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Cassandra's Diary.49

Day 324/32

Well, once again I have to try and reconstruct what happened, and trust that I have everything straight.

When I ask for a shadow that will shock and steal memories, it works very well.

I woke up. It was a dark night. I was on a barren field, pitted severely from countless shelling. In the near distance, giant mechanical men walked. On their shoulders were large spotlights, the beams directed to the ground, performing a systematic search. The first thing I wondered was if they were searching for me. The second thing was wondering who I was.

Thinking the mechanical giants were somewhat ominous looking, I kept down and out of the searchlights until I could get my bearings. I moved about slowly. It was my thought that I would scarcely come into such a place alone. Perhaps there were others? Comrades? I was wearing a one-piece overall, not unlike a uniform, I suppose. It was difficult to see in the dark. The moon only appeared at brief intervals from behind an overcast sky.

I didn't get very far. I found a man lying on the ground. He was wearing a white or light colored suit similar to mine. His pulse was fine and I couldn't find any obvious wounds. It was too dark to make out his face. I could see no end to this field. How was I going to get him to medical aid?

I didn't have long to wonder. The searchlights pinned me. I moved aside, hoping they didn't notice the man. I wasn't about to try and fight those things, whatever they were. They approached and spoke in booming artificial voices. In the back of my mind, I could almost understand. German? I spoke back in French, which I am much more fluent in. That got their attention, whether that was good or ill. Another two moved in closer, and one began making some sort of demand. At least, I thought so from its tone. Then again, German always sounds like that to me. At least, I seemed to recall that.

A soft voice came from the dark. He told me not to move. With the lights blinding any night-vision I had, I could just make out a man wearing a dirty white uniform. As a blur, he ran by, moving toward the mechanicals. A few moments later, I heard the sounds of metal tearing. One by one, the three metal soldiers closest to us fell, the spotlights spinning upwards and away.

He came back up and told me to follow him. A few of the other metal searchers were moving toward us, so there was no time to argue. Keeping close, we moved out and around, keeping to the shadows as much as possible. It was the only cover we had.

It was several hours before I saw a large embankment in front of us. At regular intervals, there were towers. My guide called out a password and we were allowed inside.

The camp was extensive. I couldn't begin to tell you how many were there. Not that I saw much in the beginning. Dawn was just arriving and I could see that my coverall was actually green, just like these people. But, they had no records for me. It was a bit of a puzzle because they also had no records of a scouting party, or any other troops that have gone unaccounted for.

I was shown to the medics. Aside from some abrasions, I was doing pretty well. A guard was posted at the door, so I made the best of the situation and tried to be patient. I had only one visitor; a woman who looked eerily familiar. She was tall, athletic and very fair. He uniform showed her to be an officer of some sort. She wore her peak cap canted jauntily over one temple. Her questions were brief and she wasn't inclined to introduce herself.

Day 325/32

Boredom set in quickly. I had a lot of energy and no place to expend it. And an eight by ten room hardly sufficed. I was convinced that I had lost comrades somewhere Out There. At the time, I was consumed with the idea of finding them. Not that anyone was going to let me go anywhere. We still had no idea who I was. I had a tattoo on my forearm which apparently was my identification. But the 'barcode' matched none of their files. They took my fingerprints to send back to their headquarters in the city. The doctor was a bit sympathetic and asked if I needed anything. I asked for some books or perhaps some drawing materials.

Day 339/32
Exploring Limits

It'd been two weeks and I was going crazy. The only thing I could think to do was a bit of exercising. Once I got tired, I could just sleep away the time. There was one problem with that: I didn't get tired.

Even after several hours, I was still ready to go. And I wasn't even hungry. The guards changed shifts. From time to time they were peering in the opening of the door. The door only opened when meals were delivered. After six hours, my heart rate was good. And I still wasn't hungry. In fact, I just felt better and better, rather than tired. Even my mood was improving. Another four hours passed and the guards changed shifts again. I think they passed along word of what I was doing. I was now curious about just how long I could go. I knew this wasn't normal.

I went for another eight hours. Now the original guard was back and he didn't seem to believe I hadn't stopped once. I felt great, though my hospital clothes were soaked. The guard called for a nurse. She came in and I had to stop long enough for her to take my pulse. She got a peculiar look on her face and she left. I went back to my workout.

An older nurse came in later. She was nice enough to tell me her name, Carla. She took my pulse as well. She asked me if I was all right. I assured her nothing was wrong. She had lunch which she set down, replacing the uneaten dinner from last night. I asked her if I was doing something wrong. She said that my pulse was around 100; too high for normal people and too low for the amount of exercising the guards reported. As I was still moving, she grabbed the empty cup from my tray and tossed it to me. I caught it and tossed it back. Ah, my reflexes are still good. She asked me if I was a commando. The term seemed familiar, but I didn't think so. "Queen's Ranger?" she asked then.
That got a tickle of response, though I didn't know why. Then she asked me if I was weir. That got an immediate response. It just sounded…right.

At my request, she got me some dry clothing. At her request, I ate some of the lunch. While I ate, she filled me in on a brief history of the world, as she knew it. At some point in the past, the world began a split into two factions: the Foresters (us) and the Prussians (them). The Foresters were trying to preserve the natural world. They were agriculturalists, artists, and mages. The Prussians were trying to unite the world under one government: theirs, of course. The Kaiser was their leader and visionary.

At the moment, the Foresters were losing badly. The various battles had reduced them to an area the size of a small country and backed them up a remaining forested range of mountains. They've managed to hold off total elimination for the last 27 years, but they haven't been able to reverse the Kaiser's plan.

Nothing seemed familiar about the lesson. She gave me an examination and pronounced that I was definitely weir. Apparently, no one else here has body hair. Not even a light down. How…odd. She just looked thoughtful and left.

A few hours later, I could hear guards moving into the corridor outside my door. Uh oh. Arms were drawn. From the opening in the door, I was relieved to see they weren't pointed in my direction. Sharp boot steps sounded down the hall. One set. A very angry voice echoed down the hall. A woman said she'd, "…gut anyone who holds my people without telling me." A wave of "Oh, shit!" followed in her wake. As the booted steps got closer, the guards kept backing up.

Then she was at the door. She looked inside. I backed up. It was like looking at my sister. We were that similar in appearance. I just wished she looked familiar otherwise. She told the guard on duty to open the door before she ripped it off.

They opened it up.

She came in and looked around in distaste. So, who was I? I had no idea. She asked me to explain the tattoo on my arm. Carla neglected to mention that that was how the Kaiser's troops marked their own. Sigh. Was I one the wrong side? I suggested that perhaps I am a defector. She introduced herself as Colonel Ripshank. Oh, my.

Well, I wouldn't be the first to defect. Many Weir found their way here. The Kaiser had some that were loyal to him, of course. And his numbers were growing as more and more became convinced they would never win. Hmm.

With what seemed to be a hasty decision, she decided to send me to the rest of her troops. It would be up to me to prove myself. I was expecting interrogation, at the least, but I wasn't about to argue.

I got a chit to see the quartermaster. There I got a hat, uniform, weapons harness and required emblems. With the travel vouchers, I was all set to go.

Day 340/32

It took the better part of the morning to go 50 miles. Much of that was spent waiting for transport. Most of the people here are blond or light haired, with the occasional redhead. They glanced at my hair and became extraordinarily polite. And I don't think the corporal stripes had anything to do with it.

Orientation took about half and hour. The Queen's Rangers were the "über commandos" of the Foresters. Effectively, they were an elite strike force. We go in, attack a selected target and pull out before the enemy can muster a defense. Training consists of a week learning the basics. After that, we learn on the field or die.

Fun.

Day 356/32
Queen's Ranger

Two weeks went by. We had two missions both pretty successful. My memory still hadn't returned and I was beginning to wonder at the cause. My concern stemmed from a peculiar hallucination. We were in the middle of the second strike when I felt a chill run over me. Transparently, a woman's face appeared near me. She looked very much like me. She wanted to know where I was. I was torn between serious alarm at the possibility of imminent psychosis or death from inattention to the skirmish in front of me. I thanked her for the hallucination, but had to go. She said she would try after the fight. I said she didn't have to. She looked a bit impatient, but my attention was drawn to dodging an explosion. When I looked again, she was gone. I neglected to mention the episode to the medics.

Living with the Weir was much different, I think, to what I was used to. They don't like walls; they use tents. "Easier to cut through and get out." They spend as much time out of doors as possible. And they sleep in a communal bedroom but with no cots—not unlike a pile of puppies.

Oh, and as much as it pains me to mention it, I will tell you they gave me a name. Since I was of relatively low rank, I was dubbed "Boxcutter." I thought not to answer to it, but that just made the name stick. Well, it'll keep me humble.


Day 51/33

Two months have gone by. I'm getting pretty good. Ripshank said I was getting really, really good. In fact, we'd been successful enough; I got ten volunteers to my squad. She said if she had ten more like me, they'd be winning. I didn't believe that, but I was very proud of the compliment. The fact was, I liked what I'd been doing. I got this incredible rush every time we went out.

The Kaiser was using overkill tactics. And that wasn't an oxymoron. They were sending in robots, tanks, gatling guns, grenade rifles, and much more against us. All we had was trickery and stealth. The Prussians using all that they had shaped how they had to fight. Otherwise, they risked taking out their own people. It made it easier for us to slip through. I've been decorated three times with Bronze Claws and an increase in rank. I'm a sergeant now, after ten successful strikes. Sergeant Boxcutter. Ah well. It's more important that people were starting to overlook the possibility that I was a spy.

That morning I was inspired to suggest a mission. Why don't we get a small force behind enemy lines and kidnap or kill the Kaiser? They cheered my enthusiasm. I was told it would be taken into consideration.

Day 59/33
Captured

About a week went by before Colonel Ripshank came to talk with me. My suggestion had gone up to the Queen herself. In fact, she liked the idea. Then Ripshank told me about the last three failures.

Oh.

But, if anyone can do the job, it's me. I'm the next volunteer. Well, if they thought I was a spy, this would take care of the matter. For all my activity, I haven't seen much beyond fighting the Kaiser. And, if I was a spy, I already had much of their information. The other side had seen the tactics the Foresters use. They just haven't or can't adapt to it easily. Of course, if I'm not a spy, they had the hope I'll be successful. They won either way.

I left in the middle of the night. The plan was that I'm one of the Kaiser's that got captured and then managed to escape. Weak? I thought the simplest idea would be the easiest. And, it worked.

I got through and was approaching the Kaiser's forces. Apparently, they don't allow anyone to surrender or say anything. I was shot twice upon approach and then three more times while I was lying there. Nice people.

Almost worked.

I was trussed up and taken to a "repair yard." They took care of the wounds. Then I was tied face down on a table while they did something. Being shot, dragged around and tied up took most of the fight out of me. There were enough people here; I doubted if I'd get very far. Besides, I was supposed to be "returning." I mentioned the tattoo, but they ignored me. They drugged me, and I was out.

I woke up, still on my stomach, but in a different room and I was untied. As I laid there, I heard a whirring sound between my shoulder blades. There was a faint vibration coming from that area. An occasional puff of vapor emanated from my back. I didn't like this at all. When I twisted back to touch, the vibrations got louder and I felt intense pain. When my vision returned, I managed to get to a mirror. I saw a black metal…thing: about two inches high, protruding from my spine.

I knew I should have fought them.

A doctor came in to check me over. When I asked, he said that Weir are mandatory draftees. Everyone else in the Kaiser's army were volunteers. Charming. I guess the device was to ensure my loyalty.

Day 62/33

The doctors were abundantly solicitous and fawning. Apparently, they did run the tattoo id. They had ignored the results, believing them to be a hoax. But, the fingerprints and other evidence proved them wrong.

I guess I did come from here because they knew who I was. Or, who I was supposed to be.

Kellen Blackjack, a Weir berserker and highly decorated officer who just so happened to be a personal friend to the Kaiser himself. I didn't have much of an identity crisis. No. Whoever I was before, I was Sergeant Boxcutter now.

Still, the picture of me was undeniable. Except, I really didn't like her. She had cold, mad eyes and a harsh expression. Not a person I'd ever want to meet, even, or especially in a mirror.

The device on my back was a 'clockwork mechanism.' Their wizards made them. If I made any violent action, it was designed to kill the host with a small explosion. That might put a few crimps in my plans. I told the medic I wanted it removed. He stammered and bowed and fairly fainted, but he said he'd look into it. They were never designed to be removed. It just might take a while.

I heard some call the device a "spine-snapper".

Day 61/33

Well, I was comfortable, if not particularly happy. I just said what I wanted and people scurried to get it done. I made demands from time to time, to keep the pretense up, but it made me hugely uncomfortable. How could anyone like terrorizing people this way?

I did a little research. I got access to whatever files I wanted. And they kept really good files. I'd found 70 cases of amnesia in the last 6 months. Usually, there were ten per year due to combat. They speculated that this casualty rate was a new biological or magical weapon from the Queen's forces. Thus far, they hadn't found anything to support it.

I got a visitor: an "old" friend from Berlin. She also had hard, cruel eyes. She came, delivering a new uniform of black leather for me. Colonel Slash was to take me to Berlin. The Kaiser was pleased that I had been found and wanted me back immediately.

We took the afternoon train and we traveled first class. We sat in the dining car after she dismissed all the other passengers from attending. In fact, people almost ran when they thought she might be unhappy. Crowds parted before us. When we had the car to ourselves, she just chatted. I was able to draw her out and she expanded on the war program we were apparently working on. It seems our target was to eliminate any magic, whether it was from a skill or the nature of the people. The Weir were exempt, at least, the Kaiser's Weir were. Otherwise, they wanted complete genocide, even of their own mages. This would eventually include the clockwork mages who invented the charming bit of work on my back.

Nice folks.


Day 62/30
Berlin

We arrived in Berlin and I was taken to my townhouse. The staff were all captured greens—Foresters—and all wore the same device on their backs. These people were all listless and passive. In fact, after a few days I realized that everyone wearing one of the devices were more…absent, as if they weren't even people anymore. I sent someone to get a clockwork mage.

I needed this thing on my back gone.

An hour later a professor arrived. I think it was a man. I couldn't definitively say under the black robes and black mask. He wore a glowing black ring on one of his gloved hands. He examined me. It took a long while before he remarked that it wasn't a good job.

I asked why.

He said there was too much scarring.

How long until he could figure out how to remove it? He asked for a week.

And what was his success rate.

He reminded me that the devices were not designed to be permanent—per the Kaiser's instructions. At best, it was a 70% chance of success.

That didn't sound too bad.

He did give me some of the documentation about the mechanics of the device. Surprise, the official name: "Spine-snapper".

One curious thing, he gave me his ring. It had a faint vibration when I held it. He said I would be able to contact him through it. He didn't say so, but I had the feeling this was an unusual gift. He told me to call him Seven.


Day 64/33

I started receiving notes from the Kaiser. They spoke of how "overjoyed" he was that I was alive. He wanted me to "fly to his side". The messages were randy and fulsome. Each subsequent note was increasingly effusive and embellished. I started to rethink my possible relationship with the man. Well, at least I could meet him. The more I knew of him, the more information I had to work with. I called his residence and demanded an appointment. I got one for a day and a half later. I planned to spend the remaining time reading and researching any piece of information that could be of any importance. It would help if I knew what to look for.

How hard would it be to kill him?

Day 65/33
Memory retuns

Basically, I learned more about "Kellen". Whoever that was. What I was doing for the Greens, I used to do for the Greys, that was, organizing military strikes. I also came across my own notes on how to go about eliminated the wizards when the time was right.

I read them with a really sick feeling.

I also got a delivery; the case files for all the amnesia victims, with pictures. And I knew none of them. Fifty of them were being transported to Berlin. A few were going to be conscripted to the ballet. That sounded odd. I had a funny feeling that what I thought was a ballet wasn't what these people thought. And I wasn't sure I wanted to find out. What was sad was that my return was in the papers. And not one friend has come by. I suppose loneliness wasn't a problem for the person I was.

I spent the entire night working. I managed to get more information about the ballet. I got the cast listing as well as pictures. They were incredibly beautiful and athletic people. Some were familiar, others caused such a reaction that the clockwork device damn near snapped my spine. Many of the later additions were more than a little familiar. One man I knew. I just could not recall his name. Attached to these files was a doctor's memo noting that these people in the ballet, "do not exhibit any diminishment of spirit."

I took a rest before meeting the Kaiser. I'd had my uniform jacket restructured to accommodate my new spine accessory. When I was ready I went out. A car waited for me. I was driven to the palace and escorted inside. Guards squared their shoulders and made sure to look sharp as I went by. I pretended not to notice.

I went inside. The Kaiser was at a gorgeous desk. He stopped what he was doing and rose to walk over and greet me.

I was fairly paralyzed. When I saw him, my memory rushed right back into place.

DeWinter. It was DeWinter I had to kill?

Damn.

Wait. I pulled myself together. DeWinter didn't come with us. He was back in Paris. At home with the Weir and children…this was not him.

At least, he'd better not have come after us.

Argh.

He didn't even notice my reaction. He escorted me to dinner where we had a lovely meal. He chatted the whole time. Nope. Not DeWinter. But this Kaiser was very definitely smitten with Blackjack.

After dinner, he put some music on and we danced.

After most of the evening had gone by, he suggested we retire to the "play room."

This did not make me feel good. No, definitely not. But, I had no reason to refuse. He dismissed the guards and we walked further into the interior.

I debated killing him then.

What if I was wrong about DeWinter?

Well, we did get to a bedroom. He undressed and got into bed. My brain pretty much shut down when he handcuffed one wrist to the bed. Now, my mind came up with some interesting possibilities with my DeWinter…but not with this guy. And not what he wanted. From the look of the toys around the area, pleasure wasn't exactly what he was looking for—at least, not my definition of it.

I had to work to pretend to be frustrated (not that difficult) and disappointed (quite difficult) to be unable to proceed. I reminded him that if I did anything untoward, this thing on my back would pretty much ruin the night.

He was quietly furious.

I extricated him and spent some time consoling him. At least that only involved holding him and kissing him a few times. I didn't know how long I could pretend to actually care. I wondered if my other self did, could, care about him. I knew I couldn't.

He whined about his needs.

It made my jaw ache.

Well, the best thing to do was get out. My Trumps were transported with me. I would contact someone, find the rest and leave.

At least, that was the plan now. The Fae must be trapped as well.


Day 67/33
Finding Eidolon

Another date with the Kaiser. I pretend that the Ballet we were going to see would actually be pleasant. I managed to succeed until it actually started.

Oh, the people were definitely accomplished athletes. But, when it got to the actual flogging, I had no problems maintaining a cold façade. The black leather masks they wore helped to distance myself from what was going on. The Kaiser, on the other hand, seemed to truly enjoy the show.

The performers removed their masks when it was done. From glimpses here and there on our travels here, I could see that most of them were probably Fae. I had to hold tight to stop from jumping out of my seat when I saw one of them was Eidolon.

How was I going to get him away?

It was disturbing how quickly the lies came. Necessity breeds capability?

I told the Kaiser that I did have some useful information from when I was captured. I learned that the Foresters were able to hold out as long as they had due to the fact that their Queen fought on the front lines with her troops. He was surprised and more than a little shocked though he tried to hide it. He didn't know the Queen was so daring and charismatic. Well, I saw her at least once and she was appallingly trusting. If we could get someone inside, we could destroy her. And if no opportunity arose to kill, a spy would be useful.

He thought that might work. "It probably wouldn't hurt. Well, everyone except the consequences for the spy." He gave a mean little laugh. "And who would you send? We've have tried this before."

"Yes, to kill her. But, she would trust her life with someone incapable of harming her." I gestured to the performers. I added meaningfully, "And she likes pretty boys."

Ah. So, with the plan that I would train a pretty one to do our bidding, yes that one would do nicely, I had Eidolon taken to my car. Eidolon sat in the back, in the farthest corner, scrunched in to avoid any contact with me. I can only imagine what they might have told him.

I tried to jolt his memory.

He didn't react to his name.

Amber? No, but it seemed familiar.

Paris? Now I had was attention.

Kasta? He was very still.

I told him my name. I could see it all flood back in moments. I quickly told him my plans and impressed upon him the need to maintain his role—as I would. If necessary, I would treat him harshly, though I draw the line at any physical harm. We had to keep up appearances until we found the others.

He said he understood that I didn't mean anything and he'd try his best.

We pulled up to the townhouse. A car was waiting outside. We went inside and found Colonel Slash waiting in the parlor. I gestured to Eidolon and told one of the servants to find a place for it. He shot me a dark look at the pronoun, but fortunately his back was to the Colonel. He went without a word.

She was mostly there to chat. She seemed amused by my new toy. I think she wanted things to develop more…intimately, but I reminded her of my temporary restrictions. Annoyed with the situation, she promised to get help immediately. She'd light a fire under the mages that they would not be able to ignore.

When she left, I Trumped Paris. Nothing from anyone on the cards. Hmm. I tried Benedict. I was shocked to see him in jail. He couldn't leave or speak without ruining whatever he was doing. And I couldn't leave to help him. Even if I wanted to, getting back in would put me right back where I started, without any assurance I'd regain my memory.

I Trumped Random with the good news that we had trapped a lot of Fey; perhaps a third of the remaining Sorrowful Hand. Bad news, I was stuck here for a bit until I found the others. Random commented that he liked the black leather outfit. I had to admit, I rather liked it myself.

Then I Trumped Tatasha. She was both relieved that I've called and annoyed that I wasn't going to leave right away. The fact was, Paris does allow for some magic. If this device works with magic, leaving the Shadow might trigger it. I might take the chance, but I won't gamble with Eidolon. She said she'd try and let the others in Paris know.

Then I Trumped Blythe. I filled her in and gave her what documentation I had on the clockwork mechanism. She said she'd look the papers over.

Oh, this evening I did see a report about the Forester Queen. She looks just like DoBlique.


Day 69/33

I got a Trump from Blythe who was more than a little upset. Under no circumstances were we to leave the Shadow. There were 7 ways for the spine-snappers to trigger and kill us. Wonderful. The plus side, she's never seen anything like it. She was fascinated.

Well, we'll have to wait until this was figured out. Someday I hope to have a needed expertise to help someone else instead of always relying on others. Perhaps when the Chaosians learn to like the outdoors. I guess I'm feeling frustrated. I still couldn't reach the house and I was getting worried.

Day 71/33

It's been two days. From talking with Blythe, we were on a 4:1 time ratio. That's good for us.
She came through to examine us and I summoned the wizard, Seven. She was very excited to meet him. They started talking and I was soon just listening. I was lost after they started talking about "partitioning non-dimensional space."

Ten hours later I was summoned to see the Kaiser. I left the two of them talking. Eidolon had joined us and he was glassy-eyed trying to follow.

The Kaiser was more than a little impatient for results. So, he got his own wizard to do research and he claims this one has found a cure. A few prods and found out it was more of a stopgap. It would temporarily suspend the device. The Kaiser looked far too anticipatory for my liking. Apparently, this was tested on three subjects. I said it was encouraging, but if I wanted to resume my former life, I'd like something a bit more substantial behind the results. The Kaiser ordered 30 more tests. In the meantime, I asked for a got permission to take this wizard to talk with Seven.

They did just that. And two hours later, informed me that a permanent removal incurred the risk of 10% neural damage. Now that didn't seem too bad, especially considering that we would probably heal it given enough time. Still, for something that was supposed to be permanent, it seemed far too easy.

By that time a courier arrived with a request from the Kaiser for another visit. Blythe saw that I was uncomfortable and I ended up explaining why in private.

She insisted on going in my stead. A bit of magic, and the black leather jacket, and she looked exactly like me.

I said she just wanted to wear the jacket.

She stared at me. "You made a joke."

I pretended to scowl. "I always make jokes. It's just that no one gets them."

"No, no, that was a good one. And the jacket was very 'cool'."

She was gone for a little over two hours. Once returned, she really didn't feel like talking, but she also didn't seem upset.

Awkward, that was she her expression conveyed.

I was afraid to ask.


Day 72/33

I tried to Trump Dalt. According to Tatasha, he went to Paris because no one was getting a Trump call through. That meant the house shields were still up. I got no response on his trump.

Then I Trumped Julian. He was seated. On either side, standing near, was a woman with white face paint. Ying Ko, I thought.

I was more than a little concerned that he was dealing with the Fey.

Julian said nothing. He barely looked at me. Obviously, he didn't want them to know I was speaking to him. I asked if I should sign off. He gave an almost imperceptible nod and I let the contact drop.

I was getting really frustrated. There was nothing I could do but wait. And I didn't have any weir around to work out the feelings.

Instead, I picked the nearest wall.

And was completely paralyzed in an instant after I punched the wall.

Steam jetted from behind me and the pain was severe. I could feel my blood pressure hit the roof. Somehow I remained conscious even as the pain mounted higher. It took a long time to wear off.

And it only did so once I calmed down.


Day 78/33

It's been a week. The wizards announced that they have a cure. They'd developed ant-sized…clockwork things that would enter the blood stream and disable the device.

I was eager to get started.

Before we started anything, I showed Seven the documents outlining the elimination of his people. When this was done, he would have to try and get his people to safety, wherever that might be. I think this surprised him a little. I burned the papers so someone else would have to develop the idea on their own.

Seven thought for a few minutes and then admitted the cure wouldn't work. He explained the spine mechanism was a foolproof design. I was stunned. The "cure" was designed to kill me because I was a major asset to the Kaiser. The clockwork wizards had assessed the Kaiser and decided he would not stay loyal to them. Now, Seven said it was apparent that we were not who they thought we were.

Seven thought we might be allies.

Certainly, since they'd seen Trumps work when Blythe came and left, proved that. Instead, they had a more straightforward plan to dismantle the spine-snappers. The chance of success was something like 30%. Ah. Well, we had to take a chance at some point.

Blythe was ready to deal with the medical side of things.

I did make them promise not to remove the devices from anyone who currently has them. For one thing, the normal people here would never recover. Seven admitted they'd tried it. Their minds just did not come back. For the second, it was a perfect way to keep the Fey here, even should they regain their memory. I doubt this was a permanent situation, but if it gave a a few decades or centuries, I wasn't about to complain.

Eidolon and I got into a bit of a snit. I said I would go first and, of course, he demanded the same. Given the choice, they chose Eidolon.

It took about twenty minutes for each of us. We were free, though stiff and weak! I thanked them as they hurried out. They had a lot of hiding to plan.

I Trumped Tatasha, and Blythe, Eidolon and I were gone.


Day 82/33
The Brood and Tragedy

We were in Aes. Dastard was there as well. I was ready to mount a party to get to Paris. Dastard offered to come. What magic he had was exponentially more than I had and he'd learned a lot from working with Rinaldo. As to who would lead the group…that took a bit more talking. I couldn't deny his experience and age, but if he'd concentrate on magical things, he may not be able to command. And I know I'm better at Shadow-shifting. Which meant I knew what we were likely to encounter.

In the end, we agreed to let Tatasha decide because we could not sway each other's opinion. She chose me to lead the group. Dastard was graceful and let nothing show in his face. I wondered if he thought it was favoritism or reputation working against him. As we were getting ready, I said that Tatasha's choice was really a compliment. He just looked at me. I said that she trusted him to guard my back. And, she was relying on his experience to adapt to whatever was to happen. I wasn't so sure I could do either. I don't know if he believed me, but he did relax. Perhaps he just relegated it all to strange weir thinking.

We decided the group should be small to ensure the greatest chance to remain undetected He had an invisibility spell he thought should work. So, it was Dastard, Bison and I who went.

We left immediately.

I aimed for inside the house. If it works, then the situation has passed. If not, I know we're walking into trouble.

It was the strangest shifting…it was mostly interior places. We went through numerous halls, some stone, then rough woods, and then decorated walls. We went passed endless doors. Dastard was confused at what I was trying. Bison didn't care. He just moved in front from time to time if he thought we were about to encounter someone.

And we did pass people.

They would stop in the hall as our trio of strangers walked by them in their own housed. The doors eventually looked just like our house, but it was illusion. I could see Dastard thinking we had arrived, but something would give it away to me that we weren't in the right place.

At length, I knew he thought I was lost.

Then the Shadows halls abruptly went back to stone. And not just any place, we were in Mycenea. How in the worlds did we get here? now I was confused. We ran into one of my old sword teachers, Alduwir. I made introductions and we went upstairs. I figured we could have some lunch while I thought about our next idea. It seemed to me that we couldn't get into Paris, so we were shunted into the closest Shadow that I knew well.

It also seemed to me that if we got here, there was a reason I did. After all, we could have, perhaps should have ended up in a copy of Paris. On an impulse, since it was of Fey magic, I showed Alduwir my armband. Had she seen this before? She shrugged, but I could tell she knew something. I made some excuse about paying respects to my sister, Portia, and left the room while motioning to her. She followed me.

She led me to her room, back downstairs near the barracks, in the senior officer's quarters. From a worn chest, she took out a box about three inches squared. The top was carved into a snake, like the armband. She said she knew there would be a day I would ask about Aegis. What was in the box would accompany the question.

Hesitantly, I opened it. Inside was a black butterfly brooch. I picked it up. There was a sound like static and it burst into hundreds of butterflies. They coalesced into a black armored figure. Alduwir knelt on one knee. I did not.

A gentle voice called my name. Asked if I was going to Paris?

Yes.

Meet me just outside the Shadow.

Then she/he dissolved and I was alone with Alduwir. I had an idea of what was going on and I was furious.

I went upstairs.

Alduwir followed after picking up her sword.

I told Dastard and Bison we were leaving. Bison just got up but Dastard had to ask why. I turned to Alduwir. You are Fey?

Yes. She admitted to being of the Black Zee.

Great. Was she working for the Khan? The one I least favored? And you've been watching me for my entire life here?

Yes.

I so do not want to be in the debt of Shi-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.

I was, am, tired of the Fey's interference. I have no idea what I just got us into. And it was my own damn fault. I knew better that to have touched the brooch. Instead, I trusted a person who I now know I cannot trust. Which was probably why I was furious. I felt betrayed. Who knew who else here was Fey?

I told Alduwir, she could go meet with whoever she wanted, but I did not want her following us or traveling with us. We started moving and I started shifting to get rid of her.

My goal was to get to Paris as soon as possible. And bypass the mysterious butterfly person. As we moved, Bison told me we were being followed. I moved us to an exterior and we could see Alduwir behind us. I got out my Trumps and took us to Aes. Let's see her catch up now.

We tried again. It took a few hours, but we were getting close. The surrounding Shadows still had areas ravaged by the wars. We were in the remains of an old forest. It was fairly barren and desolate. We were only one Shadow out from Paris. As we moved forward, we came upon an army.

There were thousands of oddly shaped troops. And in front, waiting for us, was the black knight on horseback. She moved forward. The army remained behind. As she approached, we could see the person and the horse were all ebon butterflies.

I asked for a name.

The voice was lower, almost masculine. The Knight crisply told me he was not in the habit of giving out names, but we could call him The Loathsome. Dastard stiffened and then began to launch himself at the Loathsome. I blocked him before anything started. I wasn't about to get Dastard killed. And he would lose. Any of us would against the Fey. Especially such an old one.

Is that why I distrust them so? Do I fear their strange skills so much?

The Loathsome told me that the army was for me to use. It was to pay back for stopping him from betraying his old oath and hurting his own kin. Ah, he was referring to his capture and enslavement by Clarissa, which in turn meant Dastard's enslavement.

So, despite our painfully obvious hostility and distrust, he handed over this army—which incidentally consisted entirely of the fearless Brood. Knowing a bit about them, I hesitated in using them. I had little time to think about the consequences, since the Loathsome said we didn't have much time before the Brood returned to where they came from. He also said my Paris house's defenses weren't going to hold up much longer. He drew a dirt sketch layout of the Sorrowful Hand as they were dispersed to attack around the house. They were collected largely in five groups, equidistant from each other. The Loathsome explained they were trying to crush the house with 'time feedback'.
The layout reminded me of Amber's castle. Did that have any significance in Amber's defenses? I wondered if I could find out.

Pulling myself back to the matter at hand; there were only 12 of the Hand left. I hadn't realized we had gotten so many trapped or killed. The total encompass of spell influence was the distance of "99 flights of Ravens." Normal ravens or Fey? What was a flight anyway? He explained that translations would waste time and he didn't really know my measure systems…I think the frame of references destroyed any chance of that.

And then he was gone. I think he wanted to say more, but time was pressing in.

Especially for DeWinter and the others.

I told everyone to stay where they were. I was going to get confirmation from Random, official permission in case this was a bad idea to take the Loathsome's help. It's not always great to be King. I tried the Trump and it didn't work. But I did feel…something stir and take notice. I dropped the contact immediately.

I rode into another Shadow where Trump worked and Random answered immediately. I outlined the situation in a few, very brief, sentences. The house was under attack from the Hand. The Loathsome had loaned me an army of Brood. The Loathsome said the house was going to lose their defenses soon. Do I use the army?

Then my armband went off. Suddenly I was busy trying to not get killed by a couple of the Hand attacking me. I took care of two, but there were more. I called out for the Brood to come to me and kill them. The hoard appeared almost immediately and tore them apart despite fearsome flames and showers of magic.

So quickly, immortal powerful Fae were torn bits of flesh.

I made contact with Random again. He was yelling orders to someone, a bit harried.

Nope. Not always good to be King.

Do I use the army?

Yes! And then he passed Martin through.

We rode quickly back to Dastard and Bison. We got there just in time as they were surrounded and injured by more Hand.

I ordered the Brood to kill the Fey. Both Bison and Dastard were seriously wounded. Dastard had some very nasty cuts and Bison had lost an arm. I felt deep horror. The Fey moved so slowly through Shadow before. How did they get so much faster? How did they get around me? How many more times would I underestimate them?

Martin and I tended to our friends as best we could. Neither Dastard nor Bison would entertain the option of going back to Amber. We got things in order within minutes. It's nice to have and efficient army that doesn't question anything.
So useful.

We stormed into Paris. I made the shift sideways, to keep the element of surprise. I went in at the closest juncture nearest the house. We moved through the streets. In the distance, Paris looked…odd. But I wasn't paying much attention to the details. Ahead of us was the first embrasure. Two of the Hand were there, one with a glowing jewel. Bison shot the one with the jewel and the Brood destroyed the second. I split the army in half, sending them to move around the house, taking out the Hand. Once the jewels at each embrasure were destroyed, the time crushing spells faltered and then dropped.

It was an odd feeling. I had some sort of connection with the Brood. Every attack, every death to the Hand, I could feel in my fingers, almost as if I had done it myself. It was as if my skin were extended into the violence.

When the Hand was destroyed, the Brood dissolved away.
We turned our attention to the house.

Xhimena was the first to run out. I was shocked to see her. She was taller; almost as tall as me it seemed. It became obvious, as everyone poured out that I was gone much long than I thought. Everyone was older. Little Duncan ran out and leapt into my arms. DeWinter didn't say a word, just held on to me. Kai-Revere was walking and everyone was much paler from being stuck inside the house for such a long time.

It took a couple of hours to process what had happened.

The house was attacked and Rinaldo's shields went up. The Fey brought their own spell to bear and wasolated them from the rest of the city. This was the reason no Trump worked. So, while I was gone a few months, three years passed for them in the besieged house.

We discovered the immediate neighborhood was partially affected, but thirty years passed there.

And for the full area "99 flights of Ravens" one hundred years had gone by.

They were literally under house arrest for three years.

Rinaldo looked the worst. His hair was gray and he looked old and haggard. The constant drain had taken quite a toll. He looked about 150 years old…if he were a normal human. He even sported a cane which he obviously needed.

I got Bison and Dastard to medical aid.

I Trumped Random. I told him the Hand was not a problem anymore.

He gave a heartfelt victory, "Yes!"

Dalt had never shown up in Paris. I tried his Trump. It was faint, but it seemed our problems weren't quite over. With extra effort and DeWinter's help, the image cleared. Dalt was chained to a rock and he was slowly being eaten by long serpents. Martin set off for a rescue. He said that we shouldn't be splitting up now that we are finally all together.

Dastard went with Martin.


Everyone gathered, all trying to tell me their story at the same time. GoReSo had fallen to the Fey almost right away. The Hand didn't kill him. He was transformed. The last they saw, he looked like Deela.

That was an "Oh, shit."

I Trumped Benedict and told him.

If GoReSo had even a portion of Deela inside him, combined with his powers, well, it was definitely not a good thing. Benedict said he'd be in Paris in a few hours.

I listened to the din of my family, completely happy. So much so, I gave DeWinter a hug, glad he was all right. He said I had a limited number of hugs before he carried me upstairs.

I looked closely at him. There was silver in his hair and realized it had been three years for him. While everyone just grinned, I excused us and we went up stairs.

It took over two hours to break through the grip of the strain he'd been under. He didn't start to relax for another hour after that. We broke the bed—but all his silver was gone.


Life in this family could be inexplicable.

By the time we were downstairs, Benedict had arrived and was treated to refreshments and conversation by almost everyone in the house. I don't know what he thought about it, but it was obvious to me that after 3 years of not seeing a new face, emotions were running high.

We settled down and Xhimena gave him the briefing. Kai looked scandalized by her usurpation, but no one else seemed to mine. Benedict's suggestion was that we leave Paris. GoReSo knows our defenses and us. We were very vulnerable right now.

Xhimena thought about it and said she didn't want to go. We have our roots here; it was our base of power.

His alternate suggestion was to try a diplomatic means with GoReSo.

DoBlique squashed that right away. She didn't want to talk to 'her' and DeWinter just nodded in agreement.

Xhimena said that the Ling Ko believe that it was Deela, not just an outer image of her. GoReSo was not in control, if he was even aware.

Benedict commented that Deela "Knows how to guard against observations. How do the Ling Ko know this information?"

Xhimena was very reluctant to say. She said it would just upset him.

He just looked at her.

Finally, she said that the Ling Ko were watching from Tir, the City in the Sky. They had done it before.

Benedict said yes, they had. And he'd killed those that trespassed there, for it was too close to Amber to tolerate their presence.

Xhimena was very upset at the idea of getting her allies in trouble with Amber.

He relented a bit, saying he would speak with the King before acting.

He continued to say that it was possible that Deela could know she was being watched, even if she couldn't stop it. She would take steps. The plan that came immediately to mind was to lead her into a trap in Tir. There, he could possibly separate her "magically enhanced spirit" from GoReSo, if that was possible.

I admitted it would be easier if the two could not be separated. GoReSo was a problem we have yet to find a solution for.

After Benedict went to talk with the King, I Trumped Tatasha and brought our Weir home. I should note that the enforced captivity in addition to the continual threat outside had resulted in many, many more children in Paris. In fact, we now number over a hundred within the house.

We would be our own clan by Aes rules.

Outside the house, things were markedly different. The city now sported some skyscrapers and more modern vehicles. The city was unaware of the battle fought here. To them, we simply disappeared, house and all. And now we're back. A quick look in the directory showed me that both Pablo and Monad were still around. I had no idea of what to say to them.

That was when I realized the tragedy that had occurred.

I thought to go to see Tralee. We hadn't brought her to the house, thinking that since the Hand were leaving her alone, she, Robert and the baby would be safe.

And one hundred years passed.

In a painful inner fog, I went out into Shadow and came back in at Marseilles. The house was there. Rational or not, I just ran inside. Several young children greeted me. Most just pointed and said I was the lady from the pictures. One or two bore striking resemblances to Tralee or Robert.

They took me to see my granddaughter, Elandra. She's just turned 102.

She was just a baby when we left, so she doesn't really remember me and I certainly didn't know her. She ended up comforting me, rather than the other way around.

After all, she's had decades to come to terms with Tralee's and Robert's passing.

I broke down and cried.

She held me and told me of their lives. Robert passed away first. Tralee lived until her 80's. They had three lovely children, two girls and a boy, all adults now. The boy died while in the Middle East, about twenty years ago. Elandra was the only one of my grandchildren that was still living. And each of them had several children, all boys. Ten of them, in total, and all of them are married. The children I had seen were my great, great grandchildren.

Elandra kept telling me they had a wonderful, full happy life. And, in time, I supposed I'd have to come to terms and accept it. But right now, all I can think of was the fact that I saw none of her life. And, to them, we had vanished without a word, and she never knew why.

Since Trump wasn't working, she had no way of learning differently. As much as I hate the idea of being beholden to a Fey, a part of me wished one of them had tried to get on our, or Xhimena's side by getting Tralee and Robert out of there.

It was all too overwhelming.

I made some excuse, I don't even know what I said, and left. I Trumped once I was out of sight.

I found DeWinter and had to tell him what had happened. I broke down again. He didn't say anything. He just held me. From the expression on his face, this hurt him as well, but I could also see that this wasn't the first time he's had to deal with this separation and loss of a loved part of his life. I knew, know, this was what we really signed up for when we adopted the girls. I suppose I expected them to have something of a life before passing on. And yes, Tralee did have one. But that hasn't sunk in.

I was gone for a few months, not decades. It was too sudden for me to really comprehend. The worst part was, how often did she doubt? How often did she think we had been killed, or worse, left, abandoning her?

I couldn't get past the feeling that the joy had been stolen.

Day 94/33

I spent the day being stunned, dazed and depressed. The house was quiet, letting us come to terms with this. Most of the house had suspected Tralee's passing as they watched Paris change so quickly, even from a distance. And the saddest part of this was that if Rinaldo had let the shield drop, the Fey would have sensed that there were no Thornkin residing here and would have left to chase us.

The Blood Promise would have compelled them to continue their search. Everyone would have been able to leave and they could have gotten to Tralee and Robert.

And not for all the Shadows will I mention this to Rinaldo. I'm not that cruel.


I did go to Amber. I had to report to Random.

Tralee might not have been of the Blood, but she was a member of the Royal family.

Random saw me immediately.

It didn't take long to account for the Sorrowful Hand. He was much interested in the Loathsome's help. When done, I asked what was the procedure for interring a family member.

He absolutely froze, staring at me. "Who?"

Tralee.

He sighed. He did me the courtesy of showing sorrow.

I said I could deal with the details, but I didn't know what would be appropriate as far as letting the rest of the family know.

He asked if there was anyone I didn't want there, if we wanted only a selected gathering?

I said that whoever wished to attend would be fine. Everyone had met Tralee at some point, but we were gone for so long, not many would feel they know her. I didn't want to make demands on this. Privately, if this would just be the immediate family, I wouldn't mind.

He said he'd look into it.

I returned to Paris in time to meet Benedict again. He'd already returned with GoReSo, who still looks like Deela. I think I saw Dastard give a little shudder at the whole thing.

Benedict said he separated Deela from GoReSo, so now we just have to decide what to do with him. The old Fey's unconscious, and might remain so for a while. And then he would need time to recover.

With all that's happened, I'm not comfortable with him staying here, though that would be my first inclination. We set him up in a private hospice and arranging for the best care we can. Since there was no attack from his Fey line, I assume that either his Khan didn't know he was missing from Paris (breaking that agreement) or he decided to overlook the matter, given the strange situation.

When this was done, Benedict stayed for an hour or two as the girls entertained him and had tea.

Martin and Dastard Trumped me.

No Dalt. They just couldn't find him.

DeWinter discussed this with them and decided he would have better luck. He Trumped out to them to help in the search.


Day 97/33
Rescuing Dalt

Pablo sent message that he would like to speak with me. We made arrangements to meet in a few days.

I spent the day driving through Paris. There were many more buildings. But, in an odd way, it hasn't changed all that much. Or, rather, it changed in a manner I have yet to see anywhere in Shadow. There have been advances, of course, but in a very…calm manner. No drastic spurts of technology. Rather, they refined and elaborated on what they already had. So, there weren't the displaced parts of the population forced out of work and careers, or being replaced by machines. That had, has been happening back in Mycenae.

Instead, progress was moving forward, but at a rate that also allowed it to spread out to everyone. In fact, the areas of poverty were much smaller. It was odd to see a newspaper and note the date in the year, 2027. Amazing.

DeWinter Trumped me.

They'd still had no luck finding Dalt. He suggested we switch places since I often had better luck in shadow. Neither of us was willing to leave the house without one of us there, so he came here and I went out to Martin and Dastard.

It took about three hours to match up the limited trump vision I'd had with a shadow. They'd been very close to Dalt already. We ended up in a Shadow, outside a cabin, though I use the term lightly. I think it would be better described as a personal prison. There was just enough room for him to be chained prone. The walls were of reinforced steel and it took a few more hours to break through the reinforced door. He was there, with a host of carnivorous snakes. We killed them as quickly as we could. I Trumped DeWinter as Martin dealt with the chains. I had him call Blythe. When Dalt was free, there was so much damage that any sort of triage we could do would be pointless. Dalt was just barely conscious, so we managed to lift him without him fighting us. I got a hold of DeWinter and we passed him through.

Blythe was already there and ready. She said nothing, but got right to work, directing us to whatever she needed done.


Day 92/33
Funeral

Today was Tralee's funeral. We decided not to remove her from France and re-inter her. Instead, Random had built a cenotaph on Mount Kolvir with plaques for Robert and Tralee. I was surprised to see almost everyone from the family. Actually, if anyone was missing, I couldn't tell. We made the procession to the site.

I was not sure about what to tell Elandra or her children about Amber. I thought the introductions should be slow for now, until I decided what to say, if anything. I did extend an invitation. I wanted to see what their reactions would be. We meet with them outside of Paris and I Trumped them through. Tralee must have said something to them, because they accepted it all without any difficulty. Finally, I Trumped Tatasha and she came through with Evander. He was really upset about losing Tralee. Come to think about it, she might have been the first family member he remembers losing.

So, we all proceeded solemnly.

We gathered around the cenotaph. Random made a short speech, perhaps fifteen minutes. They we each said a few words. It was rather simple, quiet, and brief. I like to think that Tralee would prefer little fuss. Afterwards, people paid their respects to us before we all dispersed. we went back to Paris with anyone who wanted to join us in a small gathering. Most people drifted in and out. I was feeling a little…vague, on most of the particulars. I did get the chance to see some of the newest children in our family.


Day 95/33

Duncan was doing well. He has all the energy I would expect. He was by far the most precocious of all my children. And the most coordinated and fearless. I wonder when Corwin started to get gray hair. I'll have to ask Tatasha if Eric ever did.

My decision came when we caught him standing on the window sill pressed up against the glass, looking out. No fear of heights with that one. It seemed that Kai -Revere was the only sensible one in that respect. I didn't even bother to ask how he got up there; those windows were rather high up.

Still, he's very graceful. Granted, he's had three years confined in the house to get to know every corner, slick spot and angle in the entire building. He can enter a room at his highest speed, and zip around, under, and occasionally over anyone, or anything, in his path. He made most of the adults look like all they can do was lumber about.

The girls were hitting Paris again now that battle was done. Now that they can leave the house, they are doing so most earnestly. And they are of an age where they want to start dating. DeWinter has prepared a long list of rules about that. I took note or several conferences as they thought about how to get around the rules, and if they should dare.

Rinaldo took a long-due vacation in Amber, with his wives. That should be a happy reunion.

Eidolon wasn't doing so well. He misses Kasta enormously. He's trying not to show it, but it keeps creeping out. I think it was made worse by the fact that we've learned she never married. I think a little bit of guilt was working in him. I can't take away the hurt, but we have taken to shoring each other up when the other was down.

Nachoth and Monad came to visit. He's a very distinguished looking man of sixty, or so. and she was an elegant twenty. I had to tease him about how envious other men must be. He gave a satisfied smile, almost smug. We caught up events and they refrained from asking any of the obvious questions. They really are good friends. After a while, Monad went for a walk, reacquainting himself with everyone. I asked Nachoth how things were. My teasing must have hit a nerve because she talked about some of the reactions she's gotten over the years. Doctors want to take tests, people want to know her beauty secrets. But, she fully knows how this story will end.

I said she's rather brave for living a relationship like this.

She said she didn't feel very brave. She said she will not leave him, she loves him too much to do that. But I could see the pain in the knowledge that he may only have a few decades more.

Once again I am reminded of how remarkable Monad was. When I met her, Nachoth would have been extremely reluctant to even admit to liking a friend. She's changed and embraced her life, and she knows she was happier for it, despite the cost.


Day 96/33

I came back from town to see several governmental cars parked outside. With a sigh and no little grumbling, I went inside to see what they wanted. They were just some minor functionaries. I've learned that Paris was completely unaware of the 30-year battle. To their minds, the house was empty all this time and largely forgotten. Our visitors were two men and a woman.

The leader, and I never got his name, asked me if I was named after my mother. I thought about what to answer. It wasn't hard. It would be silly to lie. If it were just me, I could get away with it. But, anyone with even a fraction of a brain will see the archived newspapers and see that all of the children are here, with relatively little changes. So, I said no. He introduced a second man as a doctor.

DeWinter leaned in, interested in where this was going.

What kind of doctor?

A specialist in fingerprinting. They wanted to take our fingerprints to verify our identities.

DeWinter thought about it for a few minutes. It's amazing to say it, but no one interrupted him. They just quietly let him be. Wonders of wonders. After a few minutes, he said he didn't see the harm.

They brought out the little black inkpads and paper. We got the prints taken. As we wiped off the residue, the doctor brought out the originals he thought to bring. Yes, we are who we say we are.

The third man took out some passports and immediately began filling them out. She went to a table and set out the appropriate stamps and seals. We watched, bemused, as we were officially recognized once more. How…efficient. We got our driving licenses and passports right then and there.

The leader said there were some things we should take care of. In our…absence, legal proceedings had been made against the house and estate. Once we were discovered to be gone a few years, three families paid what we owed in back taxes. With this action, they argued that they were now the executors of our estate. Later I confirmed that the families were the financial conservatives who hated us, or me, so much. They had tried to do everything to wipe our existence from any public eye.

Byslamia and DoBlique, who were living in town fought against their actions. They even took it to court. Fortunately, the courts favored them as our kin. They had help when Monad rallied every single member of the old resistance that was still alive. En masse, they stormed the courthouse to stand behind DoBlique. I really wished I could have seen her face.

But, we do owe for back taxes—to the tune of three million francs. I'm hoping the bank still has our account, because last I knew, we didn't have that kind of sum. Maybe a really big bake sale?

The fingerprinting was to confirm that our assets, what there was, would be returned to us. As they left, the leader handed me a card. He reminds me that I am a retired officer, and like some of the others, this also places me in one of the more secret parts of the government.

Which one?

He smiled and winked. It's a secret, but if I were willing to meet with him, he'd be happy to tell me. With that, they took their leave.

The door was barely shut before DeWinter was on the phone to the bank. He went through a long list of people, but in a remarkable short time (were they forewarned?) they gave him our balance. The bank, thanks to Tremerule, did very well. We had around 203 million francs. And that was just our liquid assets. Hmm, hope I don't have to rent any more armies.


Day 97/33

I haven't decided if I was actually going to talk about my role in the government. Instead, I took Duncan to the park and introduced him to the art of the floater disk. Try as I might, I could not get him to miss. He never even fell down. He'd somersault, flip, jump and catch the disk in his teeth. DeWinter let that go for about an hour and then began to teach him how to catch with his hands. Good thing, too. The floater was acquiring little puncture holes around the rim.

We spent the whole day there. Of course, he just got increasingly wound up. True to form, once we got back to the house, now quiet with everyone out and about, and had a large dinner, he was asleep within minutes. We got him to bed and DeWinter tucked the floater disk under his arm.


Day 162/33
Getting Life back to Normal

It's been a quiet two months. Aside from our regular early exercises and workouts, we let the days go as they please. We caught up in what has been going on in France. I caught up on a few legal changes, to keep my hand in. I puttered with my chemistry, and spent time with Duncan. I have done paintings for my Weir that have fallen, for the Remembrance wall. Each painting was a trial. Tralee's was hardest, but so many were. As I painted them, I would recall something about the person. It took longer to do them because I had to stop when it got too difficult.

But, it's been two months. There are signs that some of the siege mentality that everyone had to cope with was dissipating. As was to be expected, the youngest ones bounce back the quickest. Still people tense when a car backfires. At least no one was jumping away from unshuttered windows.

The girls are dating quite a lot. In fact, there was a steady stream of boys, a new one every night. And the girls do a lot of trading off. If one person doesn't quite click with one, she'll recommend him or one of her sisters. It's hard to keep track of it all. I've made the rule that they can only date in groups, because some are too young to go out alone. And they have to be introduced to us. I've taken to wearing my shabbier clothing, or my painting clothes when meeting them. Otherwise, they are tongue-tied and intimidated and I can't even get their names out of them.

Sigh.

I pushed Kai-Revere into taking Eidolon out. Eidolon was resistant at the idea. Kai, though had a plan.

Something like this:

Kai : I'm worried that people won't like me.

Eidolon: You are an idiot.

Kai : That was my natural state.

Eidolon: Just go get dressed and go out.

Kai : I'm not sure I really want to.

Eidolon: [gritting his teeth] Stop whining. We are going out.


Kai was slick enough to manipulate Eidolon into having a good time. I'm not sure who that would have worked on, but I really think Eidolon didn't catch on. Kai did ask for advice. He said that Eidolon gets morose at the sight of any dark-haired, dusky-skinned girl. DeWinter said he's not good at this sort of thing. Eidolon will get through it, it'll just take time.


Day 163/33

We were in town, Eidolon and I. We were touring through some of the galleries. He was annoyed with some of the selections. With unusual disdain, he declared they were all 'junk.' And they pretty much were.

They were imitators; Peter Max without taste. A Pollack knock-off that was just messy. Unsophisticated Mondrians. He was utterly bored. He said that even the students lacked the philosophical underpinnings. There was no content behind the form.

I suggested he open his own gallery.

He perked up at the idea. He said maybe he'd look into it. I said he could go out and find the real talent. Perhaps Pablo would give some insight.

We didn't have to add that Pablo always has an insight.

Day 164/33

I had sent the great grandchildren tickets to visit at their convenience. I left it as an open invitation. If they wanted to learn more of us, they were welcome. Since then, I've received letters and pictures from all of them. Most of them are in their mid-teens, just the same age and ours.

Well, today they showed up. I must have forgotten to tell DeWinter. As they poured in, he just watched the noise level ratchet up. He stood in the hall, hands on hips, as he watched our guests pour in. "What train tickets? Who's bright idea was this?"

I was so out of there.

Xhimena came to talk while the girls got our visitors out to see the city. She wanted to know if she could date.

Ah yes, DeWinter had told her not until she was 30.

I didn't expect Xhimena to take that literally, but she wasn't taking any chances. I told her to talk to DeWinter.

Great.

She did.

He didn't like the idea, but agreed, as long as she abided by the same rules as the others.

She gave a little skip, kissed him on the cheek, and danced off before he could change his mind or come up with addendum to the rules.

One person that has benefited over the last three years was Tremerule. I see now that. Before, when we would spar and teach, he would pay diligent attention. Afterwards, he went off to work on some project or another and stop thinking about what we had tried to teach him. Well, with the siege, he couldn't walk away. After innumerable times of being knocked to the ground when he walked by an unshuttered window, or when he was vulnerable to an attack had its toll. He learned to think ahead about everything he had to do; and figure out a way to do it without placing himself or others at risk. Now he's bringing that thinking to the practices.

He gets it.


Day 165/33
Kitty Rue

Since my return, DeWinter's been making up for lost time between us. Phew. I'm not complaining in the slightest. What's a little lost sleep?

Mal's taken to some evil teasing of me. She's being rather merciless about it.

Every morning she's making some sort of solicitous inquiry, usually in a falsely saccharine sweet voice.

Do you need a pillow, dear? Oh, you poor dear, you're not walking too well today? Perhaps you should take a nap.

I shake my head; the weir grin, DeWinter tries to look bland, and the girls just giggle. Ah, revenge will be sweet.

Last night, though, things didn't quite go as planned. It was in the middle of the night and DeWinter and I were in a serious entanglement when there was an insistent knocking on the door. DeWinter said, "Go away!".

Kai-Revere answered, "Can't. Open the door!" He sounded a bit panicked.

We got up, pulled on some robes. I opened the door to see him standing there with a girl in his arms. That was the first thing I saw. The next was that there was an awful lot of blood on Kai's jacket, which was covering her.

We got her into the room. I began to assess the damage and DeWinter got the medical bag. Nowadays, it's more like a large trunk. She had deep puncture marks in her shoulder. We bound them up and got her inclined and immobilized. It didn't take long, but I didn't like the look of her. She was awfully pale. She hadn't woken up at all.

When we were done, we both looked at Kai. We didn't need to ask what happened; he volunteered the information.

He admitted to doing it. Then he handed me a gun. He said the girl tried to rob him. He said he never thought she would be so fragile.

I looked at him. Compared to whom?

He blushed and told us the whole story.

He was walking home. She came out of an alley and held the gun to his head, demanding all his money. He said he stayed calm and told her he had to get his wallet and please don't shoot me.

She smirked and called him a "little pissoir." She got a happy look when she saw the wallet filled with bills. Then Kai became a bit abashed about the narrative. The girl started talking "baby talk" to him.

"Oh, poor little man, wandering all alone. Are you afraid?"

It really, really annoyed him. Then she started asking for more, his cuff links, his watch, his jewelry. He handed them to her. Then she told him to take his pants off.

There, he drew the line. "No way."

She moved the gun lower, and her voice got softer. "You better."

I could see where this was going. The sense of danger in his voice was just increasing. He could do little without risking serious injury. But, it was exciting to him even telling it again. Suddenly without thinking about it, he knocked her gun hand aside and bit her. Just a light touch, in playful Weir style.
Yet the girl had enough presence of mind that she brought the gun up into his stomach and pulled the trigger. Either the chamber was empty or the safety was on because all he heard was the clicks as the hammer hit nothing.

And then his fangs came out. He bit her deeply.

I judge by the wounds we saw, his fangs must have been around two inches long. It didn't take long, with the blood flow, until she passed out. He didn't understand what had happened. He picked her up and brought her here.

I had to wonder why he didn't take her to the hospital, or the police. Possibly because it would be hard to explain the wounds, but I don't think that's it. I rummaged through the girl's belongings and found her name: Kitty Rue. It didn't tell her age, but we thought she was somewhere between 18 and 25 years old. And she's a tiny thing, not more that five foot four.

Once I saw she would sleep through the night, we got everyone to sleep. I didn't think her condition would deteriorate any further.


Day 166/33

I went to check up on her in the morning. As I was examining the wound, she woke up, glassy-eyed and groggy. I gave her broth and water. She fell back to sleep quickly. I found Kai outside in the hallway waiting for me. I suggested he find out a bit more about the girl. Someone would be worried about her. He thought that was a great idea and went off. A task given and accepted.

I did talk to her once, briefly when she woke a few hours later. She put on a little girl voice, which was rather irritating. I suppose it was supposed to make people think she was younger than she was, or pity her. But, as she talked, I did come to believe she was younger than my first estimate. I asked her why she did it. She tried to deny it and gave up when I showed her the gun. She shrugged, or tried to and said he looked like an easy mark. Now she was trying for bravado.

Kai came back, not only with some information, but with some of her clothes. Apparently, she lived in a nunnery. She was under the care of the sisters there. I gave the girl her clothes. She insisted she could get into them herself. I doubted that; I had bound her arm down pretty securely, but I saw no harm in letting her try. I told her I would wait in the hallway. She'd call or she wouldn't.

Kai waited with me. I asked him if he was going to press charges. He said he might, if it would stop her from doing it again. I checked the gun; it was empty. Well, the bluff might work with a lot of people, but it was a dangerous stunt.

Something in all this didn't seem right.

After giving her more than ample time, I finally knocked on the door. No answer. I went in and we found her gone.

Kai was furious, more so than the situation warranted. He stormed out to try and track her.

I didn't think she'd get far. She would have to be extraordinary to get by the entire weir. The window was open, but it would have been awfully difficult to get down with one arm bound. There were no bandages littering the floor and no blood. I checked the closet, the bed, anywhere I thought she could hide. Nothing. A girl of many talents, it seemed.

I was impressed.

Kai came back to tell me that none of the weir saw her leave. That meant she was very good. He gave a grin, "This is cool! I'll find her." He got two weir and they began to try and track her. He was certain she'd head for the nunnery.

I wasn't so sure she was gone. I went down stairs and had some coffee. It was about a half hour later when I heard her creeping down the stairs. I never thought I knew everyone's steps, but I knew these footsteps weren't anyone in the household. I called for Claw and told her to tell the others to let her go. But, I wanted them to be able to identify her if she ever came back. Claw called a few weir girls in and told them to get the scent of Kai's "chew-toy."

I had to work hard to repress a smile at that.

Kai came back in four hours, steamed. He never found her. He ranted that the girl was obviously insane and the nuns were in danger having a homicidal criminal living with them. And the girl was obviously stupid to move with the injuries she had.

DeWinter and I watched him go on, fascinated.

I suggested that Bison was the best tracker of the weir. Why not try it from the source. He ran off and came back quickly with Bison. They tracked her down the stairs. He looked at me. "Mom, she walked right by you." He went out with Bison.

After dark DeWinter and I shared a drink. He grinned at me, "Well, the second date's always more interesting." An hour later, Kai came back with Kitty in a large sack. I could hear her yelling at him, threatening him with a beating. He looked at us. It seemed that now that he got her back, he didn't know what to do with her.

We had him set her down. I could only imagine what her wounds were like now. We got her loose and the first thing she did was kick him.

DeWinter and I looked at each other, as if to say, "Yep, they like each other."

Kai gave a yell and elbowed her. The air went out of her and she doubled over.

I glared at him while I untied the shirt he'd used to tie her up and let her out her shirt back on.

Kai just looked at me, "What?"

She wouldn't talk to us while Kai, or DeWinter was there. Figuring she must be hungry, I took her to the kitchen. She glared at Richard. But, he wasn't taking the hint. Nor would I press the issue. It was his kitchen, after all. He glared back. "Who was this?"

I introduced Kitty.

"Oh, the chew-toy."

Oh, he's been around the weir far too long. The blood drained out of her face and Richard turned away to work at the sink.

She did eat. She said we had no right to keep her here against her will.

I agreed, which she didn't expect. I said she was free to go at any time. However, I was concerned about her wounds.

She just kept eating.

While she did, I could see that she'd pulled the wounds open again. I told her she had a choice. Either I could stitch her up or we could use a compress. Both will hurt, but the stitches will heal faster. But, she had to stop using that arm for a while.

She argued and threatened. Every time she gave me some lip, Richard banged a cup or a pot to show his displeasure at her attitude. She mostly ignored him, and I ignored her attitude. Finally she agreed to the stitches, only if we tended to it in the kitchen. Why she felt safe there, I'm not sure, but I wasn't going to argue.

It took a short while, but she got through it. She refused any medications. In a house full of odd strangers, I'm not sure I wouldn't have done the same.

Actually, I know I would have done the same.

When she was presentable, wearing one of the girl's robes, we took her to see Kai. They'll have to resolve this and she wanted to talk with him. In the parlor, she asked what was going on.

He said, "Kidnapping."

"Yeah, mine."

"You were threatening the nuns. You had them tied up." That was news to us.

"It was to give them a good excuse for my escape."

They argued back and forth quite a while, neither of them giving an inch.

DeWinter and I watched like this was a verbal tennis match.

Kai tried to loom over Kitty.

She wasn't going to let such an "idiot" lord it over her.

It all rather reminded me of DeWinter and my early courtship, such as it was. They were yelling in each other's face and then Kai kissed her.

Yep. DeWinter must have had the same thoughts because he was out the door before I was.

Twenty minutes later, we heard Kai shout, "Mom!"

We ran back to the parlor.

Kai was naked and Kitty's clothes were roughed aside. He'd bitten her again.

There was a lot of blood. DeWinter and I were both surprised that this would go this far. Had they had sex? Now I was more than a little irritated. I bit back a comment about letting one's guests live.

Kai was completely at a loss, almost panicking.

Kitty repeated faintly, "It's not so bad. It's not so bad." Then she passed out.

We got her back upstairs, this time with a guard inside the room. By smell, a weir girl figured out how Kitty had tried to fool us with her earlier escape. She'd redistributed the clothing in the dresser and had hidden in the bottom drawer. Wow. Advantage of being tiny.

DeWinter had a Talk with Kai. The lecture about being careful with people. He tried to get Kai to deal with the situation. Kai wasn't ready or didn't understand what might be happening to him. He just kept saying she was doing something to him. "She's evil, Dad."

DeWinter gave up. So then it was my turn.

All I was trying to do was to get Kai to think more closely at what he was doing, and why. I spoke about Duncan. He had fangs. He'd used them to "keep me closer." Once he learned that I was not going to leave him, he subsided. Kai also had Fey blood. Might not this be the same thing? Some part of him likes her and was "marking his territory, so to speak?

He just looked at me as if I was crazy. "No, Mom, she's doing something to me. There's something evil in her."

I tried a couple more times to point out he couldn't blame his behavior on the girl. Kai had convinced himself that he was the victim of something sneaky.

For the moment, I gave up.

We sent Kai to cool off.


Day 167/33

I called the nunnery to assure them that Kitty was fine. They said she had to return. I was thinking Kai would just find an excuse to see her. I asked if someone could come to the house. Once they learned who I was, they were certain it would be all right for Kitty to stay with me.

Xhimena came to make a little confession. She was embarrassed. She admitted she knew about Kai's fangs and had told him years ago to be careful, but apparently he didn't listen.

Go figure.

She said she honestly forgot to tell us, what with everything going on in the past few years.

I made a helpless little gesture. Even if we had known, it was up to Kai to pay attention and deal with it. She was relieved she wasn't in trouble.

I did say she ought to talk to Kai about it.

She looked dubious. She thought he'd get angry, thinking she was saying, "I told you so."

I said that any information she had, Kai should know. He'd just have to deal with it.

She went off. I knew the moment she talked to Kai; a heavy oak chair went flying out the window. Xhimena came flying down the stairs. "I told him. Bye, Mom. Going into town." And she was gone.

DeWinter went to have another talk with our young man, this time about controlling his temper.

The rest of the house seemed to take Kai's side. The girls were convinced that Kitty was a bad influence on Kai. In fact, they were being very protective of their brother. At dinner, Kai tossed a few baleful looks to Xhimena, who decided she wasn't going to notice. He took turns doing that and glaring at Kitty. None of the girls were talking to Kitty, so Eidolon and I made up for it.

Kai finished the meal brooding.

After dinner, Mal finally had enough. She got him aside and told him to grow up. Implied as always with Mal was, 'or else'.


Day 168/33
Kitty's Story

Kitty was pale furious this morning. She'd found a note on her pillow. "Chew-toy, I love you." It was signed Kai, but was definitely not his handwriting. I figured it out that it was Matisse. She was trying to get Kitty to go away and make Kai safer by getting Kitty mad enough.

Now a conversation with Matisse: I told her she was supposed to be nice to our guests.

That afternoon, Kitty woke up from a nap and screamed. Her bed was covered in flowers.

Kitty was totally crazed by the idea of someone coming into her room and doing something like that when she was a sleep. I knew it was Matisse, trying to be "nice." How do I explain that?

I sat down, after clearing off Kitty's bed. Wasn't it time to tell us what was going on? "We can't help if we don't know what we are supposed to help with."

"You can't help."

But, I prodded and refused to leave. I was terribly pushy, but I think she wanted to be pushed. So, she told me her story.

Years ago, she had a sister who was…slow. No matter how grown up she was, she would always be a little girl. She saw a violent crime and told the police. They caught the man. There was a trial, but for political reasons and weak evidence, he was going to be let go.

Kitty's sister, Charl, didn't understand why they were letting the bad man leave jail. She kept going to the police and asking when they were going to get him back. Her continued visits angered the man (a local fellow) and he found Charl alone in the town and killed her.

He didn't manage this well enough. Now, they had enough evidence to send him to prison. But Kitty's loss was too much. She knew pain every day. He would go to prison and then he would get out. But her sister would never return. After the trial he was sent to prison. She arranged for a visit, not as herself but in disguise. She also somehow smuggled in a small pistol. At the visitors' room when he showed up, she just stood up and shot him three times in the heart.

They couldn't save him and so Kitty went to trial.

It was highly publicized.

Because she had tricked the system, outwitting standard procedures to bring in the gun, it was also embarrassing for the prison officials. Rather that increase public ire, they deemed Kitty's action as a crime of passion, which allowed Kitty to avoid the guillotine. Instead, she was given a sentence of imprisonment for life. Her parents came and argued that it would be a waste of a life. They argued long enough that after a year, with no bad behavior on her part, Kitty case was reviewed and she was given probation.

I am fully aware what probation means here. Legally, it means for a period of time and then it ends if you behave. But, in a case like this, it might forever. She was infamous. She was dreadfully unprepared to be so. If she ever did anything wrong, she'd be sent to prison, and perhaps given the death penalty. French law was unforgiving in that respect.

All this happened two years ago. And she's only 16 years old.

The thing that was not said: most people in France believe in a religion of suffering and guilt. A kind of 'original sin' that I don't understand at all. Kitty's manners and words told me what she wouldn't say: she didn't think she could live with the man's death or her sister's death.

It was all very clear to me right then.

She wasn't trying to rob Kai. She was trying to get someone to kill her anonymously. The guilt of what she had done was eating away at her. Everything she'd done, from trying to rob Kai to tying up the nuns was to show the public she should be arrested and killed. Once they deem her "incorrigible" they will invoke the death sentence, assuaging the guilt she felt in what she saw as her barbaric actions. And I had the feeling that she wouldn't believe anyone in the house empathize her situation. She's only sixteen. The world still was fairly egocentric at this point.

Kitty was in torment. She was her own jury.

On a hunch, I brought in Matisse. They chatted. Matisse explained the flowers were to be 'nice'. It took only a few minutes for Kitty to realize that Matisse was not unlike her dead sister.

I explained that there had been an "accident" long ago and Matisse was really only a little girl inside. Kitty understood that. It was a quick jump for her to understand that by putting the flowers in her bed, Matisse was really only her way to say she wanted to be friends. They are pretty, they smell nice, so she wanted Kitty to enjoy them as well.

Later on in the day, I asked DoBlique to come visit. I quietly filled her in on Kitty's situation. DoBlique instantly understood what it was like to be on the receiving end of one's own guilt. We got some lunch and brought it to Kitty.

As we ate, I told them about the Dagger Jesby. By his continued assaults, my imprisonment, all the things he did, and how it led me to decide to track him down. And I wasn't alone. Most of the family felt strongly, perhaps too much so, about dealing with perceived threats and justice person to person. And, no matter how young she was, the courts would not have amended her sentence if a great many people did not have sympathy with her plight.

Then DoBlique began talking about one or two of her experiences. We both had to be vague. After all, it was not widely accepted, if it was even known, about magical and mental attacks. By the end, Kitty began opening up about her own feelings. She didn't stop believing she was a "monster" but I think she saw that she wasn't alone. Everyone was a monster in one capacity or another if they had to deal with extreme violence.


Day 169/33
Kai takes on Splurghi

I did go and meet Splurghi today, hoping she would have some insight into what was going on with Kai . From what she knows, the fangs aren't uncommon. There were three types of fanged Fey that show the trait. The bites hold different significance with each one depending on the "Way of the Fang" being followed. The first she labeled the Red Way. Their bite indicates passion; a willingness to exchange some part of each other. The second are the White Way. For them, it means to invoke Destiny and bind together. The person was the one and only love or companion for them. It was terrible to say, but I never really thought of the Fey making such commitments. I suppose my prejudice led me to think that those of us descended from Faiella were not "pure" Fey, so we were acting according to other Blood. The last fanged Fey were the Black Way. They were apt to bite when emotionally involved, though it was a contemplative act. By taking a part of another, you gain an understanding of the ties between. I wonder if that's why the Fey often want blood in their bargains?

But, Kai could fit any of those or, as fitting for Kai, he could be acting by an odd mix or for some other reason whatsoever. She said all we can do at this point was to observe what was going on. She did offer to do a little experiment, which I agreed to.

She got Kai to spar. I guessed that she wanted to wear him down enough to possibly incite a reaction. After the first few hours, the entire Weir had the area surrounded to watch. A few made sure they were between Kitty and Kai . After 12 hours, Kitty was so emotionally involved in the combat that she was calling out helpful suggestions to Kai. Actually, they were pretty good ideas, but Kai wasn't of the mind to listen when he's fully engaged in fighting, so that didn't work out. When the fighters hit 20 hours, Kai was battered enough that Kitty was almost too agitated to watch.
I tried to tell her he was fine, but she had no basis to believe me.

The Weir were starting to think better of Kitty, especially when they had to hold her back from joining in on Kai's behalf.

She's so small, but she's a scrapper, which they admire.

Even Dalt was out there watching Splurghi. It was telling that the Mer girl was barely damaged. Kai would be in bad shape for a few days.

All told, it lasted 30 hours before Kai hit the ground for the last time. We got him inside and Kitty fairly snarled at Splurghi as we made him comfortable.


Day 182/33
Taking Kitty to Amber…and more bad news.

On a whim, I took Kitty to see Amber. If this was going to go anywhere, I figured she should know where we come from. To her credit, she took the notion of the Trump contact in stride. I did have her dress as closely to Amber's styles as we could. We came out at the drawbridge. She did a double take on the Castle and the guards. They called a greeting and I waved back.

We walked to the city. I visited the carriage master, to see how he was getting on. We had some tea and Kitty was highly entertained by his tall tales. I stopped in to the tailor's guild to make sure that the people still in Gianassa had their contracts all in order. We walked to the docks and met up with Gerard. There we had a light lunch and coffee. We ended up at Owen's Green house. By now, I think Kitty was a bit overwhelmed. She was grinning a lot and animated in every conversation. It's easy to forget how much of a sensory overload Amber can be. The food and drink tasted wonderful, the air was clean and sharp with the scent of the sea, the people friendly and lively. I thought that Owen's place should be our last stop before heading back to Paris.

Owen and I chatted. I told her about Nachoth and she had an interesting idea. I had been wondering why Monad was aging when Mother didn't. I just assumed that with Nachoth being of Chaosian descent, she'd have the same effect on Monad as the rest of us did on Mother and Byslamia. It was Owen's idea that Nachoth didn't have the Pattern or the Logrus, so no; it's not the same at all. There would be no large energy field around Nachoth. But, if the couple were to move into the manor house, or in close proximity, we would have an effect.

Ah, I'd have to see if we can mention this to them.

I'd also see about the boys getting to walk the Pattern. That would be a chat with Random first. A reassessment made me realize that Kai and Eidolon were both in their twenties. And Tremerule was in his thirties. I wonder if Random will let them walk it. I think he might, but Tremerule has to ask first.

And then there was Dastard's opinion, too.

Owen was giving Kitty a lot of assessing looks. I did notice she didn't give Kitty any more tea or coffee. When Kitty went to freshen up, I filled Owen in a bit about the situation between Kai and Kitty. Owen was concerned that Kitty might be over-reacting to Amber.

I said we were going back when we were done here.

Kitty came back and we chatted on for a bit more.

I must say, whatever she was saying, the subject of Kai always came to the surface. I confided that they met when Kitty decided to hold him up.

Kitty just nodded and laughed. She remarked that he showed no fear. She had "thought he was weak in the head. It turns out I was right."

I almost choked on my coffee and Owen didn't quite suppress a laugh, though she gave it a good try.

My response, "He's a man and he needs to act like it. He'll get better when he grows up."

Kitty looked relieved. She said that he needs help. He needs someone to help him focus his energies. He looks at people on the surface and that "bitch" Splurghi used it against him.

Suddenly, it was obvious that Kitty was getting herself all worked up. I saw her hands shaking and her pulse beating strongly in her neck. Sweat broke out on her forehead.

We tried to soothe and calm her down. Then, before we knew it, she was fainting out of the chair. Owen picked her up and said she was taking her to the infirmary for a quick check. I should Trump Blythe and tell her to meet us.

I did so.

Blythe was in the Castle, so I went through to her and we ran for the infirmary. Blythe got an IV hooked to Kitty and some fluids moving before she began her examination.

We spent a few quiet minutes as Blythe got more involved with tests and started to remove Kitty's clothing.

We had a shock. Blythe announced that Kitty had just had a miscarriage. The poor girl. By Blythe's estimate, she'd been pregnant for a week or so. But with Kitty's injuries and her general malnourishment, Blythe felt she just was not capable of bringing any child to term right now.

I filled Blythe in on what's been happening—and on Kitty's religious background.

Kitty was deeply asleep so we were able to talk.

Essentially, the three of us decided Kitty was carrying enough guilt without adding to it. For now, we decided not to tell her. If Kai and she formed a serious attachment to the point of planning a family, or if she left us, DeWinter and I might tell her.

But, we had to be careful or she could go back to hating herself. Kai would feel more awful than he already does.

Guilt was not generally a good way to start or end a relationship.

Blythe outlined a diet we should keep Kitty on.

First, no stimulants, like randy amberite sex.

We should increase her intake of proteins and vitamins, getting her strength and stamina back to normal. Everything on the list was what we eat normally, so it wouldn't be a problem.

Kitty seemed tired and dizzy when she woke up.

Blythe thought it would be best to get her out of Amber until she was stronger. We got back to Paris and got her to bed. She fell asleep almost immediately. I gave Richard the diet restrictions, only telling him that what she'd been fed before this came close to being so inadequate, she's actually very sick. He was both appalled at the idea and delighted to be given the task to restore her.

Then I told DeWinter everything and we went to talk to Kai .

We told him he was to be very careful with Kitty for a little while—at least until Blythe gave the go-ahead on anything strenuous.

He said he got it.

DeWinter wasn't satisfied. To make sure, DeWinter said that there would be a chaperone with Kitty whenever Kai was around. And, if Kai even so much as touches her in the next week, he'll break Kai 's fingers.

Kai looked shocked, even as the message sunk in.

I believe this was the first time DeWinter has ever threatened Kai.

It made Kai sit up and take notice.

Message understood.


Day 209/33
Kai Challenges Splurghi Again

It'd been several weeks. Kitty bounced back and then some. She'd put on some weight and wasn't nearly so pale. The girls turned around in their thinking too. When they expressed the idea, a couple of weeks ago, that they thought she was a bad person to have in the house, I asked them where they got their information.

Ah, innuendo and suspicion.

I told them I would have Kitty removed if they did some research to get some proof.

They went off and it only took a couple of days for them to unearth the whole story in the newspaper's archives. Immediately, the girls, led by Xhimena, mentally formed a ring around Kitty and woe to anyone than threatened her. Since then, they've made sure to include her in whatever various tasks they are doing.

Amazing to watch them now.

Kai on the other hand, decided he lost too much face against Splurghi.

So, he challenged her again.

Sometimes I really have to wonder about Kai . I know I have a temper, which I try to keep under control. It gets away from me from time to time and I do something stupid.

But this…I just don't know.

He barely touched Splurghi that last time. And, she's probably older that everyone in the house put together. Yes, I'm including DeWinter in this.

Do Kai not realize? Or is it just about his ego?

How can Kai hope to do anything but embarrass himself?

My first thought was we could do it in private, so the humiliation wouldn't be so great.

Based on a few comments from DeWinter and Mal and further thought, perhaps the exposure might do him more good.

There's certainly one thing we in the Family have in common, we hate to make a mistake, or look like fools. At least it's why I hate when someone else has to rescue me.

I think its behind all our drives to distinguish ourselves from others. And why most of the people I know, in the family, never feel we've done so.

So, I thought to make it an Event.

Blythe said she'd come, medical bag in hand.

Casper, Tigh and his girlfriend Kikki all came through Trump. Owen told me that Kikki was now Tigh's fiancé, which I thought was wonderful. Owen, Kent, Lavoss, Aurora, Julian and Vivant all Trumped in.

Xhimena ran to get ready when she heard Ergian was attending. "Oh, my boyfriend coming? " She put her hand over her mouth, "Did I say that out loud?"

Kai spent a few days working out with Dalt and practicing surprise moves.

Dalt's doing much better, almost back to his normal self. He said he'd stay to watch. He'd take the opportunity to assess the Fey, whenever possible.

Dastard was elected as a referee.

He brought the two warriors together in the circle and asked what rules or conventions they wished to abide by.

Splurghi, being generous, deferred the entire matter to Kai, the challenger.

Kai , my idiot son, just waved his hand and said they didn't need any rules.

Was I annoyed? Absolutely.

So was Dastard, judging by the look of irritation that crossed his face. No rules, which meant nothing was barred, would be Kai's undoing.

Since that was settled in seconds, they moved off.

Kai stripped, intending to fight bare-chested.

I must say he looked good. What clothing he had was tight, so Splurghi couldn't use it against him in handholds. He got many appreciative glances from our company and the Weir gals.

Splurghi just wore normal clothing. It made her seem much more dangerous, to me.

The fight did not go as I expected.

Oh, Splurghi won, in a way no one expected.

They fought. It was two hours before the first blow really landed—and it was Kai who managed to connect after all. Kai dealt a blow to her midsection. It was so severe; Splurghi had blood running from her nose. He followed up with a blurring roundhouse to her jaw.

Vivant decided she'd prefer to get a drink of water and stayed in the kitchen after that.

Splurghi just kept fighting and Kai kept on wounding her.

I have no idea who was fooled, certainly not Julian, DeWinter, or Dalt. But I could see that Kai thought he was hurting her badly. He had come to do this to prove something. He even brought her to the ground a few times, and she just kept getting up.

His "victory" wasn't what he thought and I could see emotions playing across his tight reserve.

A few more hours and he was desperately trying to deal the "ending" blow, just so she would stay down and finish this mess. Many times her struck her. She reeled but came back for more. His energies continued to come at his call and sometimes his frustration added to his blows. I could hear the physical damage that Splurghi was taking. At one point Kai shattered her jaw. The heat of the fight was passing and it was cold combat now. Splurghi would not quit.

I could see he was feeling this not what he wanted. But, after calling the challenge, he couldn't just stop; or so he believed. He had to get her to the point where she yielded.

Now a number of people were looking a little grim. Several were drifting off for a breather. There's only so many times you can hear a rib crack or see blood fly before it becomes too much. The girls came and went, but mostly stayed to support Kai.

I wonder if he's figured that out.

Kitty started, like the others by cheering him on. Hours later she was yelling suggestions of ways to stop it. She shot me a look across the backyard arena, as if to say he was being "weak in the head."

I nodded back solemnly. It was so sad.

I only left to make sure Duncan was alright.

He and Royvhen were behind a set of chairs in the house playing at fortresses. They were completely oblivious to what was going on outside. Instead, Royvhen was talking to Duncan about how to build sand castles.

Back outside, Kai was trying to hammer Splurghi to the ground with quicker blows. We all heard a great many of her ribs snap. Finally, in a set of blinding moves, Kai floored Splurghi. She lay there, bleeding, and finally, we heard her quietly yield.

DeWinter and I ran to Splurghi. Blythe was already set up in one of the parlors. We gathered her up gently and took her inside.

Kai seemed a bit in shock, staring at his fallen opponent and not believing it was over. He was led inside by Xhimena, Kitty and Matisse. I think his worst fight was yet to come.

We got Splurghi settled.

She was still awake, mostly.

I asked her "What do you think you were doing?" I was edgy and worried about her and Kai.

She asked me what would have happened if she had won?

I said he'd keep practicing.

Precisely. He'd keep practicing, and challenging and losing. This way, the matter was settled between them. She won once. Kai had won once.
DeWinter grumbled something about it not being over until he gets at Kai.

Splurghi grinned at him.

A smiling Mer shows too many sharp teeth for my tastes.

Then she went to move.

We stopped her.

She insisted she needed quiet and just a short while to work at herself. Then, we heard bones grinding into alignment, joints popped into place, and cuts began closing. She had to rest for periods and admitted that food would be welcome.

We got her a tray as Blythe just packed up her bag.

Then Splurghi started working on all the bruises and contusions.

Mal and Owen had joined us by now. Mal looked at Splurghi and shook her head, "You are a twisted bitch."

Splurghi gave her a little smile, no teeth, "Thank you."

I got Richard to make a platter. Vivant was hovering in the kitchen. I assured her that Splurghi was fine. Doing better every minute. She was relieved.

Outside, there were more than a few children talking about the fight, trying to imitate the moves. Under many watchful eyes, I must say.

I found Julian sitting on the patio, drinking coffee. I asked him what he thought.

He went over the high points. He said that Kai -Revere did everything he could do to disable through pain, not injury. It showed he had the training and the forms solidly taught.

Essentially to me, Julian pointed out the only positive thing that could be found in the whole affair.

I found Kai after searching for a bit.

To my surprise, he was holding Xhimena's hand. He was a little gray around the eyes. He asked if Splurghi would ever be okay.

I said yes, she'll be fine.

Then he asked if he should go and apologize for being an idiot.

That caught me off-guard. Why was he an idiot?

Because he thought winning was more important than Splurghi was.

So, our son wasn't a complete fool, though I wonder how long it would have taken for him to figure it out without Xhimena and Kitty pointing to the details. Still, I'm happy he got it, rather than have him learn it after really doing someone grievous harm.

I said, sure, he could go apologize.

By the time we got to the parlor, Splurghi was doing long stretches on the floor.

Kai goggled at her, "What the hell is going on?" Then, "You were never hurt, were you?"

"Yes I was, but I got better."

He touched her jaw. "That was broken. I felt it break!"

"Yes, in several places. You hit like a Black Zee."

Not understanding, his temper rose and he tried to leave.

I stepped in front of him. No, the reason for coming to see her was still valid.

He took a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds.

My, he's learned two things today.

And then he apologized nicely and without much rancor.

Splurghi smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. She said anytime he wanted to do something else besides sparring, he could look her up.

He stared at her for a moment and fled the room.

So, we started an impromptu party. Splurghi came out, fully healed and looking as if she were going to a social.

No doubt this confused a number of people as to what really was going on here.


Day 220/33
Pablo

Pablo sent us an invitation to his country house. He'd bought an estate far outside town.

I had to tease him. Pablo, the country gentleman? I'm disappointed in you.

He shrugged and said he knew I'd be bratty about it.

There was a winery attached. Ah, the truth was revealed. He sent separate invitations to everyone. Dalt tore his up, claiming he was moving on. I asked if I could pen his decline, since Pablo was a friend of ours. He said I could, if I must do so.

Sigh.

DoBlique was delighted. Dastard thought it would be interesting. Byslamia agreed even before reading hers. The girls were ecstatic and asked if they could bring dates. DeWinter said he didn't think that dates were appropriate for family outings.

They argued that it was done all the time. What better way to find out if the boys fit in with family?

DeWinter actually went to some of the neighbors to ask. He was disappointed to find out that, yes, it was commonly done in France.

Kai asked Kitty to escort him. To my amusement, at least, she turned him down.

Xhimena had already invited Kitty to accompany her, since she didn't have a date.

Kai persevered. "But, this would be a date…because I like you. Despite biting you up."

"Sorry, I've already accepted Xhimena's invite and it would be rude to back out."

Kitty was looking very well, very healthy. Her wardrobe, on the other hand, left something to be desired. Plain and worn.

It wasn't that I cared what she wore; most of us don't stand on ceremony around the house. But, she might feel out of place in public. Well, styles must have changed a little in thirty to a hundred years, so I decided we all needed new clothes for the entire household.

That sent everyone flying for the purses and then the cars.

The boys were going to stay behind, with DeWinter. Even Dastard thought he would skip the retail expedition.

I reminded Kai that he might want to put his best look on for Kitty. That changed his mind right away. As for the others, I said they could stay, of course. I'd be happy to pick theirs out. I would never stoop to buying anything hideous, but apparently they had a few reservations on that count. They grumbled, but went for the cars.

I called the stores ahead, warning them that over a hundred people were about to descend upon them. They excitedly assured me they were prepared for such glories.

They must not have believed me, because once they saw us en masse, and figured out who we were, a few clerks were stunned.

So we spent the entire day getting everyone from Richard, Toby and Jim, to the Weir, to the children all outfitted with new wardrobes. It's not like they wouldn't be used.

It went very well.

The Weir caused a bit of consternation, since they were more bohemian in their tastes. They simply discarded what wasn't comfortable, what they wouldn't wear, and matched the rest up as they pleased.

As the sun was going down, we sent the cars back to the house, fully laden, and went to a restaurant. Kai engineered to sit next to Xhimena to work on getting her to rescind the 'Kitty invite'.

Of course, that would be rude as well, so she refused and then just ignored him when he wouldn't quite let it drop.


Day 224/33

Eidolon still researched the art gallery business. He looked into leasing space. Monad advised that this was very important. Pablo can get away with dragging people out of the city, but a new gallery can't do that yet.

I did look into getting Bison's arm healed.

The bad news after I asked Tatasha, was that it can't be done. But, she added, he might thrive in other ways, to compensate for the loss. That often happens.

That might be the case, but I owe Bison too much to ignore any avenue, regardless of my pride. I had a talk with him. I said there were Shadows we could take him to, where we may very well get his arm back. He actually looked a little bashful, saying he didn't want to be any trouble. Would he want to try? He said it was up to me. I said I'd look into it. Once he had more information, he could make up his mind.

I Trumped Blythe. For once, this wasn't an emergency. On impulse, knowing Pablo wouldn't mind, I extended the invitation to her.

She looked pleased. Could she bring a date?

Of course. Then I outlined Bison's situation.

She didn't see a problem. It would take a little while to set things up.

It was entirely at her discretion.


I did tell Pablo he might have two additional guests.

He was pleased, thinking Blythe was a sweet, beautiful girl. As for the date, he loves a challenge. Speaking of challenges, would I extend an invitation to Tatasha.

Of course. At the house, I Trumped Tatasha. She was happy to attend, acknowledging that Pablo has a bit of a crush on her.

She might like teasing him, but I think she likes his outrageousness.

Monad and Nachoth came to have tea with us. They, with DeWinter and myself, sat outside on the back patio. I'm glad that development hadn't taken away the woods behind our house. The house was fairly quiet, so we had a nice, leisurely time.

Of course they know we are different from others. I explained that sometimes that differences envelopes people around us. For example, Toby and Jim were quite a bit older than they appear. My mother looks, despite being somewhere in her seventies, like Byslamia, much, much younger. Mother even had a child not too long ago.

The point was proximity plays an important part.

Now, if Monad wanted to partake of this, we could arrange something. They wouldn't have to live in the house. The Lady knows they'd lose all semblance of privacy. But, perhaps we could build something on the property, where regular contact would be beneficial.

Monad said he wouldn't want to put us out. Nachoth said he was letting his Parisian pride speak. The invitation wouldn't be extended if it was too much trouble.

So, a very sophisticated verbal sparring commenced.

Parisian pride against Chaosian pride.

We had no idea which would win out. It said something that they were willing to talk so freely in front of us. Monad was starting to consider the idea. At this point, DeWinter interjected that the houses to either side of us were for sale.

That was news to me.

Monad just looked at him. They just happen to be for sale?

DeWinter replied that it worked out that way when he offered two million francs for the house.

Monad's eyes twinkled, "And the other house?"

DeWinter shrugged in fine Gallic style. "It was so much fun the first time—I went to the house on the other side of us and did it again."
Wouldn't the house not chosen be upset?

DeWinter said it was a good bet we'd need to expand some time in the future. Monad shook his head and said he'd think about it.

I think he was very pleased.


Day 227/33

I mentioned to the boys…I really should stop calling them that. Anyway, I mentioned that perhaps it was time to ask Random about walking the Pattern.

Kai was excited. Eidolon and Tremerule looked surprised, like they had forgotten all about it and only just recalled that they were of age. And Eidolon has been working on passing Random's test. Dastard looked at me. He looked like he thought it a faint chance that Random would let Tremerule walk it, but he didn't say anything in front of Tremerule.

Then I called in Mosi, Devi and Ekaterin. It was past time for their Imasadhi.

A surprise waited for me.

By their faces, I could see that they had not waited.

I was so angry; I said that it would perhaps be best if they left the room until I was calm enough to talk about this.

I went outside to get some air.

Kai and inveigled Eidolon and Tremerule to a grappling contest to see who would walk the Pattern first. Neither seemed enthralled at the idea but they did it to make him happy. It was no surprise that Kai won first chance.

I was a surprised when Eidolon threw the match to Tremerule.

Afterwards, DeWinter called him out for throwing the fight.

Eidolon said he thought it would give Tremerule some confidence.

We said that false confidence could be a dangerous thing. DeWinter said, "You have created an obligation to stay in this role until the role is real."

Again, not surprisingly, Eidolon understood and appreciated what DeWinter was talking about. He was all right with that.

I said that he was a good little brother.

He said he wasn't little anymore.

Ok, you are a good, bigger brother.

He nodded his thanks.

After dinner, Ekaterin, Mosi and Devi came to talk with us. Actually, they came to ask us for their punishment.

DeWinter was not interested. He said we do not punish adults. They will have to bear the responsibilities and consequences for their actions. Now, go away. He went to the desk and picked up the dating rules he had written and tore them up in front of them.

There was no more automatic absolution.

With tears in their eyes, the girls left.


Day 230/33
Pablo's Party

We went to Pablo's today. We used our four cars and had to rent two more.

All the girls brought dates.

DeWinter whispered his thought that these could be those boys.

I didn't think so. If they were proud of what they had done, or cared about the boys, it wouldn't have stopped them from being embarrassed about what happened. Either that, or they would be afraid of introducing them to us until we had calmed down.

DeWinter said, "Right. I'm not going to think about it."

We got to the country estate.

It was a lovely place, reminiscent of Tiryns. I wonder if we will ever live there again. The weather was perfect; the sun was bright, the orchards providing shade. His 'little" get-together entailed about 300 people. Far too many were interested in seeing us arrive.

Why does celebrity give me such a headache?

It was an eclectic gathering. Penniless artists mingled with titled nobles and no one had any qualms about it. Pablo was busy introducing us around. We hadn't met most of the people there. The party was entirely outside. Inside, the entire first floor was dedicated to showing some of his latest works. Pablo confided that these weren't all of his work. If I wanted, we could see his private collection.

I gave him raised eyebrows. It's that like asking us to come up and see his etchings.

He grinned. Only if I was brave enough.

The setting was eclectic, too. It was outside, so it was difficult to be terribly formal. By the clothing, not many knew it would be more like a picnic. By, within the informality of the setting, the caterers and waiters were all wearing formal white coats.

Pablo's daughter had come in for the party. She looked around and said, "This isn't you. You love the city."

Pablo said that he liked it out here.

Tatasha Trumped me. I found a quiet, out-of-sight place and brought her through. When we came into sight, Pablo fairly beamed he was so happy to see her. He took her arm to give her the grand tour.

Later she asked me if he was all right. Gesturing to the fields, Tatasha said she thought, "All this wasn't like him."

It wasn't the last time I heard that comment. It was reinforced when I went inside to see what he'd been working on. They were all still-life and landscapes. Not one portraiture was in evidence. I looked at them closely. There was pain there. He'd been through something bad, probably Kathryn's death. But, his later works, what he's done since he came out here, show some healing, like the sadness was ebbing away.

He joined me and I asked if he was happy here.

He said that the old house, with Kathryn gone, had been smothering him. All the places they used to go were the same. He needed a new location, with brightness and sunshine.

I linked my arm into his and we walked back out to the party.

The affair went on all night.

I hadn't worried about the time until I heard the girl's dates talking. They were trying to convince the girls that they had to go home because their parents would send the army out after them. They were not used to saying out all night.

They were quietly pleading, they were so frantic.

I was torn about what to do. The girls should have listened to their dates. Should have been thinking about them. And, to be honest, for the younger ones, I should have, too. I got one of the boys off to the side. I whispered to spread the word to the other boys that if their parents were angry, to call me and I'd try and help. He looked grateful. But, I said they were not to tell the girls I helped. He looked puzzled but agreed.

I didn't want the girls to know I acted. If there were consequences, they would have to deal with it. Frankly, I'd be surprised if any of the boys would ask for future dates. At least, I wouldn't, if I were treated so callously.

They girls finally gave in with a fussy show of grace, and they went home. I called ahead to make sure I was told they got back all right.

A few hours later, dawn was approaching.

Very tired caterers began setting up for breakfast. I hoped Pablo was paying them well. Most of the guest had gone by now. The rest of us were sitting in the grass having a lovely breakfast. Pablo came over to say if I wanted the tour, he'd be happy to show me his private work. I suspect Pablo did this on purpose; inviting me alone.

I wondered what I would see. He could be so unpredictable.

He took me up to the third floor, a converted attic space. All the walls had been taken out, to make one large studio. Before I went in, he warned, "You have the right to be furious with me. I'll understand that." With that rather ominous statement, he let me in.

I wasn't really prepared for what I saw.

I know that Pablo felt strongly about me, and sometimes I felt a little guilty, that I couldn't reciprocate. But his paintings were extraordinary.

Almost every painting was of me. And I'm not certain I liked what I saw; some were…questionable. In one image, a naked Cassandra was choking a banker in a luxury suit. In another, I was lounging in barely anything, surrounded by some of the weir men also in recline. In another, Claw and I, both naked, were fighting. Around us were younger Weir girls, watching avidly. There were about 30 pieces. I didn't know what to say.

There were others. In one, Vis and DeWinter, stripped to the waist were circling each other, ready to fight. Yet, you could tell they were friends by the way they were smiling.

Nachoth was featured in one. She was in bed, nude, in a rather provocative pose. She had one hand out firmly inviting a shadowy man. Even from a rear, three-quarter angle, I could tell it was Monad she was inviting.

In one, DoBlique was sitting with her back to us, in front of a bright vanity. Her arms were lifted as she was brushing out her long blonde hair. I realized that DoBlique so often braids her hair elaborately that it was longer than I realized. She was also nude. The vanity mirror gave a clear view of her face. She was elegant, sensual and beautiful.

Pablo was just standing there, smoking a cigarette and watching me. He said he started these after we disappeared. He couldn't quite believe we were gone. He didn't want his memories to vanish.

I looked at them all again. Tears almost came.

The one with DoBlique was wonderful. He captured her reflective nature, sweetness and gentleness that she has learned to hide from the world. For me it was the most compelling of them all. And Nachoth's took my breath away. There was no way Pablo could have conjured these from memory, but each painting felt so right, I knew Nachoth's scene must have happened. There was no shame here. She was inviting, without fear, a man she loved. And there was no mistake that she loved Monad.

I said they were wonderful.

Pablo said they would remain private.

That was his choice, of course, but they were perfect. So perfect, I thought DoBlique and Nachoth deserved to see them.

He wasn't so sure, but he said he'd be willing to let them see them.

I told him to wait; I'd be right back.

I fairly ran to find DoBlique and Nachoth. I made some lame excuse and pulled them away from their breakfast conversations. Monad was curious, but made no attempt to ask. I told them Pablo was going to let them see some of his private paintings, which got their interest.

Nachoth looked pleased. "I didn't think still-life was the extent of his excellence."

I gave them the same waning Pablo passed to me, though they gave me odd looks.

Indeed, he was waiting on the stairs and repeated the warning.

They both gave me covert looks as they passed by my pictures. But when they got to theirs, they forgot the rest.

Nachoth was shocked. She stood there, rigid, looking at hers. The first thing she said was, "Monad's going to shoot you."

Pablo didn't answer or shrug.

But, Nachoth kept looking at it; growing more intrigued the longer she stared.

I could see her thinking some of the same things I had, that Pablo could never have seen this, but it had happened.

Pablo had captured their relationship.

Nachoth said that part of her was offended. The young girl in her wanted to shout that she was not a whore. But, the older part of her nodding that this was truth; Monad had made her a larger and generous spirit. Without Monad, she would have remained that young girl, and be sadder for it. After some moments, she whispered to Pablo, "Thank you."

DoBlique was quietly weeping.

That alarmed Pablo to no end. He awkwardly came to put an arm around her, apologizing for offending her.

She couldn't get the words out, she just shook her head. Finally, she said "No one sees me like that."

I knew what she was talking about. She always thinks people were seeing at best a criminal, at worst a murderess, something tainted and evil.

But Pablo sees, more truly than anyone I've ever met. He was so gifted, it sometimes hurts. Truth was like that. If he could do study, he'd be a formidable Trump artist. I wonder if he could learn?

Pleased and yet gruff, he ushered us downstairs.

DoBlique gave him a hug and kiss, thanking him.

He tried to shrug it off, but each of us could see he was moved and pleased.

As we joined the others, I told Nachoth that I thought Monad would see it for what it was…after she made sure he wasn't armed, of course.

That got her to smile as she joined Monad.

On the ride home, I kept thinking of my own portraits. Again, they hadn't happened, not in front of Pablo, but that didn't make them false.

I had to get around my own uncomfortable feelings. So much centered around fighting…

I know it's one of the few things I do well, but I never thought I was defined by it, not by my friends.

But, the further I thought about them, the more I saw. At least, I don't think it was my imagination. I think he was showing more there, if one were willing to look at them closely, behind the façade. They showed our willingness to fight for our family and contentment. We were who we are. We try and learn from each other and we feel safe to be ourselves, perhaps because we know each other for who and what we are. As the one with DeWinter and Vis. They are friends and they do challenge each other. They fight to be better at defending, but there was no fear or servility in it, nor in any of them. The more I thought about it, the more layers emerged.

When I got back, I immediately penned a note to Pablo. I said that my reaction probably left much to be desired, but like the others, I had to think about them. And the more I did, the more amazed I am at his talent, his gift. I thanked him for them, for knowing us so well and remaining a steadfast friend. No, he was family.

I sent it off. It was mid-morning, so we didn't bother to get some sleep. It was early afternoon when the parents of the girl's dates called. They were concerned about inappropriate behavior on the part of their sons. With their sons staying out all night, they feared the worst. I made it abundantly clear that the boys conducted themselves like true gentlemen. That reassured them. I said if there were any apologies to me made, it was for me to extend, for not calling them and easing their worries.

They all brushed that aside, relieved that there wasn't anything of major concern for them to tend to.


Days 242/33
A Serious Talk

It's been two days. We decided to have a talk with the three girls. They knew it was going to be a long, difficult session when DeWinter started by pouring him and I drinks. They knew it was going to be worse than they thought when he made a toast to family.

I began by asking what they had done wrong.

Ekaterin answered that it was wrongly done to skip the Imasadhi.

Hm, perhaps.

DeWinter said that the act and the fact that they decided not to tell us demeaned it. It suggested that we weren't important enough to them, to tell us.

They winced at that. They don't like when we're angry, but when DeWinter brought shame to their table and it was a bitter pill.

When asked, we got the names of the boys. We vaguely knew them. We were a little surprised when we realized they were in there twenties not teens like some of the boys.

DeWinter asked why they picked out men that were so much older. I think I knew, but the girls just stared at him, unable to express what they were thinking and feeling.

I told DeWinter I could answer that later. He let the matter go, to deal with the rest.

I asked them what Imasadhi meant. Of course, they all thought it was about sex. But, it was more than that. I've come to believe it was more important, especially in Amber, were they are considered adults so early in life. Imasadhi means to be a companion and have understanding. Even if it was for a brief time, you are a companion to each other. That it was not just one person acting upon another, but a conjunction. Physical connections happen through all our lives. In Mycenae, we believe it was wrong to begin an adult life, at least that important aspect, in worry, fear, and ignorance. And with them being so young, it was the house's way, our way, to come to terms that they are adults. As such, it was our last gift to them, before we have no right to impose on them. They took that away from us, which was why I was so upset.

Imasadhi was supposed to take a few days. In that time, with a person trained, there was so much to learn. And now I had no idea if they've learned anything. The simplest lesson was that either person has the right to say no.

DeWinter has said it to me, I've said it to him.

They all looked surprised at that.

During Tralee's ceremony, I allowed the choice of a Weir man because so much of the Weir way works well in conjunction with my own learning. The ceremony wasn't forced…they spent hours simply playing and establishing a rapport. It was not the Weir way to force attentions.

Despite it being an uncomfortable subject, I asked if they at least enjoyed themselves.

They gave sideways glances toward DeWinter and wondered if he really wanted to talk about this.

He nodded 'yes'.

The answers were mixed. Devi said she didn't feel as happy as Tralee looked at her time. Ekaterin said it wasn't so bad, but Mosi said it was horrible.

DeWinter went very still. He softly asked, "Did they hurt you?"

Mosi looked at the floor. Do you really want to talk about this?

He hesitated, thinking. Slowly, he said he would not turn away if she'd been hurt.

Slowly we got the details.

They had gone to a club. They had a wonderful time and it seemed right to them to end the night with their chosen men. They were high on Paris. By what the girls said of the timing, this happened not to long after the siege ended. I could picture it so easily.

They were finally free from the onslaught and were filled with emotions they might not have been able to handle.

That didn't prepare me for what they told next. It disturbed me greatly. They put their heads together and had taken their fellows backstage at the club to talk to a singer. After everyone left the club, they stayed. They didn't even find rooms. The moment was there and then, in a dark hallway. And because they wanted to help each other through it, they all stayed together.

DeWinter looked like he was having trouble processing all this.

I was thinking this was going to be a poor memory for them to carry. It seemed Ekaterin came out of it in the best shape; I'm going to have to talk to Mosi. She's the most saddened by it.

Even odder, because they didn't want to become pregnant and they hadn't taken chemical precautions—what they did was…incomplete and not something a girl should be trying on their first time. So, technically, they were still virgins.

I think we were all stressed by now. How do we make this right? There are a lot of mistakes people have to carry with them, but I'm loath to have this be one of them. I said it was still possible to have the Imasadhi, but it would take it bit more effort on my part, to select proper candidates.

They may not realize, no one will until it's time, but this may take a bit or an effort to get past this, especially for Mosi.

The girls didn't have to think about it, they'd voted try it the way it's supposed to work.

I placed one condition though: each of their Imasadhi would have to be private. If they are not comfortable with the person they are choosing, then it shouldn't be done. It was a simple as that. They looked doubtful, but agreed.

As for the men in question, I said that there could be…reactions. For one thing, had they spoken to any of them since that night?

No. Well, they admitted that they had seen one or two, but they rather decided they didn't notice them.

Well, the first order of business was to deal with this. For one thing, I tried to make them look at it from the men's perspectives. They were having a grand time. The evening was progressing nicely and you offer a more intimate evening. The young women lead you off and you find yourself in a place, virtually in public, with her sisters, and two other men. Quite a strange bargain for them.

Not many men like to, or are used to, performing with an…audience. Then I imagined: your dates are encouraging each other, helping each other, and the men are being largely ignored. Then, when done, it was obvious that you may not have lived up to some unknown expectation. Even in Paris, even at their ages, the men here are not…trained in these matters.

So, they were set up and then punished for failing with silence.

I expected some negative reactions from these men.

At best, they might be insulted and angry at how they were treated. At worst, they could cause a scandal. Privately, I thought that last unlikely. Once the girl's ages were public, the men would not want to incur charges of statutory rape.

But it was clear to me the girls never thought about what the men might say.

The worst that could happen here: the men talk to their friends. People may overlook a lot, but what happened would be difficult to understand. Most people would only see that they were in a public place, doing questionable or immoral things.

They could very well be labeled whores.

I explained this quietly.

That shook them.

I think even DeWinter was disturbed by what I said. I said we are different and we have different rules in the house. That does not always extend outside these walls. Even Tralee made sure she acted with discretion. And she knew more than anyone how much more experience she had compared to her peers. That very experience, gave her a unique perspective, which allowed her to act accordingly. They didn't have that perspective and this might get ugly.

Since they acted as if they had adult discretion, now they must do so in earnest.

I told them to track down each of the men, separately, and make amends or apologies.

The girls were not happy, but they knew we weren't giving them much of a choice.

DeWinter said that by Amber's rules, they didn't have to comply with our request, but refusing to do so had its own consequences. I thought I knew what he meant but wasn't sure.

It wasn't much of a choice. They dealt with an unpleasant situation, or had us disappointed in the whole episode.

They just nodded and filed out.

DeWinter and I sat back, rehashing the discussion, wondering if we we'd done the right thing, or if we could have done it better.

He seemed to doubt much.

Only time will tell. I did explain why the girls chose those men. I told him of their original impression, oh so many years ago, that I made all the important decisions. I had put an end to it right away. Since then, they've come to see that there was a much more give and take in our relationship. And while he does not talk about his past much, what little he says grabs their attention.

Over time, they must have realized that he was much older than I am, even if they don't have a clue as to how much. We're obviously happy and they want to be happy, too. They've done and seen more than anyone else their age, so it was natural for them to gravitate towards older men.

DeWinter understood the reasoning, but he had some grave concerns that they could be taken advantage of.

So, we'll just have to keep a closer eye on them all.


Day 233/33


I did have a talk with Mosi. I was concerned that there was more we needed to deal with. Since it was just she and I, she talked a bit more freely. She wasn't physically hurt, just terribly disappointed with it all. She'd built up such a dream about it and when it utterly failed, she was dismal.

I said that the specific act they had done wasn't for everybody. It wasn't anything to be ashamed of. Hopefully, we can get her past that.

We talked. I answered her other questions. She became a little girl once more and just decided to trust us on this.

I asked Claw to have a Weir girl or two follow Devi, Mosi and Ekaterin on their hunt for the gents. I explained the situation. The Weir were not to interfere unless the girls were in real danger from being hurt. And by that, I meant broken bones, death or rape. If any of these boys were as angry and they could be, they could lash out, despite the fact that it was considered bad form to do so to a woman.

I always thought the double standard an odd thing.

But, unless the girls were in real danger, the Weir were only to observe.


Day 235/33

Ekaterin was the first to track down her man. For her, the night was "okay."

So it came as a shock when the young man proposed.

It threw her off completely. She got away after saying she had to think about it.

She was rather giddy at the proposal, more for it that for the man as she explained it all to us.

DeWinter asked her if she was interested in the man, in that way.

No, not really, but it was nice to be asked.

So how are you going to refuse him?

She was flummoxed.

I said that was easy. Here, she was underage and we won't allow it.

Ekaterin looked relieved.

DeWinter gave me a sideways glance.

Did we need to talk?

He sighed.


Day 236/33

Devi found her date today. He was a bit insulted by her silence since that night and dealt with it by saying it didn't matter to him in the slightest. He made it clear that he didn't care one way or the other what she had to say. And no, he wasn't charmed by her when she'd said "Hello, I've been looking for you." He reminded her that they'd seen each other and she had ignored him, so she shouldn't bother to pretend otherwise. Then he walked off.

Devi's not sure how to deal with it.

Later that day, Mosi found her date. This was an explosive meeting even for such a passionate country as France. I got the story from the Weir following her.

Mosi barely got two words out before he slapped her.

She slapped him back.

Surprised, he slapped her again.

She punched him in the gut.

He doubled over and fell to his knees. He grabbed her ankle and knocked her down and they began wrestling.

She managed to pin him and then shouted in his face that, "You don't know ass about sex!"

So.

I just put my head in my hands.

This happened in broad daylight.

In the park.

With many witnesses.

It was time for another talk on etiquette for the girls, at the very least.

I looked at DeWinter. "And we thought adopting nine girls was a good thing?"

Damn, we have six more girls to go.


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