I went to brief Random on the whole situation. There's no real solution, but I thought it best to keep him apprised. I love my family, but I wasn't anxious to return right away. Instead, I took a long walk through Arden. I made sure to greet the few Rangers that I saw, one or two I remember from previous times. About two-thirds through, I impulsively Trumped DeWinter. We had a nice stroll through the quiet. We just walked, talked, made love, talked some more. He did ask if I was doing okay with all that was going on. I assured him I was fine. A part of me wondered if I really was.
The Director arrived. We used the formal dining room because he said he had something he wished to discuss with us. It was a small group; DeWinter, Rinaldo, Xhimena and I all sat down for tea and wine. It was full of interesting small talk and good food.
He reflected that our relationship was moving fast. By that, I suppose he felt himself being drawn into our affairs faster than was usual for him. He said he meant no offense. He also remarked that he was pleased that we settled here in Paris. It meant he wouldn't have to go looking for us.
With that curious statement, we were all ready to listen to what he had to say. He said that Duncan bore some remarkable antecedents of the Fey. He had a long story, but the gist of it is that long ago, Deela used Fey magic to trap Oberon. Several times in fact. That made DeWinter more than a little uncomfortable. The Director said that she had taken Fey magic into herself in order to bear children and that meant that some of that magic had transferred to all her children
and her grandchildren. He was the one who donated the power to her, though he seemed sincere when he said he had an entirely different impression of her plans for using the magic.
But, still they made a deal. She would receive a portion of his power. In return, she made a blood promise to give him a child of her blood. DeWinter stood, immediately ready to start a fight. It took long moments for the Director to calm him down by insisting he meant no harm long enough to continue the talk.
If I haven't written it down before, the Director's name is really Go Re So and he's definitely Fae. In fact, he's in exile himself. He's tried to become the Khan of his line: forty-seven times in fact. It is suggestive of his power that he's managed to attempt this so many times without being killed. Despite his continued failure, it speaks volumes of his abilities. Before he began speaking with us, he exacted a promise that we would tell no one of his presence here.
He explained that a blood promise does not die with a person. Instead, it continues to grow unless both parties die. It falls to the head of the line to fulfill the bargain. All of us were more or less outraged that we would be held accountable for Deela's actions. But, it doesn't make it less true, if what he has said is true.
It's been several hundred years, given various Shadow's time, and he feared that if he waits too long, the magic will serve it's own end, regardless of what we wanted. He believed that this was why Duncan was showing so many signs of being Fey. My heart sank at the implication. If this all was true, then the Mer Khan had had nothing to do with Duncan's situation. Once again, my temper has gotten me into trouble. And I may have alienated an ally.
I wonder if I can repair the damage.
Go Re So just wanted us to know the situation so we could find an acceptable solution for all. We asked if having an apprentice would work, and he thought it was possible. But, what he really wanted was a baby, preferably male, to raise as his own. I suspect that unless the magic was too strong to resist, he would be more that a little reluctant to accept anything less than the total promise.
Knowing he'd given us more than a little to think about, he made to leave. Claw escorted him out. She even gave him a social kiss, that is to say, she kissed the air next to both his cheeks. He seemed cheered by this and left happily. She was just as happy; when he was safely gone, she cheerfully waved a napkin he had confiscated and put into his pocket. I kissed her cheek. None of us saw him do it.
Now was time to be really busy. First, I sent word that I wanted to meet with Splurghi. We met at an open café. She was there when I arrived and she didn't look too good. Nothing too specific, but she looked tired and thinner. She was under strict orders not to leave Paris. So, she sent my message through with her sister.
The Khan cut her sister's tongue out.
Her sister was being punished for maligning me. Sy Ming had done, according to Splurghi, to save face and not acknowledge that she and I were possibly enemies now. She's left me a way out, at the cost of harming Splurghi's sister. I could only look at her in horror. How can I possibly make this right?
Splurghi said the Khan loved the opera. I asked if we could, safely, get word to the Khan for an invitation to dinner? Yes, that was still possible. She would arrange it. I did my best to assure her that I would do all in my power to help her sister. I think she was assured by my gesture. Not that I would succeed, but that I at least meant it when I said I would try.
Preparing for a State Visit
I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to get things ready for the Khan. Rather than have to try and get her in through large crowds, I reserved the entire opera house for us on an off night. It cost me four million francs. Actually, I don't really have it. So, I took out a loan, with the reason being it was for diplomatic interests. Strictly speaking, it was true. It just wasn't for France, which is what the bankers assumed
Richard has agonized over several menus and has settled upon one that he believes is extravagant and sumptuous. Given all he has to do to prepare for it, I can only agree.
We will have dinner in a suite behind the reserved opera box. The drapery will remain closed. Afterwards, the drapes will be open to reveal the opera house itself, and we will all watch the performance. I can only hope she enjoys it
The entire affair is an open secret in Paris. All anyone knows is that I have rented the entire house for one guest. The prevailing opinion is that we are hosting Mary Pickford, a renowned actress and an almost reclusive personality.
By the time the performance date is near, the bankers paid me a little visit. They were more than a little upset with me. The declared that this is no official diplomatic meeting, implying that, at the least, I had lied. I put on my most affronted voice and told them that I had never claimed it was a diplomatic or governmental meeting, at least not for our government. They were not satisfied. I asked if they would feel better is I could deliver a car full of gold to pay the loan off immediately. They agreed. I was only half-kidding, since that will play havoc with the economy, but I was committed.
So, I went home and got the car. I went through Shadow and picked up a shipment. I made sure, as I passed back into Paris, that any maker's mark was removed. This would be untraceable. I went to the bank and had he people unload the car.
I got back to the house to find Pablo there is a fine temper. In fact, he ranted. He paced back and forth, gesturing wildly. He could ignore silence from us for months at a time. We were after all, very busy people. He could deal with the fact that he never got the opportunity to paint me while I was pregnant. Fine. But, he would not tolerate the fact that I never told him I was short of money. What kind of friend did I think he was, that I could not talk to him about it?
I could only sit there astonished. How did he find out about the loan? How do I explain this? I never got the chance, because he wasn't done yet. He said that since I would not talk to him, he took it upon himself to pay the loan off. What? I wondered that he could afford this. He admitted he paid three million and a few others paid the rest. Oh, my. And I had just paid it all in a carload of gold.
That set me to thinking. I paid it. And the bankers took it. They allowed someone else to pay a debt which I had not authorized, and then allowed me to pay it again. And they never said a word to me. Pablo admitted he not only paid the loan, which technically wasn't even due yet, but he paid off the interest as well. Apparently, that was standard practice here.
I calmed Pablo down; assuring him it was only a temporary cash flow problem. We were fine financially. Relieved, I told him he, and the others would be paid back immediately. He waved the issue away and went home, relieved that we weren't in dire straights.
Financing in France
The first stop today was the bank. While I was heading there, a couple of Weir were sent for Monad. At the bank, I confirmed that Pablo had also paid the interest. It was written into the contract that despite there being no time for interest to have accrued, it was nonetheless due as an expected part of the contract. So, in effect, we were being penalized for paying early. It was ludicrous. And, they saw nothing wrong with it.
I suppose it was normal here, but I can't help thinking that for all those people who are not living easily, it would be an impossible situation. The more I looked over the system, the more I realized that unless you were very wealthy, the status quo was maintained. Otherwise, you had no options. I was infuriated enough that I withdrew all my money, excluding the deposit of the gold. The bankers were a bit distressed by that.
I met Monad outside, just as the porters were loading up the car once more. I asked him what was a better bank. He said there were none. None? No. All are run to exact payments and penalties from anyone who was not protected by wealth. He added that many of them hated me. They saw me as a threat. I caused too many changes, too much upheaval. They had been really worried that I might take the Presidency. They thought they would be too vulnerable from whatever I had been planning. Now that they are free of that worry, they are trying to get back at me for shaking things up. Oooh, I almost wish I had taken it!
I asked him where he keeps his money. He gave that Gallic shrug and said, under the floorboards in his house. Really ? .
Hm. That wasn't very protected. Really What if he had a fire? Hm. I joked that we should start our own bank: for anyone not wealthy. The idea appealed to me enough, that I asked Tremerule to look into the matter. He looked intrigued.
Tremerule was astonished by what he has found. There are so many terms and fees he cannot believe it. He even asked Dastard to look it over, for clarification. Dastard was outraged at the blatant robbery of the banks. Essentially, if you do not have more than a certain amount in the banks, the fees and penalties slowly whittle away at any chance to prosper. Only by having enough, can you make more than you are paying out. Creating a new bank will be very difficult.
I did speak with the new Ambassador to the Sudan. She's been called a firebrand. And she's been having trouble because no one will talk to her. She was reasonably pleased to meet me. I wasn't what she expected. There are so many rumors about me, she doesn't know what to expect, really. One rumor was that I am a witchand that I have a spell on DeWinter (though many seem to think it is mutual). She asked him if he really went through eighty men to get to the President. He said he didn't know the numbers, but he supposed it was possible. Some were unarmed. He was oblivious to the admiring looks she gave him.
We had a small public dinner, mostly the family, Monad, Nachoth, Pablo and his wife. And the Ambassador. Time willing, we will get her introduced to the right people. It went well, the food was good and the conversation was extraordinary.
I Trumped Benedict. He was busy, but I asked him if he would have time for me to share information. He said he'd let me know when it was convenient.
A Night At the Opera-Mending Relations
Tonight is the night of the opera. Richard went to the Opera House early, to prepare the dinner on site. For the main event, it would be Mal, DeWinter, Xhimena, Kai-Revere, Rinaldo, Splurghi, the Khan and myself. The Weir swept through the building multiple times to make sure no traps were set.
Then Robert brought in half the kitchen. Of all of us, perhaps he has worked the hardest to ensure that this evening is a success. The Weir may work to make sure we are safe and protected, but Robert is the means anyone feels welcomed. Looking back, I suddenly realize that only when I've pushed expectations beyond any definition of reason has he ever said anything. He works so quietly, so efficiently, it is easy to overlook his considerable contributions. I must remember to tell him he is anything but overlooked.
Soon, as is his custom, Robert is set up without any difficulties. He's conscripted several Weir to serve under his direction. We are ready.
The rest of us worked on details of the suite we are occupying. Since blue is the Khan's favorite color, we place prominent decorations to accent the room.
When we were done, we went outside to wait for the Khan. Paparazzi were waiting outside, mostly across the street. Many of them remember the Weir from Tralee's wedding, so they kept their distance. They had already set up their camera, which had me a little worried. They'll be a little surprised when they discover the mysterious guest is not Mary Pickford.
In a short while, a stream of horses paraded past. Thirty-three blue horses carrying guards uniformed in silver, trimmed in pearls. At the end, the Khan arrived. As the horses appeared, the humidity in the air rose in record time. It wasn't until the paparazzi started taking pictures that we all learned that the water vapor in the air had so contaminated the powder that it was completely ineffective.
The Khan dismounted in an elegant cloud of white fur cape. All that was visible was her head, which was swathed in a turban decorated with a single blue feather rising from the front. She swept inside without anyone the wiser. I wish I could ask if she did this on purpose.
Inside, she came with us to the suite where she divested herself of her cape. Underneath, she wore a lovely half poncho of diamonds.
And nothing else.
She went to everyone, greeting them and speaking a few words. I saw that Kai-Revere was particularly upset when he realized he couldn't rise to greet her, as benefiting a lady. This was her first meeting with Kai, so she spent quite a few minutes speaking with him. She was quite solicitous of him, inquiring in his injuries and his interests.
Kai, being Kai, couldn't resist asking her, Aren't you cold? She cocked her head at him and answered, Not unless I want to be. Do you prefer your women hot or cold? I could see the thoughts racing across his face. He came to the conclusion, correctly, that this was a no-win question. He settled by saying, I like them at 98.6. Robert saved the delicate situation by saying that dinner was ready to be served.
Robert took Splurghi's suggestion for dinner. Since the Khan prefers her food to be very bloody or still alive, we had quite a lot of rare meat. Conversation was pleasant and interesting, ranging in quite a few topics. The Khan was very interested in life in Paris, so we all had much to entertain her with. As on the other occasion, she proved an extraordinary guest.
Coffee and after-dinner drinks followed and I invited her to have a breath of air on the balcony. It was then that she realized she was already inside an opera house and she spent several moments admiring the décor. I was a bit worried that she might be offended that we were not having the dinner in my house, so I remarked that it was my intent to show her importance by the effort we expend on behalf of a person. It was not easy to exclude an entire city for the sage of one person.
She looked at me for a moment and sat in one of the seats, inviting me to sit with her. She said that she would prefer to speak frankly, as she did not want any more complications. I heartily agreed. She said she had been placed in a difficult position. She had gone to bat against Shi, on my behalf. She stood up against Shi, intending to show the Khans that we were worth their consideration. My actions regarding whatever happened with Duncan-Rogiere undermined her and could be considered proof that she had made a serious error in judgment.
I was more than a little chagrined. I was ashamed.
We spoke for a long while, settling things between us. She pointed out a few pieces of information on how the different lines of the Fey tend to operate. For example, when I tried to explain (excuse?) my behavior, I said that I didn't think the deal we had made applied to anything outside those specifics. She had agreed to help up with the Hand in exchange for information on the Loathsome. That didn't necessarily mean she couldn't do something in her best interest, if it had no impact on our deal. And the idea of changing Duncan fell into that regard. She said that was how the Ksss thought of things. The Mer think a bit differently. She explained that when the Mer made allies, even if for one purpose, doing anything else that could undermine the relationship meant undermining the deal. It was all one thing.
It took a few minutes to process what she was saying. If I understood this correctly, she had made a deal to help with the Hand. And that meant, until it was completely resolved, she was our ally, through thick and thin. And, that the Fey are not homogenous in their thinking and actions.
The implications were astounding and extraordinarily generous. So with her taking the time to patiently explain them, despite the fact that she should be really quite angry with me. I suppose I just didn't expect any level of altruism with the Fey. Khan Shi had set an unpleasant precedence and I had applied it uniformly. My mistake. Of course, Sy Ming may have her own agenda, of which I am certain, but she is making an effort to not be at odds with our own goals. And that makes her very valuable in and of herself.
Our talk went so well, the Khan decided to display her show of faith in us, and gave me the poncho of diamonds. That left me wondering if I needed to reciprocate the gesture. If I did, I was not prepared. I had no idea if her gesture meant much beyond the giving, if the item had any specific significance, but I felt I couldn't afford to stint on this.
By this time, the opera was about to begin. The orchestra began tuning, and the stage was set. Everyone filed in and sat.
It was clear she liked the music. We were grateful we were in a balcony and a fair distance from the stage. I could see a few peering up, especially since Sy Ming was visible from the chest and up. But, it was dark enough that they couldn't be sure of what they were seeing. She rather lost the focus of her shape as she fell into the opera. At one point, she was a pretty coral structure. When she was upset, she became a tentacled creature, her tentacles wrapping around the railing. As she wept over the story, she became like an octopus, with one tentacle around my shoulder and a squishy head on my shoulder. I'm sure DeWinter was amused. Kai was more than a little alarmed.
When it was over, I presented my gift. I'd had two Weir race back to the house. This had to be done secretly. I hated to part with it, but I felt that this required a meaningful gift on my part. So, I had them sneak back the painting Pablo had done, the Muses. I think she truly liked it. She spent a long time examining the cubism. I occurred to me that a shape changer might very well have some unusual insight and affinity with cubism. She really disturbed Kai when she turned back to us and she had shifted her face into fractals that resembled Pablo's work.
I offered to take her to meet the actors, suggesting that she might want to wear her coat since it was the fashion to go clothed here. She agreed and spent the next few hours working her way through each and every one of the cast and crew. They had no idea who she was, but the attention she gave them could not be construed as anything but flattering. To a person, she recalled each and every time he or she was on stage. She remembered every part a musician participated in and their instrument. It was a truly remarkable insight as to both her powers of observation and her memory.
The evening broke up with all in a very pleasant mood. Her departure was simply a reversal of her arrival, and the paparazzi got no pictures at that time either, despite several new canisters of flash powder in evidence.
We got home and there met a silver-haired, blue-skinned man. He handed me a crystal box, bowed and left. From inside I could hear a sound of movement. I took a peek and regretted it. It was Splurghi's sister's tongue, flipping around inside. I shut it quickly. DeWinter didn't want to look but Kai did. I had one of the Weir go to Splurghi and have her sister visit us in the morning. We were all ready for bed.
Splurghi's sister arrived first thing. She was very stylishly dressed but naturally she did not say anything to us. When I handed her the box, she put it on the floor with obvious excitement and happiness. She opened it up and her tongue leapt into the air. She grabbed it in one motion and stuffed it into her mouth. A few minutes later, she was thanking us for thinking about her. She and Splurghi went off to town to talk.
Benedict arrived around mid-morning. We had a meeting and told him about Go Re So and the Blood Promise. While we were at it, we included Dastard, who was irritated in the extreme by the whole notion of his mother working with this fellow. Benedict wanted to have a talk with Go Re So, so we all trooped up to his house. The butler showed us in and brought us tea while the Director got ready to receive us. He came in just as the teacart arrived. His eyes swept the room, coming to a halt on Benedict with no little consternation. Well, they didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition, either.
Dastard was decidedly not his usual self. If I didn't know better, I thought he was deliberately trying to provoke Go Re So. He definitely was showing he could be as confrontational as his brothers. He was simply too furious to bother with the niceties of diplomacy, regardless that our host was, perhaps, more magically powerful than the majority of us. For example, he began the conversation by saying; It speaks of your character that you entered into such an agreement with our Mother.
I passed the biscuits and scones around, trying to break up the tension somewhat. Right now, I felt it to be counterproductive. We talked about the theatre, which drew everyone out, especially Tremerule and Kai. They especially liked the idea of talking pictures. Kai really wanted to know how they did that. I suggested he could take it up as a project. I think he ignored that.
We finally got on track and Benedict asked for some details into this situation. The Director explained that Deela wanted to learn the High Arts. In fact, she wanted more than to simply emulate it. She wanted to become Fey. So she, and Go Re So took the Way of the Fang, a process where she can take part of the soul into herself. It would fuse with her, thereby making herself Fey. He gave her some of his blood (hence, the Fang part of the ritual) so she had some of his soul. According to him, that made all of Deela's children somewhat part Fey, which did not endear him to any of them present.
Benedict asked about what solutions Go Re So had come up with to deal with the situation. Go Re So said none. I wondered about that. His tone when speaking of Deela was more than fond. Even after centuries, he was still clearly besotted with her. I wonder at the kind of woman that could keep such a hold even unto death. So, why would Go Re So even try for a solution? If we comply with his
request, if the magic forces us to do so, he gets that part of his soul back, even if it is through a child. And, he gets a tiny part of Deela.
Benedict said there was one solution. Go Re So looked curious.
You can die.
That took most of us back. It was said matter-of-factly and it was more chilling as a result. Go Re So nodded and said, true, he hadn't thought of that. Well, the worst extreme had been put on the table, so we brought out a few others. I could find additional issue of Deela's line, if possible. There was no rule saying it had to be one of the Amberites. Or, he could transform into a woman, and bear a child. That would call for a volunteer, a possible, if not a wholly pleasant idea. Dastard looked a bit smug at the Director. See, we have already found alternatives, whereas you say there are none.
Go Re So had no reply.
In fact, despite my suspicion that he could have a remarkable temper, he's managed to keep an even keel regardless of the needling that Dastard subjected him to.
Well, we have some avenues to explore. And Benedict had enough time to evaluate Go Re So. When he was satisfied we had learned all we could for the moment, he rose, followed by the rest of us. Go Re So showed us to the door and said to Benedict that he was happy to have met him. Benedict replied that he hoped it would be mutual someday. It was the lowest key threat I've ever heard. I think Go Re So thought the same thing. We went home.
As we walked home, Xhimena asked Benedict if he'd just told Go Re So he'd kill him.
Benedict paused for a slight moment and said, Yes, I did.
Kai-Revere was baffled, What? When? Where?
I heard DeWinter mutter, That's my boy.
Xhimena was more than a bit uncertain. I'm not sure I like that. He's our fairy godfather. Without Go Re So, Deela wouldn't have gained Oberon's attention because she wouldn't have done the Way of the Fang. That means no Dad and no me. I don't think many were comfortable with her reasoning, regardless of the accuracy.
At the house, we went to a parlor and all had drinks poured. There was a small table there, just large enough for all of us to sit. I went to my customary spot at one end. I was more than a little annoyed when Dastard sat at the other end, making DeWinter sit along one side. DeWinter, for his part, just shook his head with a little smile, and sat next to me. Xhimena started the discussion, saying that she thought that killing Go Re So should be a last resort. She thought it would be very hard.
Before Dastard could reply to her presumption Benedict was nodding, commenting that that was a wise analysis. Dastard stared at him, his eyes darting to Xhimena in surprise.
We did talk of Deela's death a bit. Dastard asked if it would be considered murder. Benedict shook his head. She had started that conflict with Amber. She was leading the troops. Her death was the consequence of a war, regardless of whether anyone thought it was necessary or not. She was no one's victim. Four times she had declared war on Amber. She was fighting on Begman soil. It had lasted two or three generations and the Begmans invited Amber to intervene. If Prince Bleys had not ended the war with Deela's death, the death toll would have been much higher, since the war would have had no end. He added that he, himself, would have destroyed her and then her Church. He believed Bleys acted wisely in stopping at Deela. Dastard looked a bit stunned at Benedict's admission.
Benedict returned to the matter of the Director. He thought Go Re So would be a formidable opponent and it was clear to me that he thought we would not prevail if we started any conflict on our own. I'm not sure if Dastard didn't catch the inference or if he was simply ignoring it. But, Benedict did add that should it come to a conflict with Go Re So, he would be willing to help.
On that note, we retired for the evening. Benedict said he would return; he wanted to do a bit more research first.
I went to Random to give him an update. As it turns out, he'd already had a report from Benedict. Random said Benedict's reports to him were usually on the line of I was there. There was a situation. I handled it. Not this time. Benedict gave him a minute-by-minute detailed report on the entire situation. Apparently, it was a first for Random. I wondered it this was because it was so serious, or if Benedict wanted some backup for us, since we were out of our league and we could mess things up badly.
Random was still talking. When Benedict was done, Random thanked him for the information. When nothing further was forthcoming, he asked Benedict what he was supposed to do with the information. Benedict just looked at him and then left. Random shook his head. Wryly, he said that he probably blew it and Benedict would never give him a report again.
So, after a bit, I probed for what we might have neglected to tell anyone. I asked him if he knew of any other family members, sisters and brothers, that sort of thing, of Deela's. He looked a bit surprised. He just didn't know.
So, with my work done I bade Random goodbye and I went to the mailbox. I'd been gone for so long, no one leaves me mail any longer. Xhimena, on the other hand, had a full box. I collected it for her and returned to Paris.
Xhimena was delighted with her parcels and immediately went to her writing desk, responding to each letter as she was writing them.
I did get Dastard and DeWinter together to tell them of the meeting with Random. It was more than a little unpleasant for them. Whatever they might feel, they had few illusions about their mother. Well, I know DeWinter did. Dastard said nothing. He was shaking as he got up and left. He went outside to calm down. DeWinter just sat with me, trying to remain calm and process the information.
That night, I decided DeWinter and I needed to get out of the house. I dragged him to a little nightclub. It took a few hours, but in the end he was starting to relax. So much so, that at one point, he took my shoe off and ordered champagne. Then he poured it into my shoe and drank it. I did remind him that I had to wear it back home. He mostly ignored me. Other people around us thought it was a wonderful gesture. After all, someone would really have to love someone to do something so disgusting. All the men followed DeWinter's example and all us women were torn between grimacing and laughing. We decided that laughing would serve everyone best.
We took the long way walking home. As we went to our rooms, there were the usual dark shapes in the shadows; Weir watching over us and the house. Home.
Some History of Deela
I spent the day ignoring all our troubles. Cowardice? Perhaps. But this is a situation that wasn't going anywhere for a long while. The break was needed, even if it was brief.
I Trumped Aurora and invited her for a purely social visit. Since the last time it was family business I thought it only polite to meet with us for pleasant things. She was delighted to come through immediately and we spent the large portion of the day, with most of the girls, wandering Paris. Of course, I took her to the Louvre, to various shops, and sampled food and drink. It seemed she enjoyed it. Paris, for the most part, is a casual, friendly place.
Late in the afternoon, Aurora said she did have to get back to her own work. I impulsively gave her a hug, which surprised her. She said goodbye to everyone and Trumped home.
I had put off everything long enough. I Trumped Bleys. He said he wasn't busy and invited me to come through. I stepped into what was obviously a workshop. Paint canvases were on easels; it looked as if he was working on two or three projects at the same time. We talked a bit about painting and techniques, which was nice. He then brought this around to the reason for my visit. He thought that I was tense enough for him to assume that there was a serious matter?
Sigh. Yes, there was. He asked me to wait a moment. He went to a desk and rummaged through a drawer. He pulled out several silvery six-inch nails and went to the door. With his thumb, he pushed them into the frame crack surrounding the door. Then he came over and sat with me at a small table.
I told him about the Blood Promise and what was apparently required. He was decidedly not happy to hear about this. I asked him if Deela had any extant family around. He looked a bit surprised. He said that no one had ever asked him that before. Usually, people just wanted to know about the children.
He said that Deela did have an older sister, Lexa, who had been trained as a sorcerer. She taught Deela what she knew. When Deela learned all that she could from Lexa, she performed a spell and killed Lexa, thereby absorbing Lexa's powers. Lexa had been quite powerful and accomplished and Deela couldn't abide the idea.
He also expanded a bit about Deela's death. When she was captured, he told her she was going to be executed. She said that he wouldn't dare. A mere hour later, they were taking her to the executioner's block. She did try to escape, using compulsion and charm spells. Bleys was more than enough accomplished in magic for her efforts to have no effect. But, given enough time, she just might succeed with someone. He wasn't about to take the chance.
He put her head on the block and she turned her head to look at him. She said she had planned everything, including the idea if she was stopped in her campaign. She said she would be back. At the time, he wrote it off as mere bravado. But in light of this, he wondered what she might have done.
It was a chilling thought. I didn't think she would return. But, could she have put some spell in place? Something that might be passed along in her children? I wondered if she couldn't have placed a part of herself inside them, to emerge when Go Re So claimed one of her grandchildren? Even if a little part of Deela survived, it would not be a good thing.
What was more disturbing was the fact that Bleys looked more than a little concerned.
He looked worried.
Well, it was a bit more to watch out for. I thanked him and he pressed me to remember to keep him updated. He wanted to know what was going on. I agreed, should we learn any more.
Since we were in Amber, I decided I might as well tell Random this additional piece of information. I bade Bleys to have a good day and walked up to the Castle. I hadn't planned this, so I must have been a sight, walking up the avenues in heels and a Chanel dress.
Random was busy, so I wandered around the gardens after telling a page where I could be found. I sat in a lovely spot. Everything was in bloom and I was so fascinated with the colors an hour passed before I knew it. I'd forgotten how Amber could be.
I did meet with Random and I did tell him what Bleys said. No one was happy at the thought. I wish I could bring him more pleasant news for a change.
Kai came and found me this morning, asking if I had some time to talk. Since all I was doing was working on some legal briefs, I put them aside. Something was up. He had me sit with him and he poured us both drinks. Hm.
He said he had a solution to the problem. He said that if the Director would shift into a female form, he would be willing to sire a child. I was stunned. I asked if he had considered the implications, or the pitfalls of such a solution. He didn't think there was anything insurmountable. Perhaps, but things did have to be considered.
For one thing, Go Re So was wanted by his own kind. I didn't want to endanger our relations with his Khan by harboring him. It wasn't that I haven't done the same thing for others, but I was thinking it would make things extraordinarily difficult for Xhimena. Not to mention life-threatening for everyone in the house. So, even if we went through with this solution, Kai would have to spend a great deal of time away from us, perhaps years. That sobered him up, but he resolved to do it if necessary.
And, for another thing, I doubted that Go Re So would want to remain a woman for longer than absolutely necessary. It would create questions about the nature of Kai's relationship with outsiders. Could he handle that? Kai shrugged and said he didn't care what others thought of him. Once the deed was done, any physical relationship would end, beyond what was necessary to raising a child.
I said we would all take his suggestion seriously, but we would have to think about it for a while. Kai nodded and left. I collapsed back into my chair. It was an extraordinarily generous gesture, which is purely Kai-Revere. As much as the whole notion appalled me (he was, after all, only 16 years old) it made me proud at the same time.
DeWinter was much of the same mind. He had no intention of allowing Kai to do anything of the sort. Yes, he was too young. Go Re So undoubtedly had enough experience to be able to manipulate Kai into anything.
So, if we have to provide a child, who would be appropriate? DeWinter didn't want to. I was reluctant, but DeWinter really didn't like the idea.
Dastard didn't like women, though I did suggest that if Go Re So could shape shift, might he not be able to shift partially, become more hermaphroditic? For both, it could be the best of both possible worlds. DeWinter wanted to be around when I suggested the idea to the two of them. He was already laughing at imagining the reactions.
Dalt? DeWinter thought that a horrible idea. It would mean imminent war. Dalt's standards would be non-negotiable and conflict would be inevitable.
DoBlique? DeWinter thought probably not. He thought she had too many phobias with men for her to overcome. I thought that odd. She's had any number of relationships with men. Transitory, yes. But it did not suggest a phobia. He explained about the Church's practice of Charity. It was required to spend a night with those who were alone, lonely, bereft, etc. This practice was not exclusively for the men. The women also had such duties. But, DoBlique could barely bring herself to do it. She tried, but it caused such a panic attack, it bordered on hysterics. Eventually, it was decided to forego that practice with DoBlique. DeWinter said he had no reason to believe the issue had ever gone away.
Well, it was obvious that DoBlique's relationships with men, at the least the Amberite men, had not been brought to DeWinter's attention. I told him that I knew she had spent time with people, men specifically, though I did not mention whom I meant. That information, she had shared with me in confidence. I think he intellectually took the information in, but didn't really note it.
But, we did have to share the situation with her. It was her choice. I said we should also tell Dalt. DeWinter wasn't too sure about that at first. Then he thought what Dalt would do if he learned about it afterwards, about being excluded, and decided he needed to know. He elected me to do it. Wonderful. Though I do think I can do it without making him so angry he started a rampage.
DeWinter and I went into town to meet with DoBlique. I made sure it was well after noon when we called. She was in. She was surprised to see us. DeWinter was surprised to see her. She was wearing only a shirt which hung to her knees and her hair was down. Before we even got inside, DeWinter asked her why she was dressed like that? Didn't she want to get dressed before letting us inside? His tone was odd, almost like a principal lecturing to a pupil. DoBlique bristled and told him to shut up.
In fact, he continued to annoy her so much, she told him to shut up several times. Actually, she told him to just not talk at all. He grumbled and sat back, muttering something about temperamental sisters.
I told DoBlique what was going on. As I suspected she would, what she always does, when we began talking about her mother, she began to cry. A lot. DeWinter, after a few minutes, was ready to do anything to get her to stop. She said she was so sorry that I had to marry into her family. I held her until she got in control of herself. She just will not believe that she inherited more problems than her side of the family ever gave.
She got herself in control and we finished telling her what was going on. She was indignant that we had to make such a choice. She was not oblivious to what we were asking. She was a little dubious about the idea. She's still convinced she'd make a lousy mother. I'm still sure she'd be a good one.
I made my pitch. This would be more like an arranged marriage. One where we could control the details. It might seem too business-like, but such marriages can be temporary, and even satisfactory unless the parties involved changed their minds. I once thought I would have to do it, and it wasn't an unpleasant idea; it just takes a certain frame of mind. And, it does not mean there is no regard or respect, if both parties were willing to try.
As for the sex, well, that would be up to them. DeWinter decided to take a walk at this point. When he was gone, she said it wasn't really an issue any more. I told her what DeWinter had told me. She was startled. Oh, that happened years and years ago. Uh huh, and she never told DeWinter it was different?
Well, it wasn't something she discussed with her brothers.
In the end, the idea seemed to intrigue her. She said she'd think about it. Of course, she'd have to meet Go Re So for any real decisions, but she would think about it.
We chatted for another hour. DeWinter still hadn't returned. I peeked outside and saw him strolling along the riverside. I said I ought to go meet with him. She gave me a hug and I went to DeWinter.
I told him, generally, what we talked about. He was surprised that she was even thinking about it. I wasn't. If it came down to it, any of us would do what was necessary to protect Duncan or Merisot from being taken from us. I'm just not sure how I would handle having any child of mine raised away from me.
He did wonder why she was so prickly. I said it might have something to do with the fact that the first thing he said sounded to her like a criticism when she was in her own home. He seemed surprise. Really. I didn't mean it that way. I said it might have been a tone
the censorious one he used when he was in the Church. He was indignant. That was ages ago! He didn't sound like that, did he?
We went home. Devi announced, proudly, that she had reduced the number of candidates from her Imasadhi to ten. Good. I gave her a hug and took the names. Now comes the work of getting to know them.
The Sorrowful Hand Strikes
Pablo visited us this morning. I tried to give him his money, but he mentioned he wouldn't be putting any of it into the banks. Where would he keep it? Under the bed, of course. Ah, perhaps the Weir could guard it for a while longer? He was amenable to that. We really have to get that bank started. Other than that, we sat and he talked about his projects and the going-on of the city.
I Trumped Dalt later in the day. He was dressed outstandingly in a tuxedo. It was clear he was in a theatre. He said it wasn't anything important, and came through immediately. It was a big tuxedo. The girls were delighted to see him, and impressed with the figure he cut, and they practices their flirting with him. At least they practiced. Like DeWinter, Dalt didn't seem to notice what they were doing.
We walked to the park. I thought it best to be out in the open without any breakables near by. We strolled along a path, enjoying the day. People passed by, children played, dogs ran. Very bucolic. And I told him what was going on.
I started with very general terms, building up to the real unpleasantness. I told him that a person whom we have some belief had a partnership with his mother had came to call. Apparently, his mother had made some deal with this person. A deal, I added, that I thought Deela had a way to get around. But, she died before she could implement her plans, and now it fell to us. Basically, I was telling him in the lightest sense what was happening. I think all of them pretty much know just what kind of mother they had. I don't think there were any real illusions to that. But, it's another thing for me to point it out brutally. It's a painful enough realization, even after all this time, without me rubbing salt into the wound.
Dalt listened carefully. A muscle twitched in his jaw, but otherwise, he just listened and asked for more specifics. I told him what the deal was for and I told him. He looked at me. He said that there was probably a reason I was not mentioning who was involved. I explained that this person was probably very powerful. Powerful enough, I added, that Benedict agreed that attacking him should be a last resort. Dalt has enough respect of Benedict's abilities to understand just what that meant.
So, I wanted him to be certain that he knew the stakes before I told him. I said that Dastard was upset enough that he endangered our
talks. I had to rely on Dalt not to act precipitously before we had a plan. I honestly believe all of us, including the children, were at risk if we act without thinking. He nodded.
He began asking what sort of plans we had started. I was about to tell him when my armband gave a sharp squeeze. I looked around. There were all sorts of people wandering around the park. The only one that seemed to stand out was one woman with a parasol. I couldn't get a good look at her. She lowered the parasol over her face when I turned to her. The timing could have been by chance, but I doubt it.
I asked Dalt if he was upset enough, right now, to be considering hurting me. He paused, thinking, and said no, not right now. There might have been something in my tone, because he honestly thought about it before answering. I said, well, someone nearby is thinking just such a thought.
The woman moved off, down a path. I took Dalt's arm and made to follow her. I told him that the woman, describing her, might be the focus. I kept my hand light, in case we had to break away from each other.
We continued along. She followed the path as it went into the dark shadows under a bridge. I moved closer. Dalt, quietly, said he'd cover me. I stepped into the dark. My armband began to pulse. A lot. Dalt yelled, Get down!
I dropped to a crouch as something moved over me. I heard a shot and the Dalt said, Oh, shit! Funny, but it's the first time I've heard him curse.
I moved back into the light, seeing nothing else moving. Dalt was standing there, and then he was falling. The parasol had been run right through him. Damn!
I put him on his side. Yes, the tip was emerging from his back, missing his spine, thankfully. Frantically, I Trumped Blythe. All I said was that Dalt was down, with a critical injury. She said she'd get back to me as she jumped up from her seat and ran for the stairs.
In the meantime, I did what little I could. Actually, there wasn't anything I could do without causing more harm. Not until help came. He handed me a pistol, saying it had silver bullets in it. He carried silver bullets? I wondered if that was normal for him and I stood guard. Whatever, whoever the woman was, she was gone. I tried to Trump DeWinter. I wanted some weir to help track the attacker. At least, to secure the area. There was no answer. I tried Mal, Claw, Vis, or Rinaldo.
Blythe came through and I Trumped Owen. This was out of my league and I was frantic to get back to the house. Owen came though with Kent. I made a hasty explanation, which was probably more than a little incoherent. I think I annoyed Owen. I really didn't know what was going on. But, I wanted someone to either help Blythe, with Dalt. Or, at the least, to guard the area while Blythe worked. I would be useless until I know what was going on with the house.
So, with a few words, I was racing for home. I kicked off my shoes for better speed. I must have been a sight. As I got closer, my armband continued to pick up its pace. At this rate, I'd lose all circulation in that arm.
I did notice, when my feet touched the ground, an energy just underneath the surface. It roiled and moved, like a wake, except it was building as I ran.
As I approached, I saw lightning appear from around the Director's house. There were small fires all around. Smoke rose from his house and mine.
I slowed to take in the situation. Arrows and gunfire were coming from my house. They were being aimed at the bushes, trees and lampposts surrounding it. As far as I could tell, there was nothing there. I did see that one side of our house was on fire.
I Trumped Kent, assuming Owen was busy. I told him what little I knew and that I was going closer. I wanted someone to know what stupid thing I was planning. He gave a small smile and said he understood.
As I crept closer, a lightning strike hit just yards away. In the afterglow, I saw a man with three eyes just before it was gone, leaving a scorch mark in the ground. Then my armband pulsed convulsively and I threw myself to one side. An iron picket from a nearby fence sailed right past where I was standing. I grabbed it, spun and by sheer luck, impaled someone that was next to me. I can't say much more about it; the unknown attackers were invisible. Damn it!
A dust storm rose up and twisted its way toward me. Water came down, dousing it. From above I heard a triumphant yell. Looking, I saw Splurghi on top of a neighboring roof. She gave me a thumbs up gesture.
And then another iron picket bloomed from her midsection and she tumbled back, off the roof and out of sight.
Furious, I began looking for signs of more of them.
A Trump came through and I answered with only a portion of attention. It was Benedict. They were running up the avenue and would be to me in a few minutes. I ran towards him, to intercept. I did meet him and turned back. As we ran, I briefed him as best I could.
And, as we ran, I let myself begin to Change. I only went about halfway. It let me run faster and my sense of smell increased dramatically. Hopefully, I would be able to scent them if they got closer. Benedict suggested I not Change any further.
As we ran, a car sailed by overhead. By the altitude and speed, it must have been launched about a half mile away. What the hell did that? It hit the side of the Director's house.
Benedict said there were five on the left. He'll get the ones on the right. I turned and saw about 500 gallons of water flow down in front of me. It silhouetted one and I ran it through with the picket I still held. Just to make sure it would stay down, I shot it in the forehead with the pistol I still held.
Splurghi raced out of a tree. I took a time to give her a hug; grateful she was still all right. She gave a laugh just before something like piano wire wrapped around my throat. Splurghi launched herself at my attacker while I thrust backwards with the picket. Another down.
We worked in tandem, accounting for four more. Either one from Benedict's side came over here or else reinforcements were arriving. The last one was the worst. He came up from the side, bearing a sword. He got in one splendid swing before I could dodge. In the rush of energy, I only partially was aware of the fact that I had lost my left hand.
Ice formed on the cobblestones of the road, so the footing became treacherous. I managed to jump, kicking him high in the forehead. Splurghi jumped low, hitting him in the knees. He went down hard. I broke his neck as Splurghi caused ice spikes to rise up through him.
We caught our breath, just as a shadow formed above us. We dove to the side as a huge boulder slammed into the ground, right where we were standing. Splurghi laughed again. She came to me, my severed hand in hers. She placed it against my forearm and within minutes it was reattached. Nifty trick, that.
I looked around for where the boulder came from. I saw nothing. At my comment, Splurghi said that it came from the rock ogre. Where was it? Below us, in the ground. They rarely came above ground to attack. Wonderful.
Since Tatasha's, and my power, came from the ground, I knelt to touch the ground. She stood guard as I concentrated. It was
eerie. My vision was cloudy, murky. The longer I concentrated, though it wasn't more than a few seconds, it cleared. I could see the ogre. It was about 50' down. I wasn't sure if the earth would be a good conduit, but I attempted to attack, mind to mind. It didn't have much of a consciousness, so dispatching it was easy.
I stood up and Splurghi just looked at me. How did you do that? I wasn't precisely sure. Could I show her? Sure, I'd try. She launched herself at me with a gleeful laugh and hugged me. Uh huh. Back to business.
We couldn't get into the house, the wards were still up. Instead, we went to the Director's house. Not much had come from there, not in a long while, so I was worried something had happened to him. We met up with Benedict, who said the area was clear. How did he know? I never got a chance to ask.
The butler assured us that the Director was fine. He was just recovering from the expenditure of the defense magicks. All right.
We went back to the house. Given the nature of the attacks, we had done very well. But that didn't stop the sorrow for the three Weir who died. They'd been caught outside in the first volley. The only other casualty was Kai-Revere. He'd gotten too close to a window as was hit by a thrown rock. It hit hard enough to give him a severe concussion. Benedict said it wasn't much damage. Without thinking, I punched him lightly on the shoulder. He actually grinned at me before moving on to see what else was to be learned. Dalt just stared at me, as if to say, 'You just punched Benedict in the shoulder. One just doesn't do that!'
Still, Kai had a nasty gash and Blythe got to work on some minor surgery. She was worried about too much pressure building up and the impact area was partially crushed. I bit down on my anxiety and went to find out anything less nerve-wracking.
I did learn that the Fey had put up a spell designed to scramble Trump calls, which was why I couldn't contact anyone. It also prevented the girls from being evacuated to safety. That unnerved Rinaldo, who thought he should have foreseen that contingency. To say he was harried would be a serious understatement.
All in all, it was a very coordinated attack. Splurghi said that she'd never heard of the Fae attacking with such coordination or numbers. It was unprecedented. As was the fact that we could prevail against all of them. The majority of the thanks should go to Rinaldo.
Then I wondered who had coordinated them all. And how much did they know of us? That lead me to wonder if this was a broader attack than we thought. I dispatched two weir each, to go get Byslamia, Monad and Pablo. DeWinter and I went to find DoBlique.
DoBlique was fine, but tired. Byslamia was there with her. Something had tried to get into her house, actually it succeeded, but she went out back and went to DoBlique's, whose defenses were more than a match for the one or two people that tried to get inside.
By now all the energy was pretty much gone and I was bone-tired. Drinking water helped a lot, but my hand was hurting badly. We rounded everyone up and took them to the house. We had to talk about what happened.
When we got there, Monad and Pablo were there. The weir weren't taking any chances, so they also brought Nachoth, Kathryn, and the girls. They had no idea why they were brought here. The weir simply grabbed them and said to come with them. They all knew the weir and didn't bother to argue. The weir said that I'd explain it all. Oh, thanks a lot.
This is the part I hate. Trying to explain who, or what we were. We went into a parlor and sat down. Monad sat in the middle of Pablo and Katherine. I said there were a few things I had to tell them. Pablo leaned over, looking at the other two. Are you ready? he asked Monad. Monad nodded. He looked at Katherine who also nodded.
I started by saying we weren't precisely from the local area. They nodded. Monad had a suspicious gleam in his eye. Pablo asked if I were from outside Europe. Hm, yes, but a bit farther. He nodded and sat back. Monad asked if we were from the planet. That startled me. No, a bit farther than that. He nodded and he and Pablo turned to Katherine. Monad told Katherine that it looked like she was closest. Yep, they were all enjoying themselves a great deal. She smiled and told me her guess was that I was from Jupiter. I sat back and crossed my arms. Really. She smiled. She said she just won a hundred francs. Good for her. Then I told them we were from no place, from no world in their existence. We were from somewhere completely outside of that. It was my turn to be amused as they sat rather stunned.
So, I told them a bit about Amber and Shadow. Nothing terribly specific, because how do you explain Amber and reality? I said that DeWinter and I had gotten stranded here, during the war, losing our memories, which they already knew. As for why we came back, well, I said I love this world, warts, friends and all. They smiled with pride.
Then I went into some of what was going on. I didn't sugarcoat it much, but I did admit that associating with us has placed them in some danger. A danger, I added, we were doing our best to counteract. They were curiously placid, as if they had confidence in our abilities. I can only hope we can prove them right.
The final count by now was that we got about 17 of the Sorrowful Hand. With the 10 that Splurghi said were taken care of, we've now accounted for about 25% of those after Mal. Well, it was a start.
We had the Ceremony of Passing for the weir. It was quiet and solemn. A part of me is grateful we've not had many of these, but another part of me is seriously resentful that we have to have it at all. It's times like these I wonder why they put up with us at all. The weir, I mean. I always have a hard time looking them in the eyes afterwards.
Knowing I can't prevent everything just doesn't make it easier.
The odd thing about yesterday is that none of the neighbors noticed anything. When the car, embedded in the Director's house, was pointed out, they just stared at it, wondering how the hell that happened. And when.
Go Re So did stop by. He wanted to know if we were going to evacuate Paris. He thought we had stretched our luck as far as we could. For himself, he's planning on leaving and offered to escort us.
It's a valid concern. I didn't want to make a decision unless everyone, at the least, knew why we were leaving.
So, we'll have another full family meeting soon.
In the meantime, I suggested to Xhimena that rewards should be given to the Mer, the Huli Jing, and the Ravens. The Mer because of Splurghi's outstanding and beyond-the-required aid she gave us. To the Huli Jing, in the hopes we can come to some terms regarding the Director, and to the Ravens, because in the past they've always been helpful. I remarked to Xhimena that we've dangled the carrot in front of them for a long time. Now it might be appropriate to show that benefits flow both ways. Xhimena said it was a good idea, and went to issue invitations.
Kai was a bit fretful, being laid up once again. So, I gave him a very real responsibility. I assigned him the task of acquiring armaments, with silver bullets or shot, and training the weir to use them. Aside from DeWinter, he was really one of the few that had real training in their use and tactics. He perked up right away. He can't do much, so he's learning to delegate tasks. Weir lined up to volunteer. Even Eidolon was helping.
Rinaldo is working on a Fey detection spell. The problem is that it makes a magical noise when triggered, meaning that the Fey know of it before it goes off. He's trying to work around the idea. I asked about making another, or more armbands. He asked to examine mine, which, of course, I allowed. He went off to examine it.
I saw notices in the papers regarding the Director's house. He's put it up for sale. The article said he would be traveling around the world. The auction will be announced shortly.
Words already come back that the Khans would be delighted to meet with Xhimena. She's already nervous.
Rinaldo gave me the armband back just before we retired. Unfortunately, he said the magic was based on Fey magic and was just too convoluted and complicated for him to duplicate.
Mal is Leaving Again
Mal came to talk with me. I had wondered how long it would take her. She said she was beyond the intellectual acceptance of the situation. Now, she's pissed. She said that with her being here, it could ruin all our negotiations with the other Khans. And she's putting all of us in danger. Yep, she wants to leave.
I told her that she was a Khan herself. And not only was she just as important as the rest of them, she was more important to all of us. Also, didn't she think it would be insulting to us if she left? It would imply she neither thought of us as stalwart of friends, nor capable of protecting her. And then there was the matter that the Sorrowful Hand would still attack us. It would only be afterwards that they would learn that she, Matisse and Merisot were gone. It would also serve as a bad precedence if she always got up and ran and the slightest indication of trouble. And last, but not least, how did she expect to protect herself and the girls, all alone, against up to six score more Fey?
She just sat there during my barrage. Yes, I had been waiting for this. And I knew very well there wasn't much she could say to all that. Oh, she could still leave if she wanted to. I just didn't think it was a wise decision. She threw up her hands, saying there was no way to win. Sure there was. We will win together. I leaned close and whispered, That was Amber's greatest secret.
I Trumped Tatasha. I had tried to heal Dalt, here, with no success. He didn't expect me to succeed, but humored me. It was either try, or be laid up for at least a month. So, perhaps it could work in Aes.
She brought me through immediately. Then DeWinter helped Dalt through, following last. Dalt was up and moving, but it was slow and careful. Blythe pressed upon him the fact that he would be no good if he ruined her work, especially if he was laid out when we really need him. With remarkable compliance, he has kept himself prone and pleasant.
Tatasha had us get Dalt to lie on the floor. Then she spoke to him.
She said, I suggest you take your clothes off.
He looked at her, Why?
She shrugged. I just wanted to see you naked.
He glowered, It's not going to happen.
Tatasha cooed, Oh, a challenge.
Dalt retorted, No, a fact.
Tatasha knelt on his left side and had me kneel on his right. Then she instructed me through the healing. I could actually feel the energy move up through the ground and into him. I led muscle grew together, bones realigned and knit on the breaks, and got blood flowing where it was supposed to. It was awesome. Afterwards, Dalt sat up, rubbing where his wound was. He said it was impressive. He also reminded me that healing in one place often reverted in another. I told him it would not revert. I had no real reason to be confident, but I was.
We filled Tatasha in on things and she had no suggestions. She did what she could and gave us long hugs. Long enough for Dalt to get uncomfortable.
We got to Paris and I refused to show any smugness, as the healing did not dissolve.
Mal joined us to talk. She was still mentioning the idea of leaving.
Dalt said, That might be best for us, but not for you. You don't have enough training or control.
She glared at him. She said, If he didn't have something positive for our side, he shouldn't talk.
He said, I'm not on either side; I'm just offering advice.
I could see he was baiting her. He can do that so well!
She grew outraged. She said, If you're not on our side, then you can just get out!
He looked at her and said, Make me.
The next thing I knew the little tablecloth in front of us burst into flames and flew towards Dalt. Dalt somersaulted out of the way. The cloth fluttered to the ground and DeWinter stamped on it to put it out. Dalt just crossed his arms. See, little control. Mal grew more angry and stormed out.
Oh, the house is getting to be so much fun.
Things have gone back to normal, in most cases. Tremerule decided not to let things get in the way of his project, so the bank will be up and running soon. He was having some trouble getting the required forms filled out. He'd get a packet, fill them out, only to find out he really needed another set. I went with him to help. I used my identity to expedite things. Once the clerk knew who I was, or perhaps it is more accurate to say what I was, things flowed much more quickly. They even stayed to help him fill things out.
The People's Bank of Paris
We've had some arguments with Pablo about the naming of the bank. He kept wanting my name on it, usually with absurd and ostentatious titles. He had a great deal of fun getting me completely exasperated with him.
The bank has been open for a week. At first we had few accounts; mine, Pablo's, Monad's and a few others. I was paying the salaries until the bank was self-sufficient. Then Pablo and Monad started putting the word out and it started to pick up.
Then the other banks began to undercut us. They raised their interest rates and lowered their fees. To their chagrin, and surprise, they lost more accounts since people began figuring out that the banks could have done this long ago and they'd been cheated all this time. Now we were really getting busy.
The other shareholders of the banks were infuriated. They even went to the government, that is the President, to complain. They demanded that this situation be looked at. One of the reporters told me that the President laughed at them. He told them, go ahead. Try to investigate Annette Liberté. He dared them.
They grumbled, snapped and snarled, but they just subsided. We made sure that we had strict guidelines for anyone who wanted to end up buying enough shares to own the bank.
Basically, this was a bank for the people. And this isn't rhetoric. I took great pains in deciding how this will work.
The amount of interest in inversely proportional to how much you have in the account. Those with less money have more opportunity for higher rates, so they can accumulate financial security. The more money you have, the lesser the rates and higher payments. So, really, if you earn enough money to begin to be secure, you can move to one of the other banks and generate more interest there.
Or they can stay with us. If they stay, they can maintain their interest rates if they allow a percentage of their money to be used to better the community. This includes public buildings, funding for building contracts, reconstruction, art, museums, etc.
Lastly, the Board of Directors, by our charter, must consist of equal parts of people from varied financial brackets. It's possible, though we hope to guide people through this, that those who have less financial savvy could be taken advantage of, I'm certain that those elected will take pains to learn what they should know. Investments and corporate concerns will be presented not to a single judge but to a panel of five and a majority vote carries.
These judges will work for a five-year term. They will be selected by a vote from all account holders. Each of them will be paid handsomely for their work, meaning they can retire at the end of the term, if they choose to do so. This way, they are not beholden to others for later employment.
Seventy-five percent of their pay is withheld until after their terms are successfully completed. And one of them found guilty of accepting bribes or otherwise compromising his or her position forfeits that portion. And they may neither regain the position, nor hold an account within this bank, ever again. Any person may be re-elected as a judge, but not in consecutive terms. There must be a one-term break before being re-elected.
It all probability, it's not perfect. But, it's all our best effort to make our system as corrupt-proof as possible. Dastard was amazed and delighted with the setup and his son's effort. He was obviously proud of his son.
An Audience for the Faixhi
Xhimena said that the Khans sent word that the meeting would be at midnight tonight. Rather than meet them one at a time, requiring much thought as to the order she would see them, she opted to see them at the same time. She wants to avoid any possible slight. Since Rinaldo's wards were up and running, she also opted to see them in a public place. It was either that of give Rinaldo a heart attack. She chose the Arch de Triumph.
The entire day, she was as nervous as can be. I told her that at least two of the Khans were decidedly favoring her. They would give her broad allowance, so she could probably worry less. And, this would be a perfect time to deal with them on her own.
She turned pale at the idea. I said that her father and I would be there. We worked out a plan where if she wanted advice, or we had advice to offer, we would give a sign. I stressed that if she wanted to, she need not acknowledge our signs, if she did not want our advice. We would not be slighted. For this, we were her irrevocable support group. Not her dictators. She told DeWinter to adjust his cuffs if he had anything to say. I should straighten my skirt. She would move her hands, just so. Those were our signals.
Since we were meeting outside, I had the car loaded with chairs and a little table with flowers and tea. We piled in. A few weir, about twenty went ahead to secure the area. Dalt went with them to see how they worked.
Xhimena started out sitting up front with DeWinter. She was so nervous, she ended up going over the seat and DeWinter's shoulder to sit in back with me so I could hold her. DeWinter just looked at her. I said it would be fine. I think he was worried as much as she was. They were a pair. I said that we could bet on it. DeWinter wanted to know what the stakes were. I thought for a second and recalled his comment about spanking under the Arch. He gave a bark of a laugh before stifling it. Yeah, that works for me. Xhimena gave a laugh, Dad! He smiled at her and continued to drive.
I'm not sure how they did it, but the weather turned horribly cold. Everyone in the area began to scuttle quickly home. When we got there, the plaza was empty aside from us and the weir.
The plan was that we would be there, in place, by the time the Khans arrived. We were not early enough. Three carriages awaited us. One was a solid black, with black horses. Another was a pearl and gray coral, led by blue stallions. The last was a steam-powered carriage, no horses, of course.
Two weir came up to set up the tea settings. Our breaths came out in clouds. I hoped this meeting wouldn't take too long, or we'd be frozen solid.
Now was the difficult part. How do we invite them to join us? If we chose one above the other, we risked insulting another. Since this was her first audience we had to do this carefully. I looked at Xhimena and she nodded. I made my first and only suggestion of the evening. I said to make it a general invitation, not mentioning any by name. DeWinter concurred and got out of the car. In a command bellow, which carried throughout the plaza, but seemed to take no effort on his behalf, he called out, Hear ye, Hear ye! We invite the illustrious Khans to join us in this auspicious meeting. I thought I could feel the thunder as he called out. Xhimena looked at him wide-eyed. Xhimena went and sat down with DeWinter and myself on either side.
All three Khans got out. Siggi left the black carriage. Her strides were long enough that she arrived at the table first. Sy Ming and Jinwei Hu arrived at the same time. But Sy Ming, the Mer Khan was just a bit faster. It gave her time to give a European kiss to Xhimena and circle around to the center chair, forcing Jinwei Hu to move aside and take the last open chair. It worked well, forcing them to acknowledge each other's standing and not forcing Xhimena to do it.
Xhimena started with Sy Ming, with some wonderful and flattering praise for the Khan and those of her line. She said it would please her to gift the Mer for their service in recent events. Sy Ming smiled and said if Xhimena insisted, of course she would not gainsay her. Xhimena said she did so insist, three times over. Sy Ming's smile grew broader, showing many, many pointed teeth. Whether she meant to show it or not, I could tell Xhimena was accounting for herself well and she was impressed.
For Jinwei Hu, Xhimena said she had something to discuss in private. Might he be willing to talk with her after the meeting? He gracefully bowed, still sitting, and said that a personal meeting was most agreeable. Siggi looked at the Khan and muttered, You letch.
Then Xhimena turned to Siggi. Siggi's tone changed dramatically, becoming most stern. It was strong enough, like a principal talking to a recalcitrant child, that I wondered if we had done something to anger her.
Xhimena bowed her head and said, most contritely, You were right about everything. I will listen to you in the future. Siggi nodded several times. Siggi said there was some small hope for the future.
I dawned on me just what was going on. By talking to Siggi last, despite her being the first to help Xhimena, it did not lessen the Khan's status. By allowing Siggi to talk to her so, and being contrite in return, she had just elevated Siggi to a prominent position relative to the other Khans. And the fact that Siggi did not ask for, nor required a reward, elevated her even further.
My daughter was a most impressive Player. I could see DeWinter coming to the same conclusion. I relaxed. Xhimena was doing just fine without us.
Sy Ming, possibly to position herself more favorably, mentioned that two more Mer of the Sorrowful Hand have been caught. And eaten. She placed two 'rabbit feet' on the table. Xhimena soberly thanked her for her aid and her gift. Siggi, not to be outdone, said that one of the Ravens of the Hand had met with an untimely demise. Only three Ravens remain in the Hand. She suspected they would be apprehended shortly. She placed a feather on the table.
Sy Ming smiled. She rose, saying that it was an honor to attend. She will leave us now, to better serve The Witch. With that, she undulated to her carriage. Jinwei Hu watched her walk away.
Siggi left next with a smile and strong stride.
Jinwei Hu was still sitting. Xhimena watched him for a moment and asked DeWinter and I if we would wait in the car. We were caught slightly unprepared to this, but we got up, bade the last Khan a good evening, and went to the car.
From there, we could only watch. Xhimena talked for a short while. Then the Khan got up and began pacing, gesturing all the while. Then he went on one knee in front of her. Not unlike a few times DeWinter did with me. That must have crossed DeWinter's mind because I heard him give a small growl. Then the Khan took Xhimena's hand and he muttered, Smart ass. When the Khan kissed Xhimena's hand, he said, Yep, I'm gonna kill him. Xhimena sat quietly as the Khan talked. The Khan rose, swept her a bow and left in his carriage.
We hurried over. She just looked at us, finally allowing her teeth to chatter. Get me out of here before I'm frozen solid. DeWinter picked her up and got her to the car. We gathered the rest of the things and got them stowed away. By then, Xhimena was shivering, encased in a fur wrap that DeWinter had tucked around her. I sat holding her while we drove home. I did look around and saw one or two weir. They were bundled up against the cold and I could see them heading home.
All the way home, I told her how proud we were of how she handled herself. She shook her head and said she was just glad she didn't throw up in front of them. DeWinter chuckled and she snuggled far down into the wrap. I took out a brandy flask and had her drink a little. It seemed to revive her. I forestalled any discussion until tomorrow morning.
The meeting with Jinwei Hu had been satisfactory. He agreed that as long as Go Re So stayed in Paris, he would not be attacked. The Director was surprised and, I think, gratified to hear that. It was clear he hadn't thought Xhimena could accomplish even that much. So, he agreed to stay, but told us that he couldn't take a female form, no matter what he tried. That struck me as odd, since Siggi once told be they are scholars and known for their abilities to change shape. At least, that was how I remembered it. I'm going to have to look into that. I did note, however, that Kai was not particularly upset with the news.
For whatever reason, everyone seemed to be converging on the house today. DoBlique was visiting and Byslamia stopped by around noon.
Around lunchtime, the weir were having a party for themselves. Kai-Revere had arranged to get many repeating rifles with silver bullets. He'd found an under-the-table supplier. The weir thought this an excellent reason to celebrate.
DeWinter went to talk with Kai. He told Kai that showing off our defenses might not be a great idea. Kai disagreed. He said he wanted the Fey to think twice about coming after us. He wanted them to see that every weir was armed and more than ready to use the weapons. DeWinter ended up walking away, surprised. Not only did Kai make sense but, for the first time he had countermanded DeWinter's argument. He took a very big drink. I thought DeWinter was wise, allowing Kai the decision, rather than pulling rank and overturning his idea. Still, it was unsettling to DeWinter, as if he really just became fully aware that his son was really an adult.
DeWinter did, however, go through new protocols with the weir regarding the rifles. None of the shoot first, don't bother with questions attitude here. We will talk with potential hostiles first. Only if they attack, may they shoot.
He talked with Vis, who understood the new rules. However, he wanted DeWinter to explain it to the next top 6 weir in the hierarchy. He didn't want to have to fight all of them. Of course, DeWinter didn't really have to fight them. He's long ago established that it would take all of the weir, attacking DeWinter at once, to bring him down. He was the alpha male and they knew it. Still, it didn't stop them from coming up with outlandish exceptions, trying to find a loophole in the rule. DeWinter was having none of it and they were a bit dejected.
Kai cheered them up, taking them into the basement for target practice. They cleared an area running from one end of the house to another for the range. I became standing room only down there. We could hear it, of course, upstairs, but aside from that, the house was quieter than I have ever heard it.
DeWinter is more that a little disgruntled today. He just found out that 10 weir women are pregnant. We're basically in the middle of a war and now we've got pregnant women to worry about it. When he asked Vis what they were thinking Vis just laughed. He told DeWinter that that always happens. When weir women think they are about to make their last stand, they always get pregnant. DeWinter was a bit insulted. And who thinks we are making our last stand? Vis just looked at him um, the women. Right.
After he told me about it, I went to ask Claw. She said it was a hormonal instinct caused by the deaths of the three weir. It's their reaction, instinct, to replace those who have passed on. It has nothing to do with any last stand. DeWinter just muttered, why can't we get one that has half a male weir brain and half a female weir brain. That way, maybe the two sides might start talking with each other. He went off to find something sane to do.
We are all struggling with the idea of either staying here or going to Amber. We finally called everyone in and told them what was going on. The girls weren't particularly surprised. Even without the attack, all the private meetings we were having told them something was going on. Devi did say that we should put off her Imasadhi ceremony. I had to bite down on a protest. She was right. She deserved our undivided support and attention for that. I gave her a strong hug, telling her it would only be postponed, not cancelled. She gave a smile and said it would just give her more time to really make it great. Besides, we would then have more time to find more candidates. She liked choosing. The girls giggled and DeWinter studiously ignored the implication.
Unfortunately, we had to get back to the serious discussion. The short version of the discussion boils down to this: if we leave, we are only postponing the inevitable. The Sorrowful Hand will just have time to regroup and recruit. The Blood Promise will just continue to build. And our children, or grandchildren will have to bear the consequences. Something we are all loathe to bequeath to them.
So, Dalt and I came up with a plan. That we are in agreement, that we are planning this has DeWinter seriously worried. The idea is this. We cannot go hunting for them in Shadow. I'm good enough that I will not only find them, but I will dig up every Shadow Hand in existence. We'd never stop fighting a mix of reflections and real.
Instead, we will arrange a meeting with a Khan. It will be a secret meeting, and that secret will be leaked to the Hand. The Khan, if willing, will be apprised of the fact that it is unlikely we will ever get to the meeting.
Instead, we will draw the Hand to us. It will be a running battle, and take no little coordination. Basically, we let them hound us, forcing us through Shadow where they can ambush us. When the time is right, when we have enough of them on our trail, we will lead them into a Trap Shadow. The tricky part is to stay alive long enough for us to get to such a Shadow. And that's the part that DeWinter doesn't like. Neither Dalt nor I, he explained, do anything by half-measures. We'd be stuck there too. But, Dalt said, we have people on the outside who know very well what is going on. They'd get us out while leaving the trapped Fey behind.
It's tricky but do-able, I think. When they started discussing if Dalt or DeWinter would go or stay, I left them to work it out. To my surprise, they didn't yell, fight, or do anything other than talk. And, they decided that Dalt would go with me while DeWinter stayed with the house. It was important that DeWinter or Dalt was here because I was certain the Hand would also attack the house.
In the end, those going with me were, Dalt, Mal, Matisse, Merisot and two weir per person. Dalt felt strongly that too small a party would look suspicious. I reluctantly had to agree with that. Still, the weir are tough, but perhaps not tough enough. Tremerule said that his fighting was just not up to this and said he'd stay to help defend the girls. Eidolon said he'd like to go with us. Xhimena and Kai were staying. I've had several meetings with Khans, so my going without Xhimena wouldn't be too much out of the ordinary. Kai won't be walking for another month and I just don't want to give the Hand that much time.
Eidolon said that we needed all the help we can get, right? So, he hesitantly suggested Evander. I thought it a good idea and went to talk with Tatasha. She understood my reasons, and appreciated my talking with her first. But, Evander is now of age. It will have to be his decision. That has got to be difficult for her, even though she's been through this before. I have a feeling it's harder this time around.
Still, I Trumped Evander. He was surprised to see me and had me come through. He was in the mountains again. He really does love the mountains. He and others were in a small cave. It took a few seconds to realize most of his friends were engaged in some very intimate
relations just then. I suggested we walk outside. Evander would have introduced us, but I said we could wait until we were done. My weir may be a casual with each other as this, but they sort of hide it. I think DeWinter would go into spasms if they acted like this in front of the girls.
I told Evander what was happening and he agreed to join us at once. It took a while to explain everything, so by the time I was done, his friends were ready to meet us. They were indignant that he made the decision without including them in the process. True to form, they fought it out. It was odd, watching them. Evander was clearly not a practiced as I am. I guess I expected him to draw on his old life and abilities and he developed. It was odd realizing he wasn't intimidating me anymore. That he wasn't trouncing everyone he fought. Well, Evander won against all of them, nonetheless. He returned to tell Tatasha where he was going and to get a few things. They had a few words privately and then Tatasha was hugging me and telling us to take care of each other. Then we went back to Paris.
The only other addition to my group was Dastard. There was some discussion as to whether he or DoBlique would accompany us. They both felt that someone with some magic ability was necessary. In the end, Dastard said that if any of the Hand get to Paris, she was best suited to help here. And, since she's had experience of Trapped Shadows, like Paris, she'd be better suited to get us out.
Those that were staying were the rest of the weir, Rinaldo, Kai, Xhimena, DeWinter, DoBlique, Byslamia and Tremerule. There were 24 of us moving through Shadow.
We've been preparing to go. Mostly I'm trying to isolate just what sort of Trap Shadow to head for. I wanted to be quite specific in a few things. First, Trump must be possible. It would allow us to get out, through those contacting us, and the Fey don't use Trump. Like Paris when we first got here, no one should have any memory of their past. Their oath won't work if they can't remember it. Splurghi said that was a very good idea. It would look very good to the other Khans if we could deal with the situation without killing them. Lastly, I wanted the Shadow to be Fey-filia meaning it will take more effort to get us out, but it would be almost impossible for the Hand to get out without assistance. I have to admit, once we get them inside, part of me wonders if anyone will decide the Shadow must be destroyed. I don't much like the idea, nor that it came into my head. But, the possibility is there.
The Khan we chose to have a secret meeting with are the Ling Kai. We haven't had much dealings with them since I put a moratorium on Xhimena's night wanderings. They were a little put out about that, I think. The Khan asked what she would get in return for the indignity of such a deal. Because it would look, until all the Hand was dealt with, that she could not secure the well-being of a guest of hers. Xhimena promised a few children and the Khan agreed to the plan.
We were a bit worried about Matisse. She was still just a child, but if she got frightened, we might not be able to control her, guide her, or protect her. I got her aside to talk with her. I didn't precisely lie to her
.I just emphasized things a bit differently. I told her that there were bad people out there, the ones that tried to hurt everyone before. I didn't want them to come again and I didn't want them to hurt Kai-Revere. So, we were going to make them chase us so they were far away from Kai and we would get rid of them. But, I told her, it was very, very important that she listen to what we told her, and that she do what we said. Very seriously, she promised to be good. She didn't want anything bad to happen to Kai.
A Trap for the Sorrowful Hand
Today we leave. I was both nervous and excited. This might not be a great plan, but it was the best anyone has come up with. And I was happy to have something to finally do. We gathered to say goodbye. It was hard to say goodbye to Duncan. DeWinter gave me a parting gift, a two-shot derringer with silver bullets. Then he knocked me off my feet with a kiss that no Shadow could ever match. Dalt just raised his eyebrows and said nothing.
We walked up the street and I shifted.
We walked for several hours, moving purposefully but a touch slowly, giving any of the Hand plenty of time to catch up. Mal had Merisot on a baby harness, so she was comfortable and easily protected.
The first sign of trouble was when the air seemed to get dim. Then a shower of thorns, as if from a million roses flew through the air. It was a solid force, making it hard to see, therefore making it hard to shift. Weir moved quickly in front of Mal, to help protect Merisot. Matisse moved in close, with the weir near her. The only thing I could think to do was shift to a large body of water. Then I yelled for everyone to get into the water. Mal yelled back, asking me why we were doing this. I just gritted my teeth and hauled all three of them into the water. The thorns could not penetrate and I could open my eyes. Before our air ran out, I shifted once, twice, three times. When we emerged, no more storm. Mal walked out of the water, more than a little annoyed. She was decidedly not amused by the nature of the attack. Thorns to attack the Thornkin
I did drop back to talk quietly with her. I said that for this to work, it wasn't a good idea to question what I told her to do. She immediately held up her hands. I know, I know, I was just a bit rattled. It won't happen again. I gave her hand a squeeze and moved back to the front.
The next attack was an avalanche. We all were nimble enough to avoid anything more than a few bruises.
Next, it was an acorn storm. Acorns are small, but when pelted with hundreds of them, moving at hurricane force, they hurt. Blood had now been drawn. I shifted so we could enter a cave. We were fine for only a few minutes before being attacked by hundreds of bats. We kept moving. Strange creatures harried the weir on the perimeter. They never came out enough for us too see them; they just kept the weir jumping.
This was getting annoying. They adapt really quickly to the natural elements. So, I thought to remove as much of nature as possible. I shifted the cave path into a corridor.
And took our first casualty.
We weren't in the corridor more than a minute or so before a ceiling panel came down and crushed one of my weir. Then, as if on hydraulics, it rose to settle back into place.
Now the weir were getting angry. The Hand would work through them without ever confronting us. A coward's way and they have no truck with that. If I didn't do something soon, they'd lose the group discipline. Frustration would erupt and everything we were working for could be ruined.
I gritted my teeth and shifted again. With every shift, I kept our goal in front of us. This time, I chose a place with less magic. As we entered the Shadow my armband relaxed a bit. I suddenly realized that it hadn't pulse. There was so much danger, it had convulsed and stayed that way. It'd been squeezing the whole time.
That meant we had a bit of a breather. Not much. It wasn't more than a few minutes before one of the weir whispered to me that there were three or four Shadows moving out there. If it was the Hand, they were invisible again. Sigh. Of course, they wouldn't forego that trick.
We continued on. I shifted into rain. Now we could see their outlines. They still stayed out of bow range. It was just as well. I slowed down, as if I might be getting tired. I swayed on my feet and rubbed my face. If they know of my Shadow ability, they'll know this is a sham. But, I haven't done much Shadow traveling since Mal got her memory. I'm betting they don't know I can do this all day, for a long while. One of the weir sidled up to me, several more have appeared. I realized that I was moving too fast for the Hand to keep up. I had to slow down even more for them to catch up if we wanted to catch as many as we can. It was odd, but I didn't think this would be a problem for them. By the look on Dalt's face, he was thinking the same thing.
By the weir's count, we have about 24 of the Hand following us. I went over to lean on Dalt. I wanted to talk to him mentally, because I didn't want to take the chance that the Fey could hear him. Of course that meant Dalt had to open up, not his wards, but something. Even when I told him what I wanted, when he was aware I was doing something, he didn't feel a thing. He was that impervious. Sigh. I whispered my question. Do we go for the Shadow now, or try to get more. He said we were still almost at full strength. The goal was to get as many as possible, so let's go for more. Okay.
Shift. We were on a plain. I started to decrease the available magic with each shift, forcing them to take more time to draw in the magic to use, and forcing them to get in closer. The closer they are, the more likely the weir can be more accurate in the count.
Before I could shift, we were hit again. Lightning strikes. Three of them. One hit Dastard, one hit Mal and Merisot, and one hit a weir. I ran to the weir. Dead. Dastard was alive, but completely unconscious. I ran to Mal and the baby. She was rising. One of the weir was going to her but stopped in her tracks. I could see smoke rising. Mal turned around and I was backing up before she was halfway to facing me. I yelled to the weir to get down. They dove and then we could see Mal's eyes. Flames were emanating out from her eyes. She opened her mouth to yell and her tongue as like magma rock. Her teeth were as long as daggers. I think she was going to yell. What emerged was a burning, smoking mass of lava. She sent it straight into the Hand. The weir scattered to the side to avoid getting hit.
Damn it. While it was impressive as hell, it just might scatter the Hand. And we didn't want that. We wanted her to appear weak. I shouted at her to get control of herself. It took a bit, but she finally registered my voice. The flames died down and I got us out of there. I was almost faint with relief that Merisot was unharmed by the attack. It was clear the Hand was trying to get rid of her protection before going after Mal and the girls.
I shifted again focusing on places with even less magic. And a light show. The lights would bounce off of the Hand members. It was all I could do to keep the Hand guessing what I would do next. The extreme shifts felt like I was grabbing huge chunks of Shadow and shifting. I was deliberately trying not to be subtle, because I didn't want to lose any of them. I am glad that my touch is sensitive enough that I wasn't tearing Shadow as we moved.
The place was had a strange dichotomy about it. Skyscrapers towered around us even though we were on the edge of a forest. The laser light shot light throughout the area. We made our way through horse-drawn carriages. And even though there were fireworks going off in the sky, the crowds were thin.
We moved through a park, physically moving swiftly. It didn't stop the arrow from appearing through my left arm, though. We were out in the open, which wasn't good. Now that they were choosing a physical attack, we needed to draw them closer. And keep alive. The arrows came at us with preternatural speed, making it almost impossible for us to avoid being hit. Several weir were wounded as they closed to protect Mal and the children.
I shifted again, hauling us through Shadow. I focused on wadis; dry riverbeds that weren't ambitious enough to become canyons. The twisting avenues made bows much less effective. It wasn't raining, but we could hear the sounds of displaced pebbles as the Fey followed.
We kept moving. The weir were becoming really frustrated that they cannot close in and finish this business. On the other hand, Merisot was laughing and having a good time. Evander came up to move at my side. He asked if this was all we were going to do. I said probably. The goal was to protect everyone and lead them into a trap. Not to engage them in a fight we very well might not win.
The twisting path turned a corner and we saw another dust devil. It was very small and very weak. The hunters were closing in. The weir just looked at me. I told Dalt, we could engage them, briefly. Dalt nodded and told the weir they had 21 seconds to fight and then we'd retreat. All of them gave him a smile of thanks.
They fanned out. They didn't have to wait long. Even with the invisibility, they gave as much as they could. Dalt took two arrows high in the chest. Amazingly, he just shrugged them off. They hadn't even penetrated past his muscles. One weir woman, Fang, had a rather gruesome trophy; a hand from one of the Fey.
At precisely 21 seconds, the weir broke off and we ran. Fang tucked the severed hand into her blouse and made to follow. We moved through the vortex, taking no additional wounds.
I shifted us into high grasslands. Again, my aim was that the displacement of the plants would give us and idea of the Hand's numbers and position. We were getting pretty close to the Trap Shadow. By out count, we had between 30 and 45 of the Sorrowful Hand. That would be slightly more than half of the hunters. Of course, we have no idea if we killed any that had engaged in the fight.
I told Dalt that at this point it was unlikely that we would acquire any more. He gave a nod and agreed. Then he surprised me by saying he was impressed with how well I managed all this. Good job.
I began moving to the Trap Shadow. I've had plenty of practice moving the household through Shadow. This wouldn't be any different.
I concentrated on where we were going and then made sure that not only were we staying together, I was also dragging each of the Fey with us. They weren't getting away.
Dalt called out, You got them. Now let's close the cage.
I made the last shift.
I remember this all too well. Screams passed overhead and we were rocked to the ground by concussion bombs. I kept shifting and keeping everyone in my grasp. Dalt reached out and hauled me up to move further in. Something large blocked the Sun. I shifted before we were hit.
I shifted 8, 9, 10 times, each time moving us farther into the trap, where no magic would work. We emerged on a nighttime battlefield. Bombs went off everywhere and the ground heaved as if alive.
And, all went black.
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