The rest of the ride back to Jaggonath was uneventful, to the point of unspectacular. Not that she was complaining much, she told herself, her hand going to the still healing slashes across her lower abdomen. Uneventful at least meant less painful.
Wending her way through the city, watchful eyes taking in everything, she realized that even after two years, nothing much had changed, at least of the the physical surface. On a deeper level, though, that notion was furthest from the truth.
As used to reading people through the fae as she was, she still had a fair skill for reading them at face. Bewilderment, anger, joy, and still, even now, a little fear. She sighed. Change is always feared, even if the result is what you've wanted. The people of Jaggonath, and those farther abroad, had had their lives, their very world, changed out from under them.
The fae was gone, and they weren't quite sure how to handle it.
Automatically guiding Demon around a broken cart blocking the road, she very very carefully did something she was absolutely sure she should notbe able to do. She Worked.
The fae currents were there. She could still see them and even manipulate them. A little push, and that tendril of bluish energy flowed about the cart driver, screaming angrily at the street urchin who had darted in front of him. The fae spiraled about him, reacting to his anger, but did nothing else. No manifestations, nothing.
She let the tendril go, and it flowed back into the current. Still there, but different. The Hunter's sacrifice had worked; the fae no longer had its awesome reactive power to the human psyche. It was blocked from Erna's human inhabitants, forever changing life on Erna.
Then why the hell could she still Work it?
Shaking off the doubts and worries that had been plaguing her ever since she had heard the Erna-shattering news about the fae, she urged Demon forward toward the spires that rose ahead. The Great Cathedral at Jaggonath, formerly an oasis of the power of faith over the fae, now a symbol of victory. Absently, she wondered just how many members of the Church realized that they owed their salvation to one of their greatest enemies?
When she finally entered the building and brusquely related who she was, her reception was almost dull, despite who she was and what she'd done. Walking out against the Patriarch's orders to follow a man already condemned for his actions doesn't usually score one toomany points.
Her things were taken by an acolyte, and she was turned over to a priest. She was greeted only with nods or short, curt bows, depending the on the age and status of the brothers and sisters in the cathedral. The paperwork they foisted upon her was rather excessive. "All for the histories," was the reply intoned when she questioned.
"All for the histories" my saddle-sore behind, she thought crossly as she was passed off to yet another acolyte, who showed her to small quarters, unadorned for the most part. Her saddlebags were there already.
And so Reverend Alexandra Quinn Kielmann returned to Jaggonath after her two-year sojourn, with no ceremony whatsoever.
She spent the rest of that day wandering about town, making discrete inquiries into the subject of one Reverend Damien Kilcannon Vryce. It was rather surprising to her how few people wanted to talk about Vryce. Most all of those connected with the Church raised eyebrows at her questions. Some would not talk of him at all, due to his excommunication. She fumed a bit at this, wanting to shake every single one of them and remind them that he had done what he'd done for the Church, but she refrained. None of them would even know about that, anyway. Instead, she returned their raised brows and veiled looks of contempt with cold stares.
At least amongst the denizens of the city itself, there was more to be had. Vryce had been a close friend of the Adept Ciani of Faraday, a well respected figure in Jaggonath, so people were more inclined to think of him as something other than a fallen man. Some had seen Vryce in the city, but no two reports were the same. The only consistent point amongst all the stories was Vryce leaving Jaggonath and heading north toward the Straits.
She slept fitfully that night, and rose before dawn to begin the three-hour ride to the port city of Kale, on the Serpent Straits. She spent most of the day nosing around squalid place, avoiding pickpockets and the like. At the docks, many reported seeing Vryce board a vessel not two weeks ago, but for "some strange reason" he was not listed on any ship's manifest.
Near the end of the workday she ended up in the Dockmaster's office. As she spoke with the burly old sailor, one of the men who worked for the Dockmaster looked at her curiously -- almost with a look of wonder, as well as suspicion. He was small and thin, with thin white hair and dull blue eyes. He wrote in a large tome near the back of the office. She paid him only a little attention, her focus on the conversation that was really going nowhere.
Eventually, unable to give her more information, the Dockmaster dismissed himself, and bowed toward her. She took the opportunity to turn to the dulled-eyed man who had looked at her so oddly earlier, but he was not in the office anymore. One of the other men flipped the sign in the window, closing the office, and as a group they headed back for the city proper.
The room now empty, Quinn very carefully Worked a Knowing, in hopes that the changed fae currents would still have the signature of Vryce coming through here. And, yes, Vryce had been here. His presence was weak, however, and she could get nothing more specific than that.
Frustrated and a bit despondent at being balked in her search, after coming so close, she stalked out of the dockmaster's office. Across the Straits, the darkening sky was light by an eerie glow. She stopped, mesmerized, and watched for a few moments as the Forest continued to burn. She'd heard of the destruction of the Hunter's Keep, and subsequent torching of the undead ecosystem he had created, but having returned to Jaggonath from the south, she hadn't seen the results of the Church's work.
She was quiet and contemplative of her ride back, not carrying on her normally animated, if one-sided, conversations with Demon. Upon returning to her room she found that a simple meal had been left outside her door, along with a flagon of water. She retired for the evening -- still able to see the glow of the fire, far distant, from outside of her north-facing window. She wondered absently if her assignment to this room had been a random thing, or if the new Patriarch, whom she still hadn't met face to face, was trying to tell her something.
She set the tray of food on her desk, and pulled up the chair. Picking absently at the meal she opened a leatherbound book, with the imprint of a stylized Earth compass on the cover, in which she began writing. She had filled about three pages with neat, tight script when there was a knock at her door.
Closing the book, she got up, and went to the door, which she opened. "Yes?"
At the door was the man who had been eyeing her at the Dockmaster's office. He held in his hand a large something in a sack. "Ah... begging your pardon, sistah, you are Kielmann? Lookin for, ah, Vryce?"
In answer, Quinn all but dragged him into the room. "You know something about Reverend Vryce?"
The man smiled, a mostly toothless grin. "You can say that. I am Tobin, formuh apprentice to Vryce. Heh! Apprentice for a few days!" He looked about, and sat in the desk chair. "Wasn't cut out for the prieshthood. But Vryce and I was friends, he got me in with the Dockmastah..." Tobin looked off out the window towards the burning Forest. "He dug around in that inferno, ya know. Retrieved this." He held the bag up. "Before he stole out on a ship, we ate a meal togethuh, toasted our friendship. Then he told me he needed to get away from all dis, all the church stuff. But he asked me one thing, to make shuh that the girl chasin' him got this stuff." He gestured at her with the bag.
"By 'inferno', I assume you are referring to the Forest?" Quinn took the bag, fingers fumbling nervously with the lacing.
Tobin nodded. "Yah. Came out all' soot-covuhed. Smile on his face, though." As she began opening the bag, he stood up. "My cue to go. Vryce told me this part of things was puhsonal, between you and him. Live well, young lady." He bowed deeply, looking at her with great respect, then slipped out the door.
There seemed to be two things in the bag, a folded-up piece of
parchment with her name written on it, and what seemed to be a jewelry
box. She examined the paper first. It looked like Vryce's
handwriting. Hands trembling slightly, she unfolded the letter and began
How I smiled when I learned that you were seeking me out. You, of the few pupils that I have had and were actually able to get along with, were always my favorite. And there was a reason behind that, as well. but first things first.
I am on the brink of a miraculous transformation, preparing to leave this mortal shell to exist amongst the fae. I do this with full control of my faculties, and persuasion will not deter me. My last few actions before secluding myself were to put my affairs into some kind of balance -- and thinking of you, and the wonderous person you've become, and your equally wonderous origins, I thought it time for you to discover who you truly are.
In this box is a piece of your father, you true father. He was a man that I feel I was as close to than any brother ever was. He arrived mysteriously, in the Forest, and disappeared just as mysteriously not long after. The amusing part of my admiration is that I never knew his True name; I called him Paladin, because he looked like one when I found him near death in the Forest. He healed quicker than any man I ever knew, and in the span of half a month he had taken a lover and made a friend of me.
His lover gave birth to a girl, and that girl was you. Gwendolyn Kielmann died during your birth, and that was when the Church raised you into what you are.
I cannot tell you more about this man because there was just too much about him that I can only feel, and cannot use language or art to explain. And in the box that I gave to Tobin, there is a remnant of him; a trinket that was found near where we found him, but too late to give back to him. I bequeath this to you, my dear child, in the hopes that it will help you find your heritage.
Take the utmost care with it. It has consumed the unprepared, but I believe that you will be able to use it to find that which is yours. Weep not for me, for I go to roam the skies and to rest this weary soul.
Yours in faith,
Then she then turned her attention to the box. Sitting back on the bed, she examined it carefully, then taking a deep breath, opened it. The box was a plain, wooden box; sanded and apparently shellaqed; it was held together by simple hinges and a clasp. As she opened the box, the light of the fire outside caught upon one of the largest jewels she have ever seen -- easily fist-sized. It was clasped to a fine silver chain. The jewel was vaguely pear-shaped, and uncut -- looking almost like a drop of molten crystal. What astonished her most was the deep pink of the gem, which seemed to spark in the center with its own inner fire.
Quinn picked up the gem, looking at it in wonder. Idly, she wandered over to the window and watched the distant glow of fire as she cradled the gem in her hand. "It astounds me,' she said to herself, "that one place can cause so many change's in a persons life. And now it brings me the truth about myself." She held up the gem by the chain. "And you. What do you know about me?" she said to it, chuckling at herself for talking to an inanimate object, a habit she had picked up after so many years alone on the road. Of course, the jewel didn't answer, just spun lazily at the end of its chain, glowing oddly in the distant firelight.
She sighed. "Alexandra Quinn Kielmann, you are a loon. First talking to yourself, and your horse, and now to a rock." It was warm in her hand, and she swore she felt her heartbeat pulse with it, somehow.
On a whim, she keyed a Knowing around the gem, to see if that would tell her anything of its origins.
As she twisted the fae to her bidding about the jewel, she suddenly became Aware. Aware that what she held in her hand was imbued with Power, eldrich sorceries of some kind, something fabulous yet scary, peaceful yet aggressive. The inner light of the gem seemed to spark just a bit brighter -- or did it? She thought she saw a wavering around the gem and her hand, almost like the rise of heat from a desert...
She felt a longing, and a sense of completion. A sense of kinship. And as she looked at this gem, she felt an itching sensation. She looked out onto the burning Forest, and she knew! She wasn't sure how, but she knew that there was a strangeness there, a weakness, a place where realities merged and mixed...
Involuntarily, she dropped the Working, staring at the gleaming gem suspiciously for a long moment as she tried to stop her hands from shaking. "'I believe that you will be able to use it to find that which is yours.'" She quoted to herself.
She paced her room for a while, stopping often to stare out at the glow of flame in the Forest, the gem cradled in her hands. Eventually she stopped a last time at the window. She had known from the moment she had seen the power and possibility the jewel held what she would do, but she'd still had to rationalize it to herself. "There is almost nothing left here for me. I have no need to search for Vryce anymore, there is no sorcery left for me to teach, and if anyone found out I can still Work the fae..." She looked down at the gem and shook her head. "I can see you are going to be a great deal of trouble to me."
She returned to her desk, and composed a letter to the new Patriarch.
"Most Holy Father,She folded up the note, and leaned it against the inkwell on her desk, after clearly addressing it to the new Patriarch. When she didn't show up at tomorrow's meeting with the Patriarch, they'd come looking.
I have come into possession of certain information that could prove that there is still a danger in the remains of the Forest. I do not believe it is something that should wait, so I am taking it upon myself to go there and see if what I believe is true.
Since the necessity of my employ here is no longer a concern, now that we have lost access to the fae, and since my search for Father Vryce has come to a dead end, I beg your leave to use my knowledge and skills to a new end. And I most humbly beg your forgiveness for leaving with only this letter to explain my actions. But I do believe that this situation must be looked into immediately. I will return when I have gauged the possible dangers, for your guidance in dealing with what may be. And I will accept any penance you place upon me for my abrupt and disrespectful departure.
In His Name, and Always in Faith,
Reverend-Sister Alexandra Quinn Kielmann"
After a moment's hesitation, she returned the gem to the box, and after carefully wrapping it in one of her spare shirts, and placed it in a saddlebag along with her journal. She slipped on her chainmail shirt, and her worn Order tabard over that, buckled on her sword-belt, bracers, and leg-guards, grabbed her saddle bags and her helm, and quietly slipped out the door.
She headed down the the stables and got Demon. Late as it was, no one questioned her, though she did garner a few odd looks. No matter. she'd be long gone before word of her leave-taking reached anyone capable of doing anything about it.
It was well past midnight when she reached Kale. She did get unsavory looks from various unsavory fellows as she went through some of the rougher spots of town, near the docks, but no one seemed to want to try anything with a priestess.
She haggled with a ferry-runner, and managed to convince/threaten him into taking her across the Straights. She urged Demon off the boat almost as soon as it touched the dock on the other side, and rode hard for the inferno some miles ahead.
After about an hour she was close enough to see the true extent of the damage. The Forest did indeed burn, but it looked like there were a few places where torches and such were just tossed into the woods, and patches had as of yet escaped the flames. She made her way into one of those, coaxing a very balky Demon past the flames. She wound her way deeper into the inferno, sweat pouring down her face. She knew where she wanted to go. Why that placed seemed the right place to be, she wasn't sure, but she was sure that's where she needed to go.
The area, where she had encountered the Hunter, was more engulfed in flames, but it looked like she could still get back there. Demon was exceedingly nervous, and whinnied a bit.
She urged the unhorse on, threading her way through the burning patches. She Worked her Sight, trying to get a feel for the fae currents here, if they might explain what the gem implied. She also took the gem out as she rode along, clutching it tightly in her hand. "All right," she muttered, "this proves I'm an idiot. Riding out here because of a damn rock." She continued on, though. "Now what?" she said somewhat crossly, both to herself and the gem.
As if in response, the jewel suddenly glowed with an eerie pink light. She could plainly see the illuminations of the fae currents now, twisting and writhing toward a point deeper within the inferno.
She felt a bit odd... as if things were happening at 4/5th normal speed, except her own actions. A tree trunk fell, and she watched it move as if in a slow-motion replay.
The fae currents twisted toward a point which she quickly determined would take straight into, or through, a wall of flame.
Quinn attempt to Work the fae to part the flame, and her sorceries succeeded in creating a small path through the firey wall, but oddly enough, the Jewel seemed to be dampening the fire immediately around her and Demon. The smoke was starting to get to her, though, and she coughed. Still, she was not feeling as much heat from this fire as she thought she should.
Moving through the flames, she entered a small clearing where the fae seem to congregate to one point. The Jewel shone brightly now, and ahead of her a "bubble" of sorts formed from nothing. (Think the space/time disturbance f/x from TIMECOP.) The flames closed in, creating a small pocket that held her, Demon, and the "bubble".
The anomaly looked like a perpendicular "drain" into which the fae whirlpooled. Quinn slipped the chain of the jewel over her head, and used her now freed hand to draw her sword, her other hand tight on Demon's reins. She watched the bubble, waiting to see what it might do.
It finished forming and held at a diameter of about 15 feet. The edges waved and pulsated with the rhythm of the pulsations of light from the jewel. Demon was more than a bit spooked, and the hair was standing up the back of her neck. Her heartbeat fell into time with the pulse of the jewel, seemingly too slow...
The center of the bubble seemed to show something that didn't look normal; a brightness that shouldn't be, given the dark and smoke and gloom of the Forest. The bubble continued to wave and pulsate in time with the jewel.
Mesmerized, she urged Demon closer, and keyed a Knowing centered on the bubble. But something was wrong... the Knowing didn't give any useful information. Indeed, it told her that the fundamental laws of the Universe broke down in that area. The Knowing did tell her that through the disturbance was an area unaffected by this strangeness.
Sighing, she dismounted, found a fairly long stick and sheathed her sword. Stick extended in one hand, Demon's reins clutched tight in the other, she moved up to the vortex, extending the stick into it, to see if it would be affected by the anomaly.
The wind was brisk, even violent, the closer she got to the vortex, but passing through it, the stick seemed unaffected. Demon, however, was close to bolting. It didn't help that the fire was increasing in intensity, and only, it seemed, the Jewel was holding it back, though she felt a great sense of longing from the gem towards the vortex.
Quinn looked down at the gem hanging around her neck as she fought with Demon. "You want me to go in there?!" she said to it incredulously. "Gods of Earth and Erna, I'm sitting out here in the midst of a blazing inferno talking to a red rock," she berated herself, stumbling as Demon attempted to get as far from this fiery place as possible.
And then she realized just how close the flames were. "Oh, great." Hesitating for only a moment, she move right next to the portal, and gingerly extended her arm into it. "Lord, protect me..."
Much like the stick, nothing happened. She felt a cool breeze blowing on her hand, quite a contrast to the heat all around her. The Jewel pulsated as her hand went through the event horizon of the vortex, and she now saw that Timecop f/z "bubble" enveloping her, Demon, the vortex, and about 5 feet around them. This gave the flames around her an eerie look, but she could swear the heat had lessened...
Having already gone this far, and realizing the vortex has done her no (at least no noticeable harm), she continued to move forward, dragging Demon behind her.
As the jewel crossed the event horizon, it flashed brightly...
When her eyes refocused, she was not in the forest anymore. Around her was a strangely serene landscape, save a low roaring sound coming from a nearby vale. She saw a large forest to her south, an ocean to the west, and a huge mountain to the east. The valley nearby, from which she heard noises, was the only way to the other side of the mountain. It was cool here -- no snow, but the leaves of the deciduous trees had almost all turned and fallen. And it was daylight. And the vortex gone.
The Jewel sparkled, not shining like it had. It exuded a feeling of relief. Demon seemed to have calmed as well, as if nothing at all had happened.
Quinn took stock of her new surroundings before looking at the now calm rock in her hand. "At least you seem happy," she muttered. She let it go, still hung around her neck on its chain, so that it thumped gently against her chest.
"Well, might as well find out where we are, eh old friend" She scratched Demon between the ears as she mounted. Once settled, she kneed him forward, toward the noisy vale. As she went, she attempted to key a Knowing on the vale ahead.
Her Working wavered and faded. She couldn't seem to get a grasp on the fae here, or the magical forces that governed this place. It was rather disturbing, to tell the truth, but more than anything, it convinced her she'd traveled somewhere that wasn't Erna.
As she approached the vale, she could tell from the sounds that there was a pitched battle taking place there. The hair on her neck was standing, usually a good indicator of magics afoot.
She dismounted, tying Demon's reins to a nearby tree, and proceeded on foot. She gave up trying to Work for the moment, and drew her sword as she snuck down to the vale. Scouting a bit, she found an outcropping of rock to hunker behind and observe the battle.
In the vale was a strange sight. Closest to her end was a large force of what would seem to be devils or gargoyles, along with a mix of other creatures thrown purely from myth and legend. At the far end of this group was a man on horseback, wearing a large helmet/headdress of some sort along with green and black robes. It looked like he directed the troop movements, but he also seemed to casts spells now and again, raining fire and such down on the other side.
The other side... human(oid) warriors in armor from what she could tell. They were having a tough time against the demon army, and were outnumbered about 3 to 1. At the far end of the vale stood their general, a man totally outfitted in gleaming armor, head to toe, save a dark cape. This man directed the troops.
Cursing her inability to Work in this place, she looked down at the jewel around her neck. "I don't suppose you have any idea who the good guys are here?" The jewel didn't seem to respond anymore, since she came through. It was sparkling with brief glints when the sun peeked through the clouds. But without waiting for any reaction from the gem, she began to maneuver herself around behind the spell-caster. "Well, since the only demons and creatures of that sort I've even seen weren't exactly friendly, I'll hope it's a safe assumption that they're the same here."
She was able to make her way down the edge of the vale. Being engaged in battle tended to keep people from noticing her, so she was able to get down to the same level as the guy directing the demon forces, and damn close to him as well. He was currently directing bursts of energy toward a unit trying to flank his troops. Because of the high voltage he was giving off, most of his guards were a ways away from him.
Quinn attempted once more to Work the fae. She sensed that there was something to this place that had magical/fae currents, but it was so different from how she usually wove her sorcery that the spell fizzled.
Apparently though, this got the attention of the sorceror.
He turned slowly, revealing pale white skin, a smallish demeanor, green eyes, and bright red hair... He looked at her, and at the Jewel in her hand, and he smiled, rather ominously...
Realizing that her lack of sorcery put her at a distinct disadvantage with this man, she attacked physically, hard and fast, hoping to throw him off balance before he could cast any spells at her. She jumped him, or at least tried to, before she was slammed backwards by some force of energy. Fireworks exploded in her head. The man walked up to her, and smiled as she shook her head, trying to clear it. "A pretty girl with a pretty trinket. I'll take that..." He walked closer...
... Just as the knight in shining armor rode hellbent on leather towards her. He swung low in the saddle on her side, riding between her and the sorceror, extending an arm towards where she lay...
Never having been one to decline assistance when desperate, Quinn grabbed the extended arm. The knight swung an arm around her, but didn't haul her into the saddle, instead keeping her down low. Bolts of energy flew by overhead, and the knight's horse screamed a couple of times. Eventually he pulled her up in front of him, and covered her with his shield, which bore the standard of a unicorn. He slashed at a few demons with his sword, but was able to weave about back to behind his lines, to safety.
Once there he dismounted, and helped her down. Holding forth a gloved hand, he asked, muffled by his helmet, "Please, the Jewel -- it will make the difference here."
Hesitating for only a moment (he had saved her, after all), Quinn slipped the chain over her head and handed him the Jewel.
"Thank you." He slipped one large glove off, and grasped the Jewel by the chain in that hand. With his other hand, he flipped a few fastens on his helmet, and pulled it off his head, then pulled his chain hood down. The man looked middle-aged; his most prominent features were his sea-green eyes, very much like hers, she noted, his short black hair, and his prominent jawline. He stared into the Jewel for a long moment.
The air began to reek of ozone and the hair on Quinn's arms stood up. The clouds overhead churned and grumbled. Lightening began to flash in the skies...
Quinn stayed quiet and watched, realizing something very powerful was going on here. She waited until the knight should speak to her, not wanting to break his concentration.
Suddenly the vale was rocked by thunder, as the fury of the heavens opened up on the demon troops. Lightning flashed down, incinerating the unlucky, blowing holes in the ground, and causing deafening explosions. A few of the demons broke ranks and fled, but most kept fighting, and the wash of lightning and fire from the skies quickly began to consume the entire army.
The knight's troops moved back; many were cheering as the opposing force was devastated. Far off, Quinn could see no more of the man in the black and green robes.
This continued for some time. Eventually, the knight turned his focus away from the Jewel and the downpour of lightning ended and his troops began cleaning up whichever demons survived the assault. He looked at Quinn and smiled, taking her hand. "Thank you. It has been too long since I got the Heart back. I am Corwin, King of Amber, and I am forever in your debt."
Quinn, fortunately used to dealing with royalty, kneeled. "As I am to you, Majesty. You did likely save me back there." She started to speak again, hesitated, then continued. "I am Sister Alexandra Quinn Kielmann. And I believe I am lost." She smiled wryly. "Could you tell me where I am. Is this place the 'Amber' that you speak of?"
He chuckled. "More or less. Yes, this is Amber. The city is on the other side of Kolvir, there," and he motioned with his hand to the mountain.
It was just about then that his expression changed to one of surprise. "Kielmann...? Ohmigod."
Quinn (who was still kneeling) looked up, puzzled about his reaction. "You recognize the name, Majesty?" Corwin pulled her to her feet, suddenly nervous. "Okay, you can get up. Um, well, let's just say I got to know someone named Kielmann very... intimately. He blushed a bit. "Alexandra, eh? Nice to meet you. I must have dropped the Jewel in Erna then."
That last sentence landed like a bombshell on Quinn. She stared at him blankly as her mind attempted to convince her of the impact of what she'd just heard. Astonishment, and a bit of shock, colored her voice when she finally trusted herself to speak. "Um, you dropped it?"
She searched his face, still a bit bewildered, but noting the resemblance in the eyes. "You left that rock in the Forest..." she repeated dumbly. "Then you have to be the 'Paladin' Reverend Vryce referred to... which means you're... you must be... Oh, my God... my father..."
"Oh... he told you about that. Heh. Must have been the armor." Corwin paced around a bit, avoiding the eerily familiar storm green eyes that were locked on him. "Um, well, You certainly look a lot like your mother. And your eyes look familiar..."
Corwin's men had started heading back toward where they were talking. Most looked confused at the sight of their King studiously avoiding the gaze of the strange girl he'd rescued. "One moment..." Corwin, looking relieved to have an excuse to escape for a minute, ran over to them. After he spoke to them for a few moments, they suddenly hurrahed! Many clapped him on the back.
He jogged back over to Quinn, who was still standing there, in shock. He seemed to have gotten his nerves under control, though. "Let's get a meal in you, and I'll answer any of the questions you might have. That okay?" He hopped up onto his horse and offered her a hand.
She stared at the hand as if it were a demonling, but that odd thought seemed to snap her out of her shock. "Um, sure. But I should get Demon before he does something stupid..." She gestured back in the direction of where she'd left the unhorse tied to a tree.
He nodded. "I'll take you up there..." And he did.
Eventually they rode, side by side, along the valley around the mountain, and Quinn could see the city, the harbor, and the Palace along Kolvir. Corwin halted. "There she is, Amber proper, and the castle..." The parapets of the castle glimmered with silver in the sunlight, as the clouds from his storm had rolled off. He watched her while she gazed at the panorama. Come on, man. It all fits. The name, the Jewel. And those eyes. No denying those."Alexandra, I believe you are my daughter."
She turned to meet Corwin's gaze. "I'm not sure what to say. So much..." she gestured out to the surroundings, "has happened, and changed for me in just a few hours. I didn't expect to find anything, or you, so quickly..." She still looked quite bewildered by it all. "There's so much to ask I don't know where to begin." She ducked her head, suddenly shy, and looked back toward the castle. "You said," she started slowly, "you believe," she puts a slight emphasis on the word, "that I'm your daughter. Are you not completely sure?"
Corwin frowned. She was perceptive, that was for damned sure. "I know... it will take a lot of getting used to." As much for him as for her, if what he strongly suspected was in fact true. He set his horse to a slow pace, and motioned for Quinn to follow. "Well, Alexandra, after having been ambushed once, years ago, by Brandon's forces, this Jewel" -- He motioned toward the gem around his neck -- "was able to shift me to a nearby Shadow.... er, world. That was Erna. I was befriended by Reverend Vryce, who kept calling me Paladin even though I hated the nickname." He chuckled at the memory. "I recovered soon enough, and, well, I fell for a girl there. We spent a few weeks together, your mother and I, and I explored your world with Vryce.
"Why it is that I can't be 100 percent certain that you are my daughter is that I was called back home... You see, I have a special connection with Amber due to the fact that I created it..." He smiled faintly. "This is all so confusing, I know. Fact of the matter is I left suddenly, and when I left I didn't think your mother was pregnant, when I' ve..."
He grimaced a bit. "I didn't exactly put my affairs in order when I left, and I am sorry for that. But you have my eyes, and your face reminds me a lot of my dear sister. And when we return to the castle I'll be able to confirm your heritage."
Quinn listened without comment. She seemed to have withdrawn a bit, but she nodded readily when he finished. "I will save my questions then, until we know for sure." And she continued to follow him in silence.
Corwin seemed to realize that what he'd said didn't go over well. He mentally kicked himself, and settled for a quiet ride to the castle. And so they rode...
Quiet was right. Through the entire ride Quinn remained silent, but Corwin noted she was alertly taking everything in. They passed through the streets of a great port city, and everywhere Quinn noticed that people were deferential to Corwin -- many in awe, most friendly, calling out his name, and such. Corwin smiled a bit at this, and she thought he might be blushing a bit.
Eventually they approached the huge castle, and left their mounts with some pages near the entrance, who promised to take care of them. Demon wasn't too pleased about being left alone in this strange place, but after some argument with his rider, he allowed a groom to drag him off. Corwin nodded and smiled faintly at this display.
Pages interrupted and bothered him with an endless flow of questions and such as they walked through the castle's halls -- Corwin answered only what he wanted though Quinn did notice that he asked for a meal for two to be brought to his quarters, and that he was not to be disturbed unless it was important.
He took Quinn up to his room, where the meal was waiting. He motioned for her to eat and began his own meal immediately, staring off off in the distance. "Okay," he finally said after a long while. "This is going to be a little difficult to understand; feel free to jump in if you have questions.
"Alexandra, have you ever wondered if your reality is truly "reality"? That maybe there's a higher power to how things work? What if I were to tell you that Erna -- and indeed this place we are now, called "Amber" -- are actually two different versions, "dimensions", maybe, of one TRUE reality?"
She had remained silent still, only playing with the food set out, until he paused in his explanation. For the first time since the ride to the castle, she spoke. "Majesty, I am a ordained Reverend of the Church for the Unification of Human Faith on Erna. I was raised to believe in a higher power," she replied dryly. "What you say sounds fantastic, but Father Vryce trained me to have an open mind. If one can travel the stars between the planets, why not between realities?" She actually didn't seem all that uncomfortable with the idea. "I have always known there was something different about me. And when I could still Work the fae after the changes..." she sighed, and a bit of her distant demeanor fell away. "Father Vryce left me that gem, saying it would help me find the truth about myself. And after what's happened today, I'm ready to believe just about anything."
Corwin groaned waving a hand as if to chase away her formal tone. "Please, call me Corwin. Or Dad, or whatever you're most comfortable with. Anything other than Lord Worship or Your Highhorse." He sipped at a drink. "I don't want you not to be skeptical. But I do think that once you've walked the Pattern you'll understand better."
Quinn compromised. "Sir," she replied, "then maybe that is what I should do." She paused, then smiled slightly. "I think that I am as unnerved by this as you are. But you did save me, and since it is most likely you are my father," she tried to disguise the hope in her voice, but didn't quite succeed, "I will trust you on the words of Father Vryce."
Corwin smiled faintly. "Well, then, perhaps that's what we'll do. How do you feel? Ready for a challenge?" His smile grew a bit wider.
Abandoning the meal, Corwin led her through the castle once again, down this time. At first he was almost as formal as she had been, but became more animated as he began describing to Quinn what she was about to undertake. "When you moved from Erna to here, you broke through a weak barrier between Shadows -- realities, per se, with the help of the Heart. After walking the Pattern, you will be able to transcend Shadows by yourself, without the Jewel or needing a weakened area."
He took her down a final stairs, telling her of the danger of the Pattern. At the bottom was a large door, which he unlocked. "You must never stop while walking, and never stray from the Pattern. It will be the most difficult thing you have ever done, but because you are my daughter, you will succeed."
Quinn listened to his words carefully, paying special attention to the dangers he spoke of, though she did smile slightly at his increasing confidence that she was in fact his child.
He opened the door, and Quinn found herself looking from a landing atop another stairwell down onto a large room that housed a strange sight. Inscribed in pink, laser-like lines on the floor was indeed a Pattern. It looked to be formed in the shape of a flower -- matching that of the clasp that held Corwin's cloak around his shoulders.
She stepped through the door in the room, pausing on the threshold to stare at the Pattern before her. She looked at it for a long moment before turning back to Corwin. "Where do I begin?"
Corwin took her down the stairs to the Pattern, to where the path seemingly began. "Alexandra, let me reiterate -- this is going to be difficult. Memories will flash about your eyes, your most difficult experiences, and so forth, will flash about your eyes, your most difficult experiences, and so forth, will assail your senses. But you can do it. Once you reach the center, think only of me. I will meet you there." On sudden impulse, he took her face with both hands and drew her close, kissing her forehead. "See you soon," he smiled, backing away a step, and drawing the Jewel from out of his vest.
Filled with trepidation, she turned to the Pattern, and began to walk it, his words echoing in her mind. When she stepped on it, electricity crackled beneath her feet. At first it was like waking through tar, and became progressively more difficult. Sparks began rising to her feet, her shins, her knees... they did not burn or hurt her, though.
She wound along the outer perimeter of the Pattern, and saw Corwin out of the corner of her eye, still concentrating on the Jewel. She felt tired, wanted to stop... but Corwin's words spurred her onward. She wasn't sure why, but she felt an almost instinctive desire to make him proud of her.
Popping through the first Veil, she was hit with feelings of remorse and sadness. She recalled the looks of the ruffians in Jaggonath.... Then Vryce's letter came into her mind....
Through the second veil, and it took all of her strength to move on. She wondered why the hell she was doing this, so trustingly given the consequences of failure, but then she thought of those green eyes so like hers... She was almost done now. Images of her encounter with the Hunter haunted her. All those years of wondering why she had no family, who the hell she really was, why she was different... Three steps now, the center of the Pattern encased in a cylinder of pinkish light...
She focused on Corwin's words, "You must never stop while walking, and never stray from the Pattern. It will be the most difficult thing you have ever done, but because you are my daughter, you will succeed," and tried to block away the images of her flight from the Forest. Concentrating as hard as she could on Corwin, she pushed herself along those last three steps, and into the center.
She felt horrible, but made it into the center. Corwin stood there, waiting, Jewel in one hand, his other hand extended to her. He smiled. "Well, you're of Amber blood, and of mine, since only myself or those born of me can walk it. Congratulations, daughter."
Quinn grabbed Corwin's hand, stumbling a bit in exhaustion. But her smile was bright. "Wow. Please just tell me I don't have to do that again anytime soon." She took a couple of deep breaths, calming her nerves a bit, before she looked back up at her father. "I... I guess..." she sighed, looking somewhat unsure of herself.
He tousled her hair. "No, while you can walk the Pattern any time you want, you don't need to. You can bring it to mind and invoke its powers." Corwin closed his eyes, and disappeared -- reappearing outside of the Pattern. He waved at her. "Concentrate on being next to me, and command the Pattern to take you there," he hollered.
Clearing her thoughts, she concentrated on being next to Corwin, then thought to the Pattern Please take me there. She felt a tingle as she found herself next to Corwin suddenly.
He smiled, then became more serious. "A couple things you need to know about the Pattern -- one, that teleporting effect from the center can take you anywhere in my universe. But you must be careful. It will teleport you into hostile environments -- legend exists of someone wanting to find their mother, and teleporting into her grave.
"Also -- and this is very key -- the only thing that can erase this Pattern is my blood, yours, or someone else born of me. As far as I know, besides you and my son, I have no other children. So never bleed on the Pattern -- don't let anyone shoot you with a crossbow or anything like that while you walk it, because you're nearly defenseless while doing so. Magic and such is disrupted near it." He looked at her as he took her gently by the elbow and escorted her out of the Pattern room. "How do you feel?"
"Overwhelmed," she said with a wry smile as they headed back up to Corwin's rooms. "This isn't exactly how I thought I'd spend my day when I got up this morning. My head is practically spinning and I keep thinking I'm going to wake up, or that I'm in some sort of messed up faeborn illusion." She shook her head. "I mean, I always knew there was something odd about me, but to find out I really do have a father, and even a brother..." She bit her lip. "I get this horrible urge to run home, but I'm not sure where that is anymore." She looked back at the Pattern. "I'm not sure who I am, anymore." She turned back to Corwin. "What now? I don't mean to sound ungrateful... I mean, I'm amazed you've been as accepting as you have. I know a lot of people who wouldn't, and I'm so glad I found you, but..." She suddenly stopped her rambling and sighed deeply. "I'm sorry. I'm blathering."
They'd reached his room, and he held the door open for her. He looked a little concerned, but smiled. "It's okay. I'm sure this is very new for you, and it'll prolly take some time to get used to it all." He thought for a moment. "Well, you're probably dead on your feet, so I'll arrange for some quarters for you, if that's okay." He looked out a window. "I'll start teaching you how to use the Pattern tomorrow -- how to get back to Erna. Of course, if that's what you would want." He sort of fell onto the chair at the table, looking as over the remains of dinner, and after a moment picking up the glass son wine he'd left earlier.
Quinn returned to her seat and at the mention of sleeping, almost as if on cue, yawned. She chuckled until he mentioned getting back to Erna. Her smile faded a bit at that. "I don't know. There's not really anything there for me, though I should at least let the Patriarch know there's nothing dangerous in the Forest, but beyond that I really have no place there anymore." She paused, absently playing with the straps of her armor, which she still hadn't removed. "I'd like - I mean, my entire reason in leaving Erna, accidental though it was, was to hopefully find you. I never really thought beyond that because I wasn't expecting to find you so soon." She dropped her hands from her armor, looking exasperated with herself.
"What I'm trying to say in an extremely roundabout way is that I'd like to stay here and get to know you, and to know more about my family. If I wouldn't be in the way, that is." She looked at Corwin, hesitant and hopeful.
Corwin smiled, in a deep, pleased-as-punch way. "You are always welcome, Alexandra... Daughter. And if Brandon doesn't give me too much trouble for a while, I will teach you everything you need to know."
Quinn returned the smile. "Um, Quinn is actually the name I go by." She looked immensely relieved at his acceptance. "You mentioned this Brandon before. Who is he?"
"Quinn..." He said it as if testing it out. "Very good." His expression hardened a bit at the mention of Brandon. "He is the man who I saved you from. He's a Lord of Chaos here... His origin requires some explanation. My realm, this Amber," he waves his hand out the window, "Is based upon my original homeland, also called Amber. Back then, I had a half-brother who wanted to destroy the Universe and fashion it in his own image."
Corwin sipped at the glass of wine. "Suffice it to say I stopped him, and he died -- a story for another time." He chuckled. "I told this story to my son, and it took over a day and a half. But Anyway...
"When I created this realm, I'm guessing that a part of my subconscious formed friends -- and foes -- for me, mirroring that of the Amber I left to come here. So, like my late, hated half brother Brand, this universe boasts a red-haired individual named Brandon who plots to destroy me and my Amber."
Quinn looked a bit perplexed. "Why did you create your own version of Amber?"
"It was unexpected. As I had mentioned, my brother Brand had threatened my homeland of Amber by erasing part of its Pattern. My father died, trying to fix it. I had no way of knowing if he was successful, so I took his Jewel, and drew my own Pattern to try to restore the balance between order and chaos.
"After the crisis was over, we found that my father, Oberon, had in fact been successful in fixing the original Pattern. After the war, I searched out the Pattern that I had created, and walked it, finding this -- my own universe."
He stopped. "I haven't been back there since.... a universe is a large place to explore." He chuckled. "I would have hoped that my son, who lives in the old Amber, would have come to visit me, but..." He trailed off. "I guess he has his own life."
Quinn digested this information. "If you discovered this place by accident, do you think he even knows how to find you?" She shrugged "'Course, I may have no clue what I'm talking about." She looked up at Corwin. "Would you tell me more about him? Having a brother is a complete novelty to me." She smiled shyly.
He smiled in return. "Merlin, my son... our relationship is strange. I was, during the time of troubles back in old Amber, seduced..." he gave her a side glance, then continued. "Merlin's mother was from Chaos, and she was looking to give birth to a potential leader of both Amber and Chaos. Fortunately, Merlin is of his own mind about things.
"After the war, I sat with Merlin and told him the story of my travels and travails. And I got to know him, as I stayed in Chaos to help forge the peace treaties. I left Chaos telling him that I was to explore my Pattern, and that's the last I'd seen of him. From my recollection, he's a lot like me... has some different abilities, due to his upbringing in Chaos. I'm actually wondering what he's done with himself."
"Have you tried contacting him?" Quinn asked. "I mean, sometimes people don't know where to start looking. I never would have known how to look for you if Father Vryce hadn't left me the letter and the Jewel. The fae never gave me any clue to your identity, and since my mother died in childbirth with me, and Father Vryce never said anything, for whatever reasons, I had to wonder sometimes if you weren't just some faeborn spirit who had vanished." She stopped, realizing she was treading off the subject, and onto ground she was not quite sure she wanted to get into yet. "Anyway, maybe he's wondering what you did with yourself, like I did..."
"Contact between that Amber and mine is difficult, currently impossible. It requires a special one of these," and he pulled some cards out of his belt. "These are Trumps, a means of travel and communication with the subject of the card. But Merlin, he would need a special one to contact me. And one thing came up after another, with Brandon and such..."
Corwin sighed. "Maybe I should explain this in further detail tomorrow." He stood, motioning for her to follow, and led her to a room down the hall. "The servants will tend to your every need. Tomorrow, I will begin teaching you those things you need to know. Is this... okay?"
Quinn lugged her saddlebags, which she'd retrieved from Corwin's floor, into the room, and dropped them by the bed. She turned back to Corwin. "It's fine, really. I'll probably be better able to deal with all this after I get some sleep anyway." Laughing slightly, she shook her head ruefully.
He chuckled and kissed her forehead, the gesture seeming to come more easily this time. "Good night, Quinn."
She smiled, suddenly shy again. "Goodnight."
After he'd left, Quinn shucked her armor, cleaning it as necessary, and laying it neatly on a chair. Her vest went, neatly folded, on top of the pile, and her boots she shoved under the chair. She changed into a loose green-grey shirt and grey leggings to sleep in, and out of habit, she laid her sword, loose in its scabbard next to the bed, out of habit more than any fear of attack. She felt inexplicably safe here, as if deep down, she knew the man who had just left would protect her from anything.
She crawled into the bed, and lay there for a while, mulling over all the details of the day - sorting them, making notes of other questions and clarifications to ask Corwin, and just basking in the odd feelings of belonging. After a while, she sighed, and blocking all of that out, willed herself to sleep.
I have learned so much in the time since I stumbled through that vortex with a semi-sentient Jewel in my hands. Father Vryce said it would lead me to my true identity. I don't think even he realized how right he was.
My father... how odd it seems to say that, and know that I'm referring to a real person. My father has been wonderful to me - training me, explaining all the little idiosyncrasies that seem to come with being an 'Amberite'. It's like all the dreams I had as a child about him are coming true finally. I have a home and a family. I find myself, sometimes, looking upon him with a sort of hero-worship, and I have to laugh at myself. I feel like I'm five again, wondering if I can create him out of the fae that brought my nightmares to life.
But I have come to care for him a great deal. He is a good man, Corwin of Amber, and he seems genuinely pleased to have me here. But we have much lost time to make up, and he is, after all a busy man. I do not wish to become a bother to him...
As he explained the workings of Trump, he pulled out another deck of cards and set them down. She noted a unicorn against a plain green field on the back of them.
Corwin handed her the deck, and smiled slightly. "My other family."
Quinn took the deck of cards and began to look through them. "These are the people from the other Amber?"
As she scanned the cards, she saw a lot of people, and a picture of a castle (that looked a lot like the one Corwin gave her of his place.)
A few particular pictures stood out; Corwin himself, looking a bit younger, and very dashing in his garb of black chased with silver, Greyswandir at his side. A young man who looked a lot like Corwin, and herself, she noted with a bit of surprise. she turned the card slowly, and saw yet another design on the back -- both the silver rose and a unicorn. She assumed that this was Merlin. She lingered on that card for a while.
Next was a man who looked a lot like the Brandon person she saw on the battlefield. That would be the infamous Brand, then, thwarted destroyer of the universe. She shuddered, remembering the ominous look in his eyes as he had reached for the Jewel at her throat. Then there was a woman with green hair. A man and a woman, both who bore a marked resemblance to her father. His brother and sister, perhaps? A place with a strangely-coloured sky (half blue, half red). Chaos, maybe. An unfamiliar king, an older man with black and grey hair. Then man with long red and grey hair and beard.
Quinn was about to question him about some of the cards when the man from the last card walked in in -- the man with the long red and silver hair and beard. Corwin's advisor and close friend. Corwin looked up. "Ganelon, what is it?"
The man looked agitated, and motioned out to the hallway. Corwin excused himself in a hurry...
When he came back, he was buckling on his armor. "Brandon's on the move again. One of the Silver Circle shadows, one we do major trade with, is being pillaged. I have to take out the armies, Quinn." He looked a little saddened. "I can contact you with the Trumps... will you be okay here? I'd actually feel more comfortable with someone trustworthy here. And Ganelon can help you with the day-to-day stuff here."
Quinn looked a bit startled, but nodded. "Of course. Anything I can do to help."
That said, Corwin packed up, gave Quinn a fierce hug goodbye, and rode off.