It took a few days, but I made it to Corwin's pattern without incident. I Trumped DeWinter telling him I made it fine. He said Xhimena was miserable. He thought this was a great idea. He told me to be careful. He said he loved me so much, he couldn't bear to think of Corwin messing things up, like not being able to get me back. Touched, I told him I loved him and I would be very, very careful.
I tried to Trump Corwin first, but got nothing, not even after trying for hours. I made camp under one of the beautiful trees and rested for the remainder of the day.
Corwin's Pattern felt different than the other times I've walked it. I had the same feeling as in Amber, but the sparks are cold, more like being showered in Trump sparks. But the resistance wasn't as heavy, but it felt like it was draining my energy away. Like incipent frostbite, it leached it all away. There was no warning of upcoming veils, they were just there, but not as difficult. I was through the first veil, almost easily. By the second veil, my legs were numb and it was creeping up quickly. I just wanted to go to sleep. If I was in danger, I couldn't feel the energy responding. I felt like I was powering the Pattern instead. The third veil was just before the center. I was staggering and off-balanced. The third time I reeled, I lost my balance and fell. One hand went off the Pattern and I just managed to pull it back and continue before something else happened. Steam and smoke rose from my hand as I stumbled into the center.
I sat heavily, cradling my hand. It was blackened, as if with severe, instant frostbite. My nails were gone and the skin was torn. I pulled off my jacket and wrapped my hand in it, to prevent any blood from getting on the Pattern.
I rested for a bit. I checked my hand once more and saw the blackened part moving up my arm. Not a good sign. Leave and then try later? Or do I go on? The decision was taken from me when I passed out.
I awoke sometime in the late afternoon. My hand woke me. It felt like it was on fire. I pulled the jacket tight, to staunch any more bleeding. Well, I might as well try. I tried to go to Corwin. Nothing. A deserted Parisian street near Corwin. Nothing. I guess you can't go to a person using the Pattern. Then I noticed there were people in the distance, watching me through a spyglass.
I tried to Trump him again. I could smell flowers, and it was getting stronger. The Trump was different too. It was the same picture, but I could feel anger there. I realized that during the picture, he was livid: a war god that was about to attack. Not a happy thought. I could hear wings above. The sky was getting dark. Still, I sat.
It might have worked if it weren't for the Chaosians nearby. They were the ones watching me. I got hit with a crossbow bolt, right through the collarbone. Now I was angry. The sky went black and I felt the anger pool up from below. Then I fell through.
I landed in a field under a night sky. There were blue wispy clouds barely covering bright stars. A woman approached. She was fairly small, barely topping five feet, wearing a voluminous cloak. She couldn't fail to miss me; I had a faint blue glow around me.
She spoke in a girl's voice, asking me to introduce myself. I did. She said she was The Queen. Corwin wasn't there, but I was welcome to stay.
"Ah no thank you, I've got to find him." I felt things dissolve around me.
I woke to a serious ache in my shoulder. It was deep into the night, so I focused on anything but my sight. I heard a voice and felt calloused hands. In the distance, I heard the barking of a pack of somethings, which suddenly stopped.
I sat. There were gleaming eyes all around. I could hear sniffing and snuffling. I smelled something like bitter tree sap. Then I saw 400 pounds of wild boar, with dog's teeth, come into view.
Blood. This was echoed by eight others. It lunged and I flipped aside. It crashed and I used the moment to kick off and run, but they piled on. I tried to roll and almost passed out with the effort. The bolt in my shoulder wrenched and snapped off.
I got my sword out and had to fight with my bad hand. Bad girl, one said. I fought and heard wings again. Ravens dived from the sky, like huge animated lawn darts.
The boars were really upset now and they cleared out rapidly.
Pops landed and walked up to me. Do you really want to anger the Queen?
Um, no I didn't but what I was doing was for Xhimena, so if I had to, I had to.
He answered: "Ah, well, if it was for the girl, why didn't I say so?"
Hm. I packed the wounds and began to walk. Actually, it was more of a stagger. It seemed like I walked somewhere between half a day and a full one. When I slept, I slept hard.
When I woke, I found that the shoulder wound wasn't bleeding any longer. I carefully got up, so I didn't reopen the wound. We continued to walk.
I felt surprisingly good, though I was very, very hungry and thirsty. I mentioned this to Pops, but he said that eating or drinking wasn't a good idea. That was just before the three, 1000-pound cats came into view. I bet they didn't worry about eating. They looked like monstrous cheetahs. I wondered if their speed would taper off quickly? I knew I didn't want to stay and play because playing wasn't on their mind.
There was only one way to find out. I shouted Go! and the Ravens took off and I lit out. It sounded like three chainsaws had started behind me. As I ran, the ground got softer, soggier. The ravens paced me and stayed in front, guiding. There were playful growls from either side now. Surprisingly, neither my hand nor my shoulder hurt. And there was no energy to account for it.
I ran for hours until the cats finally fell away. I went through a heavy forest and was out quickly enough. At the line of trees, I saw a glittering monstrosity. It was the Eiffel Tower, glittering with thousands of tiny firefly lights. Horrible. Unlike Paris, though, there were no streets; there was no city or people---just this thing in the center of a huge clearing.
Pops and the Ravens landed just as I was at the edge of a river. He warned me that there were bloodsuckers in the waters. They liked Xhimena, and she liked them, but he didn't trust them. I could see a dark island across the way with a structure like Stonehenge, but older and unbroken.
Ripples appeared in the water. A head rose from the surface. Mermaids. They looked disturbingly like Chaosians. One smiled, displaying many, many needle teeth: more than should have fit in her mouth. I smiled back, inadequately.
Pops flew over them. The woman offered to take me over. Pops warned me that there would be a price. She spit at him and he frantically dodged it. The spittle hissed on the ground.
I told her I would mention her kindness to Xhimena. She was pleased at that, and said she would see me safely across. I would sit on her shoulders. She rose until her waist was above the surface. She said I must hurry, as there was a vithon coming in from the right. Two other mermaids went off to meet it. Or perhaps they were going to eat it?
I wondered what a vithon was.
I found out soon enough. It rose from the waters like a huge (what else) polar bear with an eel tail. The mermaids distracted it as the leader got me to the island. I clambered up the small cliff and rolled into the grass.
Big mistake. The grass was literally saw-edged and I left my blouse and some skin behind. By the time I got to the standing stones, my boots were shredded. I said goodbye to Pops. He asked that I recommend him to the Prince. I promised I would, and he flew off.
The stones glowed with a blue light, which brightened as I approached. There were lots of broken stones all about. The ring was about 100 feet in diameter. I walked to the center to find Corwin's Pattern there. I cursed vehemently. Fortunately, there was no one to hear it. I can't walk it again!
I sat on a stone and tried to Trump Corwin again. I had to be closer, right? After about an hour, I got a tentative response.
Then it felt like someone had thrown a bucket of icy cold water in my face. I gasped and looked around. The Queen was standing there. I could see her more fully in the light of the stones. Her skin was a solid black with stars strewn through it like freckles. Her cloak looked like it was made of Raven feathers. Underneath, she wore no clothing.
She said that I needed permission to use the cards. I asked her for her permission. First, she said, she had to touch me, to determine if I was real, or another pretender. Her hand was very cold on top of mine. That was it. She said I could call him.
I didn't wait for a second. I concentrated and it cleared immediately. He was certainly surprised to see me. I heard a woman ask who it was. He replied it was one of his nieces. A face appeared next to his. Oh! She is one of your blood. He was amused, So I said. Well, at least he remembered me. He brought me through.
I was in a luxurious parlor. I smelled floral potpourri, felt the deep carpet and the polished woods gleamed in the candlelight. I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep. The woman stepped back, regarding me, but let Corwin handle things.
He introduced her as Lorelei. He saw my bandaged hand and asked if I needed it tended to. I nodded. He took me through an overwhelming palace, past rooms and offices, to an operating theatre. The white tile glowed under the arc lighting. It was almost too bright.
He examined my shoulder. To my surprise, it had healed over. He pulled the bolt out. I just managed to not make a sound, since he didn't bother with anesthetic. Now I was fully awake and wanted to hit him. That hurt! But he delicately stitched up the wound left behind.
Then he examined my hand and I explained how it happened. I was missing the fingers from the second knuckle on. Only the bone showed past where it had healed over. It was a gruesome sight.
Corwin started to ask me questions, but Lorelei interrupted him. She said I needed clothing, food and water, as anyone could plainly see. He gave her a small bow, conceding the point.
She took me up to a small suite. She said I looked to be Delphinia's size. Delphinia? Her granddaughter. Ah. She said that Corwin had mentioned me. Well, that he had met a descendant of Eric. Charming. She said she was interested in meeting me. She had no idea of what women were like in Amber. I asked her what the role of women was here.
She said, "Hope and beauty, the first shield against destruction."
That seemed odd, but I just nodded. She helped me dress and brushed my hair out. It was a tangled mess by now. What a picture I made upon entering! Certainly not beauty.
Corwin had three children here. The eldest was nine, then eight, then seven years old. They were all married now. For every two months in Amber, it was one year here. Doing a bit of calculating, I figured that made them 56, 48, and 42 years respectively.
This time I was taken to a map room where we collected Corwin and moved to the dining room. I could smell the dinner from the servant's parlor, or where ever it was coming from. It smelled heavenly.
That was when Corwin mentioned that I should not eat or drink while here. It made getting back much more difficult. Lorelei was indignant that I had to go hungry and thirsty. I don't know how long I could go without food or water, but if the return trip would be anything like the entry, I couldn't stay long. I was very disappointed. The one chance I had to learn about my line was evaporating before my eyes.
So, I told them about Xhimena and her visitations. Corwin was very interested. I showed him my notes. I was surprised that he could not read it, but Lorelei could. She said they were the feminine script. Corwin did not look amused. I told them of the Ravens (and asked if they could be spared punishment from the Queen for bringing me here) the mermaids and the Moonriders. That last brought Corwin's attention up fully.
But, he focused on a previous point. What had the Queen to do with any of this? I told him she prevented me from coming here. Now he was angry. He said she was told to let me through should I ever visit. Ah. Mother-in-law problems.
I learned Lorelei was her daughter.
The food came in and Lorelei dismissed it all. She claimed that none of them would eat, if I could not. I raised an eyebrow at Corwin. He smiled back as if to say, 'she's a force of nature. You deal with it.'
I smiled back.
He said the Queen was tricky. She will not lie, but she will omit information or distort it.
But, he had nothing to add. His mother shared nothing with him, and most of this was new information for him. Sigh.
Since Lorelei was interested in the Amber side of things, I used the opportunity to draw quick sketches of the children, Tiryns, anything that came to mind. At least he'd have some keepsakes from my visit. Corwin interrupted after about an hour or so, to Lorelei's irritation. He said we'd have to leave soon.
He took me to the cellars where we went down 300 steps. Naturally. We emerged into a grotto, lit all around by a blue glow. There was a twelve foot rock door at the far end, with a silver pattern in the black granite. On the ground was a Pattern, looking similar to Tir's. Was there a link from there to here?
He walked across it to the center and faded away. The silver disappeared but the blue glow was stronger. He reappeared with the Queen. They stayed in the center. Corwin began to ask her questions related to my story.
The Queen gave me greeting again. She said there were beings that lived inside the magic. She intimidates them. She did not know of the agendas or aspirations of these people. Nor did she know how Faiella was linked to them, except that she was a half-blood to them. Faiella was born of a magical union between one of the original Fey and a mortal. She thought they might want Xhimena as an ally. Against what? She didn't know. Xhimena has or is the freedom of blood. She declined to explain that. Could I speak with these people?
The Queen mused over this, glancing at a forbidding Corwin. She said it was possible, but not easy. Of course. Time with them is disconcerting. A moment might pass in the real world after weeks spent with them, or years. The Fey were friends with Faiella. She gave me a silver harpoon dart, to carry when speaking with them. And that was all she would say. She left us then, and Corwin walked back to me.
We had to leave. I said goodbye to Lorelei, who surprised me with a hug. Quickly, we set out.
The heeled shoes she had given me were not particularly conducive for walking long stretches of uneven ground. The long blue and silver dress even less so. Corwin suggested he carry me. I really didn't want to appear too fragile, or silly, but I was getting rather tired. With no water or food, it was harder to stay awake and alert. After a while, I reluctantly gave in.
I got a sense of the magic as we traveled. It was very non-euclidian, but it made sense in a way I can't describe. We went back the way I came and in no time at all, we passed up into the center of Corwin's Pattern. The Chaosians were gone.
I followed Corwin to the edge. I was more tired than I thought. We could have used the center to take us to Gianassa. Stupid! I invited him to Gianassa and he accepted.
I Trumped DeWinter, but we were too far. I tried others, but it was the same. More walking. This time, I got water and food along the way. About 30 hours into Shadow, I Trumped DeWinter, who fairly leapt through the Trump at me. In fact, there was a strange look in his eyes. He glared at Corwin but brought us through.
That was when I got a shock. I had been gone for almost a year! Eight months to be precise. It was all so unreal I couldn't take it in. Until I saw DeWinter's eyes. I don't think he really thought I was there.
They brought food and everyone gathered to welcome me home. It was all I could do to get my bearings. Eidolon chatted with Corwin, and was rather good at it. I pulled Byslamia aside. It was really that long? She nodded. She said that DeWinter's been really grim the whole time. And with her knack for understatements, that meant oh my.
Kai-Revere just said it was great that I was back. Eidolon looked like he had a million questions. The girls just wanted to sit on my lap, and Xhimena, very quietly, asked if I left because of her. What?! I left when she was being punished. Did I leave because I was angry with her? Oh, Lady, that she has been thinking that for all this time!
I adamantly and frequently told her no, of course not. I could scarcely think of anything she could do that would make me abandon her. Ever. She seemed to accept it, but I'm not sure there isn't some doubt still.
We got Corwin settled into some rooms and I went to talk with DeWinter. The first kiss was full of emotion and passion but there was also flames and pain. A year's worth. I could have cried.
Everytime I touched him, it was there. I told him I wanted Owen to check me out right away. He readily agreed. I Trumped her and she came through immediately. I thought I was fine, and I was. But I was worried about DeWinter. She said that after a long time with an Amberite, the loss of someone, even temporarily, for a lengthy period of time, caused something like withdrawal symptoms. Apparently, DeWinter was holding himself together by sheer force of will.
He'd told Random of what had happened, demanding we send someone to rescue me. But, since no one knew where I was, it was impossible. He didn't like that answer. Random counseled him through it all. Owen said we'd just have to work slowly to get the toxins out of his system.
I've spent a week reconnecting with everyone. The children are all taller, and I've missed so much. Things are normal between DeWinter and I. I did ask if he would be all right if I Trumped Tatasha, and went to see her. He assured me it would be fine.
She, too, almost leapt through the Trump. I was pulled through so fast, I don't think I powered the transfer at all. She gave me hugs and kisses and made sure I was all right. I assured her as best I could and she got us some lunch. I was still famished. A year's worth of hunger? It felt like it.
Evander was doing well; he's much further along. I'd place his mental age at about five years old. It was odd, he smiled so much. He said he thought I was neat. I did a quick check. His mind is fine, but there are no shields yet. And no memories about the lightning incident. I spoke with Tatasha about what he should be told. If we waited too long, the shock might be too severe. And if we lied I thought it was a bad idea and she agreed.
She'd gone with DeWinter to see Random. The King said I could take care of myself. Sometimes, this has been known to happen to the family. He said DeWinter shouldn't start to worry until two years, at least, have passed. She did mention that DeWinter almost frightened her. He was all stone and wood.
I spent the afternoon visiting. I didn't want to stay away longer and she understood. I promised to stop by regularly.
I've jumped back into school. It's almost as if I hadn't been gone at all, except for a lot of catching up to do. Tralee seems most assured. Oh! Flora stayed for three months. She said it was for etiquette lessons, which I might have been, but perhaps also to help where she could. Eidolon is still staying here with us, but he goes daily to Mother to take diplomacy lessons at Court. I bet he'll do much better than I ever did.
Byslamia told me how angry DeWinter was that Random would not allow him to get an army to go after me at the Courts. For a while he was certain I was there. Gah! What a mess that would have made. DeWinter even made up with Dastard because he might have had information on Corwin's Pattern. No such luck, but it showed me all too clearly how distraught he was. All DeWinter would say was that he made a pest of himself.
Corwin had remarked that the Chaosians usually watched the Pattern. They have an interest in it, though he didn't know what it was.
Both Dalt and DoBlique visited. Dalt wanted to make sure I was really me. DeWinter tried to assure him, but he couldn't do so without being indelicate. I joked that we could always fight, and he readily agreed. It took about 3 minutes for him to be sure, but we continued on because it was enjoyable. Actually, I was enjoying it, he might have been humoring me. It was invigorating. But, this time I did manage to hit him, proof that I am getting better at unarmed combat. But, my hand went numb where I hit. If I'm not mistaken, he's even larger than before. He's been doing some serious training. Still, I had a great time. I blew out all the seams in my shirt, but so did he. The weir enjoyed it all.
The girls watched. They had their hands over their eyes, but otherwise they were all right.
When we were done, DeWinter wanted to try-- but Dalt declined to play. Instead, he brought presents for the children. Toy horse and chariots for the boys, which they immediately fell upon. Each of the girls got male and female replicas of large cats; cheetahs, lions, Bengal tigers, panthers and such; a different one for each of them. They loved them and immediately began to play with them. The boys tried to trade with them but the girls declined. Even DoBlique liked them. Perhaps I could get her a snow leopard for Yule. A real one. DeWinter thought it was a crazy idea. I night just do it. Perhaps a baby cub.
The day turned out to be a family gathering. We cooked outside, and the entire household joined in with fun and games. Corwin looked pleased at the scene, and perhaps a little surprised. I don't think he believed I would have a family like this, arguing, laughing, shouting, playing, romping. He sat and relaxed and occasionally told stories. He captivated DoBlique . Both DoBlique and Dalt made me tell the story all over again. Dalt looked concerned about the visitations from Xhimena's friends.
Before he left, Dalt made a special point of checking on Xhimena. He was worried about her, too. He read to her and even tucked her into bed. He stayed until she was asleep. As he left, I caught her eyes open, watching him go. He turned and pointed a finger at her, and she shut her eyes.
Dalt left and Corwin decided this would be a good note to leave and get back home. We all said goodbye. I said I would relate his good wishes to the children in the morning. Within minutes, he was gone.
DoBlique and I got to have a long chat. She was, well, not precisely upset, but something was on her mind. Eventually, she told me. She had gone to Bleys to ask something. I think about her mother. She knows he killed her. Anyway, things went on, and she and Bleys became intimate.
She waited, watching to see if I was shocked. Well, it was unorthodox, given their relationships, but they were full adults. I told her I couldn't work up any indignation or shock at the idea. She relaxed. She knows it didn't mean anything, in terms of a long-term relationship, but she was worried he would think less of her. Somehow that didn't sound like Bleys, and I said so. She hoped I was right.
I thought she was looking for more than just physical contact, though that could be quite a motivation when talking about an Amberite. She doesn't really know. I made a suggestion, probably a silly one. She still has the Broken Pattern. Did she think things might be different if she walked the real one? Somehow I think it would, but perhaps not as I think. But, I doubt it would make things worse. If nothing else, she could go through Shadows easier. She said she'd think about it. We talked about a wide variety of things, all related to the subject at hand, but there was no conclusion. It just felt nice to talk.
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