"If the stack is high against you
And the hammer's coming down
And the time that's yours lies heavy in your hands
Oh my sentimental friend
The fast much reach an end."
-Ultravox "One Small Day"
She stood outside her door for a long time, forehead resting against the rough wood, berating herself for the mess she'd made dealing with her brother.
Eventually, though, she gave up, exhaustion settling in. She pushed open her door, and out of old habit, Worked a quick Knowing as she stepped inside. And immediately stopped, just inside the door.
Something was different.
Lying on her neatly made bed was a piece of paper, folded about a Trump.
Thought you could use a rest. The Trump and Shadow are safe, and are running about 3 times as fast as Amber.The familiar cold chilled her fingertips as she examined Trump.
It was a corner of a quiet poolside. Character glyphs graced panels on one wall that she could see. A robe hung on the adjacent wall, near some neatly folded towels, and what appeared to be a bottle and two glasses.
Hesitating only for the barest instant, she opened her concentration to it, and when the scene filled her vision, stepped though.
Quite charming when he wanted to be, indeed.
She sat next to him, and conversation, as expected, wound its way to Merlin and the last evening's events.
"I mean, he doesn't think I'm real." Chin cupped in hands, she stared morosely across the table.
"You have to be real, you walked the Pattern," Connie pointed out.
"Okay, there is that. But, think about it. I come from a shadow in a universe created out of the subconscious Corwin's subconscious. Effectively, I'm a figment of his imagination." It made an illogical sort of sense. "Why should Merlin believe me?"
Connie grinned. "Then Corwin has a good imagination. He should have more figments."
She blushed. She'd been doing it a lot lately.
Fortunately, for her, she was saved by a continuance of that particular conversational trend when Connie noticed his father approaching.
"So who gets to tell him?" Connie waved at Luke.
"I will!" he volunteered before she could formulate a coherent response, and then Luke was at the table, looking at them quizzically.
"Let me just say I'm an idiot," she prefaced Connie's explanation of her conversation with Merlin.
"Look," Luke said after Connie had finished, "I'll go up and talk to him, okay?"
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" They had not seen each other in some time, she knew.
"It'll be fine!"
"I'll go with you, then."
They were about halfway up the main staircase when she glanced sidelong at him. "By the way, thank you."
"Wha-? Oh," his grin widened. "That."
"It was very thoughtful of you." Suddenly unable to meet his eyes, she paid studious attention to the stairs.
"I try. I figured there was no need for you to go existing on coffee and small snatches of sleep." There was a distinct undercurrent of concern mixed in with amusement.
"Well, when you don't have to it's nice, I must admit."
He looked quite pleased with himself, she noticed when she finally managed to look at him.
When they reached Merlin's room, Luke pounded on the door, and few moments later, after some shuffling sounds from inside, Merlin opened it.
"Quinn..." His gaze shifted past her. "Rinaldo."
Luke smiled charmingly. "You knew me as Luke once, and that's the name I usually go by here."
Merlin seemed to accept that. "I never thought to see you wandering free in Amber."
"Well, things do change." Then Luke got right to the point. "I hear you were less than convinced about certain things. We're having a discussion about recent events downstairs."
Quinn became very interested in the floor.
"Well I have some evidence now that this is all on the up and up." She caught a slight edge of amusement in Merlin's reply. "It was just a bit fantastic that all this could happen in 7 days."
"Tell me about it." The words were out before she could stop them.
But all the comment did was get smile out of him. "Give me a bit to get myself together, and I'll meet you down there, okay?"
Most of the group's immediate thoughts seemed to be on breakfast, until Simon finally queried, "So, what's this meeting about?"
Luke started, "I think it's in everyone's best interest," he looked over at Quinn, " to find out whats going on in Corwin's Universe, as there may be ramifications that spread here." He paused to let that sink in. "And besides, I think if any of us were in this predicament, Quinn would help us, so we should help her."
And the debate began. They hadn't gotten too far when the table got suddenly quiet, and Simon stood. Quinn twisted about in her chair to see what was causing the odd reaction.
His approach was hesitant, but his cousins: Simon, Jess, Connie, Locke, all greeted him enthusiastically, bringing him into the group.
Quinn played idly with her fork until his quiet question, "Can you bring me up to speed?"
She looked up, right into his eyes. Confusion, still, but also curiosity, and the beginnings of acceptance.
A bit hesitant herself, she began to fill in a bit more on the background of the recent events in Corwin's Amber.
"One thing we might want to try..." Merlin held out his hand to her. "You have the Trumps you mentioned?"
She sorted out her RoseAmber deck, handing it to him with no comment.
He questioned her on them in a bit more detail, then studied them in silence as the group continued their discussion.
"Someone should stay at Corwin's Pattern." Locke reminded them.
"I'll stay." Merlin shrugged at her surprise. "That way, if you get into trouble, you can Trump me. It'll give you a quick escape route." He returned the Trumps. "If I'm close to his Primal Pattern, then you should be able to get through using those."
And there is was. A plan. Sort of.
For the most part, she managed to keep her attention on his conversation, but memories and more recent concerns distracted her from time to time. She had a sudden deep flash of homesickness for Erna, followed by an equally strong longing for the security and strength of her father.
If Elistan noted her distraction, he refrained from comment, only wishing her luck on her ventures, and once again reiterating his wish for further discussion at an appropriate time.
She left, grateful for his blessing. She was going to need all the deified help she could get.
"So," she heaved the saddle onto her horse, "how was tea in Chaos?"
Jess' reply accompanied a sly smile. "Very nice."
By the time Connie found the two of them, they were giggling outrageously. "Giggling chicks in armor," he muttered as he went to find a horse. "Scary concept."
Which only sent them off into more peals of laughter.
They seemed to have gotten it out of their systems by the time the rest of the group trickled in. Jess and Quinn finished the last few maneuvers of their mock swordfight, and helped the others get settled while Connie pulled out his Trump of the shadow near Corwin's Pattern.
Once through the Trump, it took Quinn only a few minutes to shift over to RoseAmber's Primal Pattern
The first thing she noticed was that the RosePattern's glow had dimmed since she and Connie were here last. No time to waste.
After everyone said their goodbyes to Merlin, she paused near her brother a moment. "Take care of yourself, please."
He chuckled slightly. "Don't worry. I'm not planning to spend any more time unconscious."
"I'll keep an eye on him," Darien appeared just behind her.
"You'd better," but she smiled gratefully in return, reaching out to grasp his hand in silent thanks.
She turned to go, but took only a few steps before looking back to Merlin. "I'll bring Dad back, I promise." She still wasn't quite sure he believed her claim as Corwin's daughter, but that could be dealt with later. After she made sure Corwin was all right.
He just nodded, maybe not sure how to respond, and she took the opportunity of his silence to get to her horse, before she lost her nerve. Fear was the one emotion she had ever had any success in hiding or controlling, and only because on Erna, uncontrolled fear was exceedingly detrimental to one's health. She had the scars to prove that. And while completely determined to do this, even to going alone if necessary, she couldn't quite stop shaking.
In part, she was quite sure that none of them were any match for Brandon in sorcery, and seven people, only six of whom were trained fighters, would be hard pressed by an army of demons like the one she had seen Brandon command, Dierdre and Luke with Werewindle notwithstanding. And if Brandon had managed to get a hold of the Heart somehow...
And, in part, she was utterly terrified of what she might find on the other side of this Pattern. If she'd lost her father...
No. don't even think it.
She looked at each of her companions in turn before pulling her horse around. There really was no reason to delay anymore.
It was time to go home.
The second trip seemed much the same as the first, and eventually she reined in her mount. There it was, stones laid out in a Patternesqe arrangement. She was heartened by the fact that no army of demons leapt out of the shadows to tear them to shreds, and so led the group maybe a quarter mile from the stone replica before giving her horse its head. The animal happily obliged, surging forward at a gallop. She waited only long enough to make sure the rest of the group was keeping close, then started Shifting, Corwin's calm words of instruction echoing in the back of her mind. "Hellriding is intense. Keep your focus on something specific: a person, object or place you know well."
The knotted tangle of alteroak and alterbirch spread near the base of the hill, which rose off to the left. She knew the small village was just on the other side, but it was blocked from view here. They had pleaded so desperately for her assistance. Fourteen taken, nine of them children, before they'd walled themselves into their little town, terrified even of the day, let alone the darkness they had known would fall that night. Jaggonath was only an hour away, to the north, but they were too terrified even to send someone that far, instead waiting, hoping that someone would come along.
The place had stuck in her mind ever since, the details clear and sharp. So that's where she focused.
There was something else going on, other than the intensity of the Hellride. It took her a few minutes to put her finger on it, but she did soon realize that the flow between Shadows felt wrong somehow. Abrupt transitions dumped them from one shadow to the next with little connection; the effect was jarring, forcing her to throw much of her energy into keeping her focus on her intended destination. And the Shadows themselves... dank, dismal...
One might almost say, chaotic.
And then it slammed to a sudden halt.
The crater ahead was large, about 30 meters in diameter. She reined the bay around the lip of the hole, the key to a Knowing leaving her lips with no conscious cue.
The sense was unfocused, but definite. She slid off her horse, and began to make her way into the crater, Connie, Simon and Locke right behind her.
The very bottom was covered by marsh, almost to her knees in depth. Something, there.
A piece of cloth. Which, once she, Connie and Locke began to pull on it, revealed itself to be attached to a body. Or, part of one.
The well-decayed torso came free with a slurping squelch. While Connie promptly lost his breakfast off to the side, she quelled her own stomach and began a closer investigation of the body. She had, after all, seen corpses in far worse condition. Something metallic caught her eye up near the neck. Locke peered over her shoulder at it. "Cybernetics," he commented, "like Martin had," clarifying at her puzzled look.
Like Martin had...
She glanced at Simon, who was already deep into casting. She Worked her own.
fearfearfearterrormaddness... RELIEFRELIEF... astonishmentangerfearfearterror
She dropped the Working, glancing over to Simon. "Falling," he remarked, "then nothing."
"Oh, boy." A cold knot forming in her stomach, she Worked again, focusing on the sense of Pattern. Amber's. The true Amber's.
Martin's body here. So there was more than one way to travel between the Universes. And this one didn't require being of Corwin's blood.
It didn't take too long for the more bothersome connection to be made. "If this is Martin, then maybe Brandon isn't just a creation of this universe," Connie said slowly, and then fell apart.
"Connie!" She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "Connie, focus. Look at me. Calm down." Bit by bit, she talked him back. "Let's not worry about that now, okay?"
"But-" He looked imploringly at his father.
"I'll believe it when I see it," Luke didn't sound terribly worried, but Quinn wasn't so sure. "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." If this was Brand, and they had to fight him to get Corwin back...
Oh, God, this was going to get complicated.
Oh, for now you have the power
The guns and all the swords
But nature has a nasty habit
Of balancing her flaws.
-Mike and the Mechanics