Elaine 18: "Some Small Harm"



        "He said his name was Blaine..."
        I spun to catch a glimpse of the retreating dark-haired figure, and perhaps a ghost of a sly grin as he dropped back into Shadow. Cursing aloud, I left a perplexed Harlan and sought out Justin. He too, took in my reaction with a puzzled air, until I pointed back to the almost invisible figure, "Harlan's companion said his name was Blaine."

        We caught up with him just in time to see him vanish as the point of Joaquim's blade passed through now empty air. I kept my tongue this time, though not-quite-contented with a dark glare at the place Blaine had occupied. I could only hope that Joaquim's almost-fortuitous action had done the bastard some small harm.
        My startlement at this inadvertent almost-meeting with my tormentor was fading as my ire rose to take its place. Harlan, who had joined us, looked at me as if I had grown another head. "He seemed like a nice enough person," Harlan remarked, his voice tinged with confusion and perhaps a bit of resentment at my behavior.
       Still fuming inside, I put on my best courtier face and smiled gently at him. "Harlan, I would like you to meet Justin. Justin, you see, saved me the other night, from assassins sent by your 'friend' Blaine..."

        The tumbling towers of the green-glass city were abruptly replaced with the towering oaks that marked the entry into the tangled woods in which I had spent so much of my childhood. In a now well-learned reflex, my hand went to Werewindle's hilt as I became aware that not only were my companions missing, but that I faced a stranger.
       His amused smile at my reaction triggered memory, and I realized my new companion was Avery's aquiantence, Kant, whom I had seen in passing only a few times. He nodded cordially. "Your Grace."
       A short exchange of stories added little useful information. He had been with Fiona, standing at a gate much like the one we had found, when the green bar shattered, and their shadow collapsed as had ours. His previously pleasant expression soured somewhat when I mentioned Joaquim's involvement in our current predicament, though he recovered shortly.
       Our investigations into our surroundings took on a decidedly hazardous air when Jero, leading the house guard, confronted me and my claims as Lady Madaari with outright disbelief. We took quick exit when Kant met their hostility with drawn sword, and spent the remainder of the day gathering information in town. From what I gleaned, this Glorethien, which had never known the existence of Mirelle or I, was now embroiled in war with the Danjan, lead by the late emperor's young son. I wondered for a bare moment if all this was some sort of hidden message from Mirelle, but immediately disregarded it as such. I doubt she would be so subtle.
       Eventually, we found the Wizard's Gate at the Sorceror's Guild, and in a moment of lax thining, I reached out and touched the violet bar-
       I was suddenly lost in a crush of bodies, the smell of sweat and alcohol almost overpowering. I began to fight my way through the drunken and merry crowd, avoiding grasping hands as best I could, until I ran right up against someone, who caught hold of my arm.
       The close proximity stopped my attempt to elbow the individual, a fact for which I was quite glad when I looked up into Justin's face.

        We found the Wizard's Gate open in this Shadow, relegated to nothing more than a somewhat subdued decoration amidst the more gaudy environment. I chose indigo, hoping perhaps my house colors would bring me some vague luck, and with Justin grasping my other hand tightly, I touched the indigo bar-
       The trees of a deep deciduous forest enclosed us. No road, no clearing, just trees. We stood in the cool silence for a long moment before randomly picking a direction.
       We walked for a good five minutes before Justin suddenly dropped my hand, which he had still held tightly. And he almost immediately grabbed it again to pull me away as the ground suddenly heaved beneath out feet and an elder oak toppled into our footprints. I reached for my Trumps, and swore vehemently when the empty pocket reminded me that they were now in the hands of Raj and Acrost. The Pattern was still silent in my head, and so we were left to dodge the tumbling forest as the shadow collapsed about us.
       A tree had just crashed across our path, cutting off what looked to be our only route of escape when Joaquim Trumped, and pulled us through to a rather motley gathering of cousins, elders, and aquaintences.

       I observed my Uncle Caine with a bit more depth than in the past, after all Justin had told me of his connection to Mirelle and his role in the current situation. He did seem in manner much as the family stories paint him, though anyone would have to be somewhat of a flippant, thick-skinned deviant to have collaborated with my mother for any length of time.
       Harlan was quiet through tea, and I felt somewhat bad, as my attentions were quite distracted with mulling over the recent events. My retelling of the events during the time he had been missing was abrupt and lacking in detail, but I was in no real mood to coddle anyone at the moment.
        Instead, I stared into my teacup. The pseudo-Glorethien Kant and I had landed in had quite disturbed me. I could not help but wonder if its inclusion in the ring of shadows was accidental or purposeful, and meant to unsettle me or set me off guard.
       Disturbing, because as soon as I learned that in that place, my father still lived, it had done just that is a most distressingly successful manner.

       There had been no need to return to the house after dark, a fact that I am sure Kant was more than cognizant of, though he humored me. Indeed, any reasons were entirely personal on my part.
        In the years since my father's death, the sharper edges of grief have dulled, and through most of my waking hours, I am not plagued by thought of his death, or the manner thereof. I think of him often, but it is with a more faded melancholy, though my dreams of the night of his death still bear the vivid details of horror, fear and grief.
        But here, presented with the chance to see him hale and whole again, even if the sight of me were to bring no recognition from him... My more tender sensibilities won out over my common sense, I am afraid to say.
       Standing in his study, though, my better judgement returned. It was his place, but without the touches I knew. Just little things, but enough to remind me in a harsh manner that the man who often graced this room was never the man who had been my father. For a moment, the deep sense of loss I had spent all these years diminishing welled back up with the frightening intensity I had felt the night he died. And with it came the still sharp memories of losing my mother, both then and now.
        And it was for that, more than anything, I hated whoever had engineered this entire affair.

       Our return to Amber brought its own oddities, as our guide through shadow, Lourdes (who had appeared with Joaquim) announced herself as Benedicts daughter. A much strained time resulted, as Benedict went off with Desire, and returned alone, disappearing into Keir's office to begin questioning us all.
       Joaquim had been in with them for a short time when Keir summoned both me and Justin. We spoke again of Blaine, and, more disturbingly of Harlan. Joaquim related that even Fiona will not press far into Harlan's mind, a fact which disturbed me a great deal, as memories of him calmly stabbing the fork into his hand came to mind.
       And Blaine 'befriending' him. It could well be, as I proposed, that Blaine saw Harlan as only a means to get himself out of the predicament. But then, why was Blaine there in the first place? Either this recent happening was engineered by some power other than Blaine, Emma and/or Claudia, or, it was engineered by some combination of that group, and Blaine was just observing. If, as also proposed, Harlan is an unwilling dupe of our enemies, a time bomb set in our midst...
       But as Justin said nothing of it, I too, mentioned nothing of Caine's role in Harlan's upbringing. The less savory possibilities of all this cast now a suspicious light on that as well. Is Harlan perhaps no more than a weapon created by Caine to use against Brand's legacy, or, Lady forbid, has Caine developed some yet new agenda?

"Long ago, in the days before Patternfall erupted, my father, Mirelle, and Oberon worked together against the various other forces and cabals at work among and outside of the family. Oberon's involvement with Caine and Mirelle is little known to anyone...
       I trust neither my mother or Justin's father. Too much mystery and too little truth.
       Keir dismissed us, and I took my leave of Justin, and avoided Harlan, needing some time to quietly ponder the events and their various implications.
        In all honestly, though, I could face neither Harlan or Justin after the preceeding discussion. The suspicious part of my nature had taken all the information gathered and was quietly running in ever widening circles with it.
       In my rooms I felt trapped, so I changed, took up my bow and quiver. But the normally meditative and calming effect of nock, pull, release did little to sooth my mind. I wished nothing more at the moment than to find Blaine, and in a poetic gesture, spit him upon his own father's sword.


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