Scout Carter's Journal - Part 6
Case File X257-11
Report by Detective Scout Carter
I can't quite claim I'd gotten a good rest, but I'd gotten some. At least
a little. But it was either the recent events or the painkillers for my
shoulder that haunted my brief sleep with dreams...
Oberon's eyes blazed as they faced me. "Give me my Jewel," he
said as he thrust out a hand and melted into Eric, an all too recent echo.
"You could give the Jewel to me, Scout," Flora radiated every
bit of charm she could with the words, and that was a lot. It hurt to turn
my eyes away.
Merlin smiled a half-smile similar to his father's. "I'll take it off
you hands if you like, Scout. I've handled it before."
Luke's smile hinted at nearly the same dangerous charm Flora had tried to
use (though of a very different flavor... besides, broken noses don't turn
me on). "Scout... Let's talk." I turned away faster than ever.
And was in a spin, a whirling mess of familiar and unfamiliar features
that merged, after several stomach-turning minutes, to the familiar white
profile of the Unicorn from the family arms.
"Give the Jewel only to your father."
"Yeah, thanks a lot. You're not offering clues, are you?"
And, giving me as much of an answer as I could get in a dream, there was a
figure, a man silhouetted in the distance. Getting further away, twice as
fast as I could run toward him. Each step sent him further away rather
than closer, another few steps and he was...
And I was awake, the wound on my shoulder aching and the rest of me just
as tired as before.
Barely any real rest at all. And I could think of a universe of things I'd
rather do than go back to sleep, just then, most of which involved making
sure I actually woke up next time I fell asleep. So I gathered up my
things (which amounted to the clothes on my back... I hadn't let the Jewel
out of my grip the whole time), dressed carefully so I didn't tear out my
bandages (the wound was healing all too rapidly... I was used to a
hyperactive healing rate, but recently it'd kicked up another notch), and
Outside the tent, I saw the now-familiar blue shape of the Doctor's TARDIS,
a neatly lettered sign reading "Knock if you need in" on the
door. I almost headed there first, but remembered Random saying he still
had a few things to talk with me about. Business before... other business,
to be honest. But best to check, at least. I asked one of the guards if
anyone had come out of or gone in to the TARDIS. He described the Doctor
and Kesä, which helped make up my mind. Last time I noticed, Kesä was
siding with Eric and he was no friend of mine.
So I went to Random's tent and we talked. He asked how Deirdre and Eric
could be alive again, so I went through the whole story in outline. No
details like who caused the whole mess or exactly what Corwin had done in
the alternate-time, just that it had existed and was mostly fixed now, so
far as I knew. Except that we had the escapees. I didn't mention Gabriel,
since I didn't consider him Random's business anyway. Let Steed and Flora
deal with an unrelated relative however they like.
He said I should go back to Amber, if only to get the Jewel further from
Chaos and lots of bad attention (I didn't think it'd avoid much attention
in Amber but at least it would change the tenor of the requests I'd be
hearing). And, for my protection, he said I should have a bodyguard.
Great. Someone to make sure I don't give the Jewel to anyone Random
doesn't like. Or even talk to them, I bet. I hope he doesn't think I'm
that easy to lead around. He called him in, and I was a little surprised
to see he was a she, a fairly normal-looking woman, a change of shoes
under 5' 8", dark hair tied back in a single ponytail. She was
dressed in practical, maybe even bland, modern clothing (that is, what I
consider modern, mid 1990's America) except for the sword that hung at her
hip. She wore almost no make up, her nails were carefully trimmed and
unpainted. She was checking me out as well, looking for weaknesses she'd
have to deal with. No more real interest than that and no posturing or
posing for me to look at, which was good. It meant Random at least meant
to offer a fair contest for the Jewel and wasn't trying to sway my opinion
too much with overt means. Having decided on a woman bodyguard, he could
have assigned me one who was little more than an enthusiastic bed-warmer,
but she looked quite serious about this. Though I wondered if she was any
good with the weird magic that scared me more than men with swords (at
least now that I'd figured out I wasn't all that bad with those things
myself when need required... I should probably start to carry one).
"Anna, this is Scout Carter. Scout, Anna. Your assignment,
Anna." We traded nods and I gathered my audience was over because
Random turned to other matters (I'd guess that marching an army into Chaos
required some diplomatic dance steps, especially when it turns out to be
nothing). I left with Anna taking a spot just behind me. She was good,
because the hollow between my shoulders didn't itch as soon as she did
that. I'd gotten used to that feeling recently and it was nice to have it
fade a little. Only a little.
I decided to Trump back to Amber using the card Steed had given me of his
rooms. It saved me from having to owe someone for the passage, but it was
a serious strain trying to open the link. I guess we were a long way away,
"You want help with that?" Anna asked. I considered what that
meant, which was at least a bit of opening my mind to her. If she was
studied in the mind-tricks I was really worried about, I'd be giving her a
key to the cupboard. But without her help, I'd be exhausted before getting
back to Amber and I'd already started to worry about what I had to do once
I got there. I'd need every bit of energy I had. So I nodded and felt her
hand on my shoulder...
Her presence in my mind...
Careful, distant. Focused on the card, carefully not looking at me.
Carefully not revealing herself to me, either. I was impressed, but didn't
have time to be curious about what she might be hiding because even with
her help it was still a trick to reach the Trump all the way to Amber. But
the card grew cold, the image more real, and we stepped through.
Back into Amber, into Steed's rooms, which looked just like they did on
the card. Apparently he never felt the need to move anything even a little
bit. There was a photograph of Steed and the woman I'd seen with his body
over the Abyss. Must be an old friend of his. Lucky guy, getting to spend
time with a woman like that. I'd had pretty wretched luck myself,
especially since the last few women I'd spent any time with -Kat, Kesä
and Deirdre - had all tried to kill me, directly or indirectly. Now I had
the cool, plain, businesslike Anna lurking over my shoulder. Great lot
that'll do for my social life.
There was a sudden cry out in the hallway, attracting both of our
attention. "This was supposed to be a quiet place," I observed,
mostly to myself, as Anna simply said "I'll check" and crossed
the room to the door, sword ready.
When she opened it, I got a quick view of an old friend and
infirmary-mate. Blazer was running by, away from something, it seemed. He
saw the motion and stopped, looking to us for help, I suppose. He
described discovering a small, fierce creature attacking him and a few of
the castle guards. Anna and I traded glances and decided together to do
what we could. I borrowed a saber from Steed's wall, made sure it actually
had a usable edge, and was grateful for the delay because Blazer added a
little fact about the creature while I was arming myself. Apparently, its
blood was highly corrosive, able to eat through stone. Great. I made a
note to be ready to replace Steed's sword if I had to.
Fortunately, I didn't. We arrived too late for the fight, but with plenty
of clean-up needed. I counted six dead guards, another two wounded, and
the creature. It was an ugly thing, humanoid in the broadest sense but
hunched over, somewhat insectoid. It's hide looked more like a thin coat
over a solid armor suit of bone than anything else and from the wounds on
the guards, I'd bet that was a good assessment. The two guards who were on
their feet seemed calm enough, as if they were used to this sort of mess.
One of them headed off to get more help and start a search of the castle
for more of these things. The other helped us try to account for the
situation. Apparently, this room was beneath Blazer's and he'd found a
hole in his floor through which the creature had come. The room was fairly
austere, decorated in a way that borrowed heavily from Japanese history.
Or Japanese history borrowed heavily from here, if I'm understanding the
directions things flow from Amber correctly. "Prince Benedict's
room," the guard informed us when he noticed me looking. But I was
looking behind a delicate, hand-painted paper screen that had hidden the
seventh body up until now. I never did find crime-scene investigation fun
"You'll need a new room, Blazer," I observed. He nodded, clearly
pretty shaken up by the whole mess. The guard said there'd been servants
going missing for a while, which this half explained, assuming the critter
was very hungry. Unfortunately, a better assumption was that there were
more than one of them. "Get things like this often?" I asked.
"Not since the Black Road War." He left the search to us then,
heading back to Blazer's room with a hand up through the hole melted in
the ceiling. Messy.
"We should wait somewhere safe until the search is done," Anna
observed, doing her job. I guess she was right, since as long as I had the
Jewel I was not expendable. Almost made it worth keeping, since I never
like to be thought of as expendable, except that being publicly not
expendable doesn't make you privately not a target. I liked environmental,
impersonal threats over targeted ones. We decided on the dining room,
since I was famished.
Luke was there, smiling and looking even more smug than he had in my dream
back in Chaos. And, true to the dream, he told me he'd been talking to
Merlin and had a few suggestions that might help me with my Jewel problem.
I told him I had things under control, but I'd keep him in mind if things
got messy. I know he didn't buy it, but he played the game like a good
salesman on a cold call and decided to wait on a better time.
We asked for some soup and sandwiches to be brought up, which resulted in
a very fine snack. I guess it's kind of a rule that the best pastrami in
the world is only a shadow of what they have here, but if so I'd be
hard-pressed to point out exactly why this was better. It was just very
good, as was everything. I'm still not adjusted to wine with every meal,
but just then I didn't say 'no' to a glass. After all, I had a pretty ugly
task in front of me and this was fortifying me toward it. I didn't mention
it to anyone just yet, because I didn't want anyone knowing who didn't
need to. Besides, Luke was distracting himself talking to Blazer about the
creature. He said it sounded like something out of the movie
"Alien", which I almost kicked myself for not recognizing
myself. Which meant if there were more, there were lots more. Ugly
situation. He also took a try at getting Anna on his side, probably for
future leverage to part the Jewel from me. She didn't seem all that
interested, which made me feel a lot better. I didn't feel like having to
watch my own back against my bodyguard.
Ge`rard showed up then, dragging a much larger version of Blazer's
critter. "Definitely the movie," Luke observed and I had to
agree. Big, nasty and deadly-looking. Also very dead. "Where'd you
find that, Ge`rard?" I asked.
"Your room. Any clues why?"
Great. I'd hoped I wasn't a target of anyone outside the Jewel-hunters.
"Sorry, no. Think you can take care of the hunt without me? I've got
something I need to take care of right away."
He shrugged and dragged the thing off. Luke half-tried to keep me from
leaving, saying we still had to talk "for Coral's sake." Really
cold, Luke. I remembered that the Jewel had, until recently, been his
wife's eye. But I had a place to put it that wasn't there and he wasn't
going to sway me that easy. Still, he's smooth and I was sure already that
he wouldn't give up easily.
Anna and Blazer followed me along a route I remembered from Tir-na Nog'th,
a route I'd promised myself I wouldn't ever walk again. Through a door
(which wasn't guarded... possibly because the guards were in short supply
with the army in Chaos and the bug hunt going on in the castle), down a
staircase that was longer than I had any care to count.
"Random told me you might want to do this," Anna observed
"'Want to' isn't quite right," I answered, then looked back at
Blazer. "You know, there's not much to see here." He answered
with a simple "Yeah" and kept following. His choice.
And this whole diversion was my choice, I suppose, even if all my options
were bad ones, this one included. Keep the Jewel and try to fend off
everyone trying to take it until I uncovered who was meant to have it,
that was the best of a sorry lot. It required I be able to use the Jewel
effectively, at least as a defense. And that meant either trusting someone
to help (Steed was the only possibility I seriously considered, but his
recent vampiric turn didn't encourage me; Random and Corwin were both out,
not quite worth trust by their own admissions) or trusting myself to the
Pattern a second time. Damn, but once was more than enough. And nothing
I'd heard implied it was any easier the second time around.
Down the steps was fairly easy, at least in comparison to the work I
expected getting back up after the Pattern was done with me (no, I still
had Steed's room Trump... That'd come in handy again). Still, I could have
used a few week's sleep before trying this again, because the stairs alone
left my legs heavy. Of course, I didn't have a few weeks because the
wolves were already circling, as Luke had proven by playing lead dog.
I opened the door to the Pattern room (I remembered which it was... those
sort of things are hard to forget), left Anna and Blazer near the door and
stepped to the start of the glowing knot. The glow was sharper here than I
remembered from the reflection Pattern in the sky, but it was clearly the
same power. I could feel it, pulsing slightly. I drew out the Jewel,
wrapped its chain around my hand so it hung just slightly below my grip.
Somehow, it and the Pattern resonated with one another. The power was the
same, somehow. I'd have to find out more about the relationship,
I stepped onto the Pattern again.
The feeling was much like the first time. Sparks and draining numbness,
starting in my legs. It wouldn't take long to get worse, surely. But I'd
made it through once, I could manage a second time. Except, of course, I
hadn't actually made it through that first time, at least not all the way.
I tried not to let that worry bother me as I made my way forward, growing
ever close to the first veil.
"Good luck!" Blazer called out, which I took to mean him wishing
it to me from his own less than full supply. I've never met a more
unfortunate individual, to be honest. Still, it's the thought that counts,
right? I took another step toward the veil.
And I felt a mind trying to contact mine. Strong, insistent. Not like a
Trump call, really, much more like... I couldn't see my ankles, already
lost in blue sparks, but I remembered this last when Citten had rubbed
against them. Kat?
:What are you doing here?: she thought toward me. I couldn't speak, had
barely the excess energy to keep stepping forward. So I tried just
thinking a reply back to her.
:Walking the Pattern. You?: If she had any sense, she'd leave me along
after that. Except, as I should have known, she doesn't tend to cooperate.
:In a little place.:
I considered the possibilities. She'd shown a need for physical contact to
make these mental chats happen earlier. That meant she was...
The Jewel pulsed red under my grip on the chain.
:I don't think you should be here.: I took a step.
:Oh?: Her thought felt disinterested in what I thought. I should have
tried subtlety to trick her into leaving, but how does one be subtle when
exchanging thoughts rather than words?
:Can you leave?: Another step. Mustn't stop walking.
:I would. Before the Veil.: Another, and it was right in front of me.
:ummm... I think I'll stay, actually.:
:Your call. Hope you're confident about you parents...: Not that I was
sure it mattered if she wasn't walking, but I was fairly certain she
wasn't of Amber's blood...
And we were in the first veil. Kat was standing beside me, dressed in her
familiar black leather. I had my own coat again as well. Another
hallucinatory veil experience, I suppose. We were in a hallway, the floor,
walls and ceiling all made of metal. Something like that Leviathan we'd
chased Creed to, but it didn't look exactly right for that...
"You recognize this place?" She'd spent longer in the Leviathan
than I had, as I remembered things.
Well, there were steps in front of us, and since I knew I had to keep
walking forward, I did so. I got a feeling, kind of like when the stone
buzzed me in warning. I made a mental note to check on the stone soon,
once this was done. "This isn't a good place to be. We should
hurry." I quickened the pace, trying to get to the stairs.
And in front of us, the ceiling started to bulge. A panel seemed about to
burst open... "Watch yourself, Kat. Something's coming out..."
And something did. Another Alien-like creature, slightly bigger than the
one Ge`rard had carried into the dining hall. It hissed at us and slashed
toward my chest. I bent backwards, trying to avoid it without stepping
back, then snatched at its extending mouth. My hand burned as I grabbed
and pulled, drawing the creature forward, off balance. It hurt like hell,
but even worse as I let go to allow it to fall, but I ignored that,
And was out. Back on the Pattern, alone, walking...
:Thanks for the assist,: I thought to Kat as I took another step and
hugged my hand close.
:What was going to do? I don't even know what that thing was!:
:Yeah,: I agreed without agreeing and took another step.
:Keep walking,: Kat thought, and started repeating it like a drumbeat. But
if she was doing anything else to help, I certainly didn't notice. My legs
were heavy, my hand still ached and sparks were up to my waist and
climbing as I rounded a curve and stepped into...
A crowd of familiar faces.
Luke stepped from them. "Come on, let's have that 'talk' now." I
shrugged him off. :Keep walking,: said Kat's voice, disembodied in this
A man dressed in white armor who I didn't really recognize stepped
forward. "I'm your father, Scout. Give the Jewel to me." :Keep
walking.: As if I had any plans to do otherwise. But I gripped the Jewel
A red-haired man, bearded and forceful now. "To me, and I can fix
things." :Keep walking.:
Another redhead, this one smaller but with piercing eyes. "Give it to
me. We can rule the Universe." Talk about no-brainers. I didn't want
to rule anything. :Keep walking,: thought Kat, totally needlessly this
Now Oberon, imperious and angry. "My Jewel..." He melted into
Eric, just as angry but less impressive, somehow. "Give it to
me." :Keep walking.:
And then the twisted hunchback who had pulled me from the Pattern before.
He was the first to not reach for the hand where I held the Jewel, it's
chain wrapped three times around my hand. "You'll never make it
without drawing on the power of the Jewel," he observed. Really
cheery guy, that one. I wondered who he might be, since he didn't seem to
share the family's traits of dangerous charisma and insatiable power lust.
"You offering lessons?" I answered, pressing forward even before
Kat's thoughts formed.
And I was out, back on the Pattern itself, legs like lead-soaked bags of
cement and barely halfway in.
:Kat... That stuff about my father?:
:Don't tell anyone.:
Did I expect that to work? Not for a second. But it was worth trying.
Besides, adjustment was easy. Anyone I suspected Kat had told the
importance of my father would just not be trustworthy for information to
lead to him. Except that, soon enough, that might mean there was no one
who actually knew the truth about my father that I could trust...
:Any idea what comes next?: she thought to me, after an eternity of
walking that had gotten me at most half of the way from the second veil to
the third. Blue sparks were climbing my chest and my shoulder throbbed in
time with the pulsing of the Jewel held in front of me. In time with my
:Nope. Only did this once before, and it was nothing like this time.:
:Hasn't been so bad, so far.:
If she'd been at hand, I could have strangled her for that. She wasn't
walking, after all, and carrying her certainly couldn't be making this any
easier. :For you, maybe. Who knows what's next?: If I was lucky, a veil
special-made for her. Just what is it that would scare a girl like Kat
Report by Detective Scout Carter
There was a loud sound from the far side of the door. Something coming
down the stairs? I couldn't give the time to check, focusing on the
progression toward the next veil. The third? Yes, the third... That meant
two more. I was pretty certain I wasn't going to make it now, that I
should never have started tired. But I didn't have any option now except
continuing. And regretting the mistake.
Left and right, through turns and short bits of straight. Each step took
forever, and I heard the door opening. Anna and Blazer were back there. I
hoped they could handle whatever that was, because another step took me
Fog. Thick and heavy, all around me, obscuring almost everything there
might be here to see. There was still the Pattern blazing on the floor at
my feet, but straight now, a line going forward. Another mental test,
because the real thing turned constantly this far in. Somehow, I guessed
that all this was happening while I really raised my foot and put it down
:Kat, you still here?: I asked in my head, half hoping for no response and
so fully expecting one.
:Yeah,: she answered, seeming disinterested. Maybe the slow pace of my
struggle with this was boring her. Of course, I hadn't invited her as a
The silence was broken by my voice, though I didn't speak. "Hello,
Scout." There was a shadowy figure, barely visible through the fog
doing the speaking. He looked to be about my height, about my build. About
"uhh... Hi," I said, more interested in walking than talking
just now. The Pattern-line was easier to follow here, just a roadside
sobriety test sort of challenge. As heavy as my legs felt, that was more
than enough for me. I stepped forward.
"You know, you're not going to make it without changing how you look
I noticed that the path went its glowing way straight into where the
figure stood. So he was blocking my way symbolically. That meant he
probably wasn't here to offer good advice if I had to bet. "What
makes you think that?"
"I don't think it, I know it. I know all about you, Scout."
"Yeah? That makes one of us, I guess."
His laugh wasn't pretty. Especially because it was too much mine.
"That's right. I'm the you who knows the truth, you're the one still
hugging the illusions. That's why you can't make it."
Great. The Pattern, the source of all power in the universe (if its
backers were to be believed) was offering me a confrontation with my 'dark
side' as a test. Like I didn't have to face this regularly anyway.
"Give it up. I don't need a mental workout just now."
"Oh, but you do. You've forgotten the one great law of success. If
you want to get something, you have to want it. You don't want this, so
you don't have a chance. And it'll kill you for trying halfway." I
could recognize some of my own style in this doppelgänger. He certainly
played my responses back at me as soon as I made them. Of course, he
probably wasn't exhausted by a long walk and didn't have a Kat in his
:Don't listen to him, Scout,: was the extent of her sage advice. She'd
made her case as a burden rather than an ally a good ways back, but didn't
seem against sandbagging her status now.
"Finish or die. That's what they warned me before I started. I think
wanting to live is enough wanting for me, though, thanks."
"That's why it's so much work. You have to want more to make it. Look
at that fop Steed. He does this for fun because he understands what it
He had a point there. Steed did seem to have plaid into the family
power-trip and was pretty much adapted to the 'whatever it takes' style
that required. "Another difference between him and me. He's also got
better taste in wines, I bet."
"Just vinegar waiting to earn the name," he echoed my low
opinion of the vintner's art. I took a step or two forward while he was
distracted. "Nice try. But I'm here for a purpose, so I'm not that
easy to distract. You, meanwhile... You don't even want this. Listen to
me, Carter. You have to want power or you'll die here."
"I'll take door number 3, Monty," I said, pushing forward even
though it got me no closer to him. It got me closer to the exit, I hoped.
"I do hope you make it, Scout," he said, switching tactics.
"Because if you do, I have a chance to exist. But you can't make it
without accepting me. Without becoming me."
:You don't need him, Scout,: Kat offered from her perch in the observer's
"You don't even want this," he continued as I ignored him,
pressing on step by step. "You're doing all this just to give it to
your father. feh!"
Yeah, I recognized the style. I'd argued this way, now and then. But I
never really liked it. Intellectual bullying. Of the style commonly used
by "bad cop" interrogators and other wanna-be tough guys. I
wasn't building any respect for the new me being offered.
"I think I'll go it alone a little longer, if you don't mind. Knowing
you're the alternative makes it easier, really." I knew if I could
shake him up, he'd get angry and help. He was already doing a good job of
erasing any doubt I had about wanting to avoid his way of doing things.
"I'm not an alternative, Scout. I'm the only chance you've got. No
one told you how people who don't manage the Pattern die, did they? I can
fill you in, if you want."
I had enough of an imagination solo. And Kat's constant reminders that I
could make it on my own were getting old. Somehow, I think she's on my
side only because I was easier to deal with this way. He'd have found a
way to kick her out of his mind by now, I bet. Now that was almost
But no. The rest of his argument (and there was more of it... my refusal
to play along didn't get him to shut up) got to fall on deaf ears as I
concentrated entirely on pressing on. A step, then another, and then I was
out of the mist, back to the familiar impossible pressure.
Would giving in have made it easier or impossible? Too late to find out
now. Besides, I didn't have the energy to think about that right now. It
was all I could do to step forward without passing out.
:You can't actually help with this, can you?: I thought to Kat, which I
regretted because talking to her was starting to make my head hurt.
:Haven't so far,: she observed.
:Yeah, I noticed.: So much for help from that direction.
"You're looking pretty ragged. Can I help?" Anna called in her
offer from infinitely far away. Across the room. Blazer had left her on
her own, but I didn't ask why or how. And I didn't have the time to reply
before she acted. I just felt... something. Mental noise, a new hint of
Anna, without the defenses from when she helped with the Trump from Chaos.
Glimpses of a life, the ache of loss. A single image. Me? No. But very
And it was gone, though the support was there. Just a hint, enough to move
things from double impossible to just half-past. I pressed on because I
didn't have a choice. The Jewel pulsed more brightly than ever in my grip
and I'd swear I felt Kat humming lightly, as if distracted.
:Kat? You're in the Jewel, aren't you?: I asked in a sudden fit of
inspiration, though it was inspiration unassisted by the sense to know
better than expect an answer.
:Don't know: was all I got.
:It's a small, red place, right?:
:Small, but not red. There's a jungle-gym thing.: Now that was helpful.
But was she telling the truth?
:No. Kind of blue. No, now it's green. And getting more yellow-ish...: She
offered me a series of colors that went on for longer than my next step
forward. She proved to have an extensive knowledge of names for minimally
I could feel the next veil (the fourth and final one, I was fairly
certain) building ahead of me. Anna's help was fading fast and I was
pretty sure I'd drop any second now. But I was at the end, I'd made it all
but the last few steps. I couldn't give up right then.
It's probably just an illusion of memory that makes me thing there was a
sudden surge of energy just as I stepped into that last veil. I couldn't
guess where something like that would have come from.
And I was somewhere else. Not the Pattern, though its glowing line faded
away like any burned-in image. I was in an alley, dank and shadowy. Late
evening, probably after a rainstorm. There was a siren in the distance and
a dumpster ahead with something half in, half out. An all too familiar
:Kat?: I asked, but got no answer. Thanks for small blessings. I stepped
forward, sticking to where my memory placed the now-faded line of the
Pattern. A glance aside confirmed that the object was a body, recently put
there. And not quite dead yet, though there was little doubt it wouldn't
be long. She'd been gutted, left to die. A step closer and I saw the face.
Anna? That wasn't possible. It made no sense at all. But looking at her, I
recognized the face, the clothing. And that she'd have a slight chance if
she got medical attention right away. But she was several feet to the
side, out of reach unless I could step off the now invisible line.
There was a sound behind me. A footstep.
"Nice try, Scout. You almost made it." It was a different voice,
one I hadn't heard before. Cruel in a way my dark side had just played at.
"I'm here to stop you, of course. You'll never find your
He was close, possibly just behind me. I tried to keep walking, at a
steady pace. The world didn't move as quickly as it should.
"I'm his only son."
And the words were accompanied by the sharp bite of a knife. It cut into
my back, tore up and across, scraping against bone. I struggled to move
forward more quickly, but it ripped up though a rib, trying to find my
heart. I gripped the Jewel and struggled one more step, trying to ignore
the pain that couldn't be real or I was...
And I fell forward, sprawled in the center of the Pattern, through the
No. Not the center. Someplace else. It was like the beginning of the
Pattern again, only this was not a line but a thick tube, snaking in a
complicated knot in front of me. It looked something like a 'jungle-gym
thing'. The air was red, regardless of what Kat had said earlier. Random
had implied it was something like this.
I closed my eyes and tried to find anything like energy to crawl forward.
It took more time than I thought. Maybe I even passed out for a while.
Then I started to climb.
It wasn't like the Pattern, really. Moving was easy, and if anything I
felt physically less drained. But there was still a drain all the same. No
veils, no strange dreams. But even as I wove around curve after curve, I
found myself advancing on nothing but reflex. A mental drain, somehow,
exhausting beyond description. Even thinking was difficult. I just didn't
have the energy to focus.
And it was over. I was laying in the center of the Pattern now, the air
around me clear instead of red, the Jewel pulsing as it lay beside me and
nothing but the memory of pain to show for the knife wound (since it
didn't bother to leave even the slightest mark).
I don't know how long it was before I turned my head and found Anna. Not
gutted, but apparently worried. She was watching me carefully, but her
expression returned to a calm, professional look when she saw me move.
"So... how do I get out of here?" I croaked, hoping she could
hear me. My throat was dry.
"They say you can go anywhere from there. The center. Just ask and
the Pattern will take you there."
That was very convenient. No one had mentioned it to me before. But I
didn't want to upset Random by leaving his bodyguard behind, so I fished
for the pack of Trumps I had. I found Steed's room still near the top,
tossed it toward her.
"Here. Contact me once I'm gone and we'll both give the stairs a
miss." I didn't even like the idea of those stairs going up even
relaxed, so I owed the primal force of the universe for saving me the
She caught it easily, but eyed the card with a surprised look. "You
sure you want to go there? I mean, you can go..."
"'anywhere'," I muttered, realizing just what that meant for the
first time. Anywhere? If what I'd been told was true, that was more places
than I could imagine. Maybe more than anyone had ever imagined. And I had
the power now to move through this everything. I don't think I'm ready for
But I dug out another card. The image the Doctor had made of me. Again,
Anna caught it without any sign of effort.
"Call me soon," I said, then I took another moment or two to
gather what little there was of my strength.
And I asked the power I could feel all around me but couldn't really
identify to take me to my father.