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Esprit de Corps

Steed's Tale - "Esprit de Corps" - Chapter 02

Journal of Prince "Major" Jonathan Steed of Amber:
Based on a Scenario by Rain Donaldson
Written by: R. Cal Westray, Jr. in 1996.
Steed's history was written in 1994.

"Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state,
need to be avenged by agents extraordinary..."


Bar
Episode A3-2 - Dead Men are Dangerous

In which Mother gets the shopping bug
...and Steed gets stung. 

When I got back, I found that Flora took the women on an excursion into shadow to some malls. Scout is finished and dressed in clean clothes. Scout, Suehprom, and myself decide to head over to the infirmary, across from the bath rooms, before heading to the Great Hall. I greet Uncle Ge`rard who is looking after our injured guest Creed. Ge`rard looks at Scout and asks if he needs to have the shoulder looked at, proceeding to care for it.
Creed looks pretty badly injured. Looking at his I-V, Ge`rard is using nearly the same medication he uses for Corwin, apparently Creed's metabolism is accelerated to the same degree. He would use typical anesthetics and broad spectrum antibiotics for anyone else. Ge'rard comments that Creed is even allergic to most of the stuff we give to Corwin. Creed is indeed fortunate to be in good hands. We make our exit to head for the Great Hall. Suehprom wants to stop at his room to change back to his normal clothing. 
As we head downstairs, we encounter Random.
"Steed, you're needed. There is a group of Chaosians hell-riding to Amber, nearly to Forest Arden already, claiming that we have kidnapped a Prince of Chaos. I would like for you to ride out to meet them and speak with them about this."
"Certainly. I will see what I can find out. I am curious about who we supposedly kidnapped." I look at my guests and continue. "This is my errand and it may be dangerous, but you are both welcome if you want to meet our cousins from Chaos. I have plenty of excellent mounts, since you are both without transportation." They are both interested in accompanying me. Suehprom is eager to ride the Andelusians, but Scout is not excited about riding horses. Well, to be fair, not everyone is cut out to be a horseman.
Random leaves us as we bypass the Great Hall and head for the stables and '3 Mews'. Suehprom selects Lucian because of his wilder disposition. Scout looks to me for a good mount, and I select Lucy for him. She has the easiest disposition and is the most tolerant of strangers. I select Andy, since Andrea has gotten plenty of exercise already. We mount and head for Forest Arden.
I have Random's Trump handy, in case we need an escape. He can pull us through. If he is unreachable, I have another ready, the Unicorn Grove. We would be farther away from the Castle, but it would buy us time to try someone else. It is best not to depend upon only one course of action. We make our way through Forest Arden.
Suehprom asks me. "Random mentioned hell-riding. What is that? It sounds like they are riding rather quickly."
'Yes." I smile. "Traveling through Shadow is done in various ways. The easiest way is slow and comfortable, the Royal Way. You could travel faster, like normal riding and shift Shadow. Another way is called hell-riding, you move at break neck speed and shift the environment quickly. It is the fastest way to travel by mount and also the most dangerous. It requires great concentration and mounts with iron reserve, normal mounts lose their nerve quickly. The mount may not understand why the ground is changing beneath them. With my Andelusians, it is the only way to ride. They learned to enjoy hell-riding, they don't spook. A scared mount can throw you, that tends to break your concentration."
"Amber is the center of all reality and there are an infinite number of Shadows surrounding Amber. Shadow shifting with Pattern, Trumps, Logrus, and other forms of magic are ways to move from one Shadow to another. You have to find the paths between Shadows to reach your destination. Pattern ability makes that easier, it is relatively easy to find any Shadow I desire. Once we leave Amber, I can alter our environment. I can change, delete, add, adjust, and manipulate items, people, places, or probabilities. I continue the process until I find what I am looking for."
"How does one get this ability?"
"You have to walk the Pattern. In Chaos, you would have to traverse the Logrus. However, you have to be of Amber blood, or you would be destroyed by the Pattern. It may be less restrictive in Chaos to attain the Logrus, of that I am uncertain. People who use various forms of magic may be able to accomplish the same thing, but with less than certain results. To me, it is best to have the real thing, and that is Pattern."
"What about Trump?"
He is very inquisitive. "I gave you an example of that at dinner. It is very specific magic. A Trump of a person allows you to possibly contact that person. Once contact is established, you can communicate and either person can move to the location of the other through the portal, pulling the other through. A Trump of a place opens a portal to that location to pass through, one way. Something at that location may be able to make its way to you or you can go there. Once done, you can not use it to get back. Also there are Trumps that are rigged as traps, by devious Trump artists. There is no way to be certain where you will end up with them. Trust only Trumps that you are certain about. You still have mine, I believe it to be safe."
Soon, we see many hawks soaring in the distance. Julian's hawks watching our visitors. Very little escapes his notice in Forest Arden, I am certain he is aware of our position as well. I see what seems to be a flying swarm of insects coming this way. Beyond that is a little girl on a Shetland pony holding a multitude of colored balloons. Also there is a canine creature, similar to Julian's lycanthropes. Behind them is an old man in dark gray robes, gray eyes, and pale skin; hunched over on a horse. Definitely an unusual retinue from Chaos. Nothing else is visible beyond them.
I evaluate the visitors. They are probably all shape shifters, possibly with Logrus. That much is almost certain. The swarm of insects can probably be disbursed with Pattern energy, I am not overly concerned with it. The old man is probably a sorcerer, with or without Logrus. It is best not to get over confident without more information. The canine may only be another lycanthrope. If so, there is no problem; also, more information is needed. The little girl, certainly the most dangerous one. I would anticipate that the balloons may have similar properties of Mandor's silver balls. Besides, the Courts would not send a helpless little girl to Amber if they thought we kidnapped one of theirs. Watch out for the little girl, her true form or powers may be quite formidable.
Suehprom asks, "Are these the creatures we are supposed to meet, or do you usually see creatures like these?"
"I am not sure about the insects, but I expect the rest to be the retinue from Chaos. Being shape shifters, we can expect almost anything. If you wish, you may want to assume a defensive position. Non threatening, of course."
Scout is on my left and Suehprom is on my right. My bowler and brolly are ready at hand. I am ready to bring up the Pattern in my mind at any time. They make their preparations. Scout dismounts, he does not appear to be happy or comfortable on the saddle.
The swarm reaches us and begins to form a face. A mouth forms and speaks with a slow slur. "So, you are the representatives of Amber. I am Swarm. You must release our Prince."
"Which Prince are you referring to?"
"Prince Creed." He gives it a pronunciation of 'Cray-add'.
"I am not aware of his exact location."
"So, you are stalling?"
"No, I am not stalling. I will need to contact King Random. He may know where to find him." I reach in my pocket for my Trumps. The top one is Random's. I look at it as it becomes cold to the touch. "Your Highness, I am in contact with our visitors. They are interested in retrieving Prince Creed."
"Creed, you mean the gentleman in the infirmary?
"Yes, they are accusing us of kidnapping him. I told them that I am not aware of his location."
"You can tell them that he is being cared for in our infirmary and you can bring them here. Be certain to tell them that we didn't do most of the damage."
"It may be necessary to have Flora know the situation, she may be able to explain to them what happened. If she is interested. I will escort the party in the Royal Way." I close contact and look at the swarm of insects. "King Random would like for you to accompany us as guests, I would be delighted to take you to Prince Creed. It appears that he was injured before coming to Amber. He is being cared for in the infirmary, by the best doctor in Amber. His condition is stabilizing but he is still in pretty bad shape."
I ask Swarm. "How are things in the Courts? I was trying to contact them a short time ago."
"You are allied with a family of the courts? Which one?" He hisses.
"I was acquainted with the family of Sawall, for a short while. Perhaps you know Lord Sawall and Prince Mandor." Not too much information.
"Why did you contact them?" I can tell that I am treading on some thin ice.
"Nothing important. To ask about some genealogical research. Maybe you could get a message to the Courts, giving them our regards."
"I will see what I can do." A few insects leave Swarm and head towards Chaos.
"Who are your companions?" I ask. "Mine are Scout and Suehprom."
The young lady introduces the rest. "I am Smiling Jenny, this is Dog, and the mage is Nekros."
Swarm looks at my companions. "Are you both also aligned with Sawall?"
"Swarm, these gentlemen are my guests at Amber like yourself."
"They do not smell of Amber like you." Swarm moves toward me preparing to envelope me. "You will not stop us spawn of Sawall." He covers me like a flowing, humming suit of armor.
I have been ready to bring up the Pattern in case of attack. I could disburse him quickly with the Pattern but I believe that this is an attempt to coerce us to take him to Creed. He is not attempting to bite or sting me yet. With my Carnation for protection, I don't expect it would do any damage anyway. "This is really not necessary. You don't need a hostage. I plan to take you to Creed, there is no deception. Once we get to Amber, this will all be straightened out."
"Are you going to resist?" Swarm asks.
"Dear me, no. I do not wish to harm any of you. Furthermore, I am not a spawn of Sawall." I know that the Pattern would be devastating to Swarm, especially at point blank distance. I want to get to the bottom of this.
My companions ask if I am all right, I assure them that I am in no danger.
We turn, hearing a repeating sound. It goes quickly from a low roar to a high pitched whine. The sound precedes the arrival of something materializing and becoming more visible. It is fully visible now and it resembles an English police call box, of all things. Very common in my Shadow Earth England, but hardly seen in Amber.
My companions look at me. Scout asks, "That seems a bit out of place here."
"Indeed, I have not seen one here before. Only in England. One like this, I can only speculate on, possibly out of Shadow Earth legend."
From the door of the call box, a tall man walks out. He has dark curly hair under an Australian bush hat, a long heavy overcoat, and a long colorful scarf. His face is wide and smiling under a broad nose and amusing eyes. One doesn't forget him, easily. I never expected to see him in Amber of all places.
Back in London, I reviewed many Top Secret case files on various agencies, in connection with the cases I work on. I was trying to identify independent agencies, like ours, to see if there was any common denominators to my cases. In one file, I came across a Brigadier General Lethbridge Stewart. He is a 'by the book' officer of an organization called UNIT who has an eccentric scientific advisor called the Doctor. They investigate among other things, extraterrestrial phenomena. I encountered groups who appeared to be of extraterrestrial origin, and found them all to be clever hoaxes by diabolical masterminds. UNIT case files read like oddly written science fiction. I poured through them to become familiar with all filed cases, in case I should encounter cases that were not hoaxes. I later encountered this Doctor and we worked together on a few cases, I learned that he was a Time Lord who traveled in a time machine called a TARDIS that looked like a police call box. It stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. He was a rather eccentric individual indeed. I don't think he had any knowledge of my background, although he seemed aware of my own abilities. We worked pretty well together, but I preferred working independently with my teams. Let's face it, I prefer to be in charge and the Doctor does too.
I am curious why the Doctor is now in Amber. He is followed out by shorter but still tall man with a beige top hat, beige suit, blond hair, blue eyes, and white shirt. He appears to be another gentleman, but with questionable tastes. Another man follows the "beige man", he appears to be dressed as a mage.
The Doctor speaks, "Good day gentlemen. I assume that one of you is a Mr. Scout."
"Yes, Scout Carter." Scout addresses the Doctor.
"We are investigating a certain gentleman known as Mr. Creed. These two gentlemen are Sweeney and Morganth. Would you happen to know anything about this Creed fellow?"
"Yes, we are on our way to see how he is doing. I am traveling with Suehprom and Steed of Amber, who is currently covered with a insect suit of armor."
"Doctor, nice to see you again. You are a long way from London, how is the Brigadier?"
"Oh yes, Steed! He is just fine. I didn't recognize you with the bugs and all. Are you all right? I would offer you a jelly baby, but..."
"I am all right, I am covered with Swarm. He is holding me hostage to see Creed, but I am tolerating him for now." I must admit that I probably look rather foolish like this. "Swarm's companions are from Chaos to see Creed; the girl on the pony, the person in gray robes, and the canine creature."
"Ah yes, Creed. We have been investigating him."
Swarm's attention has been refocused upon the Doctor, "You know Creed?"
"By reputation only." 
"They are holding Creed. Are you his friend or foe?" I feel my insect suit hum with agitation. 
"Well, at this point neither. From what I have heard of him, he doesn't seem to be a nice fellow." He turns to Scout. "As I was saying, are you that Scout fellow who was in Los Angeles on Shadow Earth?"
"Yes, that was me."
"What exactly happened there?" The insects are leaving me and beginning to surround the Doctor. "Oh, dear me. Now, why did this Mr. Creed try to level that nightclub?"
"We didn't really find that out."
"I see, I assume that he had some ability in Shadow."
"Not that I know of."
Swarm is getting agitated. "This is pointless! We must get to Creed!" Swarm has left us to enter the TARDIS, chasing Sweeney.
The Doctor peeks into the door. "Don't touch the insects, K9, they are all right. Oh dear." Turning back to us. "You see, Mr. Sweeney was tracking Creed to bring him out into action." All of the Chaos retinue is heading for the TARDIS. "Oh dear, it looks as though there is going to be a party."
I chime in. "Our visitors seem to be interested in your call box."
"Oh, come in. There is plenty of room for all of us." The Doctor leads us in.
"I don't want to leave the horses here, is there room?" I inquire.
"Oh yes, it is much bigger than it looks."
We are all inside and there is a large control room with a control panel in the center. A lawn chair is off to the side. We put the horses out of the way and I give them commands in Thari to stay. Lucian snorts, but they obey.
Swarm has gone deeper into the ship. I see a robot dog, apparently K9, squaring off with the canine from Chaos. The girl and the old man are also facing K9. Scout and Suehprom are checking out the console.
The Doctor fixes them with an disapproving look. "Please don't touch the controls. Have you ever faced your other lives at the same time? I would rather not do that at this time." He turns to face the old man from Chaos. "Are you after Sweeney?"
"Only because he is after Creed. We have been looking for Creed."
"Apparently Mr. Sweeney has not been entirely truthful with us. Well, after you find Mr. Sweeney, would you mind clearing the bugs out of here? Also, please try not to touch too much back there."
I hear the sound of engines starting.
The Doctor looks concerned. "Oh dear. Some one has activated the TARDIS from the auxiliary control room. Shall we go see where they are taking us?" He fiddles with the controls and heads down a corridor.
We follow for some distance until we enter a room similar to the control room. There is a battle going on. It looks as though Swarm is getting the worst of it. Sweeney is using a ring that is sending energy into Swarm, killing large chunks of it. Sweeney is using an artifact of immense power. I am uncertain of the source of the ring's power, but it must be stopped. The engine stops and a screen shows a familiar image; the infirmary where Creed is being cared for. I see Ge`rard standing by the bed where Creed is strapped.
He looks up and apparently sees the TARDIS. "What the..."
"Is there another door out of here?" I ask.
"Only the door at the main control room."
"I have to get there to explain things to Ge`rard."
The Doctor fiddles with the auxiliary control panel and we head down the hall. Soon, we reach the main control room. "Ge`rard will not like horses in the infirmary. Let's leave them here for awhile longer. Here goes." I leave the TARDIS and greet Ge`rard.
"Steed! What is going on here?" He looks angry.
"Uncle, you are not going to believe what is happening."
"Try me!"
"Random sent us out to meet with some Chaosian representatives. It appears that your patient is a Prince Creed and they accuse us of kidnapping him. We encountered a Time Lord called the Doctor who owns this call box device called a TARDIS. He accompanied a beige fellow named Sweeney and Morganth who were also looking for Creed. It seems that everyone is interested in this Creed."
"So, Creed is from Chaos."
"It would appear so."
"What is this TARDIS doing here?"
"Sweeney or our Chaosians took it over and brought it here to find Creed. They will be out soon. Also, this beige fellow has a powerful artifact and is attacking the Chaosians. He seems to have the upper hand so far. For some reason, the Chaosians have some animosity toward the Sawall household. I have no idea which house they are aligned with."
"So, Sweeney and all the Chaosians are in there?"
"Yes, Ge`rard. This fellow with me is the Doctor. My guests Suehprom and Scout are there as well."
"Well, point me at them." He smiles wickedly.
"By the way, watch out for the horses."
"Get these horses out of here and keep them out of the infirmary."
The Doctor volunteers, "Where are we in the Castle?"
"The third floor." I offer. "I don't think they will take well to stairs."
I lead Ge`rard to the auxiliary control room. Soon, we see the battle. I see balloons surrounding someone, I can't see who. Suddenly the balloons freeze in place, along with the little girl. What is left of Swarm has frozen as well. I see a blaze of reddish brown energy coming from Sweeney's hand. 
I bring up the Pattern in my mind. I focus the Pattern energy defensively first as a shield to block and then fold it outward to envelope the energy of his ring. "Lets see who gets the bigger headache out of this." I force my will and concentrate upon stopping this energy flow. It will take my undivided attention.
My Pattern sense tells me that the energy that the beige man is controlling is the energy from countless Shadows being channeled through his ring. Damn, a Spikard. Nasty little toys, especially in the hands of someone anxious to use its power. Also, it may be too powerful to be controlled. Therefore, it must be removed and disposed of. I certainly want nothing to do with it.
Given time, I could trace it back to its power source and possibly destroy it. It should suffice to contain it for the time being. I expand my Pattern energy to block and catch the energy.
He stops the energy flow. I keep my Pattern awareness active. I see him facing Ge`rard. I head over to him. Maybe we can subdue him. I use my bowler to tap him on the head. "Clang." So, he is protected as well. I reach with my brolly to catch his ankle. He is caught and falls forward in front of Ge`rard.
The Doctor pipes in. "K9 have you got a stun beam ready?"
Suehprom throws his cloak over Sweeney and Ge`rard grabs him, wrapping him up with it. K9 shoots the cloak with the stun beam. The cloak goes limp. Sweeney disappeared.
Ge`rard inspects the cloak and gives it to Suehprom. I look around. The Chaosians seem to be frozen in place; in attack formation around where Sweeney, the beige man, was before vanishing. He is nowhere to be seen, I would guess that he will try to find Creed.
I receive a Trump contact, and I respond. It is King Random. "Steed, what is the situation?"
"We are inside a police call box, inside the infirmary."
"Steed, this is serious."
"Certainly, my liege; the call box belongs to a Time Lord called the Doctor. I met him before on Shadow Earth. It is incredibly large inside and we are all inside. We transported to the infirmary where we are trying to locate and subdue a beige man named Sweeney. He attacked the Chaosians with a powerful ring artifact. We are heading for the infirmary now."
"Get there, and explain this in more detail later."
"Check." I close contact and rush to keep up with the group.
We make it back to the main control room, and rush into the infirmary. Sweeney is there already. Sweeney picked up and threw the table, with Creed on it, at Ge`rard. Someone throws a cherry coat rack at Sweeney like a javelin. It hits, but splinters.
Ge`rard is under the table that was thrown, trying to get out from under it. Guards rush into the infirmary. I motion for them to stand ready and alert.
Sweeney is on the other side of the table with a small leg wound and holding a sword. Ge`rard throws the table off and faces Sweeney. Also, Creed is now conscious and looking around.
I am in front of the call box by the guards. With all the activity surrounding Sweeney, I have no clear line of sight. I see the glow coming from the ring. I bring up the Pattern. Others try to attack the energy, but the energy disintegrates whatever it touches.
That's it! Pattern defense is brought up as a shield and expands toward the energy and Sweeney. I catch the energy within the Pattern shield. It doesn't dissipate. It is in the form of an opaque shield, which I enclose with a glowing blue shield. I continue expanding my Pattern. It is trying to out maneuver me. I am unable to contain it completely by myself.
"Ge`rard! I need some mental help!" It is a poor line, but I need a psyche boost to wrap this up, I can't trust the others enough to explain what I need. He moves toward me and places his massive hand on my shoulder and I feel much stronger. The control over the Pattern energy becomes absolute. I/we catch and envelop Sweeney with the Pattern bubble, giving him nowhere to go. I/we contract the bubble around him tighter. I/we continue to increase the pressure against the Spikard.
A scream and the Pattern bubble implodes. No more "beige man".
Ge`rard takes his hand from my shoulder and the power rush dissipates. "Thanks, Uncle."
Things settle down now. Ge`rard dismisses the guards, posting them elsewhere. The table is repositioned with Creed still strapped to it. Ge`rard continues caring for him as Creed demands to be released. Ge`rard informs him that he will injure himself further if he struggles and he should remain still.
They ask me about his ring. I explain about the Spikard. Also, I plan to have it disposed of; it is too dangerous to fall into the wrong hands. I look over at Creed and I can only imagine the type of damage he could do with it, and not even be in control of the power of the Spikard. Not only nightclubs, but entire Shadows could be destroyed. I can't let that happen.
I could destroy the host but not the Spikard. That tends to be the fate of most hosts. The Spikard will wait for the next host. It will not be me, if I can prevent it.
I listen to the others talk with Creed. He apparently has no idea of being a Prince or the identity of the others. He also doesn't know why he attacked the others in Shadow or how he got there.
Morganth and others are discussing his releasing of the Chaosians from the spell that froze them. We go into the TARDIS to the auxiliary control room.
A large portion of Swarm has been destroyed. The mage appears to be in preparation for casting a spell. We discuss options.
Morganth works on dispelling the freeze spell and he releases Smiling Jenny first, just a portion of her so we can speak with her first. "Oh! Where is Sweeney?"
I respond first. "He has been destroyed."
"Good!"
"We are planning to defrost your companions. The mage seems to be in the middle of casting a spell. Can you block it with a balloon or convince him to stop when we release him?"
"Sure!" She surrounds the mage with balloons. Morganth releases him. He becomes aware.
"Jenny?" The mage sounds surprised.
"Yes?" She says sweetly.
"Where is...?" And also confused.
"He has been destroyed."
"Good." He seems relieved.
Morganth releases Swarm. "Buzz." He is moving slowly, trying to leave the room.
I check on Swarm. "Are you all right? I can't tell if you were hurt badly."
"Buzz." He is unable to speak as before.
Morganth releases Dog as well.
"Swarm, do you understand that Sweeney is dead?"
They move up and down.
"I want you to know that Creed is here, but he has no knowledge of being a Prince."
"Buzz." I can only imagine that he is trying to shrug.
We head for the infirmary. The guards were busy, cleaning the remains of Sweeney. I have not checked for the Spikard. A mistake to remedy.
"This thing needs to be disposed of, one way or another."
Creed speaks up. "I'll take care of it."
I examine the remains for the Spikard. It is dangerous to touch it. I open the pocket of my bowler and remove the contents into my jacket pocket. I use my foot to scoop the Spikard into the pocket of the bowler and close it. For the time being, I will keep the bowler off my head. Where to dispose of it? Maybe Aunt Fiona has some ideas about it.
There are others who would want to take the Spikard, regardless of the possible danger to themselves.
The Chaosians and others get together to talk with Creed: Swarm, Nekros, Jenny, Dog, Scout, Morganth, Suehprom, the Doctor, and myself. Creed wants to be released. Ge`rard insists that he remains secured until he is in better shape, or better patched up.
Jenny smiles. "What do you want to do, your Highness?" I have heard that tone before.
"I want you to wait here to make sure they are taking care of me."
Morganth offers. "I can cast a spell of healing."
"That would be nice." Creed attempts a smile. It is not a pleasant and trustworthy smile.
"It is an accelerated natural healing spell." Morganth works on the spell.
I ask Jenny. "Why is it that Swarm reacted badly, when I mentioned Lord Sawall?"
"Well, he doesn't like Lord Sawall very much. We are the Honor guard of House Chakar."
The Doctor says. " Sweeney mentioned that he was the next in the line of succession to the throne."
"Yes, he would be the King. As soon as the matter of the succession to the throne is straightened out. When the pretenders to the throne opposing him are gone, then Creed will be King of Chaos."
"How many are currently in the line of succession?" I ask.
"The smallest would be zero, the largest would be 112. The actual number is zero. Creed is rightful King."
I offer out. "There is another way of healing his injuries, if he had the blood of Amber. He could walk the Pattern." I smile knowing that it would also eliminate a potential King of Chaos, if he wasn't of the blood.
"No!" The Chaosians shout as one, I believe that they are quite scared of that option.
Jenny continues with the story of the succession. Merlin is currently seventh.
The Doctor is offering Jelly Babies to the others. Some sound disgusted, not knowing what they are.
I get a Trump contact. Responding, Random wants to know what is happening. I explain the current situation to him.
He comments. "I feel better and better about Merlin's chances. By the way Steed, inform Ge`rard that there will be two more patients. Corwin and Luke are seriously injured. Fiona and Mandor are bringing them in."
"What happened to Luke? I was just with him over an hour ago?" I know Corwin wasn't in the Great Hall then; he must have arrived while we went to see the Chaosians.
"He apparently just left with Corwin and they got into a sword fight. They are on their way." He closes.
I turn to face my Uncle. "Ge`rard, Fiona and Mandor are bringing two more patients. Corwin and Luke; they have been in a sword fight."
"Understood." He makes preparation, ignoring Creed. I see that he is also preparing medication from a cabinet marked "Corwin". I notice the infirmary is still crowded. Ge`rard will want us all out very soon.
The Chaosians are taking care of Creed. With the healing spell, they are also feeding him in quantity. I offer him my brandy flask, which he accepts. The hair on his face is visibly growing from the spell. Some are preparing to go to the Great Hall. I still haven't given room keys to our guests yet. Suehprom is the only one with a room.
"Michael will make preparations in the Great Hall for us, if you are interested. Ge`rard will need the extra room here soon. I will catch up in a bit, after I talk to Fiona."
Fiona and Mandor soon brought in Corwin and Luke. The infirmary becomes a hectic scene taking care of the new arrivals. I observe the activity. Corwin and Luke look pretty badly injured. Corwin with a gaping chest wound and Luke with a shoulder wound. They look rather nasty. Fiona and Mandor break away for a minute.
"Hello, Steed." Fiona looks pretty severe.
"Hello, Fiona, Mandor. Nice to see you both. Looks like it has been a busy day in Amber. I would like to dispose of something and I thought I would check with you first."
"Well, we are in a bit of a hurry. Things are coming to a head. By the way, look out for mirrors. People have been attacked through them."
"Understood, thanks. You see, there is a construct that I would like to dispose of."
"Really? Let me see it." I open the pocket in the bowler and dump the ring into her outstretched hand.
"Oh, a Spikard!" Her eyes light up. "Thank you, Steed. I will see that it is properly taken care of."
I detect a tone of naughtiness in her voice, that I should wonder if I did the right thing. She smiles sweetly and Mandor's chin drops, looking at the Spikard. She then gives me one of those dismissing gestures. "Remember, beware the mirrors." They leave.
Creed looks at me. "Thanks, Steed. At least if you gave it to me, I would only hurt myself with it."
I smile.
There is more discussion about the succession. I think it is more to brief Creed of his role in Chaos. It sounds to me that when Creed gets to Chaos, there will be more bloodshed settling the succession issue. Creed seems to have a small House but of considerable influence.
Michael has been providing food for the Chaosians who plan to stay with Creed. Creed is interested in acquiring a weapon. Nekros apparently plans to find him a suitable sword.
My Pattern sense detects the use of Logrus within Castle Amber. Obviously, Nekros. I remember someone from Chaos once saying. "If you have never experienced Logrus before, it is a horrible icky thing. If you have, it is a familiar horrible icky thing."
Ge`rard looks at Nekros with irritation for using Logrus in the infirmary. He looks at me and glances at our group. With a look, he informs me that it is time to leave.
I am asked how it went with Fiona and who she is. "She is probably the most powerful sorceress in the known Shadows."
The Doctor asks me. "And you gave her that ring." With a sound in his voice like I gave a welcome party to a room full of Daleks. "With access to power from countless Shadows."
"Pretty much. Sounds rather foolish, doesn't it? I would normally agree with you. However, Corwin and Luke both have equally powerful constructs as well. The swords: Greyswandir and Werewindle. For her, they are just a trinket. She will experiment with it but not abuse it or be controlled by it. Eventually, she will get bored with it and hide it safely away. She probably won't use it for petty destruction or power plays. Others would use it so, like our former guest Sweeney. It also won't take her over, like it probably did Sweeney. All things considered, the Shadows are safer with Fiona in control of the Spikard. I wouldn't want to have one, the possibility for losing control of one's self is not worth having such an instrument."
They don't sound convinced, but they don't argue. They probably don't understand my rationale. What I didn't explain was, that I would not refuse increased power via the Pattern. It is on a different order than a Spikard. My connection with the Unicorn has shown me that. I plan to follow my true path, not to be distracted with dangerous toys.
The Doctor activates his sonic screwdriver, a device I have seen before, near the swords. It whines and shrieks until he turns it off. They are discussing the broken coat rack and repair it.
We head for the Great Hall. Random is there, having a meal. He sees us and gives me a look that speaks volumes. It is the look he gives the guards every time they interrupt his meal. We find a table, fully loaded with food and drinks. I am asked what Amberites do for fun and entertainment.
"Very little here. We often go to uptown Amber to Bayle's Place for gambling and partying. We could go to the docks in the shadier side of Amber, to Bloody Art's Place. It is named for its previous owners. It has the best seafood, good drinks, and a good brothel. For leisure, there is always the Library for quiet reading and research." I am getting a Trump contact. "Just a minute." I open contact.
"Hello, son."
"Mother! How are you? What have you been up to?"
"The ladies have been with me shopping. We had a hectic day. The ladies are at a mall with a hotel. They are freshening up after a long day of shopping. I was back at my quarters. I seem to have a secret admirer who was chased out a mirror by a creature out of Chaos."
"Fiona warned us to avoid mirrors."
"That would make sense. Fortunately, Luke was there to help."
"Luke is here in the infirmary. He and Corwin were in a sword fight. They were both injured badly."
"Both in the infirmary?"
"I would have expected Corwin to take him easily."
"I too. Both Greyswandir and Werewindle were with them. One could assume that the swords were involved as well. Anything could happen."
Creed touched my shoulder and said. "Hello, mother. I remember your hand grenade." Then he breaks contact.
"He is out of the infirmary, they have been using healing spells. It appears that he is in contention for the kingship for Chaos. Why did he call you mother?"
"I have no idea, he is not one of mine."
"I didn't think so, I thought you had better breeding than that. A retinue from Chaos came accusing us of kidnapping him and wanted him released. So we are all here in the Great Hall, like one big happy family. I expect the Chaosians will leave when Creed is ready to travel." 
"Good riddance to bad rubbish. If you are interested, it would only take one more grenade to settle the succession issue."
"I'll keep that in mind, thank you. He does tend to rub people the wrong way, doesn't he? Keep in touch." She closes contact.
I listen to the current conversations. Creed asks. "Which room is Flora's?"
"Why do you ask?" He is really a slow learner.
"No particular reason. I believe I made a bad first impression Now, I can make my worst impression. That is what my adopted father use to tell me. I realize now that my real father was someone else."
The conversation turns to our next plans.
Smiling Jenny asks. "My liege, don't you think it is time to head for home?"
Creed agrees.
Scout asks. "If you don't mind, I would like to go along. I still have questions to ask. It may be more interesting in Chaos."
Creed says. "I don't mind."
Morganth mentions Blazer, who was abducted through a Trump contact. He was pulled through by black tentacles which resembled Logrus tendrils. He has been trying to find a way to bring him back.
The Doctor asks. "Trumps? Those are the little card things, aren't they?"
I give him one of mine. He looks at it, and I feel the contact begin and stop. 
"Interesting little devices." He absently pockets it and shrugs.
Scout and the Chaosians prepare to leave, we say our good-byes.
Soon, it is just the four of us. Suehprom, Morganth, the Doctor, and myself. I believe we are going to suffer from boredom if we don't come up with some activity. "Gentlemen, would you care to go to the gym for some practice fencing? It has been a rather slow day, hasn't it?"
They are in agreement. We head upstairs to the third floor and to the gym. As we turn the corner to the gym, I notice that the hallway is quite different than it should be. I look down the other hallway. It no longer exists, only the hall we came from. The hallway is lined with tables and mirrors of all shape and size. We pause, they sense that something is amiss as well.
The Doctor comments. "This is interesting."
"Oh dear, gentlemen. It appears that we have an invitation. I have read and heard of this place, but never expected to see it. This is the Corridor of Mirrors. I have read that it may be a place of enlightenment, for good or ill. I have also read that it is not wise to turn down the invitation. This may be intended for me alone or for all of us. I intend to see what it has to offer, but you may decline if you wish. Furthermore, what I have read of this place, what we experience may be real or imagined."
Morganth asks if we need protection spells before we start.
"You can if you wish, I wouldn't expect them to work."
The Doctor uses his sonic screwdriver to scan the Corridor. From his reaction, his device seems to be malfunctioning.
I lead the way into the Corridor of Mirrors. Slowly, we move down the hall. The first mirror we see shows a familiar face, the mate of the Unicorn. "Hello, great-grandfather. Is there a purpose for the appearance of the mirrors?"
Dworkin responds, "There is always a purpose."
Suehprom asks. "Who are you?"
"Dworkin. You must be the one with mixed heritage."
"I do not know my heritage."
"You will learn." He fades.
The next mirror shows a face I don't recognize. "You are a balanced group indeed. An Amberite, a Chaosian, one of mixed heritage, and one of neither."
This is important information. Myself the Amberite, Suehprom is of mixed blood, the Doctor is a Galifrean (neither), therefore Morganth is the Chaosian and a mage. The Doctor smiles at that.
"I am Despil, of Chaos."
I have heard of him but I never had the pleasure of meeting him. "Hello, Despil, do you know the purpose for your presence here?" He has already served his purpose.
"Is there a purpose?" He smiles as if I missed something important. He fades.
Another face appears, he looks similar to Merlin except for the facial injuries. "You have been speaking to my brother, I am Jurt. My other brothers are Merlin and Mandor." He fades.
Mandor appears next. "Hello, Steed; gentlemen."
"Hello, Mandor. My guests are Suehprom, Morganth, and the Doctor. Do you know the meaning of all this?"
"I have some understanding. Things are moving quickly and other players are involved. The castle itself has taken an active role, as you can see."
"I had never considered the possibility of the castle being sentient." There would be no privacy or secrets kept within its walls.
Fiona is next, smiling sweetly. Waiting my question. Fiona and Mandor were together bringing Corwin and Luke. Is there a connection? "Fiona, was the situation with Corwin and Luke connected in some way to the Corridor of Mirrors?"
Her eye brow arches. "Well, yes."
I continue. "I saw Luke moments before he was brought to the infirmary. I had no idea Corwin was here either. Something must have happened quickly and drastically, this seems to be the most logical answer."
"Actually, he wasn't there at all. It was Rinaldo, a Pattern Ghost. The real Luke was with Corwin."
"What happened?" She fades.
Another face, Luke. "We were lured to the Corridor of Mirrors as you were. Mandor and Fiona arranged for Corwin and myself to fight a duel, against out will."
"How and why, Luke?"
"Both are beyond my understanding." He fades.
"I would like to know that as well. Maybe then, I won't kill them both." It is Corwin. He sees Suehprom and a discussion breaks out about the possible lineage. None of the options seem pleasant.
I feel a familiar mental touch, she is here. I move ahead and kneel in front of the mirror and bow my head. The horn of the Unicorn is lowered and touches my brow. I mentally reel from the contact. I receive her blessing. I lost awareness of the others.
"Beloved, Steed. Time is not on your side, but I will be. Soon, we will meet again for the first time. Remember: sometimes you play the game to win, sometimes you play to lose, and sometimes you kick over the board and start over." I feel the warmth of her breath and she breaks contact. I feel energized and comforted with the knowledge of her touch. Her image fades, but I see a flash of her human form. She smiles. To my knowledge, only Dworkin and myself have seen her face. I rise and turn to join the others, I wonder about their reaction.
We move down the hall. The next face is Merlin. The Doctor asks. "Do you have any advice for us?"
"Be careful who you choose for your allies. The hand that works with you, may stab you in the back." He fades and we move on.
"Be careful with your time. It is not on your side, not anymore." It is the face of someone that I have only seen in paintings in Chaos, Lord Suehy.
"Lord Suehy, greetings."
Suehprom speaks up. "I have been searching for my heritage. Steed mentioned your name before and that our names were similar. Do you know of this?"
"Certainly. It is always good to search the past to see where the future comes from."
"Do you know what lies in my past?"
"I think you would be better served to seek the truth of your past, not the lies." I notice a resemblance between them. He fades, Suehprom looks troubled.
A young woman appears next. I have never seen her before. She addresses the Doctor. "Doctor, you've changed. I called you grandfather then, but I am not sure if that was a term of respect, or if you really were my grandfather. Time is against you, this time."
"Why are you in this place?"
"I wish I knew. I have a feeling that time is the key to whatever you are doing now. I don't know why." She fades.
Another mirror. A mechanical voice and the drone of a motor. "Exterminate. Exterminate." A laser beam emits from the creature, reflects off the other mirrors. The Doctor blanches and ducks.
I throw my bowler at the mirror to knock it over. The image disappears.
Suehprom asks. "What was that?"
The Doctor shakes his head. "You don't want to know."
Suehprom says. "I don't think he liked you, Doctor."
"Let's just say we had a disagreement." It sounds like an understatement.
I state. "I believe that it is not a wise idea to use energy weapons in a highly reflective area." I saw pictures of Daleks in the Doctor's file, but I did not believe they existed.
"You know, I've noticed that too."
Another face appears. "Oh, you never were one for wisdom, Doctor."
Suehprom asks. "Who is he, Doctor?"
"I am called the Master."
Suehprom asks. "Master of what?"
"Time, space, and dimensions. I am enjoying your distress, Doctor."
"May it distress you as much as it distresses me."
The Master bows and disappears. "Adios."
Another mirror shows tentacles that shoot through the mirror and attack. We move back out of range. The tentacles grab Suehprom's cloak and pull most of it through, tearing it. We move away down the hall.
The Doctor calls out. "Hello! Are there any more disembodied voices?"
I move further down the hall, ahead of the others.
"So, are things clear, Steed?" It is King Random.
"Not entirely, I understand that things are going to happen. But, I don't understand what I am expected to do."
"Well, support the crown, of course."
"Of course."
Suehprom asks. "By the way, sir. What do you know about black tentacles coming out of mirrors?"
"To avoid them, of course." He fades.
We move on nearing the far door. We see a lady named Romana, then a Julia Barnes. 
"Help me!" A voice from the darkness of a mirror.
Morganth calls out. "Blazer! Where are you?"
"In the tentacles! Help me!" He fades.
Many other faces appear that I recognize and others that must be known by others. Even K9 appears. "This is strange master!" There is almost a groan in his voice.
The Doctor reassures him. "Don't worry about it, these things happen in this strange place."
We reach the door. The door opens and we look through it. It seems to open to a large arena, surrounded by many people.
"Steed, who are these people?" The Doctor asks.
"I haven't seen any of these people before." There are two people in robes, their faces are covered, who appear to be the central figures. I can tell that one seems to be a male and the other is a female. I have a strong hunch who they might be, Fiona and Mandor, their sizes are similar. However, I would prefer to be certain.
No one seems interested in approaching the arena. I am sure none of us want to fight the others. The Doctor steps through first. We hear, "Exterminate. Exterminate." It looks like we will not be fighting each other after all. I go in next, the Doctor may need help with that monstrosity. He refers to it as a Dalek, for the benefit of those who didn't know.
As I get to the arena, I see someone advance at me with a fencing foil, rather fancy dressed. From my past, I recognize this man.
Back in London, I had a pressing case entitled "The Correct Way To Kill". It involved a school for gentlemen, S.N.O.B. The students were being taught fencing as well as the gentlemanly arts. The school master was Ponsonby. It was a training school for assassins, they planned to play the Ministry against the KGB, selling secrets to the highest bidder, and to upset the balance of the cold war. My lady partners and I broke the case and spoiled the plans of a Russian double agent, Nutski, in charge of the group. My team took care of Nutski and the rest while I fought Ponsonby, he was nearly the best fencer I encountered on Shadow Earth. He was a proper English gentleman and quite a likable bloke, we would have gotten along famously had we been on the same side. He anticipated my little tricks and he had no allegiance to anything, except his own climb to power and control. However, surrender was not in his nature. I regret having to kill him, he fought well. Now here he is, pulled from Shadow to face me in the arena. 
I lean on my brolly and he salutes me and strikes en garde. "You may remember me, Steed."
"Indeed, Ponsonby." I bring up my brolly and strike en garde.
In the edge of the arena, Morganth is facing a negative image of someone he called Blazer, the one trapped with the tentacles. Suehprom faces Sweeney. The Dalek is firing at the Doctor. He puts his hat over the head piece and it blasts a hole through it. He looks surprised about that. I move toward the Dalek, continuing to face Ponsonby.
What is this? Suehprom is shifting form. He looks like a demon. Interesting.
I advance toward Ponsonby. I pop the brolly open to form a shield. I then push it at him and withdraw the sabre within. This should distract him for a second. He retreats a couple of steps. This gives me a moment to kick at the Dalek. It topples over with a crash. Ponsonby recovers and advances. A panel opens on the side of the Dalek and a slug like creature emerges. It wraps a tentacle around my leg. I feel a painful sting. The pain subsides as I slice at it, killing it easily. The Doctor vanishes. Interesting. Maybe my companions can help each other before vanishing as well. I am getting to really dislike those Daleks.
Ponsonby charges me, I barely react in time to beat his blade away. We fight for a considerable amount of time. He is more skilled than the Shadow Earth Ponsonby that I fought before. I expected that he would be. Scanning the area for things I can use to my advantage, I see that my companions are struggling as well.
Suehprom and Sweeney are charging the pair in robes. They are moving in slow motion, due to some spell. The pair in robes seem to be well protected. Fiona could do that easily. It would disturb me greatly if she is using the Spikard against my companions, I will watch for any indication of its use. I will recognize the energy pattern. Morganth is in a magical struggle with the Negative Blazer. He is casting spells and throwing vials of liquid.
Ponsonby addresses me. "I have a feeling that if I defeat you, I can leave here."
"I have the same feeling."
"Then one of us will have to win and the other will have to die."
The words of the Unicorn come to mind. "Or we can kick the board over and start over again."
"Perhaps." He grins.
I doubt if he wants to be reasonable about this. I take a more aggressive position. My companions may need some help. I charge him and he directs me around him. He is moving towards the brolly. I take my bowler and throw it at the brolly, knocking it away before he can take it. He maneuvers toward it.
I tap my forehead. The bowler spins and rolls back to me. Ponsonby just happens to be in the bowler's way. It is enough, it hits his ankle and distracts him. I thrust and draw first blood. A leg wound will slow him down, it is not necessary to kill him, yet.
"Nice trick." He grimaces.
"Thanks, old boy. It is one of my favorites."
The blood oozes down his leg. That reminds me about my own injury from the Dalek sting. I don't notice any serious effects from it.
Ponsonby gets more aggressive. He knows he can't out last me and I am stronger. We continue fighting. I see tentacles coming out of the ground all around Morganth. He stumbles but recovers to escape. Morganth moves in our direction away from the tentacles.
I leave my arm exposed, offering an opening for Ponsonby. He fakes a lunge at the arm which draws me closer but not where I expected. He is good. I barely beat away the blade. This Ponsonby is more skilled and faster than his Shadow Earth twin. We continue, his foil against my sabre. Different styles are involved with the two weapons. I am stronger, but he is just as devious as I. He is trying to maneuver me toward the tentacles, as I am with him. I try to beat the blade away, forcing him back.
Morganth reaches into his cloak and withdraws a vial. He throws it at Ponsonby. Ponsonby deftly bats the vial away with his blade. However, that left him open. I take advantage of the opportunity to thrust into a vital area. His face goes pale.
Back in London, I had a partner who was incredibly skilled at hand to hand combat. He once asked why we never faced each other on the mat. I told him that he was much too young to die, I never fight fair. Later, he was to bring me in over a misunderstanding with the Ministry. There was a double agent and the clues pointed to me, including eye witnesses. A double was seen killing a fellow agent, framing me quite nicely. My partner had me cornered in my place with one of his four 9mm guns, just centimeters away. I told him that I was this close to the answer, give me a chance to clear myself of kill me, there is no other option. He reconsidered, saying he could take a leg shot to disable me; he was duty bound to bring me in. I told him that he had to kill me, I would not surrender. I told him they were holding our partner, I had to get there to free her and I still had to learn the identity of the double agent. He hesitated for an instant, preparing for a leg shot. I dropped him with a knee kick to the vitals, just hard enough to knock him out. As he was blacking out, I told him. "I warned you, I never fight fair." I didn't want to kill my partner after all and another partner was still held prisoner. He forgave me after I led him to her, after we freed her from the enemy agents. He decided not to face me on the mat after that.
I score, he falls, and I fade. I wonder how Suehprom and Morganth are doing?

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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Copyright 2001 [Westray.org].
All rights reserved.
Revised: October 23, 2007 .