"God damn it, Dworkin, what the HELL is going on?!!?" I demanded. The old man had been relentless in his push to get me out of bed and into some clothes. I tugged at a boot and scrambled to throw clothes, trumps, and the rest of my stuff into a backpack.
He did not smile. In the calmest, most rational of voices, he said, "There exists no time for me to clarify, Rinaldo. You remember our discussions, when your father died?"
I swallowed something horrible-tasting in the back of my throat. Why yes, I did remember. I sat under a tree in Kashfa, crying, and this small, hunched, crazied man appeared to me. He pulled a dinar from my ear blew my nose in a fabulous handkerchief as many colors as the rainbow.
"Rinny," he then said, "Don't be getting foolish ideas in your head. Brand is gone now; he won't be returning. You must become a man."
"But why?" I whined. "Why did my Uncles kill him?"
"Both, for justice's sake, though each had a different way of looking at it," he patiently explained. "You must bear no malice towards them."
My anger seethed red-hot behind my eyes. "I'll make them PAY!"
Dworkin looked saddened, his heavy-lidded eyes drooping shut. They opened again, though, and he smiled. "Rinaldo, do you know of the Phoenix?"
"N-n-no," I blubbered.
"The Phoenix is a magical bird," he described, his hands moving in time with his words, and his face lighting up. It lives a long life as a normal-looking hawk, but when it comes time to die, it consumes itself in a great burst of fire and light! It is reborn; life began anew, the Phoenix marvelous, so beautiful your breath would catch in your throat and you would not know what to say, even if you could, even after it had left your eyesight."
"Do such birds exist?" I asked, curious.
He smiled. "Everything exists in Shadow, Rinaldo. But you... you will be the Phoenix. You have a hard life ahead of you, so say the Prophecies. You'll see the True Path, someday."
"True path?" I asked, but Dworkin kept on talking anyways.
"...years, centuries before it will be certain how important that task will be, but trust me, it will be felt. And like the Phoenix, you, Rinaldo, will be reborn, into something greater than all of us."
I wiped my nose on my sleeve. Dworkin seized the opportunity to stand. "You are important, Rinaldo. Too precious to just deliver to fate. This will see you through until the Finder arrives." He began wiggling his fingers at me, and I felt so tired...
I spent many years in Shadow, looking for solace. I didn't know it, but the years were zipping by in Shadow; I was running into Dalt's gang every now and then, he surprised each time I came back with a new scar, or longer hair, or grizzled face. But I happened upon the Tragolith then, on a lucky break. I tested the tracking properties, found it impervious to the magics, even the powers of the Pattern. The cave was the perfect refuge, solace, hiding place. I could plot my vengeance, and I began tracing the bloodline to my dear friend Merlin. But that's another story.
"FUCK YOU!" I yelled, as Dworkin pushed the boulder back into place, and I knew we were there for a long stay. I waved my hands at the boulder, as to have nothing more to do with it, and turned, seeing Cayt rolling out her bedroll on the main floor. She looked at me with a neutral face. "Why are you so upset, Uncle?"
"Cayt, do you have why we're here?"
"No," she said, remaining dispassionate. "I trust that Dworkin knows what's best for us."
I laughed out loud. The crazy shithead had been manipulating this family for centuries on end. "He's INSANE, Cayt. Has been for decades. Sweet Jesus..." I went on to mutter a string of expletives. It wasn't Cayt's fault we were all here. Ganelon had no clue. They were up late playing chess, the elder teaching it to the younger, and the younger beating him regularly.
"I told you, Dworkin said he needed to get the lynchpins out of Amber," said Cayt, becoming perturbed with my incessant questioning. Ganelon was quick to jump in. "I can only assume because I was nearby, he decided to spare me whatever was about to happen as well." He made sense; he looked as if he had maybe fifty good years left. What Cayt meant by lynchpins, I had no idea. Lynchpins were magical triggers, I knew that much. Could Dworkin be planning some grand spell, involving the two of us? It made no sense. HE made no sense, as usual.
"Where's the liquor?" I moaned, already missing Quinn. Terror gripped me, not just for what I thought could happen out there -- the light through the crystal of the cave was getting dark rapidly --but I patted both back pockets.
I had forgotten the Polaroid.
"Luke?" Cayt's shadow floated over the floor and halfway onto the back wall.
"Go away, Cayt."
"I'm... sorry for you." I could sense her swallow hard, searching for the words to comfort me. "I'm sure we'll be out of here soon, and everyone will be okay..."
"Cayt, have you seen, felt, the effects of that storm outside?"
"That's a Shadow Storm, dear. One of the most violent ones I've ever seen. My guess is that something has gone dreadfully wrong. Can you bring the Pattern to mind?"
Another pause. "No."
"The world is fucked up right now, pardon my language. Anyone not in here is likely in deep shit. This includes your father, my son, and Quinn." My voice broke just a tiny bit on that last name, but I acted like it was nothing.
Audible sigh. "Very well, Luke. Ganelon is going throw some food together from the tins."
"I don't want any."
"Okay." Said with some exasperation. Smart kid.
I slept, I didn't know how long. When I woke up, I crept past the others in their bedrolls to the front of the cave. Above, I saw the light of day, slightly muted, tinged blue from the crystal.
Was everything okay? Just one massive Shadow storm? If so, why didn't Dworkin come back? I wandered back to the back area, away from the others. This was worse than before -- not knowing, not being contacted. I sat down on a barrel, and pulled out my sketchpad, just inadvertently doodling, thinking about my son, the others, Amber...
We were going to go about the town, and she was going to help me find a house...
I looked over at the crystalline wall with tired eyes. It had been less than a week since San Francisco, and I'd lost her already? I thought I'd found everything I'd ever wanted and the Universe was screwing me over already?
The pencil snapped in my hand, scratching a large black angry line across the image of a unicorn in a sylvan glade. Rage made my hands shake, and the pad soon found itself fired across the chamber, papers ruffling as it struck the crystal and dropped to the floor.
Fuck the gods I know, if they wouldn't let me have the one thing I'd ever wanted.
My beard was like sandpaper in the hand that supported my chin. I hadn't slept since that other day, after checking on the status of the Shadow storm. Two meals sat on the floor near the entrance to "my" chamber. Ganelon and Cayt had given up on trying to reach me, or even say anything to me. I could hear them mutter in the other chamber, playing checkers or whatever the hell was going on. My eyes burned like fire. I didn't care anymore. There was no point to even hoping.
The others began moving around, again. Ganelon had some idea about getting exercise of some sort. I didn't really care, and I went back to examing my life in the reflections of a crystal cave.
Until, of course, my son tackled me. I hugged him near-savagely, ruffling his hair. He looked tired and much older. We shared a few words, content to just know that the other was still around.
Again, a shadow on the wall, feminine, closely-cropped hair. I asked Connie if I could catch up with him, and the hint hit him with the impact of some blunt force trauma. He smiled and laughed and ran ahead.
She leaned against the mouth of the chamber opening, smiling slightly. I ran a hand through my hair; I knew I looked like shit. "Saving the universe again?" I croaked, smile gaining control of my face.
Quinn hugged me, and as I ran my free hand through her hair, I knew my hopes and dreams lived again.