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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 7

Case File X257-13

Report by Detective Scout Carter


And I was on a road, paved but worn, fading white and yellow lines that had seen better days. That had been worn down by countless tires.

And 18 of those were bearing down on me very fast.

I didn't even have time to think as reflex helped me to the ground. The truck rumbled over, his airhorn blaring a too-late warning. I could see the car behind him, a low-sitting sporty thing. Damn. And he was almost tailgating, which limited my choices.

Just as the truck passed, I swung up my legs, then my whole body, trying to move faster than I'd ever managed in those judo classes. The pressure was on, after all. I landed hard on the car's hood, finger clutching for purchase in the slot where metal didn't quite meet windshield. I could see the driver's face move from shock to anger, and it was the wind and the glass that kept me from hearing his invectives. But he slammed his brakes, which was the wrong thing to do. The car behind rear-ended him and my grip slipped.

I bounced to one side, barely managing to turn myself the right way. The side of the road was hard and rough, but abrasions where the least of my worries. Because there were louder sirens going off, and I could see a plane buzzing low over the city, something dropping.

And I knew this was no place to stay. Something must have gone wrong, because this place was a long way from where I'd expect to find anyone. Maybe it was a trap, some place put in my way to slow me down by a father who didn't want to be found. Just my luck.

Anyway, there wasn't time to consider that right then. I was reaching for my Trumps, hoping they'd work quickly enough, when I felt a call. Anna? Most likely. She was supposed to call me once I'd vanished. So it was back to the Pattern room.

I let the call open and leapt into it, not even waiting for a sign who it was.

I'll give Luke credit... He doesn't let things shake him much and he caught me without falling over. I made a note to remember both for later.

It seems he had just called to talk about the Jewel, and I didn't bother explaining my situation. He had the floor, though, so I let him say his piece. He told me he didn't want the Jewel for himself, but wanted to be the broker for it. So I'd get a good deal and so he'd know where it went. I didn't believe those were his reasons for a second, and I knew better than to trust anyone who declared himself "the only honest man in Amber." Anyone who needs to tell you how honest they are doesn't live up to the label.

I excused myself to get some rest and time to assemble my wants list. I don't think Luke bought my act any more than I bought his. But he let me head off to my room.

On the way there, I got another Trump call. It was Anna this time, asking to join me. I brought her up, then explained that things hadn't gone according to plan. I didn't offer details, she didn't ask. I like that about her. Then she suggested I take a guest room rather than my own, if only to avoid alien problems. I like that about her, too.

I woke to a scuttling sound from near my borrowed room's closet. It didn't sound good and bumps in the night never sound friendly. I carefully, quietly, slipped a hand to the nightstand, found a washbasin. It would do. Moving fast, I tossed it at the sound, only to have it rebound from the closet door with a crash. Great. Now I'd warned whoever (or whatever) it was...

I snagged a candle, lit it with a move that was becoming second nature very quickly (they don't do electricity in Amber, which makes the center of the universe a damn sight inconvenient as high class living space). Opening the door and looking in, I found the back had swung away and exposed a dark passage.

I wasn't going in there half-dressed with just a candle for company. So I headed out to look for a sword, or something better than a dented washbasin to use as a weapon. But first, I closed the closet door and jammed a chair in it to keep it that way.

Anna was at my door, alert and obviously wondering if she should break in to find out the reason for the noise. But she didn't ask for explanations when I asked for a sword, she just got one. And she followed me back into my room. I unblocked the door, looked inside. The passage ran a short way before branching in three directions, and it was immaculately clean. No dust means no tracks and too many branches means no wandering around. It wasn't worth trying to search and I wasn't sure how well the stone back in my coat pocket was working of late. Or how well it had ever worked tracking indefinite things.

"So, should we move to another room?"

"I'd rather stay here. I can guard the passage, and at least we'll know where it is."

I was tired, so I didn't even think about it. Back to bed, with a mysterious woman Random had set on me sitting just across the room.

She was there when I woke, too. I don't know if she'd slept, but she must have to be as alert as she was. Me, I was still a little tired, but I'd had a hell of a time the last few days and it didn't look to get any better soon.

We talked about my plan, and it was clear what I had to do. I had to get back to where the Pattern had tried to take me, get past the trap. And that meant using the Pattern's power to travel shadows. Even though I had no idea how to do it. Anna confirmed that it was Trump (which I didn't have an appropriate sample of), Pattern (not a chance I'd ever do that again) or horses. None ideas I liked, but the last was the best of the lot. We borrowed two and rode down from the castle, through the city.

I spotted Blazer for a moment, walking with a group of men in what might have been navy uniforms. I have no idea what that means he's up to. Or how he got there after vanishing from the Pattern room yesterday. I didn't bother asking Anna. It wasn't important. We headed on, since Anna told me we had to get distance between us and Amber before I could do anything.

Deep in the forest the call Arden, I started trying to change things. It didn't really work. I wanted the rough path to clear up, I got nothing. The trees to thin, nothing. The sky to shift to the gray-blue of the world I'd dove from the day before. Nothing.

I stopped and concentrated on the Pattern. The Jewel was warm in my pocket. And the next shift happened. And the next. And the next. They were small, very small. But I was doing it. It was a weird feeling, a rush of power. I wondered what it would be like further away, if it actually got easier...

We stopped to rest the horses and I made a stream. Nothing at first, then with one step I added distant gurgling, then a few more and it was there. It was starting to make sense. I couldn't easily change things I could see, because they were set. But I could change things just beyond sight, influence the things I didn't know for certain to be what I wanted. Was that how it was supposed to work? I hoped so, because I didn't have anyone to ask detailed questions of.

And we had a long trip in front of us.

 

Case File X257-14

Report by Detective Scout Carter


Anna had packed what we needed for camping, which is good because I hadn't done anything like that since I was a kid and I'd hated it then. The "outings" they took us on were pretty horrible, I remembered, and so I had pretty low standards for the night.

I wasn't disappointed. The woods were loud and uncomfortable. I was exhausted from the travel, but between that and the aftereffects of a day in the saddle, I wasn't going to get any rest. So when the sun rose, I'm sure I looked almost as bad as I had anytime in the last few days (and that's pretty bad when you consider what my last few days have been like). Anna seemed well rested and almost perky. I tried not to growl at her, as well as that would have fit the surroundings.

We started moving on again once we'd gathered all the things that had made up our camp and she'd directed a proper decamping (I took orders as well as I could, since I know less about decamping than I do about setting them up). I kept trying the new trick the Pattern had made possible, and slowly found myself under a familiar-looking gray sky rather than the more vibrant one of Amber, which this forest had shared. That was a good sign, so I got ambitious.

I tried for the sound of a car, off in the distance. That was how this worked, I was guessing. You had to add things just outside your perception, want them there when you were able to tell. While I tried for the sound, I noticed the trees were looking a lot less healthy. Probably a side-effect of the sky. And probably appropriate to where I was going. This was getting easier. I heard the sound I wanted, off in the distance. We rode toward it, and I wanted a road, something the car had been driving on.

We found a path. Maybe a jeep could maneuver it, but I wouldn't count on it. I wondered what had made the very car-like sound, then... I didn't want to know.

"Have you noticed?" Anna asked, to which I shook my head, because I had no idea what she was talking about. "The animals. They're gone."

She was right. All the sounds, even bugs and birds, were gone. I hadn't been trying to get rid of them, even though I had focused on the just the car sound. Was this my doing or... Well, I hadn't noticed much by way of animal sounds in the shadow the Pattern had taken me to, anyway. We went on as I tried to make the road a little less rustic. Gravel was easy to achieve, as such things go. It was also wide enough for a car now, though I wouldn't want to try to pass on it.

That was when the shadow passed over us. A large bird, probably some kind of hawk. Then another and a third, then maybe a dozen. They were circling over us, more arriving every instant. Anna glanced to me with a worried look, and I was about to say they weren't mine when the howl of a wolf interrupted me.

"I'll try to get rid of the wolves first. We need to keep riding."

I concentrated on not hearing wolves any more, riding beyond them without actually ever seeing any. All I seemed to be getting were more hawks and quiet. It was working...

The wolves were closer when I heard them again, proving me wrong. Anna and I picked up the pace, which the horses seemed all too willing to do.

"Got any enemies around here?" Anna asked. I wasn't sure where 'here' was any more, but I was fairly certain I'd never even been around to make an enemy.

"I try not to have enemies," I answered, in place of admitting ignorance.

"You try not to have wolves," she pointed out as another howl proved my efforts useless. Ouch.

I could hear horses behind us now, but I was having to use most of my concentration to just stay on my panicking horse. Something else I could use lessons in. Besides, I had no idea how to count pursuers from the sound of their horses, I'd just seen it done in movies. Movies made police work look easy, too. And finding lost fathers.

I arranged a nice bit of cliff to watch our back, then struggled to a stop. We were going to get caught anyway, might as well make a stand of it. Anna didn't seem disappointed, except with my inability to control my horse.

"You should be able to reach out with you mind and calm him," she suggested. I guess I'm getting used to that sort of suggestion, because I didn't comment, I just tried it. I'm still not sure how, but I suddenly felt a very alien, non-human sort of feeling. And as I tried to project calm (calm I most certainly did not feel myself) into it, my horse did settle somewhat. Well enough to let me dismount, at least. I tried to walk my legs back to life, because I expected to need them very soon.

We were quickly surrounded by wolves below and hawks above, which kept my wanderings to small circles. They gave us a bit of space, not approaching too close, but didn't offer us a way out. I guess my cliff was helping them at that, but it was also keeping the danger in only one direction. Anna and I met eyes and silently agreed there were more than we could take. Lots more.

My horse decided my little mind-trick hadn't been enough about then and jerked back to motion. It cried out, jumped, then tried to get up speed and jump over the wall of wolves. It was a darn good horse, I guess, because it almost made it. It was still screaming as the wolves pulled it down and ripped it apart. I can't say I like horses, but nothing deserves that. Especially not when I was likely to enjoy the same fate myself in just a little while.

Then the sea of lupine fur parted and a man approached, on horseback. At first, I thought he was an unusually small man, but then perspective stopped playing tricks and I realized it was an unusually large horse. Its every step struck up sparks, its breath steamed in the air even though it wasn't unusually cold. Its eyes glared forward, full of fury. And the rider looked a little less friendly. He wore white, which I'd learned long ago didn't always fit the movie prejudice for good/bad guys. He had a sharp, cruel look to him and, quite clearly, I was his target. Anna stepped forward, almost between us, but he stopped a few yards off.

"What are you doing in my Arden?" he asked, and I made a note of the possessive. Great. I must have stumbled on some shadow that someone protected. Pretty well, in fact. But he'd called it Arden, which was the name of the forest around Amber. I'd left that when I started shifting shadow, hadn't I?

"Trying to leave," I answered honestly. I didn't see any reason for deceit just now. "No one bothered to explain all this."

His eyes narrowed and his horse stamped the earth, sparks flying again. "Who are you?"

"Scout Carter's the name. I doubt that means anything to you."

He looked me over, and his eyes focused on the Jewel, which hung, pulsing slightly, over my chest. "Give me that and you can go your way."

I didn't like the sound of that bargain, but since he didn't look like a bandit, I had to assume he'd recognized the ornament for what it was. Which meant he was family or enemy. Or both.

"I don't think King Random would like that. He wanted it delivered."

That caught him off-guard. Maybe he hadn't expected an appeal to authority. But it seemed to work.

"Random? Just who are you, Scout Carter?"

Anna jumped in then. "A nephew, if I'm right. You are the famous Julian, right?"

He didn't even spare her a glance, but brought his horse right to me, reached down to take the Jewel and...

Suddenly...

Slowed.

Almost to a halt.

I stepped aside, out of reach, and left him grasping at air.

He frowned and drew out a Trump deck. After a moment, he returned it and muttered something about a 'little jerk' which I took to be a less than entirely loyal attitude toward his king.

"I will take you from the Arden into Shadow," he announced, "and will give you one bit of advice. Don't wear that," he indicated the Jewel, "when you shift unless you learn how to use it right."

He didn't offer an explanation, but I'm not entirely slow. I hadn't been shifting shadow at all, I'd somehow been changing the place I was. Now I had even more reason to want rid of this thing. I wondered how I could transport it without allowing it to have that affect, but didn't think Julian would share any more helpful advice.

I had a brief, somewhat harrowing thought. Nothing I knew prevented this man from being the one I was seeking, my lost father. That would be unpleasant, to say the least, because I'd taken an immediate dislike to him. Chasing down random travelers with a pack of wolves and swarm of hawks (Do hawks swarm? Well, these did.) wasn't friendly by any standards. His manor seemed more that of a neighborhood bully than a prince of reality. Well, no evidence pointed toward him, either, so I still had hope.

It wasn't long before he left Anna and I on a street, gravel but well-marked. The row of houses looked vaguely 19th century. Pre-automobile, but not too far off what I'd want. Since we only had one horse now, I wanted to find us some better transport ASAP. I wondered how easy it was to add a Henry Ford to a world a few decades early. Or maybe to shift shadow on a train. They might just have trains already...

Anything would be better than horses. That monster Julian had been riding would give me nightmares for weeks.

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