Cassandra's Diary.6

295/4
Arranging a Dinner Party

I went to see Chef Robert, to warn him to start making plans. His eyes glowed at the thought, as if his day were truly wonderful now. I was immeasurably relieved knowing that the most important part of the evening, the meal itself, would be in capable hands.

I then went down to Flora, who better to seek advise from? She was full of useful information, so much so I had to take notes. It was amazing the minor details that if you see through, can make such a difference. She suggested additional staff for the Castle, in case any wished to stay overnight, or longer. She suggested stewards and waiting servants to assist in serving the meal. Amidst the information, Carmella appeared, greeting me and quickly withdrawing before she got embroiled in the affair. I do wonder what her particular specialty is. She and Flora get along well, each knowing the other and free to be themselves. They have a lovely relationship.

Mother did make an appearance and like most mothers, I suppose, had no qualms about stating that "I had a spot on my forehead"." Flora was relieved because she had wanted to say something but hadn't wanted to be rude. I admit I was a bit reluctant. It was awkward to relay what happened without it seeming a bit ostentatious. I mean I really wasn't The Unicorn, but I didn't know if it had helped or if was an aspect of being an Amberite or what. It seemed a bit grandiose and I didn't want to begin thinking I was special because of it. I'm sure it would have happened to anyone else. I did assure Flora that she could ask me anything if she wished. I have to smile even now, because she took me up on the offer immediately and asked what had come to her mind. She asked if the tail was gone too! I assured her it was and soon the three of us were discussing everything, mostly about the party.

We talked about the type of music, for an informal event, which is what both Kate and I wanted. I thought flowers would be important. Kate couldn't see anything beautiful, but a scent might soothing and welcoming. Flora thought that a wonderful idea and I was happy to think of it. Hours passed and Carmella announced that some Lady-whatever-her-name (I didn't really catch it) was there for her appointment with Flora. Realizing the entire afternoon had gone, she made her excuses and went. Mother and I had a few minutes to talk before she was obligated to go dress for the guest. I asked if she would be coming back to Tiryn, but she felt she should just leave. Flora had given haven when we were endangered and Flora seemed to be taken with Eidolon. I told her, briefly, of her fondness for Eric and Mother acknowledged that Flora spoke of him quite often. I got the impression that Flora's…interest was a bit disturbing. I thought that if she stayed until after the party, we would then have to go home. The rest of the family should be able to see Eidolon and it was a good reason for leaving. Mother agreed before she left to change clothes.

I Trumped Julian. The card cleared and he was standing with his jacket off, sleeves rolled up. It was so…informal…it was nice to see. He was working on some bookbinding and he invited me through. He fetched a chair and he continued to work as I told him what happened with the clock. He did stop once I got to the point where I had the horn, giving me his undivided attention. It seemed to be significant to him somehow. He did answer my unspoken question: no, he never had an experience like that with the Unicorn. Nor did he have a white horse like that. But he did acknowledge he was a good horseman even then.

I told him of the party and right then set the date for 2 ½ weeks. Of course Vivant and Shapir were invited. Julian surprised me when he offered first to contact Benedict for me, and then the Out-Shadow Family. That meant he was taking on the majority of the Trumps to tell everyone. It was another detail I need not worry about. He and Flora were being exceeding helpful to me, helping to make my first major event go smoothly.

At home I told Byslamia and soon we were busy running into town, making arrangements, having additional meeting with Flora. She really knew how to get around minor set backs, giving me the wisdom of years of practice. We could only plan for the whole family attending, removing place settings when some didn't attend. I do know that some have difficulties with Julian, and visa verse, and I didn't want anyone to feel excluded. So I Trumped a few members. Rinaldo had the oddest contact. All I saw was a yellow smiling face which informed me it was his answering machine! I thought I had made a mistake and tried again. When I got it again I left a message, though it was a confused device. How odd. Then I tried Sebastian who has always managed to be captured or deep in Shadow for every major event. True to course, I could not reach him.


300/4

Things were moving along nicely. Some of the officials of Gerant, possibly getting the idea that I was actually interested in Gerant (finally) arranged a tour of the area. Mostly it just consisted introductions to the farmers, guildsmen, craftsmen and such. But, it gave me the opportunity to let them know I was accessible, if I was in Amber.

305/4
Searching for Sebastian

I still hadn't been able to contact Sebastian. If he'd gotten himself into trouble again, I was unable to help him. Even without the party, I had to arrange to take Mother into Shadow and was making sure that Kate was comfortable. Dame Louisa had procured three attendants, each taking a part of the day to see to Kate's needs. Kate was used to having much done for her, and given her condition, it wasn't unreasonable.

Still, I left Amber to try and find him. I hoped he was just too far away for contact and moving a few days into Shadow might help.

That first day I saw that I was being followed. 5 riders on horses. I shifted Shadow and found a place to hide, to observe them as they passed. They were black, all of them, and I could see right through them as if they were ghosts. They went past without a glance at me and I continued on, shifting in another direction and resuming the search.

306/4
Still Searching

Again it was uneventful and found myself being followed. This time there were 9 of the riders. Again I evaded them, wondering what Sebastian had gotten himself into. We were still too close to Amber for such odd events.

307/4
Going Home

By mid-day I was no closer to contacting him. If I continued, I could get myself into some predicament so I turned around and went back. At the least, I could let Random know I tried.

312/4
Family dinner

To say I was nervous about tonight would be an understatement. Everything was as ready as I could make it. There were even some pleasant surprises. Kate had commissioned the forge to create a mechanical device, which would serve as legs. I found out when, with the excuse of ordering a carriage based on a Mycenean undercarriage (which is, in my opinion, far superior to what they have) I invited Tedra to the party. It was no surprise she turned it down, still trying to play the role of the commoner, despite the entire family knowing her identity. It's amazing, with the time she's spent with Llewella that no one has caught on. Or, it could be the best open secret of the family.

I also had asked Kate about the possibility of finding some animal in Shadow which might serve as her eyes. She had given that thought and was agreeable to it, though she expressed some desire for one of Julian's storm hounds. She had some fond memories about that. I did ask Julian and he didn't think it was a good idea. They were pack animals, not given to solitude even with a person. He did suggest that perhaps one of Flora's hounds would serve. It was an excellent suggestion. He also expressed a concern. When Shadow folk are brought here, unless they've spent much time with an Amberite, the nature of being so close to Reality can cause madness. He was concerned that Kate would fare the same. That wasn't a pleasant thought. I asked if being in Shadow while she became adjusted would help and he thought so.

Back to the party. The turnout was respectable, almost half the family attended. There was some surprise when Fiona attended, for she almost never does. Benedict came, another surprise for some, though he's been at every event I've ever attended. Others that came were (in no particular order):

Owen and Kent Mother and Byslamia
Gerard and The Owen Flora and Carmella
Ozmondias Llewella
Melinda Julian and Vivant
Genevieve and Sarek Random and Vialle
Dorimae Nicholas
Grace Kinkel
Farris Shapir

And a whole host of others whom I have barely met before this. All in all about half the family came. Actually it went much better than I had hoped. I received many compliments, mostly to the effect that it was so relaxed and welcoming. That pleased me the most. I admit that there were times when I basked in the good wishes, though I made sure that due credit was given, especially to Flora whose advise made the entire evening possible. When I had inquired to Flora about the possibility of Kate having one of her hounds, she not only agreed, but also gave Kate one of the Amberite hounds that are prized. It sat during the evening, peacefully and elegantly by Kate's side being her eyes. I believe the hound's name is Daisy, despite it being a male.

By the end of the evening, Osmandias had extended an invitation to Emeraldia, his home Shadow. I also received one for Cashfa and Benedict invited me to an aerial battle that he thought I might find interesting. It was the last that I regretted being unable to attend. Taking Mother home and possibly returning with her would take months and the entire battle would be long over. Nor did I think I could go for a day, because I would want to truly observe what was happening. There simply wouldn't be enough time.

All in all it was a splendid evening.

313/4

I spoke to Kate about Julian's concerns. She not only understood, but also thought that the effects may have already started. So, I invited her on our journey to Mycenea. Not only might she gain equilibrium, we might find a Shadow she would be comfortable with. She agreed to go.

Almost immediately after the meeting, Random found me and suggested a walk in the gardens. Once there he plainly asked what was going on. He wasn't too pleased that Kate would be leaving. Actually, he was fairly honest in admitting that having her here, a nearby and willing guest would be of some benefit to him. He asked where I had gotten my information and he saw the hesitation in my eyes. I know he and Julian have much different opinions of a great many things. He rightly concluded that Julian had told me. That didn't please him. He did acknowledge the Kate had admitted to some difficulties and told me to see to the matter. He also made it clear that I was solely responsible for Kate's safety, should she leave Amber.

I spoke with Fiona about the situation. She, too, admitted to the possibility of Kate's mind collapsing under the strain. It was her opinion that the duration until Kate could be acclimated should be about 4 months. We discussed the changes, both physical and mental, that might occur along with appropriate treatment. Largely it entailed deep depression, not unlike what Mother went through prior to Eidolon's birth. At least we might be a little prepared. In the end, Fiona gave me permission to call for her should Kate decline too far for us to help.

I let Random know what had been discussed. Having Fiona's recommendation made it a little more palatable for him, I think. There are still some arrangements for us to make, but we should be ready to leave in about 2 weeks.

It will be a larger procession than I have ever planned before. The party will probably consist of Mother, Byslamia, Kate, Kate's servants if she wishes, Eidolon, about 8 Weir and myself. Even if you include two carriages, a cart and about 12 horses, I think the journey will not be as difficult as it might be on another occasion, primarily because we will be travelling by carriage. The Weir have traveled in Shadow before, so keeping their attention on me shouldn't be too difficult. We will also be travelling slowly, through safe, comfortable, non-Dalt-infested lands. I think that if the Weir piloting the carriages are focused on me, then everyone inside the carriages should automatically come through, right? I'll have to ask.

Meanwhile, we are waiting to finish arrangements and for the final fitting for Kate's legs.


320/4

Pretty much all is in order. We spent the time since making preparations and such. To my surprise, Bellasara came each day to learn weapons practice. It shows dedication if nothing else. She was decidedly not a morning person though it didn't stop her. I just made sure to add some invigorating exercises to wake her up.

The entire entourage will consist of myself, Byslamia, Kate, Mother & Eidolon, one of Kate's servants and three Weir (Vis, Claw, & Cutwind). I had to purchase two carriages for everyone to ride comfortably. I'm a bit nervous about keeping such a large number with me during Shadow-shifting, but I suppose that since we are moving slowly and everyone is in the carriages, it would be easier than if we were walking.

322/4
Wandering

We left, making our way through Arden. We gained an escort of Rangers through it all, which was quite considerate of them. We traveled through the day, all of it pleasant. Everyone was in good spirits, typical of starting out on a brand new journey. Last night we stayed at a village inn, all warm and cozy. Tonight we found a waystation with comfortable beds. The rangers bid us a goodbye and returned to their duties. I waved my appreciation as they headed out.

323/4

The day was largely uneventful. I did receive a Trump call from Owen asking why I was taking Kate out of Amber. I relayed both Julian and Fiona's suggested which I think was curious to her. Perhaps she felt she should have been informed. I was working under the assumption that Fiona was Kate's physician, not Owen. If I erred, she could be rightfully annoyed. I referred her to Fiona and Owen cut the contact. I spent a few minute trying to think of other reasons for Kate to stay, should she be called back to Amber. In truth, I like Random but I know he has agendas for Kate. I simply wanted Kate to think about her position here, in terms of who she is and what she wants to do. I wanted her to have this chance before all an sundry try and use her, forcing her into a position she may not want.

328/4
Brigands

The journey has been largely successful. Traveling the "royal way" is certainly comfortable and convenient. We managed to find inns with available rooms and entertainment each night. The weather has been pleasant and calm and the roads have been smooth. Mother still has no concept of Shadow, even when Byslamia and I tried to explain the phenomena to her. Kate also observed it was done much differently than how she knew it from her Shadow. There, each person had to find a "weak spot" in the walls of the Shadow and then push their way through. She observed that here it seemed like we were directing the path with our minds, which is accurate. So was talked about theory and experiences, which probably drove Mother to distraction since she understood little of it.

I thought to show Mother evidence of the nature of Shadow. But, regardless of how odd the sky looked, or the color of the grass, she didn't understand. The mistake I made was moving off the path we were on…it invited trouble.

That day, around mid-day, we were accosted by two highwaymen. I wouldn't have been concerned, but they had firearms. That prevented any overt action on our part. One went to Mother's carriage and held the pistol calmly at them. The other remained on horseback, keeping an eye on the entire party. I signaled to the Weir to wait for my signal. I moved my horse into his eyesight. He moved the gun to cover me. It was what I was hoping. I made eye contact and tried to paralyze him. I've seen Owen and Sebastian do similar things. And I had done similar work before. I knew that I could do nothing else without breaking concentration. I was gambling the same was for him, then he would be vulnerable. I was pretty certain he hadn't been formally trained in this art. I met a natural resistance that I had to push to move through. I heard a shot, and forced myself not to wonder if anyone was hurt. Once through, I turned him to "stone" forcing complete paralyzation, though I chose not to stop his heart and lungs.

I came out to see pandemonium around me. My armband was going off, nearly squeezing my arm to numbness, Cutwind on the lead coach was jumping the frozen gunman. Claw was going for the second one. Then I felt the pain in my side and realized I had been shot. Apparently my attack had not completely succeeded before he got a shot off. Then the world returned to a normal speed. Claw began to shift into her native fighting form. The gunman screamed and tried to shoot her, but she dispatched him before it was a fully completed thought. The first gunman recovered and tried to shoot Claw, not realizing he had already used the bullet. The chamber was empty and apparently only held one show. Claw easily dispatched him.

My wound was not particularly clean. The bullet was still lodged inside. We got the wound cleaned and wrapped so we could get to some facilities. Of course, I should mention Mother's help. She found some whiskey to sterilize the area and before anyone could protest used it liberally. I hurt much more than the wound and in surprise, gave a vigorous shout. She was unrepentant.

Getting on my horse was a new experience in pain. That was when I realized I had a broken rib, probably hit by the bullet. I kept me awake enough to shift into a town. The only specifications I had were that it had a doctor. I shouldn't let simple agony get in the way of Shadow-shifting, but I did. We did find a town and it did have a doctor. Unfortunately, the doctor in question was a male who had some pretty provincial notions. For example, he would not even step in the room where there was a woman patient, much less when she had to be disrobed to get at the wound. Instead, he called out instructions to his wife from the doorway. Needless to say, I was not particularly happy with this and I made this very clear. I shouted for him to get in there, to no avail. Byslamia frantically Trumped Owen who came through and took over. The shot had broken a tip off one rib and she had to find and remove the bullet, find the tip (I thank all on high that it hadn't punctured a lung) and re-attach it. A mere half-hour later, it was done.

At that point, Vis had taken the doctor away, much to his dismay (and fear---Vis can be quite intimidating), Mother had slapped the hysterical wife into quietude, and everyone was waiting patiently in the outer foyer. Owen gave simple orders to stay immobile for 2 days and even then, I could only move very carefully. I was startled that she then left. I thought she might stay, to make sure nothing else happened. Either she felt we were safe enough and I would follow her instructions, or she actually thought I might not make a further mess of the situation.

331/4
Healed

Mother and Byslamia had found a first-class hotel. It wasn't extremely lavish, but it was comfortable. I had a chance to review what had gone wrong. I had sent a number of parameters into the Shadow Shifting; remaining safe being the foremost. By alternating, to show Mother more of Shadow I slipped on the others, I tried to do too much.

But I am walking now, though not riding. Sitting in a carriage and trying to shift Shadow seemed to be too difficult. So I had to ride with Claw or Cutwind on top. Fortunately, Byslamia had the foresight to rig the simple seat with a backrest so I would have less strain on my ribs. It wasn't plush, but the alternative would have been unbearable.

334/4
Mycenea

We reached the ferry. Mother was amazed that I could plan so well that the ferry was not only waiting and available, but that there was room for all of us, plus the coaches. I'm still stiff and sore, but the trip was smooth and uneventful.

At the docks I did notice that security seemed to be much tighter than I've ever seen. It made me wonder if something unpleasant was going on. No one knew we would be arriving today, so we quietly made our way up to the palace. I think Mother was relieved by this.

336/4
Politics

I've had a chance to see what has changed in the year and a half since I was last here. Chryseis was handling things well, though differently than Mother. For one thing, she delegated a lot to our sisters. In hindsight, this made sense. There would be less competition and resentment if they had some responsibilities and less boredom. Also, she wasn't experienced like Mother, so the added insight served her well. All of this was good thinking. It also served to show a united front to everyone watching. When I asked about security, they alluded to some small power struggles from the old guard who didn't care for some of Chryseis' changes. I did explain Mother's thoughts on whether she would step down or not. In the meantime, Mother will be touring the country and visiting old friends. And showing off Eidolon. All my sisters made a great fuss over him, to Mother's pleasure. Oh, he will be a spoiled little one all too soon.


340/4
More Politics

Mother returned early from her visits. She was bored, it seemed. Everyone seemed so artificial to her. And the fawning over Eidolon actually made her sick. The currying for favor was distasteful and it solidified her decision to step down. We talked about it a bit. She was not particularly happy about the idea of being cloistered in the country. But if Chryseis was to have a chance, Mother had to be virtually invisible for a while, but near to lend advice (no one could tell Mother they didn't need her advice!).

That night I heard a commotion in the halls. When I went outside, armed, I found a small unit of guards holding my sisters at sword point. Apparently we were in the middle of a coup!

I almost wondered if I was really raised here. There they were, meekly obeying the orders, as if this were right and natural. Perhaps it is my experiences, especially fighting the guards in the Courts, but these men did not intimidate me one whit. I drew my blade and entered the fray. Well, it was a fray as soon as I entered their range and began striking.

Then the others snapped out of it and we all began fighting. The guards, already wondering if their orders were correct and right, had difficulty raising weapons against any of the princesses. This made our job that much easier. The ones committed to the treason were easily identified and attended to. Then Mother came and went ballistic seeing her daughters under attack. And when Mother goes ballistic, it is a truly impressive sight. In fact, we had to pull her away, after we had quelled the insurrection.

341/4
Abdication

Yes, Mother formally abdicated this morning. She and Chryseis decided it would be best to do it quickly. None of my sisters were killed, but two were gravely injured. They'll pull through, they just won't be happy for a while. I consoled them that they made history that night, as warriors. I think it worked.

At the ceremony, I did make a few remarks about the friendship Amber has with Mycenea. I also mentioned that I was the least of the warriors, to assure them that there was power out there, should they need it. I did not formally commit Amber (Random would have loved that!) but made it clear that anyone starting a coup might have more on their hands than they could handle. Mother was right. These people do seem transparent now and I easily made my point clear. I was almost Random-like in my jests---I think I see the fun of it. Ha!

Mother decided, then, that she would go with the rest of us as we traveled Shadow. I don't know about anyone else, but we would be going into uncharted country, so to speak. Having a baby would be…inconvenient. I tried to explain it diplomatically but Mother caught the meaning. She was indignant until I brought up Dalt. I knew that would make her feel a little vulnerable and she consented to Trump to Amber. I Trumped Florimel who agreed to have Mother as a guest.

We all said goodbye to Mother, everyone making a final (for now) fuss over her and Eidolon. Tomorrow the rest of us continue on.

343/4
Into Shadow once again

We left today, embarking on a rather long itinerary. I hope to get it all accomplished. The first thing was to get something for Eidolon in case Dalt or anyone else tried to take him. Then, I wanted to find a Shadow for Kate to "find herself". That would be the trickiest, since I had to direct the Shadow shifting for her. Then, I had to return the Helm, preferably without the fanfare I got in receiving it. Then it would be off to Glantri. When Llewella put me into a hypnotic trance to recall information it gave me an idea. I wanted to remember whom it was that saved Mother and myself against the snow wyrms. I had nothing to lose and really wanted to know. I had a suspicion that it was Lord DeWinter. At the last, we would travel through Shadow for gifts for Yule Time, which was coming up. I have an extensive list, though certainly not for the whole family.

The party now consists of myself, Byslamia, Kate and her servant (Jaya), Claw, Bison, Cutwind and Daisy. Vis elected to go back with Mother. I think he wanted to also make sure the estate hadn't burned down yet!

345/4
First Shadow

We entered a Shadow today with a city, not unlike Mycenea a hundred or so years ago. Coaches were highly decorated, much more so than ours that has seen a lot of mileage. The inns were more lavish and comfortable. It was a very stratified society, reminiscent of Eregnor. Like Eregnor, black hair was the height of fashion, worn long down the back. We have enough funds, though we did have to check to make sure.

Court is in recess, so the nobility was all out on their estates. The slowing of business allowed the city to relax a bit, like a moderate holiday. They were all polite (we were just a cut above the working class) though they were uncomfortable with Kate's obvious injuries.

346/4
Big Surprise!

I paid the concierge to search for a shop for a magical trinket for Eidolon. I was thinking a bracelet that could not be removed. If he were kidnapped, I could focus on it and find it, no matter what Shadow he was taken to. The shops here do not advertise. They work on a reference system. If you know someone who knows of what you are seeking, they can give you a reference. I had to rely on the concierge. By mid-day he had found two reputable places. Byslamia, Bison and I go.

The first was in a mansion. The door was opened by a young. We were seen in and introduced to a priestess. At least, that is what she called herself. I told her what I was looking for. Minimum protection? Yes. Tracer? Yes. She had a number of torques, all metal, designed as leaves and vines. The most likely one was worth $150,000 sovereigns. All together, I think we had $40,000, if we sold everything we could. I said I would think about it and she understood.

The second shop was in a 4-story townhouse. Another girl, this time about 9 year old answered the door. Her hair brushed her ankles as she walked. Oddly, she stared at Bison for a few minutes and then shyly waved to him before seeing us inside. At my inquiring glance, he simply shrugged, as mystified as I was.

Her mother was whom we met. As we spoke, she occasionally glanced at Bison. At one point when she left to get some paper and ink, I questioned Bison again. He had a chance to observe back and he said the two smelled like family. Weir? Yes, but none he knew and it was different somehow. He was decidedly unnerved.

The woman, Crys, returned and offered us a tattoo as protection. I immediate though how more practical it was. A bracelet could be removed if one wasn't particular if Eidolon was to lose an arm or not. And she could not guarantee a torque to be resistant against magic he might encounter. Her daughter had one, at the base of her base, just above the spine, well hidden by her hair. Crys cut her own forearm and place the bleeding wound to the tattoo. The wound closed and the tattoo was on her arm! "Blood calls for blood," she said.

I nodded to Bison to ask and he rose to extend his arm, perpendicular to his face. She tilted her head and said, "Quaint. It hasn't been done in centuries." But, she rose and did likewise, entwining her arm with his. They each took in the other's scent. Yes, she is also Weir!

That was the first part. The second occurred when she said I was also Weir! Hunh? I managed not to look too silly, though I was clearly taken aback. I said I was from Amber. And she nodded and said "Of Eric." We are cousins?! While I was totally confused, she said we should meet the queen. Feeling some things pulls together I agreed, asking who the queen was. The reply, "Tatasha." My grandmother. How had I managed to walk right into her home? Luck? I don't know.

Crys said she would design the tattoo and place it on me. I could then transfer it to Eidolon, it being a process I could learn easily. It would be a tracer and have some directional sense to take him home. She would send a message to the Queen who is residing in her country estate. It would take a few days to get there and a few to return, so I'll have time to prepare.

Stunned, we bid her goodnight and went to the inn.

349/4
Second Surprise

The first thing I did was to buy some history books, to learn of this Shadow. To think my grandmother was so close to Mycenea and never having met her. This is indeed Aes. A while ago, the Country encompassed half the world. Eventually the colonies established independence, while remaining strong ties to Aes.

We visited art museums and shop, and ordered clothing for all of us. I wanted to make a decent impression if I could.

Returning, Bison was halfway through the door before he stiffened. Something was wrong. I couldn't see past him but he said everyone was frozen in place. Magic. We backed out and crossed the street. Everything out here was fine. Claw climbed the hotel to see if the magic extended past the first floor. It did. Bison went in. Claw went to find a constabulary. Before she returned Bison came back out. The Queens was here, in my rooms, waiting to meet me!

After a pause to take in our walking, very casual clothing, there was nothing to be done but to go in. We went in and past people stopped in their tracks. One man was reaching for a drink, another was on the stairs, balanced on one foot, the other hadn't met the stair yet. A bellhop was just picking up a bag and keys dangled from the hand of the clerk. We carefully walked by all of them.

Upstairs a woman stood outside my room. Again, she had long hair but her garb threw me completely. She wore colored stockings and a dress, or perhaps it was a tunic, of a soft green. Actually, Byslamia and I conversed later and guessed that was what she was wearing. It was so short, it was difficult to tell. She couldn't have been much older than me.

Inside I quickly swept the room to find Her. I expected someone like my Mother, a bit aged but still dignified, certainly with presence. I jumbled mix of expectations. What I found was entirely different. First, she must be older, but there was no trace of it. I was an exact duplicate of her. It was as if I were looking in a mirror. She lounged on the sofa, one leg thrown over the back edge, wearing a black velvet outfit like the guard. There were five others, dressed the same, but all in different colors.

Tatasha, as she insisted we call her, jumped up with a feline grace and hugged me after a lengthy examination and a smile. Everyone else in the room relaxed.

It's been 500 years since my Weir left with Eric! I think Bison and Claw were going to faint at the idea. I felt sorrow because any family they had was lost to them. How unfair a price they paid for their loyalty to Eric. And myself. I must fix that if I can. At least, I must try.

We talked for a long while; much to much to be put down here. I can try and capture her personality. We had a great many questions, sometimes asked at a frighteningly pace. It wasn't an inquisition but, rather, I think she wanted to get as many questions out before I decided not to answer any more. She was astonishingly frank and forward. When she was introduced to Kate, she asked her who did it to her and was that person dead. Kate spared me by not telling the tale, preferring to answer obliquely. At one point, she even lifted Kate's skirt to see the mechanical contraption that allowed her to walk. I think she was impressed by Kate's ingenuity. For my part, I was waiting for Kate to hit Tatasha…or something. I think we were all stunned by her forwardness. Kate seemed to take it in stride.

We talked a bit about Evander. She thought he was too stiff and headstrong. She was unsurprised at his current duties, though I tried hard to gloss over much of it. She seemed to have expected it. She did mention Ire, and her hatred of the construct. She was also disappointed that we couldn't kill her, but was somewhat appeased that she was imprisoned. She did speak well of Mother, though they had never met. I'd have to mention that to Mother.

She and Evander were very much alike in some fashion, in personality mostly. Tatasha was much more physical, not unlike a feline. As we talked she often moved around the room, touching whomever she was talking to. At one point, she rubbed her cheek with mine, again like a cat. She was fully Weir, this I could tell. And she knew Bison and Claw's lineage, she remembered them. I forgot to ask if all her people were long-lived. Perhaps my Weir have family here.

After a few hours, Byslamia couldn't stand it. She asked about all the frozen people. It unnerved her and amused Tatasha. Apparently, Tatasha didn't want to deal with "stupid people" and did this to avoid anyone knowing she was here. I could see Byslamia's thoughts; all that lost time, cigarettes burning holes in carpet, dinner burning where unattended, how uncomfortable they must be or will be when they "wake" up.

Eventually Tatasha made ready to go. She asked me to visit whenever we liked and I promised to do so as much as I can. She understood that for every year in Amber, ten years passed here. It would be difficult to visit more that once a year, my time. How hard it would be for her to wait 10-20 years?! At least she would not age much. It was eerie to see myself moving and acting so differently. I definitely take after Evander and Mother. I wonder if she thought I was "stiff" as Evander. She also bade me to give her greeting to Evander for her. I'll have plenty of time to think of an appropriate message to give him.

And then she left, and the room got bigger and much, much quieter. Tatasha wasn't what I expected, but she did have presence!


350/4
Eidolon and the Tattoo

I got the tattoo from Crys. My, did it hurt. But only for a little while. Then I felt like I had drunk much wine, without the hangover. We practiced transferring it a few times to make sure I could do it. She would not accept payment, because we were family. It would not be right.

I Trumped Mother and went through to Amber. I caught her up on Tatasha, which amazed her. She was pleased, though, that Tatasha thought well of her. I brought the conversation around to the tattoo, which she was decidedly against. 'Only sailors or convicts wear tattoos," I believe her words were. I explained where it would go and why it was necessary. Thankfully, Florimel came to the rescue and added her voice to mine. Mother reluctantly agreed. What clinched the argument was that this was a gift from family…she didn't want to alienate Evander's family.

Florimel went upstairs to light some meditation candles when I said I had to do this alone without distraction. I certainly didn't want Mother to see me cut him. Upstairs, Eidolon was asleep. I quickly drew my blade and made the necessary cut. He was startled and then decided he absolutely did not appreciate this turn of events. He told me so, loudly. No words necessary then! I quickly finished the "blessing" as the Weir called it and the wound was healed and the tattoo safely transferred. Curiously, Mother had not come running. One suspicious glance at the candles confirmed they were more than mere mediation candles.

I bounced Eidolon around a bit, which he found fun. A few tosses into the air, and he forgot how mean I just was. Laughing, all traces of his anger gone, and we went downstairs. Mother inspected it carefully, dismayed at how large it was. It would grow smaller as he grew and any collar would hide it. She wasn't really happy with the whole thing, but it was done and there was nothing to be done now.

We chatted some more and had Byslamia pulled me through.

351/4

We left the hotel, the personnel none the worse for wear. And into Shadow once more, we went.

358/4
Evil strikes a city

We arrived in a Shadow in some distress. I've tried to let Shadow provide, keeping my influence to a minimum. This was for Kate and I didn't want to take away from her "quest." In front of us was a large city, quite a bit larger than Mycenea, though about the same technologically. Large amounts of people were on the main roads, leaving with whatever they could carry. The only thing anyone could, or would, tell us was that the city had been taken over by evil. Even when night approached, no one stopped moving. In fact, they picked up their pace, refusing. I shouted to a man with little in his hands and a family that we could give him provisions if he liked, they were hungry, that was obvious. He did answer a few questions, though he knew little. An evil darkness had entered the city from a war in a neighboring kingdom. It's was wandering the streets for victims and comes out of darkness and smoke. He hadn't witnessed anything with his own eyes, nor did he know anyone who did. If it was a rumor, it was a powerful one to cause mass evacuation.

We camped for the night and moved forward in the morning. No need to take chances, right? Actually, I wanted Kate to decide. It was, after all, her adventure.

359/4
Vampires!

The city was largely empty. We easily found a building, an inn actually, that was easily defensible. Solid stone with small, few windows. Inside it was painted cheerfully to diminish any claustrophobic effects. We walked around a bit, but I saw no bodies, no evidence of an invasion. I found a clock tower, taller than the surrounding buildings. I climbed up to have a look. Everything was calm, except for a trickle of smoke coming from one area. Otherwise, the horizon was clear, as was the skies.

We walked to the smoke and found a cathedral burning. One building in the whole city was burning. This was the invasion? I began to have a few doubts. There is probably more than what I see.

We did meet a few people who were staying and braving the "enemy" though none of them had seen anything either. We were told that the archbishop had seen proof of the evil, he was at the cathedral. Well…not anymore. The man then suggested the conservatory.

It was a short walk and it too was starting to burn. On the roof, some normal-looking people were setting the roof on fire. I went inside to get as many out as I could. The archbishop was not there, but a sister Antonio was. I found her near the attic, trying to put the fire out. After seeing how effectively they burned the cathedral down, I marshaled as many as I could to get everyone out. They asked if I was with the army and I admitted to martial training, though I did not say I was in their army. They missed the evasion and followed my lead.

We met up with the others. Kate had been examining the situation and said that the city was built on a ley line and someone, something was tapping into it heavily.

Sister Antonio told us about the "eyeless ones", servant's of the evil who are taken over when they are still normal folk. She had also seen a black figure emerge from the shadows at night and throw a man to the ground. The man was gone and the figure moved on.

I wanted to examine one of the eyeless ones, so I managed to throw a rock at one of the men on the roof. It was a long fall and he did not survive, but I did get an examination. His eyes were completely white, no pupil. He was perfectly normal otherwise, except at the collarbone where he had two puncture marks. Kate says it is a vampire. A vampire? Vampires came and stole your dreams or your mind. At least the folklore I've been told. It's why we have shields around our minds, to protect us from them.

Apparently these vampires are physical ones. Not amused at this, we decided to get back to the inn. We would just make it back at dark and I didn't want to get caught with all these people. About 50 or so followed us, since they had no better place to go. At least the inn wouldn't burn down, too much stone, and it was large enough for them all.

360/4
Vampire Hunting

We got back with no incident, though it was fully dark by the time we arrived. We got everyone settled and Byslamia, myself, Kate, Bison, Cutwind, Claw and Sister Antonio had ourselves a bit of a council. We learned that the vampires can't face anyone of the True Faith (whatever that would be here), can't stand sunlight, but they are very strong with a distinct hierarchy of command and power. They bite you and that acts to infect, to take over your mind and will. It was obvious what we needed to do was to catch one and let Kate find out what she can. No one was happy about the plan, but we needed information. We don't really know what these people worship here is good. Perhaps the "invasion" is a good thing. I doubt it, having seen their tactics, but I made my point.

I opted to take Claw with me. The acolytes watched from the far corners of the inn as she rubbed ashes from the fireplace all over her face and arms; any exposed skin. Good camouflage. I was to be the bait. But not a helpless one. I took the Helm with me, for mental protection should I get bitten.

Outside it was very dark, very quiet. It's amazing how loud people are when suddenly they're gone. Two hours of wandering led to very little in the way of evidence. I did find two guys looting a townhouse. They were carrying a trunk out and being quite loud about it. They noticed me and gave a shout for me to be on our way. I said nothing. I was in a theatrical mood, I think. I was mostly cloaked, to hide the Helm, but some of the glow must have leaked out. I approached and saw that they were more of the eyeless ones. One asked "Are you a goddess?"
I said "Somewhere, someone would say I am."

They ran.

All right, then. I ran after and managed to catch one. He immediately set to calling for his "Master" while I tied him up and rendered him unconscious. I picked him up to take to the inn. Perhaps Kate could get something out of him.

About halfway back, a man jumped from a nearby building, and lands in front of me. It was at least 40" from the roof to the street. He looked normal enough. He wanted his servant back. I refuse. He approached and we parley some more. I put the man down and say that he better keep care of his servant. I have this one and now its mine. I meant it as a challenge and he took it as such.

He was quick. I'll give him that. But totally untrained with a sword. He couldn't move fast enough before my 36" of steel stopped him. He did get a strike in once, always going to the head and shoulders. That made defense easy and I got a blow to his ribs which we conveniently unprotected. That caused him to back up and I pressed forward. He offered to let me live if I left. I declined the offer and he leapt up to a nearby roof. Damn, he was going to get away. I taunted him. "At least I don't have to run away and break protection with my servants." Or something to that effect. He came down and made a rush for me.

He was angry, untrained and therefore out of control. He rushed, I sidestepped and sent him into a wall. It took a few moments to tie him up. I called for Claw, who emerged from the shadows where she was watching, and sent her for something to tie him up with. She took her skirt off and we tore it for bindings. She grabbed the eyeless one and I the master, and we headed to the inn.

All along the way, the "master" shouted and threatened until I had to gag him. Inside when he saw all the acolytes surrounding him, he got immensely quiet and subdued. Afraid.
He almost had a chance to escape. Claw had gotten rid of her skirt, so she was naked from the waist down. I was in combat mode…all niceties went to the wayside. The acolytes, seeing her, turned aside in embarrassment, leaving a hole in the ring of faith around the vampire. Fortunately, either I was in the way or he decided to attack me rather than get out. I yelled for them to get back in line and all was calm once more.

I spoke with him a bit. It is hard to strike a conversation when one half in blatantly hostile, but I tried. I might learn something before Kate got there. I did find out his name is Carl. Carl? Carl the Evil Vampire? It didn't fit.

Kate entered and I distracted Carl while she made her way into the circle. With little delay, she went into his mind.

And he promptly died. He shut down completely. Well, he was already dead, being a vampire. Ugh, why hadn't anyone mentioned that little fact to me? Mycenean vampires aren't dead. They just steal life and minds to live longer. Shudder.

Anyway, most of the Masters had moved to the crypts under the cathedral after it had burned down. Some sort of irony, I guess, to defiled the place and then move into the ruins and basement. There are 60 vampires, each having 3-5 eyeless per. Oh my, that's a lot of vampires. And Carl was decidedly not one of the powerful ones. There was also a necromancer, perhaps the leader of the vampires. He was human, but he was powerful. The vampires work for him and he can be active in the daylight.

We disposed of Carl and tried to rest for the rest of the night. We have a lot of work ahead of us.

360/4

The day started and ended busily. I had everyone round up as much oil and flammables as they could get. I sent a few out for fire trucks, three or more being ideal. The plan was simple. Two of the trucks get filled with oil that we will douse on the cathedral in the hopes it leaks into the basement. We'll do this by daylight. Kate will work to keep the necromancer busy. The third truck will stay as water. The pressure should keep the eyeless at bay for a while. Hopefully, if the vampires die, the influence over these will disperse. As a nice touch, Sister Antonio blessed the water in the last truck.

We were able to finish by early afternoon, far too late to get to the cathedral and do anything before nighttime. We put it all in the stable and had to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, I had everyone shoring up defenses around the inn, just in case.

Nothing much happened. At midnight there was an attempt at a break-in which failed. I suspected they were going for the roof. If a plan works you stay with it, right? Well, they were predictable. I sent Claw and Sister Antonio up. Claw was more agilely on the peaked roof than I would have been and Sister Antonio had the faith to back up the power. At least it would be unlikely that Sister Antonio would throw herself into the fight and foul up Claw and hurt both of them. She seemed sensible.

There were eyeless up there and Claw dispatched them all, easily.

361/4
Burn!

Dawn came and everyone woke, filled with a purpose. They were eager to fight the evil and they were scared, too. No wonder. They've had no training in anything like this.

We moved the trucks out and attached the horses. I did convince two to leave the city with packets outlining what we were doing. If we failed, someone needed to know what happened. Who knows. The vampires might be arrogant enough to keep their lair where it was, giving anyone after us a second chance. The two I chose protested. Actually I chose them because they were little more than children and didn't need this experience just yet. I also didn't want them to die. I made them feel a little guilty and persuaded them of the necessity of it. Reluctantly, they agreed. I sent them off and we set out.

We did have a bit of a street fight as we made our way along. Large numbers of eyeless attacked, trying to stop us. Perhaps, 30-40 at a time. The rest must surely be around the cathedral. We were lucky that the eyeless were equally trained. If the vampires are from a nearby war, they did not pass any of the expertise to their servants. All in all, we lost only 3 or 4 people, despite my groups lack of training.

At the cathedral we were met with a rough barricade. We had to move in to remove it and that was when the necromancer attacked. Glowing, spinning purple forms, not unlike caltrops, flew through the air. When it hit a person, they fell, seriously ill. If someone got hit twice, they died. I yelled to get cover and pointed to trashcan lids and broken down doors to use as protection. Damn, I should have tried to arm them better!

Kate quickly figured out where the spells were coming from and engaged him in magical combat. It kept him busy while we went at the barricade. I could only hope she could do it long enough.

We got the trucks in close enough and began spilling the oil. The trucks were meant for water and the mechanisms eventually got fouled up with the oil. By the time we got it all out, we had only 5 hours of daylight left. It was about 3 bells when Kate cast a fire spell to light it up. The stench was incredible as black smoke filled the area. We could hear the vampires dying. I could only hope we got most of them.

We waited for an hour or two and then headed back for the safety of the inn. We couldn't afford the time to search for the necromancer. We were attacked once or twice but my Weir handled them easily. Actually, they were riding high at the opportunity for a fight.

We got back and inside without mishap. The adrenaline rush was leaving most of them, though they still glowed with that fervor of doing something holy. I made sure defenses were up and watches were set. We wouldn't know if we succeeded until we checked the area tomorrow.

362/4
Vampire attack

About 2 in the morning, they struck back. There was no warning whatsoever. One second all was quiet, the next the double doors in the entry were blown in. I had slipped into a light sleep so I woke quickly. So did the Weir. I grabbed my Helm and sword and raced to the noise.

In walked the necromancer surrounded by spinning lights. I threw a chair at the lights and it vanished without the slightest pause in his defense. It was then that I got a good look at the necromancer. I recognized him. It was the same being I saw Lord DeWinter speaking to in DoBlique's mirror. With a sinking heart my memory was proven correct as DeWinter himself walked in. He went straight for Cutwind, sending him crashing into a wall to crumple to the floor.

I got into his range and called his name. There was no recognition and I saw he had the fangs of a vampire. Was he one of them. I yelled that he was to be taken alive. Claw heard and alternately, we fought him. Lady, he was fast! As fast as Dalt. Claw, behind him, crept up while I fought with sword and hamstrung him with a claw. I called for him to surrender, but got no response. What was I supposed to do? Behind me, Kate and the necromancer were dueling, magically, the area a-glow with spells.

Cutwind had recovered and he and Claw tackled him. DeWinter calmly reached up to Claw and I could hear the snap as he easily broke her forearm. I had no choice. I pierced his heart with my sword and he went down. I made a bad miscalculation. Usually when a person gets there heart injured they stop moving. DeWinter did not. He lashed out and I felt his claw slash through my throat. I retreated leaving my sword in him, trying to breath. There was little left of my throat and I managed to open my windpipe before I suffocated. DeWinter was still moving, Kate was shaking from the effort the battle was taking on her, the necromancer seemed unfazed, and the vampires were slaughtering where they could. The vampires couldn't approach then, for the acolytes held their holy symbol in front. But they could throw objects. I saw one or two go down under a well-thrown table. We were losing, and badly. I had made a promise to keep Kate safe.

I grabbed my Trump and called Random. It was slow making contact. He was obviously asleep but he woke quickly when he saw me. I must have looked terrible with my hands holding open a ruined throat, blood every where. He reached to pull me through and I managed to croak out that he had to send help here. He said to bring him through. I got out "Vampires" and pulled.

And there he was, stark naked, in the middle of the battle. He grabbed a sword, worked around the necromancer, sacrificed the sword to bring down the barrier and then killed him. Kate collapsed against the wall, the only thing holding her up were her mechanical legs.

Random made his way around the room. He had a vicious style, perfect for getting a dirty job done quickly and surely. For all that, he was good, very good. I'll have to remember that. Toward the back of the room I saw Byslamia giving as good as she got. I wanted to cheer. She was indomitable! I was proud.

Within minutes, the vampires were dead and despite the recent battle, the acolytes still blushed when they saw Random. A tiny portion of my mind laughed at the whole idea. I could only imagine some of the stories of the naked warriors that fight for the Good! Ah, Lady!

I went to DeWinter and saw he was fading away, like a mummy turning to dust in minutes instead of centuries. When I pulled the blade out, he immediately began to heal. What was I to do with him? How could I explain this to DoBlique? I put it back in.

Sister Antonio came up and said the head had to be severed and the whole body blessed before it would rest. With a very heavy heart, I did it. I hadn't expected to feel so badly. I stood silent as she blessed the body. It immediately turned to dust. As did all of the others as they got similar treatment.

Sister Antonio reached for my wound, I suppose to staunch it. There was a brief flash and it was healed. The room went silent at this and she stood looking at her hands. She looked up, all wide-eyed, "I've never done that before," and promptly fainted. I didn't have even one scar.

The Weir were all fine, and ready for more. I don't ever want to meet that which would demoralize them!

Random, too, was looking terribly pleased with it all. I don't think he does this sort of thing, perhaps he misses it. Just before he Trumped back, after I Trumped Vialle, he winked, "Be safe out there!" and he was gone. I have no idea how he'll explain this to Vialle. I'll leave it to him.

Dawn came and I took the Weir to the cathedral. We were the only ones with the energy. Along the way, we found a few of the eyeless ones, wandering aimlessly. Without there masters, they were automatons. I told them where to stay ( a place across the street from the inn) in the hopes these people could be recovered. But we found no more vampires.

Later that day, the army finally arrived, with a long trail of people following. I did my best to gather us all up to leave but wasn't fast enough. With much exaggeration about my role, I was made an honorary bishop. I didn't so much as crack a smile at the thought! I don't even know who they worship! Sister Antonio was made an abbess and all the acolytes had their careers made since they stayed to fight the evil.

As soon as it was possible (we had to wait until the clogged roads were cleared of people) we left. The whole bishopric-thing amused everyone. Once, when no one was looking Claw even curtsied me. I made to throttle her, but didn't mean it. It was all in fun.

365/4
Return the Helm

We traveled for a bit, blissfully without incident. I did worry how I was going to tell DoBlique what I had done. I know it was in self-defense, but she only had two brothers and now she would be stuck with Dalt. My association with her was doomed.

I dropped everyone off in a neighboring Shadow while I returned to Helm I've been called a paladin in Glantri, a bishop in our last one, the Lady knows I don't want them to get wind that these people think I'm a goddess. I'd never hear the end of it. I don't know why I keep getting cast like this, I'm certainly none of those things. Sigh. I just pray I never think I am any of those things. I'd be unbearable.

So I returned the Helm and got back quickly. Now, it's on to Glantri.

6/5
Glantri

Oh, the joys of a feather bed and hot showers! I think I slept an entire day and used up all the hot water they had. It was wonderful. Everyone, with the exception of the Weir, really needed this. I'm a little in the middle of the others and the Weir. The Weir could have lived on the road forever, and the others were not used to it. I liked both. The best of both worlds, I guess.

Lady Merton, the ambassador of Amber, had received my note of impeding arrival. She had seen that rooms were ready and had a list of respected hypnotists. The one I saw was simply called Granny. She was literally the oldest woman I had ever seen. She'd been retired for a while, so I went to her. She doesn't get out much these days.

The session was quickly done and I got my answer. It was as if I was back in the woods with the snow wyrms, except it seemed that there was more light. The blurred face of my rescuer came into focus, clearly as a Trump. It was DeWinter. I knew it!

I hope I thanked her before I left. I told Byslamia what I'd learned. Then I told her I had to go to DoBlique. She deserved to know. I did not tell her that DoBlique would likely either try to kill me, or would certainly declare vengeance.

I can't say for certain why I felt I had to tell her. She would never know it was me that killed her brother. At best, she would assume he died by something in Shadow. It was always a real possibility. But, I guess despite how some might feel about her line, she is Family.

But that's not entirely true. I feel badly about what I had done. Even though it was in self-defense. I think I like DeWinter more than I realized. How much, I'm not really sure. I've not been the object of silly romantic attentions, nor have I given them, so I'm not sure just what is going on. And now I'll never know for certain.

I set off with a heavy heart.

11/5
Castle Black

It took longer to get there, the usual route being mired in deep snow. I didn't want to fall into a hidden crevasse or get stuck in an avalanche, so it took an extra day or so to get there. I arrived in the early morning. Icicles and snow decorated the tops of the castle wall. I went through the usual performance with the guard. The last time, DoBlique had left instructions that I was to be let through. Well, this time, they didn't use weapons; one just punched my horse unconscious and was preparing to brawl with me.

I was in no mood for this. I struck him with the flat of my blade a few times and the captain of the watch came out. They spoke in their odd tongue and I guess that even unarmed fighting was not what DoBlique had had in mind. The captain threw the hapless guard into the moat, where something lived, and escorted me inside.

The guard went to DoBlique's room and with a swift kick, shunted the doors open. She was a-bed, clearly having breakfast. To say she was startled would be an understatement. Where did she get these guys?

I chatted about possibly getting more suitable ones until I realized I was avoiding what I had to say. She ordered breakfast, but I didn't want to eat right then. She may very well regret extending me hospitality once I told her my story.

I told it quietly and not very well. I made rude comments from time to time, making her angry. Why? I think I wanted her angry with me. Because I was angry with myself? I don't know. After it was done, she sat there clearly furious. I wanted her to try and contact him. If it had been him, she would get nothing, but there could be any number of reasons for that. If it hadn't been him, well, we'll figure out what was next. Essentially what she said was that if it wasn't him, she didn't care. If it was him, because she can call him back (really?!) then she would torture me until I am dead. The situation couldn't get more grim than that.

She left then to make preparations. I was left for about ten minutes, plenty of time for me to Trump out if I wanted. But what would be the purpose of coming here, then? If it had been DeWinter, then I was guilty. And I couldn't let her take vengeance out on any member of the Family. What if she lived by a code of equal punishment? That would put Eidolon at risk, and I couldn't do that. No, it was best to stay.

She returned and she made a deal. We will try to find him. If he returns and is a vampire, he will attack. Would I kill him? She did not want to become one, so I said yes. It did occur to me that the one who betrayed him and made him a vampire was actually her enemy, but declined to speak of it at that moment. If this happened, she would allow me to leave, but she would then find me, to kill. Sigh. I agreed.

In her laboratory, she cast a circle in front of the mirror. It darkened. Slowly, faint lights could be seen, like a dim cast of stars in a dark sky. Below a figure could be seen moving. DeWinter! Alive!

Oh, yes alive and fighting a lot of vampires. Even in the dim light I could see he was wounded here and there, though they didn't seem grave. I told her to send me through. I was told she had constrained the spell so he couldn't get through to her. Nor could she send me through without casting a spell within a spell. I admit to being a little harsh when I told her to get on with it.

She knelt down, into a meditative pose and slowly black smoky ribbons crept across the floor to me. The almost looked like insubstantial imitations of the Logrus tendrils, I'd once seen. They wrapped around my feet, working their way up. As they did, wherever they touched went numb. I hopes she knew what she was doing, but didn't dare move or talk for fear of disturbing her.

The next thing I knew, the world went black and I was on the battlefield. My body came alive, like an arm that has gone asleep, but now it was the entire body. I stamped and rubbed to get feeling back, getting my sword in my hand as quickly as I could.

Around me there were hundreds of bodies, some still moving. I shouted to DeWinter that I was at his back and not to attack me. He was startled and then shouted back why didn't she bring him back. There was no time for explanation, I just said she couldn't do it right now. He cursed and said we had to last 30 minutes until dawn. That didn't seem too long, though he looked like he'd been fighting for a while. I assured him we could, no would make it. He was a bit more sarcastic about the idea.

So we fought. It was the most difficult battle I've been in to date. I only fought one vampire before, here there seemed to be hundreds. Occasionally we had to slip one way or another to avoid the crawling bits that kept trying to attach or attack us. Still, it was nice not to have to worry about our rears. Still, we hadn't any practice at this sort of thing, so every once in a while one or the other would elbow the other accidentally. I'm sure to an outsider it looked almost comical.

Still, we made it. The vampires pressed harder as the sky turned pink. They were suicidal, not caring if they were caught out in the open or not. Their only goal was to see us dead.

The sun rose painfully slowly. But, as the rays hit the earth they left a path of self-immolating destruction behind it as the remains of the vampires were destroyed. It was a rippling haze as it swept toward us and past, leaving silence behind. I watch carefully but DeWinter was completely unaffected by the rays.

We leaned on our swords, gaining our breath.

Then he told me how annoying I was.

First I take him to Glantri to be healed and then summon a unicorn to heal him, now showing up here. He wanted to know why I volunteered to come through to help. How could I explain? I couldn't leave him, or anyone for that matter, to fight these things while I watched. I knew what he was facing. I think he had some difficulty with the concept of empathy and altruism, but he'll learn. For now, he thinks I'm just "strange."

DoBlique's voice came through faintly, saying she will be able to bring us through. He replied that it was a little late, but he'd take it.

Again the black ribbons enveloped us and we were again in her laboratory, stamping and rubbing our bodies awake. To his surprise, DoBlique ran up and hugged us both. He made a feeble attempt to look as if he weren't really enjoying it, but I made no such pretense. Everyone was alive and the world was good again.

Then DoBlique slapped him.

Hard.

With a loud voice, surprising for one so little, she yelled at his stupidity, and how could he work with them knowing how she felt about vampires, don't you know how she hates them? He stood before the barrage, having no chance to get a word in edgewise. Then they argued and she slapped him again. I had to wince, for he was in no great shape.

Then she noticed we were scratched, sliced, gouged and bruised. She went to her table and began concocting…something. It was black and gooey and that's all I can say about it. She explained it was to stop any vampire infection. DeWinter just stood there, trying to figure out what was going on. Doesn't he know she was reacting to the fear and anguish of the past few hours? Apparently not. Nevertheless, she was obviously in control of the situation. She would not let him leave until she saw to his wounds and he was too exhausted to argue. I was on her side.

She ordered him to strip. . He made some indications toward me but she wasn't about to listen. I think she was paying a little back for her own worry. She whispered something threatening, I think, into his ear and he complied. He had a number of bite marks and scratches all over, mostly when…parts had gotten through his defenses.

I'm not particularly body-shy, but he was, it was…extremely evident, as only men can show. I should have done the right thing and turned away but I admit, he was nice to look at. That all battles should end this way! All too soon she was done and he was striped from head to tow with the black goo. At least it had no scent to speak of. DoBlique turned to me and said it was my turn. I immediately complied and DeWinter was out the door before I got more than two buttons opened.

I hadn't been fighting nearly as long as DeWinter, so I hadn't nearly as many wounds. She did look curiously at me and asked if I was a Trump master. I didn't think it showed but I said I was learning. She then asked what I would ask in payment if I could make one of her brother. Really, the only payment is time. And as an Amberite, I had that aplenty. I would do it freely. She too remarked that I was strange. Well, at least the two agree on something.

She offered me a beautiful robe of black silk, except it felt inches thick when it was actually lightweight, and it felt like mink. I expressed my appreciation and she immediately gave it to me. I accepted it, knowing she wanted to give me something for what happened.

Before she showed me to some rooms, she went to his rooms to get some answers about what he had been doing. It was no surprise to me that he had collapsed on the bed, half on and half off. She tried to rouse him but he was fully unconscious. He would be mightily sore in the morning if he slept that way, so I arranged him more comfortably. I think DoBlique would have left him there….she holds her anger in for a long time, I think. Perhaps she was surprised that I went through the effort.

She showed me to a large bedroom, all done in deep purples and black. It was all I remember before falling asleep.

12/5
Dark Lilith

I woke up, daylight streaming in. It was early morning I think. It was hard to tell with the gray skies, a snowstorm waiting to erupt. I found my clothes carefully mended and cleaned. I got dressed and padded through the halls to the public rooms. It was quiet. I think everyone was still asleep.

I went back to my room and used the bell pull. Within a few minutes, a pale skeletal woman scratched at my door. I bade her to enter and asked for some tea. Not knowing what they had, I left the decision of what type to her.

When she left, I went to see to my horse. He needed to be fed, or at the lease, moved around. As I crossed the drawbridge an alarm erupted followed with shouts about an escaping slave. My head sagged as I realized they must mean me. I tried to get back to the castle and did, in fact get inside, but not before the others caught up and got in. So, I had to fight her guards again. I did order for one to get the captain of the guard and one of them actually started calling out for him. That caused another to turn on the shouter and begin bashing him into a wall.

That left an even dozen for me. It took a few minutes but I subdued them into unconsciousness without killing any of them. I stopped the one from bouncing his…compatriot, and sent him to go get the captain. I did have to hold open the door since he seemed to try and walk through it. He was so addled, I doubted he'd make it. But, within a few minutes he was back, in a way. The door opened and he bounced through, literally. What followed was a woman with jet-black skin and pale white hair. She was slender in the extremely, but it looked natural, not starved. She spoke in a soft whisper, more threatening than if she shouted.

I explained what happened and why I wanted to go outside. She seemed to know who I was. She led me to where the kitchens were and chose a servant to see to my horse. When we entered it was a boisterous place full of talking and working. When she entered, I could hear even the water sitting still in the bucket. There was a great deal of fear and respect here. Perhaps more fear, than respect. Still, the chosen one went to feed my horse. She warned him that if anything happened to the horse, he would die. Charming.

I thanked her for her help and help rouse the unconscious guards. She did so by kicking them and stamping on them, I simply shook them really hard. I found that…informative. I guess I didn't meet her requirements for ruthlessness. Hopefully, I won't have to test that out.

In my rooms tea was waiting. At least, I think it was tea. It was black, hissing and smoking. I thanked her and dismissed her and poured a few cups out the window so she didn't think I was rude and didn't drink it.

I occupied myself with my morning meditation. A few hours later came the familiar scratching at the door. The woman had returned and announce that Lady DoBlique was up and ready to receive.

I was escorted to her bedroom where she was taking her morning breakfast. I think it was about 9 bells. She was drinking the same tea as I had been given. Apparently it is safe. We chatted and ate and I said I had to be getting back. Byslamia would be wondering what had happened. DoBlique asked the servant if DeWinter was up and bade her to check again when she was told he was still asleep. When told he was still asleep, she excused herself. A few minutes later a heard a scream. Half rising, wondering what I should do, DoBlique returned. "He's awake." Well!

DeWinter entered annoyed that the breakfast had all been eaten and was in a terrible mood. DoBlique settled down and said we should tell our stories. I started since he seemed a bit mulish at the whole idea. I got through the bare essentials of it, waiting for him to start his side. He did ask a few questions, such as "Then you didn't have anything to do with the Dragon?" Dragon? No, thank you, but no. Whatever it was about, that, at least, was not my doing. It was then that a loud gong sounded. DeWinter immediately excused himself and raced out the door. DoBlique followed and after a moment's hesitation, so did i.

I followed them to the courtyard and then stopped in my tracks. Outside it was pitch black, I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face. I backed up until I could feel the doors behind me. I re-entered the castle and saw the darkness seeping into it. Thinking it was a spell, I closed the door. I had a hard moment deciding which side I was going to be on, in or out, but I didn't want to leave them without some help.

Outside I heard a voice, whispery. It simply said "DeWinter". I don't know what possessed me, but I said "Sorry, can't have him." "Who said that?" it replied. The extent of my witty repertoire was "Me."

I moved cautiously forward and promptly hit a wall. I thought it was a wall, until I felt the scales under my hands. I would imagine this was the dragon DeWinter had referred to. I must really hold my tongue. It asked who I was. I told it "Princess Cassandra of Amber." "Amber…yes I smell the truth of your words." Well, it probably would have been worse to lie. It got very cold suddenly and I backed up again, hitting another wall. The tail? I remarked that it was a bit dark and it said it would fix it for me.

Suddenly the world seemed bright even under grey clouds. I heard DeWinter shout "There it is!" Of course it was. How could anyone miss seeing it. The first wall I'd hit was the chest. The second was it's hand in which I was encircled. The black dragon stood as tall as the castle and filled the entire courtyard. Still, it was slender, almost fragile-looking. It peered at me along a snout at least 50' long and I wished Julian were here. It called me "pretty Cassandra" a number of times and introduced herself as Lilith, before recalling its purpose here.

It turned its attention to DeWinter. She ( I suppose with that name it was female) told him she wanted her medallion back. He told her to go out of the caste and he'd talk with her. Quick as lightning, her tongue lashed out, enveloping his head. He cried out and she retracted it. His face was as if it had severe frostbite and his hands went for his eyes. He, more respectfully, reminded her that this was his castle and that he would be happy to discuss this outside the castle walls. She complied and in a blink, was gone.

DoBlique went to meet him as did I. He did not look well. He didn't say much, aside that he didn't have the medallion, it was lost on the battlefield. He started to go talk with Lilith. I asked if I could help and the look he gave me was both scared and resigned to what would happen. I made to follow but DoBlique held me back, asking what I could do except get killed with him. It was then that I realized that my armband never went off! Perhaps there wasn't any really danger, unless DeWinter said something wrong. I pulled away and followed.

I only had a minute or two before I would catch up, so I surreptitiously Trumped Julian. In the few seconds I had, he told me I was in grave danger, more so than anything he could imagine. That sent chills along my spine. Still, I was partially committed here. He said he would ready a task force. Wonderful. Well, if anyone could get me out of a mess, it was Julian. Provided it didn't die right away.

DeWinter was surprised (and annoyed, I think) at me barging in on their conversation. He asked me to excuse myself from their private conversation and Lilith invited me to stay. He was starting out so well, I believed he'd be dead within a few minutes. I supposed with lack of sleep on top of his recent wounds did not make him diplomatic. I was in better shape, so I elected to stay.

Lilith called me pretty again and asked if I would visit her residence. Frankly, despite my armband, I was scared. I politely refused, stating I had other obligations at this time. She said she would find me when my obligations were done. I didn't feel much better, but since my obligations were to my family, that was lifelong and she was welcome to visit me after I died.

She asked about the medallion and DeWinter admitted he didn't have it. The conversation didn't go well, and Lilith made motion that her patience was wearing thin. I asked if I could speak with Lord DeWinter alone for a minute and she granted me "many minutes".

I asked him why doesn't he offer to find it for her. He said because he didn't know where it was. He also, not so politely, told me to leave. When I didn't move, he said that the necromancer (yes, remember him?) that hired him had it. He must have fallen and that was when all the vampire lost control and attacked. Sigh. So I was the reason he was in this predicament. If I hadn't mounted the assault and then called Random, the medallion would be back in her hands. I must have made some comment to that effect for DeWinter shouted an indignant "What!" as I turned back to Lilith.

Who was no more than 18" away. Listening. I told her that I might know where it was and asked if she couldn't give Lord DeWinter some time to retrieve it. I was just about to offer to assist in retrieving in when DeWinter began making noises about this being his land, his conversation, his problem. Really, he is exasperating. I elbowed him, lightly to quiet him and he hits me across the head. Here I am, offering a way of from becoming an Amberite icicle and he's trying to establish social dominance over me and a dragon hundreds of feet long. I lost my temper, turned and hit him across the jaw. He fell immediately.

I turned back. Lilith seemed to find this all fascinating and said we'd make a lovely couple. I almost laughed at the odd statement. I tried to get some agreement done before he woke and got up, but failed. She did make some veiled threats after DoBlique (wanting to know which one was her) and her ability to destroy the castle. After reestablishing the conversation, she calmly said, "The matter of the medallion is closed if you propose to Princess Cassandra."

I stood agape. From the silence next to me, I think he did as well. This was turning into a most odd encounter. DeWinter asked her to repeat it, which she did, and then asked for a few minutes. Again, she granted many minutes.

We moved away again. His idea was sound. He proposes and I refuse, matter ended. I shook my head and indicated that she could probably hear us. He turned and yes, she was a foot or two away. After some indignation, he got on one knee (is that how they do it in Amber?) and proposed that I should consider a proposal for becoming betrothed. I tried to gracefully accept to consider a proposal and Lilith replied "Lovely. It brings tears to my eyes." Or something to that effect. I could see DoBlique at the gates wondering what in the world was going on out here.

Lilith said that he has some small potential and I should consider my answer carefully. Since she overheard him discussing the plan for me to refuse, I could only think she meant that I should consider not refusing. At least, not offhand. Perhaps. Then, with another wink, she was gone.

We made our way back, he complaining that I hit him. I remarked that I would have to find my horse…it obviously ran at the sight, or smell of the dragon. He was caustic and said the horse was smarter that I. I smiled and said that it, at least, did not try and talk back to the dragon.
So we argued the walk back, cutting it off once we were in range of the others. I left him to be tended by her and asked if they could find my horse. I Trumped Byslamia and went back to Glantri.

13/5

I Trumped Julian and told him the task force wasn't necessary. I briefly outlines what happened and, oddly, he was more concerned. He asked to be pulled through and I complied, wondering what had gone wrong.

Well, he did not find the situation humorous. In fact, he said it was worse. Lilith is a collector…she tries collecting Amberites. He's tried to kill her 5 times and failed. Oh. The idea of Julian failing in a hunt was…amazing. So was the notion that Lilith didn't kill him. Both spoke volumes that I was in over my head. Lilith doesn't think like a person…she's more incomprehensible. But she does have a plan. The question is, is she trying to get me or both DeWinter and myself. If she wanted DeWinter alone, she could have taken him anytime. As for her weakness, Julian said he was it. He believes it is his destiny to destroy her. Honestly, I don't think I could think of trying something like that.

When Julian left I had a lot to think about. If Lilith was interested in collecting, we had three choices for her target. Myself, DeWinter, or both. If I accept, she's got any choice. If I refuse, it narrows it down where he is, hopefully, only minimally in danger. .If she went for me, I had the resources of Amber where he does not. Also, it will be a while until he recovers, and I have no idea how long Lilith will wait. I think she wants both of us. Eliminating that choice, she'll have to make a move. The question then becomes, just how prepared can I be?

About the proposal, I did think long about this. I do like DeWinter, more that I think I should. Even without the danger of Lilith hanging over our heads, I would have to refuse. First, there is Dalt. I might get used to the idea of him being a closer relation but I don't think he would. He might see it as a betrayal to him. The three of them have had only each other for a long time and it would be cruel to force them to choose against losing a brother for gaining a family that might accept them. And Dalt could very well come after them. And I must admit, I wonder what associations I would lose. I rarely see most of the Family, but I do worry what Julian or Random would say. Petty? Perhaps, but family means a great deal to me.

I guess I don't know him well enough to know what the right decision is. I'll have to take it up with him, to some extent.

17/5

I went back to Castle Black. After I fought the guards, I was let in. DoBlique said he was recuperating slowly and was very irritable. DoBlique joined us at the table which annoyed him to no end. It was clear he had told her about Lilith's… compromise. At least they were close enough to share the information. Or else, she drugged him.

I almost wished she weren't there, for I wanted to talk about the…situation. It turned out it didn't matter. I clearly said, many times, that the only reason I was refusing was to eliminate a threat to him and DoBlique. Perhaps I was too subtle, because he didn't understand that otherwise I would be considering it. I guess I wasn't ready to blurt it out and his denseness was becoming too much. I turned down the proposal, to which he replied, "Of course" and went on about what we could do against Lilith. It was then that I threw my hands up and left. Exasperating.

DoBlique followed me outside, worried to distraction. She offered an exchange of information and started. He wasn't doing well and she thought he might not gain vision in his left eye. That disturbed me. I could try and get him to Glantri. They would treat him, I'm sure. She tried to explain that his offhand manner was of one who could not conceive of any Amberite taking an interest in them. That Amber has always been "up there" while they've been below. That made me sadder because I didn't want him to think that I thought he was… less than anyone else. But I couldn't say that without revealing my own feelings which would just make things more complicated. I realized then that any pursuit of a relationship other than platonic would not be appropriate right then and I resolved not to say anything of the matter.

We talked about contingency plans and she hinted that she could keep him bedridden for a while. I had to smile. What lengths she will go to, to keep him safe! Still, there was little for us to do unless we got help. She said if we were taken by Lilith, and I do think she included me in this, that she would find us and rescue us with whatever she had. Unfortunately, she had precious little against a creature like that. I said I would try and get permission to get her to Amber. She can't find it on her own, but if she was once there, she could find her way back.

The look she gave me was one of astonishment. That I would offer her Amber… I think it has been a unreal dream. I mentally said a few unkind things about Dalt. He was a solid reason for their isolation from the family. If he could get there, why shouldn't they? I told her I couldn't promise anything, but I'd try. We agreed to meet in a few days to see where we are.

I left, wondering if I should ask Gerard to his support with this matter. It would go over much better than Julian's help. Still, Julian knows Lilith. Well, we'll see where this falls.

What bothered me more was that DeWinter was possibly losing his sight. DoBlique wasn't sure he would let many see him, but it was worth a try. I Trumped Owen and explained the situation. Owen was a bit hesitant, because she was unsure of her welcome. DoBlique settled that by inviting Owen herself. After all, it is her castle.

While Owen was gathering what she needed, we went to convince DeWinter of the positive aspect to Owen's visit. He was surly and not truly amenable, but he agreed to see her—eventually. When Owen did appear, she had to go through his interview before he would let her even examine him. Once he agreed, we were dismissed.

Outside DoBlique and I had a chance to talk. Apparently, DeWinter and Dalt are not on speaking terms right now. It seems that DeWinter heard about Dalt striking DoBlique and did not approve. I'm glad. It means they are close and he will protect her if he can. And visa versa. But that is not the only reason. Dalt has been using Amberite names and titles in Shadow. DeWinter feels this will only annoy or anger Amberites, bring further harm on the family in the future and is very foolish. I can't help but agree.

Right now they have no relationship with Amber and I can see how much that means to her. If I can, I'd like to change that, for these two. Dalt has made his relationship with them, but I fail to see why these must suffer for it. As for the oldest child, I have no idea. One step at a time.

The examination did not take long. We were allowed back in and Owen stated she would be taking him to another Shadow for treatment. Within minutes they were gone. Well. I looked at DoBlique and she shrugged.

With an indeterminable amount of time available, I told her about Yule Night. She was interested and we were soon immersed in her wardrobe, considering appropriate attire. Florimel would be proud. She had a number of splendid outfits which would fit in well. It wasn't but a half hour when Owen Trumped to come through with DeWinter. He stepped through surprised to find himself in DoBlique's rooms with dresses littered everywhere. He looked good. All the tension was gone and he was more relaxed than I've seen him in a long time. He looked around at the mess and headed out. With a quick goodbye, Owen and I Trumped to Amber for a few words.

It was my intention to ask Random about bringing them to Yule. Owen mentioned something about amnesty prevailing at the event and I wanted to first see if it applied to them and second, to warn him I might bring them. Owen offered to accompany me. Frankly, I think I could use any allies for this and she seems to approve of the idea.

We went up and were invited in. I filled Random in on some of the details of Lilith's "bargain". He was just as insistent that she was dangerous as Julian was. He related that Lilith once stole Kinkel and one of Stargazer's children. He described her as a being of infinite power. If the Amberites destroyed, obliterated, a Shadow she was in (is that possible?—all those people!) she would remain, unharmed. He even said that Morgenstern was bred to ride with Julian against her. All other mounts were killed when he tried. It was clear there was nothing DeWinter or I could do to stop her. One good note: Lilith has not (could not?) come to Amber itself. Another reason to bring the two here.

Then I made my argument. Essentially, I wanted to appeal to his sense of fairness. I expected to be exiled when Evander made his move in the castle. I wasn't. Shouldn't these two be given a chance? He winced a bit, not particularly enthralled by the whole notion. His concern was with the history of theirs. In particular, he said he'd have to warn Bleys they might be there. Years earlier, Bleys had killed their mother.

That threw me. It was all so damn frustrating. Just when I think there is the possibility of rectifying some of the fissures between family members, something else comes up. Sigh. I so wanted this to be a joyous affair and I could be ruining it all with my actions. How would I deal with that? Of course, both DeWinter and DoBlique would have to agree to abide by the terms of amnesty. That is, if they still bear ill will. It was a long time ago and they were much younger.

We did discuss the possibility that Dalt would find out about this and take umbrage (the second part is a given). The question is, what would he do to them? I failed to see why they did not simply deal with Dalt in a permanent fashion. Both Owen and Random agree that he is a sociopath, probably incurably. This led to a long discussion about Amberites, Shadow and the consequences of the 4th child. When a couple bear children, there is a mingling, sharing of power. By the third child, it is intense and focused. But, should they bear a fourth child, that same power is uncontrollable, and turns on itself, creating madness. Dalt's mother bore the child, and did not care about the consequences! It explained Dalt and the entire family, for that matter. Imagine a mother who cares so little for her offspring, that she would risk their very sanity to use them as tools. No wonder Bleys killed her. It might explain why he has so many wives. He could have many children (he does seem to like children). The question is, would DoBlique and DeWinter understand?

As I sat there, I felt a strong compulsion to go through with the betrothal. Enough so, that I sat there trying to not run out the door and go right to Castle Black. I just reminded myself that he was not ready, that there were things to be worked out, and that I had to be reasonable about things. Not that I wanted to, but I've seen the consequences from Sebastian about rushing into things.

The result was I missed some of the conversation, but when I returned my thoughts to the here and now, they were discussing why they could not simply kill Dalt. I don't mean it to be cruel, actually Mycenean thought is that it would be a blessing. Dalt lives with hatred and madness. How happy could he be? Does some part of him cry at his helplessness at what he is compelled to do? It would be a mercy death.

But, it was explained that even Dalt has influence in Shadow, just like there are obvious effects from even myself. If he were to be killed, there would be repercussions throughout Shadow, just like there were when Diedre and Brand were killed. I think they prefer the devil they know. The problem is, that devil will be a terrible problem if I pursue any relationship with DeWinter.

We left and I had much to think about. For her part, Owen told me that Bleys was ordered to kill their mother. We talked and I revealed Lilith's bargain. She was of the opinion that I should go through with it! I didn't expect that. Especially since technically, DeWinter could be considered close kindred. An uncle? Is that legal?

If I bring them here, I would be forcing them to choose between the family they know and a family they might gain. Would it be worth it? I realized that I was making the decisions for them and it wasn't my place. I had to see DeWinter. Now. If I wait, I would change my mind. I got a horse and left.

20/5

I arrived at Castle Black and had to fight with the guards. It took 20 minutes and afterwards got applause. I suppose they don't have much entertainment here for them.

I was escorted to a salon. In a few minutes, DoBlique entered, quite flustered. Two quick words sent me into a slight panic. "Dalt's here." I'm such a idiot! Of course he's here. He lives here sometimes. I asked for DeWinter. If I could get him alone, we could Trump out and have a chance to talk.

DoBlique left and I paced. I thought about Trumping out. But there are dozens of rooms here, I should be safe for a few minutes, right?

Wrong. Footsteps approached and instead of DeWinter entering, it was Dalt, apparently looking for DeWinter. He was surprised to see me, then very elated at the turn of events. He closed the door and locked it. He asked me what I was doing here. I answered something that would not implicate the others. He nodded and approached. He did not draw his weapon and so, neither did I.

My first mistake was staying. My second was in not drawing my weapon. He was the aggressor, by rights I should be able to choose the form of combat. So. We ended up circling each other, sparring back and forth. He was good. I could tell by the smoothness of his moves. Dimly, in the background, I could hear knocking on the door. I couldn't afford to say anything.

After ten minutes, he spoke softly, "You're good." Then he got a terrible gleam in his eyes. "But not good enough!"

Then we fought in earnest. It was clear from that minute on, he was the better, by far. I could tell he was playing with me, taunting. His blows were designed to cause pain, not immediate damage. That would come later. And it would mean my death. He was that good. Each blow came swiftly and easily, and I could parry one or two for every five he made.

The knocking at the door was now a pounding. Someone was trying to break the door down. The question was whether it would be in time, or whether it would do any good. He had this grin on his face, like he was enjoying this immensely. It suffused his face as he lazily moved in.

The door burst open and I could not risk even a glance to see if it was friend or foe. Dalt did have the time. He told whoever it was, "Stop, or I'll butcher you all." At that moment I felt it was the end. Because he would do it. And they'd have every right to be afraid of him.

Suddenly, DeWinter was past me, charging Dalt. I felt an enormous…well, it was a mixture. There was satisfaction. Without thinking, DeWinter chose to help me. There was also relief, that I had help and I didn't have to face him alone. There was also alarm. I wanted to shout at him to leave. Run! He should not have to fight his own brother. He would be killed…

I thought I had seen the madness in Dalt. I was wrong. When DeWinter charged Dalt lost all control. He focused on DeWinter, cruelly striking while keeping me at bay. I could hear DeWinter's bones fracture. Each blow he delivered to me sent pain coursing through. We were both fighting and not doing a damn bit of good. We had to do something. I dropped and, sacrificing some defense, delivered the most powerful blow to Dalt's kidneys. It should have been a killing blow, but he kept going, only allowing a grunt to sound. He struck at me, and I felt my leg break. There were three distinct cracks and my leg was useless. Then he focused on DeWinter again. He struck DeWinter in the chest, right where his heart was. I heard the breathe forced from his body and heard a familiar snap. Breaking the sternum is also a killing blow, if given enough force. And Dalt wasn't holding back.

Risking all, I drew my blade and made a move toward his legs. With one smooth move, Dalt deflected the blow and my sword was under his foot. He raised his other leg, to pivot and sweep toward me. Time seemed to stop as I saw what would be the last blow rush toward me. For the first time, I could not move. There was little I could do.

From behind him, DeWinter rose, catching his leg and causing him to flip over. He was alive! Yes! Dalt flew up into the air and landed badly. Before I could do anything, Dalt was up on his feet and DeWinter collapsed to the carpeting. As Dalt rushed, a lightning bolt ripped through the air, striking him in the chest. DoBlique. She was standing there, so small, crying. This was tearing her apart. Dalt rose again, and she struck again. This time he landed a few feet away, and was still.

In the combat, my Trump had fallen in a spread on the carpeting. DoBlique rushed over and grabbed the only one she knew: Owen. It was fortune that placed Gerard's by my hand. I picked it up and heard Dalt groan and begin to move. Frantically, I Trumped Gerard.

It seemed like an eternity before he answered. All I could say was Dalt was fighting us and we were going to die. Help! His eyes widened and he reached his hand out. I pulled, concentrating on keeping the connection. He came through and I became aware that Owen was there, clearly not happy at the thought of facing Dalt. Once she saw her father, she relaxed and went to DeWinter.

I knew Gerard could handle Dalt. I began crawling toward DeWinter. He needed all the help he could get. Even from where I was, I could see he was dead. The question was, could we bring him back? Sebastian once "lent" me energy, so did Fiona. I had plenty to spare, if it would save his life.

Dalt rose and struck Gerard. Gerard didn't even flinch. Within seconds, Gerard subdued Dalt. All it took was a few placed blows and Dalt was down. Alive, but unconscious. I felt so bitter just then. Dalt was alive and would be kept alive. Yet, DeWinter was dead. I hadn't even gotten to DeWinter before Owen whisked him away via Trump. Gerard gathered up Dalt, easily I might add. DoBlique asked what he would do to Dalt and Gerard just said he'd take him to a field hospital. Satisfied, she let them go without an argument.

And there I sat. DoBlique managed to help me to a chair and gather my Trump before collapsing into tears. A small part of me felt for her. She just witnessed the rupturing of her family and the death of a brother, one at least, who had been close to her. I knew she was feeling alone. I tried to comfort her and I knew it meant little just then. The truth will out, I was not feeling a lot just then. I was sort of numb, like this was all happening very far away. Even my leg didn't bother me.

Owen Trumped me then. She thinks she DeWinter might survive. I could scarcely comprehend what she was saying. I think she saw that and simply asked if I wanted to go through. I gathered DoBlique who could barely stand and passed her through. I was tempted to break contact and go to Amber. My wound would heal there as well as anywhere else. I just didn't want to deal with anything just then. But, it was a cowardly thought and I let myself be pulled through.

Owen caught me and placed me in a chair. She took DoBlique to see DeWinter and I was left alone. I vaguely remember a room full of technical equipment. It was like being in Martin's old Shadow, except for the non-humans looming around. One, looking like something from the depths of the ocean came over and examined my leg. . It was easily done, it was only a broken leg, after all. Another, blue-skinned with small antennae emerging from its temples began to treat me immediately.
And I mean immediately. They put me on a bed and began to administer to my leg. My feelings of detachment rapidly departed when they began to set the breaks, without anesthetics. I gripped the railings as I tried not to scream with the pain. I did not succeed very well. Even Dalt had not hurt this much. Was this an object lesson? I didn't have time to ponder the notion.

Owen rushed in and ordered the necessary painkillers. The doctors seemed to think it was unnecessary, but complied. I was indescribably grateful for the medications. Within seconds, I was feeling no pain, whatsoever.

21/5

My leg was fully healed by the mid-part of the day, whatever that translates to in this Shadow. I was still on medication and had a sense of euphoria. Gerard played checkers and I was happily absorbed in the game. He didn't get my joke when I said "Queen me!" which sent me into fits of laughter.

By the day's end, the drugs had worn off and I was more able to tend to reality. I got to see DeWinter, who was still not completely healed. I was told his heart had been crushed, but they gave him a new one. We signed papers for our release. Oddly, the computer showed that DeWinter had been admitted over a month ago. I suppose it was a way for them to explain why we could go so quickly, unlike a normal human in this Shadow.

Owen Trumped us to a Shadow where she had a castle available for her use. It was a cross between a severe Gothic look and Art Nouveau. Actually, it was pleasant. Gerard Trumped Owen and was brought through. He had left Dalt in the "field hospital"." The questions is, how long until he gets out?

We talked about the situation a bit. I was feeling, again, rather removed from the situation. i scarcely thought my opinion was worth anything after what I caused to happen. The results was that DoBlique would return to Castle Black. She would say that she was trying to hit me, and that my sword deflected it away. Gerard kept assuring her that Dalt would want to believe this, and so he will.

I don't know if that is preferable or not. Even if he believes the story, he will not believe anything DeWinter has to say. Consequently, DeWinter will not be able to visit DoBlique for a long while, if ever. I hated the idea that they would forced apart when, as far as I can tell, they have worked together and relied on each other for a long time. There is no question that they care for each other. A tragedy was happening before my eyes.

DeWinter said he would simply go into hiding for a while. That was harder, I think. At least DoBlique had the familiar surroundings of her castle. She could make plans if she needed to defend herself. Owen convinced him to stay for a day of two, to fully heal. Even packing winded him quickly.

In the brief minutes he talked to me over the last day or two, he made sure to tell me that he wasn't trying to save my life, but was just trying to stop Dalt from doing another stupid thing. He didn't want Amber coming down on them because I went and got myself killed.

Everything in me said he was lying. But either he was not ready to face anything more, or he decided to cut all ties. I can't say I blame him. I've really made a hash of things, he could hardly be blamed for wanted me as far away as possible.

I do know I will be dealing with Dalt again. I also know that he is far more dangerous without a weapon than with. I just hope I can handle it when the time comes.

As for DeWinter…I don't know. There are many reasons why I should just leave and hope they can salvage things. But my interference led to this break. As much as I fear the response, I will have to go and talk with him. I have to ask how I can make things right with him. And DoBlique. I suspect he will tell me to go away. And I would be honor-bound to follow that.

Frankly, I see no way to make anything better. Even if I brought them to Amber, what about the oath against Bleys? That will hardly make life easy. I don't really care what most others would say, after all I have to follow my own path and conscience. But what would Mother and Byslamia, or Julian and Random say to that? There are so many histories I don't know about. What would I be getting everyone into? They'd have few allies, though I think Kate and DoBlique would get along well. Others might give them a chance. But they'd be giving up their brother, no matter his affliction.

And Dalt would never forget.

Sigh.

| Cassandra Diary 1 | Cassandra Diary 2 | Cassandra Diary 3 | Cassandra Diary 4 |
| Cassandra Diary 5 | Cassandra Diary 6 | Cassandra Diary 7 | Cassandra Diary 8 |