[Quinn] Fourteen: "First Impressions" [Quinn] Fourteen: "First Impressions"

"I walk in the air between the rain
Though myself and back again.
Where? I don't know."
--Counting Crows "Round Here"

A warm hand settled on her shoulder. She looked up.

It was Luke. "Are you all right?" His concern was evident.

Not sure she could trust her voice, she just nodded, laying her hand on his in silent thanks. After a moment, he pulled away.

"I think I'm going to retire." He gave the group one last glance before wending his way to the door.

And in turn, Darien, Connie and Jess followed suit.

She was alone.

She put her head back down on her arms, and dissolved into helpless laughter. Why, she wasn't sure, maybe the utter absurdity of the whole affair, but it did drain the tension out of her. So much so that when the tingling of a Trump call demanded her attention, she answered with her normal smile.

"Connie," she was somewhat surprised to hear from him so soon.

"Two things. One, my dad suckered me in to calling everyone for an early morning meeting of everyone."

"What about?"

"I dunno," he shrugged.

"All right..."

"And two, you might want to come though and see this."

"See what?" Suspicion rang in her tone, and she added, "This doesn't have anything to do with a 'theory' does it?"

Connie considered that. "No, more like a statement of fact."

"Maybe you'd better bring me through." She held out her hand.

She appeared in the chamber where Merlin's body was being held. A squealing screech greeted her from a blinking Frakir, now wrapped about Merlin's wrist.

"I've got munchies," Connie piped up.

"I'll pass," Quinn waved away the proffered tray of leftover party goodies, engrossed by the oddly-behaved artifact. "What's going on?" She didn't wait for an answer to key a Knowing.

"Well, I had this idea. I've been meaning to bring Frakir back, and I started thinkin' that it was weird how much Martin tried to keep Frakir away from him. And so I thought that maybe it had something to do with Merlin not wakin' up..."

She listened absently, most of her attention taken in her Working. Delicately, she wormed her way into the flow of energy the Knowing showed. Magic, definitely. But there was something else, something that approximated magic, but seemed more, well, manufactured. Her grasp of magic-based sorcery wasn't advanced enough to let her pin it down any more specifically.

The amount of energy being released by Frakir was astounding, and it was all being absorbed by Merlin. She patterned a new key, shifting her focus to Merlin himself. Ordered structures of magic were being relayed directly into his central nervous system, each successive structure more complex than the previous.

A bit reluctant, she let the Knowing drop for the moment. "Connie, I -"

The room was empty.

She only vaguely noted when Connie returned some indefinite time later, going on about his Dad and Trumps. She gave him a brief rundown on Merlin's condition, and was about to go back to Working when he said, "I think we need to talk about the trip."

"Oh?" Her heart wasn't fully into the now-familiar argument, allowing Connie to maneuver her into a corner on the subject of his addition to the RoseAmber expedition.

"Yeah, I know you don't want me to come. But, I thought about it and I've got some reasons why you should let me. I know I'm not a big warrior like Jessica or Locke, or a big wizard like Simon...

"But wouldn't you like to have someone along you don't have to worry about? I mean, I don't know what my Dad and Darien'll be doing, except fighting with each other. Jess'll be all interested in leading her armies, and Locke just doesn't care.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have somebody who you don't have to worry about watching your back?"

She listened quietly, trying not to let show the guilt she felt at his words. By chance, circumstance or fate, Connie was in fact her closest friend here in Amber. It was he she often sought out when she was troubled, or needed the comfort of someone to talk to. True, she did feel protective of him, and not just because of Luke's request. She was becoming quite attached to her Amber family, and even though she had to look up to talk to Connie, she still saw him as something of a younger sibling, and couldn't help but try and keep herself between him and the dangers they kept finding. His loyalty to her, though, deserved something more than her blanket denials.

Eventually she simply replied, "Yes it would."

She returned to her Working when he left a short while later, but quickly came to the realization that whatever was happening was going to take some time. So she turned her attention to something she'd been mulling over since the day Julia had managed to swipe Merlin.

Wards.

She'd been puzzling over a source for materials when she'd remembered that Dworkin's book had taught her a bit about conjuring, as well as sorcery. She hadn't exactly had the time of late to do much experimentation and still had some difficulty with the concept. Conjuring hadn't been possible on Erna, at least with her Ernan sorcery, but the necessity for clear pictures of Patternings and keys stood her in good stead as she slowly began to build the desired object in her mind. She held her hands cupped in front of her, imagining in them a flat, smooth disk, give or take three inches in diameter.

That base completed, details began to appear; some generated by her memories of past objects used for her intended purpose, and others evident of her own distinct style: Banded agate, of pale green shot through with streaks of a deep reddish hue - typical composition, if not color, of a good Ernan Wardstone.

The image began to gain substance, the weight of the agate becoming cool and smooth against her palms. She pulled at the fickle currents of magic that flickered and flowed about her, weaving them into the image, filling it with its own reality. The strain of plying the currents was causing a slight throbbing pain in her temples, but she wasn't quite yet done.

A bright silvery-grey etched across the deeper hues. The artificer's mark, sign of her work, traced itself upon the disk in the form of an antique Earth compass. A bit of whimsy on her part, it was. She who had so many paths to choose from surely needed a bit of help to find her way...

The Trump call snapped her concentration. Muttering invectives, she answered it.

Connie. "It works!"

"What works?" Instantly regretting her peevishness.

"The Trump!"

"Aren't they supposed to work?"

"Well, my dad taught me this new trick. He can store his trumps in his noggin'. And I decided being all Trumpy and all, he had to teach me. And now I have Trump of you stored in my head!"

That surprised her. "Why me?" She would have thought he'd choose his father.

"Because you're more attractive than him to practice on," he stated matter-of-factly.

She blushed. "Oh."

"I mean, he's not the best thing to stare at... well, you might not see it that way."

She instantly got redder, and ended the conversation as quickly as she could, before her flushed cheeks should give away more than she'd like.

Clenching her fist in frustration reminded of the result of her efforts of the last hour. In her hand lay the physical form of the image she'd so careful crafted in her mind's eye. Success.

So she sat with Merlin, alternately Working to check the progress of the transfer, conjuring the Wards, and fretting about what to do if something should go wrong.

She gave up on the Wards after three, her head starting to pound with the effort, and concentrated on worrying about her brother.

His color was almost normal, and when she brushed his hair away from his face, his skin was warm. She was trying not to get her hopes up, that this might actually work, but being an optimist at heart, she couldn't help but do so. "Please wake up, Merlin. Help me keep my promise to Dad..."

She almost fell off her seat when a knock sounded at the door, startling her. It was Luke. "What's going on?"

"Connie didn't tell you?"

"Uh, no..."

She motioned him over to Merlin's bedside.

"Whoa," his eyes widened as Frakir continued to chirp and flash. "Have you been trying to figure it out?"

"A little," she returned to her seat on the edge of the bed. "There's a massive amount of energy being transfered, much of it magical, but there's something else that I'm just not familiar with."

"Hmm. Lemme take a look."

As Luke began his own study, Quinn watched him surreptitiously. Ever since Connie's revelation, she found herself constantly wondering what Luke thought when they were together. It was tempting to Work a clandestine Knowing, but her inherent sense of decorum kept that from being an option. And he wasn't easy to read at face, leaving her mostly in the dark. She still thought Connie was jumping to conclusions, but over the last few days, had found herself hoping that there might be a grain of truth to her cousin's words...

"Hmm," he repeated, jolting her back to reality. "Something about it seems familiar..."

Secrets were secrets, but... "Do you know about Ghostwheel?"

"The name sounds familiar."

She described what she could of Ghost.

"That's it!"

They didn't get much farther than that it seemed Frakir was "downloaded" increasingly complex data structures directly into Merlin's cerebral cortex.

In the middle of an explanantion of 'data structures', Luke yawned. "I think I'm going to get some coffee. Want anything?"

She chuckled. "Coffee's good. I have this bad habit of not getting much sleep around this place."

He returned in short order, muching on cookies. "You want one?" He offered the plate. "My son told me I couldn't have any, but I figured I'd help myself anyway..."

Some time later the conversation drifted back to more serious subjects, and they had just about exhausted any real ideas for the when Connie poked his nose in, offered his assistance if Quinn should want him to take a turn watching Merlin, and announced he was going to bed.

"I think I'm going to get some sleep, too" Luke muttered through another yawn.

"Actually, I'll walk up with you," gesturing at her dress, Quinn added, "I want to change out of this get-up."

Not much was said as they walked, and as they reached their destination, Quinn was just starting to get up the courage to say something about Connie's theory regarding Luke's feelings towards her when he stopped, just past her door, his expression thoughtful. "In some ways, you're lucky, you know."

"What do you mean?" She recovered quickly.

"Your father's in a bad way, but you know you have a chance of helping him. My dad... I know it's most likely that he's lost to us, gone... but I don't like the idea of him just falling forever."

Quinn just leaned against her doorframe, watching him, letting him talk. Not the conversation she had expected, but she was grateful for any insight she could get into this very complicated man.

"It's silly, that you should feel lucky because you can help your dad." He suddenly seemed embarassed at his show of feeling.

"I don't think it's silly at all," and her quiet response was full of sympathetic understanding.

"I need some sleep," he muttered gruffly, turning away toward his door.

Sensing his discomfort at the turn the conversation was taking, and not wanting it to end like that, she teased gently "I don't think I've ever seen you quite this maudlin."

"S'what happens when I don't get enough sleep," he chuckled, more like his normal self. Her ruse had worked.

"Then shoo," she smiled gently, waving him toward his door.

He obeyed. "Good night."

"Good night, Luke."

* * *

She checked Merlin's pulse one last time. Steady, if still very slow.

She chose a spot that allowed her a good sight of both Merlin and the door, wrapped herself in her blankets, and drifted off, lulled into sleep by the oddly comforting sensation of the hard floor beneath her.

A light tap on her shoulder brought back to wakefulness.

Long-ingrained reflexes kicked in at the touch, and she rolled to a crouch, remembering where she was in just enough time not to grope for a sword that wasn't there anyway.

The figure standing over stepped back at her reaction, the light from the wall sconces playing over his face.

Merlin.

Dumbfounded, she just sat there on her heels, looking at him in a mixture of relief, consternation and confusion.

"Excuse me? Who are you? And where am I?" He sounded a bit like she felt.

She snapped out of her daze. "You're in Castle Amber."

He looked around the room skeptically.

"Really."

He still didn't look terribly impressed.

"I'm Quinn." She scrutinized his face. "You know who you are?"

"Yes."

She heaved a sigh of releif. "There's that, then. Merlin, you've been in a coma for seven days..." Quickly, she sketched out the bare details of the attack and his convalescence.

"Do I have you to thank for bringing me back?"

"No, technically that was Connie, though I did have a vested interest in seeing you return to life," she grinned.

He looked utterly mortified. "We're not married, are we?"

"No," she took a deep breath. "Actually, I'm your sister."

That puzzled him. "I didn't think Dara had any other children."

"Not by Dara..."

"Whoa."

She launched into an explanation of Corwin's adventures in his universe, but trailed off after a few minutes, the look on his face making one thing very clear.

He didn't believe her.

They spent the next ten minutes arguing various points of her story, their words growing almost heated until she blurted out. "It was Martin who attacked you!"

"Now I know you're lying!"

Damn. "Were you always this paranoid?" Her frustration made her snappish. Who would he believe, then?

She snatched out Connie's Trump sketch.

A few minutes later, a disheveled Connie padded into the room.

"He doesn't believe me, Connie," her voice was edged with anguish and desperation.

Unfortunately, he didn't seem to believe Connie, either.

"Maybe I should Trump someone who isn't supposed to be here," Merlin started shuffling though his Trump deck. "Like Brand or Dierdre..."

"No, don't Trump Dierdre!" Quinn and Connie yelped in unison.

Things went downhill from there.

Finally, Merlin gave up. "Look, I think I'm just going to go to my room and get some sleep." He gathered his things and made his way to the door.

"If you don't mind, I'll walk with you..." Quinn took a hesitant step toward him.

He shrugged, and motioned her out the door ahead of him.

And once again she endured a long silent walk. Still, whether he believed her or not, he was alive. That was what really counted, anyway. Wasn't it?

He stood in his doorway. "Well, good night."

Desperately, she thought about for some way to end their first meeting on a better note. "Truce?" She held out her hand.

He looked at with obvious suspicion for a long moment, before reaching out to grasp it. "Truce."

"We were both cast forth by the same pale hands
and we both moved freely in the shadowlands
and we both were sculpted by the same cold wind
and we both had armor that was made from tin
and I've tried to find you but it's useless...
and I've tried to speak but it's useless..."
--Boingo, "Can't See (Useless)"

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