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Cassandra's Diary.8

Day 42/5
To Grandmother's House we go…

We've all continued to move toward Aes. I did appreciate the time to get to know DeWinter a bit. He wasn't joking when he said all he knew was the art of fighting. He said he'd gone to university, but was not particularly enthralled with the experience. He'd tried to learn the art of healing, but it wasn't really what he'd wanted to learn. In fact, he hadn't found anything he wanted to learn, which he was good at. It is unfortunate that he dislikes politics so much because he really is good with people he's just met. He'd be wonderful in establishing relations with new people. Unfortunately, that almost always involves politics.

DeWinter did ask, when we were almost there, whether I thought something was wrong with our travels. I wasn't sure what he was perceiving. He said that nothing bad had happened and it was unnerving him. His experience with travelling Shadow was that he would run into tornadoes, forest fires, armies of vampires, and that sort of thing. He was a bit perplexed when I stated that travelling through Shadow could often be uneventful, especially when the guide was consciously making it so. We took a few hours as I showed him how I shifted Shadow.

We emerged into a countryside in Aes. There was a castle on a hill, both much larger than Amber's own. Nearby is a small village, smaller than City Amber. And instead of an ocean, there was a large lake. Despite the differences, the form and feeling of a version of Amber was strong.

We set up camp while myself, DeWinter, Byslamia and Claw went into the village. I wanted to send a message to Crys as to how to get in touch with Tatasha. As we rode in, villagers bowed and gawked. Belatedly I remembered the strong resemblance with Tatasha and myself, and drew my cloak up. When asking about the castle, we learned that the High Mother of the Weir lived there. It didn't take much to assume that they referred to Tatasha. So, without further ado, we made our way to the castle.

What was unusual was that there were no guards in evidence. The portcullis was wrought iron in the semblance of leaves and vines. With no one to stop us, we went into the inner courtyard where children were playing some ball game. They looked at us, surprised at having visitors.

One young woman approached, sauntering with authority. She informed us that we would have to pass by her before we would be admitted. We played along for a bit but made no headway. I certainly did not want to insult or embarrass her, for she was earnestly trying to be an adult, so I let her glance under my hood. Her eyes went wide and then asked if it was a magical disguise. I said it was not and she asked if she could test this. I thought she might touch my face or tug on my hair. It had to move quickly to catch the staff she swung to my face. I ask instead that she get someone of authority.

A small group of people arrived, the leader being Lady Helcath. She studied us and announced that two of us were of the blood and could enter. The other, lesser folk, could go outside and wait.

Her superciliousness irritated me and I did not take the slight well. I told her who I was and that she should inform Tatasha that we would return tomorrow and now would leave for no one here was my lesser. She recovered her words in assuming I was vouching for them (which I would have done had she simply asked) and let us all in.

Inside, the air was cool and crisp, a refreshing change from the heat outside. We were shown a place to remove our shoes and weapons. DeWinter grumbled a bit about this, but eventually complied. The layout was very similar to Castle Amber. We were led to a gymnasium where a host of weir were fighting. It was all very energetic and enthusiastic. In the midst was Tatasha.

We watched for a about 15 minutes when a high-pitched gong was sounded. Everyone stopped and Helcath moved into the room to Tatasha. Before Helcath could finish a solitary sentence, Tatasha turned and headed straight for us. I met her almost half way where we exchanged a hearty hug and smiles. She announce to the room in general that I was her granddaughter. Helcath tried to look like she had believed me and already knew. Then, before I could introduce anyone, she pulled me further into the room for a bout of grappling.

She had one rule… we weren't to injure the face. I agreed and we began circling. It wasn't a long match but while she was faster than me, I was the stronger. So she darted in for quick hold while I tried to keep the grapple. Other than that, we were evenly matched.

When done, she went to Byslamia and gave greeting. Tatasha was not in the bit upset by having a handsome man do this. Then we were escorted to the dining hall.

Weir eating habits are a bit different. The meat is only lightly cooked and they took great pleasure in drinking the blood from the meal. We spoke of Eric and general history since she was last in contact with him and Amber. Claw related that 1200 weir had left Amber, trying to return home. They never arrived. Tatasha was particularly approving of their leaving; it was a tacit admonishment to the ones that stayed. Claw was unrepentant.

Then Tatasha turned to DeWinter to learn about him. He said he was a very distant relation and has been out of touch with Amber for a long time. He related our… associations with variations on the story I would never have thought of. For instance,, he spoke of our fighting thousands of vampires (I didn't think there were quite that many) and facing down a dragon (no, I don't think so). But, exaggerated as they were, he was entertaining. It was probably a good thing, since the truth of the matter might have alarmed the others.

We spent the evening there and when we retired, we were given Eric's old suite. It had four bedrooms off of an adjoining living area. It made it easier to not explain sleeping arrangements just yet.

Day 43/5
Family History

I woke first in the morning. I rose, dressed, intending on my morning practice. I must say, it was very nice to wake (now that we've actually slept) with DeWinter beside me. I could get very used to this.

I left him to sleep a bit longer and went out. In the living area, Claw and Tatasha were having a conversation, obviously they'd spent the night there. They were talking about the weir children from Tiryns and their lineages. It's rare to have formal marriages, so they had to keep bloodlines straight to prevent any future problems. Actually, I would think it complicates things far more.

I joined them and the conversation swung to Eric's death. Tatasha had told Eric to bring Corwin back from Earth, to rehabilitate him after he regained his memory. It was her thought that if Corwin would still want to go after Eric, then it would be obvious who was the better man. But, Eric wouldn't listen. We spoke about the political scene of Amber, .and how the family members interacted with each other. Other than Eric, she's only met Gerard. Eric was pretty insistent in keeping her a secret from the rest of the family. Again, it was his belief that anyone could be a shape shifter, a spy, or could use his family against him. When she stayed in Amber, she stayed in Merkis' estate which is now mine. When the war came to Amber, he sent her away with Evander. She regretted that her last hours with Eric were spent arguing with him.

I did learn that Tatasha had gotten to Mycenea. When she saw how strong Evander's interest was, she went there to see for herself. She thinks they are a good people, even if a bit stuffy on the outside.

I also said I would ask Random if she could come to Amber and pay her respects to him, and visit Eric's tomb. I couldn't see any reason for him to refuse.

By this time, it was too late to begin my practicing, so I woke DeWinter so we could get some breakfast. Then we got a brief tour of the castle. It didn't take long since many of the rooms were bedrooms. I even found a good place outside for my sword practice.

The rest of the weir arrived from camp and we spent the rest of the morning getting them settled in and in beginning to look through records. When they came in, the entire castle came out to greet them. Tatasha even wore her crown, a lovely wooden affair, again fashioned into a semblance of vines and leaves. They were a bit surprised and mystified at the hearty welcome.

The records shouldn't take too long because the weir are fairly long-lived. The normal humans live to about 100 years, maximum, while the weir can live to 200-250 years. Tatasha herself was an anomaly for she'd lived for 559 years with no sign of age or debilitation. I attribute this to her association with Eric. Still, it's almost given her a mythological status amongst the population. There are some negative feelings due to their longevity, jealousy and that sore of thing. Some revere the weir. So, they are usually caught between being idolized or demonized, depending on the faction, and this makes the politics difficult. Eric loved the politics, but she detests the entire affair. This explains her insistence on privacy when court is not in session.

Later, she did ask DeWinter how he feels about politics. Try as he might to evade a straightforward answer, she pressed him for one. She is a queen, surrounded by politics. I could see him thinking she would like the discipline, otherwise why be queen? Still, he eventually gave up the verbal struggle and admitted that he couldn't care less about it. Tatasha simply drummed her fingers on the table and said "Oh, really? How… surprising." DeWinter thought he'd blown his chance with making a good impression.

Later, I told him she likes him. He didn't believe it so I explained a little bit. He still wasn't sure I was correct though I did use his confusion to get him to admit his age. When I told him how old Tatasha was, I asked him how old he was. He absently answered that he was a little over 200 and then sent me a baleful look at the trick. Honestly, it didn't bother me as much as I thought it might. I knew he had to be quite a bit older than I, because he was born while Oberon lived and before the Patternfall War, over 50 years ago. Still, he's never treated me like I was inexperienced or too foolish (though he maintains I'm "crazy") so the disparage ages hasn't been a problem.

At any rate, I remembered to give him the papers from Benedict. I was very curious as to what they might say. I practiced drawing Trump while he read. I wasn't doing a terribly good job; I was too curious but didn't want to push him into telling me anything if he wasn't ready. He spent long minutes reading and re-reading the passages. He murmured something about three factions searching for him in Shadow. Using this as a sign he might want to talk about it, I asked him what factions. He said that one was the Church of the Bloody Unicorn.

I remembered the robes he wore at Yule and took the moment to ask him why he wore them. He said he'd worn them for so long, over 90 years, that he couldn't feel uncomfortable or nervous in them. Also, technically, he had removed all the vestments and insignia, making them simple robes. I understood the sentiment.

Then he asked me what I knew of the Church. I said virtually nothing. He was clearly uncomfortable about telling me anything… perhaps because I might judge him badly for it. I set aside my drawing box and gave him my full attention. I can truly say I was simply curious, perhaps because I had some suspicions about what he might tell me. Actually, it was very interesting.

The Church believes in a spiritual evil: Amber. It holds power over thousands of worlds with no allegiances to them. Amber doesn't care about them but will use them as they feel fit. Amber gained this power from the unholy union between Dworkin and the Unicorn when they sired the monsters that won't die but must be killed.

DeWinter grew up with this knowledge and believed it for most of his young life. His mother, Deela, created the church and was its First Prelate. Overall, the life of the church is uplifting, a joyous place where they seek to help the thousands of worlds to be free or protected against Amber. It is ethical and committed to this end. In fact, he still believes in the everyday good that it does and I cannot find fault with the purpose.

So, they took the fight to Shadows, to help free them from oppression. He'd been in a war every 5 years or less for a long time. By the time he was 30 years he'd been in dozens of battles, hoping and believing that the people would see Amber as the evil it is.

When he was 40 he saw that their goals would take far longer than they thought. It was at this time he became a saint within the church. This… title is conferred on someone who has three miracles attributed to them. For DeWinter, the first occurred when he was run through with a sword and survived. Personally, I attribute this to his Amberite heritage but apparently the church did not believe it was due to his bloodline.

At 50, he saw the Church's mission was taking too long. They were making no headway whatsoever and he doubted that it would change even if he won every battle. There was an infinite number of worlds so, they would never succeed.

At 63 he had his first argument with his mother, the high prelate. The solution was simply to take the battle to Amber itself, using a different strategy in their cause. His mother told him to let Amber come to them, then they would win. He thought about this and then defied the high prelate. He convinced Dalt and Dastard and Doblique to talk with their mother.

He lost the memory of that night. In fact, he didn't even remember having his idea or the conversation with his mother. The following year he was back in the field waging war once more.

At 75 he had this wonderful idea. Since they were not gaining in their goals, they should take the battle to Amber itself. His Mother would not listen. He went to Doblique who told him not to do this. She had a bad feeling about the whole thing. But he convinced them to talk with her.

The next year, he was back in the field waging war… the memory of his objections gone once more. But this time Dalt was different and Dastard had become cruel… not like he was part of the church at all.

At 85 DeWinter got an idea. Take the battle to Amber. He went to his mother and told her of his revelation. She struck him, calling him a fool. So, convinced this was a good idea, he went to Dalt, who hit him, calling him a raving fool. He tried Dastard, who also struck and said he was a coward and a fool. Doblique simply cried hysterically when he tried her.

He'd warred for 80-90 years, occasionally throughout having nightmare of his brothers attacking him and Doblique crying.

He was getting very tired of fighting.

At 100, while they were engaged in an important fight with Amber forces, Bleys appeared in the battle and killed their mother. DeWinter was only 100 yards away but couldn't do a thing to help her. He went berserk, killing everyone near as he made his way to her. He never made it.

He woke surrounded by bodies remembering nothing of who he was. It lasted for a few days as he was taken prisoner. Eventually it came back to him and he learned that Dalt and Dastard had also been taken and they were all prisoners of Amber.

They were being transported to someplace, probably Amber's dungeons. He was in a cell when an old man entered. DeWinter was told that he could be freed but he'd have to find his own way out. DeWinter agreed readily, knowing he'd have to get a new army quickly. The old man said that he might free DeWinter, but it would do no good if he still had the shackles on his mind. He must free both the body and the mind which meant opening his mind.

DeWinter thought about it and decided to take the chance. He would have no other opportunities. The old man went in and DeWinter could feel the mental chains breaking.

With that done, the old man removed the physical shackles and led him outside. It was night, with a moon bright enough to see that the old man was not really old, and had red hair. Bleys! With understandable rage, he attacked Bleys, trying to kill him. Actually, he thought he was going to succeed but at the last minute, Bleys entered DeWinter's mind and simply said, "Stop killing people you don't know." Suddenly DeWinter remembered all the arguments with his mother, that she had done something to erase or, rather, barricade those thoughts away from himself. It was too much information and he was stunned long enough for Bleys to break free and depart.

DeWinter left and sought out Doblique. She was the only one not at the battle and subsequently, the only one not taken. He didn't think he could get back in and free Dastard or Dalt. Not did he want to go back to the church.

He found her hospitalized. DeWinter didn't say much about it, but I was under the impression it was a mental hospital, that she'd had some sort of breakdown. He took her away and found a Shadow where he could take care of her himself. It took a year for her to recover and in that time he'd learned that Dalt was still missing and Dastard was back with the church, rebuilding the army. He went to see Dastard who was not happy to receive DeWinter. Like before, he struck DeWinter and called him a coward.

DeWinter tried to explain the discovered memories, the chains in all their minds but they simply ended up yelling and arguing with each other. He left and found Dalt who agreed to go along with DeWinter's knowledge. The three of them kidnapped Dastard, taking him to a Shadow to heal. Months passed as they made no progress to free his mind; he was actively resisting. Then, the church arrived with its army and again he and Dalt were captured. Doblique managed to escape.

Dastard was truly angry. He announced that DeWinter was a saint who'd been killed in battle. Therefore, this is a shape shifter sent from Amber to divide and destroy them. DeWinter was tried and convicted for crime against them.

Then he was sentenced to burn at the stake.

I can't imagine the pain of having a brother or sister be willing to do such a thing, much less actually experience the actual burning. I wanted to stop the story, so he wouldn't have to recall it. But, if he could tell me, I would be strong enough to hear it. That's what a relationship is about, isn't it?

Needless to say, the sentence didn't kill him. He was left at the stake to die slowly, though he said he wasn't feeling much pain by then. It was a sure sign that he would soon pass beyond. It was then that Doblique could slip through and take him away. (I wanted to shout my approval---I knew she would not abandon him). In a reversal of their roles, she took him to a Shadow and tended to him. There was no sign of Dalt.

During this time Doblique learned to do a lot of things and he diverged from his story to remark how unfair that she could learn magic and healing and the like while all he can do was fight. It was almost petulant but I refrained from saying he was a bit busy healing to do much studying.

Dalt eventually arrived… almost 50 years later. He was different, not quite in control. He listened to DeWinter's story all the way through, attentively. He also remembered and believed DeWinter, who was ecstatic. "Great, we can do something about this," he recounted to me.

Dalt just shrugged and said it changed nothing. DeWinter was stunned. What? Dalt believes that the church is still right and Amber is still evil, the curse of all the universes. What their mother did may not be right, but it was for a good reason. The ends justified the means and he still believed it.

And that is how it stands between them to this day.

He's at a loss as to what to do… it's a problem that will be solved though not necessarily peacefully. He did wonder aloud why Bleys rescued him and not the others. Why free his mind and not the others. The answer came to me instantly. Perhaps it was because 1) he was the only one to break his mother's "conditioning", he was strong enough to handle the truth and 2) he was the only one to accept Bleys offer. If Bleys wanted to just do it, he didn't need permission. But he asked for it. So he probably abided by their decision. DeWinter was surprised it could have been that simple.

We were interrupted at this point but I had more questions. Perhaps there will be time to get answers later. For one, what does the church say about having Amberites as their saints? Aren't they tainted/blessed by the Unicorn, especially Dalt who walked the Pattern and has the abilities to go along with it? Another thing, they go through Shadow building an army. Isn't that what they accuse Amber of doing--- using/finding people to help with their cause? And these personality changes DeWinter mentioned. I was given to understand that Dalt was crazy due to being the fourth child. Now I'm not so sure it was just that. What did Deela do to him? And Dastard… if he learned what his mother could do, could he have made the second change in Dalt when Dalt was captured the second time? Does this mean he could be healed, even partially? Is that what Random meant when he said there was a cure for Dalt? There are even more questions… I hope I can find some answers.

One thing I am sure of… DeWinter is, at heart, a good man trying to do good things. He did not deserve such pain.

Day 56/5

While we've not gone into any serious discussions, DeWinter and I have spent the time solidifying our relationship. My feelings have grown more solid as well. I took a day to leave Aes and enter a nearby one where I had two signet rings made. The design came to me almost 2 months ago and now I felt ready to go ahead. It's actually a simple design: a black shield with red trim around the edges. In the center is a silver sword, pointing up and sinister with an olive branch twined around the blade. The red & black represent Eric, the silver both Corwin and Dierdre, all full siblings in Faiella's line. The sword, sinister represents the willingness and readiness to fight while it is bound by the symbol of peace. Fighting is only to be done to preserve or bring peace, a last resort, not for its own sake.

While they were made, I went to receive a second dose of the medication. This will get tedious after a while… I can't go running here every week just to ensure no children in the immediate future. Even having children is a short term solution… I would only have 6 years minimum before some real solution is to be made. The entire healing process is the key. I've even begun thinking about the possibility of an operation. Removing the internal organs would definitely be a solution. If I went to a technical Shadow, they could be preserved or re-grown as I've heard Owen mention… it's what they did to DeWinter's heart. So, I may heal from the operation, which would take some time, or not but still have the options open to me. My only concern is that doing this too many times would do irreparable damage. The only course is to get so much control over my body that Circumstances would not effect it. It's a thought.

Day 68/5

I received a Trump call from Random. I inquired about Sebastian and was told he is healing and very tired. Still, he should make a recovery. Other than a few, the Family thinks he's dead. I asked who knows the truth and he said to assume no one does. He wouldn't name any names.

Day 75/5

Today I received a Trump call from Mother making sure I was alright. Now, I don't doubt that is why she called, but since she never has done so before I'm willing to bet that her curiosity about Tatasha had something to do with it. I told her all is well and arranged for her to come through in a week or so.

DeWinter has spent some of the time hunting with the weir, grappling contests and the like. I think they enjoy his company.

Day 82/5
A Secret… and Dalt

Today I received a Trump call from Gerard, also checking that I am alright. I'm beginning to wonder at the show of concern… that there might be something I should know about. It's all very unusual behavior in such a short amount of time.

DeWinter came to tell me that the weir (the males) were taking him to some sort of ceremony. He didn't give me any details and I think this is something between them that I need not; should not know about. He will be gone for 3 days.

Tatasha took this time to ask if I would walk with her. Later I wondered if she arranged the privacy but never got a chance to ask. We went into the forest, into the deep woods. We talked a bit about Eric, that she thought he was one of the more stable of his brothers (actually, I think she meant steady) and she had some ideas that some of his siblings were downright insane (well, not all of them, to be sure). She did think that Dworkin and Oberon were not quite all there in the head, though I seemed to have turned out well (I noticed she didn't mention Evander). Anyway, her concern was that DeWinter was one of Deela's children and Dalt was certainly crazy. From what she knows Dalt is definitely crazy and was concerned about DeWinter's blood. What sort of children would we have?

I couldn't really answer such a question except in the usual trite answer. We would do our best by them, because we would be committed to them when we decided to have them. She took my hand examining the palm. I didn't know she believed in palmistry, though she does seem to be a be superstitious about a lot of things. She pronounced that I would indeed get married, though she couldn't tell to whom. Also, my first child would be a boy. Well, the Amber side of the family would be happy to hear that. Well, so would I despite my upbringing to prefer a girl-child.

She continued, relating that Eric left her with a secret, one she never felt secure to show Evander. She would share it with me.

By this time we were in the deep forest and came into a small clearing where the trees made a rough circle. Propping a stick into the ground to get a directional from the shadow it made, she then drew a small circle into the ground. I stepped inside when she bade me and the ground within the circle began to descend.

It was a fair drop, about 100 feet. She moved forward into the darkness, through a narrow tunnel. From somewhere in the dark, she produced a lantern and I could see we were in a series of caves. We moved for a short while until we were in a larger one. The light from the lantern flickered around, revealing a faint trail of blackened soot or something burned into the stone floor. It was instantly obvious it was the Pattern, but in reverse. Tatasha said Eric made it and told her that Evander and her were to walk it and thereby gain access to Amber. She never did this, it scared her too much.

I sensed nothing about it, no power, no resonance. Tatasha moved forward, to just where one would start to walk the real Pattern. When she was 6 feet away from the beginning, a mist swept across the floor and the room grew cold. Around us, I could hear whispers, two voices talking. It was hard to make out, but some was clear: "..we were both into it…same as always…take the coach…take the girl…why didn't you kill the girl…"

I recognized the voices of the men who ambushed our coach when I and Byslamia were travelling with Kate. The mist in the room formed into figures, still indistinct. One moved out and became recognizable. It was DeWinter though he was transparent. Tatasha drew her sword as the ghost moved closer. A second figure emerged, one of the Chaosian guards I killed in House Merquier. It didn't take much goading before we left, rapidly.

Outside and up above, I Trumped Fiona. Something was not right with this and I have no experience with this sort of thing. She didn't answer at first, but I mentioned there might be a new Pattern, though something was wrong with it. Then she let the connection open. I explained what I saw and she said it was indeed interesting, but she was not able to help at this time. She did suggest Bleys. Now, the first thought was 'oh, yes, let me invite Bleys to the very Shadow where my lover is, so he could try and kill Bleys again'. That Mycenean hospitality, hah! I thanked her for the advice and the contact was closed.

We returned to the castle and I Trumped Mother. It was night in Amber, so I made ready to bring her through in the morning. As for Eric's Pattern, it would have to wait. After all, it waited for 500 years, a few days or weeks shouldn't matter.

Then I received a Trump from Bleys. Why did I think Fiona would let the matter rest? Actually, I'm flattered she took the interest. He was willing to come through and I asked Tatasha if he could come to Aes. I made it clear that this was her realm and this was neutral territory. I would deal with DeWinter later if I had to. He was gallant and cheerful as he accepted the invitation.

We told the staff that no one was to know where we went or with whom, if DeWinter was early, he was to be kept occupied in an adjoining wing so we could get warning and deal with the situation. Surprises would not be good here.

We went back out to Eric's Pattern and followed Tatasha through the ritual again. Bleys was intrigued by the process. It was obvious Tatasha thought Bleys was crazy (at least from what Eric had told her) and was testy every time Bleys made some disparaging remark about Eric. Bleys managed to insert compliments to her so she couldn't really make an issue of it. For example, he said he would have doubted Eric's ability to find such an intelligent and beautiful woman to be by his side. See? She didn't know how to react. She settled on a disapproving look.

We went down and this time I walked toward it. Again came the whispers, different this time, they were the guards chasing us through House Merquier. The figure that stepped out was Baldy, Dagger Jesby. Bleys stepped forward and ran him through and the ghost misted away. Another figure came out and Bleys stepped back. "Oh, shit! We're leaving."

Another hasty retreat and we were at ground level once more. Bleys explained that this was a Broken Pattern. At one time they could have walked it, though not like the real Pattern. In this one, if you stepped on the path, it would kill you. You had to walk between the paths. The figures are the slain of whoever is near. The last one was Finndo.

Oh, my. Just how many Amberites has Bleys had to kill? And were they all at the behest of Oberon? There might certainly be good reasons for it, but it must have been hard to have such tasks.

The pattern has been accumulating power over the last 500 years, being left alone. If we continue to let it be, it would start to affect this Shadow and everyone in it. Tatasha certainly did not wish this, so she agreed to let him take care of it. He did think that Eric made it, though why would always remain a mystery.

Our plan was simple. We would go down and I would activate it. My enemies would be simpler for him to deal with. No kidding. He will walk it, erasing it as he goes.

We did this. I stepped forward and my ghost emerged. He got on the pattern, electricity flowing around the room. As he walked, he dispatched the ghosts in front of him, trying to bar his way. As he moved, blue fire burned away the black lines. It took only about half an hour before the room was clear, an ordinary cave, the coldness gone.

Bleys swaggered back, pleased with himself. Tatasha said nothing at this, since he obviously accomplished what he was supposed to. We went back to the castle.

Or tried to.

The energy powering the pattern was gone, as was the way to reach the surface. Chagrined, we stared at the top, 100 feet high.

I got a great idea, we can Trump out. I Trumped Mother who was nursing Eidolon. She was willing to pull us through when the door opened behind her and Dalt entered the room. I frantically told her to pull me through now. She bent to put Eidolon on the floor, her concentration shifted and the connection broke. I fumbled through the deck and got Byslamia's card, but it would not respond. In frustration I told Bleys and Tatasha what had happened. We would have to climb out.

Bleys stretched out and placing his palms on one wall and his feet on the opposite one, he began "walking" up the shaft. Tatasha and I were too short to do this individually, so we linked arms, back to back, and walked up. It would almost be humorous to hear us arguing which one of us would kill Dalt as we crept up the shaft. What was not funny was that Tatasha couldn't make it. Her legs began to shake and buckle when we were three-fourths of the way up.

Bleys reached the top and I knew we would not make it. Then came my second bright idea. He could Trump us and we would be alright. He was tired but pulled out my Trump (funny, I never gave him one) and stood, planting himself firmly in balance. He explained there was a logistical problem here. If he grabbed one and pulled, there would be nothing for the other to hold onto. Even if we clung to each other, he'd have both our weight to pull through after he'd just expended much of his energy.

There was a silence as this sunk in. He was right, there was a problem. One thing was certain, Tatasha would have a more difficult time surviving a 75-foot fall, though I doubt I could do it. Then Bleys reached for us. He grabbed Tatasha and I tried to launch myself up or, at least, find some purchase in the wall. Nothing. Bleys had us both by the wrists and I could see him sliding toward the edge, or into the card, which meant three of us would be falling. I shouted for him to let me go (I'd be feet first, at least,) and he said "No way." I was about to bite his hand when he pitched forward and we plummeted down.


Darkness surrounded us and we free fell. It seemed like a terribly long time before we crashed and it wasn't what I expected. We landed hard in a few feet of mud, dimly lit fog surrounded us. I knew instantly, without any evidence, we were in UnderShadow. Does one get points for constantly coming here? I'm accumulating them rapidly. Perhaps I could be an Ambassador, hm? Not!

To make sure, I tried Trump. No, they did not work. I could feel my link to Eidolon though, though it was different from the real one. We had little option though, but to follow it. It didn't take long before we were at the castle, bedraggled and tired. The dust of the road had settled on the dried mud that encased all of us. once there, the guards asked us what our business was. Rather then try for a lie, I told him I was Cassandra, sister to Eidolon. That got some surprised looks. They went an got Eidolon.

Oh, he was grown and looked so much like Eric it was eerie. I could tell Tatasha though so too. Eidolon was surprised to see us but did not seem to doubt who we were. He bade us to enter and got us rooms to clean up in. that gave us time to confer with each other. It was difficult to explain to Tatasha just where we were and its dangers. Bleys did insist that we should not sleep; the Shadow would enthrall us more thoroughly. The way out would be to learn about the place. Then we could learn its rules. Once done, we could do something to "shock" it's reality which would create a weakness that might eject us from the shadow. Tatasha didn't understand at all. Bleys did want us to link minds so we could be more effective, but Tatasha would have none of that.

We met Eidolon and we got caught up in the history of the place. Mother apparently suicided when we disappeared and Random went crazy. He gathered an army and declared war against Aes. They were losing badly but he had some hopes. He'd tried to send emissaries, to no avail.

We avoided eating, though Tatasha almost forgot herself. Bleys asked why he didn't surrender. Tatasha agreed, but Eidolon said it didn't work. Then Bleys said he should send an assassin after Random. Eidolon and Tatasha were aghast at the idea, and Bleys sent her a Significant Glance. She caught its meaning and then agreed. Eidolon insisted that they would not do this. Bleys stood up and said he would not sit still for such talk and began dancing around the room, arms folded and legs kicking everywhere.

Tatasha and I froze at the sight then Tatasha recovered first. She said she would agree to the suggestion if she could eat Random herself. Eidolon recoiled in his seat farther than he'd done when Bleys began dancing.

I asked if anyone needed more wine and poured the decanted over the entrees in front of us. then I stood and said I could kill Random,…"Look at me, I'm Sebastian and I can shift." Or something to that effect. I held my arms out, as if I were becoming something else. Tatasha said, "Not if I'm tickling you!" and jumped for me. Eidolon was actively backing away by this point and the world swung around crazily.

There was a large 'boom' and the next thing we knew, we fell to the earth at the top of the shaft. Bleys landed badly, dislocating his shoulder. Actually, I neglected to mention he'd done that twice already today, once after he got to the top of the hole. Tatasha said "Now I understand what you were talking about. It was fun." I echoed the last part and remembered what I had to do.

Making sure Bleys was alright, I set off for the castle and my fastest pace. I wonder how long we were gone.

It took a little over a half-hour to get there. Eidolon, at least, was still there since my link drew me to him. The guards outside were gone and the halls were quiet. I drew my sword and continued.

On an upper floor, in a salon, I found Mother and Byslamia tied securely with Dalt standing over them. A quick check and I saw Eidolon in his crib playing merrily.

Dalt wanted to know where his brother was. I said I didn't precisely know. He said he would leave then. I didn't want to let him go and hunt down DeWinter. I also did not want to be occupied with freeing anyone while he might return. So, I told him to untie the others. I made it abundantly clear how angry I was for his assault on them.

So, we fought. We're almost evenly matched. I am faster, but must maintain distance. If he can get a hold of me, I would lose. He, on the other hand, had to try and draw me in, it being more dangerous to stay at the end of my sword.

We fought for half and hour, or so. Now it was my thought that if I could last until reinforcements came we could capture Dalt and think what to do next. Unfortunately, the run tired me out and Dalt was fresh. He would last longer than I, if I didn't do something quick.

I pulled my boot knife, Shapir's gift, and when the opportunity rose, I aimed and threw. It would have been a true hit, right to a lung, if he hadn't brought his hand up to stop the blade. It went through his hand. Still fighting, he drew the blade out with his teeth and now he was doubly armed, or so he thought. I fought for a few minutes and then left and opening for the knife, knowing it could not harm me. Dalt took the opening, and it hit my thigh, right where the main artery runs through. It would have been a good hit.

At the point where he was surprised, and because I anticipated his throw I got a clean hit to his arm. The blood flowed freely and we continued.

Now it was a race of attrition and he was losing more rapidly. We even spoke a few words. I warned him away from my family and would tell DeWinter where to find him. Dalt really wasn't in a negotiating mood, though I wonder if he ever is. He did say he would return in three days and I should have my people ready.

By now Bleys ran up the stairs almost behind Dalt. He wasn't so silly as to get in the middle of a sword fight in progress, but he did try and approach for a hamstringing maneuver.

Dalt must have heard him coming because he vaulted backwards over Bleys and the railing and dropped to the stair landing below. Then he ran. I jumped after, refusing to allow him to get away so that he might return to do more harm. I was so incensed, that despite my attempts to be reasonable most of the time, I was rather stupid. Bleys attempted to follow but in leaping over the bannister, he slipped. I could hear his arm dislocate again as he howled in pain.

Dalt continued to run and at a convenient window, leaped through it, landing easily and running away from the castle. My stupid maneuver was thinking I could do the same. As I landed after a forty foot drop, I felt both legs dislocate, the tendons snapping. I fell hard and with great pain. Dalt was still running, not looking back. That was fortunate because he could have easily dispatched me then. It was also fortunate that I managed not to cry out, in pain and frustration.

Then something odd happened. The pain ceased and I could feel and hear the tendons moving into place. I think it was the weir blood in me and my legs altered, hair emerging, becoming longer. In a minute or two, I was healed.

Up I stood, and after Dalt I went. I just wanted to get him and put him where we could keep an eye out. The dungeons would be nice. I concentrated on him, so not to loose him in Shadow.

Day 86/5

I have to admit he has stamina. After 4 days I was beginning to tire. I couldn't catch him. Anyway, we were too far out for me to really be able to do anything. With sharp words at myself, I turned back.

Day 90/5
More Surprises… and Dalt

I entered Aes today. I could have Trumped back, but I was both feeling sorry for myself and trying to figure out a way to safe guard my family. It was becoming increasingly more difficult.

My mood hadn't gotten much better, especially since I had no answers and I didn't really want to admit defeat to the others. I did note that no Trump calls came, asking if I was alright. Did they assume I could not catch him?

Inside, I found Bleys and DeWinter sitting at a table playing chess. Wonders never cease. I stood to the side, prepared to wait until they were done. DeWinter noticed me right away and came over. He stood apart, apparently noticing my mood. I gave him a brief hug, to let him know I wasn't angry at him, or anyone in particular. Bleys then conceded the game, though DeWinter said he would have won. Bleys didn't really agree to this, but was willing to end the game anyway. He'd stayed long enough for me to return and with a jaunty wave was gone.

Then Tatasha entered and I found that everyone was fine. I was in such a mood that when she asked when we were to be married we both just stared stupidly at her. She grinned at the effect and launched into the preparation she'd made: a chapel, invitations, that sort of thing. I wonder what happened in the last 4 days that changed her mind about DeWinter.

We put the idea at bay for a bit, though she pressed it for a while. My reasoning is not quite the same as DeWinter's, though I did not mention it. I'd give it a real consideration if DeWinter had once said he loved me. And, because he's not ready for that, he is not ready for marriage.

But, I did feel a need to show him I am serious about our relationship. I went to my rooms, asking him to stay put for a minute. I got the rings and went back.

I wish I could say I was eloquent and poetic when I presented them. I wanted to tell him that in Mycenea, only he would be required to wear them whereas in other Shadows, the women do this. But I am of both Mycenea and Amber, so we would find our own rules. The rings are a sign of our commitments, with neither of us belonging to any other house but the one we will some day make for ourselves. DeWinter solemnly nodded, listening. He said that where he comes from, he would bite the ring to make sure it was real. I had to laugh. I said, by all means, follow tradition. It's best to know if he would be gaining a miserly wife.

And, with a giddy grin on his face, he donned the ring and placed mine on my finger. Then we kissed, to celebrate the moment.

It must have been a significant moment because Mother entered and immediately turned around and left. A quick word and she was assured that we did have some control of the situation. Then the lovely moment was shattered when she announced that Dalt and arrived… with friends.

Outside, his troops lined the horizon. A quick assessment revealed at least 30,000.

Serious trouble.

Tatasha rode out to meet with Dalt before we could stop her. We were still on the escarpments so there was nothing we could do. DeWinter called for a looking glass and an eternity later one was brought.

We took turns watching them speak to each other. For her part, Tatasha looked calm and composed, though I only saw a rear quarter view at best. Dalt, too, looked calm, no insane gleam, no frothing. Then Tatasha handed him an envelope. My head dropped in exasperation, for I had a fair idea of what she handed him. He opened it and read it. Cleared his eyes and re-read it. Then he glanced at her, and read it again, clearly not believing what he was seeing.

A few more words were exchanged and they both rode back. We ran down to meet them.

When in hearing distance, Dalt stated he wanted to speak to DeWinter, who followed him to one side to speak privately. One minute later, perhaps two, he returned and said he had to go. Doblique was in serious trouble; more than half of her people were dead and she was hostage of someone in her own castle.

My next actions were prompted by two distinct thoughts; one, I did not want to leave DeWinter alone with Dalt just yet (and so soon after our pledges) and two, Doblique may be in trouble due to some involvement with Amber.

So, I rode up to Dalt and requested to accompany the two of them. Crazy? Perhaps. But I'm beginning to wonder if Dalt is less insane than might be the case, just… obsessed. He's still dangerous and there is little distinction when he's trying to kill, but I had a feeling he would keep his word if he gave it.

He was not enthused about the idea at all. We talked it out. The chain of command was clearly established. This was his command, DeWinter was his second and I would follow what he ordered. This was problematical, because if I was going against another Amberite (Lady, I hoped not!), there was a conflict of interests. I took a moment to Trump Random, waking him, again. I explained the situation as best as I was able and he was disturbed at what I was proposing. Still, I wanted to help Doblique and perhaps emitting more confidence than I truly felt. In the end, Random gave me a writ to work under Dalt, for one month. If an Amberite was involved, he would not condone death, though serious injury would be understandable. Dalt, after conferring with DeWinter, agreed to the arrangements. I made one more notation— when either of us dissolved the agreement, there would be a 24-hour grace before any potential fighting would ensue between us. He sneered but nodded. DeWinter, took this opportunity to show Dalt the ring I gave him, announcing we were pledged. Dalt grimaced and said he'd read the invitation. I wonder if DeWinter's action gave me any special protection from Dalt.

Dalt began moving out. We would all converge at Castle Black within one week. I gathered my boot knife that Dalt dropped and DeWinter began talking with some of the weir commanders. We had a bit of trouble since all of them wanted to go. When I returned, Tatasha was wearing fighting leathers, clearly expecting to accompany us. I did not want to risk having her killed, but how do you tell a Queen, not to mention someone like her, she had to stay behind. I did not have the luxury like Eric, to argue her down for a day. With her, with DeWinter's agreement were 15 of my weir and 50 more of hers.

Day 91/5
Sebastian… want to go to war?

We moved out into Shadow late yesterday. I Trumped Sebastian because I had taken the vengeance of the Jesby from him and I didn't want to do that again. Also, since he's developed an interest in Doblique, he would have an additional reason for including himself.

After a brief discussion, we agreed that I would Trump him in four days, just outside Castle Black. In the meantime, he would gather additional forces.
One thing I should note, he has his arm back and he looks much recovered. It was not magic nor shape shifting, apparently he healed it. All he would say in the matter was that he had friends in strange places. This does not surprise me. Tatasha was eerily fascinated by his wounds that were still evident… scarred flesh, missing ear, burned scalp…I could not honestly say whether she was trying to unnerve him, or us, or whether her reaction was…true.

I did wonder out loud about the possibility of one particular enemy being behind this. Specifically, the necromancer behind the vampire hunt we were all on. It sort of explained things a bit. Not only did I know DeWinter (I called him by name when I "killed" him—this would explain the attempt to implicate Doblique in the treachery), but I called in Random to help, which explains the assassination plot. DeWinter wasn't too sure about this, but I Trumped Random just to give him my ideas. He said he would look into it. I suggested that Kate might have some insight, since she fought against their magic before. He said he would get back to me.

And three hours later, he trumped me back so I could bring her through. It wasn't what I had in mind, but I accepted the transfer. After introductions, we continued on.

One wonderful thing to note: Kate now has eyes, beautiful ones. She went to a Shadow where they re-grew hers. She also had a more sophisticated prosthetics for her legs and she easily rode behind me on our journey.

Nothing else occurred and we spent the time filling Kate in on the particulars, sometimes to exacting detail.

Day 95/5

Travelling was fairly uneventful, if a bit "bumpy." Nothing unfortunate happened, but we learned the reason. DeWinter was a bit perturbed that he hadn't found any reinforcements along the way. Since I was guiding us through Shadow, he was concentrating on gaining allies. Remembering one of my first misadventures with Martin, with me doing precisely that, it was remarkable that nothing untoward happened. I believe it has something to do with the fact that he hasn't walked the Pattern, Still, when he is able to do so, he will be a formidable Traveler since he has learned to do without for so long. I explained why his concentration was not such a good idea and offered to detour, or let him lead to accomplish his goals. He was interested in the theory, but declined the offer. We were too close and it might delay us too long, at this point.

This is the fourth day moving and I could sense we were close to Castle Black. We would definitely be there by tomorrow. I Trumped Sebastian and he said he would meet us later today.

We took the time to rest and prepare. Depending on what happens, we might not have much time in the near future. The weir were anxious to arrive at our destination.

Sebastian arrived in the late afternoon. He was carried by a gigantic black eagle that clutched him in one talon easily. I wasn't so sure about his choice of allies. They would be excellent air cover, but they have an intense dislike of mages. Thinking of Kate, not to mention Doblique, I grew nervous. Sebastian related that they had been told by a Hendrake a prophesy of one who would come and tell lies, betraying them all to their deaths. He vouched for us and claimed we were "his." I raised an eyebrow and he shrugged, "What can I do?" I let the matter lie.

Day 96/5
Castle Black

Getting there was much easier than I thought. Moving the entire group, plus the eagles was not at all difficult. It makes me wonder what my limit is. It did feel like I was getting help from somewhere. Perhaps Kate lent a hand.

Dalt was there, encircling the castle with his troops— at least 90,000. They were not actively sieging, but he did have siege weapons readied. DeWinter looked at the masses and softly asked, "How does he do that?" to no one in particular. He went off the find Dalt while we sat tight, waiting for assignment.

I received a Trump call. Thinking it might be Random, though I'm not sure why, I answered.

A very bad move.

The call was an attack. I wasn't sure who, but it felt like three people at once. Even the Jesby didn't feel like this. I immediately went on the defensive. The opponent was strong and a simple block was not possible. So I opted for a more passive-aggressive resistance. Using my training from Shom Dao, I took the attacks, using its momentum to carry it forward and turning it into defense. If the wards in my mind were a forest glade that was being destroy, for every tree that fell, it would return to the soil to grow anew, for every bird that fluttered dead to the ground, it turned to dust and into two birds to defend.

It was painful and that was distracting. I couldn't move for fear of losing my concentration. Vaguely, I sensed Tatasha asking me if I was alright. She said I looked pale. The words seemed to take minutes to be spoken though I know it was only seconds.

The battle waged on. I was surprised as to how fast my Mycenean wards tumbled under the onslaught. It was only my Shom Dao defenses that kept me in the battle. I felt Tatasha take my face in her hands.

Then a voice, the opponent's, remarked, "You are strong for someone your age. It won't hold you for long, though." I didn't know the voice, but I knew he was correct. I had perhaps a minute or two before I would be forced to surrender. I also sensed that he knew he was not a Hendrake. His mother and father were Black Adders, Chaosian exiles.

There was only one thing I could think to do. I would never be able to get a warning out to Tatasha, nor withdraw, so I "grabbed hold" at the 'edges' of the Trump connection and 'twisted'.

It was my thought that I could drag him into UnderShadow. I felt fairly confident I could make my way out, or someone could help. Perhaps the Unicorn would help me again. In any case, it would be better than losing, and becoming an instrumental in an assassination against Random. Or anyone else.

Day 99/5
Castle Black

I had to stop writing for a moment. This is exceedingly difficult to write, so any disjointed or awkward phrasing will have to be tolerated.

As I 'twisted' the Trump, the opponent broke through. I could feel the bands wrap around my face, binding me. It did serve as an anchor, which I keep telling myself was what I wanted to do. It dragged him down with me. He realized too late what I was doing, and his anger was considerable.

Due to my maneuver, we were both trapped in the UnderShadow.

Subjectively, the last 6 weeks were a personal hell. I do not say this lightly and I mean it literally. During this time he refused to let me free, even when I said I could get us out. I was nude, aside from the chains he placed upon me. Not only was I forced to commit any act he wished, he took his increasing anger and frustration out in torturing me. Then he took control of my emotions, making me feel as if I were volunteering to do as he wished, that I enjoyed my new role. When I repeated my offer to help him escape, if only he freed me first, he burrowed through my memories, looking for the knowledge. He'd waited too long. There was so little of me left, he couldn't find the information. This only increased his anger… and his retribution. Day by day another small part of me died, to be replaced by the slave. I will not go into any particular details. I know them and that is enough. If anyone had half of an imagination— it would suffice.

He grew so unstable, knowing he was trapped, compounded by the fact that he could not allow himself to sleep, After two weeks he collapsed and it was then that I learned his true identity. Luke, the false twin of Rinaldo, I'd met him once… it was a bitter piece of information.

Eventually I was gone. In that UnderShadow place, Amberites came and fell before him- he was victorious in every endeavor. Looking back I realize he was also losing his personality. He believed he was the Master and I the slave and all would fall before him. And I cheered. He even came to trust me enough to leave me there while he supervised the fall of Amber. I would have kept his castle ready for his return.

I did, in fact.

It must have been many weeks more before a woman arrived. Before I knew it, she grabbed me and despite my struggles, forced me away from the world I knew and loved. I woke where there were armies all around and my Master was no where to be found. Everyone was looking at me, especially one woman with silver in her hair and some man; they were expecting something. I was so distressed, all I could do was curl up and cry. Within moments, I was asleep.

I woke to a wonderful sight…my Master was there in front of me. I showed obeisance and it was clear he commanded Castle Amber for he stood in front of the Pattern. He ordered me to walk upon it and I moved to do so. Truly, I thought then he should know he did not need to order me… I would have done whatever he wanted.

I did think it was odd that he would follow. I was hurt to think he did not trust me to do as he wished.

Walking was difficult as images flashed before me though it wasn't until I passed the first Veil (How did I know what it was called?) that they grew in number. By the time I was halfway to the second Veil, I was totally confused as to who I was. I knew who I was, but who was this other woman. The images flooded me and it was only the grace of the Master, no- Luke?, no- Rinaldo!, that prevented me from falling. Once past the second Veil the new images became the reality. Who I Really was, was becoming more Real. As I continued, now very tired, I began to remember the events that led up to my predicament. With a push, Rinaldo, yes it was him, sent me through the Third Veil. Now I knew I was Cassandra.

I stumbled into the center, Rinaldo following breathing heavily. He moved to the farthest point away from me, bracing himself. Ah, of course. He was identical to Luke. If I hadn't realized it was him, I may very well have taken my anger out on him. Just as Luke had done to me. When I could speak, I thanked him and helped him to rise. He looked startled.

By the door I could see Random and Owen. I wonder how many people saw me as the… other one. I couldn't make out what Random was saying, but I clearly heard Owen shouting that DeWinter was up in Random's office.

That gave me pause. I couldn't see him just yet. Not still wearing the slave's gear. I just stood there, not sure who I could see. I knew what and who I was, but that didn't mean I could forget what had happened. Mother would be comforting, but Mycenea has no enemies like this, no crimes like this. She, nor Byslamia, would understand. At least, I didn't believe so. I knew I needed the emotional comfort and understanding that Julian, Random or Evander could give me. I had no idea how DeWinter would react and I didn't want to take the chance it would be negative, or against me. The number of people were dwindling quickly.

I didn't know what to do.

I sat in the center, arms around my legs and forehead on my knees. Rinaldo hovered near, but said nothing. Owen? No, she's too stoic, and again, I have no idea if she'd ever gone through something like this. And then I knew who I could turn to. I stood. Random was just standing there, watching. I Trumped him to ask how long DeWinter could wait here. He said as long as necessary. He looked a bit tired and more serious than I've seen him in a long time. He asked what I needed and I asked if he could ask Vivant if she would meet me in my rooms. He said he would make it happen.

I cut the contact, hoping he wouldn't force her to deal with this. I was starting to wonder how I would deal with a grown woman dealing with these issues. Then I started thinking about "those issues" and I just hoped she'd show up. I projected my wish to be in my rooms and I was there. Instantly.

I paced back and forth, my self-esteem swinging lower and lower. I couldn't even remove the collar and chains that I still wore, they were all one piece. I believe every woman knows what violence can be brought upon them. One of the first things I'd been told to remember-- that it wouldn't be my fault, that I didn't "deserve" this, I didn't bring it upon myself and I must be strong enough to remember this. The second thing taught is that the first part is the easiest to say and the hardest to do And I was failing miserably. Because Luke made me believe I was participating, that it was good and right. I didn't know if I was more angry with him or myself.
Eventually there was a knock on the door and after checking, I let Vivant in. I could see her surprise at the diaphanous gown and the collar. I paced a bit more, thanking her. I began my story well enough, trying to remain removed from it. I lasted perhaps a whole five minutes before I broke down.

I can't imagine a more perfect person for me to have called. She listened, comforted, commiserated with my horror. She talked about her own difficulties after losing a year of her life with Julian and Shapir because of Ire's attack. Her anger at herself and them, hurtful things said, wounding things. And the depression, because you know you're being hurtful and you hate yourself more because of it, an unending downward spiral.

We talked for almost four hours when she told me something Shapir had finally said to her. When things had gotten so bad, I think she believed their relationship would never heal, even with Julian being so understanding and good, Shapir came and spoke to her. He said she shouldn't let the enemy win. Even if they did not succeed with their objective, they would win if she let them control her actions, destroying what they all had. It woke her up and I, too, felt the words keenly.

I was much more calm now, almost ready to face DeWinter. He'd been waiting, probably not knowing why. I was not myself, to be sure, but I could pretend a little bit, for a little while. Vivant helped me to find something to hide the collar and be presentable. I've never appreciated Mycenean clothing more, fully covering, as I did just then.

With a heartfelt thanks and a fierce hug I bade Vivant well and headed up the stairs. By the time I reached the door, I wanted to run back down. What did he know? I would know if he saw me differently, lesser, if the Circumstances didn't enact. I didn't know how I would react to that.

The guards let me enter without a fuss. Random and DeWinter were on the balcony, brandy glasses in their hands. I was going to wait until they were finished, but they both turned when the door shut. DeWinter came straight in, setting his glass down on the desk. There was no hesitation as he kissed me. Yes, the power was there.

We were there for a few minutes, DeWinter had completely forgotten Random was there until he discreetly coughed. We pulled apart and DeWinter was a bit sheepish at what he'd done. Random was at his desk, "sorting" through some papers. "Oh, hello" It was a bad act… I know he can do better. Still, he can't doubt that DeWinter cares if he could lose sight of the social setting. One doesn't do that sort of thing in front of a King. Though Random isn't your average King.

Then DeWinter showed him our rings and announced our pledge. I was taken aback, not knowing what to make of the timing. I certainly hadn't planned this. I was so confused, I just nodded, unable to think of a thing to say.

When I asked about Luke, though not by name, Random had us sit down. I knew I wasn't going to like what he had to say. We sat and Random said we couldn't kill him. Why?

"Because he's inhabiting another body. If that body is destroyed, his mind will snap back to his real body. Once he regained his memory and personality, he would be loose once more." Random did say that if his real body were to be destroyed, then the current body could be killed. Only then would he be trapped in UnderShadow forever.

DeWinter offered to go to UnderShadow himself to destroy Luke and I almost shouted "No!" That was not an option. Until then, the body had to be put in stasis.

As for our leaving, Random suggested we leave discreetly. Frankly, I could do with skulking right now. But he had another idea. He Trumped Owen so we could go to her house and leave from there. I thought I would be sick. I tried to smile, like it was alright, as I reached my hand out. Owen's connection, like always, was rock-solid. Still, it was like I was a child with a "monster under the bed". The experience of a Trump connection had changed for me. I half-expected Luke to reach through the cracks of the Trump and pull me back down.

It didn't happen and soon we were both safe at her house. Belatedly, I asked Owen to thank Random for me. She did so and then she set about removing the collar. There was no magic about it so it was just a matter of getting the proper tools. It took about a half-hour and she remarked that the wounds would be healed in a few days.

Then it was Trumping again (groan) and DeWinter and I were at Grey Demesne. It would be a short ride to recover Tatasha and our weir.

I'm not sure what to do now. I'm sure that DeWinter does not know about what happened. I should tell him, but would he think I've broken our pledge? My mind says I didn't, but my heart is afraid to answer. It would only be fair, since he has shared a painful part of his life with me. Still, it's so… raw… I might not tell it correctly. And what about the others?

Then there is Luke. Part of me wants to work up my anger and hunt his body down. Shouldn't be too hard… it's defenseless. It might even be at Corwin's Pattern, where few could find it. I would have to ask Corwin, should it be there. I don't want to accidentally destroy or harm his Pattern. The other part of me doesn't want to go near it. What if I wake him up… accidentally bring him back. I'd have no defenses and I don't want to go back to that, ever.

And I still have to face Dalt. Maybe he'll be friendly…


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