. The face had a rubber mask on. Two huge black eyes looked out at me from either side of a long gray segmented nose. It was almost elephantine. The voice said, "give me your hand." Oh, I don't think so. I got to my feet. Why would I do such a thing? "Because I am going to pass you your father."
I gestured to DeWinter to get behind me and hold on. If this was a trick, he would stop me from being pulled through, I hope, or would knock me out if it was an attack. When he was ready, I held out my hand.
The man, I think, reached down and pulled up a barely conscious Evander and all but pushed him through the contact. I was forced to hold the brunt of the connection open, but it still sagged a bit, as if it was from a long distance away. Evander had been wearing an all-black one-piece, but it transformed into an Amberite uniform when he emerged on this side.
Evander's erstwhile rescuer would have withdrawn, but I held his hand. Who are you? "Sandalahar." Is there anyone else there. "Yes, Gerard and Doblique are here. I will try and get them out." Is there anything we can do to help? "Learn what Evander knows." I let the hand withdraw and the connection ended.
Evander was very battered and bruised. DeWinter checked him over and found a few broken ribs. He said whoever had done this was no expert. I didn't want to know where he learned about something like that, to know with any surety.
DeWinter carried Evander. He was big enough that Evander was in minimal discomfort. We got him settled in to one of the guestrooms. Undressing him, we found a small set of Trumps. One of me, Dalt (Huh?), three I didn't know, and one for Tatasha's fortress in Aes. Oh, he's kept that little secret from me. I pocketed them. I might be able to copy the one for Aes, but I didn't want him hurrying off before we learned what is going on. The only thing we could do now was to let him sleep and heal a bit.
DeWinter and I retired and tried one last time to salvage the evening. No such luck. Again, just as we were enjoying ourselves, there came a faint crashing from a few doors down. DeWinter jumped up with sword in hand and was at the door in seconds. I was just behind him, able to hear him saying some unpleasantries. I wasn't' sure because he spoke in a different language, but it didn't sound nice.
We went straight to Evander's room and found it empty. The window had been broken outward, and we could hear an altercation on the grounds. Looking, I could see Evander struggling with two weir.
I went downstairs. The two weir were holding on to Evander, both preventing him from running off and from falling. It was telling that only two weir were able to restrain him. He must be more battered than I had thought.
I took his face in my hands and told him who I was, and where he was. He was safe. Relax. He spoke through a swollen jaw, "Then tell me what I left you in the table safe."
It took a second to realize what he meant. Oh, it was a Trump of himself, a knife, and a letter. That seemed to reassure him. He sagged and we brought him back upstairs. We got him some light food and water. He fell asleep almost before he finished. DeWinter and I gave up on the evening and did likewise.
I went first to the castle, Trumping to the drawbridge. Evander was moving very slowly, especially since he wasn't letting many help him. I planned to get Martin alone before Trumping Evander and DeWinter through. I found Martin at breakfast. I asked if I might speak with him. He said, sure, at the meeting. I said I had an interesting Trump call and I wanted to speak to him about it before the meeting. He agreed, after breakfast. He asked what the call was about. In exasperation, I said someone did me the courtesy of returning Lt. Erickson to me. Martin perked up at that and said to go to his office. He would follow shortly.
I went and Trumped both DeWinter and Evander through. In the morning light, Evander looked much worse. Martin entered took one look at Evander and winced. "You look like hell." Evander said he should see the other guy. Oh? It was Gerard. That caused all of us to look at Evander. He went against Gerard? I take that back, you're looking pretty good.
The story came out, disjointed and slowly. Much of what he remembered was very vague. He, Gerard, and Doblique were trapped in some Shadow. But they were all different in some way, but he wasn't sure how. He'd been scouting for the nine-killers on his off-hours. He'd gone into Arden, tracking and that's all he remembers until he woke up in the trapped shadow. All the opponents wear masks, and he believed he was a great warrior. He'd been fighting against Gerard for quite some time. I believe it. Some of the bruises showed signs of having been around for around. He'd been beaten too often for the first to be healed before he got a fresh batch. There wasn't more that Evander could add, just vague, distorted impressions. He might have had his memories scrambled, if not by Gameshan, then by Suhuy, if he is involved. Regardless, I don't think we can take any chances. Already I was berating myself for bringing him before Martin before having him checked out. DeWinter or I would have been able to stop him, but still.
When we were done, we Trumped back to Tiryns. We got some lunch and I broached the subject up to Evander. He was resolute in his conviction that nothing was wrong with him. I broached the idea of hypnotic suggestion, to better recall the images. He would have none of it. Really, I maintain that I surround myself with men who are the most difficult when they are hurt.
Later that day, as I was still mulling over various options of getting Bytra back, I got a Trump call from Martin. He asked me to describe Evander's rescuer. I did so, again. Did his face look like this? What if they were somewhere where breathing the air caused hallucinations? Or there was no air. I remembered seeing Benedict in some sort of suit in an airless place, out in space, but he was in a ship. Then the piece fell into place. A gas mask! It seemed to confirm something for Martin because he nodded and cheerfully let the connection drop.
I was relentless with Father. I tried again later, and then a few hours later. He was getting exasperated with me. He kept saying he would know if someone tampered with his mind. I told him that at one point in time, every single person in this family of adult age has probably said that also, only to be proven wrong. I told him what had been done to DeWinter and me though I didn't say it was him I was speaking of. Evander was shocked. We have enemies that can take out Fiona. What makes him so certain? What kind of enemies do you people have, he asked? Powerful ones.
In the end, he agreed to a hypnotic suggestion and a quick look inside his mind. I'll take what I can get. We'll do it this evening, I think.
| Cassandra Diary 19 | Cassandra Diary 20 | Cassandra Diary 21 | Cassandra Diary 22 |
| Cassandra Diary 23 | Cassandra Diary 24 | Cassandra Diary 25 | Cassandra Diary 26 |