July 2, 2189
I awoke up on a cold stone
floor, hog-tied and with a splitting headache. This made me distinctly
unhappy, a mood which worsened when I also realized I had no guns, knives
sword or boots. The bastards had even taken my boots! What the hell
harm could my boots do? Well, they were steel-toed...
A soft gurgling and very familiar snore issued from behind me, interrupting my mental rant. This just got worse and worse. Well, lying here grousing wasn't going to do either Harry or me much good, so I started trying to get myself untied. As I worked at my bonds, my head began to clear, and I began to remember a bit of what had happened. It was obvious we'd been drugged, and at least Harry and I taken from Rebma. I wondered as to the welfare of the rest of the group, but didn't linger on those thoughts long. I'd have to get myself and my brother out of our predicament first. And beat senseless whoever had engineered this, of course. I had my guesses, and they all were named Zamorna.
I figured Salome had sold us out. No doubt Fletcher was somewhere gleefully 'I told you so-ing' the rest of the group. I just hoped he saved something for me, because hers was next on my list of arses to kick, boots or no boots.
By then I'd freed myself, and spent the next minute or so in examining our surroundings. It didn't take long. The room was empty, save for me, Harry and a small oval mirror perched on a pedestal at the room's center. It wasn't a normal mirror, I discovered when, as I touched the glass, it reflected a scene that was entirely outside of this place. In it I saw a man walking down a hall. His back was to me, but I could tell he was about my height, maybe taller, though my estimate might have been skewed by his pronounced limp. He wore deep blue robes and carried himself like a man with the weight of a world on his shoulders.
Something about the whole scene, about him, drew me, and so I followed him in his passage down the cooridor. Once, he passed a window, and in the distance I could see a mountain, upon which sat a castle. Eventually he came to a room filled with people, and took a seat near the front, and I was finally able to get a good look at him. He had piercing blue eyes, dark hair, and was cleanshaven. His face reflected the weariness I had seen in the set of his shoulders, and those blue eyes were sad and worn. He wasn't old, or at least didn't look old, other than that sense of old beyond his years. I couldn't help but wonder who he was, and what thoughs bore down on him so hard. Then I accidentally nudged the mirror and the scene shifted.
I wasn't able to get back to the sad-eyed man, but I was now pretty sure I knew how we were being tracked so easily. Harry woke up about then, so I untied him, and we settled in to wait, amusing ourselves with the mirror. Nothing more interesting happened until our captor's chief toady appeared, proclaiming his master, Kazor, was almost ready for us. He told me, great disapproval in his voice, that Kazor would be very upset that I'd moved the mirror. Apparently he'd worked very long to find that particular scene. Score one for me.
I got tired of the veiled threats and not-so-witty banter quite quickly, and so when Reginald turned his back, I clocked him. And then I had a moment of inspiration. It took a few threats of my own, but in short order Harry was wearing Reggie's robes, and the now unconscious minion was garbed in my brother's trademark tweed. My hope was that when Kazor showed, the deception might gives me a moment's advantage. Hindsight note to self: Dumb idea.
My plan worked a little too well. Kazor/Zamorna showed, and thought the tweed-clothed lump on the floor was Harry. I let him continue in that false assumption as he tried to play the mysterious bad guy, without my cooperation. He did stick around long enough to tell me he intended to use me as leverage to get Harry to reanimate our uncle, a sorceror named Brand. And then he left, taking my disguised brother with him. Whoops.
Fortunately for us both, Harry was quick on his feet, and in minutes had reappeared, right on the heels of a very loud explosion (which explained his singed eyebrows). A few moments of scrambling, and I had Reggie slung over my shoulder in a fireman's carry and harry was casting the spell to get us out of there. Then I remembered the mirror.
"Wait!" I reached out and grabbed it just before Harry's spell went off, and the stone room was replaced with a forest glade. Heh. That should piss him off.
Harry and I played around
with the mirror for almost an hour before we (okay he) finally figured
out that it worked like an ellipse, with the mirror being one focal
point. We assumed the other must be off somewhere in shadow.
"Perhaps, if we were certain of the center and the focus of the ellipse. They could be tied to the item... or they could not." Harry stared at the mirror, his forehead scrunched up in that way it gets when he's deep in contemplation. "I'm rather curious where this focal point is. Somewhere in shadow, obviously. Now, is our enemy the sort to pick a random point, or something significant?"
I frowned thoughtfully. The possibilities were immense. "Something random to us could be significant to him. And it depends on whether or not this focal point also acts as a power source for this thing." I was starting to wonder if I shouldn't have just shattered the damn thing. But then I remembered the castle I had glimpsed, and the young man with the sad eyes. If that was Amber, then the mirror might be the best chance we have of finding it.
While I was musing on that, Harry was having an epiphany, apparently. He sucked in air excitedly. "Power source! Yes...." His eyes started glow in that way I had come to fear. I imagine it wasn't that much different from the looks I get when I'm about to do something entirely stupid.
"Harry..." I said a warning tone in my voice. "No bright ideas, Mr. 'Let's go into the demon dimension to check out the demon rays'."
"Well, frankly, I think that anything that could power something like this would doubtless have to aid us in our quest. Don't you agree? The main problem with finding Amber is not crossing shadow barriers; enough time would pass, and we would get there, eventually. It's knowing which ones to cross. This--" he tapped the frame, "has implications for mapping."
"Okay," I agreed grudgingly, "but we still need to be very careful. I doubt Kazor is planning to give up on using you so easily."
"Hm, yes," he commented absently, turning the mirror this way and that. "Well, I'd almost count on it."
I rolled my eyes. "And people say I'm the dangerous one," she mutters.
"You are, you are," he said reassuringly, which earned him a dirty look.
"I'm thinking it runs in the family more than you'd like to admit. Anyway, we've now got a possible advantage over Kazor, as long as we can keep it and you out of his hands."
"An advantage requiring patience," he agreed. "It has occurred to me that we were very silly in returning here, since this is where he first found us."
"I'd had that thought myself, but there were some loose ends to tie up here. But I want to get the group to hit the road as soon as possible. And I want you to ward your room tonight."
"After I ward your room. You're pretty good leverage against me."
I took the opening. "Harry," you can't let me be used as leverage against you, especially if Kazor is planning to do what he says. I don't care what he threatens, don't do it." I meant it too.
"Hm. And would that be your reaction if he used me as leverage against you?"
"Well, that's not relevant, because I can't reanimate the dead guy."
"Alright, the relevance aside, what would you do if someone used me as leverage against you?"
"Strangulation would likely be involved." I injected a note of levity into the comment, so he wouldn't see quite how serious I was. Actually, strangulation would be minor. I was really thinking more along the lines of evisceration. I couldn't articulate it to Harry, but later, when Ilie came by to pledge his protection for whatever crazy reason he had, It suddenly dawned on me.
"Stark is perfectly safe." Ilie reminded me when I pointed out the fact that wasn't he supposed to be guarding her. "No one is after Stark, except Dragos." He moved for the door, but turned at the last moment. "I understand that you are a very strong warrior, but it is clear that your enemies will rarely turn to give you a straight fight."
I gave him a long look, which he returned (inscrutably). "Point taken."
"It is not how I'm used to fighting either," he said after a moment. "Not that I have ever truly fought. War has not come to my people since Dragos and I were children."
"It's not so much that, Ilie. I'm used to the unfairness. Demons don't fight fair as a matter of course." And I had the scars to prove it. But it wasn't the unfairness. The war I fought was a series of individual dirty little wars with absolutely no rules except for the ones I made. And then it hit me. This time, it was Kazor or Zamorna or whoever the hell he was. He was setting all the rules. I mean, how am I supposed to fight the weasel, how am I supposed to protect my brother if I'm the very thing that can be used against him?
Ilie left me to my black musings, though I gave up on them after a few minutes of griping and grousing. Left with nothing better to do, I once again drew out the mirror. After listening to Lewella's story, and seeing the card of Amber, I had realized that the castle I had seen earlier through the mirror was the same one. That explained Reggie's comment about how annoyed Kazor would be. He'd had a perfect window into Amber. Score two for me.
Whether by good luck or divine intervention, I ran across the sad-eyed man again. Maybe the mirror worked by focusing on one person, or point in a particular place. If that was true, I wondered who this man was. He was alone, standing very still. It was dark wherever he was, and the only illumination seemed to be coming from the floor, which he was starting at intently. He must have stood there for a good twenty minutes before whatever it was lost his attention, and he made his way out of some room, and start up an very long staircase.
When he started up the stairs, which were much better lit, I could finally see what caused his limp. His left leg was badly twisted. It was painful to watch him make his way up that seemingly endless stairway; the rapier he wore banging at his side and tangling up his bad leg. At one point, he ripped it away from his waist and flung it down the stairs, frustration and anger creasing his brow. But after another few steps, he sighed deeply, and painfully made his way back down to retrieve it. After he made sure it had taken no damage, he slung it over his shoulder and continued his long journey upwards.
I covered the mirror then, feeling suddenly uncomfortable and rude at watching him in a moment of such personal awkwardness. I muttered an apology, mostly to make myself feel better, but before the image faded, I saw that his brow had smoothed, and he wore a small, self-mocking smile.
I slid the mirror away, and stretched out on my bed, contemplating the intricate designs of the coral that made up the ceiling. For the first time in a long time, my life had taken on a sort of surreal tone with this search for Amber, and all the craziness associated with it. Kazor and other complications aside, I found I was excited to finish the journey, now that I'd had a glimpse of our eventual goal. And I wanted to meet this man in the mirror...
Let's hope he's on our side.