Twenty: "Abandon All But Hope"

       There was an incredible smell coming from the kitchen. A very not-porridge smell. Despite my affection for the stuff, even I get sick of it when it's the only option.
        Harry and Luke were communing at the stove, and Shen sat quietly at the table, but my stealthy approach was cut short by my brother's contemptuous snort. "Nice try, but I do know your step, dearest."
        Luke glanced back in surprise though, and I couldn't help the little evil smile that escaped. He made face, and turned back to whatever he was up to as I crossed the kitchen and leaned on Harry's shoulder. "So, what's up?"
        And, indeed it was. Luke was carefully pouring batter onto a griddle, making perfectly rounded cakes. Arrogant, sneaky, and he can cook, too. No wonder he irritates me.
        "How did the search go?" Luke expertly flipped to of the pancakes to a plate and handed it to me.
        "Dead end." I made a face at myself, not liking my own choice of words. Snagging the maple syrup from the table, I brought them up to date on the events of the last few days.
        I think I'm becoming accustomed to frustration, or at least resigned to it, because I found that relating our complete lack of success didn't, for once, have me grinding my teeth. I'm not sure if that's an emotional step forward for me, or a sign that I've given up.
        No, gotta be the former. I still want a lot of people dead.
        Mildly distracted by the first decent food I'd had in weeks, I joined Shen at the table and ruminated on what the hell to do next. All emotional issues aside, we can't just abandon Matthias (or Syrana). He's well liked, and it woud be a deadly blow to the practically non-existant morale here. So, a rescue is crucial.
        Not to mention the fact that if one of the cursed Elders is involved in this, I want to know just why. And if it's a new player, well, I've got plenty of room on my shit list.
       Of course, there's always the Zamorna option, which is frustrating. If that possibility exists, it's risky for me to be involved in any direct action. It's bad enogh the weasel got Harry and I once. I certainly don't want to be so helpful as to walk up to his front door. Granted, Harry's safe, and (hopefully) out of his reach for the moment, but I have certainly learned the lesson of tempting Fate...
       We just don't know, and in this case, ignorance isn't bliss, it's downright deadly.
       I do agree with Fletcher on one thing: we can't afford to have all the competent fighters out of Amber. One good fighter, and a magic user, maybe a third for backup. At least two Pattern-minded folk. The question is, which three can we best afford to let go? Or better, who can we not afford to let go?
       I only realized I'd been tapping my fork against my plate when Harry took it out of my hand. "You okay, Silly?"
       "Depends on your definition of okay." I patted him on the cheek as I pushed my plate away and stood. "Got some thinking to do."
       He gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze even as he said, smiling, "Don't hurt yourself."

       I walked the ramparts for the better part of an hour, running scenarios and evaluating our options. There's a lot we could do, which is actually not helpful. With no really defined leadership (and I'm aware I'm little more than a mouthpiece, and maybe not even that now that we're here), there's too many cooks and too many kettles. It'd be easier if our hands were a little more firmly tied. Being backed into a corner does wonders for solidarity.
       Leaning on the cool stone, I scanned the shattered landscape. When you almost close your eyes, and the dark details blur, you get some small inkling of what this place must have looked like before the war, before the curses. I love Blythe, but there's something about Amber that feels like home too.
       I realized then that I was tracing the letter "M" on the stone wall. "I'm altogether glad you're here, Cecily, you and your companions. It gives me hope."
       Hope. Resolutely, I turned away from the broken kingdom and went in search of Gerda.