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Cassandra's Diary.45

Hunting for Kai-Revere

I've searched through the ruins of the garrison. A massive fire took out most of the buildings and the outer wall looked like it took explosive damage. Any bodies have been removed. Thus far, I've not found Kai-Revere. With the absence of any proof, I've just managed to retain a positive outlook. I haven't told anyone else about what I've found. And I'm as well prepared for an extensive search as is possible.

Before I left, DeWinter took me to the library. We poured over the existing maps of the area, so I have some ideas of where I can look for him. We did this somewhat secretly, since we didn't want to ruin anyone's plans for the upcoming Yule celebration. The girls have taken on all the tasks Kai used to do; lighting the house and such. We don't want to dash any hopes prematurely.

It is horribly hot here. Everyone's skin gleans with perspiration. The area is quite poor, but it doesn't seem to bother anyone. It's just the way it is here. I've just wandered, trying not to call attention to myself. Fortunately, people do speak French here, so that is not an issue.

Even if I had better tracking skills through scent, it would be impossible. There are an incredible amount of layers, from the machinery and buildings of the city, to the people, to the forests and jungle itself. An impossible task.

I did manage to get some art supplies from out-Shadow. With luck, I can make a viable Trump of Kai.

Day 271/30

No luck with the Trump. It works, but shuts down immediately. I can't imagine what is causing it.

I did make some in inquiries around the town near the garrison. Apparently, the garrison had orders to close down and keep inside if the local uprising overran the garrison. The local tribes overran, at about 50 to 1 odds. They bypassed the garrison and started attacking the town. The commander could not, or would not, sit back and watch. He opened the gates and the attackers swarmed. Of the few hundred or so, only about 10-15 prisoners were taken. I can only hope, with the odds, Kai was simply wounded and taken prisoner. How my sights have lowered!

I tried to call the Ravens, but thus far I've had no answer. I could really use the help in scouting.

I did Trump DeWinter. He was pretty upset about the garrison but, like me, is holding out for more positive information. When I told him about what I've found, his face got very, very blank. He said to trump back in an hour.

I did so and he passed through Claw. Hm, not a bad idea. We left the Shadow, put on the skin dye and walked back in. I made sure her clothes changed and she fit in fairly well. It was a bit of work for her to pass as…meek. Actually it would be funny if it were any other circumstances.

Day 272/30

We went into the jungle today to scout. We managed to get about 30 miles outside of town and were at the borders of the rebel army. They aren't well equipped, but they have numbers on their side. We circled around and came in through the perimeter from behind. Fortunately, they aren't too worried about a couple of women.

There are two types of women here: camp followers, who are living fairly well, and the support staff. They are primarily healers and cooks. Guess which ones we passed as?

Day 274/30

I took two days just to find the tribe that had the prisoners and the directions to them. Word has it that they are negotiating for the prisoners' return. None of them are officers, which is good for us. Not for the officers. They beheaded the officers to increase the morale of the tribes. If the government fails to negotiate successfully, they've threatened that the prisoners would also be beheaded. The problem is, the local government has just gotten the terms. It would take far too long to send word back, get a response and then talk to the tribal leaders.

The prisoners were well guarded, but none of them were Kai-Revere. I can only go on the assumption that he's somewhere near.

Day 275/30

I got a horrible Trump from DeWinter. Kai has been marked as killed-in-action. He'd been informed today, by a personal visit from the local military in Paris. Kai, along with his comrades, is being shipped to Marseilles. DeWinter will be going there to identify the body. The reports, from where I don't know, said that Kai stepped in when his commanders were killed. That sounds too much like Kai. I absolutely refuse to believe it's him.

But, if he's somewhere, possibly injured, I've got to find him. And this damn war is interfering. If I have any chance to get to him, I've got to stop this from escalating.

Day 279/30

Claw and I made our way into Libya, where the governmental officials were holed up, trying to figure out what to do. By sheer nerve and persistence, I got us inside. We clearly confused the captain that we were shown to. For one, all he saw was our skin. So he almost wrote us off as natives. But, we spoke well and it became obvious we were well educated. Not a usual mix in these parts, it seems.

So, he took us to his commanding officer. The Foreign Legion leader was a Commander Jacobs who, in turn, took us to the meeting room. I told them who I was, using my old nom de guerre, Annette Liberte. They dismissed me and just went on arguing amongst themselves. I admit the strain and tension of the last two weeks was telling. I got so angry, to get there attention, I hit the table. It was an inch think and quite long.

The table died.

I broke it in half. They just got really quiet, staring at the table. Claw looked satisfied as she leaned against the wall. I told the Commander to wire France to verify who I was. They can get verification from DeWinter, if necessary. I told him that he'd probably be told I was a pain in the ass, but it might be best to give in. I'm one of those uncontrollable women, don't you know. He just nodded, still staring at the table.

Day 281/30

We've got our cease-fire. We're hitting the situation from a number of fronts. DeWinter is taking care of the government in France. Claw will handle the Sudanese people; I will handle the Sudan rebels.

We were just beginning to plan our actions when I got a Trump from Rinaldo. It seems that some military men came to the house. They told Mal about Kai. The girls overheard and were quite distraught. Now, Mosi, Ekaterin, and Matisse are gone. Mal was so upset about Matisse she attacked Rinaldo twice. Sigh.

I Trumped DeWinter and told him to intercept the train. It was likely they'd go to Marseilles before shipping out to Africa. It seems logical, at any rate. I told him to Trump Rinaldo and get him there. The two of them should be able to find them.

I did Trump Benedict, to see if there was any insight of what else I can do. I feel like I'm spinning wheels, but not obtaining my objective of getting Kai back. Benedict said there were a number of Shadows that seem to be having similar difficulties. In fact, he was in one of them now. He thought it might be a Shadow version of the Chaosian virus I was told about.

That stunned me a bit. Hopefully, it was just a Shadow version. If it was the real thing, and Kai caught it…no, I won't think about it. Benedict did talk about the possibility of…quarantining, or cleansing the Shadow. I was sick to think just what that meant. If we couldn't isolate it within an area, if it spread, the Shadow would have to be “sterilized.” Call it what you will, we'd have to destroy the Shadow, and everyone in it. And, within the last month or so that Kai's been fighting or whatever else, he may very well be infected.

That was a chilling thought. There is no cure; at least none that Owen said was viable. Then I thought about this uprising. They've been fairly coordinated. Could Kai have gotten infected and switched sides? Jacobs confirmed the theory in part. He didn't know about Kai, but a few officers were now working for the tribal leaders.

I Trumped Owen to get a bit more information. She said the best way to deal with infections of this virus was to put the patients into a non-magical area. The virus cannot work or spread in that condition. And, more importantly, she could sense Kai. At least, she said she got a reading. That gave me hope.
I spoke with Julian, one of the best people I think that could handle something on a large scale as this. First, he said that Owen's ability to sense people was quite accurate and I should take it to mean that Kai is alive somewhere. He'll be coming through as soon as he can arrange it.

I Trumped DeWinter who was looking very weary. He'd seen the body. He thought it was Kai. It even had his tattoo. He brightened up as soon as he heard about Owen's insight. The mystery of the body will remain so for a while.

Day 285/30
Tag team on the Sudan

We went about our tasks with renewed energy. And we've been busy. Julian, after a brief introduction began marshalling forces to isolate the area. Meanwhile, I've been going to Egypt (lovely place) to coordinate efforts on the Northern government. They were warned ahead of time by my people, so they didn't give me much to complain about.

Good news: Mosi and Ekaterin were on the train. They are both staying with Tralee right now. Bad news: Matisse was not.

I was getting concerned about the coastal areas. If anyone were to leave by boat there was not much I could do about it. Commander Jacobs then told me the British government was the major force in those waters and I brightened. To his amusement, I wired the King of England. It was lucky he remembered me. To Jacob's astonishment, the King put at my disposal, the East Indian Fleet. They would be here in four days.

I got a Trump from Julian, updating me on the tactical situation. Between him and Claw, they got 1000 troops committed to our plans. More will come in. I got the Northern border sealed tight. We've been telling people there is a virus, which they are taking to mean plague. Whatever, they're working together.

Day 293/30

We've got the Sudan borders closed up. Now we have to figure out what to do with all these people.

I did ask Xhimena to contact the Ravens. It seems she took Owen with her, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. I'm not sure why.

The Ravens are evasive about going to Africa. In fact, they are really reluctant without giving us a reason. Instead, Xhimena got one of the Mer to come down. Very nice, another means to lock up the coastal waters.

Day 295/30
Matisse appears

I've gotten a radio-wire from the offshore admiral. He says they got a woman from a shipwreck that is demanding to speak with me. It took a lot of arguing, and finally a word from Jacobs, but I got the radio room to myself. It seems she's not here to help, but Xhimena had sent her down here. Hm…all I could do was ask her to go to her Khan and confirm whether or not he has someone here, working on his behalf. She said all right. The next few minutes I could hear bedlam erupt on the ship, even from the radio room on the ship. It seems she just got up and jumped overboard. I couldn't explain it, so I let the connection drop.

I've been staying in Egypt, at the British Embassy, finishing up with work here. I was anxious to be gone. We've still no word or sighting of Kai. It's such a large area; we just don't know where to begin.

That night, the Embassy was attacked. I woke to sounds of air raid alarms, floodlights roaming the skies, and gunfire. I went out to the balcony in time to see a girl, with flaming wings. I gave the loudest shout I could. Matisse must have heard, because she came swooping into the room. I closed the balcony doors and windows before the floodlights caught us.

She collapsed into my arms and her wings vanished. I was astonished at her appearance. For all intents, she looked to be 17 years old.

And naked.

I looked Matisse over, to tend to her wounds. She'd been shot in the abdomen. I put a dressing on it and immediately Trumped Owen. She was still in France, and I passed Matisse through.
I got her through just as some soldiers were pounding on my door. I answered, inquiring what the fuss was about. They said there was an intruder, or assassin in the area. I was so unconcerned, they immediately thought the “assassin” had gone into another room. They still did a quick search. They were looking for a person, so they didn't see the bloodstains on the floor. Of course, I was standing on them. They told me to stay put and rushed off. I cleaned up and prepared to leave. The ambassador was distraught, thinking I was leaving because of a lack of faith in their ability to protect me. I spent far too much time placating him before I left.

Day 296/30

My mid-morning, I got a Trump from DeWinter. He had some interesting news. First, he believes, and so does Owen, that Matisse has a crush on Kai. I didn't bother to argue. She may be fey, but she's is only two years old. What could she know about it? Even though I haven't talked to her, I'm thinking this is just a bit of hero worship on her part.

But, she says she did find him. DeWinter relayed that she found him amongst dead people. Dead people? Like in the morgue? Could he be in a coma? DeWinter said no. They were all quite decomposed by the time they got to Marseilles. So what did it mean? He came through, bearing a picture that Matisse had drawn.

I've seen this place. It took a while to recognize it, but it was the garrison that Kai was stationed at. But, I've been there. DeWinter said that maybe he slipped into Shadow. Yes…it was a possibility.

Rather that travel by ordinary means, we went out-Shadow and came back in to Khartoum. I didn't bother with our appearances. From there I began to walk, concentrating on Kai. But each time I stepped into a Shadow, I knew I missed him. What made it difficult was that DeWinter's concentration was interfering. With many apologies, I had to ask him to move away. Eventually, he had to leave the immediate area. It was more important to find Kai than preserve pride.

I began again, each time a step was too far. Finally I just stood still, inching my way into Shadow. It was very, very hard, this finite shifting. At once I knew I succeeded.

Well, the first clue was that I was surrounded, ten deep, in zombies. I pulled my sword and began fighting. Where was Kai in all this? I shouted for him, moving toward the inner walls, thinking he was holed up somewhere. No matter what I did, they just continued to rush me. There were hundreds, thousands of them. Though it could be I'm exaggerating, but it didn't feel like it at the time. The bad part was there was no way I could Trump out.

Then I heard Kai yell back, “MOM? I'm coming! I'll save you!” I tried to tell him to stay where he was, to stay safe so I could make my way to him. But, he either didn't hear me, or just decided not to listen to me.

Then he was at my side. Much more worn and tired than I liked, but blessedly alive. We got back-to-back. Just as I was wondering how we could get away, I got a Trump from DeWinter. I couldn't let down my guard enough to get Kai through. DeWinter saw what was around us and shut it down.

After a small eternity that was about an hour I could see a glow from a nearby hill. Ah, reinforcements. Has Kai been fighting all this time? For months? Oh, my poor boy!

I could see Julian and DeWinter fighting their way to us. We began to meet them. Another hour passed. I managed to work Kai into a wall, so I could cover more of him. And take some of the strain off. We met and began making our way back to the Trump gate that Owen had made. Julian and Kai went first. Owen was in the center, fighting, but not as much since she had to concentrate on the gate. DeWinter and I made up the rear.

We got to the gate. Kai was constantly commentating on what to do. His voice was very near the edge of hysteria. I suppose I would be the same, at his age, if escape were so near.

We got to the gate. Julian ordered Kai to go. Julian could easily recognize the fact that Kai was working on sheer stubbornness. He was exhausted, but couldn't relax, and couldn't stop fighting. He made his tone such that Kai didn't even argue with him. It was a snap of an order and Kai responded automatically. I'd like to learn that trick. Then DeWinter, then Julian and myself, then Owen. Actually, the last of us went through at the same time. The gate slammed shut and we were home and safe.

Day 306/30
Kai is Home!

It's been a busy week. Kai is recuperating. The Legion was good enough the give Kai a 30-day leave. Technically, he was absent without leave, but with the virus, they're willing to overlook that. Especially when he was talking about zombies raiding the garrison. Right, no one has any doubt he was suffering from hallucinations.

From our end, since the virus is a mere Shadow reflection of its true strength, Owen, Rinaldo and others can, and have, managed to magically cause it to die. We made a push to get everyone in an isolated area. There, they used an area-effect spell to cure the people en masse. Since few in France believe in magic, I went out-Shadow and got some placebos to use, saying it was a “cure”. In the week, people returned to normal and went back to their families. I doubt repercussions would emerge, but I'll keep an eye on things, just in case.

Kai is getting plenty of rest. The first few days were the worst. He rarely slept, and when he did he had nightmares. It's no wonder considering what he went through. He did regale the girls with lots of advice on how to stop zombies, though. He almost sounded like his old self.

When Matisse found out he was back, I could hear her from almost across the house. I heard her, yelling, “He's here! He's here!” I went out to intercept her and found her virtually dragging Mal down the hallway. Mal was trying to stop her, but with Matisse's newfound strength, it was a lost cause. I just stepped in front of her and told her that Kai needed much sleep before he had any visitors. I explained that it helped him heal. Just like it would do as much good for herself. I reminded her that she was also supposed to be confined to her room. She just wanted to see him. She pleaded and I finally relented enough to let her look inside the room, if she promised not to make any noises. She agreed quickly and tiptoed inside. She looked at him and was vastly relieved. Then she quietly went back to her room, promising to stay in bed until Doctor Blythe said she could get up.

I spent my nights by the bed, to help with his recovery and to keep him company. The girls came together and in pairs and individually, to show him things, to give him hugs, to listen to him talk. They were so very happy to see him back.

I have begun to wonder though. He hasn't said anything about the garrison. He's said nothing about losing his friends and comrades. About losing the battles. The silenced was deafening. I mentioned by observation to DeWinter. He said he'd look into it.

By the end of the day, he agreed that Kai was holding something back. We'll have to do something about it before he goes back. It may cripple him at a critical time. Knowing Kai, he'll fight us a bit.

I did talk with Rinaldo. I was a bit annoyed with the fact that he'd been working on the Chaosian virus without our knowledge. I explained that my rules in the house are simple. He can join in or not in our gatherings or events. He can do as he pleases. Even if that means he wants to keep private matters private. But, this does not extend to working on something that could potentially affect my home and the people in it. And this is a home; something I do not feel I really had as a child, aside from Byslamia, and even then there were limits. This is my home; with people I love and am proud of. And working on something of this nature, on the virus, which did prove to affect us, I should have known about it. I didn't expect answers, just knowledge.

I didn't demand an apology, but I did set down my foot. He didn't argue the point and he did say it was a reasonable expectation. He agreed to my terms. He did, however, express some concerns with Mosi and Ekaterin. He has no idea how they did what they did. They had set up a spell to track Kai. And they were successful. The problem is, they haven't been given any knowledge of how to work spells, much less create them, yet they did it. And he doesn't know how they managed it.

The only thing I could do was suggest that he check their memories. He seemed surprised about my suggestion, but covered it quickly. I called the girls in. Since they know they are in trouble, and they didn't want more, they came quickly. I told them if they cooperated and told us everything they did, they would not be in more trouble. In fact, they might find their punishment mitigated a bit. They readily agreed.

We sat them down and Rinaldo sat between them. I told them to remember what they did and when, from the moment they learned of Kai until their father found them at the train station. He tried to watch both of them, but their memories were jumbled in a free-association that couldn't be followed. One event would trigger an “Oh, yeah, I forgot I did that” sort of thing. He ended up viewing the events individually. He said he learned a lot, but not about the issue at hand. Rather, they went from “We have to find Kai---there he is, with the time to make the spell frustratingly blank or obscure. Hm. I had no suggestions for him.

Matisse's transformation was another story, much the same. She remembered being at the train station, with people trying to grab her. Of course, a three or four-year-old walking around unattended would attract a lot of attention. She panicked and then she was “big.” She also has no idea how she did it, nor how to change back. I suggested to Mal that she would have to do it. Much like Siggi did for her before. She said she'd give it thought about how to go about it. Matisse, fortunately, is agreeable. I just hate the idea of her walking around looking like an attractive young woman, attracting unwanted…attentions. With the mind of a babe. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Day 307/30

I talked with Tremerule. I asked him if I could tell him a bit about Evander and I. He said, sure, and I gave him the bare essentials. I was trying to show him that I rather know how he feels about his father: the mistrust, the doubts. He had to make a decision of whether or not to see Dastard. Actually, I think he's been thinking about it, since he agreed right away. We will leave as soon as a few things are tied up here.

I went to talk to Kai. Rather than try and sound him out, the subtle approach rarely works with him, I asked him straight out what he is hiding from us. He's walking around and joining us for meals. It struck me then how much taller he's gotten--and more powerfully built. He's good-looking in a rugged sort of way, much different than Eidolon, who is more polished. Each to their own strengths.

In the week, he's been reacquainting himself with Paris and his friends. I let him go, believing he needed to put some distance to what happened between it and himself. But, now it was time to face things. I choose to edit what I tell the girls, or even my Mother and Byslamia, because they never had the frame of reference to understand. I find it hard to explain Shadow (not that it can be explained) much less personal issues. He refused to acknowledge there was anything to talk about.

That afternoon, I got a telegram from Marseilles, from Robert. We had to go there now. Tralee was in labor. The house was in an instant flurry of motion. I Trumped the weir with Tralee and went through. Then I went to the hospital, found an isolated area, and brought DeWinter, the girls, weir, it seemed the whole household through.

Three hours later, I had a beautiful granddaughter. Such a simple sentence does not do the moment justice. I was awed at her, and delighted. And a bit overwhelmed. I feel too young to be a grandmother, but that was what I am, now. Tralee is doing wonderfully and Robert oscillates between looked extremely happy and smug, to sheer panic. They had decided to name a girl after the girl's maternal grandfather, and if a boy, to the paternal grandfather. Evander isn't a good name for a girl, so they altered it to Elandra. Eric's legacy lives on. Though I think we'll need a few boys soon.

Day 310/30
Faiella's revelations

I finished Faiella's journal today. I only had a few pages left last evening. DeWinter went to sleep and I told him I'd join him when I was done. It was a difficult read, because she was talking about her last days of her pregnancy with Deirdre. Oberon was attentive and solicitous. But, even the beginning was three times worse than it was with Eric or Corwin. Her entries always end abruptly, usually with a simple “Later” at the end. So it was disjointed and broken up. The very last entry was penned in just as she went into labor. It simply said, “Contractions. Deirdre is telling me it's time.”

And there it ended.

Needless to say, I know how it ended. The many blank pages at the end spoke volumes of a life cut short. I wasn't ready to sleep, so I sat and mulled things over. As much as it was wonderful to know about her, it was disappointing that there was little information that I could use.

I sat for a long while, turning and flipping through pages aimlessly. Sometime later, I noticed a glimmer of writing on the page following the last entry. It was written in silver ink. I might have missed it, but I'm sure it wasn't there earlier. It read:


Now that you've read my journal, you know that there are a lot of things I haven't said. Now you have the power, and you have questions. The journal is enchanted to give you answers.

Could this be possible? I glanced at DeWinter, who was still asleep. Feeling a little foolish, but hopeful, I asked, out loud,

“What does it mean to be the Witch?”

And writing appeared.

It is something wonderful and amazing. It also bears great responsibility. You will be a great power.

“Why did you die?”

The words seemed to pause before appearing.

Make yourself comfortable.

No problem. I wasn't going anywhere.

I hoped I wouldn't die, but I knew it was possible when I had a girl. Oberon thought he'd be potent help with his magic, but he couldn't save me. Yet, I had to have a girl--and I didn't want that girl to also be the fourth child between Oberon and I.

She didn't say anything directly, but she implied she knew of the problems with any fourth child from the same parents of Chaos blood.
I believed in Oberon. I so wanted to believe in him. But, a girl-child was dangerous as with the Legacy involved.

What is the Legacy?

Long ago there was a Master of Power, a so called Master of the Line. He was so potent, he changed all of Shadow and undermined the supremacy of the Fey. The Khans feared his power and acted to mitigate it. They did not succeed. As shadow failed their Blood and decreased their fertility, they brought together all the fertility magicks from all the Shadows they could find. They bound together mortality and fertility, and placed it into the Changeling Witch. The Witch has the power to gift the Fey with children.

It was a staggering thought. No wonder Xhimena was being courted by the Fey that know of her. Why Siggi said that with a thought Xhimena could destroy any line of Fey. With a decision, she could simply deny children to any Fey Blood. Once denied, they were targets. Once targets, they could be eradicated. It was a fearsome responsibility as well as a dangerous power. It was even more important now that the fewer who knew of Xhimena, at least as the Witch, the better. Until she learned more and came into her own. Until she understood the choices.

To prevent sliding into a panic, I woke DeWinter. He was surprised to see it was almost morning. He'd thought I'd be long done with my reading. I showed him the journal, but he couldn't read the entries and he couldn't see the silver writing. I related what I found out. He was more than a little daunted and disturbed. As was I.

What to do? I needed advice. Discreet advice.

I Trumped Fiona. Fortunately, I don't think I've ever contacted her with petty concerns, so she answered and agreed to meet with me. I caught an annoyed looked from DeWinter as he stretched his hand out, as I disappeared.

Fiona looked well, if a bit different. Her hair was more strawberry blond than the true redhead that she is. Her jacket was conservative, contrasting oddly with knee socks and saddle shoes. She almost looked like a teenager, with her fine build and short height.

I outlined the situation. She looked at the journal, but she couldn't read it either. I did mention Xhimena's odd statement about being “lost” and we wouldn't find her. I'm more than a little worried that we have nowhere to go to protect her. I could take her to Amber, but I was equally loath to abandon Mal and Matisse to Shadow since they were not permitted in Amber. What could we do?

Fiona suggested she talk to Random. Laying the groundwork, so to speak, to introduce the idea of allowing Mal and Matisse to enter Amber, with the King's permission. She'd start by mentioning a few troubling details regarding Darrheabarr and the self-exile of that part of the family. She'd segue into a commentary that Dalt used to actively work against Amber, but, since Cassandra formed close ties, that line of the family ceased to be a formal threat for the most part.

Then I could talk to Random. He'd be thinking more along the lines that having one or more of the lines of the Fey on his side was much more advantageous than having any or all of them against him, or Amber. It was crafty and…odd. It was much the same arguments I was going to bring to Random. But, perhaps not so strange. Coming from a second source, it seems to be a logical progression that just adds more weight. I agreed to her plan and she said she'd contact me after she talked with Random.

She did have another interesting bit of insight. The answers I've already gotten have filled up a page. There are a finite number of pages. Therefore, I should be careful about how many questions I ask. They should be thoughtful, purposeful ones. I'm glad she pointed that out. I really hadn't thought about it. This will have to apply to Xhimena, as well. We'll have to preserve the journal for her children, and so on, as long as we can.

Day 312/30

Fiona Trumped me and said she'd talked with Random. Now it was up to me. First, though, I would take Tremerule to see Dastard first, to assess that situation.

We left early this morning; DeWinter, Tremerule and myself.

Day 319/30

It didn't take us long to get there. Interesting. We got to Nolava without incident. Tremerule was understandably nervous. We went to the Church only to find out that Dastard doesn't live there anymore. They had politely, but resolutely asked him to resign. So what does one do with an ex-saint-prelate? They set him up in a country estate.

We got there by early evening. It's a huge place. Much too big for one person. I was surprised when Dastard himself opened the door. He was almost frantic to show us in and get us comfortable. I could see that inactivity was definitely not good for him. Must be a family trait.

He showed us to a study and immediately handed DeWinter a set of books. Personal journals of his experiences. He said they were for Amber. They might show something of usefulness in the future. Dangers and bit of knowledge and all that. We were all a bit stunned at the abruptness and the nature of the gift. He was actively trying to help Amber?

It was awkward. Tremerule was nervous and Dastard was the same. DeWinter was intimidating. I tried my best to mediate. By the next morning, Tremerule and Dastard were making some progress, but it will take time. Fortunately, or not, they have that in spades.

Day 320/30
Some History with Dastard

Dastard did say he had some complex philosophical problems that we might have some insight. DeWinter looked skeptical, but I was just amazed he's ask for help. Tremerule was walking about, so this was a private meeting.

Dastard said this was a problem from long ago, from the Black Forest War. Now DeWinter looked surprised. That was over 200 years ago! It was a battle that was a bitter defeat. They faced odds of about ten to one, against them. At the end of the worst battle, DeWinter had disappeared. He'd been buried under a pile of bodies, so Dastard never found him. Dastard had come, with reinforcements several weeks too late. When he realized DeWinter was lost, he became very angry and went to find the attackers. The entire attack force was annihilated and Dastard was captured.

DeWinter was hooked; he'd never heard of this.

They tortured and humiliated Dastard for information. He'd just lost 10,000 troops just going through Shadow. Then the rest was lost in the battle. His captor was a demon personified; forked tongue, bat wings, glowing eyes and horns. All he remembered was being helpless, and the next thing he knew, they were becoming…intimate.

Oh, I could see where this was going.

For some reason, she kept him alive. And she made him miserable. Her force was now losing against fearsome odds. But, she kept returning to him. Finally, towards the end, she came back to trade him to the attackers. While she was gone, he'd been working on a spell to render her immobile. He used it, she froze, and he got out of there.

But, outside he could see that the attackers bore the banner of the Unicorn. He didn't think he'd survive long enough to convince them he wasn't a part of the monster's forces. Especially since the attackers were led by Julian.

Can't say I blame him for that one.

He went back in and unfroze her. He told her that if she wanted to get out, then she had to take him with her. She was patently afraid of Julian, so she flew them both out.

Much later, he found out she was pregnant. He made another stasis spell, but before he could use it they had another tryst. She left him at the Church, saying she'd be back. He wanted to kill her.

She came back in a week. And she was still very, very interested in him. She said she liked how he squirmed. She always she found a way to get in, usually by flying through he window, and always she wanted sex. I recognized the signs of our pregnancies. Finally he put a spell on himself to turn into a strong enough monster. The last time she visited, he tore her head off.

And then she delivered.

He named the child Tremerule and explained to the Church that he was a foundling. Later, he acknowledged the boy as his own.

Now, he came to his dilemma. How can he explain to Tremerule the nature of his conception, and of his heritage? DeWinter and I adamantly told him to say nothing. We spent a long time as I explained about Amberite pregnancies. I put in a few details that Dastard had left out, which lent weight to what I was saying. Until Tremerule went through it himself, he wouldn't understand how overwhelming Circumstances are. He would only hate Dastard for it. And later, it might be too difficult to repair the damage. I asked for his permission to talk to Tremerule about the generalities of the process and he agreed to that.

I understand his desire to want to unburden secrets and form alliances. I could see why he was so frantic. Who knew how long until he was taken over again, or other events conspire to prevent him from forming relations with his only son? We urged him to remain silent on this one. I really do think it is best.

The other bit of surprise for us was Dastard's remorse at his own inability to stop himself. Why would he be attracted to such a monster? We reiterated the nature of Circumstances, which he tried to believe. DeWinter said that he would find out for himself, if he ever tried to have children again. That it wasn't that she was a monster, but the situation. Dastard shook his head. He said it was unlikely; he was more attracted to men than women.

That rocked DeWinter.

Dastard seemed embarrassed by the admission, saying we probably don't understand. I said not at all. Would he like me to introduce some homosexual members of the Family to him? That rocked Dastard. I guess he seemed to think there would be no one like himself in the royal family. Well, it is a big family now.

DeWinter went back to a few details. First, when the woman died, was she a demon? Dastard said the demon's wings went away and her eyes stopped glowing. In fact, she looked normal, if a bit on the thin side and pale with dark hair. Ah. He fell into a Chaosian. That seemed to relieve him.

The second point was more important. Tremerule was only in his twenties and this happened over 200 years ago; give a few decades either way in subjective time. How was that possible?

Well, Dastard thought the child would be dangerous and, at least, part demon. He put the stasis spell on Tremerule. Every once in a while, he'd wake the child, feed him, and run some tests, then put it back on. He did this for a long time. Eventually, he allowed the child to stay awake. He said he never saw any indication of anything abnormal, so he acknowledged the child as his own. Then he grew to love and respect his son.

Well, again. He seemed to be calmer now that he'd told someone his secret. I did feel for him. To carry this knowledge, even if misinterpreted, especially that it was misinterpreted, must have been very difficult.

I did have to talk with Tremerule. If he follows the nature of his Circumstances from his line, he has to be prepared. The only guess as to Oberon's Circumstances is that he was attracted to powerful women. Or strong women. Deela used that against him when he was captured. DoBlique's Circumstance was much darker. I don't know what triggered Dastard's Circumstances, but Tremerule might have inherited a less pleasant one. I'm still opting for an attraction for strong people. If it was a Chaosian, which I'm betting on, the she definitely had the position of strength, so to speak, of being the captor. It seems to bear with DeWinter's. Perhaps DoBlique has misinterpreted hers a bit? It bears thinking about.

We left later that day, promising to return. If DeWinter would allow it, I'd like to invite Dastard to our Yule. I don't know how he'd take Paris, but I'm betting he'd be willing to see the good, and try, for Tremerule's sake, to be supportive.

Day 329/30
Kai 's Dark Secret

We went back to Paris where I immediately turned around and Trumped Random. He seemed surprised to see me. It was one of the few Trumps I've made to him in the last few years, objectively and subjectively. He held out his hand for me to come through.

I outlined the situation with Matisse and Xhimena. I even spoke briefly of the journal. Random couldn't read it either. I asked him point-blank: if we need to retreat to safety, can we all come to Amber? I will not abandon Mal or Matisse. So, I need to know in order to plan accordingly. He thought for a moment and then said he'd have to talk to Mal before making a decision. And yes, I could go back and warn Mal. Ah, a joke. A good sign, I think. I said that was fine. He said to Trump him when Mal was ready to talk.

I got back to Paris. Everyone was fine. While I was gone, Kai did talk a bit with DeWinter. But, DeWinter said he's still holding back something. I went to talk with him. I did tell him what he had done to escape. I spoke about side-slipping into an adjacent Shadow. Even if accidental, it was an accomplishment, regardless of the consequences. He took it in good humor. He asked about the body identified as his own. I said that in all likelihood, when he shifted, he exchanged placed with the Kai in that Shadow. I think it happens when the shifting is too abrupt. It'd happened to DeWinter and I once, long ago.

Then I broached the subject, saying that even if he chose not to tell us what is going on, it shouldn't be because he can't talk with us. I can talk about difficult things. Sometimes, I choose not to. But, bottling things up is not a good way to start his adulthood.

He thought for a while and then said, okay. He thought I might understand what he was going to tell him. But, it was a secret. I asked if it was okay to tell DeWinter? No! Sigh, all right.

We went to a private salon and he talked only after we polished off a number of bottles. He seems to prefer rum these days. I pretended to drink as much as he did. I wanted my wits about me.

His secret? He thought he was a necromancer. The type of people DoBlique goes out to kill. I have to talk to her about the stories she tells him. Ah, never mind. In a nutshell, he believes he is attracted to zombies. Ugh. I managed to keep my face from showing anything.

He thought I was controlling horror.

Actually, I was trying not to smile. If he inherited anything from me, it would be something along the side of danger, which would set off his Circumstances. Really, I'm the Amberite version of Dr. Freud lately. Free sex advice from Cassandra.

I tried to tell him otherwise, but it came to no surprise that he's made up his mind. He did agree that we test the theory. But, it had to be kept secret. Great. How was I supposed to manage that? He has much more confidence in my abilities than I am.

Day 330/30

I've tried a few things to test Kai. Kidnappers didn't work, but he might not see them as dangerous, so it didn't prove anything. Finally, I borrowed one of my own experiences. Kai doesn't like heights either.

I did sort of sneak the issue to DeWinter. When he asked what I was doing, I said that Kai had spent the better part of a few months in constant Danger. He went pale at the implications. And, that we're testing a few theories about Circumstances. He got it immediately. How's that for splitting hairs with not telling anyone?

I ordered two balloons. I had Rinaldo make a net spell. I didn't want Kai to plunge to his death if something went wrong. I just wouldn't tell Kai about the safety feature. Rinaldo, bless him, didn't ask pesky questions.

DeWinter and Kai went up in one. I went up in another. I was going to go through this with him if it killed me. We attached each balloon with each other with a rope. When we were high enough, I Trumped Rinaldo to set the spell. We were ready to go.

I told Kai to climb across the rope. He thought I was crazy. I could see him arguing and gesturing to DeWinter. DeWinter didn't budge. Kai yanked off his jacket and shirt, sending buttons flying off in all directions. I felt a bit sick when I saw that they weren't stopped by anything on the way down. Finally, he climbed across. It took 15 minutes.

No reaction, aside from being a bit pale.

He climbed in and gave me a dirty look that Dalt would have been proud of. Again, I wondered if he realized what was possible. I said he was lucky the rope didn't break. As the realization hit, he moved to one side and threw up.

Then I told him to climb back to the other side. I felt horrible as he began retching again. But, he mastered himself and did it.


Day 331/30
Necromancer Test

I've asked Rinaldo to set up an illusion. Yes, full sensory. I wanted Zombies. He looked at me as if I were crazy. I said that we were dealing with helping Kai overcome some of his…nightmares from the battle. Ah, now he understood. Or thought he did. No problem.

That night, I sent Kai on an errand to my office. I went to join Rinaldo to watch. As Kai approached my desk, a nearby wall began to shimmer. He froze, watching. From what looked to be a portal, a female zombie came through. I could see for myself that Kai was very aroused. Oh, I hope this is not right, somehow.

I went to talk to him, after the zombie disappeared. By now he'd figured out this is the test. Bless him, but he didn't think all the other attempts were tests. I said this didn't prove anything, but he got his stubborn look. Let's try it again? All right.

Rinaldo did it again. I figured that if he were attracted to zombies, it wouldn't matter what it looked like. I told Rinaldo that this time it should be a male zombie.
I watched Kai waiting in the office. The door opened and this time a male zombie walked in. Kai looked at it and called out, “Mom, a girl zombie!” I had to laugh. Good thing he was far enough away not to hear it. Rinaldo gave me a sideways glance, “He knows about the test?”


So, he brought in a girl zombie. It was really grotesque. Rinaldo should be in theatre. She shuffled and shambled over to Kai. Kai watched, a smile growing on his face. “Hey! She's not attractive!” Rinaldo muttered something like, “I should hope not,” and I clapped him on the back. I went to see Kai. He was vastly relieved and gave me a bone-shattering hug. He was not a necromancer. I still couldn't tell DeWinter, but Kai said I could be a drinking buddy anytime.

One mystery partly solved.

Day 332/30

We're just getting everything ready for Yule. It's due to start any time. Actually, whenever we want. I just have to start inviting people.

Mal did agree to talk with Random. I Trumped him and he came through right away. Random didn't mince words. He said that Mal was the only one of his kind, aside from Matisse, and, for things to progress, Mal had to make his people viable, regardless of Xhimena. I hadn't given Mal the information about Xhimena yet, so she was puzzled at the remark. He said that having the King invite, or give permission for anyone to enter Amber was a special thing. It wasn't the same as having DeWinter or I do it. But, he has to think about the good of the people he's responsible for. Right now, he has to think about how vulnerable Mal and Matisse are. And with so few in numbers, they are vulnerable.

Mal nodded in agreement.

So, he wanted Mal to think closely about the conditions for coming to Amber. He did not want an immediate decision. Mal nodded. Random said that for Mal and Matisse to be able to go to Amber, Mal had to have more children. In fact, he set the number around eight.

We all looked at Random stunned and shocked. Without much more said, he went back to Amber. I know how much Mal hated the whole process. She certainly wasn't ready for another child so soon. It was an awful price.

And I don't know what she'll decide.

DeWinter just looked at me. I put a hand on his arm with a light mental tap. He opened up right away. This was a real bind. I know Mal hated the pregnancy. I doubted she's want to do it right away. Telling her that this was a way to keep Xhimena safe was tantamount to extortion. But, not telling her would really make her angry. At least, it would make me angry, not knowing what was going on. In the end, we agreed to let Mal make her decision first, and then tell her everything. We'd figure out what to do then.

Deep in thought, Mal took no notice our silence. She simply got up and walked out.
Then DeWinter and I had another parental talk about circumstances with Kai. I explained that if his was surrounding danger or battle, or some such thing, he had to show considerable self-restraint. He didn't understood. I explained that what if it had to do with fighting? He would start to feel really, really good. The more danger he'd put himself in, the better it would feel. DeWinter took over and said it could place himself and his comrades in dangerous situations if he didn't get control of it.

Kai's eyes got large. The implications were huge. Finally, all he said was, “I'm fucked.”

We tried to reassure him that he was now forewarned, and therefore forearmed. He said he didn't like this. He didn't want this one. We told him it wasn't a choice. He didn't like that answer.

He thought for a moment. Then, in the smallest voice I ever heard from him, he asked if he had gotten everyone killed in the garrison. Should they have retreated? I was stunned by the implications. Could it be? I said something to the effect that he shouldn't take on more guilt that was rightfully his. DeWinter said that with the odds, there was little he could have done to save any of them.

I asked Kai to tell us what happened. With that little prod, he told us everything. From the moments when the attackers were seen, to the time the garrison was sacked and he slipped out into Shadow. In a highly graphic detailed report. Everyone had been mauled or crushed when the walls fell. He managed to rally the troops to keep fighting until the end. Ah, the source of his guilt. DeWinter said that they would have died anyway. If he kept them going, gave them a small bit of hope, it was not his fault it failed. Kai didn't understand or believe. I said they honored him with their fighting to the end. They must have known it was futile. And still they did their duty. To take on guilt was also to take the honor of their decision from them. DeWinter nodded in agreement. Kai thought about it for a long while and then quietly nodded. I could see some of the tension leave him.
I had to ask, to see if he might be able to be aware of, well what to do if his circumstances did kick in. Has he been with women? With a Gallic shrug he said, yes, quite a few. Really? Yeah. He knew that Eidolon was being with women, so he wanted to keep up. Lady, was he that competitive? I must have had that thought on my face because he said he's stopped now. I didn't bother to tell him that he was wrong, that Eidolon had just recently become intimate, because Kai wouldn't have believed me.

But something about his manner prompted me to ask me how it was?

DeWinter gave me a look that plainly said I was out of bounds.

Kai just said it was okay.

Now, DeWinter looked at Kai . Just okay?

Yeah. No big deal.

Never more than that?

Kai was looking a little uncomfortable now, like he was admitting to a huge flaw within himself. And maybe he was.

Gently I asked if he liked women. He gave me a look that said he'd already though of that. Yes, he likes girls. And boys, sometimes. Ah. Perhaps that was the issue? I was already thinking about whom he could be introduced to during Yule, so that might not feel…different. Wrong.

I asked if he ever found …release. He shrugged again. He said he went through it all the way. But I could see that he hasn't found that bit of abandon that comes with true intimacy. I said that he should give himself time. Rather than follow whatever he thought he was supposed to be doing, he should just take him time. It could seem that he pushed himself too fast, that he was much more particular. He said, sure, okay. We let him escape.

A while later DeWinter remarked that he might know what Kai was going through. Of that, I had no doubt, though I said nothing.

DoBlique had told me how the church officials often gave succor and intimacy to those less fortunate. It was considered an act of charity. And that DeWinter was usually oblivious to his…admirers. DeWinter continued, saying that in spite, or because of what he was doing, he, too, never felt release. He realized it when I asked Kai. In fact, he was sweet to say that it was only with me that he found it. I suggested he tell that to Kai, so he might carry a bit of hope.

Later, outside, I saw them talking seriously. I couldn't hear what was said, but Kai came away looking a bit more cheerful.

Day 335/30

Kai went into the city to register his return to the Legion. Officially, he was back on duty. And he was ready and he was ever going to be. I felt rather proud of him: his sense of duty and determination to get back into the saddle, so to speak.

Day 342/30

I spent the day leaving Shadow and walking back into Libya. I found Commander Jacobs. He looked a bit startled. I realized he's never seen me fresh from Paris. He saw me in and served a light lunch and wine.

I asked about the area, and found that all is quiet. Yes, there haven't been many problems, at least nothing out of the ordinary. While Paris has it's share of unfortunates, the disparity here seemed more marked. He nodded. I asked if the rebellion had any basis on validity?

He said I'm just a soldier, ma'am.

I said that didn't stop him from having an opinion. He took that as a tacit request for him to be honest. Smart man. He said there was a…system of sorts here. Those with money wanted more. And they rarely gave it back. A minister might demand payments for services. Those who do the services want extra monies for work, and so on down the line. So, the people on the bottom suffered the most. I said I was looking into changing things.

He looked skeptical.

I asked him if France employed him? Only when they pay the bills. So, do you work for countries or individuals? He looked amused. He said countries. It cost a lot of money to hire the entire Foreign Legion. I looked him square in the eye. I said that wasn't an issue in this case. He should only take short contracts within the next six months, because they will be soon employed, either by France or myself. He started to laugh and then stopped when he saw I was serious. I didn't mention the fact that I had no idea of where to start, but I'll figure something out.

Then I got down to reason for my visit. I had a simple question. I told him that as prominent as our family is, it comes with a fair share of problems. Like assassins and such. His eyes widened and I realized I was being rather matter-of-fact about the possibility. I gave a shrug. My question was simple. If we had to retreat, what would the consequences of Kai disappearing. Regardless of the situation, Kai would be absent without leave. It would be unlikely he would receive prison time, but he would be cashiered and lose any commission. Ah, well. I had to ask. He asked how likely it would be that this would happen. I said I couldn't answer that question.

I went back to Paris. I stopped at an administrative office and set up an appointment with the President. I'd received a letter stating when his time opened up.

Day 352/30
Talking with Tremerule

Mal and I were having some tea on the patio outside. I asked her about her thoughts on Random's…proposal. She said he was crazy. Well, yes. But, what was she thinking? She surprised me by saying she enjoyed having children. I had to have that clarified. Did she enjoy the pregnancy and children, or just having children. She gave a little grimace. No, just having the children.


I Trumped Random. He answered slowly, almost distractedly. Just for a moment, as his face was slightly turned, he seemed much older that the last time I had seen him. I wondered just what had been going in Amber while I had been gone? Not that I'd ever know, for no one would tell me. Even if I knew who to ask. Gerard, perhaps? The impression vanished as soon as he turned to look at me. I asked him if Mal had to birth the children herself, or could she sired them? He said she just had to have eight children. I asked him how long she had to satisfy things? He gave it a thought and said about 30 years.

I repeated this to Mal. Mal was a bit relieved. That was all right then. I said so to Random, but he wanted to hear it from her own mouth. I gestured to her and she joined me in the Trump contact. She had Random repeat his conditions. Her Fey blood was showing. He gave a wink, like he was thinking the same thing, and repeated it: eight children, thirty years, only those two conditions. Mal agreed to it and Random said great. She was now officially invited to Amber. Then he signed off. I couldn't repress a rather smug smile.

She looked quizzically at me. I said that Random did not stipulate whether or not she bore the children herself. See, my Fey blood was showing, too.

Mal asked, What did I mean?

I almost repressed my smile, but I know I didn't hide it in my eyes. With a glint, I said she could become a man and sire children. I couldn't resist remarking that I bet there were a number of weir women that would volunteer.

She looked both horrified and scandalized by my remark. But, I could see it was now firmly in her mind. I added that Xhimena would be happy to help. She fled to the sanity outdoors.

Yule is coming soon. With both DeWinter's and Tremerule's assent I Trumped Dastard. He was surprised to see me. He was outdoors, perhaps at the rear of his house, painting a landscape. I invited him. I think he was a little pleased. I gave him a general time frame, in his reference and he said he'd Trump me when he was ready to come through.

I also talked to Tremerule while DeWinter talked with Eidolon. I might have broken some code of secrecy within the family, but he had the right to know. I told him he would be sworn to silence, because I know only a handful of people who knew what I was going to tell him. He said that perhaps I shouldn't tell him. I said I thought he should be told. Then, he said, eagerly, okay, what is it? It was…cute.

So, I told him about Deela and Oberon. He was a bit sick at the whole idea. Then, using that as a reference, I told him that people cannot control the natures of one's own Circumstances. For that reason, people of the family don't hold people accountable for it. Even when it is unpleasant. He said that the family isn't known for it's compassionate and warm feelings for others. I remarked that I doubted me or mine here held up to that notion. No, we were different than what he expected. Even Dastard had said so. Really? Yes, he admired me, Tremerule said, because DeWinter was well and truly happy.

We were getting off-topic. We talked about it more. I kept honing in on how Circumstance, like with Oberon's could be used against someone. He was finally getting exasperated. So, what should he do? I simply said, be compassionate. He looked startled. I said we never really know everything about another person. Our nearest and dearest could harbor something horrible experience. But, if it were me, I would want compassion. And not just for me, but for any children. He nodded and said he could do that.

There, my mission was done. I've done the most I could to prepared him if Dastard decided to tell him the truth of his birth. With luck, this conversation would come back to him, giving him an additional perspective. With more luck, he might ask questions, of Dastard or us, before jumping to condemnation. And I did it without compromising Dastard's privacy, or anyone else's. Except for Oberon. But he might think it was in a good cause, if he was alive. Then again, maybe not. Tough.

Day 354/30
Lucky Rabbit's Feet?

We received a letter from Kai. It was full of outrage and indignation. They'd put him in administrative duties! He went on about how they were wasting his talents. I would have been almost amusing if I didn't feel a little guilty. Had my visit brought this about? Or was this a matter of choice after someone has seen some action? And I don't have anyone I can ask.

Splurghi came by with some good news. Actually, Rinaldo was with her. The two of them had been working of magical defenses and she was now requesting an audience with Mal, DeWinter, and myself. A bit puzzled, we agreed. It turns out that since she hadn't heard anything from us in a while, that she might have offended us in some way. So, to make amends, she came bearing gifts. We assured her she had not offended us. We'd just been…busy. She was oddly relieved.

Her gifts were three rabbit feet. They were violet in color. They were also charms that would allow us to find whomever carried that. That was handy. Also, if the carrier broke it, it would signal that they were in great distress.

DeWinter asked why rabbit's feet?

Splurghi laughed, "Oh, they aren't rabbit." She just made them look like that, so it wouldn't stand out to anyone else. Purple feet don't stand out? She just shrugged.

DeWinter persisted. So, what were they originally?

Oh, they were parts of the Hand. We all looked at the bits of fluff on the table. So, did you kill them? Yes, once she learned who they were. What did you do with the rest? She said he didn't want to know.

Yes, he said, I do. He had to prod her a bit, but finally she admitted that she ate them. Both he and Mal looked revolted. I have no idea what my face showed, but it couldn't have been good. We sort of dumbly nodded at her and she left, pleased that she had done her good deed. DeWinter immediately took the charms to Rinaldo, to test for necromancy. Of course, Rinaldo wanted to know why he thought they were bad, or evil, and, of course, DeWinter told him. Rinaldo looked shocked, as if to ask himself just what he had been hanging around all this time.

By the end of the day, Rinaldo assured us that they were, in fact, harmless to us and not cast through necromancy. We were relieved to hear that. I suggested that perhaps Splurghi did not mean to say “ate,” I mean in a literal fashion. It could be a language issue, or a Fey miscommunication. I don't know if any of us really believe that.

Mal refuses to wear it, though, claiming she'll be fine on her own. She was open to the idea of Matisse carrying it with her. Both Matisse and Xhimena thought they were “neat,” though Xhimena didn't want to break it because she though it was so pretty. We explained the situational use of them and I think she understood. DeWinter went to work on Mal. He told her, flat out, that if he understood it, as each of the Thorns were killed, the power went to the remaining Thorns, making her, the last one having all the power. She nodded, yes it was true. So, by having Matisse, you just cut your power in half so you better wear it!

Mal got furious. She sputtered a bit. All she could manage to say was, “You pig!” She was standing, fist clenched.

I left the room.

I got to the end of the hall before the furniture started breaking. I guess Mal was going to show him just how powerful she still was.

A half hour later, she stormed into the room where the girls and I were having an impromptu tea party. She was still fuming.

I found DeWinter, hale and whole, sitting in one of the remaining chairs. It was clear who won that argument. I pointed a finger at him. “You enjoyed that.”

He smiled, “Yep.”

Day 355/30
Sharing Magick

We had a little talk with Mosi and Ekaterin. They'd been waiting for their punishment. They thought they could go and volunteer at the hospital, like Kai did. Hmm. They seemed so eager, but I knew it wasn't right. It wouldn't really mean a punishment. I told them they would have no magick classes until further notice. They were crushed. There, now I know it means something. DeWinter was impressed. He said it was dead on.

Then I went to tell Rinaldo. By now he's worked up some idea of what the two of them had done or, at least, how they did it. He believed that they tapped into the largest magical force near them: Xhimena. Oh, this we've got to settle.

I called for Xhimena and asked if anything unusual had happened around the girls. All she could relate was that she 'heard' the magic. Rinaldo tried for more details. All Xhimena could do to describe it was say it sounded “clunky.” As if you took a shallow copper bowl and ran a wooden pestle around the inner rim. It was a good description; I could hear the sound in my head. I said, “Scrapey.” She nodded eagerly, yes scrapey. I suppose it didn't make sense to Rinaldo, because he just looked befuddled.

I told her the next time it happened, she should tell me right away. All right, Mom. And I sent her off to play.

I called Mosi and Ekaterin back. I had them try and do something. They looked dubious. Actually, they adopted one of DeWinter's expressions. It plainly said that they thought I was tricking them into getting into more trouble. I told them that if they cooperated, their punishment might not last as long. They thought, they conferred, they whispered. In the end, they concentrated and made themselves invisible, though it was odd to watch. Their clothing went away, then their hair, then their skin, followed my muscles, arteries, bones and teeth. It took about 5 minutes.

I waited thinking Xhimena would show up. Nothing. I asked them how they did it. I could hear them whispering again, though I believe they thought I couldn't hear them. They knew Xhimena could do it, so they pretended to be her. Rinaldo surmised that the strong bond between the girls allowed them to tap into Xhimena's power. And, that Xhimena had so much power she didn't feel the drain.

I went to look for her and brought her back. I explained what they had been doing. I had them do it again. I was about to explain how this could be potentially dangerous, but was interrupted by Xhimena.

“That was so clever!” They squealed, they giggled and jumped up and down in excitement. The possible seriousness was lost to them.

And we really couldn't explain it. Rinaldo settled it by setting up a “new system”. He would tell them what they could do. They listened to him. No sharing, except when we were present. In fact, they weren't to share the power any more. They looked so glum, that after a few minutes I amended that to say that they would get special “sharing days.” That made them feel better and they went out talking about it.

All I could do was reflect that my Mother would never have relented. Rinaldo looked at me, “You are such a wuss.” I could only nod. Yes, I know.

We reminisced about the punishments and there severity from our childhoods. Ah well. I can only do my best.

Day 356/30
Yule in Paris

Yule started today here. I found out that Devi also, now could also share with Xhimena, so we put her in the same system. When I saw them practicing, I admit I lost my temper. I took hold of Xhimena's ear and led her out of the room. She looked puzzled. She said that she hadn't shared her power with Devi or Ekaterin. I thought we were going to go through another talk about her splitting hairs over our agreements. She knew we would include anyone who had that ability. She was confused, because she said she hadn't said anything to Devi. And she hadn't helped her. She was looking a little hurt and upset that she was in trouble. She looked so sincere, I let the matter go.

Kai got two days leave and the girls were overjoyed to see him unexpectedly Trump through. He wore his dress uniform and I couldn't help but remark on how handsome he was. He dismissed it, saying Eidolon was much better looking. He was exactly like DeWinter when he said that.

Xhimena found me a bit later, asking if we could talk. I said of course. She said she knew she was a problem and she doesn't want to be a problem. She looked like she was starting to cry and her voice trembled. Ah. I told her in no uncertain terms, she was never a problem. Situations are problems. People rarely are, and she will never be a problem to us. Really? I gave her a hug. Really.

She said that things have gotten complicated.

How so?

When I tugged her ear, it hurt. And it made her feel really, really good.

I flashed on DoBlique circumstances and felt uneasy. If Xhimena was following that, unlike what I have surmised, this could be awkward. How do I handle this? I would ask DoBlique to talk with her about it, but she has such a huge amount of shame attached to it, that I fear it would translate to Xhimena. And I don't want that. She went on to say that she felt odd with the fact that she hasn't met too many boys she really likes. The closest she's come to that is Professor Rinaldo. That makes a certain amount of sense. He's good-looking, charming, intelligent, and he's one of the few that knows about magic that she's met. I've got to enlarge her circle of acquaintances. After she let it all out, I told her there was no rush for these things. Could we talk about it after Yule? That was fine.

I took her to my office and showed her Faiella's journal. She knew the story about Deirdre and I told her that her great grandmother had written in it. She was Fey as well. She was The Witch, just like Xhimena. He eyes grew wide. I showed her the writing at the end. I said she could read it. But, she was not to ask the journal any questions until we were together, after she finished reading it. And, she had to take the utmost care with this. It was not replaceable. She held it against her. I could see she was itching to read it. I said when she was done, that we will talk and ask questions together.
She left, feeling a bit better. And I have a bit of research and thinking to do.

It was mid-afternoon that Princess Kasta arrived. Eidolon stood there stunned and surprised, for a few long minutes before rushing over and giving her a kiss. They began talking quietly, moving to go to the garden. The Major was there as well. He moved to follow. I moved to intercept and Kasta's grandmother clamped a hand on his arm. He turned to her and said that they would be unprotected out there. She replied that we had commandoes all through the house. I wonder what a commando is. She doubted anything could get to them. All the trouble they would get into is to “make out.”

And he needn't watch.

He grew red in the face at the suggestion, but stayed at her side. We reacquainted ourselves and I showed them to rooms. I doubt they'd want to trek back to the harbor, or the city, if they planned to stay for any length of time.

Then I showed them the house and introduced them to my mother. They settled down immediately and I knew they'd be content. I told a few Weir to make sure they were comfortable and had what they liked. The young weir girl promised to take good care of them.

All through this, Kai was unexpectedly urbane about the whole thing. No snickering, no side remarks or catcalls. I gave him a kiss to show how pleased I was.

About 3 in the morning, Dastard Trumped to come through. He was fairly chagrined to learn he'd misjudged the time. He thought it would be closer to midnight. Well, the party was still going strong. Tremerule was out in the city with some others, so he was a bit disappointed. I showed him to some rooms, and introduce him to people. He'd tried to fit in, wearing what looked to be peasant garb, homespun pants, work shirt and vest. While he wandered, amazed at the people and the music, I had more fitting clothing put in his room. He said that Paris was nothing as he expected. I think he meant that it was not where he expected DeWinter to live. But, I don't think it was an unpleasant surprise.

I took him around the various areas. Musicians were playing throughout the house. At one point we went through a room where Random was playing the drums. He saw me and gave me a little wink. When we were passed, I told Dastard if he'd seen any Amberites? No. He looked at me. I gave a little smile. I like punching holes in illusions of Amberites. I told him to look at the drummer.

He did.

It was dark and smoky, but I could see Random clearly enough.

Dastard said he was really short.

I said that that was the King of Amber.

He did a double take and I wonder if he believed me.

Day 358/30
Falling in Love Again

The party is going strong. Various members of the family came and went, time permitting. I made sure all of the younger set, (if they are still younger, who can tell?) met with the girls, Xhimena, Eidolon, Kasta, Kai.

The house seemed to divide itself between the rowdy and the demure. Random and Vialle were there. Random had seen the musicians and immediately headed off. I took Vialle to my mother, and various people on the demure side. Flora joined them for most of the day though Carmella roamed back and forth.

Sometime during the day I recalled a promise DeWinter made to me. I cornered him in one of the rooms where he was hanging out with some weir. I reminded him of our anniversary. He looked puzzled, since the next one was not in a while. I reminded him that he was going to tell me his age. Ah. All right. He glanced over his shoulder where the Weir were listening. You could have heard a pin drop, they were listening so hard. Well, you would have heard it if the music wasn't so loud.

He took my arm and led me across the room. He looked back and them and shook his head. He led me outside, to the road and down the street. I would have smiled except that knowing our house; I suppose we can't be too careful. He asked if it had to be an exact date. What did he mean? Well, it's hard to reckon with changes in time. And there were periods he doesn't remember how long he was there. And there were times he just doesn't remember. So, it might be off by about more or less by a decade or two. I assured him that was fine. I was so eager to hear this.

Nine hundred years old.

I felt my eyes glaze over. He put his hands on my shoulders, so I must have swayed a bit. Nine? I was thinking three hundred, maybe as much as 500, but 900? He said he could only measure time objectively, not according to Shadows. And, there were places where he couldn't tell time. So, it might be as much as 950, but he didn't think it was higher than that.

He put his arm around my waist and we walked slowly back to the house. I was still stunned. My first coherent thought was, why is he interested in me? Then, how can I keep him interested? Then, I thought about what I knew of his life. To go through life, with more or less the same goals, the same work, and then, after over 850 years, to decide to change it. Change himself a bit along with it. It showed a strength and bravery that astonished me. I remember, just after we had started seeing each other, he once laid in bed and remarked that dating was really hard. I had no idea how hard it must have been for him.

He was watching me carefully.

I said he was an amazing man. I explained my thoughts. The force of it all rushed at me and I fell in love with him all over again. We got back to the house and let the guests do as they would. I felt like I was back on my honeymoon. We only had eyes for each other. We retired early.

Day 359/30

Breakfast was early as usual. To get Dastard fitting in as quickly as possible, I caught his arm as he went by and place a platter of bread into him arms, to carry into the dining room. He looked just a bit surprised at that.

Richard was looking a bit harried. It seems that Random had taken the coffee urn outside. I went out to fetch it. I found Random with a number of the musicians, lying on the grass in back of the house. By the looks of them, they'd slept there. The urn was on a box, looking not unlike an altar, if their expressions were anything to judge by. I told Random that we needed it back. He walked me in a bit. Again, I noticed in the morning light he was looking very tired. And I don't think I was because of the late night sessions he had. We had a few words.

I took the time to say that Dastard was in a difficult position right now. Oh? I told him that Dastard wasn't with the Church anymore. Random nodded. He knew he was recuperating. Strange, I would have thought Random knew about this. No, I said they asked him to resign. And it doesn't look like they'll ask him back. That surprised Random.
I said Dastard needs something to do. He was so bored and so uncertain he wrote journals of everything he remembered about the Loathsome. And, he specifically told DeWinter to read them and give the information to Random. That surprised Random again. Twice in one day? Remarkable. He said to tell DeWinter he wants a report as soon as he's done reading them.

As gently as I could, and saying that I really don't mean to offend, but could he try and not “play” with Dastard. He just looked at me. I sighed. I said he likes to poke at people, rile them up and see how they react. This, in my opinion, would not be a good thing to do right now. There is more of an opportunity to make friends than to make policy.

He didn't seem offended. But, he declined to talk with Dastard. As he put it, “I'm more likely to fuck it up than to make it better.” He said he'd let me take care of Dastard. Fine, then. I did say I'd probably invite Dastard to Amber's Yule. Random didn't look surprised.

People were seating and he almost took DeWinter's place at the head of the table. Instead, he took the other end, my usual place. I sat next to him. Tremerule came in and Dastard sat taller and arranged him plate. He was clearly trying to get Tremerule to see him and sit next to him. Tremerule looked a bit tired, but he wandered to the food, piled his plate high and did, in fact, sit next to his father.

The girls were talking to everyone. Tremerule was talking back. It was ordinary talk, of things to go see in the city, minor arguments or debates, general matters. But, Dastard looked surprised at Tremerule.

It took me a few minutes to realize that Tremerule has changed much since he's come here to live. He's still considerate and polite, of course. But, he speaks his mind and shares thoughts and opinions, without having to be drawn out. His face is more animated; vibrant is perhaps the best word for it. It happened so slowly, I hadn't seen it.

And poor Dastard hasn't a clue the person his son has become. He tried to get Tremerule to talk, draw him out to learn about him. Tremerule was confused and I realized he didn't know what his father was going through. This could get awkward. I saw Random come in and sit down a bit further down the table. He wasn't looking terribly kingly, so no one really noticed. Vialle on the other hand, looked rested and happy. She was chatting away with Tralee, as she fed the baby.

Kai mentioned something he and the others were going to do. He asked Tremerule to join him. Tremerule moved up, as if to leave. As he passed, I tripped him. Yes, subtle, I know.

The room went quiet as he dropped what he was carrying. Dastard was off-balance enough to not realize I did this on purpose. I helped Tremerule pick up the broken crockery and take it to the kitchen. Inside, I told him that Dastard was here to see him. To go off and leave would be a blow. Unless, that is what he wanted. No, he said, obviously realizing how it would look to Dastard.

Then he turned narrowed eyes on me. Hey! You tripped me on purpose!

I admitted as much. I said that if he wants to try and make a relationship with his father, he'd better started working on it. Because it will be work. And some of it should be from him. Okay. Oh, and I mentioned that he should be careful not to call DeWinter, “Dad,” while Dastard was here. He looked confused. He said he knew the truth, what did it matter?

I explained that as much as he felt he lost his father, for years, so did Dastard feel he'd lost a son. To feel that way and then have his son call someone else Dad, would be a cruel blow. Ah, he got it.

We went back in and sat down. Tremerule told Kai he had some stuff to do. Though he seemed unsure of just what that might me. We talked a bit of Paris, to help Dastard learn a bit about the city. Now both of them were awkward. Sigh.

Then I had an inspiration. I told Dastard it was lucky he came here, with all his experience from the church. Now DeWinter turned narrowed eyes on me, as if to say what was this all about? I ignored him.

Random just kept on eating, but he had a little smile on his face.

I told Dastard about the conditions in Libya and how I was trying to eliminate the large disparity between the classes. I went on about the living conditions of both the wealthy and the poor. And a bit about the system which sustains the status quo. I said that I was working to get France behind reforms, and that I was going to speak with the President. But, I had to come up with some plan to change things. Of course, he with all his experience helping people, he might have some insights as to how to go about it. And, of course, Tremerule is quite familiar with the city and the people here.

While Dastard had been watching me, I saw Tremerule's eyes go wide in alarm. I knew he didn't know many of the officials of the city, but he is resourceful. If nothing else, he can ask us where to start. Dastard turned to ask him some questions, which Tremerule answered truthfully, if a bit vaguely. After a few minutes talking, they settled on the idea of doing some research at the library.

I sat back and relaxed. If the two of them can't learn a bit of and from each other by working together, on a legitimate project, I might add, then nothing will help them. As they talked, Random got up and quietly left the table. I think he was disassociating himself from the project. If Dastard got the idea that this idea was endorsed by the throne, he might just decide to have nothing to do with it.

Day 360/30

The party has largely ended. Vialle and Random stayed for one day. She took Random to see some of the sites that she remembered. Then with a wave, they were gone. We've cleaned up the house. Kai went back to Libya, though I told him the days that Yule was occurring in Amber, so he might try and get a day off them. It's not for two weeks, Amber time, so it's possible.

Dastard and Tremerule have been doing research. Every once in a while, Tremerule looks panicked when Dastard asks him a question. I think he surprises himself when he comes up with an answer, or figures out where to look. I don't know yet when I'll see the President, if he'll see me, but I hope to have something to offer when we meet.

Everything is largely back to normal. Of course, that's when things always get interesting.

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