Fifteen: "Tangled Web"

       We left Stark and Fletcher with the Pattern. I had my reservations about it, but figured Fletcher was more than capable of keeping Stark out of trouble. Laughingly, I declined Griffin's offer of a small wager to Stark's recklessness.
       Later, I realized I should have bet on Fletcher.

       With Shen's successful navigation of the web of magic that is supposedly our birthright, the tenor of the group's interaction changed again. Suddenly, that almost-camaraderie that had crept out during this last leg of our journey was dampened again, each person suddenly contemplating the temptation that lay before us.
       There was some argument, not surprisingly, over what to do with Grayson. Stark wanted him to walk the Pattern right then and there, though when Matthias informed us it had changed, somehow, after my idiot uncle Brand had redrawn it, the rest of us were hesitant, lest it fry his brain entirely. Somehow, I think our popularity, which I don't think is high now, would diminish if we brought back the true king, only to permanently zombify him.
       I used my negligible power as party spokesperson and bullied her into waiting for Matthias' father, Gerard, to return, mostly by pointing out it wasn't her right to decide. I don't think she liked it, but I also don't think she'd thinking clearly about the situation. For a one-night stand, he must have been something, to elicit that level of zeal.
       Matthias, for his part, watched the proceedings with well-hidden amusement. Given what I'd observed of his court, it was probably a relief to watch someone else have to deal with ceaseless bickering.
       After we'd gotten Shen to a bed, Griffin, Luke, Matthias and I spent an amiable hour discussing our respective situations. Griffin got in a few good shots about my general character. I had to appreciate them for their accuracy, and the friendly spirit in which they were cast, though I will pay him back later.
       The conversation rambled from Amber's situation (poor) back the the Pattern (disturbing). Matthias told us of the trick, that once you reach the center, the thing will take you anywhere, or to anyone, you think of.
       My good sense, for once, won out over impulse, which was to go walk the crazy tangled web and find my brother. I'm getting more worried each day that he's out there, but I also realize I'm of no help to him trapped in shadow with him, if we can't get back.
       But I sure don't like it.
       My disgruntlement was not helped at all when Stark found us. Breathless and agitated, she told us Fletcher had walked the Pattern and vanished.
       I sighed. I'd expected such behavior from Stark, who has a capacity for idiocy that even surpasses mine, which is saying something. But Fletcher, especially given his vehement insistence he wasn't of the Amber bloodline...
       Crap. And we need him here. Not only because he's a sorceror, but because he's cold-blooded enough to go against the status quo. Out of the remaining members of our party, I'd guess Griffin and myself as the only two capable of raising the ruckus this place needs.
       Good thing I enjoy trouble...

       Preoccupied by that train of thought, I excused myself, and went to play with the mirror. I got about halfway through setting it up when I realized that it was not going to be safe under my pillow, nor was it going to be efficient to reset the damn thing all the time. I needed to park it somewhere secure.
       Matthias seemed somewhat surprised when I came to call, though he was quite cooperative.
       My request for a secure place of storage led us to the Castle treasury. Granted, I've not seen a real royal treasury, not counting the gaudy display of the Crown Jewels in Lancaster, but this place seemed more like a tomb than a storehouse of royal loot. Matthias later explained all that was left was the crown and the sceptre, the rest having been drained away by the constant invasions.
       As I set up the mirror, he expressed curiosity of its origins, and I told him a bit of the Greyfalcon history with Zamorna. I also told him the nutbag had been using it to spy on Amber.
       He immediately frowned, looking at the mirror with sudden suspicion. "Do you know to what end? Is he planning an invasion?"
       If I knew anything... "I honestly have no idea, though that's probably an accurate guess. Given his interest in Amber, and reanimating this Brand..."
       "Amber would not be able to resist a true invasion, in her current state," he said quietly. And told me of what the room once looked like. The Crown and Sceptre sat in a forlorn box next to the mirror table. He looked forlorn himself, those usually sharp blue eyes clouded with regret.
       It was a look I'd seen before. "I wondered why you always seemed so sad-" It was out before I'd realized I'd actually spoken aloud, and I felt my face flush.
       I wasn't forced to explain, because after a short moment of confusion, he realized what my statement had implied. He too, reddened, and there was an uncomfortable pause before he shifted the subject. "Ah, yes. Well, it's difficult enough to live on the edges of a crumbling empire. It's not any easier if you're at the center of it, and unable to really do anything about it."
       Relieved, though still mortified at my slip, I pounced on the new direction of the conversation. "How long have you been in charge here?"
       "On and off since I reached my majority. For thirty years."
       "A long time to have to witness all this." Even though I do what I do by choice, I know what thirty years of dealing with death can do to your outlook on life.
       "A long, frustrating time. How long have you been on your quest for Amber?"
       I rolled my eyes. Quests are grand and romantic. What we had was more a comedy of errors. "Me personally? A few weeks. I think the same for the others, but who knows." I grinned. "Hasn't been all that different from my usual career."
       "Your usual career... seems to have been very active." He nodded to the various weaponry I carried.
       "'Active' is a good word for it. Demonslaying isn't for the slothful."
       Rather than look at me like I was crazy, he actually started to smile. "I'm sure not. That's one thing we haven't had to confront here, so I don't know what career opportunities there are for you in Amber."
       I hadn't been planning to bring the subject up. No use in insulting the man in charge when we'd just walked in the door, but I had the feeling he'd take what I wanted to say for what it was worth. "I'm sure I can find some trouble to keep me occupied. I've got some military training from way back. And I'm not too particular as to the humanity of the bad guys I beat up."
       I smiled then, hoping to take any sting from my next words.. "I'm also very good at irritating people... and no offense, but in that meeting, you looked like you could use someone who isn't constrained by court etiquette to make a few points."
       I waited, somewhat apprehensively, for his response. I have to admit, I'm glad he seems as genial in person as I had imagined him. I'd prefer not to have him hate me right off the bat.
       "Does that mean you're sticking around, then?" He asked after a moment, his expression unreadable.
       I took that for a good sign. "For now, at least." I fiddled with the mirror a moment, unable to stop a frown at the thought that suddenly came to mind. "The farther away I am from Kazor, the safer my brother is."        I suddenly felt like a damned bug, trapped in Amber. The poetic irony wasn't lost on me.
        "Well, I'm glad." He slowly rose from his seat. "I'll assume I can trust you not to take the Crown jewels, what's left of them." He handed me a small key. "Lock up when you leave."
        "It's not like I can pawn them hereabouts," I pointed out, taking the key. "Thank you, Matthias. And good night."
        He pauses at the door and turns. "I'm altogether glad you're here, Cecily, you and your companions. It gives me hope. Good night."
        "I'm glad it gives hope to someone." I didn't intend for him to hear that, nor was I sure he did. The door shut with a soft click, leaving me alone in an empty treasury of a broken kingdom, wondering if we had a chance in all the hells of putting things right.